The most essential component of education is communication. At its core, learning is understanding and internalizing information that has been conveyed via the spoken or written word. In our desire to impart as much information as possible, we come at our kids with boatloads of books, crates of curriculum, a passel of programs. We ask specific questions to test for understanding.
"What was the name of the person who ________?" "Where did ________ happen?" "On what date was the __________?"
We lecture or have them watch teachers give lessons on DVD. We think that the most important thing is for us to communicate knowledge to our children.
But how often do we just shut up and let them talk?
Kids may be able to memorize names and dates and places and facts in order to answer quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks on test. But have their minds actually engaged with those people and places, have they been enlightened in some way, have they mastered a skill or internalized some wisdom?
It isn't until we allow our children to speak their minds, to exercise their creativity, and pursue their interests that we see true learning demonstrated and discover the depth of their understanding.
Instead of asking for specific names and dates, opt for open ended questions that allow kids to ponder the meaning of events, the impact of information on the development of culture, or to work out the necessary steps to complete a task.
Replace worksheets with essays and reports on related topics of their choice.
Projects can also take the place of answering factoid-type questions as a more effective means of conveying what has been learned.
Stop putting limits on what they can study and when. Give them some freedom and see what they can do with it.
Let them talk about the books they are reading, even if they want to relate the entire plot from beginning to end with several rabbit trails.
Listen while they express their opinion, and resist the temptation to interrupt if you disagree. Make time for conversations about friends, about the news, about life questions of a sensitive nature.