Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Crash and Burn

I am not going to theorize as to why I know of so many brand-new homeschoolers this year, because theorizing always gets me into trouble. I will just say this: I know of more people who have made the decision to homeschool in the last twelve months than I have in the last twelve years. It is truly staggering, and thrilling all at the same time. Parents are taking back their rightful places as authority in their children's education, and that is a wonderful thing!

Ironically, I can see in these parents the same fears and concerns (as well as the excitement!) that I had all those years ago when we made the leap out of the public school system. I thought I had a pretty good support system, with a pen pal who was writing to me via snail-mail to encourage me. The only other homeschool family I met in "real life" back when we had just a kindergartner and third grader was one that REALLY shocked us--they were also the only family we had EVER met with seven children. That just seemed HUGE to me back then, and seeing their bookshelves just chock full of all of those beautifully arranged, crisp "designer" textbooks from one of the big-names in home education was just completely overwhelming. Oh, if I could only have seen a crystal ball and caught a glimpse of my future ... HAHAHAA!!!! Anyway, my point is just that I had what I *thought* at the time was good support. I have to try my best not to envy some of these new homeschoolers, with their ability to have a huge support base at their fingertips on the internet at a moment's notice, and to Google any and everything. OH to have all those resources ... I don't think I would have had near the issues we had those first two three six ten years.

Or would I?

Yeah, come to think of it, I probably would have. Because it's my nature to want to overstress anything and everything and go big. I wanted to make sure that my new homeschool recruits had only the best--the whole "school" experience PLUS the fun of doing all their work in their jammies. And I would have done exactly what I am seeing a lot of these new homeschool moms doing right now--just exactly what I did all those years ago--cried, wrung my hands, pulled out my hair, fought with them over what needed to get done, stressed over attendance, hours, days, whether the curriculum was right, whether I was dooming them to a life of failure and maybe even life in prison?

That was me. Fourteen years ago, I crashed and burned. Just like all these newbie moms who are doing exactly what I did. I shudder to think back to how long it really took me to "get it", to realize that what I was trying to do was duplicate something I had no possibility of duplicating. See, a classroom is a group of people, set up in a certain way, with a certain purpose, and a certain method to achieve that purpose. Learning in a classroom setting HAS to look different than learning in a home setting, because they ARE different. But yet there I was, taking my two children from that classroom setting, moving them into our dining room full of bookshelves and a desk (and the cutest little antique German hutch for school supplies that I could find ... I was so proud of that thing!), handing them textbooks and expecting a "homeschool" experience from recreating a classroom setting. Umm .... Have you ever attempted to make lasagna with spaghetti noodles? I'm sure it *can* be done, but you sure do have to do a lot of extra work to get to that point.

I'm going to pass on a little tidbit of advice to those new homeschool moms who are experiencing the crash and burn of those first few months (or even a year or two!):
Do you know what our "school" looks like now, now that the two public-school-yankout children have graduated and all of our "knowledge" of public school has disappeared from our home? I have three students right now who are absolutely enamored with learning of all sorts. They soak up information like sponges. They LOVE to read. They even "love" to do their math! Why?

I don't force anything anymore. Not. A. Thing. Seriously. It's not a battle between mom and the "class". It's not a showdown; there isn't a constant volley of "I don't know how to do this." "Did you read the directions?" "No. It won't help. I just don't know how to do it." "Once you read the directions, if you don't understand, I'll help you, but I want you to READ." "I can't read." ............... [long, pained silence as Mom attempts to avoid the "osmosis" method of learning]

So how did I get there? Bait and hook. And I really wish I had done it YEARS ago. In fact, I'll tell you exactly what I wish I had done back in September of 1998 when we began this journey.

If I had it to do over again, I would have ditched the "need" to invest more than we had available to us in "the best" homeschool curriculum (that ended up driving us all crazy before we'd even gotten a semester into it) and spent the ENTIRE first year doing three things--working on our relationships (that were remarkably fractured by some very damaging stuff they'd encountered at school) and regaining my (and my husband's) rightful place as their God-given authority INSTEAD of touting the whole home education gig as being "fun"; I would have found a basic math course to keep them working on math at grade level but not trying to work them up into the intense homeschool curricula that prides itself as being two grade levels ahead; I would have spent at least two hours a day reading TO them from real, engaging books instead of staggering along in literature and history textbooks, and then doing copywork from those books. I know now that this is sometimes referred to as "deschooling" (Dianne Brooks wrote the article I found on the subject about five years too late); getting the child out of the classroom mindset and allowing their mind time to reboot to a different operating system, so to speak.

