Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘Charlotte Mason’

12 steps to homeschool on a shoestring

Teach kids the way they learnIf you’re new to home education, deciding which course of action to take can be overwhelming. The range of curriculae alone seems infinite. And before you even select a curriculum, you need to identify your educational philosophy. Do you believe in schooling at all, or do you prefer an “unschooling” approach? If you prefer a slightly more traditional approach, do unit studies appeal to you, or have the works of Charlotte Mason inspired you? Would you prefer to create your own material for your children, or would you feel more comfortable using prescribed programmes, designed by teams of experts and researchers?

Whatever your preferences, it is possible to give your children education of the highest possible standards without breaking the bank.

Twelve simple steps to quality home education

1. Understand your motives

Why do you want to educate your children at home? We wanted to spend more time with our children, make sure they had the best possible education available, protect them from harm, and address the challenges wrought in our family by food intolerances, scoliosis, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, and other autism-spectrum disorders. I also wanted a safe environment in which to foster faith and enquiring minds.

2. Identify your goals

For our family, our goals are very simple:

  1. Build a thorough grounding in God’s Word.
  2. Inspire a love for learning.
  3. Thoroughly develop the ability to LEARN.
  4. Create a solid grounding in mathematical principles.
  5. Develop a firm grasp of language.
  6. Provide an overview of how the world fits together in both space and time (geography and history).
  7. Delve into how the world works (science and biology).
  8. Allow and support free expression.

That may sounds like a long list, but we have actually distilled all education in these simple principles. Furthermore, having identified what we want to get out of education in our home has given us the freedom to pursue it through whatever means presents itself. We are not bound by a single curriculum. Rather, we have the freedom to take advantage of every new opportunity as it arises, and harness all that it offers to accomplish these goals. Changing course midstream is not disruptive, as long as it continues to build on these principles,

3. Clarify your philosophy

Alright, you know why you’re homeschooling. Not to choose a philosophy (or two – or three – or more …) that resonates with you and, more importantly, that works for your family. We started out with a very simplistic system that used a series of workbooks to take children from one grade to the next. We all hated it and the early days of home education were filled with loathing and dread. From there we quickly moved to a unit-study-type of curriculum based on key character traits. This was excellent and served us well, but it didn’t really resonate with me academically. This year I’ve been researching the teaching philosophies of both Charlotte Mason, who based her programmes on what she called Living Books, and John Holt, who advocated unschooling. What we have now is a loose mix of the two, with some unit study work and a lot of free study thrown in.

4. Determine your children’s learning styles

If you insist on teaching material in a way your child simply cannot grasp, you’re wasting your time. It really doesn’t matter how great your curriculum is, or how well-structured your activities are. Moreover, not feeding their individual learning styles will quench any inclination to learn that they may have had, and may well turn them off learning altogether. We’ve recently invested in the excellent “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” on kindle from Amazon.com. Buy it. Read it. Apply it. Your home education experience will be improved immeasurably.

5. Learning to think is infinitely more important than learning facts

The explosion of the internet has shown beyond doubt that information is virtually infinite. New data is shared online every moment, and there seems to be n end in sight.  With all that is out there for us to know, who’s to say which bits are important? How can anyone decide what information a child absolutely has to know before leaving school, and what information can wait until they’re older – if they learn it at all? Obviously certain facts are not appropriate for certain ages. What I am talking about, though, is not the more risqué areas of science or history. I’m referring, rather, to the sequence and selection of data presented to our children. Do children in Grade 3 really have to know about volcanoes? Can they not learn about them in Grade 5? Or Grade 2? Or never? And if your child would prefer to learn about Titian than Hitler, is that a crisis? I don’t believe so.

It seems to me that structured lessons in airless classrooms, where a teacher’s attention is split between 35 boisterous young people and a rigorous syllabus are the true murderers of a love of learning. That, above all, needs to be fostered in home education. We need to ignite our children’s passion for finding out new things, and give them the tools they need to make those discoveries. We teach our children to ask us questions, look things up on the internet or in encyclopaedias, experiment, test, prove. There are thousands of ways to gather data, and these are what needs to be taught. With a strong grasp of language, a firm foundation in maths, and the ability to learn, no doors can be closed on their potential.

6. Map out your day

children are not a distraction from more important work.Once you know why you’re doing it, and you have an idea about how you’re going to carry it out, you need to address the when. If, like most of us, you work for yourself, juggling a full-time job, housework, and home education can be – let’s call it challenging. It’s very important to prioritise your children’s education. You only get one shot at this. A career can happen at any time. Your clients are adults and they can handle a little wiggle room. But a moment missed with your child is a moment gone forever. Don’t waste it.

