Showing posts with label beginning homeschooling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beginning homeschooling. Show all posts

February 26, 2009

Is it Unschooling or Not?

TopsyTechie is talking about taking the plunge into unschooling next year, calling it a semester-long experiment. I always enjoy hearing about people who are willing to try something new for their kids, and since I'm partial to the whole unschooling world, I'm excited for them!

And it reminds me that I use the term "interest-led learning" to describe my version of schooling. So is it unschooling or not? In the comment section of one of my posts last week, Traci and I got into a little discussion about this:
It's funny how this homeschooling continuum works. On one end you have the ultra structured "school-at-home" crowd who follows the teacher's guide mercilessly. On the other end you have a complete hands-off, wild child view of unschooling. Many are purists and cling fiercely to their end of the continuum, but most of us find our place somewhere between the two.

I realize that to most of the homeschooling world, if you don't follow a pre-packaged curriculum, you are called an eclectic home schooler, or a relax home schooler, with the assumption that you have books and subjects that you cover most every day. The term "interest led" is used by some. I just checked google for "interest led home school" and my blog came up second on the list behind Life Without School. So there must not be too much out there if I'm number two.

My point is, no one home schools the same way. The best we can do is find what works for our family. I agree that kids like structure (depending on their personalities) and as long as we parents are sensitive to what they enjoy and how they learn, not forcing them through an assembly line but letting them follow their interests, we are on the unschooling end of the continuum--maybe not as close to the end as some would like, but we have a whole lot more in common with unschoolers than we do with those on the other end.
So we "unschoolers" are double misfits. First, we buck the system by keeping our kids home, then we turn our backs on A Beka and Bob Jones. Does anyone understand us?

If you choose this path, be prepared to either calmly and joyfully explain your schooling choice or just keep it under wraps. I've done both.

Some Related Posts:

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Homeschooling and College Scholarships (how I communicated Peter's unschooling)

Answering a Few Questions

A Look at Interest-Led Learning

Day to Day

Three Kids, Three Learning Styles

My Education Philosophy

About Me

February 25, 2009

Team Sports for Home Schoolers

Back to questions! Please keep them coming.
Lobug said...

What did/do you do for sports activities for your kids? How do you get them involved in team sports when homeschooling. My 3 are really young (youngest not in school yet), and at least 2 of them are very much going to need extracurricular activities!
Thanks!!

Hi Lobug, this is a great question and all home schoolers have this problem. Before junior high age, there seems to be a lot of sports activities through Park Districts. My kids were on the soccer teams and baseball teams. You can also find classes through the Park District in dance and gymnastics. Our local university offered a weekly gymnastics class through their PE department, and now they have a badminton club. Then there's always the YMCA. They often have a lot of classes and some competitive sports, like swimming. Even churches offer sports for all ages. My kids were in Upward Basketball at least one year. I usually heard of things through the newspaper or mailed advertisements or my friends.

When your child reaches junior high and high school age, those great activities become very limited. I guess it's because the high schools have so much going on in the sports area, other outlets can't compete. But for sports that are not offered in the high schools, you may find something. In 8th grade Melissa joined a hockey team at an area ice arena. Our high schools don't offer hockey, so this was a thriving network of teams across the Midwest. She loved it. It was a co-ed team with only two girls.

Melissa also got into Olympic Weightlifting for awhile. Yes, we homeschoolers do some interesting things! The guy at the fitness center here in town was building an Olympic Weightlifting team, so he started training some kids (all homeschoolers) and got them competing around the state. She loved that too, but had to quit when she decided to go to public school. Oh, and don't forget martial arts. My kids have done Tae Kwon Do and Ikido, and these competitions are open to all ages.

Home school associations in metropolitan areas may have their own sports league. I know Dallas has a home school athletic association.

A lot of older homeschoolers in this are are on the swim team that competes in the summer through the Park District or the YMCA. And I think we have an independent girls' softball league around here, but since Missa wasn't interested, I haven't researched it.

Another place to look for sports teams is Christian high schools. If they are not affiliated with the public school sports system, they may let homeschoolers try out and join the teams. A school here in town offers volleyball, basketball, and track.

Depending on your state laws and local cooperation, you might be able to get on a public high school team. For us, a child has to take a minimum of five classes to be eligible to play. If I understand this correctly, it's any five classes. So that could be PE, band, choir, acting, and current events. Of course, that would take up a lot of your child's day, but it's something to look into if you are desperate to get into a sport that is only offered at your high school.

You may also want to check out teams at your high school that are not part of the "system." I guess these would be considered clubs. They would have their own set of rules about who could join. I'm thinking of Lacrosse. Since Lacrosse is not an Illinois High School Association sponsored sport, kids have to pay to participate (no state funding) and fewer regulations.

One of the big reasons Melissa wanted to try public school was for the sports. And she is in them like crazy! She was on the girls' basketball team, and now she's in track. The whole public high school thing is working for her, at least for now.

Meg, on the other hand, is still fully home schooled. She has expressed a desire to be on a sports team, and we've talked about her trying out at the Christian school, but she's not that motivated. She's mostly into dance and acting through our local theater that offers classes and does a yearly musical. Peter was never much into team sports except for baseball and soccer for a few years in elementary school. He does, however, love martial arts and ballroom dance.

So in a nutshell, look here:
  • Park Districts
  • YMCAs
  • Gymnastic Centers
  • Dance Centers
  • Colleges
  • Ice Arenas
  • Fitness Centers
  • Martial Arts Centers
  • Churches
  • Christian Schools
  • Home School Associations
  • Public School sports clubs
And when there's no team, there's roller blading and bicycle clubs, and Olympic training in whatever you want, if you can find a trainer!

February 11, 2009

Why I Chose Interest-Led Learning

Soapbox Diva asked a question:

Hi, I'm new to your blog, by way of Pamajama. My children are grown, and while I too read some books as a young mother that changed all of our lives, The Key to Your Child's Heart and others, there was one aspect I regret that I didn't 'get' until they were already grown.

Was it innate or did you read something in particular that turned you on to the 'interest-led learning?' I have come to realize later in my child-rearing years, that it wasn't my job to turn them into 'society-appreciated' adults, but rather to help them listen to their own inner guidance, and become all that they wanted to be.

Since the environment they grew up in was slanted towards conformity, I am interested in exposing myself (as well as my children) to anything that will help them choose a different course with their future children. Thanks!


Hi Soapbox Diva,

Nice to meet you! You're right about our environment being slanted towards conformity. That fact is what pushed me over the edge in deciding to home school. My idea of interest-led learning developed when I was in college. I went to a school that didn't like textbook teaching or busy work for kids. Then combined with my psychology classes, my belief that God created us all uniquely, and my own experience of "jumping through hoops," interest-led learning just made sense. People are motived to do what they enjoy, we are all natural learners, and canned curriculum is to be avoided. I didn't know anyone who was teaching this way, but I would find quotes or books here and there. I especially liked John Holt and his book Learning All the Time. Another book that had a big influence on me was Schoolproof by Mary Pride.

