Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Finding our Homeschool Style {Pitchers Do School - Part Two}

As I discussed in a post last week (Read That HERE), I decided ages ago that I wanted to homeschool. And over the last year (or more, probably) I've been slowly finding my way to the homeschool style that I think best suits me.
"But Becky," you may be saying, "Shouldn't the homeschool style you choose be one that suits your children?" Well, yes and no.
The truth is, I will not be able to be an effective and passionate teacher if I don't fully believe and stand behind what I'm sharing- but I also honestly think that a mother who knows her individual children will be able to change and adapt to suit her children's needs to any style of teaching- and I have not decided on a set "curriculum," so much as a style of teaching.

(Strap yourself in, because this post is crazy long. If you want to go ahead and skip to the end, when I actually FIND my homeschool style, no judgments here. In the meantime, this will be a discussion of different homeschool methods and what I liked and disliked about each.)

There are many different methods of educating your child at home, and I wanted to share brief rundowns of what I gleaned on the topic of each one. Some of the first styles of homeschool that everyone seems to find and try are:

Classical - a method of homeschooling that uses classic books and literature over text books. The teaching/learning methods change as a child ages and their cognitive abilities develop from concrete thinking, to analytical thinking, to abstract thinking. It teaches children to understand and reason for themselves.

Traditional - Basically, this is school-at-home. You follow a set curriculum in several different topics, studying textbooks, taking quizzes, writing book reports.

Montessori - Based on my knowledge from Pinterest, I thought Montessori was all colorful wooden beads and shape-puzzles, but my understanding of this type of education has evolved- as has my confusion. Is it just fancy unschooling? I believe that Montessori is very hands-on for children, hands-off for adults, lots of play (both educational and unsupervised) with child-led learning.

I knew immediately that I wasn't interested in any of those approaches. Classical and Traditional seemed like too much.  Both stressful and demanding to teach and to learn, when what I am seeking is a feeling of peaceful learning in my home. And yet Montessori didn't seem like enough.  I googled around, I did some Pinterest  searches and felt even more overwhelmed.
I thought I might be interested in the following:

Unit Studies - Still my second-favorite method of teaching, I think we might fall back into this later. Unit studies take a unit or topic and bases all the learning around that specific study. For example, if you are studying Vikings, you would read Viking folktales and legends for your language arts, study their pillaging routes and learn about Iceland, etc for Geography. You could do math based on figuring out and measuring the sizes of Viking ships, miles traveled, or money exchange rates. Your science could be about Vikings also... somehow. I don't know that much about Unit studies or Vikings, obviously.

Waldorf - Believes in educating the whole child- his body and spirit in addition to his mind. There's a huge focus on art, music, nature, movement, and not delving into academics too early.

Thomas Jefferson Education - This seems to be a style of classical education (which uses great works of literature to teach, and evolves with a child's cognitive ability, remember?) but which allows children to learn at their own pace and focuses on teaching a child to love learning. It also focuses on discipline, but rather than parents being terribly disciplined, it helps children develop discipline over themselves. (Classical Conversations is another similar method of Classical education.)

Again, these were my three favorite methods. I loved and still love the idea of Unit Studies, because I could see many ways to include the books and art that I love into each Unit. I love the idea of teaching children practical math and science, like how to irrigate fields or double a recipe, while also giving them a broad range of topics- woven together from subject to subject like real knowledge is.
I like the Waldorf focus on art, but frankly I think they're a little pretentious (no plastic, no technology, dinner by candlelight?) My kids are really into sticking their fingers into hot candles so they can get wax on their hands, they love their light sabers, and using computers is a modern-day skill that everyone needs. So. Not quite. The Thomas Jefferson method looks really good, and I was also leaning towards it, but again, I felt frustrated that there wasn't a method that combined these powerful works of literature and actual educational discipline with a love of and focus on art and nature.

So, overwhelmed by the internet, I went to the homeschool section of the library and grabbed a random section of books. I started with Home Grown, a book by an Unschooling Dad of two. At first, I found the book enchanting- stories of children free to learn and grow at their own pace. And then the author mentioned that their friends and neighbors were worried that their seven year old couldn't read yet. "It's totally fine," he said, "He's learning other important life skills like knitting and bailing hay, and crafting bows and arrows."
Um. No. READING IS A LIFE SKILL. Knitting is not. I started to read with a little more skepticism. A bit further on, he mentioned that his son said if he could have any two wishes, he'd wish for traps and a donkey. He then said something like this: "I was worried, what would the world do with my child that wanted traps and a donkey?- but then I realized I was asking the wrong question. What would my son do with the world?" 
Nope. Nope. No. He would do nothing with the world. He would live in the woods like a homeless tramp that cannot read or use the computer. Unschooling wasn't for me. I threw that book aside midway through and picked up the next one.

It was called For the Children's Sake. And it changed everything.
It was exactly what I was looking for! The author wrote about the style of learning developed by Charlotte Mason, a name I had seen used online to describe a very Waldorf style of teaching. Playing unsupervised in nature, not learning to read until you were seven or older, doing art and going on hikes. But the more I read about Charlotte Mason and her aims for a child, the more I realized that she was being misused. Charlotte Mason is not a step above unschooling. Charlotte Mason believed in discipline, full education, and independent (but vigorous) learning.

Charlotte Mason Education-  (a note: CM is MUCH MORE than I am sharing here. These are just some of my favorite aspects of this style of teaching.)

