Homeschooling 101: My Dining Room Table Isn’t a Schoolroom and Other Ways to Teach the Kiddos

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Quick!  Let’s play a game.  I will write a simple statement and you, the reader, think of the first thing that comes to mind.  Here we go….

I HOMESCHOOL MY CHILDREN.

Now, if I had to guess, the picture in your head is a dining room or kitchen table with me sitting on one side and the children sitting on the other.  We have textbooks.  We have workbooks.  We have a Bible.

Did I nail it or what?

When I started homeschooling, this would have been accurate.  It is certainly how I imagined homeschool.  Breaking it down, home-school is a compound word containing home and school.  So….it should mean school at home.  Except that the corporate form of school is rigid for reasons that are nonexistent in my house.  I am not containing twenty little people, we don’t walk together in a line down the hall every time one of us needs to pee, an intercom is not necessary (though a panic button might be useful at times), there is not an administration giving tours to prospective students, and I am not confined to a nine week syllabus.  Besides, my dining room looks out into the rest of the house.  To pretend the couch doesn’t exist and that wooden chairs is the way to go is silly.  There are three people with a whole house at their disposal to utilize for school.  Not to mention a car, some sidewalks, a park, a backyard, lots of farms, and a giant city with more cool stuff than I can list here, all at our fingertips.

And so we use the tools we find accessible.  We do not sit at the dining room table.  (I will admit, I have turned the space into a study of sorts, and if you can imagine a professor’s office, you have a good idea.  The actual table is covered with projects and paper and all sorts of schooly things.  But it is way too cluttered to get any work done there.)

Now, with this little myth out of the way, let’s talk about the way people really DO educate their kids.

This part was shocking to me as we came out of the public schools and into our home.  I figured most people did things generally the same way.  What I found is that homeschoolers are fringe people.  People already living on the fringe of society by not putting their kids in a corporate environment.  Homeschoolers are terrible rule followers by nature.  Therefore, the only rules in how to school your kid(s) are set by the state.  And believe me when I tell you that mommas and daddos take these guidelines as a challenge for creativity.  That said, all of my close friends, while drastically different from each other, do an amazing job.  Really.

And so, without further ado….

Here is a list of the common homeschooling methods used, along with a brief definition made up by me:

School at Home – Traditional method that typically keeps to a schedule and covers all basic subject areas using textbooks, workbooks, etc.  May or may not be religious, but usually does have an element of faith, and might even start each day with devotionals.

Classical – Featuring traditional elements, with subjects such as Latin, Greek, Biblical history thrown in.  A popular form of this method is the co-op, Classical Conversations.  These students meet weekly for group lessons, then do the rest of the work on their own.

Charlotte Mason – A variation of the classical method, but typically considered less rigid and more activity based, with shorter lessons and lots of nature study incorporated.  Co-ops are also often formed for groups of families, and this group loves notebooks and sketching.

Eclectic – Exactly as it sounds, with the parent picking and choosing the best of various methods.  May use some curriculum, but is not committed to any one publisher or series.  Often less structured.

Relaxed/ Relaxed Eclectic – Same as eclectic, but much less structure.  Probably field trip/ life experience component fairly important here.

Child Led – Taking the child’s interest and learning style as a guide and planning around these components.  Montessori for homeschool would be a good description, though not all child led homeschoolers are educated on the Montessori methods.

Unit studies – Taking a subject, such as trees, and incorporating it into a unit that encompasses writing, literature, science, math, etc into the study.  This group loves lap books and notebooks.

Unschool – The idea that life is a stage for learning and that given time and space, each person’s natural curiosity will lead him/ her to learn all things necessary for life success.  It was started in the 1970’s by John Holt as the idea that learning should be natural and has evolved into the previous description.

Radical Unschool – This is unschooling to the extreme.  Equality and individual desire reigns.  In households, an instinct of respect for others as necessary for cohabitation is the main structure.

Again, these definitions are my opinion, and while I tried to be honest, I do have a natural bias towards certain methods.

Our first semester, we used school at home, burned out, went to relaxed/ unschool for the second half of that year, and now have found a balance. We use curriculum, but not for everything.  We like field trips, but too many can make life hectic.  The kids learn better when their needs are considered, so child led just makes sense.  I need flexible structure or I can be prone to anxiety attacks.  So, in the end, if I had to label us, it would be life learners using the electic/ child led methods of homeschooling.

If any of these methods are of particular interest and you’d like to know more, please feel free to use the contact tab in the top right of this website or simply leave a comment/ question below.  I’d love to hear from you!

Homeschooling 101: What is UN School-ing??

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There is a term used among homeschoolers.  It is Unschooling.  AKA Unschooler.  Unschooled.  To Unschool.  Depending on who uses it, the word can have many different reactions.  For example:

I once told somebody I unschooled my children and the response I received was, “Well, that’s fine.  But I want my children to be able to survive in the real world if I die.”

