Sunday, April 20, 2008

School At Our House

This post is a long time coming. I have a handful of friends whose babies are just beginning to reach schooling age, and they have been pestering me for some time now for information and advice about homeschooling. I have been putting them off for so long that I am beginning to lose sleep at night, worrying that they will hunt me down. You know who you are. This post is for you.

For the rest of you, well, you know who you are, too. You think we are back-country, right-wing conservatives who are doing our children a great injustice by keeping them out of the public school system (grin). There are no hard feelings if you'd like to stop reading here, and check back later in the week for a less controversial topic. Instead, I will leave you with a video that will bring a smile to your face (btw, that's MY six-year-old!)

and a Quote Of The Day:
"These veggies taste good, but they look like you scraped them up off the ground at Dagobah." --Cole, age 6 (a child critic's review of Pasta, Beans 'n' Greens)

Okay, for the handful of you that remain: Let's get down to business.

I don't know if I would have ever considered homeschooling were it not for my husband. He wanted to begin talking about the possibility of schooling our kids at home when I was only a few months pregnant with Cole. I was more interested in talking about how to stop the Cycle of Barfing and a way to develop a covert system of continuing to get paid at my job while spending the whole day asleep on my desk. So we differed, a bit. But that was when the conversation began.

My first impressions? Well, I was against it, frankly. I mean, come on. Homeschool kids are weird. Let's not deny it. They're smart, but weird-smart. Too smart. They don't fit into the rest of the world. They know how to do things like pluck a chicken and knit a hat, but can't recite Shakespeare or throw a ball. They don't know how to communicate with anyone who is not an immediate member of their (large) family. But despite all of this, I wanted to entertain the idea, and keep the dialogue running. I married Justin because he is wiser than me and often has a more refined sense of the eternal, so if it was important to him, I wanted to examine the topic further.

As time went on, I asked questions, talked to people, read books, listened to Dobson. I realized that Homeschooling Today is not what it was twenty-five years ago. People do this now. Lots of people. There are organizations (like our Whatcom Homeschool Association) set up to support homeschool families, share information, provide social activities (like fieldtrips and park days) and trade curriculums. There are curriculums. It's no longer a system of scavenging at the library and working sums on newsprint. It's a bit more refined, now. The churches even have Homeschool Small Groups you can join. It's everywhere.

So, when Cole turned four, we ventured into the Homeschool waters. Andie told us about Sonlight and it seemed to be what we were looking for. We took the plunge and purchased the Preschool program.

Oh, now I'm getting ahead of myself, because of course, there are thousands of decisions to make when deciding to homeschool; it's not just "yes we will" or "no we won't". This right here is why I haven't responded to your questions before now----because THIS is the part that is complicated. First of all, there are so many methods of schooling: Unschooling, Classical, Charlotte Mason, etc etc etc....To use curriculum or not use curriculum? It gets overwhelming. Let's cut through all of that for a second. We bypassed most of the decisions by saying: 1) Let's buy a curriculum package (since we have no clue what we're doing) and 2) Let's buy the first one that appeals to us (instead of spending months and months researching all of them). I'm not saying this is the best approach; I'm just saying it worked for us, because it took a lot of the "agonizing over approach and materials" away for me. So when we came across Sonlight, we liked it, we picked it, we pulled out our Visa. Done.

Now. What appealed to us about Sonlight was the vast amount of literature. I liked the idea of my kids learning about history by reading books about certain parts of history--instead of poring over a history textbook--simply because history was the one subject in school that I never really understood, but I loved literature, and I think if I would have been taught this way, I would have gotten it, and loved it. There are workbooks for math, writing, etc....but most of their program is taught through literature. I've always dreamed of having an extensive library, so Sonlight alligned with the things I was passionate about. There are very few consumable resources. It's expensive, but--to me--it was worth the cost to invest in beautiful books that we could absolutely wear out through the years.

Okay, now right away, there were things that DIDN'T WORK for us with the Sonlight program, but we couldn't have known this without trying it. First of all, some of the "preschool" materials were extremely difficult--way over Cole's head. Secondly, at the manic age of four, he didn't like having 20 minutes a day of "sit down and read with Mom" time, and immediately began to resent school. Thirdly, the "schedule" they provide interfered with with a child's natural desire to learn and with the natural rhythm of reading--because they recommend that you pick up 5 different books and read one page out of each one, once a day. What? All this did was frustrate Cole. He'd ask to read another page and I'd say, "No, tomorrow." He'd fight back. There was a lot of push-and-pull between us--not at all the cozy, reading, co-learning experience I was looking for. Now I will say that Sonlight firmly maintains that their Schedules are meant to just be a Guideline, and they repeatedly advise that you manipulate that guideline to fit your own family. I'm sure that works for a lot of people. But I am a List Lover. If I have a list, I HAVE to check off each thing before going on to the next one. I CAN'T jump around and have things incomplete; it drives me crazy. So I fought to the death to stick to the list, and Cole fought against me, and we got things done (sort of), but we were unhappy.

