Archive | February 2015

How Do You Homeschool? Some Thoughts on Children’s Choice, Parenting and Togetherness

How I homeschool is far different from what my initial expectations were, and it has changed drastically as my kids have gotten older. For me, the most unexpected aspect of homeschooling has been how interwoven it is with my parenting. I cannot separate homeschooling from the way my family lives together and relates to one another. Homeschooling is not some separate ‘thing’ that I send my children off to do. It is not about using some curriculum or ‘method’. For us, it is not about spelling or math, it is not about subjects or academics. What, then, is it about? How do I homeschool?

Nowadays, the core of my homeschooling is this: I sit down and meet with each of my kids several times a year (they are 10 and 12) and we discuss their needs and interests and goals – what do they want to learn and how? What is working? What isn’t? What are other ideas and options? What do they need to think about for their futures? What do they love? Once a goal is set, then there are certain expectations of carry-through on their part. So for example, my son wants to learn a particular level of math (he’s heard about college entrance exams and wants to be ready!). We explore and get resources that we both think will be helpful and we dive in. Together. I expect him to keep up with it; I keep up with it, too. I stay on top of his lessons; I make sure he does not have too much repetition while still understanding everything. I re-learn algebra with him. I listen to his feedback (I am still learning to listen, REALLY listen). And I find supplemental reading which we may do together or he may read alone. (In a future post I’ll write about the importance of not just doing a math text or program but also reading books as a family ABOUT math and mathematicians). Since summer we have been working occasional algebra problems together and I kid you not, this time is enjoyable and often times hysterically funny. I love it. I thrive on our learning and connection and humor. With both my kids. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is what makes homeschooling utterly enjoyable.

An important aspect of our learning is this: if my son wants to quit math entirely, then that is his decision and he can quit. For a year, for three years, for whatever. You see, while I will support him however I can, and I will occasionally nudge him and remind him of his goals, I will not nag him or require him to do something he is entirely against. I will not use coercion or bribes or rewards or punishment or intimidation or fear. (If I wanted that for my kids, I could just send them to school. They also use yelling, berating, and humiliation there. I know. I worked for a public school system for 8 years). I will not use any of those things and then claim that is Love. So, on the one hand, if my son decides that he is going to learn something, then I expect him to keep up with it consistently. Doing an occasional math lesson here and there does not equal learning. If you’re going to do something, do it. Accomplishment takes persistence, and sometimes children need help in being persistent and in recognizing the fruits of persistence. On the other hand, learning is best done by choice. If my son decides he does not want to learn math, then I am prepared to accept and support that decision. Do something you enjoy and do it well. Don’t painfully drag it out, unless you want your child to forever learn to hate a topic.

And really, I think the best way to show a child that something is worth learning or doing is to learn it yourself or learn it together.

One additional point I want to share is this: if my son were to quit math, then I would expect him to find other ways to use that time well – reading challenging books, studying a different topic, learning a craft, building something, learning an instrument, etc.  We also value lots of play time, but that suggests that there is a distinction between (school)work and play, and that’s not necessarily the case. Maybe that’s a topic for another post…..

I support my kids in finding and exploring new interests, in setting new goals, because this time is precious. My kids will never get these years back. This is why I say that homeschooling is more about working together and parenting than about any sort of curriculum or academic choices we make. Kids, if they maintain their natural love of learning and understand the value of persistence, can do great things.

How Do You Homeschool? First, An Analogy

It’s a question that I get asked often enough that I wish I had a snappy answer. In fact, part of the reason I started this blog is because I am asked that question so much, usually by parents new to or considering homeschooling. It is not an easy question to answer; I don’t have a short answer. I’d like to start answering, though, by using an analogy.

My kids are like growing plants. When they were little sprouts, they needed most of my time and attention. Now that they have grown bigger, it is my job to keep away the weeds and pests while providing the sunshine, nourishment and other beneficial things that they need.

What is considered a weed or pest will vary by home. In my home, for example, I keep away time-consuming distractions like television and video games. I understand that other families find these things enjoyable and worthwhile or at least acceptable at certain levels, but this is the choice I have made and it is working well for us. Unhealthy relationships definitely fall into the pest category.

