Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Inspire, Not Require

One of my favorite "pillars" of a Thomas Jefferson Education is "Inspire, Not Require." This was something that just clicked with me right away. It made perfect sense. How is your child supposed to love learning unless he sees YOU loving learning as well? This pours over into all aspects of life. If you want your child to clean his room happily and regularly, then you had better be cleaning YOUR room happily and regularly. If you want him to love math, then show him how fun it can be. Show him that you love it too. I mean, why should he be happy about doing math if he sees you are miserable about it.

Over the past several weeks, the Chief has been learning about India, and he's been very excited to do so. How did I sustain his interest? By showing how excited I was to learn about it too. I got myself some books and movies about India. This shows him that learning is something that people do, whether they are kids or grown-ups. It's a part of life. When he sees me reading Gandhi's autobiography, the Chief wants to know more. So I take out his children's version. When he sees me looking at a map, he wants to know where places are. Form my example, he starts taking the initiative and actively looks for things about India, everywhere he goes.

Parents, whether we like it or not, are our children's teachers. This is whether we homeschool or not. Children take their lead from their parents. What they see their parents doing, good or bad, is what they do. The attitudes their parents take on are the attitudes they take on. A perfect example of this is all the bullying kids are experiencing in schools. If children see their parents being intolerant of others, they will be intolerant. If parents ignore their kids, ignore their needs, then kids will in turn ignore the needs of their peers, and eventually, their own families. If kids see the parents as putting themselves first all the time, they will do the same.

Rather than ripping out your hair over your child not doing something that you think he should, spend some time thinking, "How can I *inspire* him to do this?" Even something like cleaning his room. Clean it for him first, show him how nice a clean room feels, how you have more room to play, how you can find everything. Show him YOUR nice clean room, because how can you expect him to clean his room when yours is a mess? Show him how you can do nice things in your clean room, like hang up pictures or decorations. Above all, keep a good attitude. Show the kids how any work they do helps the entire family function more smoothly. If their room gets messy, go up and look at it. "Oh, no, your room is getting messy again. It's so important to keep a clean room so you can find all your toys!" and help him clean it up. Eventually, he will get it. He'll start picking up after himself, especially if he can really see how happy it makes you. There is also the option of letting it get so messy that he can't function in his room, he can't find things, etc. And letting him prove for himself that a clean room is best.

With learning, I do sort of "require" some things, but I do it in a way that is logical. Math is not the Chief's favorite subject, but I want him to stay on top of it. That is basically the only thing I *have* to require in our homeschool, because all the other subjects he takes on voluntarily. And even with math, I just explain to him, "Chief, you want to be an architectural engineer, right?" "yes." "Well, Engineers need to know how to do math." And he will generally just sit down and do it without arguing. The key to this is having very short lessons, as well. With math, I have him do one sheet of work per day, because that is what he is comfortable with. Anything longer, and he doesn't do as well, and at least for the next few years, the main goal of our homeschool is to culture a love of learning.

We require that people be kind and considerate to one another, but if they don't want to, they can always go to their room and not be with anyone. And really, anything that you feel you want to require from your children, you can usually INSPIRE them into doing. It takes a bit longer and it takes more work on the parents' part, but the results will be longer lasting because the kids' will have come to their conclusions on their own, through trial and error and logic. I won't lie. It's a lot of work. But it is very rewarding to see the Chief taking on more and more responsibility for himself by thinking, rather than doing something just because I said so, for fear of punishment.

What is more important? Raising thinkers, or raising sheep? I think we are desperate in this world for more thinkers and leaders!


  1. I love this. It is also one of my favorite parts of TJED.

    Why isn't it more accepted? It seems common sense to me - yet so many educational systems 'require' certain standards set by...who knows?

    Thanks for this post!

  2. This is an excellent post. I read A Thomas Jefferson Education last summer and LOVED it. I will have to remember to review it for my blog.