Monday, February 13, 2012

Day-to-Day Homeschooling: What I Don't Do

Let me say this straight up so there can be no confusion: I am not a homeschooling expert or domestic goddess. I would probably be thrown out of blogdom's homeschooling club, or at least pointed to as an example of what NOT to do. I'm kidding. Those of us in the homeschooling trenches know that home education looks different for every family, as it should, since we're dealing with individuals, not paper dolls.

  • I can't/won't label the method of our homeschooling. I have never found a good one-size-fits-all method to homeschooling my girls. Every year that we do this -and we're in our third- looks slightly different, based on their growing needs and knowledge, and the reality of my strengths and weaknesses. Heck, every day looks slightly different. I identify with lots of methods (unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Classical, etc.) but I refuse to stick to just one, because I think that would be doing my girls an injustice and besides, it's too boring. We pluck the pieces of any method that fit our situation on a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, basis. Does that sound like it would get confusing? It doesn't. It's just a natural extension of parenting. For example, this year I had decided to use Calvert School* with them. I'm not sure why, now. But once we got going, we hated it so much (because it felt like school and I hate teaching from textbooks) that we scrapped most of it. (I love the read-alouds that came with it, and Olivia loves the history book Famous Americans, that came with her course. She reads it all the time.) I do better when I set the curriculum, which really just means that I buy some workbooks for the areas I feel we need them, and use real books and real life for the rest.
  • We do not homeschool for religious reasons. God had nothing to do with my decision to pull my girls out of public school. We homeschool because it's the best fit and option for our family, and a natural extension of life. (I only say this because of an emailed comment/question I received after my last post, and I want to make sure our motivations for homeschooling are clear.)
  • Routine? What routine? Okay, we have a vague one: get up, get breakfast, do math, free time for the rest of the day interspersed with reading aloud, chores here and there, and eating here and there. Maybe an outing to the zoo or what not. I don't make lesson plans. Tried it early on in our homeschool adventure, didn't like it. I don't roll like that, and to me life can't be scripted; and that's what we're engaged in here: life. The free time the girls have allows them to indulge in areas of their own interest. And believe me, they do.
  • I don't have a dedicated schoolroom. There is just Todd's and my office which I facetiously call "Homeschool Central" because that's where I keep most of the schoolish stuff we use. The girls do their work wherever they please: if it's math, they stretch out on the office floor for quick access to me when they're having problems, or they'll sit at the kitchen table if I'm in there putting together our crockpot supper. We have lap desks that get used occasionally.
  • I don't push academics before they're ready. I'm mostly talking pre-school years here. I cringe whenever I hear someone say they're homeschooling their three or four year old. I firmly believe that the business of young children is play. Some children are ready for academics at younger ages, some are not. My girls have always given cues as to their readiness for certain subjects. As long as I pay attention, things flow smoothly, and real learning happens. (For an excellent post about the business of pre-schoolers, read this wonderful response by Professor Tim of Fanny Harville's Unschool Academy.)
  • I don't feel the need to enroll them in every activity/class under the sun, out of fear that they'll miss out on something or fear of the dreaded "S" word. (That's "Socialization" for you homeschooling newbies -something non-homeschoolers squawk about as being a BIG PROBLEM, but veteran homeschoolers laugh at.) I have noticed a tendency in homeschooling circles to use one's busy-ness as as a badge of...what, I don't know. For me, this is definitely an area where less is better, especially when children are young. This may be because I'm an older mom who's not a Type A personality; I just don't see the point in all the bustle of constant activity. I think we humans need plenty of quiet and space to process life experiences, plan and dream. (Also, our weekends are spent as a family. We see so little of Todd during the week due to his job, that weekends are all about low key time with Daddy.) I also don't feel the need to indulge every interest they express. Sometimes I have to tell them, "That's something we'll explore when you're older."
  • I don't do arts and crafts. That is to say, I love the idea, but hate the execution. Beyond providing art supplies, I don't do art with them, except things like demonstrating a technique (maybe), teaching them the basics of crocheting, or refilling Susanna's water bowl when she's painting, etc. My kids, being kids, love art and have learned to carry on despite my relative non-involvement. Art station? Hah!! I can't even keep colored pencils or crayons in one container. My kids drag art supplies from one end of the house to the other (yelling because so-and-so took their glue stick) because heaven forbid they should do art in the same space as each other. They feel the need for their own creative space, which consists of their bed, the bedroom floor, the closets, etc. which also means there are art supplies and scraps of paper/cardboard/yarn EVERYWHERE! We dispose of a full 30 gallon trash bag of art trash every week, some of it finished products because they create something, drop it somewhere and forget all about it. I have no problem, not one twinge of guilt with the liberal use of the round file. (On a side note: I'll bet I get the meanest mom award for not even allowing markers or glue sticks in my house until I felt sure that all desire for writing on walls, furniture, etc. was firmly squashed, which means only in this last year have my children discovered the "joys" of markers and glue sticks. And I don't do glitter. Ever. Or sequins.)
  • I don't "play" with my children, except playing games (board games, card games, etc.), and the occasional tag and hide-and-seek, and reading aloud. I feel that inserting myself into their imaginary play is intrusive, and doesn't teach them how to be comfortable doing their own thing.
  • I don't allow them much computer time: a half hour twice a week at the most. I think too much computer time hinders their attention spans. I laugh when people insist that children need to familiarize themselves with computers early, like it's so hard to learn. Hello, those of us who were adults when the WWW came into being managed to learn pretty quickly. I'm not a Luddite, I like technology; I just feel that technology has its place and time.
  • I can't think of anything else at the moment. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them.

