Posted by: mamaamy | March 13, 2008

About Home Schooling

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(Letter to a new home schooling mom)

Dear Rachel,

Your email was a high point in my day. You are at such an exciting junction in your life and the lives of your boys. The way you wrote your email effectively communicated how overwhelmed you feel and at the same time how brave you are for embarking on this journey. Your questions about home-schooling are a topic for a book …and I am sure many have been written. I am not prepared to write a book, but I am really committed to helping you in any way I can.

Perhaps this response to your email will be the “jumping –off” point to an ongoing conversation that we can have. With that in mind I really am going to try to begin this conversation with the things that have surfaced as most important over the last 13 years that I have been teaching.

1. Out with the Old:

As time has passed Mitch and I have discussed our schooling extensively and made it a part of our lives so that we don’t separate school from life. I teach all day, everyday and when Mitch is home, he is imparting as much wisdom as he can. It isn’t going to look like school did when we were kids. In fact, I would recommend that you begin by writing down all of the preconceptions you have about schooling. When you have a fairly complete list of what you think you believe schooling is… crumple up the paper and throw it out. It is healthy to throw away any notion that you must do something that resembles the paradigm that is public school. There must be a letting go of the old paradigm of schooling. This is a difficult process that will take time, but is necessary and liberating.

The methods used in public school are archaic compared to the needs of kids, especially boys, these days. We need to learn to educate in a way that is new and works with the way that the world is now. We had no computers when we were in school–no internet, it is not the same environment as when we grew up. Every thing is bigger, better, faster—immediate in fact. Our kids must learn to utilize the tools of this world, but also they must be skilled in wisdom to discern good and bad media information. They must learn to guard their own eyes. They must learn to adapt to a very rapidly changing world. They must be able to make value driven decisions and become problem solvers.

2. Standards:

The standards in our school are the same standards that we embrace as a family (one of the big benefits of home-schooling.) I believe that more important than the 3 R’s are family standards that can be put into place and that are valued above anything else in all situations. It is important for you and Joshua to really spend time thinking about the ultimate goals of your family. What kind of kids do you want to have? What kind of family do you want? What kind of marriage? (This is the “vision” conversations that Mitch & Joshua have been having.) Our family endeavors to uphold 5 standards. We have settled on these as a family. We try not to introduce rules to live by, that are “don’ts”, but positive standards that are “do’s” in every context.

Here are ours:

Love
(love one another more than you love yourself)

Respect
(respect builds up our family, disrespect tears down our family: We encourage respect for the freedom of others, respect for authority, respect for material possessions.)

Gratefulness
(Be grateful for the teacher, being able to learn at home with much freedom, for meals, for the home and cars available, daddy’s job and all his hard work, etc.)

Obedience
(obedience brings joy, always…disobedience brings sadness…always, maybe not immediately…but it does)

Appropriateness
(in every situation, with every relationship there is appropriate behavior, appropriate dress, appropriate speech)

Instead of responding to a situation with a negative like, “don’t hit your brother,” we can be positive and say, “please respect your brother’s freedom.” As we use these same 5 words (that is…Love, Respect, Gratefulness, Obedience, Be Appropriate) over, and over, and over (like repeating multiplication tables), in a variety of contexts, children soon begin to “connect-the-dots” and connect these words to innumerable situations and behaviors. In our mind, upholding standards is preferable to constructing a rule for every situation. Standards simplify life. A family (company, school, group) that embraces standards can effectively communicate expectations and measure successes.

In my experience, it is profitable to invest my time and energy in training the children/students to uphold these standards. When I do, my children are a blessing and it is a pleasure to be their mother and teacher. I enjoy my work and my children please me. It is a critical step in maintaining the relationships especially when the strain of being teacher and mother challenges the situation.

Training/teaching the children to uphold the standards is an all day activity not limited to “schooltime.” Consistency in any type of training (sport, musical instrument) pays BIG dividends and will pay BIG for you as mother and teacher.

3. The Mission:

Once you and Joshua agree on the standards for your family (school), then I would suggest coming up with mission statement for the school–a brief statement that sums up the goals of your school.

Our mission, for example, is:

The mission of our school is to instill a lifelong love of learning in each student. We will teach them to make value-driven decisions. We will give them the ability to solve all types of problems and adapt to changing environments.

Having a mission drives the vision and helps you and Josh make decisions for your school. This may seem unnecessary; however, the first part of our mission is something we talk about regularly. As we evaluate an activity or a book or and exercise we often ask ourselves, “is this going to nurture their love of learning or make them hate it?” It really helps me not to become a bully with the schooling. Now, there are some things that they just have to do, but I think about how to motivate them in a way that it isn’t a burden, but is as pleasurable as it can be. Mitch is reading a book now called Going with the Flow that talks about “flow experiences” and how people learn. This is very interesting stuff that we can talk about some time. Right now, for you while your kids are young, school time should be REALLY fun with fun activities. If it’s not fun…stop.

