Friday, March 14, 2014

What is Schooling in Your House?

I have written here about my journey homeschooling the boys from day one.  When I go back and read my old posts it fascinates me how our homeschooling has evolved (and continues to evolve), and in ways I never had intended.

When I started homeschooling I was like many new homeschooling parents in that I tried to bring the traditional classroom in our school room.  As a public school student myself, it was difficult to imagine any other way to school.  I spend hours reading and talking to homeschooling moms about curriculum options, and I was overwhelmed by all of the available choices.  Too many options is not always a great thing!

Then I read The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and decided to follow this method of homeschooling and ended up purchasing many of the books they suggested.  And the boys and I were bored.

Then we joined Classical Conversation, a classical-based homeschooling co-op that meets once a week.  It seemed perfect at first and I was completely sold on the premise when I went to the three-day intro meeting.  CC teaches that the early years are best spend memorizing facts (memory pegs) which you will learn to apply and debate during middle school and high school.  When they explain it, it sounded brilliant.  And if you google the reviews of CC it is difficult to find anyone who isn't thrilled with the program.  My sister Heather has her kids in it and they not only love it, they are thriving!  Probably because her kids are just super smart.  :-)

I don't know about you, but listening to my children memorize seemingly random history facts, Latin declinations,  and math theories and sing annoying songs as memory aids is not my cup of tea.  And my boys were unfortunately not thriving with this method.  They didn't like to memorize facts, they were more interested in asking "why" and finding answers.  Singing the memory aid songs was killing their interest in learning.  And driving me crazy!

Amazon and I are good friends since I feel you can never have too many books in your house, and it was sometime last year when I read Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything and Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners.   They were both rather boring in parts (not like those free zombie Kindle books I like to read ;-), but suddenly I realized that I was going about homeschooling in completely the wrong way.

I looked at how I personally learn.  I never liked going to class, I found it terribly boring (shoebox dioramas, YUCK).   I did well in school in spite of my boredom because I have a gift of memorizing for tests, but ask me about something I learned in a class a year later (well, a month later) and I was clueless.

I did fine in college and got my BS (ironic?) in Genetics and worked for years in genetic/cell biology/biochemistry labs.  I enjoyed doing experiments and graphing/calculating results, but I had no interest in getting my PhD and having to beg for money (grants), write boring papers, and have my underlings do all of the fun lab work.

So I had kids and sat around depressed realizing I had no Plan 2 if I wanted to stay home with the boys.  If you leave science for several years to raise your kids your techniques and education can become obsolete.  My husband told me to relax (he should just tape this and push play)  and hopefully something would come up.  So without any plans I just decided to wing it.

When I had little babies I taught myself to sew and started sewing diapers for them and invented my own diaper pattern. Then I decided I really wanted to learn more about photography since I was taking photos of the kids all day long.  So late evenings between breast-feeding I was reading books on Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography and spending hours learning how to improve my photos.  I walked into my first job when I met a wedding photographer at a friend's wedding who was looking for a photo-editor, and he hired me to edit for him.

My sister Heather kept on asking me "how did you edit that photo" so I started this blog so she wouldn't keep on harassing me with stupid questions.  ;-)  I had fun writing actions and tutorials and posting about my life, and suddenly realized people than my sister were reading my blog, so I decided I had to learn how to design websites so I could make my blog more presentable.

I spent many a late night reading about CSS, HTML, and website design and hours and hours playing on the computer.  I found out I loved it and not only designed my own site, but started to do some part-time website design to bring in some extra money to support my CoffeeShop blogging addiction.

A few years later I am still having incredible fun, and everything I do now I learned without going to a traditional school.  No one has asked me to see my graphic design/photography degree.  ;-)   Other than a few books I purchased, I spent nothing for my education other than hours and hours of personal time including late-night reading and playing (my poor husband!).  I am self-motivated, never bored, and this has allowed me to make some money to help support my family and stay at home while having a much needed creative outlet.

I read somewhere that our American school system is not broken, it is working exactly like it was initially designed to work.  History tells us that in the not-so-far past rich kids had their own tutors or went to boarding school while the poor kids usually didn't get any schooling as they were needed to work to help feed their families.  So what to do with all of the middle-class kids?

In the time of factories Americans needed workers who could read and write, do some math, and work in jobs where they would do what they were told, much like worker bees.  These are important jobs that helped our country grow and flourish and this method of schooling was very effective for the time.

