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.