Over the years I would waiver and buy a curriculum, but even then, I could never force my kids to do it. I always tried to find what was fun for them and what would develop their natural talents. And since experiences teach best and are remembered longest, I tried to make real-life activities part of their school days. After all, a trip to the store is really a consumer ed field trip. I sent Meg to buy groceries yesterday (it's so nice to have a driving child) and when she got home she said, "Wow, food is expensive!"(lesson indelibly marked in her brain and emotions). And it's a lot more fun to actually go to Abraham Lincoln's Springfield home than to just read about him. I'm sure there are things around your home that would be interesting for children to visit--even the closest nature preserve has a lot for your child to experience.

As you look toward a new start with grandchildren, my best advice is to let them explore and enjoy their childhood. As they grow, look for what they are good at and capitalize on those things. Use their interests as a springboard into all those "school" areas. You'd be amazed how math works into caring for pets or gardening. Then introduce them to new things in ways that relate to what they are already interested in. But don't be afraid to offer something completely different. Most kids are open to new things. It's the assembly line, forced-feeding of traditional schooling that shuts kids down to learning.

Home schooling this way is a lot of fun. You get to know your child really well, you generally maintain good relationships, and your child has the chance to blossom.

Here are some of my related posts that might interest you:

The Socialization Question

A Look at Interest Led Learning

Thanks for the question!

photo of Meg at Lincoln Log Cabin, photographing spices and vegetables drying from the rafters

February 7, 2009

Capturing Your Child's Heart

Grandma Farm said...

Hi Jena,
I'm really enjoying your blog...
I have a question. Can you expand more on how you captured your children's hearts in the early years? Obviously you have a great relationship with your oldest college student.

This is a great question. In fact, I believe having your child's heart is the most important factor in successful parenting and home schooling. Thanks for bringing it up.

How do you know if you've captured your child's heart?

Your child trusts you.

Your child wants to please you more than anyone else.

Your child wants to be around you.

Your child seeks your advice and takes it.

What prevents us from holding our child's heart?

"I'm angry at you."

"I'm too busy for you."

"I think you're stupid."

As a young mom I read two books that changed my life forever. They were The Search for Significanceand How to Really Love Your Child.The first one made me look at myself and how I needed to change my thinking. The other taught me how to communicate love to my children. Another important book was The Blessing.That's where I learned to say this often to my kids: "You are a treasure and a blessing from God."

With a heart turned toward your children and time to be together, home schooling is the perfect environment to capture your child's heart. Build that strong foundation from the beginning and shore up the sides as long as you can. You're building for the future. Then when your child hits those turbulent years looking for independence, you have that history of love and respect. Just yesterday I thought Melissa was acting a little disrespectful toward me. I said, "Melissa, I am always kind to you. I just don't get it." And a few minutes later she said, "I love you, Mom....Thank you, Mom."

Practical Ideas for Capturing Your Child's Heart

Just be together. Share life.

Look your child in the eyes when he talks to you.

Keep your promises.

Respond positively to your child's cries and complaints. You are building trust.

Let your child sit on you, hang on you, and follow you around. You are communicating that they are important to you and not a nuisance. Don't worry. They eventually go off without you someday.

Believe in your child's ability to succeed. They learn who they are and what they can be from their important people--you. Every child can find what they love to do and what they can be good at.

Of course, I could go on forever, but I believe these are the basic building blocks of holding your child's heart. Then when they get older, they'll find someone else and you can pass their heart on to that person. But in the meantime, keep it safe and warm.


Related Posts
Yes, I scrolled through my entire blog and pulled out things even remotely related.

My Education Philosophy

Facing Resistance

What Makes a Good Home Schooling Parent?

A New Phase of Life

It's Easier to Build Strong Children

Home Schooling in 1745 England

Timing is Everything

Home School Meets Public School

Our Home

Saying No to Your Kids

Setting Boundaries for Kids

Everything You Need to Know About Parenting

Motivating a Child to Learn

January 27, 2009

Answering a Few Questions

I want to get back to the questions. I asked for questions a few posts back and here are some of them:

Traci
said...
How much writing did your kids do in the early elementary grades? I have a hard time judging since I taught first and second grade. The kids I taught wrote tons. My kid not so much.
First of all, try not to compare. The kids in school have to fill up a lot of time, so teachers give them things to do, and most of the time it's more classroom management than education. I never made writing an "assignment" because I love to write and I didn't want my kids to learn to hate it. Writing was portrayed as a fun way to save your ideas and your made-up stories, or a way to communicate with your friends. If you never require writing but model its usefulness (journaling, writing lists, email), they will catch on and begin to write to meet their own goals and desires. If they have good models from the books they are reading and if you have a grammar book around for reference, they'll be fine.

Traci also asked about balancing running around doing extra curricular stuff vs. home time. There are seasons of running around, and in those times, being in the car together is "home time." We listened to tapes and talked. Often the kids had books in the car they were reading. Just go with the flow and make sure everyone has the opportunity to follow their interests, and sometimes that means a hectic schedule. If your child is bugging you about wanting to be in ten different things, this might be a good opportunity to learn how to choose the best two, or whatever you feel you have the money and time to give.
Anonymous said...
Hey! Just curious if your extended family (grandparents etc...) were supportive about your decision to homeschool/unschool. What about your friends?
Since I have an elementary education degree, nobody hassled me. I did get some funny looks and some side comments I wasn't supposed to hear, and those hurt, but overall, since I knew it was best for my kids, I wasn't discouraged. Some of my friends who chose to send their kids to school felt uncomfortable around me and acted like they were defending their choices all the time. But I generally act with grace, no matter what a person's decisions are, so over time, they lightened up and we're still friends. After all, I do believe that homeschooling is not for every family.
Christy said...
I know it was a long time ago for you, but I was just wondering what you said to people in front of others so your kiddos didn't feel like they were "missing out" by "just homeschooling"?
"We let our child's interests direct his schooling. For example, Peter loves to read, so he has all the time in the world to read any book he wants. We go to the library a lot--you should see our stacks of books!" or "My daughter loves horses, so we have plenty of time to spend at the stable to let her ..." Answers like these shows the adult that you really are learning and it sounds fun too. You can also highlight all the social interaction your child gets at church or club or the park district classes. If you keep your cool and act mature, positive, and intelligent, you'll be less of a target.
Cathy said...
any doubts you had along the journey?
About once a month. That's when I'd think through my kids' interests and the school subjects and decide if they needed any more materials or opportunities to grow. Let's face it, it's just plain hard being a parent and a teacher. We care so much and we don't want to make mistakes. But what is most important is that we love and value our kids and let them become who they were born to be. If you focus on that, you'll be a success.
Keep the questions coming!

