Reason to Homeschool #7 – Integrated Subjects

As most of us are aware, subjects in school are divided into isolated topic areas. In a typical school setting, children move from one subject (class) to the next and they form opinions about those subjects. They might love Art and not like History. They might think they’re good at Math but not at Science.

Before children enter school, they learn in a holistic way. They relate the new material they are learning to something they already know and it’s all anchored in context and meaning. For example, when a child sets the table for dinner, the goal is to have dinner and setting the table is just a step towards that goal. The child learns that there are four people in the family so they need four plates and four forks and four napkins. If they pull out three forks, they learn that pulling out one more will equal four. It’s not “math” to them; they are setting the table for dinner, learning, feeling helpful, and having fun. Because the activity has context and meaning, they are more apt to remember the math that helped them obtain their goal. Had the child been taught how to add, in an isolated way, it would have taken much longer for it to “stick” and recalling it would be more difficult.

Children are whole people. When we look at them we don’t look intensely at one arm, and then at one foot, and then at the neck and consider each part separately. When we look out at the ocean we don’t focus first on the smell, and then move on to the feel of the air, and then move on to the color of the water. We take it all in as a whole with all parts interacting and relating to each other in a way that creates the entire, memorable scene.

Success in all aspects of life, is dependent upon how well we pull tougher a variety of elements. And, it’s not necessary or preferable to first learn each subject in an isolated way and then pull it all together.  People learn faster and retain more, when learning groups of skills and topics at the same time because it provides the context needed for retention and acceleration.

For example, let’s say we have a tennis pro and an amateur tennis player. The tennis pro is well-known and at the top of her game. The amateur is taking lessons. That amateur can be taught to have a perfect forehand and a perfect backhand and a perfect serve. In fact, on a skill-by-skill basis, many amateurs have been proven to have much better skills than the pros, when you isolate them individually. If an amateur were to execute each isolated skill just as well as a pro, we wouldn’t expect them to actually be as good as a pro.  We know that success depends on the pulling together of those skills.  In addition, when pros are asked how they got to be so good, they frequently say things like “I never really focused on individual skills – I just loved the game so much that I played a lot.  It’s generally within the context of the whole game, that each individual skill was perfected and not the other way around.

When children are young, they learn in a holistic way, and they retain what they’ve learned. A child learning to walk isn’t fully focused on perfecting that task. They’re just trying to figure out how to get across the room to grab the cookie which requires more skills than just walking.  When they learn to read, it’s not for the sake of reading.  It’s because they want to understand signs and books.  When they learn colors, they don’t focus on it because someone says it’s important to know.  They’re trying to differentiate between various objects in their world.

Learning is not the goal for young children but a means to getting to a goal.  As soon as learning becomes the goal, and is broken into subjects and topics, without meaningful purpose and context, children tune out.   They start forgetting and they begin to dread classes, and they lose interest – possibly forever.

Learning is all about relationships and connections. Relationships and connections are not at all in sync with isolated school subjects. Isolating subjects is about rejecting relationships and denying connections. Learning that is grounded in context, meaning, and purpose, will come about easily and naturally and last a lifetime. However, the learning program must be highly individualized.

Homeschooling allows me to use my daughter’s near-term goals to provide purpose, meaning and motivation.  I can then help her pursue the skills required to get to the goal in a related and connected way.  I’m able to carefully monitor what is being learned as well as being able to see the subtle changes in her goals and what she values, and continuously cater to her interests and needs with new learning nuggets that will fit in seamlessly and “stick” with her. I can also avoid having her ever think or say self-limiting phrases like “I don’t like Math” or “I’m not good at Science.

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