Homeschooling in Real Life
So what does homeschooling look like in real life? I don't know what it looks like for everyone, because the cool thing is that it looks a little different for everyone. There is so much information out there with regards to philosophies, curriculum, the daily grind, and outside activities. I am here to break it all down and then give you a glimpse into what the bottom line is for us.
1. Philosophies and Curriculum
The issue of educational philosophies and curriculum can actually be overwhelming! Just type “homeschool curriculum” into a Google search and I'm sure you will be surprised with the amount of results that pop up. There are so many homeschooling methods: Classical, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Computer-based, textbook-based, and even something called “Unschooling.” And on top of the method, there are so many options for curriculum that go along with each one. When I first started homeschooling, I didn't know much about anything, and just assumed that what those around me were doing would work for us.
Our Bottom Line:
The reality is: one-size-does-not-fit-all. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor your educational philosophy and curriculum to best fit the individual needs of your child. Over the past few years, I have adopted a mainly “Charlotte Mason” style, and therefore I am choosing curriculum that coincides with that approach, which I believe is what is best for my children and our situation. Basically, this approach encourages the reading of living books, as opposed to dry text books, narration, short lessons (which works well when you are dealing with little boys!), nature study, artist and picture study, music study, poetry, and forming good habits--something we are continually working on in this house!
I definitely put a strong emphasis on reading really good literature with my kids. And I am continually amazed at how much they really do understand and learn from books that I think are far above their heads. Charlotte Mason, who was a British educator, believed that a child's mind ought to be respected and treasured, and that children should have strong meat and nourishment for their minds. She also encouraged a lot of outdoor time, being in nature to be awed by God's creation, which is probably the best classroom of all!
You can learn more about the Charlotte Mason approach at http://charlottemasoneducation.com/ , www.amblesideonline.org, and www.simplycharlottemason.com.
2. The Daily Grind
This aspect can, once again, vary greatly among homeschoolers. Some choose to adopt a very scheduled, structured approach, and others implement a completely unstructured, entirely child-led learning approach. Some start their school day at 7:30am, and others are much more relaxed. Some have each half-hour increment scheduled for each family member, and others just go with the flow.
Our Bottom Line:
I am, by nature, severely lacking when it comes to organizational skills and being very scheduled. The first few years of homeschooling I really had no schedule at all...we just kind of got things done throughout the day. This year, with 5 kids and 2 with some actual school work to do, I am trying to implement a daily schedule. I started out with a very detailed one, and little by little it has gotten looser. But I find that it does help us accomplish more, and at least gives me something to attain to. I would be dishonest if I led you to believe that every day works as perfectly as it looks on paper. We have good days and bad days!
One of the best things about homeschooling, for me, is that our mornings are very laid-back. We usually eat breakfast at around 8:30. After breakfast, if all goes well, our day looks something like this:
- Chore time
- Circle time (Bible, Scripture memorization, poetry memorization, hymns and folk songs)
- Academic time (math, handwriting, phonics, foreign language, instrument practice)
- Free time
- Quiet time
- Read-alouds: History, literature, poetry
- Free time until dinner
I think one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling is that learning can take place at any time during the day...not just during “school time.” This is why I think it has been important for me not to get too locked into the schedule. There have definitely been days, looking back, when I have been so obsessed with the schedule that I actually missed out on opportunities to help my kids learn. I am trying to find a balance between having a schedule, and also being spontaneous and relaxed, so we can delve a little deeper into an area in which a child is showing a particular interest.
3. Outside Activities:
There are so many activities outside the home that are available to homeschooled children today. It is probably one of the things I have been most surprised about since we started. There are gymnastics classes, ballet classes, gym classes, sports, academic and fine art co-ops. There are numerous field-trips, workshops, and even seasonal parties, organized by homeschooling moms. There are “Homeschool Days” at farms and educational centers. I just recently discovered educational classes at the Liberty Science Center for homeschooled kids. It is truly amazing the opportunities that are out there.
