Spring Cleaning and Notes on Homeschooling

What began as a repository of thinking tips, this blog of mine is now becoming a catch-all for many more thoughts and ideas that I personally want to capture.

So today, I’m doing some spring cleaning, and as I find notes that have inspired or influenced me, I’m copying them here to not feel so guilty about throwing them away.

About seven years ago, I decided to take the plunge and try a homeschooling experiment for just one year with just one child.  At the time, I picked the child I knew I couldn’t ruin, because she was already demonstrating a sense of self-motivation beyond her years, and an innate desire for excellence. (Besides that, she was about the only one of the bunch who was game.)

I had been thinking about homeschooling for ten years already, but because I had been a product of the public school system, and because I had excelled, and loved the challenge it had been for me, I really had a hard time believing that anything less (or different) than that could possibly be remotely adequate.  I was such a fan of the system, in fact, that I went on to get my degree in secondary education, and taught mathematics in public and private schools for a number of years.

Because of my fear of doing “my own thing”, I took that first step by signing up for the public school district’s distance learning program. That way, I could be giving my daughter the same curriculum at home, accomplish it in a fraction of the time (like I had been told is common for homeschoolers), and have her tested at the end of the year with all the other public school students to see how we did.

That was a safe segue, in my mind.

My daughter and I loved our time together. We dabbled in some of the materials they had sent home with me, but pretty much just did whatever it was that caught her interest at the time.  She was in 2nd grade and did a lot of cooking, and child care for her younger siblings. She loved being my little helper, and reveled in how important it made her feel.

In January, I realized we were on the down stretch of the school year, and that I should probably open up those lesson plans to see what it was they had been expecting us to do. I told her, “It’s time to get caught up with the rest of the kids at school, so let’s take a look…”

I opened the packet and began to look over the daily lesson plans.  Sure, we had been doing the fun pieces, such as the online math games, and language development activities; but looking at what else we were expected to have been doing all those months put me in an instant panic.

The daily lesson plans were so detailed, so spelled out, that it would have literally taken us 6 hours a day, one-on-one, to do everything they expected us to do.

I called the head of the distance learning program at the district level in a panic. “I don’t know what to do! I think I’ve made a big mistake! We’ll never get caught up!”

She calmed me down and finally responded, “Oh, don’t worry. Just pick up right where you are; she’ll get it ALL again next year.”

R-e-a-l-l-y.

I was flabbergasted. I thought to myself, “You mean, we can blow off an entire 6 months of school, and even the DISTRICT isn’t worried about it?? When you’re enrolled in the public school, you can’t miss more than 9 days without getting a nastigram and a visit from a police officer.”

That’s when I learned that in grade school, they introduce a concept one year, and then repeat it all over again the next.  Then they introduce some new concepts again, and repeat them all again the next.  What I learned from this experiment is that when a child is ready and wants to learn a topic, you can share it with them just once, and they own it.  It’s when they’re not interested, or partially tuned out, that you have to keep repeating it for more than 600 days… it’s really the only way the school CAN do it – in hopes that during those 600 days, each one of the 30-34 students will tune in long enough to get it.

Related: A Vision for What’s Possible

Over the next few years, one-by-one each of my children were given the choice to come home or stay in school, and last year we had all but one home with us.  I believe in the principle that there is genius potential inside of each child, and sometimes it can only be discovered when he or she is permitted to get bored long enough that they dig down and find that creative genius.  For the first two months of the detoxification period, there was a lot of complaining, a lot of boredom… they were worried because mom wasn’t standing in front of a grid of desks at home, teaching them something important.  I knew we had turned a corner when the complaining stopped, and the laughter and creative chatter began, as they collaborated together on how they were going to build a fort out of the discarded refrigerator boxes in the back yard. They had finally discovered their freedom to think for themselves and create their own learning environment.

For several years after beginning my experiment, I continued to have my children take the standardized tests at the end of the year. I wanted to see if our new approach – letting them live in a culture where they were expected to think and choose for themselves what they wanted to be learning – was ruining them, or what.  In every case, I was shocked but grateful that their test scores came back as though they had sat in the classroom all year long.

