Sunday 31 January 2016

Home Education. Rhythms

I came across this interesting article yesterday: basically a reminder of one of the main reasons why we chose to homeschool in the first place. I think it is always good to stop and consider what we are doing and why. In our society (and by 'our', I mean a western, achievement-orientated, goal-focussed, individualised society) it can be easy to start to feel the pressure to achieve. This pressure I believe has several sources:

1) Many of us were brought up with this to be our worldview. I was raised in a non Christian home where affection was rarely shown and praise was hard to earn. Hard work and solid results were at one time the only currency in which I felt I could deal. Even many years later, having come to know the amazing salvation of Christ some 20 years ago now, these voices still remain at times.

2) Often as homeschoolers we feel a little (or perhaps a little more!) misunderstood by those around us. In the face of criticism, it can be tempting to feel we have to 'prove' ourselves, be that academically, in terms of specific talents or skills, or in terms of 'good' behaviour. I know I can feel this pressure at times!

3) Even when we meet with other homeschooling families, there can be a temptation to compare. Of course all of us would agree that one of the greatest benefits of home education is that each child can move at his own pace in each subject, and do not need to subject our children to testing and comparison with peers; however, it would be nice if our child was doing 'well', would it not? (But then, how does one define 'well' anyway?)

I know some friends who have recently made the decision to home educate their children, and I was wondering what advice I would give them. Their situation of course is different to our own experience (as in fact every other family in the whole world's is!), and a particular challenge we have not faced is having removed children from mainstream education. Our boys have never been to school or nursery, so have really known nothing else. But where does one start? Do you find the best resources? Or the best schedules? Or try to continue what was being done at school, but move it to the home environment with more support? Or is this completely the wrong question to be asking? (I believe that final question to be the truth!)

Last summer we had the privilege of attending a Home Education Encouragement Day with Voddie Baucham being the speaker. One quote which remained with me was when he said what his response was when people asked him to recommend a home education curriculum. He pointed out that this was the wrong question, and instead, parents should ask themselves, 'What is your philosophy of education?' What are your overarching goals and aims for your children?

For us, we started just by embracing the lessons that surrounded us. Long walks in the parks and countryside were often among the best opportunities to talk about life, creation, beauty, lifecycles, biology, botany, ornithology, weather, clouds and the water cycle and so forth. In the kitchen, we learnt to count, measure, weigh, cut, to understand a little of the underlying science and the creative presentation (or otherwise, when you are two years old!) of food and baking. Sometimes a particular question would captivate them, so we would head to the library to find a book, or watch a you tube clip. Many hours were spent reading out loud together - I would let the boys choose books from our collection, but would take greater care as to what went into our collection (Charlotte Mason, the educationalist of the 1900s who wrote much on home education would speak of 'twaddle', and similarly, there seem to be stories today that glory in disobedience and dishonouring of parents). We try to have a mixture of Usborne information books, Christian biographies at different levels (from Little lights and lightkeepers through to more detailed books), almost anything by Julia Donaldson, plenty of history books (particularly 'living books'), 'classics' like Swallows and Amazons and the Little House on the Prairie books and so forth. Every day was different. Amongst all this, there was the opportunity to really practice Deuteronomy Chapter 6, bringing the word of God naturally into many different situations throughout the day. We were already living like this when we started to use the more structured Sonlight curriculum, but our choice was mainly influenced by the way our rhythm and pace had developed as a family - therefore it was the ideal tool to complement what we were already doing, and several months in, it has certainly been a good match.

But it might not be for everybody. Many people here use the ACE programme - and whilst I can see its merits, I just see that wouldn't work so well for us. My point is that it is not the curriculum which should shape how you home educate your children but rather your families pace, structure, goals, philosophy and worldview should help you choose which resources might be best.

Some home education bloggers write a lot about scheduling. I suppose our life has taken a certain rhythm with more 'curriculum' activities in the morning and electives/ field trips in the afternoons - but I've never really made a schedule (Sonlight does structure the teaching materials beautifully, so I just open the folder each week and it guides me!). But if I were starting and really not sure how to make that start I would stop and consider the following questions. If you aren't sure, then just enjoy some time together as a family, do the things you enjoy most, and try and make a couple of observations.

1) What are the time points in your day? When do the children wake? When do you eat? When do you aim for bedtime?

2) When are the children most receptive to sitting down and listening? For us, that tends to be in the morning, or early evening. Afternoons are a bundle of energetic boy-ness. Some families aim to do all the 'lessons' in the morning, others in the afternoons, and still others in the evenings. Find a time when your child is likely to learn best.

3) What is their attention span? Can they listen to long stories or focus on tasks for 30 minutes or more, or do they work in shorter bursts? One of the things I have loved with my boys is the ability to do a couple of short tasks, go out for a brisk walk, come back and do some more tasks, take another break and so forth.

4) Do your children do better with a fixed schedule and structure, or do they thrive on the freedom to spend longer on one thing or another? Some homeschooling families are very relaxed in terms of time, and allow children to follow their interests and passions fully; others prefer to keep a clear, written schedule and have the children pursue interests in the 'free time'

5) What are your child's strengths? What really captivates them? For my middle son, this has always been cooking, and whenever he seems a bit tense or irritable, it really helps to get him into the kitchen and help chop some vegetables or bake a loaf of bread! He doesn't always like to sit and 'work', so we try and learn reading and numbers in the kitchen when he doesn't realise he is learning.

6) What are your child's weak areas? Are there any mental blocks? Has it been made worse by unhelpful resources? For example, Sonlight offers three different maths curricula, and each has pros and cons; there are many other maths resources, and sometimes it is simply a matter of finding one which works best

7) Does your child learn well on a computer? Would web-based or DVD resources be helpful?

8) Are there any hobbies or sports they might like to do as a group? What groups are there locally?

By thinking of the natural rhythms and patterns of your family, together with your goals and philosophy in home educating them, you may be able to start to work out how to move forwards. There are helpful resources written specifically for those who remove their children from mainstream school, how to break patterns, how to enable children to recover after challenging times, how to establish a gentle pace of life; these I am sure will help too.

I continue to think home education is the ideal way to instill in our children a biblical worldview which runs contrary to what is often spoken of today. Yes, there are huge academic and social benefits too, but we must always remember our highest goals.

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