April 13, 2009

Quality Control in the Homeschool

Jamie from SteadyMom.com has been asking me some great questions and I have been so distracted around here that I haven't been answering. But no more! Today I begin on her questions.

Here's the first one:
I wonder if you could address how you handled the issues of Quality Control in your homeschool. So in areas like books, television, and video games for example, how did you make sure that your children were playing, watching, reading, etc good quality materials? Or did you? I have young children, but definitely want to steer them toward well-constructed materials when they are ready to choose their own. Did you let your kids pick out anything from the library, or did you try to direct them? Did you censor their tv watching and the type of video games they had, or was it whatever they wanted?

We don't have cable, but our kids watch DVDs from Netflix that I choose. They don't use the computer at all yet or any video games, and I'm happy to keep it that way for a while (they are only 5, 4, and 3). And I choose the majority of the books we read (although they pick some out from the library as well). I want them to have more freedom as they get older, but also maintain the high quality of materials.

I think you are doing a great job. As parents we try to choose nutritious food, healthy relationships, and a rich educational environment for our kids. That's just natural. And the younger they are, the easier it is to maintain all this. Like you, I tried as long as I could to keep things the way I like it. I wanted to lay a good foundation for them, giving them a taste for the "finer things," so to speak, so that when they got older and were making their own choices, they'd have a point of reference. I let them pick out library books, and I brought home my own picks. We didn't have cable, and their video choices had to be approved. But generally, we stayed in the children's section of the library, so there were hardly any disputes.

If you have cable and your kids are stuck on watching a lot of TV, just try to entice them with interesting things, or have a limit on the daily TV time. We even had a TV free week once in awhile that ended with a big reward. If they're interested in video games, buy them really fun games that you approve of. There are tons of great ones, and if they are getting their fill with the good stuff, they'll be less likely to acquire a taste for the ones you'd rather they avoid.

And don't forget that plain old play is quality education. Your kids don't have to be doing something "educational" all the time. We'd go days without purposeful reading. It's the climate, not the day to day weather that defines your homeschool.

The topic of "censoring" in the unschooling world is an interesting one. Some people think we should let our children choose everything. And I can see their point, but based on what I just said, you can see that I think it's OK to censor, especially in the young years. And now that I have teenagers and one in college, I get to express my opinion, and because my kids respect me and we all want to maintain good relationships, they often don't choose something that will completely freak mom out. For example, during Peter's last Halloween at home, he wanted to be a vampire. OK, I know there are vampires all over the media, but considering Peter has never been anything more daring than a cowboy for Halloween, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. So I said, "How about you save the vampire idea for next year when you're away at college and I won't know about it?" He laughed and decided to be something else.

As kids get older, you really can't censor as much as your mother's heart would like. We can say no (and I do about what I think is truly dangerous), but that won't stop them from doing what they want. So, in the young years, before they are teenagers, do all you can to show them how fun and rewarding learning can be. Give them a taste for good literature, open discussion, and lots of love and acceptance. Communicate your belief that they can do anything they love to do. Give them time to play and discover who they really are. Build that mutual respect and open communication. It's priceless.

Hope that answered your question. I thought of some related posts as I wrote this...

Related Posts

Capturing Your Child's Heart
The Power of Play
When it Looks Like They're Not Learning
Motivating a Child to Learn
Setting Boundaries for Kids
Saying No to Your Kids
The Bare Minimum
Facing Resistance from Your Kids


steadymom.com said...

Thanks so much, Jena. This is all really valuable information...


Traci said...

That's pretty much what I've been doing. My kids also let me know what they can handle and what makes them uncomfortable. I've let them watch the first Harry Potter movie. They tried watching the second one but got too freaked out so that was that! Mine would rather be outside playing!

gina said...

I love this thought-
"It's the climate, not the day to day weather that defines your homeschool."

I just wanted to add- that even as I choose for them when they are younger I always try to explain WHY I am choosing what I am choosing, to build a good foundation for them when they are old enough to choose. My 7 yo understands the movie rating system, the food pyramid, etc. All my girls have learned to listen to their bodies as far as being tired, hungry, uneasy, etc. It's an ongoing process and they need to be taught HOW to make healthy choices. Just reinforcing the message. ;)

G.Dowell said...

Great post, Jena.

