One family's quest to learn together
As we’re still quite new to Homeschooling our kids at home, there are days when I wonder what other family’s Homeschooling days look like. We’ve chosen to Unschool our kids, we are not strictly following any curriculum, we do not have a set timetable and we do not formally assess our children’s learning. We do practice basic maths and literacy skills together with the help of websites and online games, we do frequent our Library A LOT, and we do follow the kids lead on what interests them, and work at levels that they are comfortable with, rather than arbitrary benchmarks based on their age. We also try to learn as much as we can from our surroundings and daily life.
Those of you who know me, or who have been following the blog for a while, will know that I was once a Primary School Teacher. Ironically, I think that it was all those years following strict curriculum and timetables that has made me want to loose the structure in the way that we assist our children to learn at home. My husband is very supportive of this, he’s a free thinker, who, whilst doing quite well at school, didn’t thrive there. His best learning (and indeed probably all of ours) has happened outside school from his own motivation.
One of the biggest things that I learnt from 10 years in classrooms was how much time is wasted at school. Yes, you’ve read correctly, a school teacher is saying that schools waste time. The national curriculum in Australia is padded out a lot. Have you looked at it? (It is available here for download if you’re interested) No matter where you live, I suspect that it is the same in many countries, and yet teachers will tell you that they struggle to fit all of the required material into a school year. But I challenge parents to look at the curriculum that their school age children are following and compare it to the skills that they actually use now that they are adults. Tell me, when was the last time you wrote a Limmerick just for fun, or needed to work out the volume of a pyramid? Yet both of these things are required learning. My daughter, who would have been in year six this year, is supposed to be learning about “Key figures and events that led to Australia’s Federation, including British and American influences on Australia’s system of law and government”. She’s 11, and not due to participate in compulsory voting for another 7 years. And we wonder why kids are bored out of their brains at school?!
I’m not saying that Australian children shouldn’t learn about Australian government and history, I just question the timing of these lessons, and the fact that they are compulsory at certain ages despite whether or not the kids express any interest in the topic at the time. I’m sure that there are people who do like to write Limmerick poetry for fun, but does that mean that every Australian child should be taught, and then assessed on their ability to do so? There may even be a tiny proportion of the population that have found a need to work out the volume of a pyramid in their adult life, yet we teach it to all middle school children, and again assess them on it… “I’m sorry Mrs. Smith, no doubt little Johnny will amount to nothing, he failed maths because he clearly does not display the skills required to fill a pyramid with exactly the correct measure of liquid”.
Not only is our curriculum padded out with questionable learning objectives, but the school day is padded out as well. My children attended a private school that placed so much importance on the junior school assemblies that the presenting class would spend hours and hours of the preceding weeks practicing their songs and reciting their lines for a 10 minute presentation. The calibre of costumes constructed by parents for these assemblies, would put a National Theatre company costume department to shame. On top of all that, there’s pack-up time, line-up time, group time, fruit time, recess and lunch time. We’ve found at home, (and I’m sure others homeschoolers would agree) that without the time required for organising 30 little people, we can get a lot more done, in a lot less time.
Clearly, despite the fact that I am a school teacher, we are not running our days like ‘School at home’. There are not timetabled lessons, 50 minutes for maths, 50 minutes for literacy, 50 minutes for science and so on. We don’t use worksheets, follow lesson plans or stick to a curriculum, and we certainly don’t have a classroom in our house. We are certainly not replicating ‘school’ in any way really, but I do wonder, are others?
I follow quite a few Facebook and Pinterest pages and other Blogs with a Homeschool focus, and it certainly looks like others are doing ‘school at home’. I’ve seen pictures of Homeschool classrooms, read conversations between parents about which are the best workbooks or curriculums to purchase, and read complaints about disengaged kids who don’t want to do their lessons. Perhaps I’m painting the most extreme cases here, but reading these types of things leads me to question, why bother? If families are going to recreate school at home, why not just send the kids to school? For us it was the style of school that we wanted to avoid at home. If the kids are not thriving at school, learning in the style that happens there, why would Homeschoolers choose the same method at home?
Perhaps I read to much, it would seem that I’m often left with more questions than answers to be honest. This morning I was reading through a sample of over 400 responses to an article that one Homeschooling page posted on Facebook. The article was about medicating children with Ritalin for ADHD. Apparently now, 1 in 13 students in America are medicated for ADHD. What struck me about the responses from the followers of the page (presumably mostly Homeschooling parents) was the number of them who were offended by others strong opinions to medicating with Ritalin. Angry parents, writing in caps, dared those opposed to medicating children to spend a week in their homes, with their kids whilst off the meds. One parent, gave a very long-winded tale of how her child with ADHD could not focus at school, so she chose to Homeschool him instead, and relied on the medication to keep him focused on their lessons at home… Excuse me? What? You’re Homeschooling your son and he still needs Ritalin to stay focused on the lessons?? I think it was Einstein who said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Personally, I don’t believe that children should be medicated for ADHD. I do believe that not all children learn best at school. Every child does learn though, it makes sense to allow them to do it in the way that suits them best.
So, let me know your thoughts, how do you Homeschool? What style have you found works best to suit your children’s learning needs?