January 22, 2009

Day to Day

I've gotten a few questions about the nitty-gritty day-to-day routine around here. That's a hard one because not following a structured school routine makes for, well, little routine! But here's an overview:

In the preschool years it was just a continuation of the baby days--make sure everyone's fed and clean, and do fun things when possible. To give mom a break, the kids watched PBS and videos. Peter and Meg must have watched Mary Poppins 50 times when we moved in 1993. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. My husband was great about taking the kids to the park or to the city pool several times a week to give me a quiet house. Sometimes he'd even take the kids for a whole day. I'm an introverted person, so constant noise and continual conversation can drive me crazy. To compensate, I'd find things that were good for the kids but still allowed me time to write in my journal (pre-blog days!) or just take a nap. A little bit more about my husband--he's done most of the grocery shopping since Peter was born, and he even cooks, does laundry, and vacuums. He knows how hard it is to be a full time parent and teacher. I am very blessed to have him.

As the kids got into the early elementary days, I had periods of more structure, but those lasted about a month at a time. I like checklists, so often the kids had charts on the wall of things I wanted them to accomplish each day. They would love it for about a week, and then I'd start loosening up on things. It was good to set a course and define a goal, and when we needed that structure, it was there. But we were very flexible and open to invitations to do other things on the spur of the moment.

We never had a "rise and shine" time because we had no schedule to keep and the longer they slept, the more time I had to do other things. Besides, young children don't linger in bed--that's a teenager thing. I figured they'd get up when they were rested. We had morning devotions for years. That would be after breakfast and before I sent them off to do something "educational." They could do things on their checklist or from a stack of books I usually gathered at the beginning of the school year. But like I said, I was never very structured, so if something more interesting came along, we'd do that instead. And if one of the kids just didn't like that grammar book I bought, I wouldn't make them do it. If I really wanted them to learn a concept, I'd present it in a quick, lively way, and move on, sort of like a hit and run. They'd learn something before they had a chance to object. :) Songs are great for that. We had grammar songs, geography songs, science songs, history songs, Bible songs, foreign language songs. The younger they are, the better, because they don't mind the cheesy lyrics and campy melodies. We usually listened to songs every car ride. And they can still sing some of those songs today.

Bed times? Well, since we didn't have to be anywhere in the morning, we didn't feel the need. There are a lot of opinions out there about bedtimes, but for us, it just flowed with life. We co-slept for YEARS because I wanted the kids to feel safe and it was just more convenient. It started with breastfeeding. I could not see any sense in getting up in the middle of the night to get a crying baby out of a crib down the hall. It was much easier to have that child right next to me and to respond before waking anyone else up. After you get used to that, it's hard to force a child into their own bedroom. BUT if that child WANTED his/her own bedroom, that's a different story. I found that falling asleep in the same room as my children gave me insight into their thinking. They would tell me how they really felt and I'd have the opportunity to talk about deep, important things without the distractions of the day. And we giggled a lot. My husband, on the other hand, liked his own space. Over the years, it has all worked out. Now everyone has their own room and I miss those late night talks with my kids.

When Peter got to 8th grade, I decided it was time to give him a real school experience because high school was coming up and I was thinking of enrolling him in a private school. And the girls were really bugging me about wanting to go to a "real" school. I also wanted to put more hours in at the ministry where my husband worked, so we did something really different. I put the girls in a school that did School of Tomorrow Paces, and Peter stayed home, but also did Paces. The girls' school career lasted all of six weeks. I could not believe how...well...let's just say I do not recommend this curriculum. So they came home, everyone was happy, and we resumed our unstructured learning. But Peter faithfully finished all his Paces by the end of the school year because he wanted to.

Because Peter went to a private school in 9th grade, he and I had to get up early and he was gone most of the day, but for Meg and Missa, unstructured school just rolled along. They'd have a pile of books and some expectations to complete before they could say they "got their school done," but most days I didn't ask and they just played happily. Sometimes I wouldn't let them go to a friend's house until they got this or that finished, and that system worked pretty well. But in all honesty, their school work would only take an hour if I actually insisted they do it.

Peter went one year to that private school because we moved away. His last three years of high school were at home. There's more on that in my post Should I Homeschool High School?

Today, this is what happened:

8 am Everyone is up and getting ready for the day. Missa goes to the high school, my husband teaches a couple classes at the local college, and Meg sits in on my husband's aural training class. They all leave together because my husband drops Melissa off on his way.

9am Everyone is gone so I get a shower, some breakfast, and check my email.

9:30 I pick up Meg at the college and take her to the high school for choir. I popped into the guidance counselor's office to hand in Melissa's request for classes next year. Yes, it looks like we're doing this again. On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store.

10:30 Meg returns from choir (another home schooled girl drives her home). She's very excited because she just got a text from a friend saying she got a great part in the musical she auditioned for last weekend. She's going to be the narrator/candyman in Willy Wonka Jr.

She's also in a play that opens tomorrow, and her director encouraged the cast to do something special for themselves, so she has decided to get a massage. After an Internet search, she found a spa in town, called and made an appointment. She also made an appointment to get her hair done. After that, we talked about her desire to study directing in college, so we got online and researched some possible schools. Then I walked away to do dishes, and she came into the kitchen asking for some math problems. I pulled out a math book and we did a 15 minute review of basic math and algebra. Then she sat down by the fireplace and read a science book.

11:45 Meg decides she needs some chocolate, so she goes to Walmart and picks Missa up for lunch on the way home. While she's gone, I clean some vegetables and think through what we could have for lunch.

12:15 Missa and my hubby are both home for lunch. Meg tells her that she also got a great part in Willy Wonka. They'll be going to rehearsals together every Saturday and Sunday afternoons until mid April.

12:45 Meg takes Melissa back to school.

1:00 I get serious about cleaning and doing laundry because Peter is coming home tomorrow for the weekend, and he's bringing his girlfriend with him. But because I don't like to do housework very much, I get distracted with my email, and then Peter calls and we talk through his arrival time. I also learn that his girlfriend has gone vegetarian, so we talk about what food we should have. Peter, on the other hand, is a self-described "meatasaurus." When I hang up with Peter, Meg wants to talk about her Life Cycle Development reading (she's auditing another college class). This chapter is about childbirth and a baby's first year, so she had lots of questions about details. You know how moms like to tell birth stories!

3:15 I go to the high school to pick up Melissa and take her straight to her piano lesson. Meg has a voice lesson at 4:00, but she gets there on her own. I do some kitchen clean up before returning to get Melissa.

4:15 Melissa is back home and frantically eating some supper and gathering her basketball stuff because the bus leaves at 4:45 for an out-of-town game.

5:00 I'm home alone because Meg went straight to her play practice after her voice lesson, my husband is working on something at his office, and Melissa is at basketball (we usually go to her games, but because she has a cold, she is going to sit on the bench). I resign myself to the fact that I have to get the laundry room in shape, so I start a load and take a bunch of clothes upstairs. After about an hour of earnest housework, I heat up a bowl of spaghetti and sit down to watch some Reba on Fancast.com (we don't have regular TV).

