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It’s Just a Phase…Or Is It?

It’s Just a Phase…Or Is It?

We've seen it play out over and over. A young person in the last glory days of high school is trying to figure out what be when he grows up. College is right around the corner and there are decisions to be made. Take a year off, some advise. Travel. See the world, maybe that will help. Don't rush into a program at a four-year college (does anyone actually only go for four years these days?). Take your basics at a community college and transfer in later. Take classes in a little bit of everything-you can choose your major later.

 I have a different idea.

What if instead, we traveled back in time, took a trip down memory lane and rediscovered what this young person was like as a child? Revisited the subjects that sparked his curiosity? Let him lead the way?

After watching several former students blossom and grow in their chosen career fields, I have no doubt that many children show an interest in and aptitude for subjects that can lead to potential careers at relatively early ages. I can look at my own family and see the correlation between what interested us years ago and where we are in life presently. At fourteen, I was voted by my peers most likely to follow in the footsteps of my middle school choir director. At twelve, my brother begged my parents endlessly for a guitar. One of my sisters drew housing floorpans on just about every piece of paper she could get her hands on and my youngest sister has a collection of amazing photographs hanging in her apartment that she took as a sophomore in high school.

I became a music teacher.

My brother is a Grammy-winning musician. 

My sister graduated from college with a degree in architecture.

My youngest sister is in the process of growing her photography business. 

We were very fortunate that our parents supported and encouraged our interests. School was important, make no mistake about that, but it was also important for us to have hobbies, to do the things that made us happy. How many people do we know that get up every morning to go to a job that makes them miserable? How many stories have you heard of middle-aged men and women making career changes in order to pursue their passions? How many of you dream of retirement so that you can finally learn to play that instrument or take that cooking class or spend time gardening, writing or traveling?

Excerpt from a school project I completed in the fourth grade. #nailedit

What if the "phases" kids go through weren't viewed as phases at all, but instead as an amazing foreshadowing of the type of person they could grow to be? What if we didn't nudge kids out of these phases by telling them it was time to sit still and memorize hollow facts and figures? What if we let them wear their dress-up costumes to the grocery instead of putting them in school uniforms and insisting they all learn the same thing at the same time? What if we answered their never-ending questions fully-gave them resources to explore their curiosities instead of nagging at them to please just finish their homework?

All this may seem easy to achieve when you're a homeschooling family, but what about the vast majority of kiddos without that option? What can parents do to keep a child's interests at the forefront of their educational career?

Support their interests. Many parents do this already but it is still worth mentioning. Whether your child is interested in art or music, swimming or soccer, sometimes the little exposure they get at school (if they get it at all) isn't enough to really fuel their passion and keep them engaged. Spring for the private lessons. Sign her up for summer camp. Drive them across town in traffic to the climbing gym. Do all this to keep your kids engaged in life. Make them feel like what they are interested in is important and by the same token, don't try to push your interests on them. They may not want to follow in your high school hall-of-fame footsteps. 

Get involved. We are homeschoolers through and through but you will constantly find me advocating for the reform of our public education system. The best people to do this are the ones that are there every single day. Spend some time volunteering. Serve on planning committees and attend PTA meetings. Let teachers and administrators know that your third grader’s homework load doesn’t allow time for soccer practice and family dinners. They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so squeak away. 

Find a compatible school. There are a lot of options between public school and homeschooling. Look for charter and magnet schools that place an emphasis on subjects your child is interested in. If private schools are an option look into Montessori or self-directed learning style campuses that let your learner work at his or her own pace. Ken Robinson writes that a good school should “bring out the best in {students} as individuals and help develop the competencies they need to make their way in the world.”* This might not always be the school right around the corner.

Will every little kid that dreams of playing professional sports or becoming an astronaut land those dream gigs? Unfortunately not, but my guess is that if we let kids explore their interests truly and deeply, then maybe, just maybe, you'd have fewer uncertain college students traipsing around campus for years on end and a lot more people grabbing hold of their dreams and turning them into reality. 


 *You, Your Child and School by Ken Robinson.

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