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.


  1. I love this idea of a list of "don'ts" and this list is very similar to what mine would be. Again, how helpful this is to newcomers to show that you don't have to do everything when you homeschool! I especially agree regarding minimal activities/classes/weekend stuff. We know quite a few kids in school who also do lots of evening and weekend activities, and I can't imagine that. N. and I crave mellow time at home on the weekend together, since I'm at work all week.

    (Thanks for the shout-out to my post too.)

  2. Sounds like you are doing an awesome job. It's something I totally could have never done. I've seen homeschooling work really well for some families and bomb with others. There's such differences in thinking!

    Now unschooling? THAT I don't get.

  3. I didn't even know you were doing this. Cool! I was homeschooled. Sounds like you have some good ideas and goals.

  4. So much of what you do (and don't do!) sounds so much like how we approach learning at home!
    Thanks for sharing :)

  5. FH: I'd love to read your "don't" list.

    Suey: Unschooling is really just a philosophy embracing "not school", getting out of the cookie cutter, one-type-fits-all public schooling mentality. There's is a wide spectrum along the "Unschooling" continuum. I am not a radical unschooler in that I think kids need some formal learning in just a few areas.

    Jenny: I didn't know that about you! Cool! Did you like your homeschooled life? Would you do it yourself?

    Susan: I always think that when I read your blog. Fun times!

    Jocelyn: Thanks for the support and comment!

  6. Oh how I wish you still lived close! I've been struggling with what to do for Ailia's kindergarten year coming up. I am leaning toward trying the TN Virtual Academy. As I read this and the previous post, I realized how similar my philosophy is to yours. However, so few people seem to relate. I may need to call you soon to pick your brain and see what has worked for you and your sweet girls. I miss you!