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Lifelong Learning

Yesterday I wrote about what younger homeschoolers can accomplish in a short time, and then today into my inbox came a mention of this great project. A high school homeschooler is starting on a journey through the cuisines of all the countries in the world (presently 192, though I suppose that depends on who you ask!). He’s learning about the cuisine of each culture then learning to cook a typical meal. He’ll post the recipes for the meal on his blog with information about each country he covers.
This is the sort of project that only a homeschooling high schooler would have time for, except maybe as a very densely packed summer project. My son is only in fourth grade, and I’m starting to see our future. He gets home from school, has a short time to relax, get a snack, unpack his lunch box, etc. And then it’s homework, dinner, violin practice, reading, and bed. There’s no time in his schedule for messing around, including learning about the cuisines of the world.
Of course, he’s also doing things that we couldn’t do as homeschoolers. His school has an emphasis on performing arts, and they just put on an amazing production for their Cultural Awareness theme. Each year they choose a culture and learn about it in depth, exploring the history, geography, language, art, food, music, theater… Then they do a performance of the sort of quality I’ve never seen at another school.
His school is very definitely not homeschooling — I miss my boy now that he’s at school so much. But it has something in common with homeschooling: the parents at his school don’t just pay lip service to parent participation. The Cultural Awareness performance couldn’t have happened without them. The head of the school introduced a Grandma and Great-Aunt who sewed costumes. Moms did make-up. Dads did sound and lighting. The lesson is clear: his school has the sort of proud, tight community that it takes to create extended learning projects like this. It’s the sort of community that schools have trouble creating in our test-heavy, leave it to the professionals setting.
What homeschooling and a school with a dedicated parent community have in common is a commitment to lifelong learning. It’s what my friend Heddi of the Educational Resource Center refers to as “the learning lifestyle.” She, like me, didn’t plan to be a homeschooler. But when we started, it wasn’t that big of a stretch for us because we’d already been living the learning lifestyle.
What is the learning lifestyle? First of all, it’s talking to your kids. The first longterm babysitter we found for our kids was when my daughter was a baby. She was from Colombia and was truly a gift to our household. But she told me that she had gotten something from us as well: she said that where she grew up, parents never spoke to their children like they understood anything. Children were children and you just told them what to do. She was impressed that I talked to my son about everything and he understood. And even more impressive, I didn’t speak babytalk to my daughter. She was just a baby, but we used a full vocabulary with her and listened to her opinions even when they were voiced as a baby’s scream or giggle.
Secondly, we read to our kids, and still do. It’s harder now to read to our son (see crazy schedule above), but we still do sometimes. And recently when he read a book that he really loved, I and then my husband read it too. We wanted to share his enjoyment!
Third, we modeled the learning lifestyle for them, showing obvious enjoyment in doing things that we were unfamiliar with, that were hard, that were a stretch for us. We tried new things — my husband will try almost any non-meat food, no matter what the smell. How else could our daughter have discovered that she likes those dried little anchovies they sell at Asian markets? I tackled things that I was clearly uncomfortable with — I’ve never been a skilled builder of mechanical things, but I learned along with my kids.
Living the learning lifestyle isn’t easy. My sister recently laughed that I’d brought along a video for my daughter to watch on a long car-ride. She pointed out that before I had my high-energy daughter, I’d not even allowed most videos in our house. I agreed, but proudly I pointed out something: I brought the video, but what my daughter wanted to do was listen to her Spanish language tape and talk with her cousin. Not letting our daughter become a video-head has been a major success in our learning lifestyle. It was such a relief when she was younger to be able to plug her in occasionally so we could get some peace.
But as the high school homeschooler I mentioned above shows, lifelong learning can take many forms. I wish him luck and bon apetit on his journey. I hope when my kids are in high school, whether homeschooled or not, they attack such large tasks with gusto.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

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