Homeschooling: Build Your Child’s Brain
by Expanding Experience
By Linda Dobson
I always thought one of the biggest bummers of school attendance was the drudgery, the same ol’ thing every single day, and one of the (many) reasons our family chose homeschooling was to spare our children the boredom of drudgery. Once free, our family, like so many other homeschooling families, was able to expand the range of our children’s experience. It’s fun and education rolled into one.
When homeschooling, plan to take advantage of all the educationally stimulating activities your community has to offer. You’ll quickly learn to do this instinctively as part of your family’s homeschooling lifestyle.
Homeschooling Frees You to Build Your Child’s Brain
Jane Fayette is a single mom with a demanding career in San Francisco. When her two daughters started acting bored with their current homeschooling schedule, Jane decided no matter what, they would find time for two fun and educational activities each week. “It’s much easier to accomplish on weekends,” says Jane, “but we’ll put our schedules through contortions to be able to make an exciting event or volunteer opportunity. We don’t always make it to two a week, but having that as a goal helps keep us aiming high!”
When you visit an art museum, volunteer at the local soup kitchen, or camp out in the woods, you’re giving your child much more than an introduction to Monet, a primer on charity, or the chance to decide which of ninety-nine mosquito bites to scratch first. You are building her brain – literally.
What Happens to a Brain on New Experience?
Our brains are made up of two kinds of cells: glial cells and nerve cells called neurons with branches called dendrites. Basically, the glial cells nourish the billions of neurons as they busily create and maintain the connections for thinking. The dendrite branches pick up messages from other neurons and sent them to the cell’s body. From there, the message travels to the axon, the neuron’s “out box,” if you will. After it leaves the out box, the message “jumps” across a gap (synapse) where it is picked up by another neuron’s dendrites. This amazing feat occurs billions of times each day as we engage in mental activity.
New experiences literally create new connections, changing the structure of the dendrites and synapses. This, in turn, creates new paths on which messages can travel. As a result, the brain becomes more flexible as it creates alternative paths to old destinations. This makes it easier for your child to learn new skills.
Science is proving that expanded experience is key to learning. Experience provides your homeschooling children with the “files” of information they need for learning, thinking, reasoning, and making future decisions. “Intelligence enhancement involves creating as many neural linkages as possible,” says neurologist Richard Restak in Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot: Unleashing Your Brain’s Potential. “But in order to do this, we have to extricate ourselves from the confining and limiting idea that knowledge can be broken down into separate ‘disciplines’ that bear little relation to one another.” (Homeschooling and unschooling families alike can bear testament to the wonders of allowing learning to unfold naturally.)
See also It’s Time: Ditch Curriculum
Homeschooling and the Realization that ALL LEARNING Involves Transfer from Previous Experience
There’s yet another reason why exposing your homeschooling child to a broad range of experience is academically favorable. Have you ever noticed that after you learn something you never knew before, the existence of a new music group, for instance, almost immediately you start hearing the band’s name with surprising frequency? That’s because “all learning involves transfer from previous experience,” say the editors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, the culmination of a two-year study conducted by the National Research Council at the request of U.S. Department of Education. (This study dates back to 1999. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone actually acted upon these inevitably expensive studies? But I digress.)
Because there is no guarantee any child will transfer previous knowledge to a new learning task, the researchers recommend that teachers identify the “learning strengths” that a child possesses, and build on them. (Sadly, given the structure of a classroom, this task becomes impossible.) With homeschooling, however, you can identify your child’s learning strengths and preferred learning styles so you can help your child capitalize on his potential. This is yet another benefit of homeschooling and yet another reason for its spectacular success and growing popularity.
Soooo…go on, get out, meet the neighbors, see the world, and expand your homeschooling family’s experience for fun, natural education!