6:30 A friend calls. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday. They are going for a second opinion soon. They have four small children and live so far away; I wish I could be there to help with the kids.

7:00 I give up on housework and start this post.

8:30 My husband calls and wants me to come get him at the college. When I get there, he wants to show me the computer lab, so here we are. He's working on something while I finish my post!
I'm waiting for Melissa to call for me to pick her up at the high school after the basketball game. Meg will be home when her play practice ends. Then we'll all watch another episode of Reba and go to bed.

This has been a rather typical day.

January 21, 2009

Facing Resistance from Your Kids

Meg around age 2
I've gotten some great questions after my last post. Thanks so much for fueling my blog! Keep them coming!

A couple people asked about dealing with resistance from kids. We all face it, and it's not fun. Dealing with a bad attitude or a straight out "NO!" is really a relationship issue. What do you expect from your kids and how much do you respect their opinions? How much do they respect your guidance? What are your non-negotiables and are they necessary, reasonable, and understood? I wrote a post called "Setting Boundaries for Kids" that talks more about this.

Being a child's parent AND teacher puts a lot of pressure on us. We panic when we think our kids have to be doing as much as those kids in traditional schools, so we start to get demanding and that relationship thing falls apart, and for what? Here's one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom, without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe that it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness if it were possible with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.
But that doesn't mean we parents just let our kids go and do whatever. In the quote above, Einstein admits that curiosity needs "stimulation," and he lists "seeing and searching" as a description of learning. Give your kids lots of opportunity and time to do just that. Keep the goal in mind and guide without them even realizing it.

If you value the model Jesus gives in the New Testament, it's interesting to note that he was always down on the Pharisees--leaders who continually laid heavy burdens on the people. After all, there are only ten commandments, and even God is not coercive. We may suffer the consequences of poor choices, but he never forces us to obey. One of my favorite verses is "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people," (Romans 10:21). As we disobey, God is continually holding out his arms to us like the father of the Prodigal Son. One of my guiding principles has been to parent my children like God parents me.

But some of the most popular parenting advisers (especially in the Evangelical Christian world) tell us to insure immediate and cheerful obedience all the time or we are shirking our responsibility as parents. Now that's a heavy burden. I say choose your few rules and make sure they are really necessary (see "Setting Boundaries for Kids").

But what about school things like reading, writing and math? A lot of us fear that if we don't force our kids to do school work, they'll never make it in life. Here's my advice: Between the ages of zero and twelve, teach your child to read when he is ready and wants to do it, then do "school" stuff when he shows interest. That gives you a lot of time to relax and watch your child. What is he interested in? What is his learning style? What motivates him? What de-motivates him?

Sure, you can dangle the carrot, like make brownies and talk about fractions as you cut him a piece. Or you can choose games that naturally introduce math because you have to keep score and count money. Or you can check out colorful and interesting books from the library. You can even start a contest with other home schoolers to see how many books each child can read in a month (we did Pizza Hut's Book It). As far as writing goes, you can make greeting cards as a craft project together, or you can buy her a beautiful journal and matching pen. The computer is great for encouraging writing--open a MySpace, create a blog, or simply leave comments on blogs. I have more about these practical things in the post "My Education Philosophy."

My point is, notice your child's interests and build on those. Practically everything in life requires reading, writing, and math, so you just have to encourage those activities in the context of her interests. When you face resistance to "school" things, back off. Ask yourself why she doesn't like to do that and you might learn a lot about how she learns and what motivates her.

Then, when your child hits 12 or so, take stock of his skills and abilities as they relate to the future. If public or private high school is the plan, what do those schools require? But in the meantime, you and your child can relax and together experience the joy of childhood and the joy of learning.

Hope that helps, and keep the questions coming!

January 15, 2009

The Five Paragraph Essay--Don't Take it Too Seriously

If you've been through the American public school system, you've probably been taught the Five Paragraph Essay. It has a thesis statement, is exactly five paragraphs long, and each paragraph has a specific function. That's why it's so popular--it's easy to teach and easy to grade. Holt, the textbook company, even has an online essay scoring system that grades a five paragraph essay without a teacher. And some high schools are requiring proficiency at this format before graduation.

But in my opinion, using the Five Paragraph Essay to teach writing is like using a coloring book to teach Art.

Here's the format of a Five Paragraph Essay:

The Introductory Paragraph starts with general statements that lead to the “point” of the essay--the thesis statement. With your thesis statement, include a “map” or preview of the next three paragraphs, then stick to it. The thesis statement is the point of your essay and ends the introductory paragraph.

Body Paragraph #1 shows how an opposing opinion to the thesis statement is wrong. “Opponents say...but...”

Body Paragraph #2 shows how the thesis statement is right. “The thesis statement is true. For example...”

Body Paragraph #3 shows another reason why the thesis statement is true.

The last paragraph is The Conclusion. Restate your thesis statement at the beginning, recap, then pull out to a general statement that puts your “point” in the big scheme of things.

Each paragraph should be at least five sentences long.

My life since first grade has been saturated with topic sentences, supporting sentences and thesis statements lined up in five-sentence paragraphs organized into five-paragraph essays. I have an Elementary Education degree with a Language Arts specialization and I taught writing to international college students. I also coached my son on the SAT essay format and watched him take a freshman composition class at our local community college--five paragraph essays all the way.

But the real question is, Who writes this way? Only school kids and test-takers. When was the last time you saw a newspaper article written as a five paragraph essay? or a magazine article or a blog post? How about those Pulitzer Prize winning authors? Any five paragraph essays among them? No.

The Five Paragraph Essay is an excellent tool to practice staying on topic, but that's about it. Why is it so over-taught and hailed as THE model of good writing? What happens when a child has to write outside the artificial confines of the classroom? One of my friends explains, "[learning to write this way] made writing a burden for a perfectionist like me. I have always hated writing because it was taught as a puzzle--each sentence in a paragraph has a single purpose, each word has a single purpose, must write without any fluff or "to be" verbs...I had to write short papers for an English class in college and yes, it took me days to write a perfect five paragraph essay. It was so stressful that I did poorly in physics because I always had an exam the day after my essay was due and hadn't time to study for it. I would actually spend hours--yes hours--writing and rewriting the same sentence in order to perfect it! Insane, but that's what happens when you tell a perfectionist that a paper has to be written with perfectly chosen words. Anyway, when I went to seminary I had to write papers constantly. I remember just looking at my PC screen and crying when it came time to write my first paper. I couldn't do it. I just didn't turn one in because I was frozen!"

In our attempt to teach children organized writing and clear communication, we've choked their voice and deadened their wonder. We've made writing robotic, predictable, and at worse, traumatic. Here's my advice: Teach your children the Five Paragraph Essay format about three months before they take the SAT or ACT. Let them practice a few, then leave it alone. Let the bulk of their writing instruction be full of reading the masters and experimenting themselves.

