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Developing Passion

By Jeannette Webb
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #94, 2010.

How to create a homeschooling environment that fosters a passion for learning

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Jeannette Webb

Top colleges are looking for students who are passionate. It generally doesn’t matter what they love, but it matters a great deal that they care deeply about something and that they are excited about life. When you stop to think about it, these are the kind of people who are enjoyable to be around, who create an enriching social environment, who make life a whole lot more fun. No wonder colleges look hard for engaged students to make up an interesting class which will, in turn, build a better university.

As a college consultant, I am blessed beyond measure to work with many students who are like this. Some are debaters, some show horses, others are musicians, and some are driven to discover the unknown in research labs. There are those who volunteer for medical missions, teach at math club, organize huge political campaigns, conduct fund-raisers for causes they believe in, or volunteer at the local veterinary clinic. Each of these students are so very different, yet they share something exceedingly precious. Life is an adventure for them. Each day has a purpose that pulls them joyfully out of bed in the morning because there is something new to learn, something important to do, or someone who depends on them.

This kind of delight cannot be manufactured for a college application (and certainly never should be).

We can’t force our kids to be passionate, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. We can create an environment in which passion has room to flower.

It breaks my heart when dejected parents share with me that their homeschooler isn’t really enthused about anything. You need to know that this is not a normal state of affairs. Not every kid is driven to change the world, but every student should have something that intrigues him.

Lack of Time

In this crazy busy world we live in, it is very easy to get involved in so many things that our kids never have a fighting chance to get really inspired by anything. Interestingly enough, working hard to create a packed resume can defeat your objective. Days are filled with mediocre activities, club meetings, ball games, fellowships, play dates, etc. We drag them from activity to activity with scarcely time to breathe. Our children are just one of a crowd sitting back waiting to either be entertained or told what to do. Even if they are fortunate enough to be involved in a quality activity or a once-in-a-lifetime event, we don’t give them enough time on either side of it to process what they are learning. This random busyness is the enemy to creativity and passion.

In his book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture, Kenneth Myers makes the interesting point that popular culture is a culture of diversion that prevents people from asking the meaningful questions of life. It promotes an insatiable hunger for novelty along with a demand for instant gratification.

His observations stopped me dead in my tracks and made me look at our lives from a different vantage point. If he is right (and I think he is very much on target), we need to examine everything that comes into our home as well as all the things we and our children do outside our home to see if any of our activities are diverting us from real life.

However, it’s not just the power resume builders that miss out on life. The time wasters miss it as well.

Lack of Vision

If there is a vacuum, something will fill it. If there is a lack of good things in a child’s life, he will load up on the worthless things. One of our biggest jobs as a homeschooling parent is to create an atmosphere where learning and passion blossom—an environment filled with great books, good music, and intriguing projects. When we capture their imaginations with the best, there is no room for the counterfeit.

Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where counterfeit is accepted as normal. Facebook friends make us feel we are popular without the need to experience true friendship with all the joy and pain that real relationships require. Video games fabricate excitement in a life that is totally without true challenges. Even if a parent limits game playing time, I suspect many more hours than are obvious are consumed strategizing and mentally replaying games, thus draining time and intellectual energy. If you stop and think about it, there are many imitations that rob of us really living. No wonder kids with passion are a rare commodity!

Choosing to Live Purposefully

My husband and I made the choice years ago to live a life that looked strange to our friends. When the rest of the kids were playing T-ball, my son was going to work with his daddy, building things out of scrap lumber, looking at things under his microscope, and exploring the canyon behind our house. At a very tender age, he became consumed with questions about the world around him. As a young adult, those questions continue to drive him forward in his Ph.D. research.

When my daughter’s friends were enrolled in tiny tots dance classes (among tons of other regular little-girl classes), she was creating art projects from the huge stash of pipe cleaners, construction paper, paint, and fabric in our home. She listened to classical music as she helped me clean the house and loved listening to stories. As a little girl, she fell in love with creating things and solving problems. I wasn’t too surprised when she grew up to become an engineer.

Creating a life in which passion can take root requires a purposeful balance. Being too busy keeps us distracted. Our children never have time to wonder, time to explore something that looks a little bit interesting. As parents, we are too busy to notice a small spark that needs fanning into flame—a tiny interest in something that needs encouragement.

On the other hand, a life with little structure and no guiding principles often lapses into boredom and the pursuit of shallow entertainment. Children who are not exposed to challenges, to trials, to noble ideas never stretch and discover how exciting life can really be. To paraphrase Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death.”

The answer to this conundrum is to make careful choices, to decide to live purposefully. It is so very easy to fall asleep in the middle of life and let things just happen. We must stay awake. We must choose only the very best for our children and ourselves. We must be ever vigilant to identify the tiny things of childhood that could grow (with our help) into the consuming visions of young adulthood.

Jeannette Webb has worked with high school students for over 25 years, helping them develop public speaking, leadership, and interview skills, as well as prepare effective scholarship applications. As Oklahoma State University’s first Truman Scholar (the American equivalent of the Rhodes Scholar), she went on to receive a B.S. in Human Development and an M.S. in Family Economics. She spent a decade with the OSU Cooperative Extension Service as 4-H and Youth Development Specialist and Resource Management Specialist before she became a home educator in 1993. A former OCHEC Trustee, she has also been a support group leader and conference speaker. In 2005, Jeannette received a Presidential Scholar Distinguished Teacher Award. Jeannette teaches “Homeschooling Through High School” seminars and is a college coach dedicated to helping homeschool students matriculate to America’s top colleges, including her own two homeschool graduates, who are now attending top colleges. She can be reached through aiminghigherconsultants.com.

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