My son had a VERY difficult second-grade year in public school. In one school, he was labeled as the problem child who couldn't sit still during music class and was kept off of the honor roll after making straight A's because his conduct grades were poor (the boy could NOT sit still). We moved halfway through that school year, and his new teacher decided that he had a brilliant mind, so he needed to be doing creative writing. Daily. It frustrated him to the point of tears. Daily. He had NOTHING to write about, and because he is a perfectionist by nature, if he couldn't do it to his own liking, he wouldn't do it at all. He was the one I had the toughest time with when we started homeschooling. We'd have good days, but they were few and far between. Most days, he fought me on EVERY turn.

Had I the opportunity to do it over again, I think I would have really benefited from the bait-and-hook technique I use now, but maybe I'd even be more drastic. I think with him I would have told him that he *could* do whatever he wished to do but that his math and any other seatwork *would* be done by dinnertime ... or else he would not eat. And that he would also be in the room (doing whatever it is he wanted to do) while I was reading to and working with his sister. He WOULD learn, but totally on his terms. Submit to Mom's authority, but learn at your own pace. See, here's where I learned something over the years. Learning doesn't have to be in the form of "Here, read this, then answer the questions at the end of the chapter". In fact, in some children--all of mine, in fact, learning does NOT happen that way. I think that was Jon's problem; I was trying to force-feed him something that HE needed to drink with a straw. I think what I do with my girls now would have worked very well with my son.

Several years ago, I found Sonlight and realized that it was my "dream come true". I wanted my children to love literature like I do, and Sonlight had all the good stuff, plus it had lesson plans already figured out for me--including science experiments! All I had to do was open the Instructor Guide and go. And that's what I do. I require all of the girls to be in the room when I'm reading to them, but I don't "require" them to be sitting in front of me, listening intently. I have one child who has to color. Another has to sit and see EVERY picture and stroke my arm while I read. And yet another who refuses to be part of anything I do. Ironically, it's the renegade who soaks up the most information. What I found out was that even though she doesn't want me to know about it, what I'm reading peaks her interest, and she goes back after I'm finished with the others, and spends her OWN time sitting and studying the books now that she already knows what I read. She is my most voracious reader, but not because I've forced it; quite the opposite--I've actually not even required her to be actively involved--but just sitting and listening in the background she can pick up a LOT. We talk about what I've read, and oftentimes even though she's "not listening", she can give me more information than any of the other girls.

The "rule" around here is no TV during public school hours (which they think end at 3 when the bus pulls up to our neighbor's house); but that unless I am reading to them or helping them with their math or other "grade level" work, they are free to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't involve something electronic. You would be SHOCKED at what that means for them on most days. I have found them playing with math manipulatives, reading to their younger sisters, counting money, collecting bugs, writing letters or making cards for anyone and everyone they know, categorizing rocks, even "playing school". Is this "unschooling"? Well, maybe it is, I don't know. All I know is that my girls are known for being pretty smart cookies, so they must be learning something, right? These girls are in second grade and kindergarten; the time will come when they will need more focused studies. I have grand plans of using some very in-depth studies once they get to middle school and high school that will both fill their minds with that knowledge they crave AND train them to think and reason as educated people. But right now, I want them to LOVE learning. And that they do. They just don't know what "school" looks like. And right now, I'm okay with that.

**Edited for the Homeschooling Fridays link-up!


Tina said...

I think this is exactly how I would do it. (I mean, concentrate on what each character needs. Otherwise I could send them back to school...) If only we in Germany would be allowed to homeschool. Oh yes. And if I had children, lol

The Proverbs 31 Sanctuary said...

Hello there, I found you at becoming a strong woman of God, I really needed your post, I am so blessed to have found your blog. Thank you. Tara (The Proverbs 31 Sanctuary)

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