A teacher’s lesson

I’ve been reevaluating my homeschool methods. Putting my practices and theories under a microscope. Nitpicking my decisions. Streeeeetching my mind.

See, I’ve had an epiphany. I’ve done a pretty good job at tossing institutionalized/organized learning and its markers to the wind…up until my kids reach the ripe old age of about ten. At that point my happy-go-lucky, “they’ll learn when they’re ready” theories mysteriously evaporate and I suddenly find myself exasperated, irritated, frustrated, and, most humiliating of all, feeling worried because my kids aren’t reading/spelling/multiplying according to my time schedule.

Thanks to my dear children, my hypocrisy has been forced into the light. See, my kids aren’t learning how I think they should be learning by now. For Yo-Yo, learning to read did not automatically translate into learning how to write (or spell or multiply or close his dresser drawers). For Miss Beccaboo, well, reading still hasn’t clicked.

When kids learn at (or before) grade level, it’s easy to spout off about different learning timetables and staying relaxed and trusting the child and yadda-yadda-yadda. But when you’ve got a couple late learners on your hands, it’s not quite as easy to stay relaxed.

My children, it appears, don’t have any interest in making my life easy or relaxing. Which is quite unfortunate for me since I have a hard time relaxing under normal conditions.

There is a lesson here and it appears the teacher is the one who has to learn it.

It’s not that my methods aren’t working so much as I’m not sure I enjoy my methods. After wallowing in mediocrity for awhile, I decided it was time for a week-long experiment.

the latest construction project

Which I’ll get to in just a minute. But first, let me share some ideas I’ve gleaned from friends, magazines, and good ol’ self-analysis (because when I find myself floundering I talk, read, and think, and in that order, too).

*To effectively learn, there has to be a true-blue desire and need. Trying to replicate that need is (mostly? always?) superfluous—it has to come on its own.
*Math memorization is very different from thinking mathematically. The latter can be had without the former and vice versa, but the “vice versa” is not all that great. Follow? (I fall more in the category of the bad “vice versa.”) (Thank you, Cindy Lind of the September-October 2010 issue of Home Education Magazine.)
*In regards to education and learning, I’ve fallen victim to mainstream thinking more than I care to admit.
*Playing is super important, more important than I give it credit for. When a person plays, they are learning out the wazoo. (Odyssey Magazine, Iforgetwhichissue.)
*I need to learn to trust more.
*College readiness has almost nothing to do with academics and almost everything to do with: a) knowing how to seek help, b) the ability to work in groups, c) flexibility, d) critical thinking skills, e) the ability to understand one’s own cognitive processes, f) time management, g) inquisitiveness, h) a passion for learning, i) intentionality, and j) the desire to contribute to society. (Kudos to Karen Kirkwood, another author in the most awesome September-October 2010 issue of Home Education Magazine.)
*My children (so far, and in as much as I can tell) are not of scholarly ilk. I am. Sometimes I get confused because of these differences. That’s understandable.
*Finding joy in my life and in my children is perhaps the biggest gift I can give them. Here, extravagance is key.

So now, I’m sure you are itching to find out what it is I’m doing differently.

Because of my personal limitations/traits—namely, that I don’t have an abundance of scholarly information buzzing around in my head with which to enlighten my children at the least provocation (because I was a student who passed classes by memorization and not by actual learning) and because my favorite times of the day are when I’m doing my own thing away from my children—I decided to actively engage with my kids over something other than lessons. And because I do not have the energy (or desire) to “do fun stuff” and direct their studies; therefore, the studies get nixed. It’s as easy as that.

For Day One we played a rousing game of Farmopoly. In which, for those of you (me included?) who need to see results, Nickel learned to count, Sweetsie started to figure out the concept of money, Miss Beccaboo did some wicked addition and subtraction and was benevolent towards her siblings, and Yo-Yo managed the bank (counting out money accurately but quite differently than how I do it) and learned about sportsmanship and flexibility.

Day Two involved a discussion revolving around writing and performing our own play and several rounds of Uno.

I have no idea what Day Three will bring. But that’s okay because I feel more present and peaceful than I have in a long time (even with a wicked case of PMS, so that’s saying a lot).

I know myself well enough to recognize that this method will not be The Answer (and I did say this is just a week-long experiment, after all). I’ll continue adapting, experimenting, and tweaking, depending on where the kids are at and what level of energy I possess. But either way, I bask in my freedom to try new things. This freedom to self-direct is one of the biggest privileges of homeschooling, a privilege for which I am most grateful.

And, in case you’re concerned, I’m not a lone reed blowin’ in the wind. The members of my inner circle rigorously challenge and question my ideas and motives, but ultimately, they back me one hundred percent. These people are to me what principals are to regular school teachers. They give me the strength to get up and do what needs to be done (them and the powdered milk biscuits), like Farmopoly.

Ready? (Rattles dice.)

Set? (Tosses dice.)

GROW! (Onward ho!)

(And don’t forget to collect two hundred dollars!)

This same time, years previous: brown sugar icing, sausage quiche with potato crust


  • Anonymous

    Sounds like fun! Don't totally be down on memorization, though. Knowing your multiplication tables is pretty handy…and knowing that Abe Lincoln didn't sign the Declaration of Independence, well, it's good for Trivial Pursuit AND knowing history is necessary for contextualizing modernity and our current state of affairs. Facts ARE good!

  • Karen

    Your home looks so incredibly wonderful, creative, and warm. Your children look so happy. ( I love that picture of the construction project!) And, you inspire me to consider homeschooling.

    Oh, and I think I need to get Farmopoly. My boys would love it!

  • Camille

    All the worries that buzz around in our heads!! I have thought most of what you post about here today. What a blessing your children have you…enjoy them and this week of exploration…it's a great idea every once in awhile. (I've got a post ready to go on similar lines…must mean we have similar ideas AND taste buds. 😉

    Have a great day!

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Wow. I can't wait to see where this week leads you. I applaud you for shifting gears when things weren't what you/they needed them to be. And your photography? Stunning, my dear.

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