As a mom, I do about the same. Was more protective when they were younger, and now that they are older, I have let them make more of their own decisions. When they were young, I always made sure I gave them the moral reason why I would not let them do certain things. It has helped them now in making their own decisions.

Ruralmama said...

I winced when I saw the words "quality control" and "homeschool" in the same sentence, but thankfully this post wasn't about some new form of control our government is trying to enforce to "enhance" our homeschooling and I can quit wincing and start nodding my head vigorously.

I liked your climate vs. weather comment as well. Very astute!

Unknown said...

I have to say thank you as well! What a great post. I have been struggling with my 6yo son who LOVES video games! I've limited his time to only 30-45min of non educational games a day and only if its not pretty outside to play. I worry all the time that if I let that part go he'd do nothing! I was led to your site through Steady Mom on the Sonlight boards. We are really struggling here with school. My DD HATES her math workbooks and my DS HATES all workbooks..and Im just lost. For the week I decided to back off and just do our Sonlight Reading (which we love) and play play play. I have a natural bent toward unschooling but am scared to take the plunge. Your posts are really opening my eyes to the world of Life Learning. What do you think about computer games for Math in the younger years? My DD and DS really LOVE Times Attack and I've contemplated Time4Learning and IKnowThat for use in our homeschool. I mean if they love it, its okay right?

Karen said...

Great post!
We adhere to the 80/20 rule - as long as 80% is good quality stuff, then the 20% that isn't necessarily what I'd choose for them (my boys are 8 and 4) won't corrupt them outrageously - at least, we hope not :-)
For us, this is not a matter of splitting their activities down to the last decimal, though, more a way to ensure that most of what the boys are exposed to is great, while some of it, though age-appropriate (they don't run wild until midnight or watch R-rated movies), might not be the best.

Thanks for this, I love reading your posts because they reassure me so much about interest-led learning.

Heather said...

It is an interesting question. I agrwee with you Jena. Our goal when they were small was to protect them from things that we knew would be a problem (like Essie and anythign she might possibly immitate because boy does she ever). Occasionally we would allow them to watch somethign questionable and discuss it to death (which, really does make a lot things that seem cool much less fun and interesting. :) --I learned that from our high school drama teacher and the friends I had who took his class--they complained that he took all the fun out of their favorite movies by showing them better stuff and pointing out the problems with their favorites). Nowadays our kids (11, 9, 7) are very discuerning about what is good to watch and what is not and seldom do I have to say no to something though obviously more often with the younger 2 than the oldest and the oldest very often is on my side and explains before I get a chance.)

Jena said...

Thanks all!

Gina and Gayle, yes, thank you for adding the fact that we have to explain why we make certain choices. That is key. When they can see the logic/reasons behind things, that's treating them with respect and kids respond well to that, and like you said, it lays a foundation for future decision-making.

Vicki--nice to meet you! Yes, if they love it and it's not physically or morally damaging, let them do it! Especially if it's math anyway, absolutely, take advantage of that enthusiasm! I wouldn't even worry about limiting the "noneducational" games. Because even those are educational.

Personally, I think workbooks are anti-educational unless the child really likes them and is benefiting from them. There are so many other ways to learn the same material.

Don't be afraid to unschool. Humans are natural learners. We can't help it. What we end up doing is killing the love of learning.

Karen--love the 80/20 rule. Very practical!!

Heather--That's a very cool observation about how discussing things making them less cool. I can see that. The fact that your 11 year old echoes your thinking is a great testimony to the practice. :)

mothering4 said...

I know you are waiting from a reply from Jena, but I just had to chime in, because we are going through the same thing. I think I have spring fever worse than the children, which probably makes things worse.
As a trained teacher, I will never be able to give up those workbooks completely, but love Jena's twist with unschooling around them, to break up the boring pages.
I want to know if there is a book you can get with great ideas already to plug in with grade appropriate material and voila! Any suggestions? Like we just did a grocery scavenger hunt...lots of fun...and NO WHINING!
About the computer CD-ROMs. I think these are WONDERFUL! We just got one for a dollar at the craft store that teaches states, capitals, state flags, etc. My son is having a blast with it. I think these are a great alternative to worksheets. I think the trick is to limit their time, so that you make them quit while they are still having fun. That way they don't get bored of them, too. Hope that helps. Happy schooling!

Jena said...

Hi mothering4--Great advice! Your scavenger hunt is a great idea. Can you tell me more about what kind of book you are looking for?

Unknown said...