For us, we find that first thing in the morning is by far the most effective time for structured education. This is when we do our Maths, Bible Study, and reading. Our “school” day rarely takes more than three hours, and we’re usually finished between 9 and 10AM. That may not seem like a lot of time, but the results speak for themselves: the girls are years above their grade level in both reading and Maths. They have a thorough grounding in history and geography for their ages, and both draw and paint beautifully. Even my tiger mom inclinations are satisfied by their progress.

7. Mix it up

Outings and crafts make the school year more interesting. Any subject can benefit from an outing that supports what is being taught. Everything from camping and hiking to museums and galleries can inspire a growing mind and entrench a lesson learnt. Art, crafts and play acting go even further, providing both kinesthetic and tangible reinforcement of concepts. Furthermore, these activities build their own set of valuable skills and strengths. A routine offers a number of benefits for learning, but occasional deviations act like oases, providing refreshment to wearying souls.

8. Be flexible

Your children are not like you. They don’t process things the way you do. They don’t see the world the way you see it. They are unlikely to learn the way you do. This can be the hardest part, but we need to be flexible. We need to accommodate our children’s uniqueness. We also need to accept the bad days. Some days, it’s hard to be present for teaching. Some days one of the kids will be having a bad day. Something unexpected could come up at the last minute. The key to success in home education is learning to roll with the punches.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail

As Thomas Edison famously said, I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10000 ways it doesn’t work. That’s a great attitude, and one that can help both our children and ourselves. In the beginning, especially, it can be hard to have the confidence to make a decision in the face of a sea of options and little advise. My advice is to plunge in, do your best and see what happens. Never stop refining; that’s the only ay to keep improving. It’s not over until you succeed. So if you haven’t succeeded yet, it’s because you’re not done.

9. Free is not cheap

We don’t pay for educational materials. As far as possible we follow Charlotte Mason’s “Living Book” approach in selecting our materials. Many of the books recommended by her are public domain and downloadable from Gutenberg.org. Even more  have been given to us over the years by loving family, generous friends and a raging book addiction. For Maths we use Khan Academy. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It’s resulted in a marked improvement in everyone’s numeracy around here. These resources have cost us no money (if you don’t count bandwidth), yet they’re proving to be the most effective tools around.  Just because they’re free that doesn’t mean that they’re not excellent, so don’t turn down an opportunity because it lacks perceived value.

10. Double up for extra oomph

For History and Geography we use Living Books. Right now, we’re working through “Our Island Story” (available free on Gutenberg). Not only do we use it for history and geography, it provides our reading practice, copy work, and language skills. And story time! That means that in one half hour session, using just one book, we get a whole lot of learning done!

11. Lifelong Learning

The two most important things you can teach your children as far as “school” goes are a love of reading and a love of learning – along with the tools to feed those loves. Facts change. Information increases. We can never teach our children all there is to know. But if we teach them how to find what they need to know for themselves, we have done them a great service.

12. Have fun!

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just take every day as it comes, squeeze every ounce of gladness out of it, and relish in the unique opportunity you have to invest in the future.

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Ironing out the kinks: growing a small business, dealing with health challenges, and making home school work.

juggling life's priorities is a full time job

Juggling life’s priorities is a full time job.

Wow, two and a half months since I posted anything on here. I’d planned to post something every single day this year – or, at the very least, a few things a week. Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men and moms, I suppose …

Life has been busy.

My time has been split along three clear lines this year. Number one has been establishing my business. Now, I know that as a home schooling mom, that perhaps reflects poor priorities on my part. However, as the breadwinner in our family, I really don’t have a choice. It’s pretty simple: I don’t work, we don’t eat. And if I don’t have an effective, successful and efficient business, with a team of busy staff, then we’ve got nothing. So, some days the girls just get along with their education as best they can while I work out the kinks of a growing agency.

Number two has been figuring out our various health issues. Goldilocks’ Tourette’s Syndrome has been wreaking havoc with her ability to speak recently, and the effect on her confidence has been marked. She’s a deeply empathetic child, and has been battling more and more with bouts of what she refers to as being “down in the dumps”. Little Red Riding Hood has her fair share of challenges, which will form the subject of other posts. Suffice it to say that she’s needed a lot of attention recently. And of course, my dear old body just isn’t playing along. I really need a strong body, able to lift heavy weights and meet challenging deadlines. I need to be able to go for days at a stretch without paying too much attention to the every last gram of poison on my plate. Unfortunately, I have no such thing. Aside from digestive concerns, which sound petty but can be debilitating some days, my back decided to fight back against the chronic abuse inflicted on it by years of poor posture. The result was two days of excruciating agony in which I could hardly walk. Thank God for physiotherapists (and the means to afford one!). On top of it all, my skin has only once looked worse than it has these past few months. This makes client visits a real challenge, despite the fact that these form the basis of my business. (I may have a solution at last, though. More on that to follow).

