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

Posts tagged ‘Unschool’

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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Unschooling questions (and some answers)

As we expand our unschool experiment, we find that there are more questions than answers. And that’s okay: that’s how we learn. Unschooling really doesn’t come with any kind of hand book, and every family does what is right for their situation, interests, personalities, and a thousand other variables, unique to each situation.

Unschooling is not unparenting

We have not abdicated our roles in any way. Quite the contrary, unschooling actually forces us to be more involved than ever. We have to be aware of everything, sensitive to everything, to make sure that we never miss an opportunity to educate. Every moment is a learning moment – and that takes initiative, insight, imagination, involvement and energy.  We have to be aware and connected for as much of the day as possible.

Unschooling makes you honest

Because we learn every second that we breathe, we need to be very real, very transparent, and very honest. Learning happens by seeing, experiencing, “percolating” and discussing. It does not happen in a vacuum. We need to share what we learn, and let our children share what they’ve learned. This implies that we need to be learning, all the time. If something troubles us, we need to be honest about that. We also need to examine that. Why does a messy space trouble me? Am I being reasonable? Is the mess a logical and even necessary part of development? Is leaving the mess harmful in any way, or is that in itself a valuable education? These questions surround thousands of decisions every day, with the net result being that we are more connected, more “ourselves”, and more relaxed. I’m not really sure I can articulate why that is true, yet. But it is true, nonetheless.

Unschooling challenges beliefs

There are some unschoolers who don’t set limits on their children. Everything in life becomes a collaborative learning journey, with children setting their own limits as they work out what works for them. For instance, if the child prefers to stay up late, that is the child’s choice. She must then deal with the consequences of loneliness, being up when everyone else is asleep, and grumpiness the next day when she’s over tired, or ever oversleeps and misses an outing with the rest of the family. This way, she learns that an earlier bed time has its benefits. Well, fair enough. But not for us. In my opinion that’s a form of child abuse, frankly. I believe that children lack the ability to make certain decisions and cognitive leaps, and that’s why they have parents. Otherwise we’d all just grow up together in something like a giant, collaborative orphanage with common sense and consensus determining the way we live. I’ve read Lord of the Flies. I don’t think we’d do well left to our own devices.

Here are some of the beliefs I’m examining at the moment, as we delve deeper into this adventure:

  • Children need boundaries. They need to know when an action is acceptable and when it isn’t. And sometimes words are not adequate to convey this.
  • Children need direction. They may well be curious beasts with a passion for knowledge. But they also need a little guidance. If Papa Bear had never introduced me to the internet, I may never have developed an interest in it, and then I’d be doing something else for a living now. If we don’t know there are things out there to be discovered, we won’t discover them. We need to allow our children the opportunity to develop an interest in what’s out there by letting them know what’s out there.
  • Not everything is fun and interesting, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant or superfluous. Just because I don’t enjoy doing a thing, or don’t feel like doing a thing, doesn’t mean I don’t need to do it. Yes, I prefer dancing to running, and running to soccer. So perhaps I’ll dance more often than I’ll chase a ball. But I need to exercise, and if the only option I have is a game of soccer, I need to accept that and get on with it. I may even find it fun. Possibly. Few people fascinatedly pursue a regimen of dental hygiene, but that doesn’t mean we can just get away with not cleaning our teeth two or three times a day. And so on. So while I am letting the girls not clean their room for a while, I am probably, at some stage, going to insist that it gets done, and that beds get made religiously. Because some things just need to be done.
  • We all need to do our share. So maybe we don’t say the word “chores” anymore, and maybe (just maybe), pocket money and housework are no longer linked. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all pitch in with dishes, dog food and domestic goddessery in general.
  • Work has worth, and earning a living is a life skill. I haven’t made up my mind about pocket money. I believe it is necessary, and very educational. The girls have learnt maths, the value of money, and the value of things, all through pocket money. They’ve also learned that if you don’t work, you don’t eat. So to speak. (Of course they eat, but a messy room means no pocket money, and that means no buying toys at the market – their lifeblood, you’d think!). So while I am experimenting with not insisting on a tidy room (for now), I don’t think they’ll start getting money for nothing. That can simply be a consequence of not cleaning up.
  • There’s nothing wrong with being organised. Being spontaneous does not exclude being organised, and vice versa. If I work better in a structure, that could be a good thing.
  • Sometimes, children need chastening. It may take various forms, but a polite and respectful “No, darling. That’s not how we behave.” simply doesn’t cut it sometimes. In those cases we need a clear, communicated and consistent way of communicating unacceptable behaviour.

At the end of the day, these children will one day be adults, and they need to be ready for that. That goes a lot further than simple fact knowledge. It’s about being equipped to deal with other people well, and being practised in making smart choices. Schools don’t teach that, families do. And must.

