To know God and to make Him known.

Hospitality and the Wintertime Learner: How to welcome students at home and in community

We start early, setting up tables and chairs for our community day. I think about how to create a space conducive to the day’s conversation. As I prepare for the day, the faces of the students move through my mind. I wonder how they have been, but I also wonder more deeply about how their souls are and how that affects their learning. What struggles, fears, blind spots, temptations, celebrations, joys, and sorrows have they encountered this week? What seasons of life and learning are they in? Is it winter where learning seems dormant? Is it spring where new seeds are planted and begin to grow? Is it summer where there is exponential growth? Or is it fall where there is visible fruit of learning? I remind myself that each of these students has an immortal soul, rooted in unique circumstances and place in history. Though each student is unique, I also remember that they all share a common human nature.

In addition to experiencing different seasons and circumstances, students struggle to manage themselves, doing things they don’t want to do and not doing things they want to do, just as Paul describes in Romans 7. Learning to master oneself, to order oneself rightly, is no small thing. Yet many times as parents and directors, we are so focused on checking off assignments that we forget about the young immortal soul being formed by actions, practices, and conversations.

Students don’t just struggle to manage themselves: they struggle with pride and the desire to please others, just like we do. They may not feel able to utter the phrase “I don’t know” if we haven’t shown them love and humility. As parents, we must remember that education is not a tool to boost our own pride but a way to love our children well.

As a parent, this means at home, I am mindful of the circumstances we are experiencing as a family and our current season of learning. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that I can adjust the pace and focus of our lessons at home to accommodate our present reality. “But can my student still have a productive community time if he hasn’t done all the work?” That is one of most common questions I hear from parents and directors. At the risk of offending, I’d like to suggest that this is an impoverished question, especially for Christian classical education. Perhaps we have forgotten the nature and seasons in the life of learning.

A Christian classical education is concerned with larger, more encompassing issues than completing all the lessons assigned and reading all the assigned readings. The student who has finished all the lessons and read all the readings is not necessarily more ready for conversation or learning that day than the one who didn’t “do all the work.” Have you ever had a student tell you he completed his math lessons, but when he led the class through a problem he lost his way? Have you ever had a student say she read the book but when you discussed it you noticed that her reading may have been more about deciphering words than learning from a character’s actions? Let’s put away this foolish notion that checking boxes is required for learning. Let’s not be fooled by the idea that if everyone “did all their work,” then and only then can we have the utopia kind of community day that we falsely erect in our minds due to our own pride or fears.

Many parents and directors feel that not getting the work done is the biggest roadblock to the success of their home learning and community days. And while I would agree that attending to lessons is both necessary and valuable to learning, if a student “did none of the work,” there is still potential for learning and great value in the community day. All is not lost, as so many seem to think. Instead, let us look at the community day a bit differently and develop eyes to see opportunities for learning hospitality.

Over the years I’ve found that if a student consistently doesn’t “do all the work” for a particular seminar, I should pause and consider a few things.  First, I consider the season and common human struggles stated above.  Then, I observe the student and seek ways to welcome him or her to the table of learning.

First, in a welcoming spirit, I respectfully observe and discover barren places related to the development of the student’s learning skills.  Like most wintertime trees, her skill-branches are sparse. Is her reading weak? Then we may read the literature book aloud more in community together, so we can learn together how to read and understand what we’re reading. Is his math comprehension scattered and sporadic? We work problems in class together, more slowly at first and several of the same kind over and over. I welcome the student in as other students and I set the table to practice a particular skill. Skills are learned through modeling and imitating. My language is appropriate, honoring, and welcoming, while asking good questions. For example, in math seminar: “What do you see?”; “What’s the next thing your mind is telling you to do?”; “How is the order of our thinking? Are we out of order or in a good order?” This is a form of hospitality for the wintertime learner.

The second thing I look for is the possibility that the student has not yet encountered beauty in a particular domain of knowledge. He may be in wintertime for that particular domain, but we never know when winter may turn to spring. In this case, my approach is a welcoming, intentional invitation to the student to come and partake of what we’re reading or discussing that day. In many ways, he is a guest to this domain of knowledge, so I make extra preparations on his behalf.  A spirit of hospitality prioritizes the guest’s feeling welcome and comfortable. Perhaps the student will then let down his well-fortified defenses from so many other encounters with the dreaded domain of knowledge. Through the warmth and hospitality cultivated in community, the wintertime learner may see something for the first time. Perhaps a desire to know about that domain of knowledge will sprout, initiating springtime learning. As parents and directors, let us make a more conscious effort to welcome the wintertime learner to the learning table this year!

CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Dialectic Stage (ages 12 to 14), Grammar Stage (ages 4 to 11), Homeschooling Life, Rhetoric Stage (ages 14 to 18)

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