Tuesday, January 6, 2009
my homeschool life
I read once that someone described their homeschooling as homeschooling by library card and I thought that summed up how accessible materials and ideas are to someone who wants to learn at home (or learn in the world, as some call it). All of my ideas for topics to explore with Jove come from books we have read or places we have gone. We recently went to the Natural History Museum and Jove was particularly interested in some composite panoramic shots of the moon landings that we saw while waiting for the bathroom. I checked out a bunch of books about the moon and the solar system for Jove and he is so excited about it. So, this week we are talking about the moon and doing stuff related to it. I always seize any opportunity to encourage writing, word recognition, drawing, counting or any other basic skill that can be used in what we are doing. We record what we do in a learning book that includes a lot of Jove's ongoing illustrated stories, my written descriptions of activities and other odds and ends. About two days a week we have days where we do a lot of learning activities. Other days are spent going places, meeting up with friends, taking classes and spending time outside.
I take full advantage of the amazing library programs in the area: art workshops with artists, storytellers, puppet show and story time with crafts. I love the library system here: anything and everything is available. We usually go to a library program once a week.
A lack of socialization with other kids is a concern that I hear from manyy people about homeschooling. It would be possible if someone lived in a remote area or didn't participate in any activities to have this experience, but I haven't met yet a homeschooled child who doesn't have lots of time to play with friends. I think Jove may get more time to play with friends because he is not in school (you just have to find homeschoolers). I think a lot of parents don't realize how little play is allowed in school once kids get past 1st grade. The overlooked benefit of homeschooling is that siblings get to be together.
I have finally gotten to the point in my journey homeschooling Jove where I have started to relax and truly enjoy it. I am enjoying it so much that it makes me sad to think that I will not be able to continue with Jove or provide the same type of experience for Miranda.
Let me say that all parents home school their children to varying degrees whether it involves explaining things to them, reading to them, going over homework, making projects, etc. So, in that sense I will always be a homeschooling parent.
A lot of creative and interesting things can happen in a school, so why does it seem so much better to learn outside of a classroom to me? Well, there are many reasons. First of all, schools present topics and activities to all students at the same time as if all kids would be interested in the same thing or learn the same way. In many instances this approach is pretty harmless because some activities are fun enough or general enough that almost all kids would want to do them. So why is it a problem? It doesn't allow kids to make connections between what they already know and what they are doing and it stifles creativity. For example, Jove and I did an experiment where we made craters by throwing rocks of varying shapes and sizes into a pan filled with flour and cocoa powder. After we made and measured our craters, Jove said that he wanted some water to mix in with his flour and he proceeded to make a giant mess. Then, he said he wanted to make planets out of the dough and he made all of the planets and we baked them. They are waiting to be painted and will be made into a solar system model. I asked him what color we will use to paint them and he said we will look in our book about outer space to see what color each planet is. These type of learning opportunities teach him more about how to learn than how to complete a pre-planned project.
My experiences with Jove have caused me to reflect upon on my experiences as a classroom teacher and I can now see that the way material is presented in school (to be absorbed, copied, memorized) really doesn't allow students to think for themselves. As we were reading a book about the phases of the moon, Jove was explaining to me about how people on the other side of the planet would not be able to the moon at the same time as us because they are facing outer space. This concept has confused so many of my Earth science students over the years, even though it really isn't complex at all and I believe that students in a traditional classroom expect to be given the answer, told what is right, shown the model--- they are rarely expected to figure it out for themselves.
I have heard so many teachers and administrators discuss the apathy of students and that many of the students who do work hard care more about their grade than anything else. I understand that grades are the great motivator in school, in fact, I can't imagine a traditional school without them. I would argue that teaching kids to work hard to learn to earn a grade teaches them very little about what they are capable of as a human beings other than earning grades. In fact, the saddest part of being a teacher for me has been teaching very accomplished kids that have no idea what they are interested in, what they like and don't. I have also had students who are amazing and know who they are and they have all had defining experiences outside of school. I think a progressive school that allows kids to experience as much as possible in its real context would allow kids to figure out what they like and have an aptitude for.
My biggest fear for Jove as he enters school next year is that he will be quieted, his creative spirit will have no space to work in and his ideas will fall on deaf ears. I would be happy to put Jove into a small, progressive school but the only ones here are too far away and too expensive, maybe I'll have to start one....