The five paragraph essay is like the training wheels of a bicyclist or the coloring book of a future painter. It's a first step, but not the goal.

Related:

October 27, 2008

Three Kids, Three Learning Styles

If you've been reading my blog for any time at all, you know that I have three teenagers who have all been home schooled from the beginning. My oldest is in his first year of college and I find it very interesting that he is doing so well after a lifetime of unschooling/interest-led learning. Of course, this could just be parental pride, but I like to think that I'm encouraging others who are considering interest-led learning in their homes.

OK, so you've heard a lot about Peter, now what about my other two? How are they doing? I get emails from moms wondering about children with different personalities and learning styles. What about them?

I think God was very organized when He planned out what kids I would get:

My first one is an extreme left-brained absent-minded professor type. And yes, he does want to be a professor. He practically aced the ACT and the SAT and was a National Merit Finalist. That alone earned him a free ride to a handful of colleges.

My second child (Meg) is an extreme right-brained creative who is very sensitive and perceptive. She will sing and dance her way through life, looking to help the lost and forgotten. She often says she may end up in a third world country and start an orphanage.

My third child (Missa) is down the middle, hanging out a little more on the left-brained side. She loves structure, competition, athletics and has always wanted to be a police officer. Recently she wants to be a missionary--all things that require hard physical labor with a highly heroic aspect to it.

I didn't know these things about my children when we started. All I knew was that I had three adorable kids and I wasn't sending them off to someone else to be educated. I was going to let them grow and develop along their lines of interest and see what happened. I wasn't going to force them into educational boxes, I was going to try lots of different teaching styles, and I would go with what worked for them.

As it turned out, this was especially good for Meg since she didn't catch on to reading until she was about 10 years old. In the school system she would have been put in special classrooms, labeled something unpleasant, and probably forever scarred, being the overly sensitive, perfectionist type that she is. It was especially good for Peter too, because he was able to accelerate at his own lightning speed. Melissa? I'm still trying to figure her out. She's a perfectionist who would probably have given herself (and me) ulcers trying to do everything just right if she'd been in traditional school. Being home gave her stress-free time to become herself in all it's wackiness (and by the way, she's getting A's and B's in her first quarter of high school).

Watching and taking my cues from my kids helped me teach to their learning style without even realizing it. When kids are allowed to follow their interests, they gravitate toward topics and activities that "fit" them. I write more about this in A Look at Interest Led Learning.

So here we are at Meg's junior year of high school. She is not going to ace the ACT or the SAT like Peter. As a matter of fact, she has such an aversion to tests that I had to give her pain medication ahead of time because the headache would start about one hour into the test. And the most important strategy was to make sure to fill in all the little circles no matter what (blanks are automatically marked wrong). She took the ACT early in her junior year because she can take it as many times as she wants, pick the best score, and send that to colleges. But that first test was so traumatic, she has vowed to never take it again, and unless she changes her mind, she has a fairly low score to show admissions committees.

BUT, Meg is not a test-taker! This is not her thing. This in no way measures her intelligence or ability to succeed in life. These tests measure your ability to sit for four hours and concentrate on words on a page. There is quite a movement against using the ACT and the SAT and I am whole heartedly with them. Even some colleges are seeing the folly of relying so heavily on numbers, and I would like to give them a big hug. Numbers worked for Peter and we're happy about that, but we see the inherent problem with the system.

Meg would like to go into music theater or a social science, helping profession. These fit her perfectly. Next year, her senior year, we plan on enrolling her in the community college to take dual credit/freshman level math and English.
Melissa is still at the public school and doing very well. She is still planning on going to Mexico as much as she can, but trying to figure out how public school can fit in there too. She likes the challenge, the constant activity, and the structure. She even does math an hour EVERY DAY without complaining. But if I asked her to do it... So I tell her, "If you're going to play the public school game, you have to play to win. Go for the A's. That will keep your options open at graduation." Is she willing to pay the price to win? So far yes. And as time goes on, my prejudice against boxed education is softening. I can see how it's good for her and working for her. Traditional schooling works best for left-brained kids who like structure and like people telling them what to do (our home school is so not that). We have a unique situation in our school district--homeschoolers can sign up for any number of classes. So we might mix and match public schooling with homeschooling as time goes on, or completely go back to homeschooling. Only time and a desire to go to Mexico will tell.

As I did a some research about learning styles I found these links. I hope they help you understand those little mysteries you have called "children."

TopsieTechie has a bunch of links on learning styles.

Here's an article and video with links about learning styles from edutopia.org.

Live Without School has an article about right brained learners.

Check out Myers-Briggs personality information.

Learn about Multiple Intelligences.

October 22, 2008

What makes a good home schooling parent?

Marci over at Homeschooling--A Life had a quote from John Holt on her blog recently. It so struck me with its succinctness and truthfulness that I had to spend some time myself writing about it. John Holt is talking about what makes a successful homeschooling parent in his book Teach Your Own:

"First of all, [parents] have to like [their children], enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children's wonder, curiosity and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children's learning."

I can't say I've lived up to this description every day on my homeschooling journey. There have been many times when I fully sympathized with moms who can't wait to get their kids on the school bus so they could have some peace or time for a job. My intuitive husband could always tell when I needed time off, so he'd take the kids to the park or to the grocery store, or even for a whole day out somewhere. During those moments to myself I would take a nap or pull out my journal and reflect on why it's a good thing to have a house full of energetic little ones around TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY. I laughed when I ran across this verse in the Bible: "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people," (Romans 10:21). Yep, that's me! And boy am I tired.

I have to say, I've had few, if any lapses in the "respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously" department. I deeply admire and appreciate each of my children for their God-given gifts and abilities. I am always in awe of how their minds work and how they view the world. When they were very young I saw myself as a shelter, allowing that tender little plant to grow. As they've gotten older, I've became more of a cheerleader, reminding them they could do ANYTHING they really want to do.

And to the last part of Holt's quote, yes, I'm a rebel. Even though I was a quiet little girl getting straight A's all through school, my motivation was freedom. I got the best grades possible so I would have few obstacles in pursuing any course in life. I learned the game and I played to win. So I went to college and got straight A's there too. I'm not bragging here, because we home schoolers know that A's are meaningless. All it means is I'm good at reading teachers and what they want on tests. Living like that from the age of six to twenty-two meant I was not going to put my kids on the same treadmill. So yes, I'm a rebel, and I'm not afraid to do what I think is right, especially when it comes to my children.

So, even during the difficult times of sheer exhaustion, I could not let go of the idea that I was building toward the day when I would see emotionally healthy adults named Peter, Meg, and Melissa, pursuing their dreams in life. We are still on that journey, and there have been bumps and fears along the way, but I see them realizing their potential, and that makes me glad for the freedom we've had to home school.

