There are many different reasons that a family decides to home educate their children. For us, at a very basic level we wanted more time. More time given to live unhurried and at a pace that encouraged an authentic love of learning. For the sake of learning. But after another school year at home, there is a richness that I could have never known when first starting out, and I wanted to place a few discoveries here to delight in them. These illuminated foundations have also helped to clarify our “why” for their younger years at home.
No particular angle is meant to be projected to tell everyone that this is the only productive way for children to learn. I had a public school education as a child, was an educator myself, and have nothing against it and beautiful memories to boot. Yet the swift speed of one mainstream current can’t deny the merit of that which breaks off into a meandering stream flowing beside it in the same direction. So I guess for now we’re choosing the meandering stream.
Allows for the appreciation of a slower pace to life.
I purposefully make a hot breakfast pretty much every day. And the main reason is because I can. When you are able to begin the day when your family is feeling ready instead of when the bus pulls up, it gives permission to scones or pancakes or baked oatmeal fresh out of the oven. Even light a candle while you’re at it. I have noticed that since mine are at the ages of 6, 4, and 2, I have the most captive audience at meal times. So I would dare say that our best conversations and books read comes at the breakfast and lunch table.
A while ago the image of an inchworm had popped into my brain of a way to explain when our days are at their best. The inchworm fully extended is when we are all spread apart doing our own thing whether it’s me with the household tasks and them playing, or when we are all in our own room spending much needed solitude time. The inchworm cinched up would be those together times at the table, on a walk, making a recipe together, etc. The day moves slowly like an inchworm does, but forward progress is always happening. Together, apart, together, apart.
Relationships can be strengthened beyond their peer group.
Since it is our normal to have them interact with their siblings, I take it for granted that their relationships with each other are so very close. While they respect each other and genuinely enjoy each other’s presence, I can’t help but think that the sheer amount of time together fosters this. It generates admiration in the younger sister in the lap of her older sister reading to her. It cultivates forbearance in the older sister when the tantrums of the younger one remind her she can be interrupted at no consequence and life will indeed go on. They just know that they are in the same home, learning and playing together and so they do it wholeheartedly, no matter the age difference.
Not only in our own home, but the time available to our family in the afternoon for visiting neighbors teaches social cues to all of them of how to love on the elderly. Come close, look them in the eyes, speak clearly, extend a cheerful smile. Ask a question or come prepared with something you think will bring sunshine to their day alone. I have been delighted to watch the improvement in these little things. Moments that would have had to squeeze into a weekend had they been at school all day.
The younger ones are enriched in the process.
Over the span of this year, I have grown more and more aware of the “trickle down.” That overflow of knowledge intended for the older that my younger child is catching and even speaking to help the older clarify her own knowledge! She may just be an onlooking four year old, but her growing ability to listen in on a reading and beg for more still astounds me. It also allows me to let my four year old just be when it comes to teaching her formal lessons this young. The “letting alone” is not neglectful, it’s strategic. When they’re young like this, let them come to the river to drink. The spring that you are giving to your family of beautiful ideas and literature and art trickle down to the youngest of onlookers. You will be amazed at what they absorb on their own. I guarantee its much more than you give them credit for. At least it was that way in my case.
Learning threads are free to run their course.
A dialogue between my oldest and I:
– Look at this painting, let’s take a close look it while eating breakfast.
– Oh wait, that looks just like the painting in that other book! I was right! It’s the same artist!
– It kind of reminds me of that poem we read about winter, wait let me go find it.
– Oh, remember The Long Winter?
– Garth Williams is such a good illustrator. I think he illustrated another book on our shelf…let me find it..
– Ok, now I just want to match up all the illustrators with their books!
Sometimes I can’t decipher whether my distractible tendencies hurt or help our learning at home. While we may fall prey to drawing out a history book for months when it “should” have taken weeks, we also have learning threads that spiral in depth to places much more meaningful than the original plan. Not only that, but the value of allowing a child to speak a topic of personal wonder and then guiding them in chasing it down cannot be diminished or overlooked. I love the gleam in their eyes when their brains move from initial spark of thought to the linking of old information and then onward to new territory and even more wonder. It is such a delight to have front row seats for this.
Learning is the focus and not the grade.
“Many a mother cannot rest content until she is able to create an atmosphere of the love of learning. When she is able, the result will be a household of learners who delight themselves in the love of knowledge for its own sake.”Karen Andreola, Mother Culture
I’m ashamed to say this, but when I look back at my own education and put both achievement of grades and learned material on a scale, the grades would heavily outweigh the learning. And so now as an adult I am here scratching my head as to what I actually remember and am wondering what education would have looked like had grades not been a focus at all (kind of like me wondering how productive I would be if we didn’t have Netflix…I digress).
It makes my heart swell knowing that my daughter has zero concept of measuring herself up against a grading scale. She literally just loves to learn for the sake of it because to her, from the very beginning that has always been the aim when learning new material. “Hey Mom, this chalkboard was made in Portugal! Where is Portugal on the globe?
