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Michele’s Musings
Upon Christian Homeschooling

Honouring Their “Bent”- Teaching According to Your Children’s Interests and Strengths

by Michele Hastings

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at our annual, provincial homeschooling convention. I’d been asked to prepare a class about teaching according to children’s interests and strengths and being that this is a favourite topic of mine, I readily accepted the invitation.

I believe that honouring each child’s unique design makes the task of homeschooling more enjoyable for everyone. My goal is to help parents gain a greater appreciation for the way each of their children are “wired,” and to provide them with a game plan and ideas to make the road smoother.

If your kids are anything like mine, academics have never been at the top of their priority list. At 12 and 13 our two sons, Asher and Tymon, are as disinterested in “reading, writing and arithmetic” as they were at the beginning of our homeschooling journey. Hanging out with friends, playing sports and electronic games have simply replaced prior favourites such as riding bikes, building with Legos and K’nex, and making music videos.

Although both boys have always been bright and communicative, neither had any interest in learning their A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s at ages 4 and 5, and even now they prefer almost anything to “bookwork.” So how do you engage kids like this in learning? I’ve boiled it down to five key steps.

STEP 1- Identify the reasons why you are homeschooling. List your motivations for homeschooling. We have about 10 reasons for wanting to homeschool our children, but the main reason is to allow them to develop a strong identity. We wanted to provide for them an environment where they could discover who God created them to be in order to do what He created them to do.

STEP 2 - Develop a “mission statement.” What is your role in your children’s lives or better yet -- what is your purpose on this planet? My mission is to “see, draw out, and enhance that which God has planted.” I challenge you to invest some time fine-tuning your own mission statement.

STEP 3 - Determine a “game plan” in keeping with your mission statement and motivations for homeschooling. The how you go about homeschooling must not clash with the why you are homeschooling. For example, because it was important for us to see our boys develop a strong sense of identity, we needed to tailor their education to their individual needs. We decided to focus on their strengths while easing them along in their weaknesses. Of course that child who can’t spell, has to continue working on it. But that shouldn’t be what he spends most of his time on. What is he good at? What does he enjoy? I believe that those are the things God planted within him and those are the things God wants him to develop and focus on. We felt led to give our boys as much freedom as they could responsibly handle.
Here’s an analogy: Say you’re taking your daughter shoe shopping because you are attending a wedding in the near future and she’s outgrown her dress shoes. You see a cute little pair of shiny black shoes with an adorable bow. You would have loved that pair of shoes when you were a little girl and you tell her so as you excitedly show her the shoe and suggest she try it on. Unfortunately, she hates them! Should you then make her try them on or do you offer her choices? What if she doesn’t want to wear dress shoes because they aren’t as comfortable as her old runners? Do you let her buy a nice pair of runners to wear with her dress or do you limit her choices to dress shoes…any pair of dress shoes in the mall? That’s what I mean by giving children as much freedom as they can responsibly handle. I would tell that child, “You can pick any of the dress shoes in this entire mall but you cannot buy runners. If you do not choose a pair, I will choose a pair for you.”

It’s hard to let go of our own ideas about what our children should do and how things should be done but we’ve tried not to worry too much about our boys being “well rounded.” After all, the world looks for “experts.” No one cares if their doctor is good at cooking or gardening, nor if their mechanic is good at drawing or can play an instrument.

STEP 4 - Study your children. God created each individual with a unique personality, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. He has a plan and purpose for each of our lives if we choose to co-operate with Him. In studying your child you will discover clues about who God created them to be and see glimpses of what He created them to do. There is a wonderful little book written by Ibi Lepscky called Leonardo da Vinci that I shared with my workshop participants. This tale about Leonardo’s childhood brought much encouragement to me when I first read it years ago. I discovered that my firstborn son, Tymon, wasn’t the only child who jumped from one interest to another, submerging himself in it completely for a period of time then suddenly exchanging that passion for another! Each time he dove into a new interest I felt both relieved and frustrated. I’d worry about how much time and money he would pour into an area and I’d also feel concerned about the lack of balance in his life. Yet, over time, he developed a wide variety of skills and gained an incredible amount of knowledge!

Our secondborn son, Asher, also moved from one interest to another, although his passions have been more concentrated in a few main areas. I’ve written many articles in the past, all of which can be found at my web site www.michelehastings.com (or the “Back Issues” section of The Link’s website) about how our children’s interests can be considered educational. Some of these articles include:

1. The Educational Merit of Sports

2. When Kids Direct their Learning

3. Wired for Learning

4. Let’s Go Fishin’

5. Can Anything Good Come from a Chatroom?

6. Is Football Educational?

STEP 5 - Seek out resources, opportunities, and mentors that “fit” each child and honors his/her “bent.” Math doesn’t have to be done via textbook or workbook. It can be learned through playing board games, card games, and computer games. It can be learned through visiting Internet sites, cooking and baking, and through handling money. Our boys found plenty of opportunities to earn money to spend on their hobbies such as holding garage sales, selling ice cream, and putting on backyard carnivals.

Science can be learned by owning pets, growing collections, watching videos and television programs, and performing experiments. Social studies can be covered through read-alouds of historical fiction, playing board games and computer games, watching videos and documentaries and playing with toy knights and castles. Reading books of their own choosing and writing book, movie, and game reviews constitutes the bulk of our boys’ language arts repertoire this year. And parents don’t need to fret when their 6- and 7-year-olds aren’t reading and writing yet. Much learning can happen through being read to and by making things, doing things, and going places. Our boys only became independent readers at ages 8 and 9 and yet had developed an extensive vocabulary, proper grammar usage, and a wide base of knowledge and experience.
“Milk” each interest as much as possible in order to cover required subject areas. Fill “gaps” in ways that suit each child as much as possible. And my final tip: If you do your best to honor who your child is and s/he is either apathetic or negative towards math or writing, take heart. A couple of hours per day spent on meeting academic requirements won’t kill anyone. If they don’t come away with a love of reading or a passion for science, at least they’ve developed a measure of discipline.

I’m convinced that honoring your child’s “bent” by teaching according to his interests and strengths will make the facilitating of their education easier and more fun for parents and children alike. -- M.H.

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Michele Hastings is the author of the popular book The Homeschooling Trail, which is described as “A ‘Fly-on-the-Wall’ view of homeschooling in the Hastings’ home” that recounts she and husband, Ted’s, adventures with teaching their 2 sons in Regina, Saskatchewan,Canada. For more information, please visit Michele’s website, www.michelehastings.com