(Our recent visit with the Big Ol’ Oak had a dual purpose.)
I have been asked on several occasions recently how I homeschool or what sort of homeschooler I am.
(I wanted a new group photo under the tree, but we also wanted to measure it’s circumference.)
I have hesitated to write a post about this subject. Just as the choice to homeschool (assuming you have that option in the first place) is such a personal one, so is the way you go about doing it. I don’t believe there is a best way to home educate. I don’t believe that what I do is better than what anyone else does, nor do I compare myself to other homeschoolers wishing I was doing what they are. Every family is so unique. For the next ten years or so there is a good chance that I will always be homeschooling while caring for a baby or toddler and that is a big consideration for me as well. For the past eight years we have lived in a 1500 square foot house and will continue to live here into the near future so this also comes into play (we had no idea what direction we were headed in when we bought this house and never thought we would have more than two children.) We do lessons at the kitchen table, in the backyard, or on the couch. I have no special homeschooling room and very little storage space for materials.
Over the past four years I have learned to do what I like, what I can stick with, and what works for my particular kids and our family and home situation. I mention myself first because if I don’t like what we are doing or I try to school in a way that doesn’t fit my own personality and abilities, then there is a good chance I will set myself up to fail and my children won’t continue to enjoy learning.
(To measure the tree’s circumference we wrapped a piece of string around the trunk 4.5 ft, (this is considered breast height) from the ground on the uphill slope, cut it, and then measured the length of the piece of string. This measurement which for the Big Ol’ Oak was about 17 feet is then divided by pi (3.14…..) to get the diameter at breast height or dbh, which for our tree is about 5.4 feet.)
To be honest, I am not sure what kind of homeschooler I am. I guess I can tell you what I am not.
I am not good with adhering to one particular method, and prefer to take what I like from many schools of thought and leave the rest.
So, while I think there are people out there who think I am an unschooler, I am not. Although our home is most definitely set up in a way to encourage learning and my children do lots and lots of it on their own with Jonny and I helping them to pursue their own interests, I also make plans and use (gasp) spreadsheets (which I need to update on Scribd for sharing as I have new ones this year.) For that reason I can’t call myself an unschooler. We sort of unschool and use lesson plans. And I am not about to give up my lesson plans. I just couldn’t handle that. I decide what materials I want to use for the year ahead and then make weekly plans (this takes me about forty five minutes for four kids) every weekend all year long. I do not plan out my entire year in advance. Planning one week at a time works for me.
(We were sad to discover that our tree had lost another huge branch. This is the biggest loss we have witnessed so far.)
Waldorf? nope. but I sure do like all the handwork, art, emphasis on natural materials, nature study, etc. Our family just naturally does many of the things that Waldorf families do so there is definitely an affinity there. I would have most likely been in heaven if placed in a Waldorf classroom when I was a child.
Montessori? no. but I love Montessori probably because I attended Montessori school when I was a little girl and had such a positive experience. If there were a Montessori school five minutes down the road (rather than 20 minutes) and it cost a hundred bucks a month (rather than 600) I might have considered sending each of my children through an early childhood program. Seth actually did attend for a year, but ultimately it wasn’t right for him longterm. I use some Montessori methods and materials for my younger children, and especially when helping them learn to read.
(We made a rough measurement of the fallen branch which could have been a tree in and of itself. It was about seventy five feet long.)
Charlotte Mason? I’ve read a couple of books based on Charlotte Mason’s philosophies. I really love what I have read, but I tried following her methods to a tee one year with Seth, and it didn’t work for him (narration is nearly impossible for him.) so while we rely heavily on “living” books we don’t follow Charlotte Mason’s methods exactly. I may end up leaning more on her as Keats and Gabe get older. We’ll see. Again, there is the emphasis on nature study here that I love.
Classical? Well sort of but not really. I am not nitpicky enough about all that memorization and I just can’t commit to something like Classical Conversations. I happen to like the lesson plans from Mother of Divine Grace School and that is considered Classical. I buy them for each grade, but I change half of it, so I guess I don’t really follow it either. The main things I pull from MODG are the religion (although I add to that) the history (lots of good living history book recommendations,) the Language (I am a fan of the Emma Serle books,) and the Latin (Seth does some Latin.)
I talk about joining a local Catholic homeschooling co-op every year, but always back out last minute. I like freedom and that to me is one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling. I typically don’t have to be any certain place any day of the week with the exception of piano lessons for Seth and me. We are free to focus on our interests. Things are most likely going to change in the commitment category this year though as two of my boys are planning to play indoor soccer and all three want to join Cub Scouts.
I could tell you lots of things we don’t do. We don’t do elaborately planned projects surrounding some topic of interest. But then again maybe we do. There’s the garden, our new tree pilgrimage, keeping chickens, etc. But you won’t find any lapbooks here or other things like that because it’s just not my thing. We typically don’t take fieldtrips except to places outdoors or places we have “business” as a family at, such as the big architectural salvage place we visited last week. We are pretty spontaneous in this area because that is what works for us.
Sometimes I feel like my children are in training to be naturalists with other lessons just being something we do on the side. That is just because this is where our family’s interests lie. I love the outdoors and all of creation so I study it. I was educated in this area and I love sharing that with my children. I love to make things, Jonny builds things and makes things beautiful, he makes music (and I am trying to), we both love to grow things. Our children have developed their own interests, such as fossil hunting, and we have taken that on as a family pastime learning lots along the way. So these are the things that our family focuses on because this is our life. Basically much of “school” revolves around the family (not vice versa) and what we are interested in at the moment, or what we are working on, and all of it happens within the context of our Catholic faith.
I do keep records, but only in the form of my dear spreadsheets, the kids’ written work, and my photographs. Of course if you just went by my photographs you would think we hardly do any schooling at all and our lessons are on things like making Sassafras tea or starting fires with magnifying glasses.
So that’s it really. Sorry it’s not all very exciting. I could also write what exactly I am doing with each child this year if anyone is interested in the nitty gritty. Or describe what a typical homeschooling day looks like. And I will share my yearlong plans for our forest and tree study (I don’t know what to call it, it covers a lot of different topics related to trees) and the accompanying booklist hopefully this week.