Homeschooling Across the Bridge to Terabithia
By Judith Jolma
Childhood: Even the word fills the mind with images of summer nights, fireflies, big swings, and our BFF. But childhood is so short! It is only a precious and wondrous six years.
The child in the first plane of development (birth to six) is a toddler. The child aged 12 to18 is the young adult -- the adolescent. But childhood -- those magical years that form us and live in our memories forever -- is a flash in time. Six little years.
Who among us does not intimately know the child inside of us? He created the adult we now are. He still speaks to us, calling us to remember the important things we learned in those six years. This is the second-plane child. And to him, the parent is God.
As the child transforms from baby to kid, the adult must transform to meet his needs. What are his needs? Who is this second-plane child? Who do we - the adult - need to become to serve him?
I’ve watched the transition from toddler to kid four times and each time was brought to awe. It is almost as if they wake each morning a little taller, a little smarter, and a little more like miniature grownups. One glance at this second-plane child and you know something has changed. He is growing lanky. The fat fingers and toes have stretched out into long, strong appendages. His hair is coarse, his big front teeth create an endearing if not gawky appearance. He sports a robust constitution and is sick less often. He is a bit less snuggle-able. But far more emotionally and intellectually available.
I keep two little charts in my school planning binder and refer to them whenever I'm wondering, "What am I missing, here? What does this child truly need?" These charts were given to me in my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation and outline the development and needs of children as they progress through their development. One glance over these charts and I'm reminded who this student is.
His mind is suddenly capable of abstract concepts of time and space and he has an insatiable
curiosity. In fact, it would seem that nothing short of the cosmos will satisfy his thirst for knowledge. “What is the tallest mountain?” “How big is the galaxy?” “Who is the fastest runner?” His imagination is enormous and so is his need to fill it with facts and skills.
Maria Montessori said that we should give to the child by age 12 what is normally given by age 18. In other words, this second-plane child can handle far more knowledge than we can keep up with.
We must spread a banquet of knowledge for their delight, as Charlotte Mason said. We must “install them in a very rich and glorious kingdom, to bring a continual holiday to their doors, to lay before them a feast exquisitely served.” Hold nothing back for the brain is ready to receive it all, take it in, retain and memorize.
They do not so much need reasons about why (although context is important). Similar to the child’s absorbent mind in the first plane, which took in emotions and language, this child is taking in the what and how of the cosmos. The next plane will compel the child to ask why. For now, they just want to know what.
The child’s internal goal at this age is to develop a construct of the entire universe in order to comprehend any one aspect of creation. What a task! Unlike the first plane child, this kid no longer likes repetition (but he needs it). He demands a big-picture overview of everything in order to organize the details. He can be selective and no longer absorbs everything in the environment. Unlike the absorbent mind that took in enormous amounts of data effortlessly, this child now has to work at learning. But he is up for the challenge and enjoys the labor. He is goal-oriented.
The age of serenity and rudeness
Maria Montessori called this “the age of serenity and rudeness.” Serenity because, compared to the turbulent toddler and adolescent years, these years are calm and stable. Rudeness because the anthem of the second plane child is “That’s not fair!” This is the age of social justice. The child is now developing his moral sense and reasoning mind. He has a major focus on peers and is developing independence. He is working to solve the code behind societal behavior. His relationship to the world is rooted in the context of his relationship toward others. He works and obeys from a sense of duty and responsibility to the group. He is preoccupied with how to do things in relation to others.
Because of this social awareness, this is also the age of hero-worship. Children will seek out and find role models. They will find them in sports stars, superheroes, historical figures, and saints. But without a doubt, the parent is his idol.
As the child transforms before our eyes from the baby with the absorbent mind to the apparent little adult, the adult’s response to the child must adapt to the child’s new needs.
What are the ideal characteristics of the adult for the child in the second plane? Match the child’s
dramatic, imaginative gusto with your own. Take your favorite history textbook and toss it in the trash can. Instead, put on reproduction Roman armor, and tell the story of Marathon as if you were there! Likewise, hide your science textbook. Perhaps you wish to keep it around so that you can refresh your memory about scientific details. But to the child, you are just laying out under the stars and sharing the awe of the vast expanse together.
You must have an excellent command of language, science, and cultural subjects with a broad sense of humor. The adult needs to help and guide structure and model ideas. The need to use the necessary tools and discuss how the modern world works demands technical competence of the adult.
Few of us are so well-rounded and this is an obvious example of why ongoing personal development for the homeschool parent (all parents, really) is necessary. Few of us graduated with these skills (note they are skills and are not personality traits). By consciously working to improve your own love for learning, and ability to laugh and wonder you are redeeming your own education. When your child asks a difficult question: “Where is the deepest part of the ocean?” Perhaps, you can say, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” You will thus build your relationship with your child upon a mutual love for learning.
The parent must continue to be a keen and dedicated observer. The child is independent and growing intellectually and internally at this age. His needs may be less obvious. This is not a time to ease off on observation.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of this age is how emotionally available these children are. In our fast-paced world burdened with so many grown-up concerns, it can be difficult for the adult to be emotionally available to the child, especially if you have first-plane children in the house, too. But this is a precious time for building life-long bonds. Open your heart wide to this child and be available. Let him melt your heart and astound you with his insights.
The symbiotic relationship between child and adult is profound. If you open yourself up to this second-plane child, he will transform you. You will be smarter, happier, and more aware of your place in society, and your heart will soften.
By Judith Jolma, Founder of Sophia Homeschool.
Sophia Homeschool teaches parents how to homeschool. Learn more about our training at Sophiahomeschool.com
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