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If your child hasn’t asked this question yet, he will. You probably asked it yourself many times while you were in school. And it is a valid question.
I don’t know many adults who do long division without a calculator or go through the newspaper underlining subjects once and verbs twice.
But consider how many of those grade school subjects have played important roles in your adult life. Were you thankful for your multiplication and division facts while standing in the supermarket last week deciding which brand of detergent to buy? Or when you wrote that important letter for your boss, were you glad you had finally grasped some of those tough spelling words? Did you still think music entirely unnecessary when you had to lead your Sunday school class in their opening singing time?
Depending on our individual fields of interest, we find much of what we learned as a child useful in some way. Even if we never use a particular skill again, learning it builds our overall knowledge and enhances our scope of appreciation. Practice develops in us discipline, and knowledge develops discernment. How can we communicate this hope-giving truth to children?
Talk about the practical uses of school subjects as you encounter them in everyday life. Around the house, point out the ways you use math: measuring wall space for hanging a picture; adjusting recipes for cooking; balancing your checkbook and paying bills; figuring out medicine dosages; doing simple home repairs or rearranging furniture; measuring and cutting fabric for sewing. Let your child help you do some of these chores as part of his math lesson one day. Or encourage him to count the number of times in a day that he encounters the need for grammar in ordinary tasks—such as making a phone call or writing a journal entry. Have him write a letter to a family member on the computer and use the spell checker to correct his spelling.
But what about outside the home? How might you teach your child that his education is vitally connected to his ability to earn a living—in any field?
Get your child thinking about various careers. A good way to do this is to develop his interest in other people. Part of caring about other people is being interested in what they do. Teach your child to show interest in others by having him ask others questions about their jobs. Bolster his enthusiasm for the careers of your family members, your neighbors, or the adults in your church. You and your child might even benefit from visiting a nursing home together. Even older, retired adults usually enjoy talking about their past careers.
Assign your child to interview someone in a career that interests him. If he doesn’t feel drawn to any particular career, suggest that he interview a person he especially admires. He may not be as fascinated by the field of accounting as he is by Mr. Brown, the man who keeps the church books and always has a joke and a pocketful of peppermints. Chances are that esteemed people rather than jobs themselves will have the greater influence on his future career choices.
Encourage your child to ask Mr. Brown how he uses specific school subjects in his career. Obviously he uses some math—but how about history or science? Does he ever have opportunity to use his physical education training?
If time and convenience allow, take your child to visit Mr. Brown at his accounting firm. Interviewing him in his own work environment will give you and your child a taste of what everyday life on the job is like.
Give your child some interviewing pointers before he goes on his visits. Make sure he has a few questions ready for Mr. Brown before he goes. It’s best to stay away from questions that can be answered by yes or no responses. Open-ended questions will give Mr. Brown more time to talk—and probably allow him to impart more helpful information. Courtesy and respect on your child’s part are essential. He should give Mr. Brown time to answer one question before moving on to the next. He should take pencil and paper for notes or request Mr.Brown’s permission to record the interview. Caution him to respect Mr. Brown’s time and to keep the visit short.
The basic questions would work with almost any career. In what specific ways would an engineer or an auto mechanic use math? How would history be useful for a lawyer or a tour guide? How would a librarian or a pastor put his reading skills to use? Emphasize the relevance of Bible knowledge regardless of a person’s career—for personal study as well as witnessing or counseling.
On-location interviews could definitely broaden your child’s experiences. Think of the possibilities. A farmer might let your child try out his tractor seat while he relates his work to science and weather. An interior decorator could talk about the importance of design and color in art while she wallpapers a room. Perhaps your local pharmacist, while filling an order from a doctor’s prescription, could point out the danger of poor handwriting.
Let your child share his discoveries later at the supper table, or have him write out a condensed version of the actual interview and read it to you. Listen to him, and help him put his finger on just what he has learned through this experience. The best way for a child to learn the value of education is not to lecture him—but to let him find out for himself. Maybe the next time he asks, "When will I ever use this again?"—he’ll be able to answer his own question!
Eileen Berry is a member of the Elementary Authors department of BJU Press.