Do you think you’re smart enough to homeschool your kids?
This was the question I was posed recently at a family gathering. I burst out laughing, because of who was asking the bold question, as well as the absurdity of answering it. It was Grandma, mine through marriage, not birth, but just as cherished. I enjoy regular, feisty phone conversations with her and also know her to be one who isn’t restrained by the need to bite her tongue, so I took the question with a grain of salt, without the slightest insult. “Well!” I said in my most theatrical high-and-mighty voice, “I DO have a Bachelor’s Degree…though I’m pretty sure that all licensed teachers do as well, so I’m arguably not more qualified by academic standards. But! I will say, without the slightest doubt, that there is no one in this world who knows Isadora better than me. I understand how her mind works, and that’s pretty damn valuable.” Yes, I can say “damn” to this Grandma, which makes our regular phone conversations pretty fun. “And I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide for yourself.”
You can always count on Grandma to point out the elephant in the room.
Since pulling the plug on formal education, the subject has come up for polite discussion in the family exactly zero times. This baffles me. Certainly there’s a desire to not say the wrong things, but there’s also no attempt to understand where we’re coming from, how we got here, how it’s been going. We just don’t talk about it. Ever.
But Isadora is regularly peppered with questions. “What did you do today?” and “How do you spell hippopotamus?” She answers the former the way every child does, regardless of their education venue: “Nothing.” or “(whatever happened in the last 10 minutes).” The latter she usually answers correctly, to my relief.
It’s clear that there’s a genuine concern from the family about the quality of her education. What might be comforting to learn, were the opportunity ever presented to speak to the weighty topic over polite conversation, is that we share the concern, and that it drives the bus, so to speak, of how we’re going about all this homeschooling.
Which brings us to the current state of affairs: designing this bus. Though we consider Learning Time to be a year-round activity, it’s impossible for me to ignore the back-to-school urgency of the August breeze or disassociate the crispness of the air with a refreshed crispness of mind. It’s a good time to take stock on where we’ve come in the past year and to iron out the kinks for a smoother flow this year.
Isadora began the school year with a lingering bruise from 1st grade. My goal for the year was to help her to regain her magic, her inventiveness, her delight in learning, among other things. The path of Unschooling called to me and seemed a good match for this goal, a good entree into this homeschooling journey. We may or may not have actually practiced the tenets of this homeschool philosophy; I’ve not yet read the stack of books I have on the subject.
Some highlights from the year:
+ She read independently. A lot. About 47 Magic Tree House books, about 400 rubbish books about fairies, and nearly all of the Goddess Girls series. She is at this moment completely immersed in Greek Mythology. Ask her to spell Persephone! Yesterday, deep in a role-play, she asked me how my daughter Persephone was. (That makes me Demeter.) “Fine now,” I said, “though I fear the time is soon coming for her to join Hades down below.” “That Hades – he’s so awful.” she said, referring to poor Errol, stuck playing the bad guy again.
+ She can, completely on her own, mix up a batch of no-knead artisan bread, our household staple bread.
+ She is well-versed in The Hobbit as well as the the pilgrims of Plymouth.
+ She has a notebook filled with information copied from The Chicken Health Handbook in a self-driven attempt to figure out why our hens aren’t producing any eggs.
+ She can accurately calculate and measure with fractions of cups.
+ She started up an egg business.
+ She has choreographed a dance performance starring herself and Errol nearly every week of this year. They’re getting quite good. She also composed a musical performance using the piano in lieu of dialogue, featuring zombies, a funeral, and a haunted house. Oh, it was so good.
Like her, I’m fixated most on those things that have happened in only the last 10 minutes or so. It was a wildly successful year, fully realizing our goal of rebuilding. It was a time to observe, to internalize what was working, take note of what was not.
At the doorstep of a new school year, we’re at a much different place and I feel the need for more structure, if only to have something to break out of time and again, but then return to. This year, I crave the security blanket of a nuts-and-bolts, secular, grade-appropriate set of guidelines. Not a curriculum, per se, but an overview of standards. I think I’ve found something suitable in the Core Knowledge series, and have already found copies of What your __grader needs to know to augment our home library. I suspect we may breeze through it before the end of the year, using it as a springboard for further discovery. I’ve also found some math curriculum to make sure we’re not missing anything critical. There’s talk of beginning German instruction with Captain Deutsch-Daddio, of more music lessons. There’s a 4 year old boy to consider in all of this too, and how we can entrench our days in letter/number recognition and days of the week and seasons…
The homeschooling philosophy we shall be trying out this year is Project-Based Homeschooling, which will offer dedicated child-led project time each day. We have begun scrubbing down disgust-o bookshelves resurrected from the basement and have collected baskets for storage to line the shelves and are choreographing the placement of work tables to facilitate the project work and –most exciting of all– have started collecting the new art supplies to fill the baskets for project/magic-making.
A crisp new weekly planner has arrived in the mail and beckons me. We trust that our new rhythm is just around the corner, within grasp, and through it we will find that there’s room in the week for all that is important to us, room for all that we need to keep growing.
Ah, the power of crisp clean pages and freshly sharpened pencils. Such optimism they hold! A call to focus, nose down in books, and to make sharp the mind. We’re nearly ready.