Friday, April 8, 2011

Questioning Homeschooling and Seeking Your Input

<-- Nursing one while reading to another while a third finds the camera takes a candid is not what I had imagined.  But, its' not bad either...

Okay, so if you asked me three years ago what our home pre-school would be look like at this time, the picture I would have described is anything but what it actually is.  I was gung-ho on creating a truly Montessori-inspired, organized homeschooling atmosphere for my children, one that was very well-prepared and had hints of Charlotte Mason and Classical approaches thrown in.  But, life happens, and, with it, an accidental unschooling approach took hold.

Sometimes the difference between what I imagined and what has actually been taking place in our homeschooling endeavors has not bothered me.  I recognize the kids’ learning and growth despite my lack of consistent focus on making my homeschooling dreams their realities.  In fact, I relish the fact that life has forced me to let them lead our journey on more days than I have led it.

Other times, the divergent paths of my imagined homeschool efforts and the ones I have actually made has  irked me to the point where I have wondered if I am making the “right” choice with homeschooling.  As I try to “school” as well as just balance life, work, home (dis)organization, etc.  I often feel too fractured to do my children the justice with preparing their homeschooling environment and guiding them through learning that I feel they deserve.

So, what to do?

Keep going with the flow and trusting that they will sometimes “learn anyway” or buckle down and carve out both planning and preparation time and serious implementation time? 

This is the question that has danced through my brain all week as I have been swept up in an array of appointments and events that have taken precedence over homeschooling – at home – endeavors all week.  Work, taxes, doctor’s appointments, kids’ classes, prior commitment made to others, being down with a flu that has almost taken my voice away…  If we haven’t been out at something, I have been feeling too crummy physically to motivate to do what I want to do. 

Part of what I want to do is get things in order for a better, more focused homeschool system/approach come fall – a truly focused kindergarten curriculum for Luke and more structured preschool and infant-toddler approaches for Nina and Jack.  But, now I am wondering, do I need to?

It seems that despite my lack of planning at times, follow through at others over recent months, the kids are learning.  Their antics and inquiries evidence growth in skills in academic areas.  And, even with my fractured focus, there are still pockets for key core things such as reading together, doing chores together, getting outside together and praying together.  This might be enough, right?

Or is it…

And the circle of my question goes on:  Do I stop berating myself and just keep going with the flow?  Do I make a more consistent effort to add tenets of loose structure?  Do I buckle down and make the actual model of curriculum planning and implementation I originally sought – or some semblance of it – a reality?  I am not sure.

So, I am throwing it out to all fellow homeschoolers out there:  What have you found works best for you and your “official” kindergarteners (preschoolers and infant-toddlers)?  Going with the flow?  Adding loose structure?  Sticking to a definite model and philosophy?  What have you found does not work for you?

I know each of our personalities and situations is different, but sometimes, just through sharing, we find that nugget of truth that will work in our own unique homes.  So, please, please, share!  Because, honestly, I never imagined homeschool could be so different than teaching “regular” school, but throw in housework, regular parenting and various home and appointment distractions and it’s entirely different in my opinion.  So different it makes me wonder about how adept I can be at it.

Your thoughts are most welcome (and very much requested) in the comments.


Kylie said...

Homeschooling with littles is challenging at best. I have had the exact same struggle as you. My eldest is 9 so I have to provide more structure than what I did 3 years ago.

I have however learnt to let go.

My 6 and 2 year old learn so much through their own investigations.

Right now as I type my 6 year old is experimenting with her own home made air balloons with no input from any adult.

I've also had to train myself to see the learning in all that we do. One thing that helped was to keep a notepad on the bench and when ever I had a chance jot down what the kids were doing and how that related in terms of 'edus speak'. You'd be surprised.

With my youngest I try (gently) to weave learning naturally into his play. He is in love with matchbox cars, he is counting, rote and 1:1, learning his colours etc all with his cars. No prep for me (I just grab the opportunity when I can) and fun for him.

If I do find some time I try to prepare self directed activities that I can set out around the house for the kids to do.

Please be kind to your self your children are so very young. :-)

blissful_e said...

I have a 4yo, 3yo, 19mo, and a baby on the way.

I only structure the things I think are most important. So we go to music class once a week, and we have catechism and Scripture memorisation 6 mornings a week (before breakfast), and music practice 6 mornings a week (right after breakfast).

The rest of their day is free-play, with some helping with chores as requested. If I want to focus on something else academically, I would tack it on right before lunch. (I do read a chapter from Proverbs during most lunches.)

I would love to have a Montessori-type setup for my kids to access, but we still have moving-boxes instead of shelves in that room. So instead I have a few baskets of open-ended toys available and they just play and play.

Many studies now are verifying the benefits of open-ended play (as opposed to drill and kill) for young children, so really I don't think we can go wrong at this point. :)

Kerryanne Cummins said...