I remember one defining moment when my daughter was the age of a 6th grader, and we hadn’t formally talked about math all year long.  We had solved incidental problems together that had come up in natural life, but there had been no real ‘math lessons’ to speak of.

To get her ready for the standardized test that year, I bought her a math workbook for her grade level, and said, “Just see how much of this you can do. Let me know if you get stuck.”  A few times she brought it to me to get some clarification on what they wanted her to do, but she had the entire workbook completed in a couple days.  Because she wasn’t drilled on it every day of the year, she actually found it interesting, challenging, and fun to do.

I believe we’re all born with an innate desire to learn all the things we’ll need to know to complete our ‘life’s mission’.  We’ll naturally be drawn to the interests that will play a part in our life’s work, and we’ll naturally get frustrated when we don’t know what we need to know. Suddenly, in a situation like that, the knowledge MATTERS, and we are hungry to learn it because it already has application for what we want to be doing. That’s how I learned to build websites. That’s how I learned to publish books.

My two oldest were in junior high when I made the switch, and were simply not interested. I didn’t push it, I knew they were in a groove and enjoying their experience in school.  But last year my oldest was a senior. About 3 months into the school year, he listened to a lecture on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, and something shifted.

He was so completely engrossed with what he was learning – outside of school – that before long, his new addiction to studying American History was all he wanted to do. A math teacher challenged him on some of his facts, and the game was on. He’d stay up late into the night researching, finding sources, pulling together a persuasive essay that he couldn’t wait to share first with his math teacher, and then with the world.  He did all this, not for an American History assignment, but because he loved the subject and wanted to teach others what he had been learning.

We recognized the spark to be what other homeschooling families had described when the child enters a scholar phase – naturally.  We encouraged it, and provided opportunities and resources to keep the flame alive.  School began to be an inconvenience to him. His regular homework began to seem so trivial, and he became frustrated at the irrelevance of so much of it in contrast to the importance of the topic that had captured his heart.

In January – just 4 months before his graduation – he asked me if he could come home. He wanted to be homeschooled.  He was given an opportunity to go abroad and participate in a historical dig during that final semester of high school, but it would mean he couldn’t “graduate”.

I almost couldn’t do it – he was so close to finishing the path he had chosen all along – but if I were to stand by the principles I had been teaching my family – to let them follow what interests them and find and fulfill their life’s mission – then I had to support it.

Before pulling him out, I contacted the different universities that he was interested in attending, and was amazed to discover that they didn’t need him to graduate before they’d accept him. All they cared about was whether or not he had taken the ACT (which he had done the year before), and they even found him to be a very attractive candidate for demonstrating so much drive to do something this unusual.

You should have seen it – when I pulled him out so close to graduation. The administration couldn’t understand it, and had a hard time believing that the colleges did not CARE if he had a diploma or not.  Instead of getting his diploma, he found himself in a new position of responsibility as the Regional Director for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Constitutional Studies (Restoration Generation).

The travel abroad experience was canceled due to unrest in the middle east, but we have not regretted the decision to let him leave high school early.  He does not regret it either.  He didn’t “walk” with his friends but loved his choice more.  And just to check it off the list, he went ahead and aced the GED last fall.  Not because the universities needed it, but just to officially close that chapter of his life.

What about the other kids? Each year I discover something new about them and their inborn talents. They stay active and involved in a number of extra curricular activities and have friends all over the valley who share their unique life’s experiences and interests.

Related: What the district head truancy officer told me

My 12 year-old son is being mentored by a computer programmer – a teacher at a nearby college – who was also homeschooled and loves Jared’s passion for programming. They are presently working together on building an application that will help our business clients.  He also plays trombone in the school band and is involved in an after school club for smarty pants.