Or,

“Well, I unschool reading or history, etc., but we have to do math!”

Or,

“We are sooo unmotivated to start back.  Maybe we’ll become unschoolers, ha ha ha!”

Or my favorite….

“We unschool….after we get our main work done.” (Just FYI people, that would be unschooling recess.  That’s it.  Recess.  And since you are already at home, we call that playing outside.  You are unschooling playing.  Outside.) 

 

By definition at its origination and by way of the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Unschooled means:

ADJECTIVE

1  Not educated at or made to attend school: unschooled children

1.1  Lacking knowledge or training in a particular field: She was unschooled in the niceties of royal behavior.

1.2  Not affected or artificial; natural and spontaneous.

 

Although the term has been around since the 1500’s, it became popular in the late 1970’s when John Holt used the word in his magazine, Growing Without Schooling.  He meant the term to speak about the first and third definitions.  Combining those two ideas, unschooling means not educated at school, but rather educated naturally and spontaneously, and in an organic or authentic setting.  

And yet, as is made obvious from the above reactions, unschooling has, unfortunately, developed a reputation for the second definition, meaning  lacking knowledge or training.

Within the homeschool community, there are many types of people, many styles of teaching, and various styles of learning.  It is the natural habit to identify oneself by the style of teaching in order to find like minded friends within the community.  This isn’t unique to homeschoolers.  Humans love to put themselves in boxes in order to figure out who else is in the box with them.  And so, after getting my bearing within the homeschool community, I started labelling myself as a relaxed homeschooler to some or as an unschooler at times as well.  What I meant by these labels is child led learning.  Approaching learning through the interests of the child.  Figuring out the motivation for learning and using it as a tool to move forward. Learning as a natural integration of our day instead of organizing each day by hour and subject.  Recognizing learning moments outside of the traditionally accepted lessons provided.  In other words, learning naturally with my children’s interests as a vessel to accomplish our studies.  What I did NOT mean is learning in a chaotic environment.  No curriculum.  Living without rules.  Having my children explore all of life with only  natural consequence as the teacher.  No expectations.

However, in my personal opinion, the term unschooling has been absorbed by a group of homeschoolers that do exactly what I did not mean.  Their households operate with few to no rules.  None.  At.  All. There are no expectations, especially regarding education.  Manners, safety, hygiene practices, etc. are learned through observation and natural consequence.  In other words, when people at the library start avoiding your stench, that is the natural consequence of not bathing.  In order to avoid this, it is time to learn to bathe properly.  It is commonly assumed children will pick up what they need for success in adulthood through natural curiosity.  When a skill is needed, a person will be curious and motivated to learn it.  One or two, I repeat – one or two, of these ideas connected (to a degree) with my philosophy on education and so I have tried in some ways to give their version of unschooling a try.  Many would say if it isn’t a complete immersion, it isn’t a proper try.  Whatever. What I found is I did not like it.  But more importantly, my children did not thrive.  We were stressed and unsure of ourselves and of what we were accomplishing.  Both children became increasingly anxious.  And so, alas,  I cannot relate to this particular group in a way that would put us in the same box.

Now, back to John Holt.  Even he saw the writing on the wall (of that box) with using the term unschooling.  In fact, by the early 1980’s he stopped using it.  I like him.  I like some of his writings.  I agree with him on various aspects of educating a child.  I think John and Maria Montessori would have been good friends.  I would have loved to go to that dinner party.

As for my family, we are moderately relaxed.  Not radical.  We begin our days later than some, but our days go later as well.  Learning is a way of life more than a to do list.  Yet as a person that loves lists, having set requirements each day and commonly accepted household expectations are a part of our organizational practices and our learning methods.  We use curriculum.  We may collaborate on schedules, but I lead.  We study specific academic subjects.  There are boundaries relating to electronics and personal space and bed time and privacy.  My husband and I are heads of the household.  Basic skills such as prayer, safety, manners, chores, hygiene, etc. are taught before a natural consequence requires the skill.  I  personally believe in first impressions.  I care about socially acceptable behavior when we are around others.  I want my children to feel confident and independent and equipped to handle the world outside our home, according to what is appropriate for their age.  Being shunned or considered rude simply because my children were not taught how to handle public situations is not comfortable for me or for them.

So there it is.  We are not unschoolers.  Probably won’t ever be.  I don’t even know quite how to label us.  But If I have to label our family, I say we are life learners.  Because, in the end, no matter how we learn, we keep learning.  Always.

 

***Please note – This is my personal experience with Unschooling.  For more information on the subject and for people out there in the homeschooling world that do it well, please use Google.  Those people are out there.  And they are successful.  It just wasn’t our thing.***

 

 

Homeschooling 101: Socialization

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What about socialization?

“Homeschoolers are just a bit weird.  The one that lives next door to me is odd.  I worry he’s not going to be able to make it in the real world.”

