One of the takeaways I've found most valuable from my teaching years, readings, observations, and time learning with my children is that learning by immersion is vital when helping a child (anyone) learn and most importantly, enjoy the learning.
I don't believe learning happens without interest and enjoyment. Memorization for the moment, perhaps, but when we force learning, a child might actually "learn" to avoid the topic or subject, learn to feel inadequate, or figure out how to hide a novel in their math book.
If we want to speak another language, we know the best way to do so is to be around and talk to people who speak the language, live in the country, be a part of the culture that gives the language its meaning.
Learning ANYTHING should be thought about in the same way. An immersion experience is needed.
To engage in reading, we need to begin by choosing what we read. What is interesting to us? Then we need to be given time to read. Reading for pleasure makes readers. We can also dive deeper: talk about the book, meet the author, dive into the whys and hows, the setting, the characters, the conflict. We can become a part of the book.
To engage in writing, we must write, and not in some prescribed way that only makes sense if we're taking a standardized test. We must participate in real writing- journaling, making lists, emailing, writing letters, making comic books, a flyer, starting a blog.
For any subject, any topic, if we want to know it, we need to be given the tools to become a part of the story.
What these tools look like is time, resources, patience, more patience, and trust that if we hold the space, give our children/students the chance to explore, play, become a part of the story, they will, when they are ready.
That is a BIG piece of the learning puzzle- children learn something when THEY are ready. Not when a test or adult deems them ready.
Can we help them become ready? Maybe. It depends on the child and circumstances. This is where interest comes in. If we appeal to what the learner wants to know about, they will be more willing to meet whatever challenge a new skill brings. But, we must tread lightly without a set agenda. Force, even when backed by good intention, does not typically lead to an enjoyment of learning or actual learning. It might equal minimal engagement, but eventually, the other pieces, the child being ready and offered an interest based, kind learning environment, will be necessary before mastery can begin to occur.
And often, if we push, we'll have to keep pushing until we end up at the moment they are ready anyways (with a lot of suffering on both ends), OR we push the child away from wanting to learn, setting them backward.
So we offer- we facilitate- we observe.
What this looks like is the teacher/parent/facilitator needs to be looking for things that might engage or inspire, and be okay to step away when what they think is a great fit isn't.
For instance, when we first started homeschooling, I came across a curriculum I thought was perfect. Focused on nature and animals, something our family loves, I spent months trying to convince my son what we were doing was a good fit. The truth was, it was a good fit for ME and had I been the homeschooler, it would have been. We needed to find something that suited him, not what I thought suited him.
When I was teaching middle and high school English, I couldn't count how many times I thought I found the perfect book for a struggling reader that was in fact not the perfect book. So they'd abandon it, and we'd try again, and sometimes again and again, but we'd eventually find a book they loved, they would get hooked, and for the first time begin to read. As their teacher, I had to be okay with them skimming and struggling until December or February. Truthfully, I didn't have a choice. I could "make them" read a book. Yes, I thought they needed to, but they either A- they had no clue what they were reading because they weren't engaged B- found the movie and pretend they had read the book C- did not do their assignment (because they couldn't and I was making them) D- cheated. The ABC list goes on and on.
How many high school students do you know that pride themselves on never reading a single book in high school? Maybe you're one of them. If you're a high school teacher, you know a bunch. These non-readers are not just kids who struggle to read; they are kids who hate reading, who have not been allowed to read books or found books they enjoy.
It's not just reading. Replace it with any subject. For me it was math. Had I been taught math through art or cooking, I'd be much more in love with numbers than I am now, and I would have been more confident in engaging in science. An area I was interested in but told I'd never be successful in because I couldn't do math.
There isn't one way to learn. Books and teachers won't and can't teach learners everything they need to know.
Our learners need immersion.
We must look for things that might interest our children and keep looking when what we find doesn't. We must be okay when their interests aren't ours. We must find interest in their interests.
We must say yes to messy, to lots of time, to doing the same thing over and over, to being okay when they just aren't ready to learn that just yet.
And it doesn't matter if our kids are in school or learn at home. It doesn't matter if they are 3 or 23. We can encourage and nurture the love of learning. It's one of the best gifts of love we can offer.