After five months of homeschooling, we’ve settled into our homeschooling groove. In terms of style, I’m pretty much an unschooler. I think that a child can learn basic reading, writing, and math by playing and with a little help/encouragement from the parents, at least for the early elementary years of K, 1, 2. Although I do love classrooms (I was a teacher, after all!) I don’t enjoy the “classroom in your home” approach to learning. I’d just send him to school if I wanted him in a classroom situation with seatwork and specific assignments, and it’s so much easier to endure that kind of thing when you have 20 other kids your age doing it at the same time! I don’t homeschool for religious reasons (in fact, my christian convictions about being the light of the world are what made me most hesitant to homeschool!) but because I agree with John Holt and others about the organic learning process in rich learning environments. So unschooling, with it’s “learn as you play” approach, is perfect for us. I’m in awe of how much Jake learns just by the questions he asks and the conversations we have. Children are so curious!
Another reason I avoid the regimented/textbook style of homeschooling is because I don’t enjoy the power struggle of trying to get Jake to read to me when I want him to read or to write for me when I want him to write. He is a very obedient kid and we’re strict with our parenting, but somehow it just doesn’t feel right to take that discipline into the educational realm. It feels like we’re on different teams when I try that, and it seems to take the fun out of learning and homeschooling. When he’s not interested in some project or idea I have, I don’t push it. Often I’ll find that whatever game he makes up or question he has will bring him to learn the subject I was trying to teach him, but on his own and at his own pace. The only thing I force Jake to practice is his handwriting (and I only started that this year in kindergarten, not preschool). As a teacher, I know that kids need to learn early the proper way to hold a pencil and form their letters, although there is no punishment for improper writing…beginning writers are just that, beginners. In my first semester of student teaching I shadowed the best first grade teacher who was so positive and encouraging. Who knew back then that I’d be using that student teaching experience in my own home!
There is lots of lego play time, read aloud, math/number based games, alphabet games in the car, and like I mentioned before, lots of conversations and questions. Because we have a slower pace of life, there’s time to explore the ideas he’s wondering about. We have long conversations and do experiments and read about whatever he’s been thinking of. There’s so much to learn just by being a patient parent who’s willing to take the questions of an inquisitive child seriously. Our California kindergarten curriculum covers the following subjects:
- Science: Plants, Animals, Structures of the Body, Earth, Weather, Simple Science, Air properties, Simple Machines.
- Social Studies: Good Citizenship, National & State Symbols, Community Helpers, Calendars, An Understanding of what History is, An Understanding of maps, globes, directions.
- Language Arts:Reading: There are lots of standards, but I figure that if he’s reading and understanding level one readers (which he’s already doing right now) then he’s ahead of the game.
- Language Arts:Writing: Proper penmanship, Writes descriptively using phonetic spelling going from left to right.
- Language Arts: Listening/Speaking: Basically, can and does your child talk coherantly, follow directions, describe things and relate stories?
- Mathematics: Sorting/Classifying, Patterns, Counting/Ordering, Basic graphs/charts, Basic Shapes, Length/Width/Capacity Introduction, Telling Time, Uses Objects to Add/Subtract, Estimates.
When you look at this list, is there really anything they can learn better at school than at home? Kindergarten is such a great time to explore learning together at home. I am so happy with our decision to homeschool this year. It has been relaxing and fun and most importantly, Jake has enjoyed the learning he’s doing. I love the flexibility of our schedule, having lots of “field trips”, and letting Jake learn at his own pace in a natural way that flows with him, doesn’t fight against him. I also love that he’s getting more time with Aunt Krissy, who homeschools him every Friday, and who really knows how to develop a child’s curiosity and love of learning. What a blessing for me and for Jake. While it’s working great this year, we’re not sure yet what we’ll do next year, because in the interest of full disclosure, homeschooling does have its drawbacks.
The negatives: it’s hard to get plugged into the homeschooling community. We are a part of a large group of homeschoolers supported by our County Department of Education, but for most homeschoolers, a “regularly meeting class” means that you meet once a month. Some classes meet twice a month, and the very rare class meets once a week, and of course, they don’t always fit into our schedule. In general, homeschoolers seem to be hesitant to commit to anything that takes up large chunks of their time, perhaps because when you multiply the number of classes times the number of kids in the family, it gets to be a lot of activities and rushing around. Even the other smaller homeschool groups I’ve looked into only have a few events a month, and there might be different people at every event, so it takes years to build up relationships within those groups.
There is one wonderful ecology based homeschool program I’ve mentioned before that meets weekly from 9-2, parents and siblings are welcome, the classroom is the great outdoors, the teacher is an amazing naturalist, the kids are the same every week…we all loved it this fall. The downside is that such a program is ridiculously expensive, and it’s getting so popular that there were no spots for us this spring. And it will most likely be even more expensive this fall. So although that was one of my favorite parts of homeschooling, I’m just thankful that we had the few months there that we did, because I know we won’t be able to join it again. Everything has its time and its purpose, and that class was wonderful and reinforced that homeschooling was a good choice for us this year. It’s hard to let go of such a wonderful program like that, though.
So even with all of our efforts to find “regular” classes (because I think it’s fun for kids to learn together…enthusiasm is contagious!) we only have two classes that I would consider regular, and one is computers in which the only real interaction is with the teacher. While speaking to adults in a polite manner was a big goal of mine for Jake this year, I would have loved for him to find groups of kids to enjoy regularly, too. His kindergarten class (the other regularly meeting class) is wonderful and meets three times monthly for 90 minutes each time, which I love. He’s familiar with the teachers and the other students now, and he learns a lot of things that I wouldn’t think to teach him or wouldn’t take the time to prepare for him. (Yes, classroom teachers add to a child’s home education!) And I’m starting a 2-3x month k-1 class that I’m going to teach, but even that hasn’t had a huge response. The homeschoolers I meet really guard their time carefully. I understand that when there are older kids in the family the schedules become hard to juggle, but I thought there would be more group bonding experiences available out there. I really think that a lot of homeschoolers are wary of their kids bonding with groups outside of their family and friends…I don’t know.
I’m so thankful for Little League, which came along right when I had been praying to find another group with lots of time together. Now Jake is interacting with 10 boys his age twice every week. To me, that is regular. It’s enough time to build relationships. I don’t want his only relationships to be with our family and the few neighbors that have a little time left to come out and play after they finish their school, homework and sports. So if we do continue with homeschooling, we’ll have to find a team or class or group for the fall season. We’ll see. There are still several months to decide what we’ll do next year.
So my problem is that there are big positives and big negatives to both homeschooling and standard schooling. Bummer. It would be so much easier if one option were terrible and the other was wonderful. Isn’t that the way in life? Always choosing the best we can, and praying that it’s enough. My ideal school would meet three times a week, have no assigned work on the off days, be free or cheap, have an intermixed population (different religions and races) and be close by. Ha! I wish such a place existed. I thought I could create a community like this with lots of playgroups and classes and such, but as I said, it’s turning out to be tough. In any case, we’re having a wonderful kindergarten year, so if it ends up being just that, I’m happy. Jake’s happy. Our family is in a smooth groove right now, and that’s all that really matters to me.