When I first started researching homeschooling, I quickly realized that each curriculum seemed to be focused around a philosophy. It was overwhelming. Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, Interest led/Delight led learning; there were so many. I was drawn to aspects of all of them. The academic in me loved the idea of Classical education with its structure and focus on memorization. I even pursued the idea of signing my daughter up for a local chapter of Classical Conversations, though it was very expensive and we couldn’t really afford it. But when I emailed the organizer she asked if my four year old knew how to read yet. She assured me that it wasn’t required, but that she would get more out of the program if she did. I had been struggling with the very issue of forcing academics too early. I was all for teaching kids to memorize, but my instinct was that facts memorized without any understanding wouldn’t necessarily be helpful. What good is remembering when an event happened if you don’t know why it mattered? I’m not saying that classical education isn’t great and we may pursue it more in the future, but I realized it wasn’t why I was homeschooling. Which led me to ask the question: Why am I homeschooling and what do I want my school to look like? The answer surprised me.
As a very academic person who thrived in a traditional academic environment, albeit private school rather than public, I assumed that my homeschooling would be more like traditional school at home. Schedules, assignments, perhaps even tests. But then I remembered a big part of why I am choosing to homeschool, I don’t just want to teach my child, I want to help her learn how to learn, teach her to think. In some ways I won’t be her teacher at all, though part of me would prefer that role, I am here to help her develop the ability to self-teach and to become a lifelong learner. I want her to be able to absorb and analyze new information, remember that information but also form conclusions and create her own ideas using that information. This is something that is not taught in most traditional public schools any longer.
So what does our school look like? We are much more unschool or interest led than I ever imagined. I have set days with room for school. It often works around my son’s naps, but not always. We do lots and lots of read aloud, more if my daughter asks for it. She can do creative activities like crafts pretty much whenever she wants. We spend two days a week with our preschool co-op, meeting outside as long as the weather permits. The two things I’ve learned most from Charlotte Mason are that children only have a 15-20 minute attention span, so keep that in mind with planning all lessons. Also, give them as much outside time as possible. We don’t get as much outside time as I’d like, but I notice that my daughter is a happier kid, even if all she does is dig in the dirt or draw with chalk. It’s even better if we go someplace where she has space to run. I can see why previous generations of inventors, entrepreneurs and artists spent their childhoods mostly outdoors rather than in front of the TV or sitting at a desk for eight hours a day.
I love many of the aspects of Waldorf education including the focus on music, dance and the arts along with the seasons of the year and cycles of nature. The curriculum we use in Waldorf based and so far it works really well for us. Music is a daily part of our lives. Thanks to Pandora we can transition from classical, to blue grass, to the Beach Boys, or Veggie Tales. We’ve come upon songs like the Water Cycle and the Alphabet of Nations. Music has seamlessly become part of our daily learning without even officially adding it to our education plan.
The amazing thing is, my daughter is learning. In her own time, in her own way, without me standing over her telling her how to do it. Her counting skills and letter recognition skills seem to be materializing practically before my eyes, without much formal attention. This gives me great confidence in the human ability to learn through environment. Life is learning and I realize now that if I pass nothing else on to my daughter in the way of education that is what I want her to realize.
I want my children to realize that learning occurs anytime and anywhere, and most of the time it will be fun and even when it’s hard it can still be satisfying. Talent is important but hard work will get you a long way and many skills can be taught if you are willing. We are each unique and have something special about us, but there will always be someone who is better than you, smarter than you or more attractive than you. That’s life but it in no way diminished who you are and what makes you unique. If you want to be exceptional, work harder than everyone else, and treat others with respect. Be a gracious loser and a polite winner.
If I can impart any or all of those things, my children will be more prepared for life than if they get a perfect score on the SAT’s, ACT’s or PSSA’s.
So what does your homeschool look like? What philosophies have influenced you and what are your primary goals?