But the times, they are a-changing.  With the unbelievable technological explosion, I honestly feel that the school system as historically designed is rapidly becoming obsolete.  And now with the internet and free on-line schools/colleges, you can learn anything you want, any time of the day or night.  We aren't limited to books in the library, public school systems, or even colleges.  I can't even guess what education will look like in a decade, but I really feel we can't educate our kids using methods developed over a hundred years ago.

So then I started becoming a bit of a "radical" thinker and started reading about "unschooling".  I found an interesting blog by Penelope Trunk.  She makes a great case for homeschooling without using curriculum and I really enjoy reading many of her posts.  However, she also has many unschooling theories (like benefits of unlimited video game play time for kids) that almost make my head explode.  I personally think video games are like junk food; great fun and won't kill you in limited doses. Interacting with the real world is so much more important.

I don't know if my feelings (dislike) about video games are reasonable, but I do know that the internet is invaluable for education.  We just came back from a car trip to Palo Duro Canyon (second biggest canyon in the US, called the "Texas Grand Canyon").  It was one of the most beautiful parks I have ever visited.  When we got home last weekend I realized we had our science curriculum for the next week or two.

We were captivated by all of the wind farms and oil pumping units (nodding donkeys), so that lead to an hour of you-tube videos on the manufacture and operation of both, and then on to a healthy discussion of the pros and cons of all types of energy capture, including renewable and nonrenewable energy.  We even watched a video of inventions of possible future wind farms and discussed that their usage of hundreds of vertical wind turbines would chop up birds into bloody bits!

Our next project with be discussing the formation of canyons and what type of rock are found in Palo Duro.  I am also interested in the area's Indian history, and I am excited to read more about it and discuss it with the kids.  Wow, I just realized we have our history curriculum for the next few weeks.

So this is our homeschooling life; messy, not always well-organized, and absolutely amazingly fun! We don't sit in front of a screen all day playing games, listen to boring lectures, or try to plan our day similar to the kids in public schools.  We get out as much as possible and explore this amazing world, we devour books and you-tube videos, and we "do" rather than sit passively letting someone else tell us what they think we need to know.

Yesterday I was trying to do some laundry and the kids were really quiet and that set off my "mom alarm".  I checked on them in our school room and they had dragged out some of my embroidery books and thread and Duke was teaching Imp to embroider.  Neither had ever done this before, so it was really interesting to watch them interact.  Imp told me that Duke was a great teacher (and he is), but that he was a quick learner (and that is also true).  An hour later Imp brought me his first embroidery project  which he designed on his own, a picture of a space video game on a TV with a little video controller on the ground next to it.

Yep, you can teach your boys to embroidery, but you can't take the boy-ness out of their project…  And so our homeschool adventure continues.

I would love to hear your comments on what you think the future of school will look like.  And what do you think about allowing children unlimited time on video game? Am I being too judgmental and old-fashioned?

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  1. I am a combination product of both homeschool (k-9) and private high school, with a completed undergrad at a public institution. After much prayer and deliberation, we plan on sending our son to public school. I think the biggest key in education is following Gods will for your family (so lots of prayer) and lots and lots of parental involvement... This is regardless of the format you chose; and being open to using different formats along the way.

    And I'm with you... Unlimited video gaming is no bueno. We have intentionally not purchased a gaming system because I don't even want to fight that battle yet. :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :) My kids have been in charter school for 3 years and now public school for the last year (we moved). I always had huge respect for homeschoolers but I never felt I could do it with 4 kids (9 and under) at home. This past school year I'm thinking differently :) The kids get home at 4 p.m. and then I feel like our life is a crazy rush of stuff they HAVE to do for school (homework, sometimes dumb homework like coloring math pages, spelling practice, assigned reading books, extra projects etc) as well as stuff I WANT them to have time for: playing freely outside, chores, family reading time, peaceful bedtime routines. I longed to return to summer days where our mornings were spent working for 2 hours in the yard or in the house, followed by family reading time and then an afternoon to explore and soak up the sunshine, try new recipes, do science experiments -- have fun! Anyway, sorry I'm rambling. I'm seriously considering homeschooling this fall. I'm still mildly terrified, but I also wonder if it might be the solution I'm looking for... Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Great article Whilst I am not comfortable with idea of homeschooling my kids I totally agree that that the current model if schooling is outdated and needs to be changed.

  4. I agree EXACTLY with The Jessee Journal's comments. My kids have been in public school, but it's just so frustrating to not have time to do what I want with them. I'm currently researching all homeschooling info (I mean ALL :) ). We visited CC just today - I hope I don't feel about it like you do - I think I like it right now... I go to a homeschool convention next week to see curriculum. (I don't think I could unschool, but we'll see.) I just want my kids to learn and grow and LOVE learning, and they don't right now. They tolerate it 9 months out of the year. I want more for them...