August 25, 2008

Peter's Take on Classical Education

One day I was looking at a website devoted to classical education. We've dabbled in this philosophy, and in fact, Peter's 9th grade private school describes itself as giving a classical education. So I asked Peter, now three years out of that and on his way to the University of Chicago, what he honestly thought of what we affectionately call "reading dead white guys." He had great comments, so I asked him to take over my computer and write it out as post for my blog. So here you go, my first guest author:

"First off, let me say that I like classical education. It's a lot of fun reading what brilliant men of the past had to say, and it's often illuminating to learn the origin of the ideas we all accept.

That said, I have a serious problem with groups who claim that studying the classics is a panacea for our (undeniable) educational malaise. We need better education, of course, but only a very narrow conception of education could conclude that our main goal should be to get kids to read Euclid.

Everyone knows that the Italian Renaissance was a time where classical scholarship was prized above nearly anything else. Therefore, we would expect the world's most brilliant men to come from that time period, right? Wrong. They actually wrote very little worth reading. They were so focused on studying the past that they forgot to think for themselves. It took the anti-classical movements of science and the Enlightenment to do anything to increase the world's knowledge.

We know far more about the world now than we did even a hundred years ago. Science is the most obvious example, but even in fields like philosophy we find great strides in, for example, formal logic. An education that ignores this plain fact will produce students more fit for the Middle Ages than the 21st Century.

"But," the aspiring classicist might rebut, "didn't Thomas Jefferson learn in exactly the way you're criticizing? I wouldn't be too disappointed if I ended up like him." Of course. But there are many things to consider when comparing yourself to Thomas Jefferson. First, he was a brilliant man. There were many people in his time who had the same education and didn't have nearly the success he did. I have no doubt that he would have been able to succeed with any form of decent education.

Second, he lived in a time where knowledge hadn't progressed much beyond what we would call "classical." In fact, many people we now consider The Great Authors were nearly contemporaneous with him. Jefferson called John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton the "three greatest men the world had ever produced," yet Locke and Newton wrote their great works well under a hundred years before Jefferson would have studied them. If we want to emulate Jefferson, we'd better study Dewey, Russell, and Einstein, not Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras.

So, is studying the classics useless then? Not at all! As I said in the beginning, many of the world's great authors truly were great. Also, since we live in a world with classical roots, its fascinating to learn where our ideas originally came from. But that's only a beginning. A true education has to progress beyond the classics, just as the modern world has progressed beyond the classical world. Sure, study Aristotle's logic, but then read some modern criticism of Aristotle's logic, and study modern formal logic. Read Freud, but then read what modern psychologists have to say. Appreciate the genius of Newton, but then appreciate the genius of Einstein, Schrödinger, Feynman, and the people working on the cutting edge of string theory, loop quantum gravity, solid-state physics, and all the rest.

Read the classics. I guarantee you'll learn a lot. But don't stop there. We have more knowledge today than we have had at any point in the past. It would be foolish to limit yourself to the knowledge of our ancestors."

August 23, 2008

Homeschool Meets Public School: Day 6

This whole public school experiment has been going well until Friday. Melissa came home and told me this story:

In the middle of one of her classes, an adult came over the loud speaker listing names of students who were to come immediately to the auditorium. From the tone of the voice, the kids were all hoping their name wouldn't be called. But Melissa was one of eight freshmen. So she gathered her things and went to the auditorium. There she was told she "didn't understand high school," "this wasn't junior high anymore" and if she "didn't shape up" there would be consequences. She was told that one of her teachers had turned in her name as someone who wasn't getting her work done or not doing things right.

After obsessing over homework instructions and practically acing every pretest, the only thing she received was a check mark for not having her planner one day. That's a little spiral calendar they give each kid at the beginning of the year. This particular teacher went around and checked for planners one day, and it was the day hers fell out in the car as she was leaving for class. But she had her homework done and her text book and everything else the teacher had told them to have. No one had ever said planners were mandatory and worthy of public humiliation and a condescending lecture from someone she's never met.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics there were 49.1 million public school students in the 2005-06 school year and I assume those statistics haven't changed much. That is A LOT of children stuck in a system with adults who do not know them. How could they? There are at least 30 students to every adult, and in high school, 30 different kids get rotated in and out of the teacher's classroom every hour, five days a week.

Even if they wanted to, the teachers can't know each child's hopes and dreams, their fears or their passions. They can't keep track of what motivates each child and what crushes them. They don't know how many hours that child worked on their homework or what disturbing thing happened to them earlier in the day. And if they could accomplish this superhuman feat, how could they accommodate all those individual needs on the hectic schedule and requirements they are forced to maintain?

Back to Melissa's story: All this adult knew was that some teacher somewhere had given these children a "demerit" for something and it was his job to put some fear into them as an early intervention, an attempt to guarantee success in high school.

But what it really did was make her fear and resent the adults for unreasonable requirements and over-reaction. One day she is happy and excited about school; the next day she wonders why bother? Isn't that the complaint most people have about kids these days...their slacker attitudes? I wonder where that all begins.

What if we could have an education system with a small number of students for each teacher who spends 24 hours a day with those children, bonding in such a way that the teacher knows, respects, and even loves each one, becoming an expert at his or her interests, needs and motivation.

Oh wait, that's homeschooling.

August 20, 2008

When it Looks Like They're Not Learning

Today I heard from Unschooling Blogger and she expressed the feelings I have every fall:

This is the only time of year that I get antsy and start worrying about unschooling. I'd be so interested in hearing about how you encouraged learning with younger kids. Or did you just let them play until they came and asked? I find mine haven't been asking much lately and I worry it's something I've done - or do they perhaps go through spurts as they do in physical development? (She has four kids and the oldest is eight).


First of all, thank you for the question. I LOVE questions, because it helps me know what to write about. My kids did go through spurts in doing school-type things and that would make me feel better, but that didn't mean they weren't learning the other times too. Some days were just watching PBS or playing dress-up. I'd get nervous and try to whip up some school-like activity, but really, that's not necessary. That's me trying to control the learning that's going on all the time anyway.

On days I felt compelled to do some "real" learning, a trip to the library would do the trick. Browse the shelves and let the kids bring home whatever they are interested in. Since mom gets to bring home books too, I'd think through topics I thought they should know about. I'd get ideas from a book called The Core Knowledge Sequence.It's a list of what kids in each grade are supposedly learning. This is all theoretical because we don't have a nationalized curriculum, and I don't believe education is "filling a bucket" anyway, but it was helpful to be reminded that kids in 3rd grade probably know all about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. Why not get Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?I love everything by Jean Fritz. Read aloud time with her booksbecomes a whole elementary school history curriculum!

I also like Kathryn Stout's Design-a-Study series. It's the same idea as the Core Knowledge Sequence because it has content listed by grade level, but it has more suggestions on how to teach the different areas. I like both these resources because they cover all of elementary school in one shot. The books might look expensive, but think "eight years of schooling."

