Friday, January 15, 2010

Things I've Learned in Five Years of Homeschooling

Normally a blog of mine with a title like that would be a humorous one, but not this time. This time I really mean it: things I've actually learned along the way. These are things that, five years ago when we started homeschooling, I had certain opinions on. Over the years, my opinions have either changed drastically, been justified and reaffirmed, or tweaked just a little. Here goes...

Workbooks

My opinion then: Workbooks are an easy way to get things done, and measure progress

My opinion now: Workbooks are, in most cases, the ENEMY! LOL! Sure, they measure progress, if all you want to measure is knowledge along certain prescribed linear lines. But who wants to do just that? Workbooks are a form of false knowledge. You can read all you want about an apple, you can look at a picture of an apple, a diagram of an apple, read people's opinions of an apple, but you don't really KNOW about apples until you've experienced one for yourself. This just doesn't happen in workbooks. The only exception to the no-workbook rule at our house is Math. Math is pretty much a linear subject - or at least a cumulative one - and therefore easiest and best taught with a workbook AND (note the AND!) manipulatives and everyday examples of how to use whatever concepts are currently being taught.


Living Books

My opinion then:
Living books sounds like a good concept, but a little too "unschoool-ish" for me. How can they ever really learn anything just from reading stories?

My opinion now: How can you possibly live without living books? Kids really do learn more that way, and what's more, they remember more! A couple of years ago I listened to LisaWelchel speaking about emotional learning, how the brain's emotional reactions are considerably stronger than it's logical thinking, and thus, things learned in times of great emotion are far more likely to be held on to and remembered. This is what living books do! They pull the child (and parent!) in to the story, they make you feel what it was like to be in a certain place, or time, or in a certain person's life, and thus...you remember!


Grading

My opinion then:
There's really no need to keep "grades" as our state doesn't require it

My opinion now: I am of two minds about this. There is no need for ME to keep grades, because I know how my kids are doing without needing letters written on a paper to tell me. HOWEVER, especially now that my oldest is entering the middle school years, I do see the importance of keeping track of things like grades for her transcript, which she will surely need for college and possibly some job interviews. So, I don't need to grade my kids. They never see grades on their work. I just log it in to my recordkeeping software to be used at a later date (for transcripts) and we go on. If they did poorly, we work together to figure out how to help them do better next time. If they do well, they get a "Good job!" and off we go.

There's been a lot of talk lately in the public education circuits about grading. Some people say grading is bad because it makes children feel bad about themselves if they get bad grades and it's wrong to give grades because it encourages competition among students. Others say that grading is good because it encourages kids to work harder in order to earn those good grades and competition is the only way to get kids to care about schoolwork.

Well, in the homeschooling world, we don't have that problem, really. If a child does poorly on an assignment and they feel bad about it, that's good. You should feel bad about a poorly done job. On the other hand, Mom is right there to work individually with that child to help them do better next time. Kids SHOULD work hard to do well, but NOT just to get good grades. They should work hard because they know that is what is expected of them, because they have pride in a job well done, and because they enjoy the process of learning.


Scheduling

My opinion then:
You have to have a schedule or you'll never get anything done and you'll go crazy trying.

My opinion now: If you try to stick to a strict schedule, you'll never get anything done and you'll go crazy trying! Not only will you go crazy, but you'll get incredibly frustrated and possibly depressed. This is an area where moderation is key. It IS a good idea to say, "We're going to do our best to get these certain subjects done in the morning, and these other ones in the afternoon." Or, to say, "We'll do these subjects on these days, and these other subjects on these other days." It IS NOT a good idea to try to schedule out every minute of the day. (Psst! That's what they do in public schools!) There will be days when you don't start when you planned to start, days when you don't feel good, days when kids don't feel good, days when it's just too nice outside to stay in, days when certain subjects take longer than planned, either because your child is struggling with that subject, or (YAY!) because they are so interested in that subject that they just want to keep on learning about it. When you have little ones at home running about while you're trying to teach the older kids, schedules will definitely go out the window! I've learned that the best schedule is the one you don't have to stick to. Relaxing, really learning about things (no matter how long it takes), not trying to do everything at once, and taking time to truly enjoy being with your kids is the way to go.


Expecting Perfection

My opinion then:
Of course my kids' work has to be perfect, otherwise people will see our homeschooling as a failure

My opinion now: There was only one perfect person ever to walk the earth, and that was Jesus. My kids are not perfect, and neither am I. That's OK, because neither is any other mother or her children, homeschooled or not. Many times my children have fallen below what I would consider perfection on an assignment, and yet many times they have gone above and beyond what I ever dreamed they could do. I have not failed in homeschooling my children if they don't always do things the way other people think they should. I have only failed if I have damaged them so much emotionally and spiritually by criticizing them that they think their only worth lies in performing to other people's expectations. God forbid.


