Friday, January 30, 2009

What Homeschooling Means to Me...

This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Recently I have been experiencing so many different people with so many different ideas. I have never really been someone who does things like others do. I enjoy doing new things and often jump in with little instruction. Even with a lack of instruction I seem to focus on finding the most efficient way of doing things. (Okay, other than laundry, that I just try to avoid...) When I am interested in something new I immerse myself in it. Like with spinning, I thought handspun yarn was gorgeous and knew if I had a wheel I could figure it out, and I did.

When kiddo was about eight months old I decided that I absolutely wanted to homeschool, I read pretty much every book about it from the library. Some of it was not my idea of how I thought it should be, though other parts have really stuck with me. One book I read mentioned that feeling that kids have on Friday when they are let out of school. That freedom and excitement from not having to sit in a chair, or be around cranky kids, or a cranky teacher, or being stuck in a classroom where they were studying something that they really didn't get or understand with no additional time for instruction or help. This book said that when you homeschool, everyday feels like Friday.

Another book mentioned that you can learn ANYWHERE. Now, kiddo is my sidekick. Anywhere I go, he goes for the most part. I have heard people say that "unschoolers" just drag their kids around with them all of the time and don't "do" anything. I am not sure what I would classify my style of homeschool as. What I do know is that you CAN learn anywhere.

People will ask when we are going to "start" homeschooling and there is always kind of a pause. For us, we started from.....well pretty much birth. Actually before birth! I had read the first few chapters of a book that was about teaching your baby to love to read from inside the womb. It was a study that was conducted about reading one book, The Cat in the Hat, to your belly twice a day everyday, then continuing reading it after they were born. I can still to this day recite the entire book!

Before he could speak I taught him sign language so he could better communicate his needs. When he could speak I made sure to encourage him to use the correct words and not "baby" words. (Just as I was sitting here typing, kiddo ran up hair all askew and still in pajamas and says "Let's do school!" so we sat down and practiced writing his letters for a few. Then he wanted a snack, LOL)

Books have always been a part of our days, from the very beginning. It started with just showing the pictures and then progressed to having him point things out, and then naming them, and now sounding out the words and sometimes looking up different facts about the things he asks questions about. Like the day he told me dolphins don't sleep and I said of course they...wait do they? After a bit of Google searching we learned that for about 8 hours of a day, they shut down the left half of their brain for 4 hours and then switch to the right half, all the while still able to swim slowly, float near the surface or in shallow waters. THIS is what I love about homeschool.

I think a big part of teaching your children comes from actually listening to what they have to say. You know when I first found out I was pregnant, I wasn't sure "what" I was supposed to do. The thought of parenting was intimidating and it was something that I knew I wanted to do "right." My Mom was a big support system for me. She let me know that as long as I tried my best and recognized that he was a "person" that I would be fine. My parents have very different qualities to them. My Dad being very matter of fact, and coming from a military background, very strict and rule focused while still remaining creative and imaginative and I am so thankful for that and what that instilled in me. My Mom is very creative and easy going, always willing to answer questions and spark creativity and imagination, while also being very much on the goofy side and offering a laugh whenever I need one. I like to think that I can find a balance between the rules and the goofy creativity, to take a bit from each of my influences to parent with.

I have to give my Mom a huge THANK YOU for something seeming slightly unrelated but actually a huge determining factor in the relationship that kiddo and I have. After I had him, money was really tight. REALLY tight. Since I was 14 I have always had a job, I enjoy working and getting a check to show that I put in my time and effort and was rewarded for it. For the first time in my life I felt helpless as far as finances go. I now was the keeper of this amazing little character and my days and nights were already spoken for. Friends of mine shipped kids off to Grandma's while they kept a day job. My Mom for more reasons than one, decided this was not how things were going to work. I admit, I was irked about it more than once. I thought, "Can't she see that we are struggling here?" She assured me that the time that she spent with us at home when we were little was time that meant more than the world. Because of that, I have really been able to form a relationship with him based on experience, listening and "knowing" him. I realize now, and have known for a while, exactly the reason she did what she did, and I am absolutely eternally grateful for that.

