Friday, April 9, 2010

A Blast from the Past...

It's confession time.

I've already confessed to allowing my children to be woefully ignorant of spelling tests, and to not gluing their behinds to their chairs while they fill in the Thousand Multiplication Problems of Doom. I've admitted to letting them build Lego castles when they 'should' be staring balefully at my face while I drone on endlessly (I'm good at that!) I also freely own up to the fact that I have no respect for 'grade levels' of any books, including textbooks....and educational "experts of the month" don't rate much better.

Time for more admissions of guilt:

We've had lessons in bathroom cleaning....with certificates given to the graduates.
I let my thirteen-year-old sleep in until ten (or later!) so that I can have some uninterrupted time teaching the two younger ones. Granted, we don't get up until 8:30, and our lessons don't start until 10 or so, but maybe that's a different confession.
We do Chemistry experiments that involve flame and small explosions. This is not approved by the Great Nannies that be.
We don't issue grades. Who would we being comparing the kids to, and why?
When someone runs into something they can't quite understand, we don't drone on and on, call for experts or medication, or label the kid a failure. We put it away for a few weeks or months, then go back. Usually the difficulty will have resolved itself in the child's brain on its own.
I have let my thirteen-year-old out of 'schoolwork' so that he can fix the computer.
We've played games all day and called it school
We've cooked all day and called it school.

Vacations are counted as's living geography, right? And the kids do a lot of reading and puzzles.
We use Dell puzzle books for math sometimes.
We've had school while one child was dressed as Laura Ingalls, one was a princess, and one was a policeman. And it was nowhere near Halloween.
I firmly believe that reading Scientific American or Seed or Ranger Rick magazine is as good or better than reading a science textbook.
When they were in that stage, I've let a child do fifteen or twenty mazes or eight or ten crosswords at a time. (I also let a little one eat pickle after pickle- along with her usual food- for a few days...until she gave it up on her own. She was fine, but she smelled like garlic for a week!)
Reading class is often done in bed.

But my biggest confession is that I don't really teach high-school-aged kids much at all. I enable them to teach themselves.

Actually, this transfer of educational power begins when the little one can read. Reading is the ultimate power-grab: it introduces the child to a whole world of knowledge that Mommy and Daddy don't mediate. Of course we help our children choose books, but in the end, the book has power in a child's mind that we can't entirely foresee.

I also keep lessons short and to the point during the preteen years. This gives the children time to develop their own interests and talents, which, in our family, has meant that every one of them who has reached age ten or twelve has several things he or she can do better than my husband or I.

By the time they're in their early teens, the transition to self-education is well along. I give them ideas and make occasional assignments. We discuss their choices of subjects to explore, and I help them keep it all balanced. As they head on to the middle teens, we discuss what they'll need for whatever college or career plans they have and try to match the course of study with their choices, keeping in mind that they need to be educated people first, good ACT testers somewhere down the line.

This has (so far) produced three teens who made the transition to college easily, since they were used to studying and finding information on their own. They also have had the motivation needed to keep gong even when it got tough. The lack of reliance on traditional texts and parroting techniques has also made them less likely to simply accept what they're taught because they've seen how differently two sources can portray the same 'facts', and more likely to question their teachers. The two who are now adults are motivated people who keep expanding their educational horizons because they enjoy it.

Ultimately, that is our greatest educational goal: to teach people how to teach themselves.

That, and teaching them to clean bathrooms!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the confessions! I found your post quite reassuring as my older creeps closer to official high school age. I watch him learn best when doing somewhat scary science experiments with friends, looking for information about chemisty/meteorology/geography/whatever that HE wants to know, and just dinking around on his own. My younger lives to re-enact events in history, build from sculpy all the ships and planes from Pearl Harbor, and perfect scrambled eggs. I haven't added bathroom cleaning, but that's certainly a more worthy pursuit than spelling lessons (at least in the age of word processing).

They may make it to college yet. Great job!

Unknown said...

Thanks very much! It is a real adventure to watch the kids discover their own paths. Your kids will do very well, since they obviously know how to learn!

I just started exploring your blog, but I love it!

Libby said...

Thanks so much for the nice blog, especially the shout-out about Ranger Rick. We appreciate it!

It sounds as though you're a great teacher and great Mom!

With warmest wishes,
Libby Schleichert, Sr. Editor
Ranger Rick Magazine
National Wildlife Federation
Reston, Virginia

Anonymous said...

Teaching bathroom cleaning skills for homeschool?? CHECK!!! Great post!!