Thanks, again for responding!

Unknown said...

Great Article Jena, I must admitt, I avoided reading this for a little bit because I also cringed when I read the title "Quality Control combined with Homeschool! LOL it is funny how one tiny word can bring up such a strong emotion. It was refreshing reading this though since I am fairly new into the unschooling plunge, only around 7 months now so I still find myself shifting and struggling with the concept from time to time. So many jump down your throat if you say no to your children or censor. For me censoring definatly depends on my child such as scary movies freaking my daughter out where as my son since a very small toddler knew scary movies were just stories and has the same love for scary movies I do. I also do not limit computer time or video games. My daughter naturally does not watch much tv or will sit long for computer or video games, she much prefers the active playing and having someone to play with. My son will play a lot of video games and here since I do not limit the time he spends on them I make sure I offer many other active and fun activities for him to join in , he does have the option to say no and sometimes he does, other times he is happy to join. I found out recently though there may be a reason for him spending much of his time with sit down, non active activities... he is turning 11 and right after his 10th birthday we realized he took to toe-walking.... his heel cords have gotten really tight and after much testing....with more to go they are thinking he has a mild case of cerebral palsy which makes a lot of physical activity really tiring and difficult for him to keep up. We will know more when he goes to a pediatric nuerologist which we have to travel out of state for. My point here is though that things are not always what they appear and sometimes there may be a reason they choose something. He is really interested in designing his own video games now so I am gathering material for him to learn how to do this.
While I do not censor much for my kids, they do seem to make good decisions following their passions and I do believe censoring is perfectly acceptable. It depends on the child and the families values. When it comes to the unschooling philosphy I think there is no wrong or right way and each family has to find what works for them and what they are comfortable with.

Jena said...

Hi Rainbow Rivers,

I completely agree. I especially like what you said about each family finds what works for them.

That's so interesting about your son! It's a good thing he's been homeschooled because he might have had a lot of trouble, maybe even some emotional trauma in school/PE. I felt that way about my daughter Meg. She was a late reader, and if she had been in school, she would have be labeled, and that would have been devastating to her.

Welcome to the unschooling world! There is a lot of variety, but I think the underlying commonality is letting our kids follow their interests, and it sounds like you do a great job of that!

mothering4 said...

Before I ask my question, I have to just thank everyone for their comments. I love reading everyone's point of view. My little imput to all this is from Proverbs 22:6 "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." I think we all agree that it's our responsibility to direct our children. We wouldn't let them cross the busy street and say, I am letting him choose. I loved Jena's example that we direct our children to eat healthy and would never let them eat candy for dinner every night...just lunch...ha ha just kidding! Now I'm new to all this, but what I'm getting from this article is that one of our jobs is to get our children to read. So why not allow them to read all about horses, because that's what she enjoys. (It doesn't have to be from a book labeled 2nd grade Reading.) And as parents, we need to make sure that it's not a book about a horse trainer that is having an affair or something bizzar like that. One reason I homeschool is to protect my children's innocence (sp) for as long as I can. Why would I let my girls read trash or allow my sons to watch immodest women on TV. That's our God-given responsibility. I think Jena is right on!
So here's my "?"... I would love to find a book that gives me lessons that are already planned and all I have to do is pick which ones my children would enjoy and pop in what they are learning. I'd love to do this every day. Like with the scavenger hunt. I would love to open a book and one of the 100 ideas would say, "Take your children to the store and have them find this, this, and that. Because we are adding triple digits right now, I'd pop in that concept and they could take the prices of these "findings" and add them together to get the total. Then if they find something else in the store that equals that total, they win the "game". Does anything like that exsist? They'd have to be free or inexpensive activities with little planning. Well, once and a while I could plan a big activity, but our 2 and 3 year olds slow us down a bit. If you know of any, the advice would be much appreciated. Thanks again for your website. I am enjoying it very much!

Letitia said...

Great advice. And, yes, building the respectful relationship when they are young, makes them much more willing to continue to listen to your input when they are adults.

Roshni said...

Hi Jena,

this is great advice and leads me to a question that I had at the back of my mind when you said that your kids were blogging and using other social media when they were tweens. Its that since we know a lot of about cyber bullying and online predators, how did you manage to protect your kids from this? Was it that you talked to them about it and then left them moderate their own postings and who they befriend, or did you have a more elaborate plan of finding out who they were in contact with online?


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