Inside: Our philosophy of homeschooling and how we make homeschooling work for us.
“Is it life, I ask, is it even prudence,
To bore thyself and bore the students?”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I never dreamed I would be a homeschooling mom. The idea was preposterous to me. But then I learned how few opportunities to move kids get during a typical school day, and I felt ready to change my views. Sentencing my active kids to twelve years of torture by immobility seemed preposterous. Plus, the data was clear, kids weren’t meant to sit still all day. It wasn’t good for their brain, body, or spirit.
Homeschooling suddenly became a reasonable option.
The remarkable thing is that once you start considering homeschooling, you take a fresh look at what children learn in school and what your goals are for your children. Then you realize that you can do so much better at home.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in
seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust
At the time, I read a variety of different things over a few years. My oldest son was still below the compulsory schooling age, so we weren’t really “homeschooling.” We were just “delaying” school. Yet I saw my son learning a tremendous amount every day. Therefore, I didn’t see a reason to send him off somewhere for others to teach him when we were doing so well at home.
What my research showed me is that traditional schooling provides very little motivation for learning (you learn because you are required to), focuses on highlighting what a child doesn’t know (remember the infamous red pen, which has been scientifically proven to bring out a negative response), and involves a great amount of compartmentalization (History and math? Never. Ten-year-olds and sixteen-year-olds learning from each other. Nope. How many things in real life are so compartmentalized?).
In developing an educational approach for my kids, I decided to do the opposite:
Help my kids find internal motivation to learn.
Internal motivation comes when learning is meaningful, interactive, purposeful, and grounded in real life.
- Focus on building strength, inner wealth, and self-confidence, using these features as a springboard for expanding their horizons.
When people believe in their strengths, they are more open to learning and hard work. They can also find inner resources and fortitude to keep moving forward when the going gets tough. Remember The Little Engine that Could? “If you wake up knowing that every day will pose new challenges and that you are ready to face them head-on, you will be well equipped to achieve any goal you set.” (Lessons from Navy Seals)
- Show how all subjects (and people) are connected.
Interdisciplinary focus engages a higher level of thinking. It allows us to dig deeper. It also makes learning more creative and discovery-oriented. Learning Changing States of Matter in grade 4 chemistry by making peanut butter in a kitchen is much more effective than reading about it.
“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom.
One helps you make a living;
the other helps you make a life.”
— Sandara Carey
My aim is to point my kids in the right direction and trust that they have the capacity to figure out the rest.
“You cannot transmit wisdom and insight to another person.
The seed is already there. A good teacher touches the seed,
allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
“All people—and I mean scholars, researchers, and teachers, who in any place have set themselves to study children seriously—have ended up by discovering not so much the limits and weaknesses of children but rather their surprising and extraordinary strengths and capabilities linked with an inexhaustible need for expression and realization.” — Loris Malaguzzi, founding father of the Reggio Emilia schools
Once you let go of the notion that you need to teach your kids everything, and grasp the idea of the children as their own best teachers, you are in a better position to nurture them and to let them flourish academically, emotionally, and socially.
I believe confident human beings will always find a way to learn everything they need to learn in life to be successful. I also believe that traditional schooling prevents that confidence from blooming. Your brain is much better than you think. Your child’s brain is also much better than you think.
“It doesn’t matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” — Confucius
The primary role of traditional teachers and schools is to convince kids and parents that they are needed. Without us, your child will not know anything!
In fact, the reverse is true. “The idea of reactance is that people are deeply motivated to protect their freedoms, Greenberg [a professor of social psychology at the University of Arizona] said. When people feel that their freedom is threatened — for example, they think someone is taking away their ability to make their own choices — they react against that threat. Thus, they may feel angry or defensive and try to reverse the threat.”
Have you ever heard some parents say, “It’s as if they are trying NOT to learn.” It’s probably a correct guess. Choosing to start a math lesson is completely different from not having a choice or any say about it.
Instead of thinking of myself as a teacher, I like to think of myself as a guide. My job is to give my kids the right tools, establish productive thinking and living habits for life, and give them wings to fly.
