Last year I finished my home schooling journey, having my last child graduate. I home educated my four, right through, beginning to end. Formal curriculum was dropped early on and I went with a classic, discussion-based (Socratic), interest driven, model. How about I share some thoughts, after 22 years of letting the winds of learning blow us in many directions, well outside the norms?
I like to think about what is natural to the human person. When did we get the idea to educate by batches according to a date of manufacture? -All ten yr. olds together, learning formatted material, covering subject matter, regardless of interest or use? The classroom model comes with the need for “management”, and management needs “sameness” in order to maintain order. It makes sense when you have 25 + students you are preparing systematically in an age of productivity, top-down industrialization, and work-market results. But learning at home allows for far less “management”, and far greater emphasis on curiosity, wonder, interests, passions, why and how come?, individual talents and gifts, and most importantly calling and personal mission
What is natural then to the learner, to your child, and what does that look like in day to day formation and growth?
We are born curious. What keeps curiosity alive? Keen interest. And what is interesting to us? That which gives purpose, pleasure, growth, motivates us to learn more, has us talking about it, wanting more, and spurs us down more trails of study and exploration. When I see someone tuning out, having difficulty concentrating, looking at the clock, procrastinating, wasting time, or showing behaviour issues, I see it as a time to inject meaning into the activity and stimulate curiosity.
A primary way of doing this is using high interest materials or creating a rich environment. A sure way to get someone engaged and thinking is by asking intriguing questions. Remember, I’m talking from experience. 🙂
This post isn’t intended to be a brag scene, but the results have been super!
Let me start by first sharing that not all my teaching was curriculum free. I have used materials, worksheets, text books, and pre-formatted – especially with Math. There is a sequence to learning Mathematics and skill builds on skill. That said, I readily skipped large portions of a text/workbook if my child(ren) mastered a skill or lacked readiness. Sometimes I changed the order of learning and did not go according to the program as presented in chapter by chapter. There were times where I needed to find greater meaning (or my child did) as to why we needed to learn certain math skills (as in upper Algebra). I waited until it had relevance. I also probably gained a certain security in using a variety of Math curriculums, as I considered it my own weakest subject.
Regarding Math, all my children did better than I ever did because of good logic skills, an ability to reason well, and the freedom found in being an “explorer” They were able to enjoy math with fewer hang-ups. -Understanding and finding purpose, over performance and memorization. I appreciated my husband over the years as he seemed to connect better on a math level than I ever did.
OK, now that math is aside, how about some samples of learning without walls, and certainly without pre-packaged and subject segregated, materials.
I’ll share with you my top ten ways of freedom-learning in three blog posts. So here are my first three means of learning without packaged curriculi:
- Read the classics aloud and discuss what you read. Do this for an hour each day. This will build vocabulary, give the pace and beauty of language, create good brain attention span, stimulate imagination, and bring the family together in a most beautiful way. Another bonus from read-alouds, is the benefit of having had a common experience that can be drawn upon in conversation and expression.
If we read Jack and the Beanstalk together and explore the question – Was it right for Jack to kill the Giant? Is the Giant human? Does it make a difference if he is human or not when it comes to killing him? You can see I’m working on critical thinking skills, the formation of the mind, and growing my children in philosophical/ethical/and moral thought. Even when they are little, they have the ability to think beyond comprehension questions.
During each reading time, we look at faith implications and how our Christian beliefs speak to issues, ideas, and questions. This is opportunity to make Faith come alive in meaningful discourse and deeper thinking.
When words come up that are new, difficult, or confusing, this is a great time to seek out proper meanings. Sometimes, once we discovered a new word together, I would have the children act it out. “Show me what a perplexed face might look like.”
In discussion, when a child shared a gem of a thought, I would have them write it down later. “The giant shows thinking and feeling qualities. This means he isn’t like an dumb animal. He is aggressive and dangerous, and wants to eat Jack. I think Jack is allowed to defend himself and protect those below. In this case, even though the giant is human-like, I think it is OK for Jack to chop down the beanstalk and save himself and others.”
Now the written form might have spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or lack logical flow. I might spot missed words or needed handwriting correction. Better for us to use something straight from the child, meaningful to them, and something of which I’ve given specific praise. Using their own thoughts in expressive writing is far more motivating than something out of a workbook. Why write about pandas when you’ve got something to say yourself?
I accomplish many goals in reading and discussion. – Listening skills, expressive verbal skills, spurring on thinking, patience and letting others complete their thought without interruption, good conversation manners, coming to deeper relationship with family, writing something from what is spoken, honing writing skills,….it goes on. I truly could write a book on the benefits of Socratic Dialogue. It is a means for finding that which is good, true, and beautiful. It works for all ages. Sometime I’ll write about how to effectively give all ages opportunity to share in a discussion.
2. Create a rich environment. Plant those positive learning traps. 🙂 -A pile of seashells left in the middle of the kitchen table (what is this about?). – A stack of books from the library on different fish. – A Zoomy (https://www.learningresources.com/product/zoomy–8482-+handheld+digital+microscope.do), a hand held microscope that displays on your computer screen. – An owl pellet ready for investigation. – A recipe challenge. – A virtual trip to the Louvre.
The possibilities are endless. These are the ways passions and interests are developed. A child can become an expert when the learning fever is caught. What started as a seed of learning, such as a poster book on World War II, becomes months or years of investigation and learning. There is potential to leave you in the dust as they embrace the time, leisure, and opportunity to learn intensively with your help and guidance. This happened in our home with opera. I introduced the kids to The Magic Flute and one daughter ended up becoming an opera nut, and over time teaches us all much more than I had in my own small experience of this art form.
Good learning leads to better learning. Having the freedom to explore with fewer time boundaries allows a child to develop organizational , comparison, evaluation, cooperative, analytical, and investigative skills. The only thing that can get in the way of imaginative and curiosity-driven motivation and initiative is wasteful hours of screen time. It is the truth. If you want to kill a child’s drive to learn, let him fill his hours with T.V. , videos, and gaming.
Be the guide and provider of interesting resources and ideas, and then help the younger child work with those tools. As the child matures, get out the way as much as possible, and let them be project/topic oriented and self-directed. Amazing stuff happens!
3. Expose your children to culture, the arts, and the best of Western Civilization. I suppose this links strongly to my previous tip, but it deserves singular highlighting. Reach back in time and give to your children the best of the past. We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants. Let them hear the music of the past, view the art of the great masters, experience the writers of masterpieces, and understand roots and where we come from. Our Faith has a story, a history, a witness of the trials and victories of mankind. Look at architecture, hymns, mosaics, sculpture, poetry, plays, …. so much to dive into! Why bother with twaddle? Why waste time on Captain Underpants, Angry Birds, or impoverished nonsense that will not stand the test of time? Experience the originals. It is so interesting and marvellous. Build, bit by bit, an enormous reservoir of the best of the best.
We are quickly becoming a society of dullness, the mundane, and shallow entertainment. There is great excitement in becoming generalists – a wide knowledge of many things and topics, makes for people of real zest and abilities.
I’m going to leave it here for now. Just writing this has taken me down memory lane, where our family experienced such lovely learning times. I don’t regret for a moment spending our home education days in freedom. Our learning will never go obsolete. I’ll have to share the results of where my big kids (now all adults) ended up (so far) without any official paper trail coming out of high school. That is another blog post!
If you would like to host a talk on this subject, email me at email@example.com
God bless you!
Attaching Hearts to Home,