Posts Tagged ‘learning’


It’s amazing how much of the school curriculum can be covered in the space of a few hours. Some days they’re in the mood for some sit-down work, and boy oh boy do they get stuff done. On this day Jay spent the morning powering through a math workbook that she unearthed and covered at least several weeks worth of material in one go. I have to admit that it did my anxious little heart good to see them hunched over their pen and paper work, because (as any reader of this blog knows) I’m in a constant struggle to unlearn what and how I thought kids needed to be taught. Even though I am witness to and comment on the benefits of allowing learning to unfold organically, a part of my brain harbors an insistent little voice that tells me I’m being irresponsible if I don’t force the kids to produce written material at least once in a while. I wonder if it will always be a struggle.

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Kids and Jobs

00001Today J came up to me and said “I wish I had a real job at a real store.” I suggested she help out at our local consignment store, and she smiled with a hopeful little grin, not quite believing it would be possible. She rummaged around in the toy pile downstairs, and came back up with the plastic cash register, and then set herself up at the kitchen table. She arranged various toys and books in front of her, filled the drawers with loose change, and asked me to be her customer. I selected items, she told me the price, and after some intense mental math, came up with the correct change for my imaginary dollars bills. After a few minutes of this I said I had other things to do, so she asked me to write prices on index cards so that she could pretend they were her customers. She went on to work out the change and write it on the back of the cards.

So here’s this kid, voluntarily doing subtraction problems. Begging, in fact, to do them.

I reflected on this in particular today because I had just read a post at 280 Main Street (and laughed at a very cute picture of two small boys wielding vacuum cleaners) about kids liking “real jobs” and “real tools”.

I’ve found time and time again that this is true. This is why homeschooling works so well. Kids see adults in the real world, and model after them. They see measurements for surface area done prior to carpet purchasing, and understand that math is a useful tool. They want to do some “real” thing, and have to figure out how it’s done. Learning isn’t artificially compartmentalized. It’s a natural extension of real-life experiences, and it’s amazing to me, still, after all these years, at how, if you simply expose kids to enough, read to them enough, their curiosity and drive for mastery leads them to learn the things they’ll need to know.

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The clay city is still going strong.

Tee usually starts projects and abandons them, so his continued interest in doing this is a bit of a change. He’s added “land” for friends that come over to play, and is now busy with making maps that delineate borders. He found it quite challenging to recreate the contours of the “land formations” onto a flat piece of paper, and was quite concerned about making it as accurate as possible. This led to a discussion of scale drawings, and in the process of trying to cut papers to represent the comparative size of each of the separate land areas, he asked me to show him two digit multiplication and long division, neither of which he had ever cared to learn before. We also talked about ratios, percents and equivalent fractions, all in the space of an hour.

Oh! I get it! he said in some surprise. You learn math stuff so that you can use that stuff to figure stuff out! Kinda like using a hammer to build something. It’s a tool!

So he can go for weeks, even months, without doing a titch of workbook math, and then learn 5 different math concepts in a morning, in a meaningful context, when he’s ready to learn it.

It’s a concept that I’m continually learning. It really is hard to un-learn some of the more unhelpful things I was steeped in as a more traditionally schooled individual. I find it very difficult to trust that the kids WILL learn, even if it’s not planned and structured and linear and thought out by me.

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DSCN1234Why does homeschooling appeal to me so much?

I asked myself this question in my pit of despair last week, when I was racking my brain trying to figure out why I even bother with it when I could just send them all to school, dust my hands together, and go get a job.

Here it is: the most basic explanation. I like to learn. I love to learn. I really and truly enjoy learning alongside my kids, learning about how they learn, learning things I didn’t know, re-learning things I did know, and using all of the creative energy in my body to come up with new approaches, new ideas, and new opportunities. Matching activities to each kid, finding ways to potentiate their learning, using all sorts of resources, going on field trips, taking classes in the community, seeking out mentors, doing whatever I can think of to facilitate the learning for each one. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of empathy, and it’s a constant challenge. Which makes it hard, but also tremendously rewarding.

It’s not homeschooling that I like so much. It’s being able to provide an individualized learning environment for my children. Note that I did not say an isolated learning environment, as a lot of people still seem to think that homeschooled kids are all cloistered in their houses all day, but an environment in which each person has the freedom to learn in the way that suits them best, using whatever resources I can muster up. They don’t have to learn by the rules, because we get to decide what the rules are.

So, if going to public school meets their needs, like it does with L this year, we use that resource. If they’re 6 years old and want to spend their day immersed in novels and working through grade 4 math text books, they can do that. If it’s all about building things and making up detailed imaginary worlds and getting plasticine under fingernails, we have a space for that. Spanish? Sure. Guitar? Let’s see if someone in the neighborhood can teach you. No, I don’t know how to knit, but Mona knows how. You hate writing? Really? Okay, leave it for a bit. Maybe next year. Chemistry lab? Hmmm. That’s a bit tricky. You’re only 9. Let’s see if you can take a class at the highschool. You love sharks right now? Hey, let’s go see that Sharks 3-D at Imax next week. No, I didn’t know that more people are killed each year by bee stings than shark bites……..

I love my kids, I love helping them learn, it’s a natural fit. In part, I’m writing this post to help me figure out my own head, and in part so that I can have something to refer to when it all seems a little crazy around here. It’ll be helpful to have an answer to give myself the next time I start second guessing.

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DSCN0998My daughter has been politely asking me every day for weeks now to teach her how to play the harmonica. Or to find someone to teach her. Or to take her to the library so that she can find a book for beginning harmonica players.

I’ve been too busy angsting over whether they’re learning enough in “school” to help her with this. The irony slapped me in the face when I came across her sitting in front of the computer, trying to copy a harmonica player on YouTube.

What does this say about me, the devoted homeschool mother, the vocal proponent of Letting Children Follow Their Interests, the oh no, I don’t think of myself as their teacher, I’m the Facilitator of Opportunities person? Too worried about unfinished math workbooks to notice someone begging to be taught.

Then there’s the other question. How does my 6-year old know about YouTube?

And why didn’t someone bother to comb her hair?

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I Went To School Today

david albertI’m full of thoughts that aren’t quite ready to come out in coherent form. My brain feels like it’s vibrating.

I just spent the last 6 hours at a homeschool conference led by David Albert, and the topics were “The Curriculum of Beauty” and the “Dismantling of the Inner School”. Bottom line is that I feel bolstered in my quest to create a rich, stimulating environment in which my kids can learn how to use their strengths to participate meaningfully in the adult world.

I think I’m beginning, after 6 years, to be getting closer to being able to articulate, even to myself, why I feel so strongly about homeschooling.

More on this to come…

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