January 2, 2013

Reflections on a Decade of Home Schooling

A decade of homeschooling will ring in the year 2013 as will a decade of this blog.  When I first started this blog back in 2003 I wasn't really sure why I was doing it.  I think only my husband and the kids' grandparents read it.  I meant it sort of as a record of our journey through homeschooling.  At times it was exactly that, at times it has been a personal record, at times a place for lesson plans and reading lists.  

Today I spent some time back on the first few posts of this blog and I was struck by this one I wrote and how true it still rings today.  I wrote this when the kids where 4 and 2 and in the womb the very first month of this blog. I realize looking back how much of who my kids are today was present back then.  They have grown and matured, as have I, still much is the same: their current learning styles, their unique interests and approach to life were in part obvious back then.  From June 2003

The early days...    Before I started formally thinking about homeschooling I've always been teaching my kids both informally and in more formal ways as was age appropriate. My first was subjected to so much in utero as I was finishing my masters degree in Communications Studies and coaching intercollegiate debate throughout almost my entire pregnancy. Serona's favorite early baby pastime was reading science fiction and fantasy books out loud to her while she laid on his chest. Then we moved across country and I found myself at home with a very young child as my only companion and I talked to her and with her almost all day long and not in baby talk either. We moved through our days together and I explained and labelled everything in her world and mine. When we went to the grocery store, each item we put in our basket was named and described. This is a pepper, it is red, it grows in the ground, etc. This continued and has only gotten more detailed as they got older. Serona thought a good challenge word for her when she was two years old was Anti-disestablishmentarianism and we are very proud of the fact that at age three she could name her president, senator and governor and recognize them by picture. But the thing is we never saw this as odd, until others were shocked or surprised. 
We just always have had the philosophy of sharing the world with them and taking them to places others might not take their kids and teaching them by experience. They've been at political rallies, speeches at universities, formal talks by activists and religious scholars, band performances at bars, drama productions, a star wars convention and numerous other "unusual" places to find infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They have done amazingly well and have learned so much from their experiences. They have waved signs on election day and participated in campaigning, they have heard the president and first lady speak in person, and have shook hands with Ralph Nader. Sure they had their moments at some of these events - but overall they were extremely well behaved and received many positive comments from those around us. I can't help but believe that this has contributed to how well adjusted and smart they already are.
For a long time I just moved through life this way - teaching in the teachable moments and making it very real to them in ways they could understand. When our daughter was three she seemed to need more - her options would have been to go to a "preschool" which in most cases is paying for daycare and play with other kids, or to spend over $500 a month to go to a Montessori or Waldorf program - who actually do teach young children. So we decided just to increase our formal working with her at home. I began more structured (not to structured though - it is me and she was 3 after all) teaching. We picked a letter a day at first and then settled on a letter a week to learn about. We would make lists of words that started with that letter, keep a cardboard box that she filled with things that began with that letter, made collages from magazine cutouts of objects that start with that letter and practice recognizing and reading that letter. We would pick themes to go with the week, A week we visited an apple orchard, made apple pie, apple soup and learned a song about apples. B week we learned about bears and made our kitchen table into a cave and hibernated. C week we watched clouds and read "It looked like spilt milk" and so on the list went. She loved it, we had plans and my son then 1 1/2 started to get interested in it as well and we moved through the days learning and having fun, without too much structure but enough to keep us organized. By three and a half she was really ready to want to start reading on her own and we began trying to foster that desire. 
My son is a completely different child with a completely different learning style. He is a very active child and easily bored, he needs hands on experiences and had little patience for sitting still. I found that I could meet both of their needs when "teaching" in the way I did. I could read a book about a subject and then have hands on experiences or objects that my son could learn from. I began to realize that this enhanced and stretched both of their learning styles while meeting the needs of each of them. I would spend more of the hands on time with my son making sure he understood what we were doing then and more of my attention went to my daughter when we focused on more bookish teaching techniques. Yet each was able to get what they needed from the lesson and a bit extra as well. It was and is a very natural combination of teaching and learning for us. 
Being a pretty left brained individual I have found it more challenging to teach my younger son - but that is good as it stretches me too and helps us all to have more well rounded experiences. While flash cards and books were very effective in teaching my daughter colors and language - they did very little for my son. However playing with certain toys, letting him touch and see green leaves and oranges and our little cardboard sound box worked very well for him. Music and art and anything physical helps him learn and we utilize that in our life teaching experiences. I have many teachable moments with him playing in the yard that I need to take advantage of and in those moments I really see the advantages of homeschooling as both my kids would be likely lost in the "system" for completely different reasons. My daughter would go largely unchallenged and quickly become bored and my son would be forced to learn in a method that is not conducive to his learning style and would probably be left behind or misunderstood and mislabeled
I am so thankful for these early experiences we have had for they have shown me the benefits that teaching our kids at home can offer our family and has given me the confidence that we have naturally been doing that at home all along. I have learned so much about each of my children and myself through these experiences and that can only serve to enhance our education throughout our lives. As we stand at a crossroads where we are making a choice to "homeschool" I realize that we made that choice a long time ago and that we have been doing it all along, we are just choosing to continue and improve upon that. 

Our days are no longer filled with Letter of the Week, colors and preschool activities.  Now we have chemistry, fencing, engineering club, and swim team to fill our days.  Still it is amazing how much is the same about our approach to education and life.  We still find ourselves moving through life taking advantage of the natural teachable moments. It is my job to find and create more of them now.

We still choose to homeschool ten years later and I suppose no matter the educational choices we make we will always continue to homeschool.  I am thankful for this past decade and all we have learned and discovered together.  I look forward to the next decade and all that it may bring.  Ten years from now if all goes according to plan our homeschool days will be finished with our youngest in her first year of college :) When I started I certainly did not think I was signing up for two decades of homeschooling but now I can't imagine anything different. 

Kiss those babies,

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