In our home we use the approach of narration (simply “telling back”) to measure knowledge. It was a very new approach to my former educator self, but after this school year I have seen it’s merit in many layered ways. A child simply listens to quality writing on the topic and then tells you what they heard. There is so much more to say here, but I’ll just have to expound on that in another post.
“Narration looks different from conventional school methods, which require students to produce completed worksheets, lapbooks, dioramas, book “reports,” and test results year in and year out, from kindergarten to college. This is because narration is not about production, but about process. It is hard to let go of all that tangible evidence that seems to say, ‘Look, we produced this. Education happened here.’ Narration seems too easy, too simple, somehow ‘not enough’ to achieve that elusive goal, an educated person…Each child who narrates is digesting the knowledge she has received and making it her own.”Karen Glass, Know and Tell
Allows for more time spent in solitude and play.
“Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.”James Russell Lowell, Dryden in Literary Essays (Found in Tasha Tudor’s book The Springs of Joy)
When you make a choice to pull away from the bustle of social calendars and activity for a bit, you are given the freedom to see what your body actually needs. What it craves. And usually when we allow it, we will find that it wants time for processing. Time to take in new ideas and knowledge, but then be able to be free of being talked at so we can digest all of these new things. When we go outside in the morning and afternoon, I purposely bring a book for myself so that they are gifted my presence but not necessarily my direction. Just go and see what you see. In the beginning of the year this felt like a curse to them, being ones to love the extra handholding and organized structure. But now, their heart craves this room to just “be” and not “do.” Writing in this space is even like that. Just sitting there in the blankness of the time, but with the intention of using the time, makes things happen. At first the space feels huge and intimidating, but then when there is that spark and flow of words I am grateful for it.
“Wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.”Charlotte Mason
When they were younger, we would have a rest hour in the afternoon. We have kept this even now when we only have 1 out of the 3 actually napping, but it is just a time for the rhythm of quiet reading or being alone in play. They never quite revolted this one, but it is a rhythm we all secretly look forward to each afternoon. You just have to get past the threshold of your own bedroom to realize how much your body needed the self-regulation.
Allows for more time to pay attention to the natural world.
Our formal learning time takes a total of 2 1/2 hours each morning, but then we are off doing that kind of learning that can’t happen at a desk. I try to keep the structure of our time outside to be stripped of all “adult facilitated activity” so that the pure changing of the seasons becomes that to look forward to. Let the natural world speak of it’s beauty without needing to convince your children that it is in fact beautiful. Just go out again and again with the purpose of seeing at least ONE thing new. We will often go to the very same locations day in and day out, but I guarantee that it will look different than it did yesterday. The dew may be thicker, a bloom has bursted, an abandoned nest has possibly made a free fall to the ground.
With a keen eye and the follow up of a google search, our understanding of the natural world has exponentially grown this year. I can just pick up a leaf or remnant of a seed on a branch and my girls an identify it. Their fear of bees has diminished greatly because they would much rather sit close and still to “watch it pollinate” while also achieving distinction between a bumblebee and a honeybee. They see a mushroom on the forest floor and gently move decomposing leaves around it knowing that the spores reproduced more just like it close by. And sure enough, a fairy ring is revealed.
All of these little things have been ours for the taking because of the time to wonder and explore along with the permission to learn together. Which leads me to my last gain that I delight in, and it’s for the mothers.
Mothers are offered a second education.
I put this one last because while this is a huge benefit, I do not home educate my girls because of what I will get out of it. It just so happens to bless me on my way of giving them this atmosphere and life.
Yet I simply cannot close without mentioning that home education for the mother is like a redeemed education for all that she memorized for a test and then forgot. Or all that she never even cared to know in her youth. Or all that has since been discovered in this world after her own formal education. When learning alongside your child becomes less about how little you bring to the table and more about what you each can learn together, the joy really cannot be contained. You have all those years to build up in both you and your child all that was lost, all that never was, and all that will be.
We get to come to the feast of new ideas and have our eyes light up in wonder with them! If there was ever an audience to witness your giddiness over learning new material, you have the best onlooking crowd there ever was. Your own wonder is in it of itself an education to them of what it looks like to value a world that can never be fully understood. So all that is left is more paying attention, awe and wonder.
“After all, what is the chief sign of growing old? Is it not the feeling that we know all there is to be known? It is not years which make people old; it is ruts, and a limitation of interests. When we no longer care about anything except our own interests, we are then old, it matters not whether our years be twenty or eighty.”Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study
Of course putting this all down here has stirred the pot of my mind and I have found so much more to say. But this will only create more delay for me actually finishing this so I will close it here for now. If there was anything here that piqued an interest and you would like to hear more about it, would you kindly let me know? While I write mainly for myself, I love writing about things that help to clarify another’s journey. So please share!
And if you are reading this and your situation is different and your children are in a public school setting, I rejoice with you as well! I would encourage you to look back and find the beauty in what public school offers your family. The goal is the looking back and the gathering of the beauty found. And beauty is tucked everywhere waiting for the spotlight. Let’s rejoice together and spur one another on, no matter the location of the learning.
Be blessed friends.