Guest blog by Erica Hugo
Many of us start our homeschool journey by looking at learning material and homeschooling approaches. With so much information out there on the internet, it is very difficult to know what to focus on and what to leave out. Each homeschooling style has real benefits: autonomy in unschooling, structure and gap-filling in school-at-home, retelling in Charlotte Mason, linking concepts in Classic Approach and the list goes on. However, each approach may have drawbacks you would like to avoid as well.
To make life easier for you, I would like to suggest that you start by educating yourself on how the brain learns. Yes, each child’s neural network is unique, but luckily for us there are universal techniques for learning that are brain friendly for everyone. Once you know how the brain learns, you can start looking at resources that will help you reach your end destination.
So, what is learning? We grew up believing that learning is difficult, and that we need to get a lot of facts into our heads. However, learning is not memorizing. This is so crucial that I have to say it again: learning is not memorizing. Even if you are preparing for exams. You can remember content better by using techniques other than memorizing.
A memory is a bunch of dendrites formed in your brain. Everything you know and everything you remember has been hard-wired into your brain. Your brain today looks different to yesterday. It changes as it learns/experiences something new. This unique ability to change and adapt is called neuroplasticity.
Learning is about building useful memories, not completing grades or tests and assignments.
The first thing you need to know, is we learn by adding information to what we already know. For example, have you ever tried to talk to a computer geek and your eyes just start glazing over when he starts to speak? This has to do with your brain struggling to connect to whatever comes out of the dude’s mouth. Your existing database does not have enough techno jargon to relate to, and when he speaks, your brain struggles to hook this new information to what it already knows. Our kids experience the same problem if we don’t meet them where they are at.
Each person has unique memories, which means each person has a unique neural network – a unique internal database. This makes you, the parent, the ideal educator for your child as you understand the best what your child’s neural network looks like and how to hook new information to his existing knowledge.
The second thing you need to know, is research tells us is that we are what we experience, not we are what we read. We learn by experiencing things. This means we have to find creative ways to make textbook knowledge more experiential – you can do this by doing experiments, building models, acting things out and so on.
The third thing you need to know, is we can use either shallow processing (like memorizing) or deep level processing strategies (e.g. engaging with the content, trying to really understand the content and solving difficult problems) to learn. Someone who uses shallow processing strategies can work really hard and still fail whereas someone who works on understanding content will automatically remember more. Actually, he will remember the work whether he intended to learn or not.
What is the implication of this when preparing for exams? Well, instead of memorizing the contents of a textbook, your child is much better off practicing past papers that have challenging problem- solving questions related to the work he needs to know. Also, making mind maps is far more effective use of his time than summarizing a textbook. The one forces him to engage with the content while the other encourages shallow processing strategies.
Whatever you choose to teach your child, you must focus on understanding and engaging with the content and get your child to use deep level processing strategies. Whenever you are homeschooling, do try to engage your children in the following ways:
· Asking questions
· Experiential learning
· Building projects
· Making the work relatable to their world
· Visual imagery
· Use YouTube videos
· Focus on challenging, problem-solving questions
· Make mind maps
The fourth thing you need to be aware of, is there is a fine balance between challenging your child so that he is not bored and making the work easy enough so that he is not overwhelmed. If your child is tired after an engaging morning but not stressed, then you know he has had a good mental workout.
Lastly, the brain is plastic – it can change and adapt. As parents you do the best with the information you have. We all live with regrets: if we knew xyz or if we had the resources we could have done things differently. Do know your child’s past experiences does not determine the potential of his future. Each day is a new day to build new memories – every day is an opportunity to adapt, to learn and to enhance your child’s future.