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules.
You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
The Most Important Habits in Life
The most important habits in life are mindful focus, critical thinking, and learning. The ability to focus, think, and learn is responsible for pretty much everything in life. It allows us to be adaptable, flexible, and successful.
Life is moving with astonishing speed and whatever we think we know today will be refuted, advanced, or outdated by the time our kids make their way in the world. They need to be able to keep up, think fast, and be original thinkers. That’s why critical thinking, problem-solving, and independent learning are essential habits to learn early in life.
We now have enough evidence demonstrating how the brain is used influences how the brain grows. How should a child’s brain be used?
Play is one of the most important ways that children learn and grow. There is a bit of directed play, the one involving an adult, in some of the most elite schools, but few opportunities for free play, the true vehicle of learning. Free play is child-initiated, child-led, and has no predetermined rules and guidelines. It’s spontaneous and has no adult involvement.
Most of a school-age child’s day is the opposite of play; it’s rushed mornings, crowded hallways, loud bells, standardized tests, and geometry homework while the child falls asleep at the kitchen table.
Even though we do a tremendous amount of work, most of my kids’ day is play because research shows again and again that that’s how children learn best.
One secret of our successful learning is spreading it over time. I didn’t know this approach was a secret; we just did it this way from the start because I could see it worked. But then I learned that our method has a name. Scientists have been studying it and publishing the findings in abstruse science journals that not many people read.
“Space learning over time” is the first research-based recommendation in a recent practice guide from the U. S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences (Pashler et al., 2007).”
“It’s important to spread out learning over many days. That means learning a little bit at a time. Doing so allows links between neurons to steadily strengthen. It also allows glial cells time to better insulate axons.’ — neuroscientist Hadley Bergstrom
What it means in practical terms is cutting lessons into chunks. In my home, each traditional lesson is broken into many mini-lessons. For example, in the Hooked on Phonics reading curriculum, you are supposed to do one lesson at a time. I break each lesson into seven chunks, and it takes us seven days to finish one lesson. So instead of doing reading two to three times a week and spending a few weeks reviewing everything we forgot, I do one lesson a week, but my kids don’t need the reviewing part. They know the material. What’s more, our lessons (and our minds) are relaxed, we’re never in a rush to finish, our lessons often segue into unrelated (but very fruitful) discussions, and we have fun.
My kindergarten-age son thinks that learning to read is this super awesome activity that you do with mom when you want to have some fun. (Did I mention that he chooses when to do it? I will talk more about scheduling next week). My two older kids also learned reading in a relaxed manner, and they are eager readers well beyond their age.
“Repeated exposure to information in specifically timed intervals
provides the most powerful way to fix memory into the brain.”
— John Medina, Brain Rules
The two other important components of our learning are common sense and humor. It’s not about getting through the lesson. It’s about enjoying the process. What’s the use of memorizing the multiplication table perfectly by Monday if it will lead to a grimace of displeasure at the word “math.” Of course, the multiplication table has to be learned, but there isn’t a rush. There are better, more natural ways of doing it than root memorization.
When it comes to learning, I try to be as relaxed as possible. And it’s not always easy because the control freak in me loves strict lesson plans, fat checkmarks, clear deadlines, and measurable results.
I have to remind myself that I have to trust the process, be mindful, and put my energy where it matters. Rushing my kids through the lesson to say we did it is not what matters. I want my kids to have the space to develop their own strategies, to be critical thinkers, and to become balanced human beings. As the philosopher Socrates suggested, Don’t hurry to provide the answers. Silently count to five, and you’ll notice that kids will start coming up with their own ideas. They also might end up answering their own questions.
I structure time blocks but not the content. I come to the homeschooling table with enthusiasm (if that doesn’t work, I channel in my alter ego mom since she is really good at that). I try to smile often because a smile invites cooperation. I stop myself from pushing, prodding, or coercing. The point is not to get to the end in the shortest amount of time but to have a discussion, to stimulate the mind, and to discover something new.
Now you might be interested to hear how I pick our curriculum, textbooks, and other materials. Read about it in the next post.