Some Specifics on Fostering Interest


When one of my kids was in early elementary school I thought she should know about the periodic table of elements. So I set up a lab with a big periodic table poster, science lab materials, experiment books, and one of her dad's white shirts as a lab coat. Then I left it to see what would happen. She spent a lot of time in there and learned a great deal (it was actually set up under her loft bed). And when she lost interest, we put it all away.

That science lab was really a learning center. These are simply table tops or plastic tubs or drawers that have everything you need to dive into your topic. We still have the dress-up chest and the drawing desk. But you can be more specific and have a rocket science corner with library books, toys, videos, Lego's, or whatever you think you need to introduce and explore that topic. A geography area would have a globe, map, workbooks, map puzzle, etc. These are simply little places of hidden treasure. And when they are no longer interesting, put them away and try something else. The goal is to learn about your child and what he loves, then provide what he needs to go that route to the fullest.

I always had a read-aloud book going at bedtime, and I'd purposefully choose books to follow some historic period. I also had a time line going around the bedroom, so when we read, I could point to the spot on the time line and if they wanted, they could write or draw what they learned on it. I usually found some sort of visual for them to attach too.

Mom's enthusiasm can go a long way in fostering interest in something. I personally love biology, so one of my favorite memories is doing The Body Book.The book's description says, "easy-to-make hands-on models that teach." You make card stock copies of the skeleton and organs, and with some scissors and tape you have a model of the human body. We did various parts of this book over several years. The kids loved it too since it was like doing crafts with mom.

In a nutshell, remember your main job is to foster a love of learning and their natural talents. If you have to resort to threats or yelling to get them to "do school," you should just let it be. If your child would love to do workbooks all day, let her. If your child is emotionally mature and wants to go to public school, let her (gulp. That's my situation now). If your child wants to play video games all day, let him. Seriously. If he sees you're not hassling him, the fun will die away soon enough and his natural survival instincts will kick in, like maybe when he's 16 and has to get into some college. But let's hope he's had something to spark his interest before then!

A View from the Down the Road

Yesterday Melissa came home from her third day of public high school and commented about her English class. She said, "It must be hard for some kids to write stories. What if you're not creative? Anyone can learn grammar or punctuation, but how can you learn creativity?" I told her I was glad she had all those stress-free elementary years to play, pretend, make up stories and develop her imagination.

Meg, my learn-at-home high school junior just finished watching a Netflix instant documentary and was disappointed. "I didn't really learn anything. I think I'll try to find something educational to do," she says as I sit here typing this.

My homeschool graduate has another month until he leaves for college (they are on the quarter system). He just ordered The Brothers Karamazov, an 800 page Russian novel, because he's listening to online lectures from the UC Berkeley that talk about it. Is this how most graduated seniors spend their last weeks before college?

And 90% of their lives has been unstructured and interest-led.

Have hope.

August 15, 2008

Calvin Needs Interest-led Learning



Dad: Calvin, your mom and I looked over your report card, and we think you could be doing better.

Calvin: But I don't like school.

Dad: Why not? You like to read and you like to learn. I know you do. I mean you've read every dinosaur book ever written, and you've learned a lot, right? Reading and learning are fun.

Calvin (thoughtfully): Yeah.

Dad: So why don't you like school?

Calvin: We don't read about dinosaurs.

from The Indispensable Calvin And Hobbes

August 13, 2008

something lacking...

"Adults look upon a child as something empty that is to be filled through their own efforts, as something inert and helpless for which they must do everything, as something lacking an inner guide and in constant need of inner direction...An adult who acts in this way, even though he may be convinced that he is filled with zeal, love, and a spirit of sacrifice on behalf of his child, unconsciously suppresses the development of the child's own personality," (quote by Maria Montessori).

Melissa had her first (sort of) day at public school yesterday. It was really a morning of orientation for the freshmen. She came home amazed at how incompetent most of those kids are. She said they couldn't even follow simple directions on how to play a game. I suggested it came from years of other people telling them what to do, where to go, and what to think. She thought maybe I was right.

August 8, 2008

The Power of Play

Alfred Adler once said, "Play is a child's work, and this is not a trivial pursuit." I like this quote because it comes from the deep recesses of my memory in the cavernous past of my college days, and because of the little futuristic pun on the game Trivial Pursuit. But all that aside, he's right, I think. When children play they are working things out, testing theories, role playing options, dealing with fears, and imagining experiences.

Robin S. Vealey from the University of Ohio-Miami claims that imagining a task is like performing it, that the mind learns new pathways and repetitive imagining blazes a trail for future success. I tell my kids, if you walk down a grassy trail several times, you'll eventually have a path, and if you practice a skill over and over again, that path gets easier to take.

Those days when all the kids want to do is play dress-up and build with Legos, I say, let them do it. Our house has been a zoo complete with stuffed animals in cages and a costumed zoo keeper, an art museum with posters and descriptive labels, a reenactment of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, a vet's office, a scientist's laboratory, a bakery, a detective agency, a hiding place for Jews in WW II, a modeling agency, an opera (there were years of Meg singing instead of talking), and the list goes on, but you get the picture.

So how does all this play really make a difference? Well, in my family it turned out like this:


Melissa, our 14 year old is "freakishly coordinated," as her older brother says. Given a little bit of time, she can do anything in the physical realm (OK, she can't fly, but...). She can climb the rock wall in our sanctuary in no time flat, she roller blades and plays hockey (backwards, while texting), at flags practice she's the one who can do maneuvers even her coach finds difficult. And my response? She's got natural ability but she has also not been sitting at a desk half her life. She's been out playing those nine years of elementary school. She's developed the skills and the confidence to try things and succeed.


When Meg started taking voice lessons a couple years ago, the teacher commented on how mature her voice was. She asked if she'd been taking voice lessons all along. No, but she's been free to sing and experiment with her voice anytime she wanted since she was born. When Meg joined a theater group two years ago, she became a leader and an example of a hard-working, talented performer. Had she taken any classes? No, just ballet when she was really small, and no acting classes of any kind. BUT she lived the theater everyday at home, even trying to corral neighborhood kids into creating a production of Treasure Island in 6th grade.


Peter chose to spend most of his time reading and exploring on the computer. That made him an expert at learning. He knows everything, as his sisters say, and if he doesn't know it, he knows how to find it. He's also discovered the fun of singing and theater and dance, thanks to Meg, and when he heads off to college in a few weeks, he already knows a lot of his fellow freshmen because of the Facebook group he started.

The freedom to play allowed my kids to truly become who they are. It seems all that work is beginning to pay off.

photos: Missa as Buzz Lightyear, Missa swinging from the harness of the rock wall, Meg as Gabriella in High School Musical, Peter and Meg in A Christmas Carol

August 4, 2008

Homeschool Envy

Fall--'tis the season of homeschool envy. Now is the time to look at what everyone else is doing, or the time for flipping through catalogs, or the time for searching websites to find THE perfect solution to my homeschool problems. This year we're going to do it right!

