When I started homeschooling my kids in 1989 I pulled my two oldest out of school after Easter break after some negative interactions with the school. It seemed logical to me at the time that we would recreate school at home. That is, sit at our table together and work through the textbooks that the school graciously lent to me until the end of the year.
The result was we were all cranky. I didn’t like the content of the textbooks, as it was counter to my core beliefs, and we never had dinner on the table on time or enough clean laundry. My toddler was extremely unhappy at being ignored. My husband would come home and ask the same question every day :”So what did you do today?” He was expecting output. You know: papers.
The next year I decided to train my kids to help me do laundry and keep the house orderly and use books of my choice, which were A Beka curriculum. We did a read aloud before bed as a family, and the first ones were The Little House on The Prairie series. I also went to an evening with Gregg Harris and heard some things for the first time. One was the “21 Rules of this House” for making your family a character accountability team. I posted his rules on our fridge and handed out the coloring pages to the kids and we were off. When I’d heard “Number 5, Mom: a number of times I realized I had a problem with yelling, and decided to change. Number 5 is: “We speak quietly and respectfully with one another”. I was amazed at the results which I talked about in my post 21 Rules of This House.
His second idea was about delight directed study, and I remembered as a child how I would always learn things I was interested in right away, so it made sense.
With a decidedly cleaner house and dinner on the table on time we advanced into the next year. We spent lots of time on field trips, and learning about our community. The library was an everyday stop. My kids read continually and asked questions. This was pre-internet so we asked the librarian. My husband now came home and said: “Do you notice how much better the kids are behaving and getting along with one another?” This was such an encouragement that I got more on fire for this homeschooling.
I joined two homeschool groups and started doing field trips and group activities such as board game day at the local firehouse.
Over the years the amount of structure waxed and waned. We always did a bible study in the morning to start and I taught the youngest ones reading. The kids had their own math books and we kept Mortensen Math manipulatives and unifix cubes in a tub on the table. I remember one hurdle clearly. My two older boys did not want to learn Algebra. They were convinced they would never use it. I just let it slide knowing the opportunity would arise and it did. They came to me a few weeks later and said they needed help with some math for computer programming they were doing. I looked at the math and said; “I’m sorry to say this boys but this is Algebra.” Their reply was, ‘Where’s that Algebra book anyway?” I had won without a fight. The thing was, that they wanted to learn what they needed.
My job was easier after that. I served as a mediator and guide. They knew that if they weren’t doing something profitable with their time, I could always find something for them to do. It might be an additional chore such as wiping down cabinets or a book that I thought it would be good for them to read. Consequently, they were usually well occupied with pursuits that delighted them.
My time with them was spent in conversation about things they’d learned or ideas they’d put together in trying new things.
What this meant was we were flexible as a family. My husband traveled for work and when he had to take a trip to the East Coast for work we went along. (We lived in Chicago at the time.) We stopped in DC for a day or two and visited the Smithsonian, and a few monuments, and then stayed in a motel in North Carolina while he traveled to business locations. I wasn’t fretting about whether we would get behind or were off schedule, I was grabbing learning opportunities. When we were in the motel in North Carolina, we swam in the pool during the day, and read books and watched tv and snuggled during the evening. We walked to the grocery store and bought food that we could eat in a motel room. It was an adventure!
Because my children weren’t each doing their own curriculum track I saw lots of collaboration One child would get an idea and enlist the help of their siblings. This made for Video TV cooking shows, real cooking projects, stop action videos, Unusual art projects, and bands in the basement. We all remember fondly the year my son’s band played for “Coon Creek Days”: our local town festival. The song that he wrote: “Smoking is Bad for your Health” cleared the audience of all the smokers.despite it’s catchy tune. The other kids were so supportive of his plight..
The year we baked 2500 Christmas cookies starting the day after Thanksgiving was a shocker to me. The kids picked recipes, made a shopping list and figured out how many cookies a day they needed to bake to have them ready to ship out in time for Christmas. It was amazing project management which they handled as a team with success and the cookies were loved by all the recipients. We felt closest as a family during these times of hard work requiring teamwork.
As we entered the High School years my kids enrolled in Running Start and two of them received Tech School degrees,Another child took Japanese which prepared her for a missionary trip to Japan much later, and Choir where she met her future husband. We had bright, fairly compliant children, but I don’t think that’s an accident. They had been prepared from early on to work together as a team aka family.
Sitting at a table doing a prescribed curriculum made me feel bored, inadequate and overwhelmed. Living my life while standing next to my kids through all their learning made me feel excited, capable and useful.
The result is that I recommend a lifestyle of learning to anyone. Where the relationship is prized over the busy work. Did my kids sit and play video games all day? Some days they did, but they were usually too engaged in the world around them to be lazy.
Do you think you’d like a lifestyle of learning, or have you already started it?