The sunshine and nourishment of my plant analogy include basic things like good sleep and healthy food, two necessities that I see as HUGE yet often-overlooked benefits of homeschooling (my daughter REALLY needs sleep in the morning and is still asleep when the bus goes past our house). My nosy son who was just looking over my shoulder asked me to include playing outside. He says that has ‘changed’ him the most. Healthy community connections, as well as personal safety, are worth mentioning as two more basic needs, as many children in our world struggle to just safely survive.

Other beneficial things are the things we seek from outside our home, such as good books, useful resources, helpful people, interesting activities and outings, community classes, and healthy friendships (hey, we’re not really plants here!). We are proud to be some of the most frequent users of our local library!

Healthy family relationships rank high in the ‘beneficial’ category. My relationship with my children is the foundation of my homeschooling. If, for whatever reason, my relationship with one of my children became so difficult that I felt it would improve if I did not homeschool, then I might try public school for that child. Our relationship is more important than anything else. Given our personalities, open communication, my expectations, and the way I homeschool (more on that in a later post), I don’t foresee that happening, but I think it is important to be open to the possibility. I know people that have taken this route and it has been good for the whole family.

I see there is nothing in this post about homeschooling methods or curriculum.  That’s because, in my family, those things are least important.  My parenting style and homeschooling style are inseparably interwoven, but that discussion goes beyond my analogy. I’ll have more to say on that later. But I wanted to start here – I like my little plant analogy. What do you think? What would you add to this?

“I Love To Write Because You’ve Never MADE Me Write, Mom”

The upcoming Traditional Story Telling Night reminds me of some interesting ideas about stories and writing that I’d like to share with homeschoolers.

Many articles that I read about homeschooling state that the best way to destroy a child’s potential to love to write is to require them to do standard school-type writing assignments. While I don’t know if it is true that forcing children to write will create non-writers, I do question the usefulness of most required writing. These school-type assignments tend to lack relevance to the child’s life and often are even disconnected from other subjects that the child is learning about. Worse, at times children are told to write about something that they otherwise love and by being forced to write about it when they don’t care to, their love of an interesting subject may be undermined. (After my son read my draft of this post he cheerily told me “I love to write because you’ve never MADE me write, mom!”)  As homeschoolers, we always have the freedom to help our children learn through ways that fit our children and our family. We can think outside of the (curriculum) box. Here are a couple of illustrations of this point.

A friend, Jen H., recently told me about Rory’s Story Cubes. This ‘game’ consists of nine, six-sided cubes (like dice) with a different picture on each face. (Quick! How many possible combinations of pictures are there if you roll all nine cubes?!) Players roll the cubes, either all at once or one at a time, and make up a story using the pictures on the cubes to spark each idea.

My daughter and I played our first game with our new story cubes this morning as we finished our oatmeal together. We took turns rolling one cube at a time and made up a continuous story. Sometimes we ended our turn with a transition statement like “and then…” or “mom picked up the phone and….” Our story got quite silly. Did you know that the letter L grows on trees? And that the L Tree is right across the ravine from the Money Tree, which unfortunately is on our neighbor’s property instead of ours!

My friend that told me about these story cubes mentioned that her son, who is not always particularly keen on writing, asked her if he could use the story cubes to help him with some of his homeschool writing. What a brilliant idea! I am passing this idea on to you and hope that some of you find it to be fun and useful to your family.  If you’re feeling creative and resourceful, you can even make your own cubes!

I’d like to share with you one more example of relevant and engaging writing. I’ve noticed that my 12-year-old son seems to enjoy writing if he has an audience, and when he asked recently if he could start a blog I thought it would be a good fit for him (actually what I thought was, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”). On his (private) blog, he writes about whatever he wants to at the moment– books he likes, what kind of day he had, poems, etc. He enjoys his writing and I mostly leave it alone – I want it to be fun for him and not turn it into a chore. But we have agreed that once a week or so I will print off one of his posts so that we can do some editing work together. In this way, writing that he does by choice can also be a means of improving his skills. Is this unschooling? Engaged homeschooling? Interest-initiated learning? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just life. Maybe we are better off without all these labels.

These ‘outside the box’ ideas are examples of a greater message that I wish to convey:  Many people feel that it is important for children to learn specific styles of writing (e.g., summaries, book reports, research papers), and they believe that the way to learn to write is primarily through writing in these formats. But what I believe is important is learning the SKILLS of writing, skills which can be learned through a myriad of interesting, relevant, and enjoyable ways. These general skills can then be applied to any situation when they are needed, either now or later in life – in college and work, in creative writing and even writing for enjoyment  Happy writing!