I am now halfway through my 4th year of homeschooling. ‘A’ is in 3rd grade, ‘H’ is in 1st. They are still so young and the school work they do is truly elementary, in that they are learning only the basics of many subjects. I have been thinking lately about what we are doing here at the Village Homestead in the homeschooling department. In addition to thinking about it, I’ve been talking it out with friends, and this post is a long time in the making.
It’s not serious, it’s just overdue.
Here is what I’ve learned about educating my elementary aged children so far – this is true for my children, but perhaps not all children:
They need a lot of time to play. This is #1 on the list for a good reason. The benefits of play have been studied by many researchers, and there are a number of good articles outlining the need for play in children’s lives. Google them – and read them start to finish, top to bottom. I see firsthand that play is a huge part of my children’s day. Even if I don’t set the day up so that there is much time for play, they find it and make away with it like bandits. As they get older, their play reflects the things they learn. Play with Lego people incorporates themes of the Civil War and slavery; play with the American Girl dolls uses lessons about science and nature; play outside involves the chickens, the cats, and truths about our household rhythm. Through play, they learn to get along (or not get along). They explore the world around them. They need play, a lot of play – more than you think.
The second thing I’ve learned is that my kids are going to learn certain things on their own, no matter what. When you reverse the tape, you see that they learned how to eat, walk, potty train, dress themselves, and work the remote control on their own just fine. Fast forward to the school years, and they are still learning some things on their own, with minimal assistance from me. These things include: telling time, counting money, measuring objects, punctuating sentences, spelling, and probably a lot more. Since they are going to learn those things on their own, I don’t make a point of teaching those lessons. When the girls are ready to learn, I point out the facts, they learn, and “lesson” comes to a close within a few minutes. When ‘H’ asked how to tell time two weeks ago, I showed her how the clock worked, and she took off with the information. When ‘A’ wrote a paragraph this week using quotation marks, I showed her that the comma has a special place near the quotation marks. She understood immediately. I could spend time introducing these concepts, or I can wait until they are ready to learn them, and introduce the material then.
I feel comfortable with this approach because I know my children and I know our lifestyle. ‘A’ and ‘H’ read a lot of books and I know that good spellers are borne of good readers. I could do spelling lists and spelling tests – and I have – but they don’t work as well as a voracious reading appetite. I could teach how to count money, but nothing drives it home like wanting to spend $7.43 on a book, and having to count it out from your allowance jar. This is an area where life lessons work just fine.
The third thing I’ve learned about homeschooling is that my children aren’t going to learn everything on their own. There are some things I want to teach them, like how to write computer programs; facts about the events leading up to the Civil War; hypotheses about how galaxies are formed; and ways to construct a scientific experiment. These are the things I want to spend time teaching my kids.
One of the things we have embarked on is a quest to learn computer programming. Admittedly, I am more excited about this than they, because I see the bigger picture. I see that we live in a world where programming skills will take you far, no matter what your industry. I see that programming flexes your brain in a new way and tightens thought processes. I am starting my lesson with the girls by using the elementary school curriculum on Code.org. I like the lessons a lot – they are written for a teacher with any level of programming experience. The screen lessons for the students are interesting and educational. There are textbook lessons too. There is a lot of potential there.
I am also building lessons around our work with Project Feederwatch. We track the birds at our feeder every week. Now we are starting to build graphs to illustrate bird activity. Next comes bird-oriented science experiments, complete with a hypothesis, data collection, and analysis.
One more thing I’m focusing on this winter is the art of writing. ‘A’ has always been a reluctant writer. Why, I don’t know. I’m not sure she knows, either. She was a late reader, so I guess she’ll be a late writer. Think about it, she’s only been reading for a year and a half. Already she’s reading books with complex themes, and I jump up a few grade levels when selecting new books for her. She reads so many books in very little time. Here she is though, in 3rd grade, and her spelling is… let’s just say it’s not the same as that of other children her age, and her writing is in the same boat. Two years ago I would have said something similar about her reading skills. Ultimately I know that she’ll blossom when she’s ready, but at the same time, I know the value of good encouragement when it comes to writing. Writing is different than reading. We all need to read to get along in the world, so we learn to do it. Some of us like to read more than others. Not all of us like to write, and those who do still need encouragement and constructive criticism. This never ends – writers need these things throughout their whole writing lives.
To that end, I am doing my best to encourage ‘A’ to put pen to paper and let the thoughts flow. Recently I started giving her short writing assignments, along with two pieces of paper: one blank, one lined. On the blank paper I draw in the center a 3-inch circle. There she writes her topic. She draws five lines radiating from the circle and on each line she writes the sentences that will go into the paragraph (we’re still on paragraphs, folks). Then she arranges the sentences in order and writes the paragraph on the lined paper. So far, so good. She likes this way of writing out her thoughts. She even said to me, completely out of the blue,
Mommy, thank you so much for encouraging me to write. I don’t like to write very much, but I know I can if you encourage me to do it.
I just about fell over when she said that to me. We’re getting somewhere.
All of this discussion about ‘A’s writing has seemed to have left ‘H’ out of the picture. She writes too. I give her assignments. She’s a natural. Her reading, writing and spelling talents were served to her on a silver platter. Math? Well, all I’ll say is that we’re spending a lot of time on the base 10 system. We’ll be talking about 10, and ways to make 10, for a long time.
Overall, homeschooling is working out just fine. Right now things are good, the energy is flowing, and I am very happy with our family situation.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. – Carl Jung