We on a similar path...I have a kindergardener and a 2 1/2 yr old. This year was our first "oficial" year. as with most homeschool families, we started our with a bang! then things slowly dwindle away and we end up unschooling ALOT! I am confident in the times that my son is not "doing school" he is engaging in some social event, creating something using his hands and brain, reading something, being a teacher to his brother ect..just by living like a 6 year old does. I think all the time that we need to get to our school room more! this week we got up there once! As long as he is learning, and growing I am sure your kindergartener is is doing fine! I used nap time to sit with my 6 year old and do school in the begining of the year until my little one dropped naps! now I set us a place in our class room for him to play with Montessori materials, or his toys set out for him while I work with my 6 year old. Dont give up on homeschooling , you are providing a wonderful thing for your children, just getting to spend all this time with you during these younger years is wonderful! You might have to change your prospective of what your homeschool will look like and know that it will change every year that they get older. Hope all this is helpful!

Rebecca said...

Martianne - I could have easily written this post. I'm feeling EXACTLY the same way!!! I'm not sure I have any big answers for you, but I can let you know what I'm thinking. We can also take some comfort in knowing we are not alone!

My 5-year-old is "officially" starting homeschooling this fall. I have a 3-year-old as well. As much as I would love to have another baby, I really don't think I could handle it!

We have also fallen more into an unschooling pattern, as opposed to the organized, structured Montessori path I wanted for us. I do feel they learn so much from their own, self-directed explorations and just the normal activities of daily life. I try to watch and listen to what is interesting to them, and explore these things - through lessons, books, looking up on the internet, etc.

However, the older they get, the more structure they need, I think. A few years ago, I did a homeschool evaluation for a friend's child. This was a bright child, but the laid-back approach the mother had to her schooling resulted in some serious deficits in certain areas - especially writing. When she ended up going back into the school system later on, she was very behind. This experience has always been in the back of my mind....I want to be sure that I don't let big pieces of my kid's schooling fall through the cracks. Especially given the fact that they avoid things (like writing) that don't come easily. If I don't provide structure and push a little on these things, my kids will just avoid them and fall behind.

So,'s what I'm planning to do. Not sure how well it will work:

1) Coordinate specific blocks of time at least once a month to plan (i.e., where my husband is in charge of the children, and I am in a quiet room alone). I recognize that I cannot schedule every minute of our time, but I can at least think through the main points. I also find that thematic units work really well for me and my kids, but they require planning. I also want to capitalize more on what we're learning on our homeschool co-op (do extensions and further explorations).

2) On a weekly basis, I will schedule a time to prepare myself for the upcoming week's activities. Too often I am flying by the seat of my pants. I want to go into each day with better preparation.

3) Have designated school time at least 3 times a week (more if possible), and make this time sacred. Too easily I brush school time aside if something comes up. I've decided I need to protect this time more fiercely. If I treat this school time with more respect, hopefully my children will also. By the way, one thing that really helps is to have a specific routine that starts of "school time" - for us, that is calendar time. They love to do it, and it launches us into the right mental zone for learning and focus.

Rebecca said...

Well...I guess my comment was too long! I got cut off. I will try to recreate the rest of what I had to say when I see what was included in my first comment.

Anyway, one quick thought....

I'm sure that you follow Counting Coconuts. Often times, when I'm struggling to plan, I just copy exactly what's on her shelves. I also found the info she has about planning in her FAQ section very helpful.

Martianne said...

Thank you both for your comments. Theya re so helpful.

I laugh at myself sometimes because I have gone from rigid schedules to flexible ones to ignoring schedules altogether and back around...

Like Rebecca, I think I need to make the homeschooling periods of our ays more sacred moving forward -- I often let them go in order to meet other things that come up.

I so appreciate your thoughts and comments, Kylie and Rebecca.

Martianne said...

Kerryanne, I just noticed your wonderful, encouraging comment and see so many parallels to my own efforts and thoughts in it. Thank you for the encouragement...

Also, I have been thinking, days like I have been having, to fall back to the Classical or CM approaches that also appeal to me and think, it's okay! Unlike the Montessori approach, they don't suggest quite as much for young ones. And, even the Montessori approach says to "follow the child" and, if nothing else, the accidental unschooling approach does.

Thanks, again, ladies!

Martianne said...

Blissful e, what you do sounds so much like what I was doing before #3 came along, and even a bit after him. I guess my eldest becoming kindergarten age has just made me feel a bit more "push" to get more "traditional" so to speak, but if I stop thinking "school" and start remembering simply "learning", I will stop beating myself up.

Even as a "regular" schoolteacher, I always felt play, free exploration and interest-based learning beget the best results. So, I am not sure why I am doubting what we've been doing now... Maybe it's that somewhat 'nasty" comparison thing so many of we homeschooling moms catch ourselves doing. For, while I don't sit around and compare myself often, as I glean ideas on people's blogs and see what they do, I realize how much more I intended to do... want to do. Then, I come around to remembering "all good things in time", "God draws straight our crooked lines" and "all things work together for good" are common for a reason!

Feeling so much better with everyone's perspective today!

Itsy Bitsy Learners said...

Thanks to life our approach fell into an unschooling one ... the guilt came with it too. felt like I was failing my girls ... Until we were at the restaurant the other day and my daughter pointed to the table number ... "That's 45." ... Fluke I thought ... so I had her point to another ... "That's 83." ... and another .. I then started writing them on her paper menu. She read all of them ... BUT I had not taught her past 30. Not one lesson with me past 30.

But we have played LOTS ... we have talked LOTS, we have READ lots and somehow, somewhere her brain made the connections.

... and the guilt I felt seeing the others load on the big yellow bus is (for now) no more.


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