Sunday, May 25, 2008


When I was a child, I thought that the I would have a much better education if they'd only drop me off at the library for a few hours a day. Looking back, I realize that this was true. The 'one size fits all' approach didn't work very well in my case, or in the cases of most children who didn't fit the statistical norms. With the current emphasis on meeting testing goals rather than becoming educated, it's even more true now.

With homeschooling, we can have the free education that we wish for our kids... except that, having been brought up in a 'teaching' culture, we may be a bit afraid to sit back and let the kids teach themselves entirely. This feeling of uncertainty can be justified. Many kids are less interested in learning than we'd wish, and some simply like to see what they can get away with. (I once found out that my fourteen-year-old son was sleeping later and later on school days so that he could amaze his friend with how late he was permitted to sleep in! That ended that little experiment!!)

In some countries and states, parents must show evidence of some form of more traditional education taking place, and they may even have to make the children take exams. What if the kids' interests don't coincide with the exam schedule, or they produce no paper trails to satisfy the Powers That Be?
After wrestling with dilemma over many children, I finally decided that we could make our own compromise between traditional 'school' and unschooling...semi-unschooling, if you will.

On most days, we have a short 'classroom' time for the under twelves. This focuses on things that the kids might not study on their own, at least not until they need them for college entrance exams. We do a bit of math, including logic and puzzle-type activities and basic operations learning games. Sometimes this part is done on the computer. We keep it short, though, unless someone gets excited and carries on on their own. We do a bit of writing, and most of the time the kids pick their topics and write as they wish. Sometimes I make suggestions, or we have a group subject and share our results. For some kids, doing writing on the computer makes it much more tolerable.

We never do 'assigned' reading, since the kids always have their own books going. We just keep a list of who's reading what. I usually read aloud to the kids at bedtime, if possible. This has the added benefit of making our official school day 14 hours long....which is good, since our state counts by hours!!

After that, we have a bit about some aspect of science , history, geography, etc. These can feature
  • me reading while the kids draw, color, or do Legos
  • a website
  • making an individual or group project, like a timeline or a tipi out of cornstalks
  • a DVD on the subject
This all lasts about an hour, which is what a principal that I knew once told me that most schoolkids get of actual instructional time per day. After that, it's individual project time, playtime, worktime, etc. I have blocked most of the nonsense channels on the TV, and there are many hours that are blocked entirely, so that medium can only be used with permission. We have all kinds of projects kits and books around, and the free explorations can get quite wild.

My kids have taught themselves things that I would never have been able to begin to try: Japanese, Swahili, Linux programming, building computers, soccer refereeing...They've also learned many practical skills, like laundry, appliance and computer repair and maintenance, animal care, and gardening.

In the teens, education becomes a lot more intense, and in some cases I intervene a bit more than I would have a few years ago. Kids can often get quite lazy during the early teens, since they are growing so fast and rewiring their brains, and they sometimes must be gently assisted in not allowing themselves to turn into slugs. With my current young teen, we read books together and I ask him to do Internet research on various subjects. He also does Algebra, which he loves to loathe but which he is secretly rather fond of.
Older teens are usually ready for apprenticeship and/or college in at least a few subjects, whichever is their chosen path. They could also design self-study courses that could lead to tests for college credit, like computer certification, CLEP or AP exams. Some may even begin to start their own businesses.

Exactly how the school/self-study program works for every child and every homeschooling family will vary from day to day, and that's as it should be. At the beginning of each year, I lay out plans for what I hope to accomplish, and though I never seem to get through the list, I do seem to acquire quite a list of things that we've learned. In the end, I think that I learn much more than the kids do. Or maybe I'm just familiar enough with pedagogical jargon to realize that the fun we had could be counted as 'school'!
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