Focuses on ideas over facts: so rather than reading a text book about World War II and memorizing lists of dates that countries were invaded, students will read a Diary of Anne Frank, maybe letters written by soldiers in the trenches, a biography of Winston Churchill, and more. They might listen to Jazz music and discuss why it was banned in Nazi Germany. They would read poetry or view art inspired by the depravation, obedience, courage, and fear of those years. And then, after a passion and interest has been ignited, they will learn and delve into facts- something they now care about. (Similar to unit studies, but with a focus on classic, living books and art over textbooks or worksheets.)
Teaches habits and discipline: Charlotte Mason believed that children should develop habits, not just of brushing their teeth or clearing the table, but habits of obedience, attention, kindness, cheerfulness, faith, etc. If we always rise and make our beds in the morning, it's not really a constant conscious decision and battle within ourselves. We just do it. We can build those sort of habits in our children, but about deeper and more important things than bed making.
Focuses on art, nature, and music: It's true. Charlotte Mason believed that children should be exposed to good and beautiful things, which teach them to love the world and be creative. But she didn't believe in letting children run wild and free. When children are young, she suggests taking an afternoon a week to hike or visit nearby wildlife, and spending a few free hours unfettered after formal education in the morning. But even hiking is not merely being out in nature. She encouraged detailed nature journals and studies, to help children recognize the plants and animals around them, their habitats and food sources, their patterns of migration or hibernation. This, my friends, is a biology course. Her focus on art and music is in-depth and focuses on masters through out time, teaching your children to recognize the composer of a classical piece or the artist of a painting in a museum based on their style. They aren't just fingerpainting and taking piano lessons. They're becoming engrossed in the masters.
Short lessons and time for imaginative play: I think one of the reasons that CM has the reputation of being practically-unschooling is because she focused on having short lesson plans. She believed that a child develops the habit of attention by paying attention. So when children are young, you don't talk and talk and talk until your child zones out. You focus their attention for a short period of time (for a six year old, this might only be 5-20 minutes) and then you let them go. This amount of focused attention will slowly increase as your child learns to learn. She might allow children to have 5-10 minutes of poetry memorization, followed by 15 minutes of math, 10 minutes of copywork, followed by a break. Then French, music, art, all lesson-plans only a few minutes long. By lunchtime your child is done for the day, (when they are young, at least. As they get older, their lessons are longer- but they have learned how to pay attention and work, so no time is wasted.

Those really are my favorite things, although Charlotte Mason believed in so many beautiful things, like "narration" over test-taking to determine how much has been learned, like treating a child as a human being with an interest in their own education (and the child's motto: I am, I can, I ought, I will.) Memorization of poems and scripture, reading aloud together "living books," which are books (unlike textbooks) that capture and delight the reader. Like the idea that a child's mind is not a sack to be filled, but a living organism whose diet is ideas. Stop it. That's beautiful, right?

I would recommend For The Children's Sake to any mother, whether or not you are planning on home schooling- it's very lovely and inspirational in its methods to interact with children, and it encourages beautiful methods of teaching your children, whether it's in the mornings and evenings or throughout the day. A few weeks after reading it, I stumbled upon a free online resource of curriculum and ideas to educate your children using the Charlotte Mason style. I am excited to delve further into it over the next few months and years and will hopefully share our plans and successes (and failures!) here.

If you were going to homeschool, what method appeals to you? Or do you already homeschool and use a different method? I'd be interested to hear what has worked for you!


Mhopp said...

What method will you use to teach reading? Curious because I'm interested in homeschooling, but always felt unequiped to teach reading so I decided against it for this year. My son is five years old and is in his second month of Kindergarten. They do Jolly Phonics for letter sounds, work on sight words (he already knows over 100 words) and read guided reading books anywhere from level A to level G. I was just wondering if the reading instruction you do will be similar (with sight words and phonics) or how you would teach it? Also are you using guided reading levels and books or what readers are you using?

Molly S said...

Yesssss! For the children's sake changed my life as a mother. I have a little one in "kindergarten," and we're using the My Father's World curriculum. I did want a bit of an outline, and I think it's perfect. Very slow pace, thorough mastery of subjects, all unit based studies with tons of reading, a la Charlotte Mason. Also, it's cheap by comparison, and my son loves it!

Mr. and Mrs. Hillarious said...

I have a kinder and I'm a fan of a mix of classical and Charlotte Mason. I would love to do Unit studies, but every time I start to think about that I get overwhelmed. I love the idea of lots of book reading with simply having the children narrate back what they learned. I also found great Composer and Artist curriculum here: that I'm excited to work with to teach my children about classical composers and artists. We have Singapore Math standard edition and so far I like it. And since he's in kindergarten I'm not too concerned yet with teaching too much formal history and science. I just have a day a week to talk about history things (American flag, our state flag, important holidays, etc.) and for science I ordered More Mudpies to Magnets to do a weekly science experiment.

Unknown said...

My friend did a year of homeschool unit studies for her 2 young boys. She wrote and documented about the whole year on this link...

Maybe it could be helpful.

-Danica- said...

We've been using some ideas from "The Homegrown Preschooler" and it has some really, really awesome ideas. I can't wait to see you document more!

Lana said...

Viking science could be about boat building and density vs mass and floating. Bam! :)

Family History Films said...

Have you heard about the UPSTART program? It's a free online preschool for kids who are your boys' age. William is doing it and loves it. You have to commit to do it for 15 minutes for 5 days a week though so I don't know if that's too much. It teaches them how to read through songs and games and gives them great computer skills. They have a math and science section that is fun too. They do things lile make a photo journal for a baby chicken that is growing and make learning about the calendar fun.