What Does It Mean to Guide a Child?

Aha moments are funny; they come when you least expect them. I had one of those breaking point days earlier this summer, the kind of day when you are disappointed in yourself and everyone around you, the kind of day where the pressure is so high that you have to huff and puff and let off steam, or else you'll explode and either end up rearranging furniture or crying into your pillow. Let's just say that our furniture wasn't in the same place by the end of the evening.

I'll admit it; I was frustrated. So frustrated that for 10 minutes I perused the website of the local Montessori school, wondering if it was time to throw in the towel and send the boys to school. I sat, and I read, and then I turned off the computer and told myself that it would never work anyway. I reminded myself that we are committed to home education. I have promised my boys that I will be their guide; we even shook on it. Besides, all of the day's frustration had nothing to do with home learning, or did it?

We are life long learners. We combine a holistic philosophy with a large dose of unschooling. I try to keep the big picture in mind while muddling through the little things: phonics and place value, art and argument. I plan reading practice and make sure there is enough time for making mud pies. I make schedules that we never stick to, and delight in the unexpected experience that teaches far more than I ever could. Still, I feel a little guilty whenever we swing too far into the realm of unstructured days. We miss the integration, the rhythm, the comfort of knowing what will come next. We all start to build pressure, and we have blow ups like the one earlier this summer.

While we were at the market that day, I realized that something important had been missing from our home learning. I hadn't been guiding my boys, not in the true sense of the word. I would pay lip service to being their guide, but in reality I had been an engineer. At some point the responsibility for learning should have been passed to my boys, and I should have stepped aside and started providing maps and directions instead of pulling the train by myself.

Since then, I have tried more and more to observe and guide, rather than direct. I pay close attention to the boys throughout the day, listening to the energy in the house and deciding when once activity has run its course and the boys might need guidance as to where to go next. The more I observe, the more I stand back, the better they get at moving themselves through the transition and finding the next thing to do.

I'm still me; there are things that I want them to learn. I'm all for following a child's interests; at the same time I want them to understand math on paper and not just in their heads. There are many books and stories I want to share with them that are far above their reading levels. There are also things that I want them to learn that they may never show an interest in, but that I consider important life skills. I've found that by the time the child is old enough to clean the toilet properly, s/he has lost interest in doing it.

Teaching life skills is part of guiding a child. I'm glad that I learned the basics of ironing. I'm glad I learned how to use a hammer and screwdriver. I wish I had known more about personal finance and interpersonal relationships when I left my parents' home and started my life with Papa.

Guides teach along the way, as they walk with you. They help you identify the paths, and also teach you how to bushwhack when necessary. They point out hidden dangers. Guides take you places you might not be able to go on your own. They don't, however, carry your backpack for you. They expect you to work for the experiences you are gathering. They stand ready to to point out a gorgeous view or a beautiful flower, but they pause first, waiting for you to discover them on your own. The best guides don't teach you everything you need to know; they help you connect with the fact that you are learning all the time.


nichole said…
Just lovely!

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