Discovery Learning

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Don’t you love it when you think you’re being all original and clever and then find out that you’re just not? Well, that would be me, in many instances, but when it came to defining my method of teaching homeschool, I’ll have to admit that I was a little disappointed to find out that my term had already been used for almost a half century.

Discovery Learning is essentially the “learn by doing” approach to teaching and learning. I wouldn’t say I’m a “purist” when it comes to this method, like I mentioned in my articles “Homeschooling: Before You Begin…” and “My Educational Philosophy” our school has evolved over the years. Being trained as a teacher, I originally began homeschooling with a more traditional or what some would term “Classical” approach to education. Basically the way we are taught in public and most private schools incorporate the Classical style, with rote memorization, standardized tests, lots of lectures, writing, and reading.

While I have nothing against this method, and personally I actually enjoy lectures and learn well through this method, I soon realized that my children would not be learning what they were capable of, using purely this methodology. Also, I found that school was more of a chore, both for them and for me. They didn’t like it, I was constantly nagging and coaxing and honestly, it was draining!

The problem was that I wasn’t really sure how to teach in a different way. Sure they give you a few ideas of “group activities” and “hands-on learning” that you can do when you’re taking education classes, but to teach from a mainly “learning by doing” methodology….frankly, that just seemed way to “out there” for my little control freak mind. I started researching and came up with more activities but I was basically just supplementing a classical style and I knew we needed something more.

That was when a wonderful homeschooling mom, that had been doing it for a lot longer than I had and had homeschooled all of her 7 children at some point, gave me some pointers. She said, “When you’re at this point (meaning, homeschooling young children) the most important thing is Discovery.” She went on to explain how is was more important that the child learn to love learning than it was that they be at a certain “level” or be able to pass a certain test. When she said that, it was a huge “light bulb” moment for me.

One of my main objectives for homeschooling was that my children be “Life-long Learners” that they LOVE to learn, that they search things out, ask questions and have the pro-activity to find the answer. This was hugely important to me. My dear friend explained that too many teachers/ parents push their kids to adhere to a norm when no one is “normal” everyone has their own pace for learning and certain subjects that they will have a special talent in.

She went on to say that the “window” for learning to read was actually 4-10 years old and she actually had children herself that hadn’t learned to read until after they turned 8 and decided they were ready…three months later they were already surpassing the “level” they were “supposed” to be at. She further explained that they had learned the alphabet and basic phonics through reading her frequently reading aloud and playing games. This was also her suggestion for all other subjects, find really kid-friendly, illustrated, good books on all different subjects and then lots of activities and games to complement them and your kids will WANT to learn.

She concluded by saying that once this foundation of asking, searching, finding and loving to learn is in place, they will, with time and maturity move on to more rote methods without much coaxing because they will realize that in order to answer one of their questions or reach a goal (ie: become a physicist, fly a plane, become a doctor, etc.) they will need to read about it and memorize some things. However, the great part about teaching with the goal of loving to learn was that by the time they reach that point, any rote learning that they may have to do to answer a question or reach a goal will not be drudgery to them because they will WANT to learn it.

I already believed this to be true and it was one of the main reasons I was still searching for something better…though I was still terrified at the thought of executing such a task. Nevertheless, I knew I needed to change if I truly wanted what was best for our family.

Thankfully, I was already an advocate of reading and we had lots of kid-friendly books and I searched out a few more to round out the subjects and ones that I knew my children would BEG me to read to them. Also, I was blessed with a great mom myself that had taught me to be a life-long learner and was already incorporating many of those techniques into my own family.

To explain a bit, I always try to give as much information as I think appropriate (age, maturity, and ability being considered) whenever my children asked me questions (which is VERY frequently, sometimes it seems constantly!). Also, if I do not know the answer to the question I will say something along the lines of “I don’t know, let’s ask so-and-so (if there was someone we knew that I knew would know the answer)” or “Let’s look it up” and we would find a book or look up the answer on the internet. In addition to these, I would also ask my children lots of questions like “Why do you think that is?” or “What do you think will happen?”

So, now I started thinking, “How can we DO this to learn it.” That question was hard at first, especially with things I had always learned in a rote method, like reading and math. However, thankfully again, I live in the era of the internet and through some research I found some great programs and great mentors that could guide me along the path of helping me become a “Discovery” teacher. Moreover, I feel so blessed that as I have poured my heart out to my Father in Heaven, He truly has been my greatest teacher and has led me and prompted me to add and make changes that have made a monumental difference.

With time it has also become much easier to be more creative on my own and find different ways to teach a subject through “doing”. As I would explain the methods I was using in our school, to friends and family, the word “Discovery” was used so often that I started using the term “Discovery Learning” (thinking I was so witty). It wasn’t until much later that I found that I wasn’t quite as clever as I thought.

The best part has been that through all the challenges and changes the energy change in our schooling is its own reward. My children are much more willing and I am much more motivated. I wouldn’t say I’ve completed the journey however, when I get tired, burned-out, or stressed I tend to switch back to my old habits and have to re-route myself again. My children are my best reminders because they clearly prefer and thrive in a “Discovery” environment as opposed to the Classical style.

I’m so grateful for this incredible journey of homeschool, it has stretched me and caused me to reach down into the very depths of my soul as I strive to create the best environment for learning in my home. I love it and I look forward to further adventure in the future!

So tell me, how did you find YOUR methods for teaching? What has been the best advice you’ve received in your journey of homeschooling?

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