Making the decision to homeschool is one of the most exciting and frightening activities any of us will do as parents. We look around at others who have been doing it for years and wonder how it all happens (and appears to happen so easily); will we ever get to that point ourselves? How do we even begin?
I’ve been home educating my children for four years. My son Ian is now 13; my daughter Eva is 10. I jumped into this adventure at my son’s patient, consistent three-year long request. We have been so successful at home, he’s decided to wrap up his primary education at the public high school, beginning this fall. He is slated to graduate in 2015, at just 14. During his time at home, Ian has established himself as a musical performer, composer, and public speaker. Eva in the meantime, has established herself firmly as an author, writing, editing, illustrating, designing, and self-publishing four books, one for each year of her homeschooling experience. She has also had wonderful experiences in public speaking, talking about her writing career with school classrooms in person and via Skype. Like Ian, Eva has been accelerated several years, finding studies that meet her needs and pace on an individual basis.
You can create your personal success story as well. Today I’m going to start by talking about the over-arching philosophy and approach that has worked for us. Though more intangible, identifying your educational values is the foundation of your homeschooling experience, and an essential first step; the books, activities, curricula, etc., are only secondary to your fundamental mission. In part two of this three-part blog series, I’ll share record-keeping resources (most of which I have designed for my own use), and talk about the importance of keeping track of your work. In part three, I’ll get down to the nitty gritty of unit planning, and share some of my favorite resources. But first, here are some things to consider as you get into the frame of mind of the creative, child-centered home educator.
Take a moment to create your mission statement, asking yourself what your end goals are for education.
My goal has always been clear: raise and educate my kids to be compassionate, creative, insatiably curious, and intelligent individuals who are courageous in the pursuit of their passions and interests, have a healthy sense of self-respect, and are thoughtful in how they interact with the world. In short, I want them to be Awake, and to live their lives to their fullest potential. Everything that follows is in service to pursuing that mission.
Acknowledge the first year as a training period.
Each year you’ll learn something new about your personal style of homeschooling, and the first year will most likely look quite different from your third or fourth. You and your kids will learn so much your first year, so if you struggle a bit with perfectionism, now’s the perfect time to work on letting that go. Creative genius comes from experimentation, and experimentation is rife with many failures. Learn to accept that as part of the process. (In other words, relax!)
Create a verbal or written contract with your kids.
In order for homeschooling to be successful, you and your kids have to let go of the idea that the teacher is in control of the student’s education; in fact, education is a partnership between the student and teacher. Any learning process, whether in a brick and mortar institution, online, or at home, only works if the student is an active participant and is willing to engage with the material. Creating this contract and revisiting it on at least an annual basis can help ensure that your child is fully invested in her education. On your end: commit your time, your expertise, your patience, and your dedication to personalizing your child’s education. On your child’s end: commit to doing his best work (for all projects, not just the ones he likes best), to making active suggestions for improvement vs. passive and unhelpful complaining, to being personally invested in his own education and voicing his opinions as to what he would like to study.
Ask your kids what they would like to study.
My kids and I share control over our studies each year. I require certain subjects like math, science, history, and language, but the kids get a lot of say as well. For example, each year I lay out options for science study: would you like to look at chemistry, astronomy, biology, machines, robotics? and the kids discuss amongst themselves before choosing the topics that excite them most. Some years I don’t even get to lay out those options before they’ve come to me with their specific requests. In addition, each child has his/her own personal passions, which we incorporate in their education. For Ian, it’s music, and we carve out approximately four hours each day for those studies. For Eva, it’s writing, and we incorporate both major and minor writing projects into our year, in addition to studies in script writing, film-making, and story-telling.
Also, don’t forget to take your kids’ personal needs to heart. Asking your super-energetic six year old to sit down and fill out math worksheets is sure to cause a lot of heartache for you both. Instead, consider activities that are going to suit his physical and intellectual needs together, such as throwing huge foam dice across the room and adding up the totals.
Embrace cross-curricular connections, especially when they connect to your child’s interests.
In everything we study, I look for these connections. If you come to our house during “history time,” you’re just as likely to find us studying astronomy or frescos or reading a novel. That’s because we use history as a jumping off point to study science, art, music, literature, and culture, among other topics. When we reached the point in history in which Darwin lived, we took the time to study evolution (it turns out that biology is a natural science pairing to the Victorian history era). We also read and watched some Sherlock Holmes stories and studied Charles Dickens.
In addition, any time I can help my kids explore a topic they love more deeply, I will. For example, last spring, I wanted the kids to write an argumentative essay, but I let them choose their topics. Ian chose to read and write about Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitan, which explores the neurology of the music experience. Eva chose to explore the role of intelligence in the Harry Potter novels, looking particularly at its embodiment in the story’s heroine, Hermione Granger. By letting the kids choose their topics, they 1) were more engaged in the project, 2) increased their expertise in the topics they loved, and 3) still got everything they needed to out their writing exercise – probably even more, as they genuinely cared about fully expressing themselves in their assignments.
Instead of the typical textbooks and worksheets, choose methods and resources that you would choose for yourself.
This is a fairly simple concept. Say you wanted to learn about ancient Chinese history – now, as an adult. Would you go check out a textbook and run off a bunch of worksheets that quiz you on emperors, dates, and agriculture? Or would you find fascinating documentaries, historical novels, interesting non-fiction texts, Chinese recipes, and recordings of the language? I imagine you would choose the later, and so would your kids. A research-based approach definitely takes more time and energy than a textbook/worksheet. But it is so well worth it!
Reassess regularly and ditch things when needed.
Once every semester, and often two or three times, I sit down with my kids and we discuss what’s working and what’s not. If there are particular activities they want more of, we shift things to make them happen. If we all hate a particular project or text, we walk away from it, even if it was expensive. If the schedule needs tweaking, we tweak it, or turn it upside down, whatever we need. I talk more about this here and here.
If you want your children to care about what they’re learning, they need to embrace the learning as a reward in and of itself. If they are working for an “A” in a grade book, then that’s what they will focus on and often remember. But if they are working simply to enjoy the experience of a chemistry lab, a wonderful book, or a fascinating time in history, then the study becomes all. For more thoughts on this, click here.
Ditch grade levels.
In brick and mortar school systems, we assign grade levels to group children together with their age peers. Homeschooling by contrast, allows children to follow their own pace. If your kid is ready for pre-algebra and at the same time struggles with reading, then let him take “sixth-grade” math and read “second-grade” books. When you study science, just study science. Who cares what “grade” it’s in? Find materials that are appropriate to your child’s learning stage, and don’t worry about the rest. For example, this year, Eva will be studying some math typically studied in middle school, but will be reading Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, which is normally not offered until college. What grade is she in? No idea. Sir Ken Robinson talks about this in his famous TED Talk on education. I talk more about this with specific regards to gifted children here.
Consider a hackschooling approach.
“Hackschooling” is a new buzzword floating around and is still developing its definition. I use it here to reflect our commitment to attaining the best education possible without limiting myself to one particular method. This means we may study at home or via Skype with a professor across the country, work with mentors, get private tutelage, take public school classes (our state allows homeschoolers to take individual public school courses), or try out online education. Our year normally incorporates all of these resources. 13-year old Logan LaPlante talks about his hackschooling experience in a delightful TED talk here. You can also pick up a book on it (called Hacking Your Education, it has more of a college-age angle) here.
What do you think? Do you find yourself nodding in agreement with these values? Or do you hold other ideas dear? What comprises your educational mission statement?
This post is a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum August 19th blog hop entitled “Homeschooling: Where and How to Begin.” To see the other posts in the hop, click here or on the image to the left.
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