Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Oh, Nellie! It's Soap Box Time Again!

Lunch for "Mom!" made by the girls 

I grounded my girls from school.  For two days.  You heard me!  Grounded!  How can I get away with that?  Well, because we homeschool, that's how.  The How is a minor detail though.  What matters here is the Why.  But before I get to that, first you have to muck through the foam from my soap box.  Buckle up, Buttercup.

 Few conversations illicit as many opinions as Homeschooling.  Oh, there's the whole Baby-in-the-bed topic, and the Nursing-a-toddler and Homebirth (guilty on all three counts, 15 counts if you consider me a repeat offender), but those are the topics that fall under the "You-do-what-you-want-with-your-baby,-ya-loonie!" clause, which most folks leave alone.  They figure if they turn a blind eye for a year or two, you'll get over it or at least stop having kids, making it all go away.  But when you Homeschool, you have to either grow a very thick skin, or go underground.  If you say the word "Unschooling" in public, folks imagine that your kids spend their days in fur loin cloths, chest pounding with filthy fists.  Certainly the only reading they must get is from cereal boxes and comic books, and if they are lucky, a little science during Shark Week.  I don't claim to be an Unschooler, but looking at it through the goggles of Public School it might seem that I am.

In order to understand HOW homeschool works in our house, you would have to detach yourself from a few long-held beliefs:

1.  Children must be taught on a daily schedule
2. Children must be taught specific things at specific ages
3.  Children must be taught by an adult
4.  Children must be tested to make sure they are learning

Now, I get it, you might accept that there are indeed a few (very few) exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, even most homeschooling families buy-in to one or more of the above statements.  But humor me for a moment; what if these beliefs you have held since the day you first smelled the aroma of chalk dust mingled with hot black-top and tatter-tots are wrong?  What if the best way for a child to learn is not currently being practiced in public schools?  (Gasp!  Did she really say that??? How dare she!!!).  Now, I am not saying that the way I do things is "the right way" (that's what we homeschoolers say to the rest of the world, but that is a lie.  We totally believe that it IS the right way, for us at least).  So if you can suspend your belief in the "Educational System" for a moment, and hear me out, the school grounding I mentioned earlier will seem a lot less like neglect and a lot more like calculated reasoning with an expectation of high return.

Here are the ideas I ask you to use to temporarily replace those listed above:

1.  Children must be given opportunities to learn mingled with daily life, when ever that best fits into the day and week; learning happens all the time, any time.  

2.  There is no ideal age that should be waited for to learn anything.  End of story.  Yeah, yeah, I know about the studies, but since our current system is ignoring those studies, so must I for a moment.  Indeed, math is apparently best taught to young adults  (hmmm, not 6 year olds?  Imagine!).  What I mean here is inclusive, not exclusive.  If a 6 year old WANTS to learn geometry, he should get to, and not be told to wait till high school!  Desire drives learning.

3.  When adults provide a supportive environment, children become their own teachers most of the time.  They also learn a ton from each other, and from watching your example of self education.  When they are further on in their learning, it is appropriate for them to have mentors, but that is pretty far down the line.

4.  There is no way in the world to quantify what a child who is given free range over his own education has learned.  Give it up.  You can measure information gathered, but not the knowledge and wisdom acquired for the use of that information.

Here are a few other important ideas to help you get my drift:

The problem is that "we" (you know, as in We the People) have it all backwards.  We try like mad to cram knowledge into little heads starting as young as age 3, during what are called the "formative years".  There is so much emphasis on academics that there is little time to teach our children the core values that our society is swiftly and tragically losing a grip on; things like honesty, integrity, the ability to see a need and fill it, excellent work ethic, empathy, true charity, and so on.  It is during the early years when these most important life lessons are taught, or missed.  If we wait until a child is already coming apart at the seams to try to instill values in him, say, age 12 and up, we have pretty much MISSED OUR CHANCE.  It is then that we struggle against the call of media, social pressures and hormone drive, trying to remind the child of the values we wished we had instilled a little better before now. 

So as a homeschooling family, my main focus for my children - my first goal- is to teach Character.  We talk daily about, and do things to work on the following:

- The difference between right and wrong, 
good and bad, true and false

 - The value of work

- The value of play

- How to fill the needs of people younger, smaller, or more helpless

And I am not kidding when I say that I believe these are the skills that will be the most valuable to my children in their lives.  They certainly are in mine.  That is not to say that academics are not of tremendous worth, but academics can be easily learned by an individual with such a strong foundation.  

(Geez, when is she going to get to the part where she grounded her kids from school?)
Right now.

The girls were being FIVE STAR BRATS.  They were squabbling and even hitting, they were yelling and demanding and tantruming (oh, yes.  Evil, I tell you).  So I said...

"Wow.  This is so sad.  Clearly we have been not been focusing enough energy on our core values.  This is certainly not the way I want my children to grow up behaving in the world.  Obviously, you two are not ready for the privilege of school.   It looks like we need to take a break from school and get back to working on Character.  We will spend the day working, and we will work every day until I see that you are really ready for school."

(Okay, I probably didn't sound quite that noble, but that was the gist)

"NO!!!!!!!!!"  they cried!  "We want to do school!!!!" they bellowed.

"No, I am really sorry.  I can't let you do that.  I would not be doing my job well if I let you go out into the world with that kind of attitude.  It stops today."

They cried honest-to-goodness tears.  Oh, and they worked.  I worked right along side them.  They learned the skill of scrubbing out a toilet with a pumice stone.  They learned how to fix the drain stopper, and how to look around the room and notice things like dust on the light fixture, and then take care of it.  They learned how to clean out under a sink and re-paper the shelf.  There was learning going on, for sure, and it went deep.

Sadly, we had to take two days for the girls to get the point, but they got it.  And if they forget, I imagine all I will have to do to remind them will be to ask them if we should take a day off of school for more Character building. 

This is not the end of this post, though (I know, shut up already, right?), because I feel like you need to know about the next day.  They were so excited to get back to school.  "Can I do math mom?"  "Can we do states?"  "Can I read?"  "Will you read us an extra chapter, please?"

And each time I said "sure" you would have thought I had said they could have ice cream for dinner.  Because, you see, they VALUED it.  It became a coveted privilege, not a dreaded expectation.  It doesn't hurt that I allow them to choose what they will study.  As long as they are working on something, it's all good with me.  Am I worried that they are not learning enough?  

The other day Tessa demonstrated that she knows all 50 states by shape, frontwards and backwards.  Its her thing these days.  Ellie figured out how to put a bed together without any instructions, and has been teaching Tessa how to cook french toast, and can recognize the Brazilian flag, among about two dozen others.  

Am I worried?
Only that I will get in the way.


Anonymous said...

Good for you, Laine!
Jeannie Turner

Teresa said...

Well said!!!

Jo said...

Love this! Wonder what would happen if more people did this?

Madelaine Sanderson said...

I loved every word of your post! See, I am not crazy! Love you!

Anonymous said...

I've forgotten now how I first found your blog, but I drop in from time-to-time because I always learn from your experiences. I come away wanting to be better. Wanting to be more willing to listen to my heart and do what's right for me and my family. I too am a homeschooling mom. I love what you did here! I love being reminded to get out of the way and let them learn. The anxiety that we're not doing it right seems to creep in far too often and I need those reminders and ideas. Thank you for putting yourself out here for the rest of us to see and learn and ponder and know we're not alone!
Rebecca Meredith

Laine said...

Rebecca, Thank you so much for your thoughts. I love that you find value in my little posts. And guess what... I needed to read this one again. I think it's getting to be time for another work day around here!