School "Norms"

My opinion then:
We should keep up with what the schools are doing grade-by-grade to make sure my kids always know the exact same stuff their public school peers know.

My opinion now: Why on earth would you ever want to hold yourself - and your children! - back to only what they learn in the public schools. There is no such thing as a "normal" or "right" set of subjects, lessons, or concepts that must be learned at a certain age. Oh, if you're in the public schools there are, because that's what happens when you have to try to teach 25-30 kids at the same time. But we don't have to do that, do we? We get to custom-tailor our kids' education! Things they struggle with, they get more time to learn. Things they excel at, they don't have to suffer through months of drudgery in. Things they're interested in, they get to learn about and explore, even if it's not in the lesson plan! The beauty of homeschool is in the totally "abnormal" way our kids get to learn!


Testing

My opinion then:
Not really sure. Do we need testing to prove to others how our kids are doing? Hmmm...

My opinion now: WE don't need testing for our kids. It isn't required in our state. Nowhere does it say that we have to test our kids for any reason. And government requirements are the only reason I can think of to test your kids. What, exactly, is the purpose of a test? To measure how much the child has learned, right? Here we have again that old problem of only assessing certain prescribed linear knowledge. And the way most people teach in order to make sure their students do well on those tests of very specific information? Teaching to the test, of course!

As homeschoolers, there is no reason to test. We are with our kids all the time. We see each and every assignment they do, we know what they struggle with and what they "get" right away. We already KNOW what they know and what they don't, we don't need some marks on a paper to tell us that. I could tell you right now exactly where each of my kids stand in each of their subjects, not because I have some paper printout of scores and percentages, but because I KNOW my children. I just don't see the point in testing. Unless people do it out of either insecurity, not trusting themselves to be good enough teachers (which is a bad situation to be in) or they do it out of pride, so they can brag to other people about how well their children scored on some test (also a dangerous way to do things).


Socialization

My opinion then:
Socialization is not that big a deal.

My opinion now: Socialization IS a big deal....BUT....not in the way most people think it is.

Encyclopedia Britannica has a interesting definition of 'socialization':

the process whereby an individual learns to adjust to a group (or society) and behave in a manner approved by the group (or society). According to most social scientists, socialization essentially represents the whole process of learning throughout the life course and is a central influence on the behaviour, beliefs, and actions of adults as well as of children.

To behave in a manner approved by the group or society, huh? So when children are 'socialized' in a public school, they are taught to ADJUST (the fact that they have to adjust their natural beliefs and actions is a red flag in itself) to the approved group mannerisms. Who is the group? Other children. Do you really think it is a good idea to let a child have his manners, behavior, beliefs and actions taught and molded by a group of other seven-year-olds? Hmmm. Not me!

Even more interesting, perhaps, is the definition given to 'socialize' by the American Heritage Dictionary:

To place under government or group ownership or control.

Do you want YOUR children placed under group ownership or control? I certainly don't!

What non-homeschoolers mean when they say 'socialization' is very different from whathomeschoolers mean when they say it. What we (homeschoolers) mean by socialization is getting out into the world, meeting and learning about people of all different ages, ethnicities, incomes, occupations, beliefs, interests, talents, etc. In other words, education, civilization, manners, etiquette, conversation skills, and respect for others all rolled into one. It doesn't matter if a child is socialized with a same-age peer, a younger child, an older child, a teen, an adult, a senior citizen. That is the real world, people of different ages from different backgrounds. Being around these people truly teaches a child to live in the real world, not sitting in a classroom with 20 other kids the same age for 6 hours a day!


Gender Stereotypes

My opinion then:
All that 'boys learn differently than girls' stuff is garbage.

My opinion now: Boys and girls really DO learn differently! I watched in stunned amazement as my first little boy (after two girls) proved to me, without a doubt, that boys do things differently than girls. Where the girls were speaking in several-words-long sentences by 18 months, my son said things like, "Pick up," "Want bite," and other 2-3 word sentences. I was distraught! Why wasn't he talking like he was supposed to? (Answer: he WAS talking like he was supposed to, which was not the same as how his sisters talked!) Where the girls could spell and write their own names as well as maybe a dozen other words by their second birthdays, my son didn't manage this til closer to his third birthday. Oh, the tragedy! (NOT) But then...oh, then....when, at four years old, my son had the hand-eye coordination to put any athlete (or video gamer) to shame, when, also at four years old, he was calling out the answers to his older sisters' math problems (without having ever been "taught" math), oh, then I began to see! The girls, true to female form, mastered all things linguistic early on. My son, true to male form, learned all things mathematical and spatial early on. The girls were always perfectly content to curl up and read books or just talk. My son, on the other hand, needed to be in near-constant motion. But he LEARNED that way. Ah, so it's true then, after all. Boys and girls really DO learn differently!