Finally, I’m working out the kinks in home education. Really, the main problem is that Ambleside just seems too easy. We read stories, draw pictures, watch opera, dance to medieval music, and race through easy maths (involving multiplying Roman numerals!). We sew fluffy pink horses, draw butterflies and newborn hamsters, and circumnavigate the globe using Google Earth. And we fastidiously and meticulously neglect to complete a single timeline of any kind. It seems to go too fast, yet too slow. Each day’s school work takes around 3-5 hours, which is a tricky amount of time to budget accurately. For now, I’m focusing on giving the system a chance to take effect. Next week is exam week, which promises to be very revealing.

Ambling along through Ambleside.

I must be doing it wrong. That’s the only possible explanation. Because we’ve been using Ambleside Online to guide us through the Charlotte Mason approach to home education for two weeks now, and it just seems too good to be true. We get MORE done in LESS time, we’ve all learnt masses, and we are all loving it. “School” takes between two and three hours a day, and every week we do art, handicrafts, nature study, history, map work and music – things we could never fit in before. And in more detail! How can it be?

The girls think better, play better, spend more of their free time making things, are kinder to one another and more involved in life generally. They both love and excel at Maths.

And I am getting work done, and even meeting some of my deadlines, all the while, baking cookies and muffins and complicatedly delicious pies for dessert (with no grain, nuts or sugar – or even money, frankly). Can it be real?

Our house has remained a picture of neat-and tidy order, with things beautifully arranged in their places. People now seem to enjoy cleaning up (surely not!), and no one complains when asked to help. Not that they even need to be asked – I sit down to teach and find my charges eagerly awaiting me, books at the ready, stationery neatly laid out – and then swiftly put away afterwards.

In addition to the 40-odd scriptures we’ve committed to memory, the girls now know half a dozen poems apiece, too. And they perform their poetry with eloquence and feeling. Both read better than ever – with our youngest reading books at a Grade 9 reading level, despite being only 7. Granted, she needs work on her flow, but that’s hardly cause for complaint.

Hand writing is legible, letters to us are far more frequent – and neat – and correctly spelled! At least half of the mornings find the girls happily reading books in their pyjamas, waiting for breakfast, having gotten dressed, straightened their room, made their beds and cleaned their teeth. They play far less on the computer than they did a month ago, and watch TV once or twice a week – without complaint!

Goldilocks relishes in making dolls and accessories for her sister and friends – fabric ones, sewn by hand! And Red Riding Hood helps with meals and flower arrangements and table settings before I even think to ask.

It’s as if we’re living in the dream world of “what home education should be”. I wonder if I’m imagining it, if it will last – but not long enoough to mar my thorough enjoyment of the right-here-and-now!

Shooting stars

Stellarium brings the galaxy to your computer.

Stellarium brings the galaxy to your computer.

This week we *officially* switched to the Charlotte Mason method of home education, drawing largely from the amazing work done by the ladies at Ambleside Online. I can hardly describe how pleased I am with the change.

First of all, I have to make it clear that I enjoyed what we did last year and that I am sure that if I had followed the system more closely (and actually WATCHED the DVD!) we’d have done a lot better. But the fact is that I didn’t. I was busy and overwhelmed, and I felt rudderless. What we got was nothing short of chaos, some days. We learnt a lot and spent a lot of time learning it, and I think we covered some very good, solid ground. But every day I’d panic, trying to work out what to do next, and how to do it. We’d spend hours each week just look for stuff that had been “tidied away” – or not tidied at all!

Now, I have a compass and oars, and I know where I’m going. We are super organised in terms of space and time. We have a plan. We’re ready.

The day looks pretty simple:

  • Bible
  • Poetry
  • Penmanship
  • A story (which they narrate back and illustrate)
  • Maths

Once a week we do each of the following:

  • History (century book)
  • Geography (map work)
  • Art
  • Handicrafts
  • Nature Study

We also do map work and history as an integral part of story time.

We’ve started reading a LOT more (which, if you knew us before, is hard to imagine since we were already reading a lot). And we’re working on spending more time outside.

The only lesson we didn’t get to this week was art, because I had a meeting. But the girls did draw and paint, and they started making a fairy house. I think that counts a little, and besides – tomorrow is Saturday! We can paint all day then.

We also didn’t do nature studies this week because I had a meeting. So tonight I took them outside with my laptop, which has Stellarium installed, and we charted the stars (a little). It was great. We read a book called “Stargazers” (Ladybird Early Readers Level 3), and tomorrow we will paint the night sky. It also fitted in nicely with Goldilocks’ poem of the week, namely William Blake’s “The Tyger” :

“When the stars threw down their spears | And watered heaven with their tears”

I’m excited about tracking the trajectory of my own little rising stars, now that we’re using this phenomenal philosophy to educate them.

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