*Calvert uses a boxed, fully set, secular curriculum. They are the original makers of a complete boxed curriculum. Originally created for State Department kids overseas, they expanded into the U.S. homeschooling market, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Our Homeschooling Goals

Our family became homeschoolers in fits and starts. After a traumatic and disastrous time spent in public school, we knew we had to bring our girls home for good. But I knew I had to deal with the reality of homeschooling. Despite my teacher training in college, the reality of being my children's primary academic educator was a wee bit daunting, no matter how natural the idea felt. What should it look like, really?
Todd and I both felt strongly that we didn't want it to look like the public school system we had pulled them out of. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding alternative educational philosophies, e.g. John Holt, Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori, Waldorf, etc. I read books of real parents in the homeschooling trenches.
I shared my findings with Todd and we had many long discussions, trying to wrap our minds around a completely different, but more natural, idea of what being educated means. More importantly, what should it look like for us?
We realized we needed to begin with the end in mind: in imagining our children grown, what was it we TRULY wanted them to be able to do, that we could give them REALISTICALLY? Thus our homeschooling "mission statement" was born.

  • We wanted them to be comfortable with math and math concepts.
  • We wanted them to be able to read and to (hopefully) enjoy reading. (If they learn to read, then the world of knowledge opens up for them.)
  • We wanted them to have the skills necessary to find things out for themselves.
  • We wanted them to have the life skills (balance a check book, read a map, follow a recipe, clean a toilet, etc.) that they’d need to negotiate life.
Then I gave myself permission to let the rest go. Their life is not going to be ruined if we cannot/will not provide them with every possible learning experience. My job is to teach them how to learn; they have the rest of their life to experience many, many things, (including arts and crafts and science projects.) The whole of life is a learning journey.

So right now we focus on real books (as opposed to textbooks,) life skills, and math, and plenty of time for them to pursue their own interests.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Family Stories: The Fairchild Family series by Rebecca Caudill

Rebecca Caudill, author of The Best-Loved Doll, A Pocketful of Cricket (1965 Caldecott Honor winner), Tree of Freedom (1950 Newbery Honor winner), The Far-Off Land,  etc. wrote a lovely series of family stories, largely forgotten, but luckily back in print. I came across this series years ago when I was trying to find more books by the author after I read the charming A Pocketful of Cricket.

The stories featuring the delightful Fairchild family were first published in 1947 in children's magazines, and then compiled into a series of four books, lately republished in 2004 by Bethlehem Publishers with beautiful covers by Lydia Halverson. This episodic series, based on Caudill's family life growing up in the mountains of Kentucky in the early 1900's, is a treat to read, and the original internal illustrations by Decie Merwin are delightful. The Fairchilds are a family of seven: Father, Mother, Althy, Chris, Emmy, Debby, and Bonnie. Bonnie, who is four years old when we first meet her (and is based on Caudill herself) feels all the anguish of being the youngest in the family. But life is never dull with three sisters and a brother to play with, the woods to explore, the river to skate on, going to school for the first time, meeting new neighbors, inventing new games, earning money, etc.

I read these aloud to my girls a couple of years ago, when Olivia was six years old and Karina was four. Both girls were enthralled, always eager to listen to more Fairchild family adventures. These are books full of the simplicity and innocence of little happy childhood explorations and wonders, and shared family experiences.

The Fairchild books include:
Happy Little Family
Schoolhouse in the Woods
Up and Down the River
Schoolroom in the Parlor

And don't forget to check out other family stories featured in our on-going Family Stories series:
The Moffats (Eleanor Estes)
The Ingalls (Laura Ingalls Wilder)