My 13 year-old daughter is volunteering her services for handling some of the secretarial responsibilities of a national organization with which my husband works.  She is also involved (with most of her siblings) in EVMCO, a choral organization which just released an album last fall that hit #1 on the Billboard charts in the traditional classical category.  Watch the video about EVMCO.  She just hosted an “Oh Stuff and Nonsense” party for other 13-15 year old homeschooled girls in the area, and is an avid reader.

My younger children have taught themselves to read, tell time, solve math problems, and just recently we all became fascinated with the strange characteristics of prime numbers – including my 5 year-old, right there along side her older siblings.  Give her a pile of beans representing a certain number, and in a few minutes, she’ll tell you if it’s prime or not.

Each morning we study scriptures, read selections from American History, have breakfast and do chores.  The rest of the day is wide open for exploration, or just enjoying each others’ company.  No more 7:30 am chaos, no more 4:00 pm competition for Mom’s attention… no more homework sessions that interfere with family dinner, and best of all, plenty of time to think and receive inspired sparks of curiosity that lead each one to ask the right questions at the right time, to help them prepare for the life’s work they will be most uniquely prepared to fulfill.  It’s a lofty ideal, but I’ve seen it in action.  (I’ve illustrated how this phenomenon also happens for adults in Portal to Genius.)

In spite of all I’ve said so far, I will add that I DO love the education I received through the public school system. But I love more what I’ve learned since… and I hope to keep learning new and amazing things from now until the day I die… and I expect, beyond.

9/17/13 update:

Had an interesting conversation with Jared the other day… he called down from loft where he was working on a computer program he was creating and said, “Mom, I’m trying to make this ball speed up as it gets closer to the hole. Any idea how I would program it to behave that way?” I said, “Hmm… sounds like an inverse relation… you’d use a fraction…” and as I was trying to remember how the formula would go, he hollered down again, “Never mind! I think I got it – I tried something and it’s slowing down as it gets closer, so now I’ll just try it the other way.”

Once he had it nailed, I said, “Did you know you just did Algebra?” He said, “Really? Then I think I’m going to love Algebra.”

A few weeks later, I wanted to talk to him about finally getting through his fractions and decimals books so he could move on to Algebra (because he was looking forward to it), but he’s bored to tears just at the thought of drudging through fractions and decimals.

So, because we’ve been having a hard time getting him to do his basics (ie. fractions and decimals), I thought maybe we’d just go ahead and jump to Algebra and then go back and fill in the gaps as they come up, because he’ll be more interested in those more basic concepts when they’re actually relevant to what he needs at the time.

But then he asked what Calculus was, and I said it had to do with rates of change and … I didn’t remember what all, so I said, “Do you want to see what it’s like?” He said sure, so we pulled up a Calculus lesson and watched the first 11 minute video together. It was on limits, and it used functions, and algebra, and decimals and ALL of those things.

But instead of being overwhelmed by his lack of knowledge and formal experience with the ‘per-requisites’, he lit up like a light bulb and got super excited, because it looked so much like some of the things he has done, or tried to do, in his computer programming, and it all actually made sense to him.

He paused the video several times to just digest what had been said, and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! So that’s why graphs are useful!” and he threw his head back and sang “Ahhhhhhh!” like a chorus of angels. “You know how some things just make you happy? This makes me SOOO happy-happy!!!!” His eyes literally started watering and he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

He’s 14, completely ‘behind’ on the basics, but totally in love with calculus.

Crazy, huh? Then without being asked, he got on the computer and spent a few hours honing skills and learning new things. I love it. They always told me that this would happen when you approach education in the unconventional way that we do… it’s just nice when we see it actually happen.

_______

Here’s the ‘note’ I stumbled onto in my spring cleaning that spawned this whole post in the first place.  I’ll post it here, and then get back to work.

