In my recent post on “tidal homeschooling,” I mentioned Rose’s determination to learn ancient Greek. This has been a driving interest for her for about a year and a half now. (She was seven last August.) Like all good drives, this one has involved frequent rest stops. She sets her own pace, and she’s the one to decide when to get behind the wheel again. As a passenger on this trip, I have to say it has been (and continues to be) a most delightful journey so far.
Her fascination with ancient Greece began with the fabulous Jim Weiss. His story tapes, “Greek Myths” and “She and He: Adventures in Mythology,” have been favorites with all my girls. Rose especially was captivated by the stories of Atalanta, Hercules, and Perseus. Observing her eager interest, I pulled our trusty D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths off the shelves, and Rose read it until it literally fell to pieces in her hands. Like the children in Linnets and Valerians, her imagination was stirred by the bright islands in the wine-dark sea, the “mountains crowned with ruined palaces, statues and temples and shrines…”
A burning interest in mythology seems quite common among children of Jane’s age; I’ve known many a six- or seven-year-old who couldn’t get enough of these tales of high adventure and meddlesome deities. It is certainly an easy appetite to feed. We scoured the library for picture books; we explored a website chronicling the lives of a fictional Spartan family and their counterparts in Athens. We read long passages from Padraic Colum’s The Odyssey, and Rose begged several re-readings of selected chapters from Hillyer’s A Child’s History of the World.
Thus far, the path we traveled was much the same as the one I’d followed with Jane a few years earlier—and, I daresay, quite similar to the roads followed by many a parent of a child this age. Then Rose veered off onto a side route.
“I want to learn ancient Greek,” she announced. “I need you to find me a book. The kind with lots of blanks to write in.”
She meant a workbook. I don’t like workbooks. They make me shudder and look for the exits. Jane has always felt the same way. But for Rose, my orderly, methodical Rose, an empty workbook is a treasure, a blank coin waiting to be engraved. Obligingly, I searched. A few minutes at Anne Zeise’s invaluable website led me to a promising resource: a series called Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek! With Rose panting at my side, I ordered the first level.
As I said, this was well over a year ago. She was very young—is still very young—and I certainly had no plans to commence the study of a classic language—one with a different alphabet, no less—with a six-year-old child. But it’s what Rose wanted. Emphatically, urgently, relentlessly. And that’s what we do. We follow our children’s interests, all of us learning as we go. My job is to outfit her for the journey—or to return to my tidal homeschooling metaphor, to provide the ship for the fishing expedition.
Right now she is about halfway through the second level of the Hey Andrew books. Here’s how she likes it to work. Every day in our home, there is a two-hour period of quiet time. The girls go to separate rooms: Beanie to their bedroom (they all still share a room); Jane to the sewing room; and Rose to my bedroom. I put Wonderboy down for his nap and take a half-hour lunch-and-email break, a welcome hush after our busy mornings. Then I read a story to Beanie, and then I spend 30 to 45 minutes of one-on-one time with first Jane, then Rose. Quite often, Rose chooses to spend her mommy solo time working on her Greek.
What she likes is for me to sit beside her on my bedroom floor, knitting while she does a lesson in the book. Often the entire half hour will pass in silence while she doggedly fills in her beloved blanks. Other times, she’ll lay down her pencil and chatter away to me, or ask me to practice her flash cards with her (flash cards are another thing that make me shudder and fill Rose with delight). She likes me to look over each page as it is finished; she jots little notes at the bottom to record the time and day.
Sometimes she’ll want to do Greek during quiet time every day for a week. Just as often, she wants me to read to her—we’re halfway through Old Yeller right now—while she nibbles a piece of candy. Sometimes she’ll lay aside the Greek books for weeks at a stretch. This is why I call it tidal homeschooling. The tide carries this interest in and out. I’m not imposing these studies upon her; there is no pressure to complete the book in a certain amount of time, or even to complete it at all.
And that’s why I think she remains as interested in the subject as ever. If I were to sit her down and the table every day and say, “Now it’s time for your Greek lesson,” I know without a doubt that sooner or later her eagerness would have given way to reluctance. “Now listen, honey,” I could say. “You wanted to learn this and Mommy is going to help you fulfill that goal.” But what if a child’s goal changes? What if she didn’t have any goal in mind to begin with? I doubt Rose said to herself, at the age of six, “I want to attain proficiency in ancient Greek.” I think she said, “Ooh, this stuff is interesting, I want to know more.”
I know some parents might worry that allowing a child to start a project (or workbook) and cast it aside when interest fades will encourage habits of laziness or irresponsibility. You don’t want to give a kid the idea it’s ok to abandon ship as soon as you find out how much work is required of a sailor, right? But these fears don’t trouble me. I find that there are plenty of other areas of life for the establishment of good habits of discipline and follow-through: household chores, thank-you notes, pet care. I don’t need to harness a child’s interest in ancient Greece to a plow so that she can get practice making nice, neat furrows. My own interests wax and wane; why shouldn’t hers?
And suppose the interest dies a sudden death—then what? What if the Greek workbook gets shoved under my bed and Rose never mentions it again? Well, then that’s what happens. And that’s fine. The tide will bring in something else.
It always, always does.