Friday, March 22, 2013

Some Days, Homeschooling Is Awesome

My biggest homeschooling hurdle right now is getting school done amidst the chaos, noise and distraction of toddlers.

Even when those little people are outrageously adorable, they still bring a lot of chaos that has a way of being unendingly disruptive of any sort of school schedule.

In spite of that, I have noticed that often "school" has a way of happening anyway.  I'm so thankful.

For Jonah, for right now, we have chosen a fairly loose, "free-range" form of school.  We have structure, we have a daily, family routine that includes "school time", we have a lot of learning.  But it doesn't always look like school in the traditional sense (actually, um, rarely to never).  Academic requirements are almost non-existent, but learning is an all-day pursuit.  I'm not saying that this is the best way to educate, or that every kid would do well with this.  I'm just saying that this is what we've chosen for now, for our life, for our kids, for what we know of them.  

I love that our school day can begin with a measuring lesson while learning to make oatmeal (I'm gearing up to have Jonah able to prepare breakfast for himself and his brothers when Mommy gets a little busier pretty soon with a new baby) and then go on to "yes, you do have to go out and feed the chickens again today because the chickens have to be fed every day", followed by some time outside learning to provide for the family by helping Daddy stack firewood (not to mention the hands-on physics and good exercise), then back in for a Bible story and a history story about Queen Elizabeth I, after which Jonah will decide to spend an hour alternately reading Peanuts and drawing a giant panoramic World War II scene.

He could have spend all that time sitting at a desk trying to pay attention and waiting in line for lunch.

I love seeing that natural spark --the joy of learning-- that seems to come standard-issue in kids.  I am terrified of blowing out that little flame.  My main goal as an educator right now is to encourage that love of learning and not to squelch it.  The little guys certainly have it, and so far it's still going strong in Jonah.  So far, so good.   I really like to keep the "Seven Keys of Great Teaching" in mind as I think about ways to make learning a joyful experience instead of drudgery.

I have a huge advantage with Jonah in that he is a precocious reader.  That just makes my job so much easier.  He can teach himself so much.  We make lots of trips to the library for books (okay, not actually enough trips, considering the books we took back yesterday were due three weeks ago.  Thank the Lord for  a forgiving, small-town public library!), but I am discovering that it's really important to have a good home library as well.  Every single day, Jonah browses and selects books in a seemingly random fashion, but he's often circling around whatever his current interest is.  Lately, believe it or not, it's been math.

I like to have a variety of math things available, and he does a little here and there, with or without my encouragement, depending on the day.  We use Math-U-See, Life of Fred, Mathtacular, Sudoku, various math games, and his latest favorite is watching Vi-Hart videos on Khan Academy.  The videos led to an interest in Pythagoras, about whom he has drawn pages and pages of comics. No, of course he doesn't understand the Pythagorean theorem --not even remotely!-- but so what?  He's interested, and he'll circle back to it and get more later.

So a few days ago, he found something in an kid's encyclopedia-type book about the abacus.  The entry included instructions on making and using your own abacus.  Ever since, he's been begging for the materials to make one, and today we finally capitulated and got the stuff together for him.  Of course he needed help and instruction, so instead of working on a pile of sewing I need to do, I spent naptime learning about using an abacus.  It's always been a complete mystery to me, but then, I never felt the need to find out about it, either.  So we learned together and it was a very enlightening experience, from both a child-psychology aspect as well as a math aspect.

Once we figured out how to use the puzzling thing (somewhat), Jonah decided he needed to use it to do his Math-U-See page instead of using the set of math blocks that he would normally use.  I was quite dubious of this idea, but went along with it to see how it would go.

And it was HUGELY challenging for both of us.  The abacus requires a very different way of thinking about the numbers and manipulation of them.  At first, there are actually more steps to solving a math problem, but I can see how the brain could learn to make the logical leaps for those steps with enough practice.  It was very challenging for me to figure out how to solve a math problem, and then teach Jonah the steps involved.

But Jonah ate it up, and a few hours after finishing the Math-U-See page, he brought me a sheet of paper and asked me to write out more problems for him to solve.  So I cooked supper while coaching abacus problems and trying not to trip on toddlers and their detritus.

So did we do any history or geography today?  Um... no.  Come to think of it, we didn't even read a Bible story or work on our Easter hymn that the Sunday school kids are learning for church, and usually those things are what I prioritize.  Also, I don't think we've done any math for several days.

But today, we did a lot of math.

Some days are like that.


  1. Love this! Your day sounds so much like my own. And you did a great job of putting it into words. Sometimes it's hard for me to describe it to those on the outside looking in who just want to know "what curriculum" we use. Free range schooling. Love it!

  2. ditto totally my style!!! My girls learned great and it is a JOY to learn and teach this way. One day the girls had been making "books" and writing stories for about 6 hours and I looked at my husband and said, "there is no way you can make a child do this, they are excited about learning. " yeah and now if I would refresh myself on some basic grammer and punctuation, not to mention speeeeliiing.