July-August 2010 Selected Content
We Stopped Doing School at Home - Denice Dible
A favorite places to curl up with a book.
Ah, it was the first day of school on August 3. It was a little early to start our homeschool year, I admit, but my education degree was itching to be put to use after a three month vacation proceeding the birth of our eighth child. This year I was especially eager to start a new classical approach to educating our eight-, seven-, four-, and three-year-old children.
I had lots of new workbooks, supplies, posters and charts, flashcards, novels, and even a schedule that hung on the wall filled with our activities from breakfast all the way through bedtime. We completed eight subjects a day, including Latin, book reports, poetry memorization, and lots of science experiments. I thought it was great, but by November, the kids were whining and complaining about having to do another worksheet. I was burning out. Our three-year-old seemed to regress in potty training and temper tantrums. The baby was getting older and into more things.
I decided to take December off to enjoy the Advent/Christmas season. We took five weeks off. In January I didn't feel at all refreshed. I dreaded the thought of going back to that routine. Many of the books I had ordered seemed so dry and boring. Many of the workbooks and activities seemed to be just busy work. Worst of all, I was short-tempered and stressed out, and so were the kids. We weren't really enjoying being home with each other.
I started thinking about what I really envisioned for our children concerning learning and living a Christian life in the country. I wanted them to be excited about learning. I wanted them to pursue their interests. I hoped they would ask questions and find the answers and apply what they learned to their lives. I wanted them to learn useful skills, not just be able to answer some pre-selected questions, memorize some spelling words, or diagram a sentence. My husband and I recognized that they needed to be able to read, do some basic math computation, use reference materials, and things like that. But we wanted them to take the initiative to learn about things that interested them in as much depth as they wanted.
So I prayed, re-read books on relaxed home schooling and unschooling, read through every issue of Home Education Magazine I could get my hands on, and took a deep breath and a leap of faith, and let the children lead.
We are now almost at the end of our home school year. Our days look a bit different than they did eight months ago. Right now we have three week old chicks. We did research on the Internet and read magazines about how to care for chicks. We went to Tractor Supply and bought supplies and set them up in our basement. We drove to the post office to pick up our chicks when they were a day old. The kids take care of them daily and observe their growth and changes. Today they all helped paint the chicken coop. Grace is making a project for the science fair on the life cycle of a chicken and other facts related to poultry. They learned how much chicks and supplies cost, how much we have to move the infrared lights every week for warmth, how many weeks it takes before we can move them outside, butcher them, and when they will start laying. They have learned how to tell the cockerels apart from the hens.
The boys are even more interested in the variety of frogs and toads that mate and lay eggs in the cover of our pool each spring. They retrieve the amphibians, then their eggs, then the hundreds of tadpoles that never make it to full-grown frogs before we uncover and set up the pool for the summer. Brady is taking a sample from each phase of a frog's life cycle to display at the science fair. We get out our field guide to determine what kinds of hoppers we have. We have all learned how to tell the difference between a frog and a toad.
We also recently bought an eight-week-old beagle puppy. Once again, we did research on the Internet about this breed of dog. The kids drew pictures of her and took photos of her. We read up on puppy behavior, care, and training. All the children---except for the baby---are in charge of never leaving Tippy alone in a room in the house since she did not come housebroken.
Of course, spring on the homestead brings plenty of activity in our gardens. The children are learning about the cost of imported produce in the supermarket compared to the price of seeds. They certainly recognize the difference in taste of fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables from those pale out-of-season counterparts at the store. They learn about garden pests and the benefits of those pesky ladybugs that have been all through our house these past few months. Once our foods are harvested (which they love to help with), they take part in preparing them for meals, following recipes and adding fresh herbs from our herb beds. They participate in sharing our excess with friends and neighbors, which makes them feel very proud of their hard work. Finally, drying, canning, and freezing the rest is always something they enjoy doing with Mom and Dad.
Having said all of that, I must also admit that every now and then my veteran educator self starts to panic and worry that they are not learning enough or what they should for their grade level, and I insist that they do a page or two in their math workbooks, or read a chapter from an age-appropriate book, or orally quiz them on spelling words at the lunch table. But for the most part, things are just much more relaxed as we follow the seasons of life here and homestead more and more. Brady and Grace are reading so much more and better on their own now than when I made them do it. Grace probably reads three chapter books every week. Brady is somehow a good writer and speller despite the fact that he doesn't like to write, nor does he do much of it. Even the younger ones seem to be understanding complex scientific concepts without opening a science textbook.
So life has changed a bit around here. I no longer have to spend my days standing over children in the kitchen making sure they are finishing their assigned lessons correctly while maintaining a good attitude. We can spend more time incorporating our faith in our everyday life, and spend more time outside in nature, which we love. I think I am able to better see their individual personalities and gifts God has given them when I am not trying to make them follow some curriculum. This is certainly not what I anticipated back in August, but I am relieved and pleased that "school at home" has come to an end at our house.
© 2010, Denice Dible