Monday, December 19, 2011

Lessons Learned in Homeschooling

"Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." - Roger Lewin

I have been thinking a lot about this quote lately. I saw it on a friend's blog (who happens to have a home preschool) a few days ago and it struck a cord with me. I used to complain bitterly about kids in my public school classroom (when I taught high school) not being able to really question; rather, they were experts in discerning what the teacher wanted to hear and regurgitating it. We even reduced critical thinking problems to exercises in rote memory by doing the problems "together" on the board, having students copy the process, then testing them on it. Seldom did I have a student in class who was capable of hearing information, interpreting it, sharing their values and opinions, and creating a plan of action to address the problem/information. I blamed a lacking school system (and social structure, but let's not go down that road). It was so frustrating- and alarming.

Yet, what did I do when I began to teach my own children at home? What I had been taught to do in school myself- tell the children the fact, make them learn it, make them repeat it... the very same approach which had created the capricious students I taught in the public schools. Without thinking about what I was doing, I created specific hours when the children and I would sit at the kitchen table to "do school" and I mandated that we finish each lesson, each day so we didn't "fall behind". Sure, I finessed a lot more than I could in the mainstream classroom, and we often ate while we worked or wore our pajamas... but the fundamental approach was the same. Worst yet- the assumption that I was the one with all the answers to impart to the children- was the same.

At first it seemed OK because we were all excited to be embarking on this homeschooling journey together. But after a month or so the kids were complaining about doing school and I wasn't enjoying it, either. Suddenly, this freeing and exciting process wasn't either- it was plain, old school and I wondered what I was doing wrong?

So we took a break... for the month of November. Yes, the whole month. We did only the things that inspired us- when a child wanted to pull out one of the math books to do a few problems, we did. We learned to count by baking a lot. We did some fun looking science experiments we found on the internet. I set up a bulls eye with the alphabet in my kitchen and challenged the kids to hit the correct letters with a Nerf gun as I called them out. We learned how to say "I eat spinach!" in Japanese by watching dubbed over Popeye on YouTube. Don't misunderstand- we did a lot of learning, just not the way that I had learned how to learn.

Again I find myself at a crossroad. So short a time after I began my homeschooling journey I find that I must stop and re-evaluate. Typically I would see this as failure, but somehow that's not the case this time. The one constant that homeschooling has provided me and my family over the past four months has been forgiveness and flexibility, even as they apply to our perceptions of ourselves. I am slowly- oh, so slowly- beginning to realize that there is more than one way to do this well, and that the ways may change over time. I'm not failing, I'm just learning right along with the kids. I used November to read a lot of books about homeschooling, and to brush up on approaches I'd learned about in graduate school but never had the chance to practice. I am so looking forward to trying them out, scrapping some, embracing others, and discovering our own unique family blend of "school."


  1. Just so you know, I'm just going to hand over our future hypothetical children to you. seriously.

  2. There are many many times I wish I had the option of homeschooling. I think I came home from 2nd grade parent's night this year in some kind of overwhelmed daze, having been inundated with state standards and standardized tests and how at the end of 2nd grade our kids are supposed to be able to complete 100 math facts in 2 minutes (or five minutes or whatever). My child has an anxiety disorder. Telling her she has to do 100 math problems in five minutes just fuels the anxiety and makes it impossible for her to even try to figure out the problems. Personally, I'm happy if she does math homework without breaking or throwing pencils. (Incidentially, that day is not today). Jupiter LOVES learning stuff. But she consistenly hates school. And as for critical thinking...lets just say that my job function relies on the ability to think critically and basically follow all the steps you wrote in your post. And finding people who can do that effectively seems to be impossible. Or maybe they're all just smart enough not to apply for my job, I don't know. I try to supplement the "teaching to the test" she gets at "real" school with practical hands on stuff at home, but it's hard to work that into the schedule, so it comes in bits and pieces. Much to my dismay.
    Thanks for the chance to vent my frustration!!

  3. While there is no perfect solution to schooling a child, no matter what your circumstance or who the child is- everything has it's rewards. Jupiter is lucky to have a mother who is willing and able to go the extra mile for her to create learning opportunities suited to her style and needs as part of, or in addition to, her school life.

  4. I have been thinking more about the option of homeschooling for single parents, and I stumbled across this blog today: The Single Homeschool Mom! Check it out- it may have some resources or information to help support Jupiter's learning!

  5. Thank you for the post.I am really happy to read this post.I have got the valuable information and have bookmarked it already for more



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