My five kids may dispute the notion, but I’m pretty certain I’ve learned much more from them than they ever learned from me. I’m so sure of it that I’ve put a lot of thought into the idea, and I’ve come to the conclusion that on some levels it has to do with learning the value of learning. Let me explain.
I don’t think kids really value learning per se. Why should they? They’ve been doing it nonstop since they were born, but still we constantly remind them to do it, advise them how important it is, tell them how useful it will be in their lives when they’re all grown up, and we’re constantly coming up with new and improved ways to get them to do it. We buy their toys with an eye toward how ’educational’ they’ll be. We take them places where they’ll learn things like science, history, or geography. When they ask us simply how to spell a word we seize the opportunity to turn the answer into a quest for knowledge: “How do you think it’s spelled. Sound it out slowly. Think about the root word.”
Yes, I was guilty of all that and more early on. It took me a few years to learn the error of my ways, and for that I believe I owe my oldest two sons an apology. They were the guinea pigs, so to speak, the ones I learned how to handle learning with. By the time our three younger kids came along I’d smartened up enough to relax and trust that learning was always happening, with or without my help, and the learning that happened without my assistance was much more likely to be useful and relevant to the learners.
I learned the value of learning, and I think it’s a lesson my kids will need to learn for themselves. Like so many things in life, it’s not something you can just tell someone else and expect to have any meaning , it really needs to be experienced, to have a context all its own.
Eventually we reached a point where learning was just accepted as something that happened, sort of like the fortune-cookie philosophy about life being what happens while you’re making other plans. Learning is certainly what happens while you’re living life. For better or worse, we learn every day, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. We learn good things, useful things, handy things; and we learn bad things, destructive things, things we might someday wish we hadn’t learned. Life’s like that.
On the whole, though, learning serves us quite well, and we’re constantly arranging and rearranging our learning so it’s more useful to us. Something draws our attention and we ask questions or find books to read or take classes until we’ve learned enough to satisfy ourselves. Something else seems interesting so we team up with others and share and hone our skills and put our knowledge to work, thereby learning more and more in ever-widening circles. We find ourselves with a need to learn something and we set about doing so just as we set about feeding ourselves when we’re hungry. It’s just what people do. My kids taught me that. But they also taught me so much more.
They taught me that life makes us all learners, but while some of us learn easily, others learn with more difficulty. They taught me it’s okay to skip knowing something. They taught me there will never, ever be enough time to learn everything I’d like to learn, to do everything I’d like to do, and that’s how it should be. They taught me to view them – and indeed, everyone I meet , as individuals, and not to fall into the trap of sticking people with convenient labels based on my personal experiences. They taught me to acknowledge that everyone has their own experiences which make them unique in the world, and try as I might I’ll never know all there is to know about anyone except myself. My kids taught me it’s a mistake to sacrifice your life to work or even to lofty ideals. Work and worthwhile causes come and go, but the people in our lives are what are most important.
My kids taught me to listen with an open heart, and to see without making judgments. They taught me patience, and perseverance, and persistence , but they also taught me to know when to quit. They taught me that love does not bring conditions with it, but just is, and they made me a much better person than I’d have ever been without them.
Thanks kids, for homeschooling me.
(© 2004/2009 by Helen Hegener. Adapted from an HEM editorial from 2004. Still learning after all these years…)