Sharon August 8th, 2008
Someone asked me recently if I’d do a post on what kind of homeschoolers we are. It was someone I know well and like a lot, so I couldn’t do what I normally do with requests for posts I really don’t especially want to write, which is ignore it . So I said I would, and then sort of intentionally forgot about it. Except that my friend didn’t forget. And now I’m feeling guilty, and it is time to start getting my act together for the new school year, so I might as well do it.
Why don’t I want to answer this question? Because in a world of homeschoolers who can put neat labels on themselves “We’re Christian Classical Educators” “Unschoolers here!” “We do a combination of Waldorf and Montessori” we don’t really have a good label. Or rather, there is a good way to describe our kind of homeschooling, but it isn’t the kind of label you revel in – we’re slacker homeschoolers. This is not a recognized curriculum model .
Now we could probably get away with saying we are unschoolers, except that we aren’t. There are definitely things I like about unschooling, but I’m actually pretty firm about the fact that my kids have to learn multiplication tables and practice piano, even if they don’t particularly want to. A lot of the time we let our kids follow their own interests and pursue ideas their own way – except well, when we don’t.
We currently have a Waldorf curriculum, Oak Meadow, for every year, K-5, but that’s because we got it cheap from someone else. We use parts of this, and really like it, but the whole sitting in a circle with a lighted candle thing, or the no pressure, learn to read when you feel like it thing we’re not so into.
We have a lot of cool Montessori stuff, but since pure Montessori isn’t into fairy tales and imaginative stuff, we ignore that part. I like some of the elements of classical homeschooling, including its emphasis on going through ideas at three seperate levels, and we do this – when we remember to, but my kids aren’t taking Latin, they are doing Hebrew and Russian, and we’re not really doing the whole “western civ” is the world thing.
We do the Jewish thing at home, but unlike a friend of mine who integrates her Christian faith into everything, we don’t do the “If four Leviites meet 3Kohain, what do you…” thing. Unlike friends of ours who afterschool (that is, they send their kids to school and then work with them constantly afterwards), we’re well, kind of lazy, and we miss a lot of teachable moments.
We also don’t do the homeschooling thing that doesn’t have a name, but seems to be the dominant motif of homeschooling – that is, the “take them everywhere and do everything” thing. A lot of the homeschooling parents I know are constantly off to this class and that one, this event and that. Our adventures tend to be lower key – see the local community theater production of The Wizard of Oz, to meet the worm lady at the public library story hour, or back out into the woods to look for salamanders. Some of this is principled, of course, but some of it is just plain disorganization – we often hear about amazing things afterwards, since we haven’t read the local homeschool newsletter.
Basically, we pick and choose. And in real life, I’d say that our dominant motif is – inconsistency and slacking off. That is, we do formal lessons, we do some workbook things (because the kids love them), we do go to see things, we do structure, we do no structure, we follow Simon and Isaiah’s enthusiasms – the shift from The Wizard of Oz to Robin Hood, for example. We make up projects, like our current trip through time.
But just as often our plans to do some elaborate thing get sidetracked by our attempts to do other things, and instead of an exciting science project we’re back to “who wants to help Mommy mix the dough” – and that’s ok too. The thing is, I don’t feel any particular guilt about this one. The kids are learning – Simon is way ahead in most stuff, still catching up on handwriting and manual dexterity, while he reads Shakespeare for children and chapter books for kids 5 years older than him (and Mommy hides some of the other ones we don’t want him reading yet), and we bug him to look up from the book occasionally. Isaiah is a math whiz at 4 and a junior naturalist who corrects Dad on plant identification all the time. He already grasps multiplication, but still isn’t clear on some of those middle letters, the l-m-n section of the alphabet we now refer to as the ”flyover letters.” Asher is, well, a hindrance, who mostly likes it when we do froot loop math (yes, we buy bulk froot loops for this and potty bribes – so shoot me ), where after a bit of counting, he gets to eat them. They seem pretty normal – ahead in some things, behind a bit in others, but nothing we worry about.
What we do that is different is that we emphasize manual skills, require a comparatively large number of chores, and keep the kids outside as much as possible. My educational philosophy comes down, I think to a mix of ” Mean Moming” (ie, making kids do things I think are good for them that they don’t especially want to do, like practice music, do, chores, memoriz some stuff or brush their teeth), “Nice Moming” (ie, supporting their interests, arranging ways to follow their dreams, seeking out materials to let them do what they love), actual teaching, in both the formal and “teachable moment” sense and saying “Go out and play and find something to do.” I figure they’ll explain what I did wrong eventually, probably in some detail. Until then, I’m going with slacker education.