So now that he is four and big enough to look "school aged" we get questions when we go places. "Where do you go to school?" At first it was strange trying to explain to him that he would not be riding on the big yellow bus everyday. Now when people ask he says, "Oh we do homeschool!" Then more questions, "What curriculum are you using?" Well, here it is for you. All of the requirements and outlines for each year of learning are available for reading, studying and printing online. There are countless books about what your ____ grader should know. Between the library, our own book selection at home including a full set of encyclopedias, the grocery store, the produce market, the backyard, the piano, guitar, art supplies, imagination and last but certainly not least...the resources online, I have absolutely no desire to spend a dime on curriculum.

The world is our classroom. Here is an example of what I mean. I say to him "Let's bake some muffins!" Of course the response from him is an excited one, knowing how delicious muffins are. Here is a list of things that can be taught from one simple batch of muffins:
~ gathering items needed for the recipe
~ counting eggs and other items needed
~ recognizing the difference between flour and sugar, honey and oil, baking powder and baking soda by using phonics and pre-reading letter recognition
~ measuring and sometimes multiplying ingredients
~ big bigger biggest with all measuring tools
~ science and the way ingredients react with one another while mixing and during the baking process
~ experimenting with added ingredients and taking chances and discovering the results
~ preparation such as pre-heating the oven, greasing the pan and why you grease it
~ fire safety and how to do things in the kitchen so we don't get hurt
~ time awareness and learning to tell time on a clock
~ nutrition and healthy eating habits, what different ingredients are made of and how they react with our bodies
~ dividing the batter into the cups to make them even

Now I am sure that there are many more but these are the ones that first came to mind. I am not saying that each one of these are discussed every single time we bake a batch of muffins, but over the course of 4 or so batches, so much can be learned. You just have to take the time and be aware of what fits where. Even in clean up we can learn. The importance of cleanliness and bacteria and how it grows and why. Now these are the types of things I think of when I think of how homeschool works for us.

I am constantly exploring different ideas and ways that we can learn. Currently he is learning how to officially write his letters. He has known how to write many of them and will ask how to spell certain words and write them on his own. We have a pre-k workbook that we are working in right now that has proved to be very helpful. It sparks the imagination and has a way of progressing that he has taken to very easily. We have workbooks through grade 3 right now, so I look forward to using those in conjunction with our "world is our classroom" learning techniques.

When I first voiced my decision to homeschool I had very mixed reactions from family members. The biggest concern was interaction with other children and social skills. Trust me, this was a major concern of mine as well....until I learned a little more about what was actually available. He is in a gymnastics class once a week which has been a fabulous influence. I like it because he has the chance to interact with other kids, while learning how to compete with himself and learn from someone other than me. I remember the day that I realized it really clicked with him. I don't expect he will be entering the Olympics any time soon, he has more of a stunt man way of performance! It is good for his confidence and social skills, the teachers are amazing as well as a good mix of other children his age. This is only one of many social opportunities that he will experience. There are different sports groups, field trips, science fairs, theatrical groups, band, foreign language classes and countless others we will be exploring as time progresses. After years of discussions, the family members that were on the fence or slightly anti-homeschool, have come around. Some of them actually fully embracing it and excited and confident in my decision.

I'm not sure if anyone is still reading, but I can't tell you how much being able to get all of this out means to me. Going through and writing down my thoughts has made me confident again about my decisions. It has been an interesting journey so far and I am so excited for what the future brings us. Thanks for taking the time to read what homeschooling means to me. I hope that you can take with you what you want and make it work for you. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it is for us and you have the choice to decide what is right for your family. Make sure that you are true to yourself and that you do not let others influence you to go against what you feel in your gut. If you have any questions or comments, I would love for you to let me know! Good luck on your journey wherever it takes you!


Spazzy Yarns said...

Wow. What a wonderful way to put this. Good for you and kiddo. I'm excited to hear more of your adventures!

Heather Mitchell said...

Extremely well put!! From time to time, you'll want to reread your blog post. It will encourage you again. I'm excited for you and kiddo. He's a great guy with very loving parents!!

Xiane said...

Nora, I am totally going to point my husband to your well-written and thought out entry here. I'm a strong proponent of homeschooling, and Rob's skeptical. I truly feel, especially after seeing how far ahead I was of my peers on so many subjects [thanks to my family's attention early on], that schools just don't give the quality of education that parents can. Not to say that they *can't* but with the way schools are set up currently, it just seems too easy to fall through the cracks.
I thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts. This is so inspiring!