4. The Life Long Process:

Once you establish these high level visions and set forth the standards by which you can meet them, then it is important to know that school and life are not two separate daily operations. School is all day…instructing, imparting, interpreting delivering information. I am continuously interpreting life’s events and then teaching appropriate responses. This happens at the grocery store, at the dinner table, in the car, before you kiss them goodnight. It is on-going sharing with them the wisdom and experience that you possess. It involves teaching them character, how to make the right choices and why (obedience brings joy, respect builds up our family and disrespect tears down our family, etc.) It’s distinguishing between appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior, on and on. It is singing the alphabet song while they are on the potty, or counting raisins before eating them. It is helping mom bake something yummy while you teach about fractions and units of volume. Life becomes the lesson and lessons are a continual part of life.

5. Teaching in Context:

When Matthan was young, I would ask him, “What do you want to learn about today?” He may say something like, “China,” so I would drag out the National Geographic’s and any books or stories that I had on the topic and we would learn some stuff. We would check out what the library had on the topic. We would eat Chinese food as a family, and then draw pictures about what we learned in a journal—(Oh to have internet and Google earth in those days!) I would spend about a week on a topic and then ask the question again. If they came up with other topics during that week, I would write them down so we would remember for the next week or so. Anyway, you get the idea. The reason why I think this was a good beginning is: to learn something new, people must have context. That is…they must be able to connect the new learning to what they already know…think about ALEKS. If we start talking about something that they have never heard of and they have no context to connect it to, then they will get bored or never understand it. We must help them connect the dots between what they know and something they have never heard of. If we can teach, utilizing context (what they already know), eventually they will be able to learn to connect the dots themselves. Then they really get excited!

6. Curriculum:

Now there is some merit to having some sort of curriculum so that you can make sure they are on track. It does help to know what a first grader should have a grasp of. In these early years, I recommend getting a good math program that teaches with context, and get a good phonics program that utilizes lots of pictures. Other than that, Science, Social Studies, etc. can come from searching out with them the things that they are interested in. When they are in mid school a steadier curriculum on those subjects can come into play.

I spend a little time with each of my kids, one on one, teaching some of the specific phonics concepts or math concepts. I think it is good for them to get some Mom-focus each day. Phoebe just started Kinder this year and we spend maybe 30 minutes together with her Phonics and Math books.

(I would love to spend time talking with you about what curriculum I have tried and hated, and what I really like and why. But let’s do that on the phone. Remind me then that Mitch can give you an excellent math in context program and I want to talk about Diane Craft and HSLDA).

7. Rest Time:

I say that teaching is all day, because you are “on call” all day to teach whenever the opportunity rises. That said, you should know that, other than a couple of hours in the morning for “lesson-time,” I teach them to entertain themselves with drawing, looking at library books, playing “appropriately and respectfully” together. You don’t need to entertain them all day. I learned from Keli that requiring a rest time every day is important for Mom. I have rest time every afternoon for the little ones. They must sit on their beds and quietly look at books for a couple hours everyday. (They often fall asleep.) It is so nice to know that the house will be quiet for a bit. It is also important for Mom to get a little time to herself on the weekend. I know that for me, it is incredibly refreshing that Mitch takes care of the kids (almost) every Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours so I can get out of the house and do something I want to do. Mitch and I also try to go on a date once a week to get away and talk together and maintain our relationship. The last thing on this topic is the suggestion of having a set bedtime for the kids. Mom is really going to have to be able to clock out at some point and have her own brain or she begins to not be as effective during the next day. For our kids bedtime means going to bed (around 8:pm) after we have read them all a story, and then being respectful of Mom and Dad’s hour or two together. They don’t have to go to sleep…just be respectful of our time and practice appropriate bedtime behavior.

8. The Curriculum of Stewardship:

It is important to remember that housework and “stewardship” (chores) are a part of learning also. It is good work to teach the kids that they must clean up their messes out of respect for everyone who lives there. (esp. Daddy) Teaching them to make their bed and clean their room first thing in the morning is not too much to ask. We have “step 1” time about 3 times a day. This means that they pick up around the whole house (which is the first step to cleaning). The more organized you can be, the less harried you will feel as the teacher. Everyone seems to work better in a tidy environment. Eventually learning housework becomes a part of school, too, i.e. Chloe and Ezra (age 7) both know how and do clean the toilets and sinks in the bathroom each week. They unload the dishwasher and set and clear the table, too. Phoebe (age 4) unloads the silverware from the dishwasher. “Many hands make light work” is a true saying and the home-schooling Mom (private tutor) deserves some help from the students. So eventually she gets a rest while the kids take care of the house.

9. What to Look Forward to:

You mentioned that having a high-schooler would be really tough, but as I am now working with a high schooler I can say with confidence that if you continue home-schooling your boys and incorporate the suggestions given here, it will not be overwhelming to teach them high school because you will have respectful, appropriate, grateful and enjoyable teens.

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