Inspiring Independent Study

Sitting on the banks of a sparkling stream on a warm, summer day, watching the bobber of my fishing line float peacefully, I allow my thoughts to drift over the milestones of my life. As my hands lightly cradle the fishing pole, I compare the satisfaction of catching my own fish to the triumph of learning.
Had it not been for parents, teachers, pastors, and those who cared enough to teach me the way, I likely would not have traveled so far on this journey called life. They didn’t just toss me a fish – they taught me how to bait the hook and patiently wait for the prize, feeding my own inquisitiveness long after they had moved on.
A smile lights my face, as I remember the mother who encouraged my questions, and made sure I always had a healthy supply of fascinating reading material available. I chuckle as I remember the math teacher who gave me extra problems, just for fun, because I was done so quickly with my assigned work. I contentedly sigh as I picture the English teacher who made me write my school newspaper article over again, twice, because it just wasn’t as good as he thought it could be. I recall the lab assistant who allowed me to look through the opposite side of the microscope, and help count the cells on the slides. I have fond memories of the professor who fed me stacks of books, and required outlines of every chapter, encouraging my enthusiasm and writing crazy puns on my papers to reward my diligence.
All of these experiences have melted together to stir up one lifelong quest for knowledge in my soul. I love to learn. Why? Perhaps it is because the people in my life inspired me to never stop asking questions, and to follow my thoughts to their logical conclusions. They equipped me with the tools necessary to discover new things. They provided me with trips near and far, to local museums as well as far off countries. Whenever I expressed an interest in a particular subject, they helped me to research it and pursue that interest until it was satisfied.
Now that I am a home school mother myself, I realize the great privilege I have been entrusted with: inspiring learning in my own children. Secretly, that is one of my favorite perks of homeschooling – the fact that my full time job requires me to continue pursuing my interests and learning more.  One of my biggest goals as a home school educator is to inspire an independent spirit of learning into my children. As they grow, and their individual interests become evident, I must pass on that heritage of hungering after knowledge.
How can we best inspire independent study skills in our children? Here is a short list of suggestions:
  • Listen carefully to their questions. Let them understand
    that their questions are valuable, not annoying.
  • When they express interest in a subject, dive headlong into
    it with them. Enter their world and discover something new together.
  • Make learning fun and enjoyable. Even if the topic is not
    something that particularly interests you, learn one new fact and share that
    joy of discovery with your child.
  • Equip your child with the tools they need to explore their
    interests. Teach them how to use the library, the internet, and local
  • Connect with experts in the field of your child’s interest.
    Make it an activity that you can do together, meeting with that person and
    allowing your child to experience the subject matter firsthand.
  • Don’t use writing, research assignments, or essays as a form
    of punishment. Working alongside your child on their first research paper will
    not only give you quality time together, but will also teach them how to eventually
    do it on their own.
  • Regularly give them checklists and deadlines for assignments.
    Let them know what is expected, and help them to reach those goals. Reward
    excellence and effort, but do not give inflated praise. Give constructive
    suggestions for improvement. Instill the character they will need to follow
    through on independent learning quests.
  • Invest in your child’s learning interests. Add a place into
    your budget for extras that will feed their curiosity. Have good materials on
    hand for their use.
  • Never stop learning yourself. Be a great example by always
    picking up new information and sharing it with your children.
Cultivate a love of learning and you will grow a lifelong learner. Inspire your children to never stop learning, and equip them with the tools necessary to not just fish for one meal, but for their lifetime!
Erica Beyea is a pastor’s wife and second generation home school veteran. She has taught her four daughters at home for the past sixteen years, and blogs about home school and Christian family living at Be The One.

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