Friday, October 9, 2009

Joy in Learning

Joy is the holy fire

that keeps our purpose warm

and our intelligence aglow.

- Helen Keller

Play helps us discover the joy in learning! Our imagination is the gateway to joy, and joy is the miracle-working gift which God has given us to unleash our highest potential.

Read these excerpts from the archives of Apple Pie for a peek into the way joy lighted up the path in front of us as we embarked upon our learning adventures. It answers the questions: why should I spend extra time arranging for play? What could play possibly do for us? Shouldn't we just get the work done?

I still have my oldest son's first poem, written carefully on a card he designed.

Black Jack
was slack.
All he did
was wish
and fish.

The card is decorated with colored paper cutouts of his own drawings of a fish, some water, the sun, and on the inside, an elaborate drawing of a smiling Black Jack fishing on a dock and wearing overalls and a dunce's cap. The back of the card is the kicker. It's dressed up with more colored paper cutouts: a cloud with "Jesus" inscribed, a glue bottle, and an Easter egg. This end page tells us about the author, that he believes in Jesus and Easter, and that he glued the card together himself.

I can't throw the card away. It gets tucked into drawers or obscured by other paper clutter and then re-discovered about once a year. It makes me laugh, the kind of laugh that is full of tenderness, an ache in my throat. I see the little boy who made it. What I remember most are his eyes: the sparkle in their dark brown depths, the droll humor at the corners, the inquisitiveness leaping out of them. He was full of joy and that joy was the adventure of learning new things.

I think now that I got lost in those eyes. I was pulled into following where the joy led us, and I never found my way back to a school house. As soon as he mastered phonics, which took a few short weeks, we plunged into Narnia with Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. As we followed their footsteps, the map of a completely new life unfolded before us. C.S. Lewis taught us to read. Great Americans inspired us to dig into history. Scientists urged upon us the wonder of discovery. The world became our playground . . .

My son Joshua worked a long time on the card he designed for his poem, Black Jack. The results were delightfully funny, and he knew it. This was his idea of a joke. He laughed as he delivered it. Of course, I laughed in a different way when I received it.

The joy and exuberance of it, the elements of play and delight, are what hold me. The lesson of the card is that joy matters. It's the wellspring of creativity, the best and highest motivation for learning.

Learning can be hard work. It often is. But it can also be our joy.

Slowly, over the years, my children taught me this. Joshua's love of nature, even its unsavory aspects, led us to strange activities. The first of these was our "insect zoo". He captured insects, put them into clear containers, fed and observed them. We studied large pictures of bugs, learned about their body parts, and examined how they functioned. During this time, I had recurring nightmares of large bugs crawling toward me and over me with heightened details. I was relieved when this stage passed. But for my son, it was a glory. I still have photos of him, his face beaming, with his arm around his zoo specimens. Years later, when he became a National Merit Scholar, Joshua was asked to give a speech at his graduation ceremony. He talked about how homeschooling allowed him to pursue the things that delighted him. He used the insect zoo as his example, and he thanked me for allowing him to do it. His words were, "This is homeschooling at its best."

The perspective I now have of nearly two decades is a great advantage. There are many things that were foggy to me when I was slogging through the daily effort of homeschooling which are now clear.

Beyond any doubt, our best work was done when there was joy. It's that simple. Nothing we did, and I mean nothing, mattered more.

Can you recall a special moment of joy?

1 comment:

  1. I can! I remember when my son Michael was in kindergarten and was just beginning to read. We had missionaries staying at our house for a weekend and they were getting ready to leave--they offered us a small gift in thanks for keeping them and my son wanted to give something to them in return, so he grabbed one of his books and offered to read to them. This was the best thing he thought he could offer and he was delighted to share his hard-fought new ability with them. I was almost in tears as I listened to him read. For some reason that really touched this mommy's heart. :)

    Thanks for your post, Cassandra!

    Dana Wilson
    Epi Kardia Home Education


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