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No nonsense home learning

By Mary Pride

Let me offer one simple thought that can greatly reduce stress in learning. You can master any new skill in a reasonable amount of time. This idea does not sound earthshaking. But when you compare it to the way schools usually teach, you'll see how revolutionary it is.

Say Johnny wants to learn to read. Does his teacher say, "O.K., Johnny, I'll teach you to read. It should take about twenty hours total, and then with practice you will be able to read anything you want"? No way! Johnny is facing up to eight years of reading instruction. No matter how well he can read, every year he will be reviewing his sight words, writing out spelling lists, filling out endless "reading comprehension" tests, and on and on and on. Would this discourage you? Of course it would! And it discourages Johnny too. The task seems endless. Nothing he does will make it shorter.

For dramatic results in your home school program, just make it clear to the student that this task will not go on forever. If he applies himself, he can finish it more quickly. Don't review him constantly on his skills. Instead, immediately put those skills to work. If you teach your child something that he never gets any practice using in daily life, you probably didn't need to teach it in the first place.

Another reason school seems like such a hopeless burden to many children is that it goes on so long. Thirteen years is a longer sentence than most murderers get nowadays. Yet we toss kids into school and lock the door on them for thirteen years and expect them to be enthusiastic about it!

Nobody needs thirteen years to learn what the schools have to teach. At the most, you need three or four.

Let me explain why I said that. It's really pretty obvious when you see how our forebears handled education. In those olden, golden days, kids didn't start school until age eight or nine. They attended classes for, at the most, three six-week sessions a year, six hours a day, and by the time they were sixteen they could read, write, and cipher rings around modern children. Nor was their instruction confined to the Three R's. American children of the 1700s through the early 1900s learned history, theology, geography, practical science, and hundreds of practical skills that are now only tackled in college, if at all. When you add up the total time in school, it comes out to eight years of eighteen weeks each. Modern children go to school thirty-six weeks a year; so by simple arithmetic four years of old-time instruction should be all it takes for similar results.

Every child who attends school, public or private, is retarded. "Retarded" means "held back." Schools are in the business of keeping children off the street and out of the job market for twelve years. So they drag out learning needlessly for years, and fill up the time with mindless, boring exercises.

You may wonder what to do with a child who flashes through the standard school subjects. Don't worry. He'll know what to do! The whole point of learning the basics is to get to the good stuff - other languages, literature, serious writing, theological studies, designing and inventing, art, music, and on and on. With the whole wide world out there, who wants to spend eight years with reading comprehension worksheets!

Anyone who has a fine crop of youngsters to teach at home quickly discovers the importance of letting students do as much as they possibly can by themselves. One of my favorite lines is, "Try it. If you have trouble, come and ask for help." Only children, and adults, who are allowed to work through a problem on their own ever discover the thrill of accomplishment. Throw away those crutches!

Lastly, here is how to make teaching more enjoyable.

You know, teachers are the most overworked and harassed bunch of people around. Why is that? In large part, it is because so much of their assigned job is pulling facts out of people.

I've never plowed with a mule, but I do believe that it's no harder to get an ornery mule to pull that plow than it is to get an ornery kid to divulge what's in his mind. Especially if nothing is in his mind. You can't pull out what isn't there. Yet 90 percent of schooltime is spent on tests, quizzes, seatwork assignments, and verbal cross-examinations ("Who can tell us when Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor?"), instead of on giving children information and giving them a chance to ask their own questions.

These demands for feedback are not teaching. Teaching is telling or showing people what they don't know. And it is so much easier to concentrate on input (telling) than on output (dragging feedback out of students)!

To make the most of your teaching time, and to make it easier on yourself, tell your children what they need to know. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself. Increase the proportion of input to output. A few simple oral questions will tell you whether your offspring are on track. Forget those piles of workbook exercises!

Read history to your children. Read science books together. Read the Bible at meals. Whatever the knowledge you want to impart, put it in! Don't wear yourself out checking whether they are learning. After they received ample instruction is the time for a little low-pressured feedback.

Nobody tests your children on TV commercials. But if you still have a TV, you can see they have learned the ads. TV taught them. Unless your children are actively hostile, or so lazy that they won't even bother to listen, or so illiterate they never read anything, you should be able to do at least as well as a TV set.

Robert Doman, head of the National Academy of Child Development has said that the average child gets only three minutes of individualized instruction daily in school. Three minutes! I don't know where Mr. Doman gets his figures, but my own school experience sure validates them. Do you think you can beat this at home? Even fifteen minutes a day is five times more than your children get in school!

Reprinted from THE BIG BOOK OF HOME LEARNING, published by Crossway Books, 1986.

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