Rote Memorization

My opinion then:
All rote memorization is bad, bad, bad!

My opinion now: MOST rote memorization is bad, but some is good. Case in point? Multiplication tables. Yes, first the child needs to learn and understand the concept of multiplication, and how exactly it is that 3 X 5 = 15. But then she also needs to memorize the multiplication tables. Oh, sure, she can still do the work without having memorized the facts, but it will take considerably longer. Once she knows HOW to multiply, its perfectly fine (and saves much time and trouble in the long run) to go ahead and memorize the multiplication facts. Sometimes - very rarely, but still, sometimes - it is OK to learn things by rote memorization. But just sometimes!


Phonics vs. Whole Word

My opinion then:
Had no idea what to think. My mother had always talked about how horrible Phonics learning was and yet Whole Word seemed equally bad.

My opinion now: You really need a little of both to teach a child to read. It's much like the rote memorization problem, actually. Kids need to learn phonics. They need to learn the sounds specific to each letter or blend of letters if they're ever to be good readers. On the other hand, as they progress in reading ability, they will begin to read with Whole Word approach. There are words that they will recognize by sight long before they have memorized all the rules of phonics...they can't help it, if they see a word enough times, they will know what it says even if they don't know all the phonetic sounds of each individual letter or blend. Phonics are the building blocks of learning to read, Whole Word is the AP class. You can't read without knowing both. I managed to teach three kids (so far!) using that philosophy. Both the girls were reading entire books on their own by their 5th birthday, and my son could do it by the time he was 5 1/2. Now they are all 2 years (my son) to 4 years (the girls) above grade in reading ability. So I guess what I did worked!


Peer Pressure/Peer Dependency

My opinion then:
I knew peer pressure could be bad, and had never even heard of 'peer dependency'.

My opinion now: Peer pressure can be both good and bad, depending on WHO the peers are and WHAT they are pressuring you to do. But I have learned that the far more serious problem, a HUGE problem with publicly schooled children and a virtually non-existent problem forhomeschooled children is peer dependency. Peer dependency basically means that a child becomes so...well, "socialized" (the bad kind) that he is incapable of making decisions based solely on his own beliefs, values, thoughts, ideas, opinions, intuitions, misgivings, leanings, etc. Peer dependency means a child depends on the group ideas in order to make decisions concerning his own life. How a child dresses, how they talk, what they watch, what music they like, what they think and feel about anything and everything, becomes dependent on how the people around that child think of those things. You cannot PRESSURE a peer unless that peer has become DEPENDENT. A child who is NOT peer dependent will have no trouble saying, "I disagree with that." A child who IS peer dependent (most publicly schooled children) will agree with the common beliefs or values without ever thinking an individual thought, or, if they DO manage to think to themselves, "Hey, that's not right," they are often too afraid to speak up, to go "against the flow." This is a huge problem and is manifesting itself now more than ever in our nation, as evidenced strongly by the latest election.

Sheeple, anyone?


Rewards/Punishments

My opinion then:
Rewards and punishments should fit the situation and be realistic.

My opinion now: Hasn't changed, and has only become stronger. I abhor the concept of rewarding children for something they should have done anyway. My kids don't go to school, but even at church I see it all the time: they get rewards for showing up, for bringing their Bible, for knowing a verse in Sunday School. They get to "buy" toys with some sort of point system for showing up at VBS. WHY? These children SHOULD be going to church, they SHOULD be bringing their Bibles, they SHOULD be learning their verses. Their reward SHOULD be new knowledge and the feeling of a job well done, not candy and cheap toys. Are their bosses going to reward them for showing up at work or for having their job done right? NO. These children will grow up thinking that every time they do anything they are supposed to be rewarded for it. Something for nothing, or at least rewards for things which should be a reward unto themselves. This, again, has influenced the very culture of America. We have become an entire country who thinks they deserve something for nothing. It's disturbing, to say the least.

At the same time, punishments should be realistic. Throw a toy? Lose the toy. Mean to your friends? No friends over for a week. Don't clean your room? Clean your room AND the bathroom and no friends over til it's done. Gripe about dinner? Don't eat. It's really not that hard.

****************************************************************

So, five years (nearly six now!) of homeschooling under my belt. If the child we are currently trying to conceive is our last, that means I have 19 more years of homeschooling to go! And if we have even more kids after this one, well, you know what that means. All in all, I will have been homeschooling my kids for a total of 24 straight years - MINIMUM - before I'm finished.

I wonder what I'll learn in the next five years?

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