Saturday, December 29, 2012

Several months ago, my brother asked me to weigh in on a question he asked on his blog. It’s taken me longer than it should have, but here, finally, is my answer. LOL I thought it would make a nice post here on my blog as well.
Dear Karl,
You asked how a family like ours with many children spanning the ages and grade levels we have, homeschools. I have tried and failed to come up with a succint answer – so I will attempt the long winded version. :)
One thing you said in your article rang true with me. You said “We tend to separate “Schooling” from “Life” and as a result our kids grow up without any connection between the two and don’t see much point.”
For our family, this has been the key to making homeschooling “work”. So, that being said, here are some semi-connected thoughts.
There’s the practical side and the philosophical side of the answer to that question. Practically, our school day looks pretty laid back compared to many. If I were to write out what our typical school day is like, it might be something like this…
After breakfast, my 20 year old takes the baby for a while and I print out enough pages of lined paper for the younger three’s penmanship assignments. I write on them what I’d like them to trace and then copy in their own handwriting. Emilie (5yo) is learning to print her lower case letters and review her upper case ones. Amanda (7yo) is reviewing her printing by copying a commandment and its meaning (from Luther’s Small Catechism) each day. Abigail (10yo) is doing the same but in cursive.
When they’ve finished that and I’ve had them make any necessary corrections, I give them each five math problems to do. Emilie does some simple addition and subtraction, Amanda does some more difficult addition and subtraction and is starting to learn regrouping, Abigail does some addition and subtraction with regrouping and some multiplication. She is starting to learn some more difficult multiplication now as well. I make sure the first two or three problems are review, especially in areas that I know they need practice. One or two are working on what they should know just well enough to do on their own or if they’re ready for it, I’ll introduce a new concept and we’ll work together. And then I usually include one story problem. Now and then I’ll change things up and have them play a math game, or do a montessori math activity, or fill in a multiplication chart, or do some flashcards.
Then Amanda and Abigail are sent off to read a chapter in their assigned reading books and report back to me. Emilie reads with me still. She’s been reading sentences that I write down for her and has progressed from “The rat sat on the hat.” to more meaningful sentences like, “There are twelve months in the year. The names of the months are January… etc”I was just saying today that she is probably ready now to start reading for church. Since each week we read through a chapter from the Bible as a family, I can look ahead to next week’s chapter, write down the last verse in large, easy to read letters, and practice it with her on Friday and Saturday so that Sunday morning she can take a turn like everyone else.
For Bible, I like to use the old Bible History book from my gradeschool days. The girls like to listen to the stories. Abigail reads her own Bible like the older children, though just a chapter a day at this point.
During all this, the older ones are off in whatever quiet-ish spots they can find, doing their own schoolwork. For instance, Lissa (14yo) and Juli (12yo) are working together through “Life of Fred” Algebra, “Creek Edge Press” Geography task cards, and the “Prairie Primer” for literature and research. They do their creative writing as well. They come to me as needed for any help and/or permission to use google when our set of encyclopedias fail them, and to check their spelling and punctuation. Later in the day, I try to touch base with each of the older children and make sure they’re understanding and accomplishing what they should.
After the “3R’s school” is done, they’re are free to go. Throughout the day, other learning opportunities will come up. Abigail likes to write stories and that gives us a chance to talk about spelling and grammar and punctuation. They all like to bake and get extra fractions practice doing that (especially when we have to double a recipe or we have to make do with the measuring cups we can find, which is most of the time.) We read aloud each evening and that often gives us opportunities to discuss subjects such as history, social studies, science, etc. At meal times I might teach them a new hymn in four part harmony, review basics, or talk about the maps on the dining room walls.
The rest of the time we just live. We clean the house and take care of younger siblings and cook and sew and learn to knit and crotchet and wash wool for needle felting. We research ways to grow a better garden and can our produce, how to film and edit scenes for a movie. We write stories and songs. We build cupboards and castle walls. The children research and practice the things they find interesting, whether that’s leather work, or herbalism, or piano, or life in the 1930′s. They read and read and read. We play and work and live.
Which brings me to the other half of this question, the reasoning behind what we do and how we do it and why we do it.
When my cousin asked me to help her find information to help her make a decision about homeschooling her children, I encouraged her to find the answers to questions such as… What is your definition and philosophy of education? What does education mean to you? Why are you choosing to homeschool? This is something many homeschoolers don’t even think about before starting. I know I didn’t much and I was an elementary education major. We are so brain washed to think that education means sitting at a desk or dining room table, reading through a text book and doing the activities outlined within it, that we seldom look beyond that vision. When I first started homeschooling my children, my main reason for homeschooling was the belief that I could give my kids a superior education. I met a family who said that their children’s relationships with God were much more important that academics. I was appalled to find that their pre-teen children struggled with reading and I’m sorry to say, I judged them. The longer I homeschool and parent my children, the more I’m learning that they were right and I was wrong. Relationships are the heart and the root of true education – relationships with each other and with God.
Several educational methods have shaped my philosophy of education – Maria Montessori, Glenn Doman, Seigfried Engelmann, Charlotte Mason, John Holt, Somebody Robinson ;) Marilyn Howshall, etc. For me, these are the ideals…
* I believe in starting early, teaching two and three year olds to read or at least getting a good start on it.
*I believe that tiny children are capable of learning much more than we tend to expect, especially when presented in a hands on way, and that they should be given the opportunity to do so.
*I believe in teaching in natural, along the road kinds of ways whenever possible. So much of math can be learned while shopping, baking, working, playing etc.
*I believe that the best learned lessons are those learned by those who want to learn them, therefore following my children’s interests whenever possible is a good thing, while not making their education truly child led. Rather we should both, parents and children, be Spirit led and watching for God given opportunities and directions.
*I believe in using short lessons for things such as math. I’ve found out that my children’s brains shut down at the sight of a whole page full of problems no matter how well they know the material.
*I believe that character training trumps any amount of academic learning. “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.”
*I believe that education should be geared toward the individual rather than stamped out cookie cutter style. Each of my children have different interests and needs. My son who wants to live off the land may have no need of higher math skills. My son who rewrites computer programs to make them into the tools he needs just might.
*I believe that teaching our children sometimes involves trial and error. One method may work for one child and not for another. It’s ok to stop and try something new. It’s also ok to slog through and teach perserverance even when it’s not a perfect match.
*I believe that educational gaps are inevitable. The question is whether the student will have the understanding and the confidence to seek out the answers when he needs them.
*I believe that sometimes homeschooling has more to do with the changes God is making in me than in my children.
*I believe in giving my children the tools to learn independently and encourage them in that direction early.
*I believe in not filling their lives so full of book work that it pushes out all opportunity for real learning.
*I believe in trying not to stifle my children’s natural enjoyment of learning, and especially instilling a love of reading.
*I believe in doing my best to model a vibrant lifestyle of learning before my children.
*I believe that life is learning and learning is life. Education does not begin at 5 and end at 18. I hope to never stop learning new things and I pray that my children feel the same way.
All this comes together and meets up with my husband’s views and works itself out into an eclectic – leaning – toward – but – not – completely – unschooling – lifestyle – of – learning. It is what works for us. Others may think through their philosophy of education and come up with something totally different, leading to a very different looking homeschool. That’s ok. In fact that’s wonderful. That’s what homeschooling is all about.

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