This is my eleventh summer in Virginia, but I’m still surprised at how things grow in abundance. Today I noticed a sprout in the door frame. The door frame! As I studied it, I noticed another one nearby in the crack of the deck floor. Ah! “Anything will grow well in this Virginia humidity,” I thought. After all, the conditions for growth are all here: abundant seeds, moisture, and heat.
As parents and as educators, we hope the things we are teaching our children will sprout and grow. These sprouts of learning often surprise me. One happened this week when my 10-year-old spontaneously recognized the pluscuamperfecto de subjuntivo in a piece of Spanish writing. Away from the verb book we’d been using to study, I was astonished that she could identify the conjugation. I wasn’t sure she had understood what we had been studying. Yet there it was, a sprout of learning.
At my son’s request, we’ve been growing more indoor plants. As I look at the ones in the windowsill, I can see some fuzzy mold (from overwatering.) In another plant I see some leaves with curled, dry edges (a drought response.) I can start to feel despair about the conditions not being exactly right—too much water or too little water? Do we need fertilizer? Has the plant outgrown the pot?
In order to learn more, we got all the books we could from the library about house plants. They promised to solve our every problem. They identified possible causes and solutions.
The questions about the plants are like my questions about my children. I think we’d all like a manual that says, “Here’s the way to get your child to learn.” And, specific rules about helping children get unstuck from bad ruts. Here are some things I’ve learned so far.
The most basic seed of learning is in the form of a question. What questions are your children already asking? When I pause to notice their current questions, I can see possible sprouts of learning.
One of the best ways I’ve found to introduce my child to new material is through questions. “How can we measure how quickly things change over time?” leads to a discussion about calculus. “How can this store make money?” leads to a discussion about economics. Presenting not just the facts but the questions behind them means my child will be engaged with learning in a more proactive way.
Moisture is the cue that begins germination of seeds. One possible metaphor here is that adding moisture to our homeschool means giving our time. Learning alongside our child is much more effective than having a child learning in a silo.
Adding heat could look like a structured time to accomplish the task. Heat could come in the form of daily appointed time or even deadlines. Conditions for learning are not be the same as conditions for comfort or entertainment. Sometimes a little bit of pressure can give the necessary push to begin growth.
I hope that your summer learning has unexpected sprouts. And, that you feel capable of improving the conditions that lead to deeper learning.