  5. I love homeschooling and at times I find it a chore. I never could afford any of the curriculum systems, so we just hodge podge along. Honestly, the most difficult question I get asked about homeschooling is what curriculum we use. We use a little bit from this program, a little bit from that program. I cannot just say which curriculum because we seems to use a little bit of a lot of different ones. I do adore that I can tailor each child's studies to that child. I have 5 kiddos, 4 of which are being homeschooled and it was difficult at first. But eventually, we found our rhythm. I don't like grading/checking work all that much, but I am happy that I don't have a classroom to check (I was a teacher's asst once). Teaching my 4 boys doesn't take a lot of time. And I get the older ones to help the younger ones which really helps cement the lesson.

    I also like that with homeschooling, you don't have to worry what to do for "snow" days. Our time is so much more flexible. If my boy isn't getting a concept, well it is time to change topics come back to that later.

    It is so much fun when you see the eagerness to learn. When they pick up the science book and read it cover to cover because THEY found it interesting. By the way, this was the same science book I tried to teach from the year before. It is much easier for me to have materials available for them. My older boys pursue with a passion what interests them. Getting them to do some of the more mundane items I'd like them to learn can be like pulling teeth. In the end, I find I love teaching. I love watching them learn and create.

  6. It was funny reading of your homeschooling evolution- we have experienced the same thing! When we started back when my now 11 year old daughter was 6, I had my planner out, our books lined up and I almost killed learning for her! We started slowly changing, year by year. Just this semester we joined our local CC campus and we LOVE it!!! But, my girls are strong auditory learners and love the little songs and the interesting facts :-) But, we also do a lot of student directed learning- for instance, due to the Jonathan Park CD's (you should totally check them out!) my 7 year old daughter has become obsessed with all things space related. I have never been interested in it myself, so its not something I would have emphasized, beyond the basic historical significance of the first moon landing. Because of her interest, though, we've watched some documentaries about it, visited the Cosmosphere (in Hutchinson, KS near where we live), watched Apollo 13, investigated the monetary value of moon rocks, etc. I've learned more myself from all of this then I EVER learned in school! Sounds like you and I are very similar in our approach to schooling :-) And as for video games, my husband and I both grew up with the original Ataris and Nintendos, but were never obsessed with them like todays kids can get. We actually decided before we ever had kids, after observing today's kids, that we would never allow video games in our house. At Christmas, my autistic son received a tablet from his grandparents to do some of his IEP apps and my girls occasionally play a few games on it, but they don't have a ton of interest in it and will go for days and days at a time and never even look at it. I think that the occasional non-violent video game is relatively harmless, but anything violent should be off limits and all gaming should be severely restricted. We prefer to be outside ourselves and I think my kids are healthier because of that.

  7. I feel like I could have written this post! I started out homeschooling doing virtual school and we are now what I would call eclectic homeschoolers because we use a hodgepodge of stuff and are leaning more and more towards unschooling. I read Penelope's blog too and I feel the same way you do about video games! So I agree with her on so much, but screen time is something we really regulate because my kids are just so much more pleasant to be around when we get out more and limit that time (and to be honest I am much more pleasant with less screen time too!). I enjoy your homeschool posts, so keep them coming!

  8. I feel like I could have written this post! I started out homeschooling doing virtual school and we are now what I would call eclectic homeschoolers because we use a hodgepodge of stuff and are leaning more and more towards unschooling. I read Penelope's blog too and I feel the same way you do about video games! So I agree with her on so much, but screen time is something we really regulate because my kids are just so much more pleasant to be around when we get out more and limit that time (and to be honest I am much more pleasant with less screen time too!). I enjoy your homeschool posts, so keep them coming!

  9. How refreshing to know there is someone else like me. Now that my oldest is going into gr 10 next year we are told (here in Canada) that for him to get his highschool diploma, he will need to fully align and do online school. We have been mostly aligned, but accomplishing that through traditional means. We've needed the flexibility due to many medical ups and downs for myself and my children. The structure of next year is making me a little nervous.... Homeschooling has been an advantage for us...learning the way they learn...and having the time to "try-out" and explore the subjects they enjoy (besides being aligned with our provincial curriculum).

  10. I enjoyed reading all of your comments so much! Many of you sound just like our family.

    I completely agree that you have to do what is best for your family and kids. And I always have evolving ideas of what works for us. Right now I love being eclectic and doing what feels good for us at the moment. I think we have more freedom these early years.