A Pursuit of Passion

Unschooling has had some unexpected side effects. A lot of the literature we’re reading at the moment, online and off, encourages parents to pursue their own passions and interests almost as actively as they encourage their unschooled children to do. Essentially, we should be modeling our philosophy even as we develop it. If we demonstrate the process and results of finding what we love to do, learning to do it, and doing it to the best of our ability, the natural joy and growth that results are a boon to the entire family.

I love to dance. I’d assumed that I would train formally after leaving school (isn’t that how you get good at things, after all?). I did, in fact, enroll at theatre college after school, pursuing my lifelong ambition to act professionally. Unfortunately, I hated every moment of it. Disillusioned and bleak, I flip-flopped from one job to the next for a few years with no direct goal in mind, until I discovered an aptitude for and love of graphic design. Now, I certainly am not as incredibly talented as some, but I do love it, and I do get paid to do it every day of my life. So that’s a good thing.

Since my drama school experience, I’ve expended a fair amount of energy trying to work out how I should be, both at home and with others. What should I say? What can I do? What should I not do? What’s appropriate in terms of my strict faith? I’ve believed in the value of exercise but, for the most part, begrudged the practise of it at best, loathed it at worst. (Wow, that’s a long sentence!)

As I internalise, more and more, the notion that things that are learnt by doing are learnt in at least as valid a manner (if not more so) as things learned by instruction, I’ve begun to recognise many more opportunities to personal growth, without attending classes, buying special equipment or uniforms, or anything else at all besides passion.

When we got home from the market today, a friend asked if we could listen to one of our BeeGee CDs. We haven’t listened to it in ages as I wrestled with the “is-this-music-acceptable-in-my-house?” internal debate. The music was great. It filled the air with energy and exuberance, and I couldn’t help bopping along to it. Later, when Papa Bear and our guest nipped out to the shops, I put on some of my favourite dance music, cranked up the volume, and danced and sang my heart out! Goldilocks and Red Rising Hood had friends over, and I’m fairly sure all four of them thought I’d lost my mind. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if the neighbours saw or heard, either. I was having FUN. I must have danced intensively for over half an hour, and I feel better than ever – so connected to myself and my passion, and ready for whatever the rest of the day has in store.

To my delight, the whole family seems to be feeling it, too. Everyone is happier and more relaxed than ever, laughing and questioning things and following their interests with wreckless abandon.

It makes me think of the charming and intriguing Zapp family and their epic journey.  Doesn’t it sound like fun? What about you? What sparks your passion

Assuming Positive Intent

Our unschooling experiment is picking up speed and gaining momentum. The more we think about how we’ve learnt everything that we care about, the more we realise that what matters in life we’ve learnt incidentally to formal structures. Actually, that’s not always true. There have been times when we’ve chosen to receive some form of formal education – either by attending courses or reading relevant material (books, websites and so forth). The point is, though, that what Papa Bear and I do for a living, we weren’t taught. We learnt by doing.

Now we’re encouraging the girls to do the same. Red Riding Hood is leaping into floristry (is that a word? Spell check thinks so!) and choreography as if to the manner born. Goldilocks id designing dolls and learning about plastic injection molding. Both girls are doing more maths and reading than before, and a lot more drawing. So far, I am satisfied, and so is Papa Bear. He is a million times more supportive than I’d ever supposed he would be, and happily spends his evenings auto-didactically acquiring guitar-playing skills (auto-didactic = unschool, just so ya know. I learnt that osmotically this week).

Here’s the thing that really struck me: always assume positive intent from your child.

What I understand by this is that I must always believe that my child intends good, whether it be in asking a thousand questions or leaving a messy trail behind her. Whether it’s demanding my attention at the worst possible moment, or breaking the handle of an otherwise unopenable car door when we’re already late (which happened today). Always assume they mean well.

Now, I know that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). And I know that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). But 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that “love … believes all things“. For me, that means that my almost-utterly-innocent ten year old doesn’t intend the inconvenience her growing intellect inadvertently causes. She intends a positive, edifying outcome for all of us – albeit unconsciously so.

This has been liberating for me. I’m not saying that I assume the worst of my children, but now I’m actively, intentionally assuming the very best. And so is Papa Bear, though I don’t know if he fully realises it yet.

Moreover, we’re assuming the best of our own motives, as well. For the first time that I can recall, I find myself feeling rested, rejuvenated and not guilty.know I’m doing the best I can. I know that always work as hard as humanly possible and do all that I can to keep promises, meet deadlines, achieve goals and improve my clients’ business. I know that my family’s long-term and total well-being is my utmost motivation and the guiding light of every decision I make. I can relax now, knowing that I am reasonably doing all that I can, and not shirking anything.

The interesting thing is that our already happy household is now even more peaceful and relaxed than ever.

What a relief!

PS: I did not tidy my house before I left for work this morning. I did the dishes and put my stuff away, and then I left. I didn’t feel guilty about that. I didn’t feel grumpy about that. I chose, instead, to have an invigorating quiet time, and enjoy my children’s creations. Here’s to a happy weekend!

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