Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Natural Benefit of Homeschooling

A regular reader of this blog, Shawna, has a great entry today on her own blog, The Homeschooling Experiment, entitled, "Oh, How I Remember Now!" Shawna is just beginning her "homeschooling experiment" - she's been teaching her son at home for a whole three weeks, and already she's learned a really important lesson many homeschooling parents never learn.

Shawna was a teacher some years ago, and she remembers the way the school fragments a child's day. She describes it this way:
10 minutes for roll call, collecting homework, going over that nights homework, get out the Scarlett Letter, lets begin reading, alright 10 minutes is up, books away and take out your grammar text and turn to page 236, alright 10 more minutes up let's move on to our spelling work--Latin roots for 10 minutes. . and wow a whole 8 minutes for any questions, problems or disciplinary issues that came up. BELL RINGS off they go!

I wasn't teaching. They weren't learning or enjoying themselves or even having their interest piqued.

Shawna was smart enough to see how this kind of approach was making it difficult for her son to focus or even really to enjoy his Language Arts. Here's what she did:
I pulled all of the spelling sheets and let him work on them until he was done--finished or uninterested. I pulled all of the reading comprehension and did the same thing. I am not going to bounce back and forth between subject within the same subject, not pull him from the subject that he is submerged in, not give him time slots to complete work.

It frustrated me as a teacher: I can only imagine it frustrates children as students.

I find Shawna's observations very perceptive, especially for a brand-new homeschooler. While classroom teaching may require artificial time breakdowns, one of the advantages of homeschooling is precisely the fact that we don't HAVE to break subjects down that way. In fact, that kind of breakdown goes totally against the way kids learn. If you've watched kids play for any significant amount of time, you've seen the way kids learn - totally focused on one topic, sometimes for hours; then switching to something else, often related to that, in a natural flow. How frustrating bells and deadlines are to the natural learning process!

In our homeschool, not only do we pursue a topic for as long as the interest dictates (or maybe a very slightly shorter time period, so the interest is still there the next time the topic is introduced!), but we often co-ordinate many of our "school subjects" so that we study in a more unified form. For example, for the last three weeks we've been studying ancient Egypt, with both my sixth-grade and my second-grade daughter. We've studied ancient Egyptian history, ancient Egyptian art and architecture, ancient Egyptian science(from the book "Science in Ancient Egypt"), ancient Egypt in the Bible (religion), and ancient Egyptian mythology (literature). We've done art and craft projects related to ancient Egypt. Even our writing has been about the ancient Egyptians. The only unrelated topics have been math and grammar (we can even pull spelling and vocabulary from the books we're reading).

By running our homeschool this way, we follow the kids' natural interest cycle. For three weeks, everything revolves around ancient Egypt; now we will move on to another topic, and follow it in similar depth. The more I do this, the more strongly I believe THIS is the way children are meant to learn. It's one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling I know.


Shawna said...

Thank you for the nice words! Your write up is well done!!! And I think so many new HSing families need to hear that it is OK to do it THEIR OWN way, that it is alright for children to play and learn through playing and to take their time learning...there will come a time when our children will need to be a bit more studious, but while they are young I think we need to let them learn in a way that is natural to them.

It is something I have been fighting these past three weeks with my own son and he in his great wisdom and strength has insisted upon making sure I remembered and understood, no matter how many tears either of us cried...and I finally remembered!

Marcy Muser said...

I'm glad you gave me the raw material to work with! You're right - it's often hard for new homeschoolers (and some more experienced ones, too) to relax and let kids learn their own way. As you homeschool, you learn to see the indicators that your child is ready for more structure. It takes time and experience, though; I'm much better at it with my younger daughter than I was with my older.

I find homeschooling educates me as much as it does my kids - it chafes away the rough edges and forces me to focus on what's really important. And we, too, have cried many tears; but the results have been so worth it as I watch my daughters grow and mature into beautiful, bright young ladies.