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Life Learners Going Beyond Academics

Beyond Academics
By Rachel J. Johnson

I have two daughters, Lexi and Laina, who learn at home. Not only do they learn from life, but I learn from them. Often, we learn together as a family, when one member’s interest touches the rest. More importantly, what my children learn goes beyond academics.

Although academics are important, there are other things equally, if not more, important. We humans naturally pick up academics over the course of our lives (or will be motivated to take classes to acquire the information we need). We all have an innate drive to learn. Beyond arithmetic and the alphabet, I want my children to be able to think for themselves, to develop a strong sense of confidence and personality, to think critically, to be confident, to know and understand their strengths and weaknesses – to be physically, emotionally and mentally healthy – and to find their passions and live their dreams.

First let me tell you about Lexi. In December of the year that she was almost eight, she wrote and directed a sequel to The Nutcracker. She planned the costumes, dance steps, props, and music. Then she and her sister then performed it for us several times during the holiday season. When preparing it, Lexi choreographed dance steps to match both the tempo of the music and the characters.

We saved the play and they performed it again four years later. During the month she created it, Lexi learned about writing, music, drama and art. (Since research shows that musical involvement strengthens math ability, there were likely academic benefits too.) However, she took away much more from the project. She developed a sense of authorship, leadership and stronger belief in her own creativity and imagination.

Then we come to Laina, age five-and-a-half. She got a set of fingerpaints in her stocking for Christmas. Not three days later, we had pictures displayed throughout the house that she had created with her new paints. And, I do mean all over the house – maybe fifty pictures or so. She wore an old, long t-shirt and painted to her heart’s content while dancing and singing. Starting at the paint station, she’d hum while splashing paint over two papers. Then she’d start singing while carrying the papers to an empty space on the floor. This is what she sang:

“I’m an artist, and I was born to be an artist. No one can take it away from me. I love painting.”

Over and over again, she sang the song she created while painting picture after picture. Soon, paint was splattered all over the papers, our floor and our budding artist. After showing me how much paint she had splattered on herself, she sang a new song as she skipped, “I’m a paint monster.”

When all the paint containers were empty, she took a bath then helped mop the floor. Alas, the paint is gone but we now have tons of pictures representing her artistic talents. And, most importantly, Laina has a strong sense of creation, imagination and her own power. She’ll carry those things with her into any future endeavor, artistic or otherwise.

By learning at home, Laina and Lexi have the freedom to explore anything, the time to delve deeper when they want, the chance to complete projects (or to leave one thing unfinished for something that’s more important at that moment), and the opportunity to find their own strengths and weaknesses while developing a keen sense of self-confidence.

What are the most important things I learn from them? That it’s all right to make mistakes. That something doesn’t have to be graded in order for growth to occur. To approach life with enthusiasm and excitement. To see the world with wide-eyed wonderment.

I am blessed to be both teacher and student in life learning with my children.

Rachel Johnson writes poetry, children’s stories and narratives. She also teaches English as a second language, tutors online and unschools her two daughters. She loves to read, explore nature and train for marathons. Rachel lives with her husband and children in Kansas City, Missouri.

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