Our Bare (Educational) Bones

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A lot of people ask me what curricula I use  in our homeschool.  With so many educational philosophies, co-ops, and methods out there many would-be home educators feel overwhelmed when trying to decide on what they should emphasize with their own kids.  I get it.  It’s taken me a long time to come to what I feel are the right educational priorities for our family.  And the truth is, our path has as much to do with my strengths and preferences (since I’m steering this ship) as it does with our kids’ individual proclivities.

The thing that scares people about home education is the same thing that makes it so great:  It’s the wild, wild West of learning.  There are no one-size-fits-all rules or methods that are guaranteed to help you crank out superstar kids, or your money back.  Home education happens, well, in the home.  I suspect your home is somewhat different from your neighbor’s in terms of decor, food offerings, movies watched, tears cried, arguments had, memories made.  It only makes sense that each homeschooler’s way of educating is as unique as the home they’ve created and the children they’re rearing.

Still, none of the above answers the question my friends ask me:  But what do you do in your homeschool?  I usually resist going into specifics because I’m afraid that offering up details sounds like a prescription for Doing It Right.  I have no desire to do that as I don’t believe there’s just one way to stoke a love of learning in children.  I am a big believer in sticking to, and emphasizing, what I define as the basics, however.  What follows is a little outline of what we’ve judged to be non-negotiables in our homeschool.

Reading:  We read every day.  I read aloud to the kids from the Bible and I read from a poetry book I really like.  We have discussions that range from the banal to the sublime.  I have middle school boys, I remind you.  Sometimes I have to cut the discussions short as they skid into the embankments of the ridiculous.

My kids are always working on a book of their choice as well.  I assign reading occasionally and they are faithful to read the books I press on them.  However, if I sense a real reluctance about a book from any one of them I usually end up reading it to them instead.  This is because I do not want reading to be compulsory and therefore odious.  (This is a huge thing for me).

Writing:  The kids have notebooks that they fill with everything from doodling and idea snippets to poems and short narratives.  I don’t force them to write in these journals but I do tell them to leave off describing things to me and to “share it with your notebook” from time-to-time.  They each have blogs to which they are semi-faithful to post.  Their posts are, you know, kind-of meh.  But I don’t care.  They’re kids.  Now, in case you think I’m a pretty hands-free mom, I hasten to add that I do utilize a formal writing program that I love.  We go to a little class with other writers, in fact.  This program teaches grammar as well as the elements and style of writing.  This is a non-negotiable in our house.  The backbone of our bare bones, you might say.

Math:  We love this program.  We use it every day.  My motto with math is, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

And that’s it, folks.  Those are our main things.  We play music, do Latin worksheets, take jujitsu, wade in the creek, think thoughts, read science books, listen to audiobooks, work on our history timeline, go to the library, work on our table manners, feed the pets, do chores, go to church, make friends, travel, dream and pray.  But I don’t count these things as school, really.  They’re just life.

What things do you emphasize in your homeschool, if you have one?  On what would you like to focus more?

 

This One Book

Summer is just around the corner (notice how I keep saying that?  Somebody’s, uh, ready).  If you’ve been thinking “educational thoughts” lately or have had questions about schooling options for your kids, summer is a good time to read relevant books, ask questions, do a little research, etc.  If your mind is made up about the fall and you’re comfortable with the path your kids are on, cheers!  That is a good place to be.  But, let’s say you’re not quite at ease with the way things are going at your kids’ brick-and-mortar school and you’ve creaked the door of your mind open to the possibility of teaching your kids at home.  In that case, I have a book recommendation for you.  I tell everyone who’s in your shoes to read it.  In fact, I read it myself when I need to be reminded of why I landed on this side of the educational fence.  There are other important books you might read on this topic, of course, along with poorly written and weakly argued ones.  There are Christian worldview books about home education (a worldview I share), secular tomes, how-to’s, manifestos…All of them have their place, I’m sure.  But this book is the one to start with, in my humble opinion.  It’s the first step down the rabbit hole of Doing Things Differently.  You could even read it with sand between your toes, if you’re lucky enough to have sand between your toes this summer.  In any case, if you’re asking questions about why the trend of teaching children at home is exploding across the nation and abroad this book will shed some light on the subject.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll discover that homeschooling is right for your family, too.

Vitamin B For the Flabby (Homeschooling) Soul

I don’t know if anyone else needs the encouragement to keep going with school-at-home now that the weather has decided to stop being foolish.  But I, for one, feel like I’m on the last lap at a track meet.  I always need to be reminded why I’ve chosen this life right about now.  So, without further ado, some quotable quotes from smart people about why freedom, flexibility, and focused time are some the best educational gifts we can give our kids–that, in the end, they help to foster real learning, not regurgitation.  (Plus, it’s almost pool weather).

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”
Plato

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
Charlotte M. Mason

“Thank goodness my education was neglected.”
Beatrix Potter

“It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry.”
Albert Einstein

“The home is the chief school of human virtues.”
William Ellery Channing

“It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about what many people call ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing.”
John Holt

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.”
James Beattie

“We want our children to become who they are— and a developed person is, above all, free. But freedom as we define it doesn’t mean doing what you want. Freedom means the ability to make choices that are good for you. It is the power to choose to become what you are capable of becoming, to develop your unique potential by making choices that turn possibility into reality. It is the ability to make choices that actualize you. As often as not, maybe more often than not, this kind of freedom means doing what you do not want, doing what is uncomfortable or tiring or boring or annoying.”
Gregory Millman, Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey

“The home is the first and most effective place to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self control, the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
David O. McKay

Keep going, fellow Mom-Teachers!  Summer is coming.  What you’re doing is worth it!