Kindergarten: Same Thing. Push and pull, push and pull, Learning Under Duress. I kept thinking, "Is this why I wanted to homeschool? Absolutely not! We're missing something. Where is that Love of Learning I wanted to instill in my child?"

Just recently, I've regained my focus. I've read a few good (anti-curriculum) articles about the original heart of homeschooling, concentrating on the idea of teaching your children at your knee, giving them firm grounding and strong character with some quality education mixed in. Oh! Oh, my soul began to breathe again. This is what I've been looking for. This is what I desire for my children. Not this Schedule-That-Mom-Doesn't-Understand-But-Is-Fighting-For. Not this Constant Dissension. But good, old-fashioned, family-style learning, All Of Us In It Together methodology, following our hearts and our unique gifts and our passions, while still checking off the basics. My boys can learn this way. Oh, they can learn this way! Why was I trying to duplicate the format of school, when that was what I was trying to avoid?!

Those of you who are new to this want me to give you a formula and tell you what books to read, what program to buy, and what path to follow. I can't do that. I'm still so new to it myself; I'm still finding my own path. You'll have to discover your own (I'm sorry). There are still a lot of things I love about Sonlight, truly. But I'm manipulating those things now, to fit my own needs. And quite frankly, this means buying a lot of the materials (mostly secondhand--or check your LIBRARY!) and NOT buying the Schedules. Because honestly, I can't have them in my house. I'm too much of an addict. I need to abstain from them altogether.

What we are left with: A pile of beautiful books available to us at all hours of the day. We can read as much or as little of them as we want. We can read three, four, ten a day....or flip through them and just look at the pictures and discuss the parts that are interesting to us. The only thing I continue to be a stickler about is that (most) every day we take a few minutes to practice our reading (Cole) and do a page or two of math (Reese and Cole). The rest is icing on the cake. And here's the result: PEACE AT HOME AND LOVE OF LEARNING! Hooray, hooray! The boys are pouring over books again, asking to be read to, begging to go to the library to research more about their favorite subjects. Science, history, literature--they're eating it up. I am too. We have found our joy again.

And here's the last thing: God is giving me more and more peace about having children that AREN'T of this world, that are only aliens here for a while. Weird homeschool kids, hooray! I am blessed now when someone recognizes that they DON'T fit in, because really, isn't that what we are asked to do? To raise up children that will fight for Good, and be focused on the Prize? That will run the good race? Many ask if we will homeschool forever. I don't know the answer to that. Does a soldier in the military ask his commander what the mission will be 12 years from now? The battle is ever-changing. But oh, it is a BATTLE! I better make sure these boys are ready. Because the day will come, surely, when their Commander will ask them to Stand and Fight. On that day, I can only place my hands on their heads, and give them their benediction, and pray that I have done my job well.

"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master', he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'

His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" matthew 25:19-21


Jill said...

Wonderful post Kim! I love your insight on homeschooling. I should throw out my schedule too - it just drives me crazy.

karissa said...

As one of those 'pestering' friends newish to the whole homeschool realm and ridiculously addicted to lists, thank you for taking the time to write this. It is such a gift to hear the process you've been through to get where you are now. I started to read this morning then realized more coffee would be required to truly get into it-good decision. Thank you.

Heidi said...

Loved your post! I already had a plan when I came across Sonlight, but that is probably what I would have gone with otherwise. I have purchased so many of the books recommended by Sonlight. I'm a list follower also, so I'm sure I'd struggle with the schedules.

It is easy for me to tell people the wonderful reasons for homeschooling, but it is much harder to recommend homeschool styles or curriculum. Homeschooling looks different for each family, and each family has to find something that works well for them.

gigibogey said...

Sweet sister: You warm my heart. You make me cry. It's always amazing to me that we are from the same parents, and that my Favorite Things about you are the things that are so different than me. You and your family are a treasure to me--ya weird homeschooling crazies! :)

Kristin said...

I just read this and your previous homeschool article. Thank you so much for all the time you put into it! As a new getting-ready-to-homeschool Mom I am wanting to hear what others are doing. Thanks for putting your heart and soul into what you write. It is so true that we are preparing our children for a battle (I've often wondered why my daughter is SO tough and need to stop hoping its not for a battle but rather instead -- directing her toughness!). Thanks for all the specifics about Sonlight. I love your comments about not agonizing and just jumping in...I'm an agonizer and am learning to just jump in instead of wasting so much time. :-) As for schedules, I'm not very good at following them with toddlers but I desperately want some kind of outline so it'll be fun to see how one works for us. Thanks again!