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A hectic, urban family's homeschooling journey
Our homeschooling life
Every family's homeschooling experience is different, and seeing how different families approach it gives you confidence that you can do it, too. So I wanted to share my experiences of how we integrate our busy working life with our very relaxed homeschooling style. Welcome to our world.
Part-time work-at-home mom . . .
and part-time take-your-kids-to-work mom
My work situation has me sometimes working from home and other times coming in to work. When I have my at-work days, at the private school our church runs, and sometimes at the church itself, my boys come with me. On my at-home days I still have to devote some of my time to my home business. My challenge is to help and guide them through their day and be productive at my job at the same time. I never imagined that I could spend all day with my kids and still wonder if I was giving them enough quality time.
But every day I see them learning and growing. It's a great life.
The power of conversation
A lot of the most powerful learning my kids have experienced came from spontaneous conversations with me. No book, no lesson plan. They wanted to know something, so they asked me. Or we saw something in the course of our day that sparked a deep discussion.
This is the kind of learning that's impossible in a school setting. Even the best teacher can't give that kind of attention to 30 students at once. And nothing boosts your confidence as a parent like realizing what a wealth of knowledge you have to share with your child, and how eager your child is to learn.
And you can educate your children while you drive! How cool is that?
Some of my boys' Lego creations
When you homeschool, you can pick just the right materials for your individual child
At the time we found this book, it was just what we needed.
JG was 7, but still working hard on his reading skills (he is a bit of a letter-switcher and his visual memory isn't the best so it took some time and work). I wanted to give him books in which he could work on his advanced phonics concepts and get into some slightly longer words without encountering huge words that would intimidate him. But a lot of the "ready-to-read-it-myself" type of books have storylines that are geared toward really small kids. I didn't want give him books with titles like, "Baby Duck Takes a Nap".
The Night We Slept Outside was perfect. The text was just challenging enough, and the story about two boys who decide to sleep out on their patio one night, was adventurous and fun with a bit of sweetness. I wish I had been able to find more books like that one when JG was that age.
Reading instruction and school
One of the things that homeschooling (especially unschooling) parents find is that, if left to their own devices, different children will learn to read at very different ages. I know a family whose son didn't learn to read until he was nine years old. By the time I met them, the boy was twelve and was reading science fiction novels.
To most parents of schoolchildren, the thought of a fourth-grader being unable to read would make them pretty frantic. It is taken for granted in school that learning to read is the first order of business.
When we started into our homeschooling adventure, I'd had the same assumption. First, my child would learn to read. Then he would be able to learn other things. I've figured out now that it doesn't naturally go that way.
JG, at the age of four or so, learned the principles of phonics. By the time he was five and six he was doing well with basic three-letter and four-letter words. But he found it difficult to buckle down with a long word and read it syllable by syllable. I come from a family of very early readers (I learned when I was three years old, both of my brothers were two). One of my brothers expressed concern about JG's "slow progress."
But was his overall learning limited to monosyllabic words? No way! He was learning to identify trees we saw in our neighborhood. He knew the difference between nocturnal and diurnal animals, between insects and arachnids, and between carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores (and those were the terms he used to describe them). We would talk about history and geography, theology and ethics, money management, the three states of matter (solid, liquid, gas), and how the toilet and the washing machine work.
Now JG is 11, and he has is a much better reader. I'm glad that he was able to develop at his own pace. Reading has opened up new avenues of learning for him, but he is primarily an auditory and kinesthetic learner. And everyone in the family is impressed with his intelligence and comfortable with his educational progress. BT is on the learning curve now with his reading, and I'm not worried about how he's doing.
This points up one of the obvious differences between home education and institutional schooling -- the amount of personal attention a homeschooled child receives from his "teacher." I can give him information verbally based on the interests he shows, he can ask endless questions, and I can assess what he has learned from listening to his statements and questions. A teacher who is instructing 30 students can't sit down with each one and teach or assess them through long conversations. That's why it's so crucial in schools that reading and writing be taught first. Lacking the opportunity for one-on-one time with the teacher, the children need to get their information from a book or worksheet, then read questions about it and write the answers on a test that will be graded later. A student who struggles with reading (like my husband, who is dyslexic and to this day will not read anything unless he's forced to) will have a hard time learning anything else. No history, no science, nothing else will be learned effectively as long as the reading is giving them a problem.
JG's videos recommendations
I asked JG what his favorite educational videos are, and he gave me the following titles. We almost never buy videos, we usually rent them:
They've watched LOTS of Bill Nye videos. JG said that Atmosphere and Deserts were the best ones.
They also loved the Schoolhouse Rock science series
What my kids do while I'm at work
So, like I said, I bring my children with me when I'm working at the church office or the school office. Here are some of the things they do:
WORK - They are basically school employees. JG does filing, takes messages to the teachers, sells pencils in the office, and he understands the error messages on the copy machine better than I do. He works the fax machine and the shredder. He has also helped out in the classroom at times, reading to the kindergartners or coaching young students in their reading or math.
BT does message-carrying and cleanup in the office. They both get paid for their efforts.
HOMESCHOOL - Sometimes they will bring educational videos or software from home and use them on the church or school computers or the DVD player.
PLAY - At the school/church, they have unstructured play with each other. They can either have the playground to themselves when class is in session or play with the schoolkids during their recess times.
BABYSIT THEIR COUSINS - My brothers have small children who are sometimes there as well.
Our homeschooling friends
These are homeschoolers' groups that we hang out with. JG and BT are each other's best friends, but they also have a wealth of friends from park days and church and even from the school where I work!
Both of these homeschooling groups include kids of all ages, from preschool through teenage. I really love the fact that my kids have the opportunity to socialize outside of their own age group. Both groups are also very geographically diverse.
Software: The basics - If we had a "curriculum", this was it.
My sons spend a lot of time on the computer. They loved these "school in a box" programs. I would supervise (or eavesdrop) while they played and offer support when they needed it.
This program is pretty and fun. Both of my kids loved it when they were small. I started JG on it with very little supervision, and the next thing I knew, he knew the alphabet.
This one is the BEST of the JumpStart series. My kids and I all adore Botley's comical adventure through history. The activities include astronomy, measurement, logic, science, and the arts, as well as the three Rs. I didn't think the supplemental disks were as good as the Kindergarten ones, but the main game rocks.