I've been homeschooing since 1994, and I've tried just about every major publisher and every type of homeschooling. Those were the years of self-doubt and homeschool envy. Often things would start out with a bang in early September but by mid October, we'd be back to our relaxed/unschooling ways. Why? Because reality would set in and my true belief system would win out. If I really believed my kids had to follow the book and do everything it said, I'd force my kids to do it. But really, interest-led learning has my heart and eventually my head would acquiesce.

I haven't faced homeschool envy for about five years now. I've been quite content with our low- maintenance, low-cost, low-stress homeschooling style. But last week I attended a homeschool conference. I won a ticket to The Heart of the Matter Online Conference from The Homeschool Lounge. One session featured Amy Pak talking about homeschooling history. I was really enjoying seeing pictures of her family dressed in period costume (we like to do living history too) and doing all sorts of interesting activities centered around learning history. That's about the time my heart started to race and I began to feel faint. What have I been doing all these years? I've missed great opportunities to give my kids fun and memorable experiences. I'm a failure at this homeschooling thing.

But I kept listening and looking at all the amazing things she's developed. I started to hit the "forward" button on her visuals and saw where she was going with her talk. That's when I realized her family has a business called Home School in the Woods that specializes in preparing hands-on history materials for homeschoolers. Now I get it! Her business is fun history. She has the time and the motivation to do all this. She's developing projects and materials so the rest of us can pick and choose what we'd like to do. She's not offering a model of homeschooling, just some resources. That really helped my blood pressure go down.

I think this is a good thing to remember. We are all in our unique circumstances with our own mix of people and our vocation. If you look at me, for example, I'm in the later stages of homeschooling. I have one graduated, and two pretty independent girls left at home. And one is trying public school this year! That means I have more time than ever to think and write and develop my blog(s). But not everyone can do that.

Homeschool envy kills--it kills our self-confidence and our joy. The best way to avoid living under that tyranny is to have a couple baseline principles that define your schooling philosophy. Mine? Maintain the joy of childhood and the joy of learning in an environment of love and respect. Establish your anchors and have your best year yet.

July 31, 2008

The Bare Minimum

If I could boil my homeschool requirements down to the bare minimum, what would they be? That's a good question, considering the fall semester is breathing down our necks and we're trying to figure what curriculum (if any) to buy.

Here's my answer: math and good books (fiction and nonfiction). If you can encourage your children to practice and learn about math at least once a week (more would be even better) and always have a piece of rich literature flowing through their brains, you can be happy. With these two things they are keeping up with a skill that will be necessary to get into college (remember the ACT and SAT have math sections) and they will have a vibrant vocabulary and understanding of the written word (also necessary for the tests and the rest of life). They will also be able to communicate well because they are being trained by the best authors. And they will be learning things, "assimilating content," as an educator would say.

If that's the bare minimum, there's plenty of time for them to have fun and dive into their interests. If you and your kids want to do structured things together, go for it! I'm all for doing what is fun and motivating, even if it's going to public school like my youngest is choosing to do this year.

Math and literature. Ah, that sounds very doable. And you can relax, knowing you are helping them lay a great foundation.

July 28, 2008

A Look at Interest-led Learning

Peter and I had an interesting conversation yesterday after a friend told him why she didn't like homeschooling (at least the way we do it). She said she thought homeschoolers aren't challenged enough, that if something is hard, they just don't do it. He wondered what I thought. We had a great conversation, and I wish I had it recorded, but here's a summary of what we said:

Public schoolers look at life and learning differently than we do, and that's why they come to this conclusion. To most everyone in our society, learning is scripted and preprogrammed by someone else. Learning is like a machine you enter, have things done to you, and when you come out the other end, you are "educated." Some of those prescripted things are fun, some aren't, and if you could possibly refuse to partake in some elements, you would come out "defective."

We look at learning from the other side of the universe, it seems. We see it as a process of discovering who you are as a human being. The things you enjoy and find easy are the things you might be gifted at and are worth your time developing. Then as you pursue your interests, you might come to a wall. Are you interested enough to keep working and break through that wall? Peter is interested in philosophy right now. He's listening to lectures on Heidegger's book Being in Time. This is not easy reading, by any means, yet he wants to understand, so he spends his free time reading, thinking, and talking about this book. How many graduated seniors choose to spend their time this way?

If we subject children to a daily, yearly barrage of information and practice they hate, we are running the risk of killing their love of learning. We are teaching them that learning is a chore that has to be endured. No wonder kids act like caged animals set free when school's out. And no wonder so many adults stop learning (reading, pursuing new things) because they are so burned out by their "education." Or even worse, they've learned they are low on the intelligence scale and had better just give up.

If Peter had to pick a subject that he considers hard, it would be math. He's good at it (99th percentile), has studied up to a beginning Calculus level, but he's ready to stop. He's just not interested in studying any more math. If, however, he decides to go into a field that requires upper level math, he'll take a class in college. It all depends on his goals.

How many stories have we heard of people going to college later in life, even people who were poor students in high school? It's the motivation and eyes on the prize that propel us to do what we really want to do--and succeed. And sometimes we need the perspective of time away from institutional school to see who we are and what we really want out of life. Kids who have the privilege of finding that out early have the advantage and don't have wasted years trying to "find themselves."


What if we could look at learning and education a whole new way? I'm thinking of a children's book by John Trent called The Treasure Tree: Helping Kids Understand Their Personality. I don't own this book, and it's been many years since I read it, but the idea stuck in my head. There are four friends, a lion, a golden retriever, an otter, and a beaver. Each represent different personality types and different strengths. As each uses his strengths, they are able to face challenges and overcome obstacles. But what if they were forced to all have the same strengths? What if they lived in a world where they did not have the opportunity to fully develop who they are? For example, what if the lion had to spend most of his time in swimming lessons to make up for his "deficiency," but since the otter found swimming easy, he had to take extra classes in Stalking Prey? Or what if we introduce a bird curriculum developer into the picture. Now all these animals have to take flying lessons. What's wrong with finding out what you are good at and going for the gold? Maybe those things that are hard for you aren't really worth your time unless you actually need that skill to reach your goal.

I guess the bottom line is to give kids lots of exposure to diverse fields to help them find what they love, the things that excite them and seem easy. I'm reminded of a quote by Thomas Edison, "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun." This quote is from a man who spent every waking hour experimenting until he held over 1,000 patents, including the electric lightbulb. Fun doesn't necessarily equal wasted time!

I will say that traditional schooling does a fairly good job of exposing kids to various fields of study. They get to dabble in a lot of things. But the problem is perpetual dabbling, forced dabbling, and no freedom to dive in completely.

Such interesting stuff! Peter is also reading a book by David F. Lancy called Qualitative Research in Education that he loves. He said last night he might end up in sociology studying education. Be still my heart. Could I have raised an education reformer?

photos: Peter on the lights for West Side Story; Melissa found a shell on the beach; Meg painted her bedroom door with roses.

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