The children are hungry! They have an appetite for knowing and experiencing.
It is the strong, real world that interests them so much, where the unexpected can happen and there is wonderful mystery.-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay For The Children’s Sake
When I started out homeschooling, I relied almost completely on my experience as a public school teacher. I printed out the state standards for Kindergarten. Using this as my guide, I was confident I was going to give my child a solid education. We began our year, doing the same work that kids were doing in school. We did not have a classroom and schedule like everyone else, but we were doing essentially the same work except with a little more freedom and flexibility. As we worked our way through the year, I started noticing something that I did not expect. What I observed was that my son started to wonder. Not wander. Yes, he did some of that too! No, he began to WONDER.
- Look, there is a bug on that leaf. What is it? A bee. Oh, what kind? What is the bee doing? What does a bee eat?
- Why is the sun at noon directly above our house in summer, but at noon in winter, it is along the tree line?
As I read story after story of quality, carefully selected books, without limitations on how we read it or how long we read, he wanted more. He had more questions.
What started with careful adherence to the standards shifted as I found that we were doing more than the standards in some ways. In other ways, some of the things he was interested in or I thought were important for him to learn didn’t line up with what we were “supposed to be learning” for that year. I found that he was absorbing and retaining so much in addition to what I was teaching him. He was fascinated by the world around him and had a zest for learning. At home, we were able to get our school work done in a few hours leaving him with an afternoon of free time. With a condensed school day, short lessons, quality time with books, free time to imagine and to create, to go outside and play, I watched my son thrive. Yes, he still had mornings that he didn’t want to do his lessons. We had our moments arguing over his work. There was still the hard stuff that he had to diligently plod through, but his school work was done in a relatively short amount of time.
And what did he do when we finished? He would go out and shoot his bow and arrow in the yard. He would finish the book he had started the night before. He would go outside and figure out how to put the chain back on his bike. He would find a snake in the yard and want to keep it, so he would research everything he could about what a snake eats, what a snake needs to survive. He would encounter real-life problems that only happen in the real world and try to solve them. He wanted to explore, to grow, to produce. He wanted to learn. Without sounding like a brag or disclosing his test scores, suffice it to say, my child THRIVED under the freedom of learning- for the pure enjoyment of it!
I have found this same result homeschooling all our kids.
Just think about how many real life problems there are to solve when you live in the natural world. I know that if my kids were in school, they would still encounter problems to solve, but they they just happen so much more frequently when you are consistently in a living environment. I recently sat down one day and wrote out all the real-life problems my kids asked about and tried to solve in a day.
Here they are in my words.
-7 year old. While eating our breakfast, “Where does maple syrup come from?”
-9 year old. If I make zucchini bread and it calls for 3 cups of flour and I want to use half white, half wheat flour, how much is that each? And what is a 9×13 pan?
-11 year old. If I want to plant a garden from seed, when do I have to start seeds inside to make sure they are ready to plant outside by the 3rd week of May?
-15 year old. If I want to ride my bike to the nearest ice cream shop, how far is that? Whats the shortest, yet safest route to travel by bike? How long will that take? Can I get there and back before I have to leave for soccer practice?
-Everyone. The spotted lantern flies are invading our yard. Why?
Home provides a plethora of opportunities to experience real, living things, and natural problems.
As I observe the difficult decisions parents are being forced to make because of COVID-19 regarding their children’s education, I sympathize with parents and schools who are struggling with this dilemma. Parents are not happy with their kids sitting in classrooms wearing masks all day, but don’t know how to manage with them at home either. On forums and Facebook groups, parents are flocking to the homeschool community with questions. The most common question I see is about cyber schooling. I am not against distance learning. In our home, our kids use a self-paced history program that they do weekly at our convenience and their own pace. Online learning can have advantages, and for some people, it is their best option and that is OK. These are tough decisions and we are all doing the best we can for our kids. It makes me sad, however, to think of so many kids learning this way for long hours of the day because it is a poor match for a child’s developmental needs, especially young children. It’s disappointing that parents have so much confidence in the school system and so little confidence in their own ability to give their kids something better than 8 hours in a classroom with a mask or 4-6 hours in front of a screen. Teachers LOVE their kids, teachers are HARD WORKERS, but teaching virtually is probably the most inefficient way they have ever had to do their job. Ask any teacher, smaller classes and more one-on-one attention is best for students, but often not an option EVEN when schools are fully up and running. I have yet to meet one person who liked cyber schooling or stuck with it for any period of time much longer than a year. It is the worst of both worlds. It is demanding about the times you have to be online (multiplied by the number of children you have) and it completely limits everything. you. do. It has zero of the benefits of homeschooling. It is MORE work, not less. In my opinion, you could pick up any math book on Amazon and sit with your child for half an hour, working on it together, talking through it and it would be better than virtual math for long hours of the day.
When kids are stifled by their environment, they will grow to despise learning. And when they hate learning, it doesn’t really matter what we teach them anymore, it will not sink in. I suggest that the opposite is also true. When a child loves to learn, it’s not terribly crucial if they are “missing” something. Their appetite will drive them to find a way to satisfy that curiosity. They will fill in missing pieces because of their urge to know. When I was in high school, it seems we never made it to modern history because we ran out of time at the end of the year. As an adult, I became inquisitive about the time periods I didn’t know as much about and filled in that empty space on my own by reading.
Let me ask a question. Have you ever met a homeschooled child who impressed you? No, I’m not talking about THAT family. There will always be THAT family or THAT child. No, I mean have you ever met just an ordinary kid who impressed you and then you found out he or she was homeschooled? His mom must be a teacher….or have oodles of patience….or have the right personality- a supermom for sure! I’d like to suggest that kids like these are a reflection, not just of their moms (and/or dads) who homeschool them, but of homeschooling itself. They are a reflection of a child set free. A child fed a rich diet of beauty and given time to reflect on it. They are the outcome of a childhood of one-on-one time with a person who is invested in them for life. Have you ever considered that maybe these kids have ordinary parents? That being in a home environment can be a wonderful place to learn?
The thought of teaching your own child is intimidating. It was for me when I started and I had teaching experience! I had been in a classroom, but teaching my own child, well, I just didn’t want to screw him up! Many parents feel unqualified to teach their own kids. Parents with degrees, professions, owning their own businesses, yet they feel incompetent to learn alongside their kids. Unqualified. They are afraid they will miss something. Even when up against the harsh reality of their child wearing a mask in school for a whole day, the idea of bringing them home to learn is not entertained. What if I don’t do it right? What if I miss something? Doesn’t it take a professional to spark wonder in a child? What, realistically, do you do with them all day? They have an appetite to know and experience, but how do you feed that? Isn’t learning to read still hard and some parts of school not fun? Where do I start?
These are questions for many more posts. But, for now, the children are hungry. Give them something REAL. As Susan Schaeffer Macaulay writes in another place, “Life is just too interesting for boredom!”