- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

Many times, I hear parents question, “What can I do to get my child to read (or do math, or understand science, or learn music)?”

Behind this question is the assumption that a certain book or teacher or method will magically impart mastery to the student. The converse assumption is that, failing the perfect circumstance, it would be difficult or impossible to learn that particular skill.

In fact, every skill can be approached by an infinite number of learning methods: through stories and reading, hands-on experience, formulas and drills or many other means.

I am convinced that the trick to being a home-educating parent is twofold: to become a student of one’s own children’s learning patterns, as well as becoming a lifelong learner oneself.

The first part is a matter of observation, experimentation, and evaluating the results. Does my child learn more efficiently if shown an illustration, or when using physical objects to try things out? For instance, do they understand fractions better by seeing a diagram of two-thirds of something, or do they understand it by cutting up a pizza themselves into that number of pieces?

The second aspect — being an active learner oneself — is a challenge to many of us. Let’s face it, our society is aimed at entertainment and consumption, not at exploration of the unknown. It’s easier to vegetate in front of the television or video-game console than to seek out information on something of interest.

Here are a few simple ways for adults to practice habits of self-education that can be modeled to our children.

• Read. Keep a pile of books around, and carry one with you everywhere. Then, unavoidable delays, such as waiting in line at the grocery store, sitting at the Motor Vehicle Department or waiting in a doctor’s office, can be transformed from time wasters into time well-spent.

• Listen. Get some good music, CDs or tapes to play when you are driving or doing chores. You can use this time to learn languages, listen to books, receive inspirational or motivational ideas, or even hear comedy routines.

• Move. Physical movement, including dance, stretching, yoga, jogging, lifting weights and muscle-relaxation techniques can be done throughout your day. Run from the parking lot to the grocery store. Do isometric exercises when sitting in a meeting or on a plane. Stretch your spine and limbs between computer sessions.

• Ask. Experts are all around you. When you find yourself in the presence of someone with an in-depth knowledge of a particular area, ask them about their field.

I have met thousands of fascinating people in my life, and have learned to never let the chance pass me by to learn from them about what they have mastered. In a few minutes, or a few hours, it’s possible to pick up important information that could not be learned anywhere else.

• Weed. At times, we realize that certain things are getting in the way of self-development. When we learn this, it’s best to clear out the old habit. Perhaps a certain friendship has become a complaint corner, or the television or headphones or computer are distracting you from projects you really want to do. Be willing to re-create daily, to make a new habit and a new self.

• Bequeath. As you learn new things, report about it to your family. Make a habit of sharing everyday with those around you what new things you have absorbed. In this way, not only do you expand your knowledge, but you multiply it to those you love.

Amazingly enough, I have found that when I increase my own learning habits, my children increase theirs without any effort on my part. It’s been said, “Children should be seen and not heard,” but perhaps the truer statement is “Children learn by seeing, not by hearing.”

We, parents, are always setting the tone, whether we know it or not. As I sit here, writing this on my computer, two of my children are writing reports on theirs, a few feet away, without any input on my part. Our habits weave an invisible pattern of thought and action into our family culture, and that pattern manifests in how our children approach their respective goals.

For a new year, we get 365 totally new days, and each can be a chance for me to be a new self. This is treasure indeed.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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