Our Bottom Line:
Quite honestly, we haven't gotten involved in too many outside activities. But the ones that we are involved in my children love. My 3 oldest children attend a Junior Naturalist workshop at a wildlife sanctuary which has been wonderful. They hike, picnic, and learn about the beautiful world God has made. They take a nature journal along and are usually eager to draw what they have seen or learned about when they get home.
Another activity we do is a weekly Art Class. I am so blessed because my twin sister also homeschools her 4 children. Each week, we get together and do two projects: an art lesson with the older kids, and a craft with the younger bunch. Sometimes the projects come out great, and sometimes, not so much! But art is a process, not a product, right?! We also incorporate artist and picture study during that time. And if it is a nice day, we sneak in a fun nature walk together.
I have also joined a few Yahoo Groups for homeschoolers in my area, and through that I receive emails detailing field-trips and activities that are available. Last week, my boys attended a felting class using the fur from alpacas, and this week we are headed to a maple sugaring demonstration. This gives them a lot of interaction with other kids and adults, and many interesting learning experiences.
Occupying Little Ones
This has been one of my biggest challenges, but also has been a norm for me from the beginning. We are currently in our 3rd year of homeschooling, and since we've begun I have always had an infant, 1, or 2 year old, or a combination of those. So often they want to “join in” at the table, and many times I do allow this. But other times, like when my 2 year old is climbing on top of table throwing crayons all over the floor, it can become a bit taxing.
I have tried to arrange our daily schedule to accommodate this issue. My 2 year old still takes a nap most afternoons, so I try to do our reading in the afternoon during that time. Some days, if I need some time with one child in particular in the morning, I will have another child do puzzles or build blocks with him. Other days, I will put on an educational TV program for him, or a sing-along video. I know this is probably homeschooling sacrilege, but quite honestly there are many great educational shows on TV for kids. As long as he isn't sitting in front of it all day, I am completely fine with it for a little while.
The most important thing for me, when it comes to dealing with my little ones, is my mindset. This is my little child, not a problem! There are days though when I can find myself thinking of them as a problem to be dealt with instead of a child to be trained and nurtured. I constantly need to be keeping myself in check with regards to how I see my children. I am also finding myself becoming more intentional about carving out little one-on-one moments with my kids during the day to make sure they know they are loved and special individually.
Dealing with Interruptions
Dealing with interruptions goes right along with occupying little ones, because many times the little ones are doing the interrupting! They can't help the timing of a dirty diaper, a thirsty mouth, or a bumped head. I am learning to hold onto the daily schedule loosely, because when you have little ones you can't predict what the day will entail and when they will need you.
The beauty of homeschooling is that, if something doesn't get done, we can work on it over the weekend, or catch up over the next week or two. There is so much flexibility that allows for these kinds of interruptions. I recently read a quote that said, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” I printed it out and hung it in our kitchen, where we do some of our school work, to remind myself that relationships are much more important than accomplishing things. I need this reminder on a daily basis.
When I first began homeschooling, I have to be honest and admit that I felt a little inadequate to teach my kids. After all, I don't have a degree in education and I don't really feel like I have the gift of teaching. However, my initial thoughts about what education is have shifted dramatically from that first year. And that shift is what has enabled me to realize that I am actually qualified to teach my children.
For most of my life, I viewed education as getting good grades in school, getting my degree, and going to college. I did very well in school; I was good at memorizing the facts I needed to know to get an A on a test. But that knowledge never really stuck. I was more interested in doing well in school than actual learning. When I initially started homeschooling, I still had that mindset.
The poet Robert Frost said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” Now my goal in educating my children has become to instill in them a love of learning. A child's mind ought to be treasured, and my desire is to foster an atmosphere of learning in our home, expose my kids to great literature every day, ignite creativity, and get them in touch with God's beautiful creation. I loved this quote from Albert Einstein:
“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom.”
About the Author:
Susan Runnion is a wife and mother of 5, residing in northwestern New Jersey. She loves cooking, baking, and spontaneous dance parties with her kids.