Please stick with me for a minute….thinking back to the good old days when you, the reader, went to high school – was everybody normal?  Can’t think of one single different kid?  Nobody struggled to make friends, relate to other peers, or fit in?  High school was great and fantastic and socially healthy for all involved?  Hmm?

Maybe, the weird homeschooler that lives next door would be that weird public school kid that gets taunted by bullies and whispered about by girls passing by.  Maybe he or she would be the kid eating lunch in the bathroom stall to avoid sitting alone in the corner of the lunchroom.  Maybe, just maybe, he or she is weird no matter where he or she learns.  But either way, I am guessing lunch is a lot more pleasant at his or her own kitchen table, and he or she is probably able to better concentrate on his or her studies since the bullies aren’t in his or her math class.

Now think about our real world.  Is it made up of groups of people all the same age?  At work, do you the reader raise your hand or ask permission to use the restroom?  Do you all go together at certain intervals throughout the day, while one of you monitors the stalls for misbehavior?  Do you eat your lunch in silence at a table full of coworkers, afraid that talking out loud may land you in trouble?  Do you work on your assignments based on a bell?  Do you switch to a new file every fifty five minutes regardless of the progress on the previous file?  Do all of you out there in this real world sit for seven to nine hours in a frenzied schedule of concentration?  See, I am not buying this idea that a public school is true preparation for the real world.  The real world actually looks nothing like public school at all.

But homeschooling, well…..

These students interact with the world around them every day while other students are sitting in classrooms.  Homeschoolers get together for activities and studies and projects all the time.  With over two million students roaming the US during normal school hours, there are no shortage of social opportunities from which to choose.  For example, in my county alone, I can name four different support groups, a teen group, a 4-H chapter with multiple homeschool club offerings, two football teams, a cheerleading squad, a choir, an orchestra, six co-ops, and even a few legal associations, all off the top of my head.  If I were to start a Google search, the opportunities would likely multiply, and this does not even begin to name the activities students seek out on their own, such as club sports, music lessons, and community groups.

More likely than not, homeschoolers have to prioritize their social schedule rather than seek it out.

Homeschooling 101: The Truth in Numbers

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Based on information from the U.S. Department of Education, about 2 million students are homeschooled.  If you ask the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), they will tell you the numbers are possibly even higher.  But regardless, homeschooled students make up almost four percent of the current school age population , K – 12th grade.

***Also, let me define “homeschool”.  This is a student that does not attend a brick and mortar school setting and does not depend on any public funds, be it federal, state, or local education funds or any tax payer provided resources.  “Homeschool” does not include online charter students that are still funded by any public money.***

Therefore, there are even more than two million students outside of a traditional school setting that are not attending a private school once online and charter schools become factored.

Now, let’s talk money.  The families that choose to homeschool their children do so out of their own finances, saving the U.S. approximately $16 billion each year.  In fact, in my home state there were 15,826 homeschool students this past school year (2013-14). Let’s assume the state government alone puts in $10,000 per student (it is really a little more, but I rounded down to the nearest thousand); that means that if all the homeschooled students in my state suddenly showed up at the doors of the local public school, it could cost the state tax payers $158,260,000.  That is not figuring in county money, district money, or extra federal funding provided.  Let me be the first to break the news to those not in the know….in my little rural, poor town, even a fraction of that number up there would break the bank.  The schools are poor with what they’ve got, and if we showed up they’d end up destitute.

And yet, despite the state spending thousands and thousands of dollars per student, most homeschooling families do not spend anywhere close to that on educating their children.  Often the families are living on single incomes, expenses are tight, and budgets are a necessity.  The myth that homeschoolers are wealthy and very religious is just that – a myth.  The National Center for Education Statistics, as published at this site, found that while homeschool families are slighty less likely than the average population to be poor, they are more likely to be near poor or middle class.  Homeschool families are no wealthier than the average public school population.   And as for religious, well, while religion is one of the reasons people choose to homeschool, it is not the only one.  If we look at the numbers and see where homeschoolers are located, we notice a higher average of rural students in homeschooling than in public school, as well as more larger families of three or more children in a household.  But even at that, students are coming from all types of environments – city, suburban, rural, single parents, two working parents, large families, small families, etc.  So while religion does play a part in their decision to homeschool in many instances, convenience, flexibility, or poor public educational options are also common reasons as well.

So finally, this begs the question – But can homeschoolers graduate from high school?  Does Mom write up a transcript?  Is their education as thorough as a public education?  In other words, are they getting at a minimum what their public school peers are getting?  And the answer is yes.  Homeschoolers are getting what they need to succeed.  In fact, on average, homeschoolers score higher on standardized tests and go on to be successful college students and/ or involved members of our communities.

While this post highlighted a few basic questions, more information is available for those readers interested in comparison by numbers.  There is a fun chart here.  Also, for even more statistics on homeschooling, please click on the highlighted links in this post above.

Homeschooling 101 will continue in the next post with the question of socialization.