This is the second in a three-part homeschooling series. It was first published in 1996 in Super Learning Tools. Although my theories have morphed somewhat over the years, this series represents the beginning process of forming and implementing our homeschool and educational philosophies.
When my husband and I, at the suggestion of our oldest daughter, made the leap of faith into the world of home education, I was terrified. Being the person I am, however, I knew that my fears would be calmed once I got organized. You know, found a curriculum, wrote up a billion lesson plans, and worked out detailed daily, weekly, monthly, annual, and lifetime schedules.
Just days after making the final decision, I was off on my annual sanity-for-mom trip all by myself. So I used the five hours of unusual solitude between takeoff and landing to begin my planning with fervor.
A few pages of the original chicken scratching have survived the years. I keep them around for comic relief. The most legible version of the original looks something like this:
8:00 chores and dress
9:00 math drill
10:15 language arts
11:00 music theory
11:15 music practice
11:30 critical thinking
1:00 unit studies
2:00 “school day” ends
By the time the plane pulled up to the terminal, I was ready! Other than the gnawing feeling that this looked an awful lot like the situation we were intentionally leaving, I did feel much calmer knowing that I had a plan.
Having a plan isn’t all bad — even if your plan is as ridiculous as mine — because it gives you a starting point. Having specific ideas to refine and redefine and even throw out is usually better than having no idea where you are going. And putting ideas in black and white tends to magnify their potential either for help or for harm.
Fortunately for all of us I had about ten days to mull this schedule over before making some grandiose implementation spectacle. Before I boarded the plane bound for Florida my very “schooly” schedule had been scrapped.
Like many of you, my schedule was modeled after public and private schools. Was it because I thought they were the epitome of education? No! I simply wasn’t familiar with any other learning environment. I started with things that were familiar and have continually refined and improved our model.
I wanted to write an article that explained what our home education model is evolving into. As I wrote the article got longer and longer and the sections more and more specific. Last month I wrote an article titled “Why I’m Not Unschooling” and intended to finish it up with our own homeschooling model. But it makes more sense, first, to explain why we don’t follow the other most common educational model either.
While I sincerely doubt that the school-at-home model, which is so familiar to most of us, needs to be defined, I will do so for clarification. Those who school-at-home:
Lean toward structured learning
Lean toward parent-led learning
Keep It Structured
“Children need a great deal of structure in order to learn difficult subjects.”
Just as was discussed last month, this confuses two separate issues, one being the structure of the material being used and the other the structure of the environment.
Requiring a few children at home to follow rules that were designed to keep order in a class of 30 pupils with one teacher is unnecessarily restrictive. I recently read an article in a national homeschooling magazine that recommended the following home rules of order:
- No talking about anything that does not pertain to the lessons being studied.
- No staring out the windows.
- No food or drinks in the classroom
- No talking to other students
- No wasting time
Enforcing such classroom rules eliminates many of the most wonderful advantages of being at home! Children who learn at home have the opportunity to discuss anything interesting that comes up, even if it takes off on a tangent; to stop and think through their work without rigid time limits; to see, and even be distracted by, the wonderful things that occur outside the classroom or kitchen; to do all their studying at their best, rather than when they are hungry or thirsty or tired or ill; to learn from each other and encourage each other; and not to have their own pursuits and interests arbitrarily labeled a “waste of time.”
Maintaining integrity requires the use of only the structure that is helpful and reasonable, not just authoritarian. While structure of materials can be crucial for some subjects, and structure of environment beneficial to others, continuously demanding structure during “school time” prevents some of the greatest and deepest learning from occurring.
“Setting up guidelines to minimize internal interruptions is the best way to provide children with a quiet, stress-free atmosphere.”
This assumes that “internal interruptions” are the nemesis to becoming educated; that the things children want to do, and will do without guidelines, serve no purpose but to get in the way of the “important” stuff.
We have found quite the opposite to be true. If the material being covered is presented in a way that is interesting and understandable to the child, the child will come up with the most amazing insights and questions, usually much less superficial than most lesson plans I have seen.
This statement also assumes both that being quiet is an essential element to true learning and that being forced to be quiet is actually an effective stress-reduction technique.
Some of our best learning has taken place banging on instruments to very loud music, screaming our heads off as we play our own version of freeze tag in the park, and all talking at once while brainstorming over a project. And how many kids do you know who can concentrate on anything when they are so full of energy that they really need to be bouncing on the trampoline?
Certainly there are times when silence and solitude are beneficial to learning and concentrating. As homeschoolers we have the luxury to be just as quiet or as loud as the people, and the situation, dictate.
Parents In Charge
“Children aren’t qualified to set a curriculum.”
One of the prime advantage we have found in home education is that of being able to personalize our curriculum. We can consider the individual personalities, learning styles, internal clocks, strengths and weaknesses, and especially the interests of each child.
We don’t have to make our kids jump through hoops, we don’t have to be rigid and authoritarian. We can customize and refine our materials, our approaches, and our timetable to fit the needs of our children, rather than trying to customize our child to fit our (or some bookseller’s) idea of the perfect curriculum-in-a-box.
Children will be surprisingly rigorous when given a chance to have input into their educational choices. All on their own our children have chosen Shakespeare, American Sign Language, the solar system, in-depth research on dog pedigrees, and general physics this year alone. Kids truly are interested in learning—even the tough stuff—because learning is interesting!
“We’ve got to make sure that we’ve covered all the basics.”
Believe it or not, here I do not entirely disagree…in concept. My problem comes about when I ask specifically for what “the basics” entail. Many home educators have blindly accepted the “basics” agenda set by the public schools, a curriculum vendor, another home educator, or a favorite author without question.
Have you noticed how many first-grade “basics” lists include an entire unit on the study of “methods of transportation”? Or how many school scope and sequence charts require dental hygiene be taught repeatedly for six years straight? I don’t know about you folks, but if my kids took six years to learn how to brush and floss I’d seriously consider some remedial work!
Having goals is fine and admirable. But abdicating the responsibility for setting them to another person or institution is not in the best interest of our children.
Most public schools, for example, require children to memorize the times tables from 0x0 up through 12×12. Do you accept this as a “basic”? Or do you wonder why in the world 12 is the magic number rather than 9, especially considering the fact that we use a base 10 system? And even if you do accept that notion, do you also accept that repeated drilling is the best (or only) way to accomplish the task? Do you consider other options such as patterning, skip counting, music, or hands-on activities? Do you consider how your child learns best and what method(s) would be most interesting?
Deciding what to require of our children and why is difficult, rigorous, soul-searching work. It makes us question and examine attitudes and assumptions we have had for years. It may be less than invigorating, as most of us will continually have to reevaluate and refine our plan; it will likely remain incomplete and differ with each child. But I truly believe this deep philosophical work is one of the most important things we can do for our families.
The Good Stuff . . .I Promise!
We do not do school-at-home, although it almost turned out that way! But we do use some methods school-at-homers use, just as we have some similarities to unschoolers.
Next month…really!…I’ll discuss our home education philosophy!