I made a deal with my kids when they were six and eight. They didn’t want to go to Sunday School and I was getting pretty fed up with the weekly weekend argument. I wasn’t going to let them stay home and watch TV so I gave them an alternative: if they wanted to skip their formal religious education, I was willing to swap it with an equal number of hours of sitting with me, doing whatever assignments I wanted to give them, imparting the random bits of information I had that I felt my kids should know. With no complaining. Leelee, 6, called it “Daddy School” and both kids opted in.
From Quizzing to Modeling
To be candid, it wasn’t well-planned. I started with quasi-religious education, but most Daddy School Sundays were filled with word games and trivia. It was work to come up with curriculum so eventually it drifted into any random information that seemed good to impart. “What’s the capital of Latvia? Who was the architect of Falling Water? What does SCUBA stand for?” And as the kids got a little older, class included things like “What’s a mortgage?” “What’s the difference between color in light and paint” and I made them sit through explanations of my fossil collection and evolution. Class covered pretty much anything I happened to have learned that ended up being useful in my life.
Eventually Daddy School merged with my overarching sense that education was too important to leave exclusively to institutions; and that school was often more “child care” than strategic planning for the future. Children-in-classrooms was only one narrow kind of learning, and while I was unwilling to commit to it, perhaps the best way to teach children was to make them sit with the adults in their lives and watch them being real adults. I found that you can’t tell kids anything — they have to see something modeled from someone they trust before they might adopt the behavior. If I wanted them to be compassionate, for instance, they needed to see their parents being compassionate. The same for learning grit. Or compromise. When I wanted my kids to value writing, I frequently had them watch me struggle with penning a letter and the nuances of word choice and order.