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.”
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.
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.
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.
So here’s the ‘note’ I stumbled onto in my cleaning that spawned this whole post in the first place. I’ll copy it here, and then get back to work:
(This was given to me the year before I took the plunge by a good friend, Renae Pelo – it was instrumental in helping me have the courage to begin my own homeschooling experiment. I’d like to also thank Sherrie Hatch for gifting me the book “A Thomas Jefferson Education” two years before I dared read it, Stella Rainwater for being the brave pioneer who showed me by example that I could do it, and Cristie Gardner who showed me the amazing, positive products of her family’s experiment.)
THE HOWS and WHYS of HOMESCHOOLING For the Pelo’s of Charleston
“We began almost 15 years ago when Melody (mom) decided she was not ready to put her children into someone else’s care while they were still so young and vulnerable. It bean as a spiritual journey that started by talking to a Homeschooling mom who asked… ‘Would you send your son to war without arming him completely? Then why put a young child in a battle zone without their full armor’ (this takes time while they are young)
“I thought about this alot, and I began wanting to have them at home until they could recognize right and wrong and make good decisions for themselves. It also seemed to me that there were more important things than academics for a young child such as character development, learning compassion and getting along. As time went on we began to see many advantages of how our children were enjoying each other and developing great friendships within the family, finding ways to help them fulfill their own personal missions and getting individualized attention. 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.
“We have tried many different techniques and are constantly changing methods, but the children have proven that they are learning constantly and more effectively when we just give them resources and just get out of the way.
“Our oldest studied a couple of weeks for the ACT, and did well enough to get into college when she was 16. (This was enough to prove to us that without formal education, life is full of learning even enough to prepare for college.)
“Every child has different gifts, talents and goals, and we are learning from all of them and revising as we go. It has been a great journey and we believe that it will have lasting benefits, that our children have learned to think for themselves, and know where to find answers, and not rely on others to tell them what and when to learn.
” – A reminder that reading is a most important tool in education. Keep them reading.
” – Allow them to participate in extra-curricular activities, sports, drama, clubs.
“We have times when we wonder if we are missing things, and why we are doing this, and we have made big mistakes, but we do see so many benefits that we keep on going, the best part is, as the children are growing up – we can see we got more time with them than most parents do, and we have no regrets.”
Here are a few more notes that my friend gave me:
Thoughts on Challenges of Homeschooling
1. If you have been public schooled as a parent, you must overcome the idea that there is only one way to learn, you need to reminds yourself often about why you decided to use this method, and that your home is not meant to replicate the school.
2. During the young years, our children had to work extra hard to feel included at church because the others tend to hang out with those they see every day at school.
3. One challenge when you do the UnSchooling method, you have to step back and let your children be BORED sometimes and wait for them to decide that they are responsible for their learning — this can drive a parent crazy!
4. There is also a need to get the children to be accountable for the way they use their time, even if you don’t have structured learning, there needs to be a block of time set aside for learning.
5. Overcome the fact that some people won’t agree with your decision, but be comfortable enough, read enough and know enough that it doesn’t matter what others think, there are many ways to educate and parents choose what is best for their families.
Home Schooling Thoughts from the Pelo Family
This comes from our personal experience over the years we have homeschooled, and yet every family will have a way that works best for their situation. We have gathered ideas from many resources and people to make our style… maybe one of these ideas will be helpful to another family:
1. Every family finds THEIR unique style.
2. Most families who home school find greater success with not trying to imitate the public schools.
3. Follow the interests and talents of each child.
4. As they increase in age – increase THEIR responsibilities for their education.
5. Be a RESOURCE instead of a teacher, children can so easily self-teach even when they don’t know they are learning.
6. Find out what learning style your child has-many books out on this subject, visual learners, auditory learners, hands on …etc.
7. Remember that everyday life is full of learning opportunities – cooking to measure things, shopping to learn math, reading instructions…
8. Enjoy your time together — remember each child has tremendous capabilities and if we don’t block up the way they can do amazing things.
9. We like to visit with each child weekly to find out what resources they need for the week. We also bring in specialists to teach things that they want help with.
10. One year we combined with other families and had people with skills of knowledge of some place or culture come and share with us once a week.
11. We have developed a scholarship plan. This is used for earning money towards college, some of the kids really take advantage of it.
Books that are Great Resources
1. The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook – Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore
2. Family Matters – David Gutterson (a high school teacher who home schools his own children)
3. The Teenage Liberation Handbook – Grace Llewelyn
4. Dumbing Us Down – John Gatto
5. The Sudbury Valley School – a school that has a great unique teaching style
6. Better Late than Early – Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore
7. The Parenting Breakthrough – Boyack (this helps with daily chores and how to evaluate what each child is needing to learn)
8. Homeschooling for Excellence – David and Micki Colfax (these boys all went to Harvard)
9. Home Grown Kids – Moore
10. The Unschooling Handbook – Mary Griffith
11. Teaching Your Children Values – Linda and Richard Eyre
(I have not read most of the above books, but I will add to this list the books that tipped me over the edge…)
12. A Thomas Jefferson Education – Oliver DeMille
13. Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning – Oliver DeMille
14. A Thomas Jefferson Education: Home Companion – Oliver DeMille and Diann Jeppson
I hope this post can be helpful to someone else who is thinking about taking this brave and out-of-the-box path for his or her family.