Susan Whelan is a freelance writer and blogger based in Newcastle, NSW. She is a mother of three who is passionate about sharing her love of books and literature with her children and others. Susan is currently co-authoring a book on children’s creativity with Sydney artist and author Ursula Kolbe and is also the World Literatures Feature Writer for website Suite101.com.
On her blog Reading Upside Down, Susan shares reviews of books for children, teens and adults as well as posting thoughts about the things she comes across in her everyday life as a mother, writer, university student and avid reader. The aim of the blog is to offer ideas, encouragement and information in a way that is interesting and entertaining with occasional posts about quirky topics to keep the general tone light-hearted.
There is More to Life than Good Grades
Back when I was toying with the idea of homeschooling my children, I read a book about an American family that homeschooled their four sons (2 natural, 2 adopted) up to college age. The priority for this family was to encourage their sons to develop all the necessary academic skills, but they did this by encouraging the boys to follow their own passions and interests. For example, if an essay needed to be written, one with an interest in mechanics might write it on antique cars while another with an interest in astronomy might write it on the planets. It’s probably worth mentioning 3 of the four sons went on to attend Harvard.
While I ended up going down another path education-wise, the teaching philosophy stuck with me – that children learn best when they are learning about things that they love. I’ve tried to work this philosophy into the lives of my children, encouraging them to follow their passions and interests and offering them opportunities to learn that incorporate subjects and activities that naturally interest them. I’m sure that there is a technical term for this approach – child directed learning or some such – but for me it has simply been about offering my inquisitive children the opportunity to learn and have fun at the same time.
My children are extremely intelligent and if I was a little more focused and a little more disciplined in getting them to practice and reinforce the lessons they learn at school, I have no doubt that they would excel beyond their already excellent results. I am currently in the situation of having to decide whether to register my older son to sit the entrance exam for a local selective school for high school and I have spent no small amount of time weighing up the pros and cons of his options.
If it was simply a matter of choosing which school would offer the highest quality education for his high school years and produce the best academic results, the selective school would win out over his current school without a second thought. Is that all there is to it, though? The philosophy behind the My School website would no doubt say that it is. I should simply seek out the school achieving the highest overall results in English and Mathematics and sign him up, but I can’t help thinking that there is more to it than that.
I think that there is more to life than being smart and getting top grades. There. I’ve said it and my still-longing-to-be-teacher’s-pet heart has trembled, but it hasn’t stopped beating. My children’s intelligence is only one part of who they are and to be happy, I think they need to develop all the aspects of themselves – creativity, faith, emotional intelligence, social skills,friendships, a sense of humour, the ability to simply relax and have fun, a sense of purpose and self-worth. These things are all just as important as academic achievement in my mind for their ongoing mental and physical wellbeing.
For my children to be happy, which is what I want for them, I believe that they will need to use their intellect. It is part of who they are and one of the gifts that they have been blessed with. I don’t believe that they would ever be truly happy without being involved in something that kept them mentally stimulated. I want them to work hard and always do their best at their studies so that they can achieve their academic potential and give themselves the widest range of choices for future career possibilities, but I want them to know this is just one part of who they are and what they can achieve.
I watch parents of young children focused on steering their kids along a path that will offer them the greatest potential for academic success or even future career success, but my focus for my children will be to encourage them to follow their passion, to be brave enough to dream big dreams and then know that with hard work, perseverance and passion that they will be able to bring those dreams to life.
Academic achievement is important and we place a high value on education and knowledge in our home, but my highest priority is to see my children grow into well-rounded individuals with a real sense of purpose and joy and enthusiasm for life, not simply a career path and a 10 year plan.
That’s my passion and that’s what drives me as I love and encourage my children and help them to become all that they are capable of being.
Thanks Susan. Your article certainly made me pause, think, and examine my own beliefs.
How about you, thoughtful The Book Chook readers? What's important for you with education and kids?
(Lower image credit: sleddinfreak on Flickr.)