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11 Responses to Spring Cleaning and Notes on Homeschooling

  1. Finding your post has been timely for me as well. Does the confidence come before or after implementation…or both, but with fluctuations? : ) I can’t figure out how to have peace over the details I fret about with unschooling…yet I desperately want to see my kids loving to learn… I want to see them motivated because they hunger to learn about whatever they are studying…it’s how I’ve learned so much, too…
    I believe the answers are right in front of my face but the glasses I’m looking through are not the right prescription so I can’ t see it clearly.
    Intuitively, I know I need a paradigm shift which can become my iron rod to hang onto when the doubts and fears begin to fly…but it’s not there yet…ok. back to prayer….it will come. Thank you for getting me on the track again. I need a change of heart and to see clearly what is required of me in order to implement this change in our school of thought. : ) Just knowing what to pray for is powerful.

  2. Pingback: Great Homeschooling Links: March 3, 2012

  3. Just want to say thanks! I receive the Simple Homeschool email & found your link. Your post is a blessing to me today. I’ve felt led to homeschool my children since they began school. Although, I did not have the confidence & support to do so at the time. Now the time has come and everything has fallen into place by the grace of God. It is his perfect timing. So I pulled Sophie out of school last week & we received our curriculum on Friday. Your link helps me in several ways. 1.) It helps me to see that it is okay to pull one child out of school w/out feeling bad about the other. She is so excited about home schooling and he did not want to home school. 2.) I have the same reason for home schooling…”And probably most important was the fact that we wanted God to be the very CENTER of all that they are learning. Since He created all things and knows everything about everything, it makes sense that we learn about Him, and let Him teach us about everything.” 3.) It is great to see that you all suggest that I should not try to imitate the public school. This is why God led me to your post today. I have all of my lesson plans ready for our first day of school & God knows that I’m stressing about getting them done before I need to get to the office to help my husband answer the phones during his lunch break. I’m a perfectionist and I want to have every little question answered by noon every day. My daughter is an amazing child who loves to read more than anything. She can play on the computer at the office while I help a few hours a day. During this time she teaches her self to type with an online program, she works on math facts online, and she has taught herself how to make a Power Point Presentation. We have a family owned insurance agency & we hope to have our children involved at an early age. We love the fact that she is there a few hours a day so that she can see how things are done. I teach her to file papers and hope that she will learn to communicate with adults more confidently. Anyway, I just want you to know that your post is a blessing to me today. Thanks! Karin Fulgham

  4. Thank you for this great article. I am new to homeschooling (we started only since Sep 2011) and have had the least support from my parents or in-laws. This post is so timely as I have just reached a tough period working with my middle child. I started letting self-doubts, fears, pressure and the need to compete drown out what I know in my heart to be right. Your words really reminded me to focus on what’s important and true and to believe and have faith in myself and my children. Peace & Blessings.

  5. Thanks, Leslie. As always: Great VALUE! :)
    Liz

  6. Great post and a big AMEN to all of the above. I also want to comment that A Thomas Jefferson Home Companion is co-authored by Diann Jeppson. She has been my personal mentor in many ways over the years and is a great resource for ideas on creating systems that support this kind of environment.

  7. Well, that is certainly a timely post for me. We are reaching an important crossroads in our family. We may be moving! And in the back of my mind, I’ve been thinking how nice it might be to go back to home schooling. Much food for thought. I LOVED all the Moores books. And DeMille. And many more.

  8. Thanks for sharing this journey, Leslie. I love your decision to let them choose their educational path–that is where I’ve gotten tripped up before! How nice to know from a more experienced mom that it all turns out okay in the end!

  9. p.s. our oldest son and his wife are now homeschooling their five children–and they wouldn’t do things any other way :)

  10. Leslie, your experiences touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing your insights so beautifully and openly. I am grateful that I played a part, however small, in the majesty of your family’s becoming what they are. Blessings… and much love to each and all of you!

  11. Leslie, Oh, how I needed this post today! I was feeling so down because of the constant judgement and questioning we receive about our homeschooling experience (especially from our extended family.) We have enjoyed homeschooling so much the last several months, building forts, reading books, earning money doing chores at home, and learning through PLAY! It’s been great. Your thoughts are giving me courage to answer their questions with confidence. My kids are thriving and loving extra mommy time, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, everything’s right about that. Let the unschooling begin!