Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fielding Questions On Homeschooling

It's no secret that my kids are homeschooled.  And I'm no stranger to the endless questions about homeschooling from friends and family and almost complete strangers.  I've been fielding these for years now.  But it seems like I've been getting A LOT of questions lately, questions about what homeschooling looks like for us.  So here are some answers to the most asked questions about homeschooling.  (Insert disclaimer here about how homeschooling is different for every family and this is what works best for us, yadda, yadda, yadda...Don't try this at home...Wait. Yes, you absolutely should try this at home.)

1.  What time do you start your school day?  You would think this question would have an easy answer...but like most questions about doesn't.  First of all, we don't really have a set time for "schooling".  There is no punch-in or punch-out times for us.  Why?  Because opportunities for learning just can't always be scheduled.

You see, life is learning.  And as long as we are awake and breathing, we can (and probably should) be learning something.  I like to think of homeschooling as seizing teachable moments.  A person learns best when they are interested and motivated to learn.  When my children's questions and interests pop up, we try to strike while the iron is hot.  When they ask a question, we seek an answer.  Which often leads to more questions and more complicated answers.  It's a beautiful thing.

Learning can happen early in the morning or late at night.  It doesn't matter.  A lot of our best learning moments happen over dinner, when we might discuss topics like Revolutionary War military tactics, the nature of consciousness, gay rights, the political climate in the Ukraine, or how the media creates news rather than just reporting it.  (These are all recent topics discussed at the family dinner table.  Yes, I am aware we are a weird family.)

Of course, if you are asking this question you probably want a specific time or something, not just a commentary on learning opportunities.  The best I can tell you is this: If any real learning happens prior to 9:30 AM, I assure you the kids are doing it on their own.  I am still struggling to gain consciousness with the assistance of copious amounts of caffeine until about that time, and the children know not to bother me with anything short of an emergency.  Really, it's for everyone's safety.  I am NOT a morning person.

2.  What curriculum do you use?  I suspect you are probably expecting a very neat and clean answer to this question, too.  Wrong again.  I guess the real answer would be Google and YouTube since that's where we seem to do a lot of our research.

We don't use a formal curriculum and we never have.  While a lot of homeschooling families find them helpful, we find them very constraining.  We enjoy the freedom to pursue interests on a whim or dig deeper into concepts and time periods or spend extra time practicing multiplication tables  (Well, maybe that last one is really my idea not theirs).  If learning isn't going well one day, we just skip it and make up for it on a day when everyone is more receptive.

As far as materials and resources...we've been known to use perfectly good textbooks that the public schools throw out every couple of years (A sweet perk to having a husband who is a public school teacher. Although we've yet to use a History textbook.  Those things are just full of propaganda.). They know us by a our first names at the local library, and the local veteran's museum has been a wonderful asset when it comes to learning American History.  Plus we've been known to binge on video documentaries.  And we have worked our way through many a math and grammar workbook (Usually when I start to panic about everything that maybe we aren't covering in a more traditional manner.  This happens at least twice a year, and the kids are usually fairly patient with me until it passes.)

And we like to think outside of the box-shaped classroom.  Too many people think that learning only happens at a desk with a pencil and paper and a textbook.  But in actuality very little real learning happens in that way.

Instead, we play outside and bake cookies and go grocery shopping and play chess and practice the piano and go to karate and visit museums and eat sushi and color outside the lines.  We've made water filters from scratch and set snares for squirrels in the backyard and built forensic facial sculptures from skull replicas. We've watched meteor showers late at night and identified trees and gone fishing and bird watching.  We've gone metal detecting at the beach and camping in the woods and cooked over an open fire.

Life is our curriculum.  "School" isn't a very good training ground for real life...Life is the best training ground for life.  Go figure.

3. What about standardized testing?  Yeah, what about it?  The state of North Carolina says the kids have to take one every year and that the results must be kept on file.  So we do...but we certainly don't emphasize them.  All those graded tests really measure is a child's ability to take a test.  I choose to look at the whole child and not just what that child can put on a bubble sheet.  There are far more valuable things that standardized testing misses.  Creativity, for example.  As well as verbal communication, individual effort, self-motivation, musical ability, common sense, logic and real-life problem solving.  Also interpersonal skills, empathy, responsibility, physical coordination, critical thinking, strategy, and artistic ability.

I think you get the idea.  Getting students to perform well on standardized tests is only important if you want them to be successful little cogs in the societal machine.  Which I do not.  But if you are really wondering how they measure up to their traditionally schooled peers...The test results say they're doing just fine.

4.  What about college?  They can go if they want to, plenty of homeschooled kids go to college and excell there.  But I hope they choose to only if they need to (Like if, god forbid, they want to be a doctor or a lawyer or some other overpaid cog).  And I hope they do it without accruing crippling amounts of debt, because debt is just a method of relinquishing freedom and pawning your life away.  Financial success does not hinge on a college degree anyway (In fact, one could argue that it might actually hinder success) and neither does happiness. I want my children to define success for themselves and not just take Society's warped and lopsided definition.  Remember what I said about cogs in a machine...yeah...

What homeschooling looks like on a beautiful Fall day.
5. What does your typical school day look like?  Honest answer?  We have no typical days.  Our days are so varied.  Some days we spend entirely outside.  Some days we spend running errands.  Others we spend in our pajamas watching stupid YouTube videos (We are big fans of Epic Rap Battles of History...and Bad Lip Reading.  Now there's some good entertainment).  Other days we read and write and do arithmetic.  And still others we spend on chores and yard work or random board games and jigsaw puzzles.

I sincerely believe that people (not just children) learn best through experiences and daily life.  If we pull those children away from daily life and lock them away in a "place of learning" we are suggesting that the only worthwhile learning happens inside of those walls and during certain times and with someone telling them what to do.  And then, when we thrust tests upon them to measure their "learning" progress, we send the message that the only things worth learning are those things that can be tested with bubble sheets and essays. School is one of the most ineffective places to be truly educated.

Life is learning.  Learning is life.

It's just life, people.  We're just living...


Unknown said...

Whatever you are's working!

Flame said...

It's too bad that some people aren't homeschooling. I so enjoyed the chance to provide bond with my granddaughter while we homeschooled. I used we, because we learned together.