Friday, January 6, 2017

Harmonious homeschool?

When homeschooling first crossed my mind, I dismissed it confidently. With faith, kindness, hygiene, and general survival lessons to constantly teach, adding academics seemed likely to overwhelm the parent-child relationship. I feared that the parent-child bond would drown in dramatic battles or quietly mounting resentment. How would there be breathing space for happy times together in such a mountain of moral, behavioral and academic requirements?!

Despite these concerns, I started down the homeschool road when our oldest was in kindergarten. He already knows the K-level material, I told myself, so just for this one year it won’t be such an oppressive burden. That year, we fell in love with homeschooling for a host of reasons and are now in our third year, but as I’ve sorted through options and ideas it’s always been with an eye to minimize the strain on our relationship. To my surprise, I’ve found that minimizing academic power struggles has guided us to a culture of learning that builds harmony, not friction.

Our homeschool is built around discovering new topics together rather than lecturing and drilling for enrichment subjects like science, history, art, music. For the core subjects of math, reading, and writing, which aren’t conducive to a team discovery format, I arrange our studies to allow the kids to independently accomplish their own work. Team discovery enriches our family relationships and individual “seatwork” strengthens our kids’ self-motivation. Both present learning as an ongoing journey toward mastery of a subject.

So often childhood is marked by a one-way torrent of instruction from adults, but homeschooling allows for a more collaborative learning environment, with parents and kids learning side-by-side. As we learn about topics as a family, we are put on a more equal footing. Often it is a child who notices a new bird and points it out, who asks a brilliant geology question that stumps us all, or who pushes to keep reading about the human body. It creates a joyful open space to value one another and share our thoughts on a fulfilling journey toward better understanding of a topic. Learning together also leads to an increased likelihood for one of us to point out connections to things we’ve learned, thereby cementing our understanding with an experiential context.

For their “seatwork” which focuses on math, reading and writing, I aim to arrange their work so it can be done mostly autonomously. I set it out the night before with post-it notes on each book so that they can move through it without my direction. For us, it helps if they start as soon as they wake up before they get distracted by other activities. Most of the assignments in their stack of seatwork are very familiar. We’ve used the same math curriculum all the way through, a similar journal format, the same phonics series, etc. Usually just one post-it note in the stack of seven or so assignments instructs the child to ask for my help – for a new math lesson overview, or to explain a grammar rule they’ve been missing. But I try to minimize the amount of time these lessons take and keep my explanations brief. I want them to know that this is their work, their responsibility, and give space for them to take ownership.

The intensive “seatwork” time is followed by playtime, and then the rest of the day provides opportunities for other studies. It’s been exciting to grow in learning together as a team, not only do I see the kids delighting to tackle big topics, my own love for learning has grown dramatically. It’s also been rewarding to see Luke and Eleanor individually take ownership for their schooling and settle into habits to get their work done. The draconian schoolteacher that alienated me from the idea of homeschooling does make appearances, but more often I feel like I’m a facilitator and a co-learner alongside my kiddos. It’s things like table manners and not bothering your sibling that are still a daily strain, but homeschooling is usually a sweet opportunity to work together and cheer them on!

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