Monday, September 13, 2010

A Personal Note on Homeschooling

This year is the first year that I am homeschooling three children. My oldest son is in eighth grade. My second child, also a boy, is in second-and-a-half grade. The caboose, my daughter, just started kindergarten. If you’ve ever read my family blog you’ll know that I refer to my house as Bedlam, named after the infamous Bethlehem Royal Hospital in England. I joke that this place is an asylum. There are moments when I must answer a question about algebra for the oldest, quiz the middle child on his spelling, and explain “A” to the girl, all in the span of a few moments. I find that this really is not difficult. After all, isn’t that what happened in one room school houses across this country years ago? President Herbert Hoover attended a one room school house. So did writer Joyce Carol Oats, astronaut Alan B. Shepherd, and author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Our country was built on small class sizes containing multiple grade levels. Why would that be a problem now?

I had to laugh last week when I realized one afternoon that the oldest was working on his algebra on the couch while the middle child was reading a book on my bed and the girl and I were reading Hooked on Phonics at the kitchen table. With the exception of three fish, the “classroom” in the basement was empty. I laughed because I was reminded of the August 30th post where non-homeschoolers wrote that new homeschoolers must have a specific learning area set aside from the rest of the house. If I may quote my father, “Bunk!” (90% of the wit and witticisms of my father are not repeatable in mixed company, so I have to use them when I can) Homeschooled children naturally gravitate to a comfortable location to work, based upon their individual wants and needs. I fail to see how this is a problem. As far the “classroom,” I’m still trying to convince my wife that we should remove the tables and chairs and replace them with a pool table.

One aspect of homeschooling that I find interesting is that from one year to the next it is always a new and interesting experience. With each year that passes there are new topics of study, new depths to which we study familiar topics, and a wider variety of activities in which we can participate. I cannot say the same thing for the freshman in Connie’s class. Connie was a veteran teacher at a Missouri high school where I taught. She was well liked by her colleagues. Connie attended all of the required faculty and department meetings. She rarely sent a student to the office. She didn’t make a fuss. On any given day you could walk into her classroom and find her students quietly working. On a worksheet. From the stacks of worksheets that she kept on the shelves in her room. For Connie, each day of each school year was exactly the same as the same day the previous year, because she mindlessly repeated the same lessons in the same order. The only thing that changed in Connie’s lesson plans was the year written in pencil on the front of her plan book. The extent of her reflective practice was wondering whether or not she had enough copies of the day’s worksheets. Connie was retired on active duty, drawing a pay check for doing little more than breathing as she ticked off the years towards retirement.

Homeschooling does not allow for that level of sloth. My children are too active, too inquisitive, and too curious to allow for anything but meeting their needs from year to year. The one huge difference between homeschooling parents and professional teachers is that we love our children in a way that professional teachers cannot. That love makes up for the years of college and teacher’s ed classes that most teachers have, most homeschooling parents do not have, and most homeschooling critics complain we need. I’ve sat through those classes. They are not all that they are purported to be. My reflective practice is driven by my love for children. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve my instruction. And with the ever changing nature of homeschooling, there is no time for academic recycling.


Brownie said...

"Academic recycling" - that would make it easier.

You are right... the nature of homeschooling doesn't lend itself to recycling. If I wanted to recycle - Blondie would have to do what she did last year. And if she had to re-do what she did last year, that would mean that she flunked last year, in which case I flunked and I shouldn't repeat what she did because she didn't learn it the first time...

rambling on your blog... :)

So your little girl is in Kindergarten. So is Red. I'll be interested in seeing how that progresses. I know if Red were home I wouldn't be attempting it yet, I truly don't think he's ready.

hey! I just saw that my "word verification" is "recuss".... some of those words make me wonder..

Would recuss be like recycle?

Feel free to delete this comment.. Mama needs more coffee.

Michelle said...

Shame on you!! Don't you know that kids only learn while sitting at their desks? (eyes rolling here) You can't possible teach them to tie their shoes while sitting on the floor-they must be at a desk. How about the world of ants? why on earth would you put food near an ant colony and watch them carry food into it? A photo will do nicely while they are sitting at their desks!

have a great week!

Papa Bear said...

Using the same worksheets and even the same lesson plans year after year? We rarely make it through an entire semester without making major revisions to the course of study! We add or remove books, change how we use them, add or drop entire subjects, hands-on activities, extracurriculars, etc., not because I do a poor job of planning, but because my children's needs change that fast. Hmm, if they're learning effectively, shouldn't their educational needs be changing?

I understand that one topic builds on another, and Connie, with her classroom full of students didn't have the same flexibility that I have. If the school buys a textbook that doesn't work for the majority of students, let alone for one student, the entire class is stuck with that book AT LEAST until the end of the year, and probably stuck with that series of textbooks for the next several years. One more reason to homeschool. But even in a classroom, shouldn't there be more creativity, innovation, and year to year improvements?

Worksheets, how I loathe them! Yes, worksheets keep students busy, turning them into good little worker bees who don't want to understand a subject but just write down the answer the teacher wants. I never cared what answer the teacher wanted; I wanted to learn something new or understand it more fully. I could see what answer the teacher was looking for, and sometimes it was wrong, usually because she didn't understand the topic herself. I wanted to explain the deficiency of that answer. She would only continue asking leading questions to elicit that answer.

I avoid worksheets entirely, and workbooks most of the time. So when my kids encounter a leading question, they treat it as a straight question, and give an honest opinion or true information to the best of their knowledge. Usually they don't even recognize that it's a leading question. Perhaps I need to train them to recognize leading questions, so they can resent them properly!

jugglingpaynes said...

A pool table would give wonderful examples for geometry. Just saying. ;o) Look up Donald in Mathmagic Land, it's on YouTube. There is a whole section about billiards and angles.

I love what you've written here. I've also found that each of my children has their very own way of learning, and since I don't expect them to conform to my curriculum, I am constantly experimenting with new ways to help them learn.

Peace and Laughter,

Rose said...

A dozen years homeschooling nearly a dozen kids and I don't think we've ever done the same thing twice.

My younger kids do adore workbooks--they think they are a treat and fight over them, so I indulge them from time to time, in between "real" learning.

Traci's Teaching Times said...

Hi, I'm glad I ran across your blog. My name is Traci. My husband has a blog over at He has been trying to blog for a few years, but hasn't found many homeschool dads to be blogging buddies with. If you might, drop by and visit with him. Traci