Recollections of a Homeschool Mom
By Yvonne Mutch
If someone would have told me, during the first year of homeschooling, that I and my children would one day study the Middle Ages (and enjoy it) I would have laughed. But that was eleven years ago, the "infancy" of my homeschool years, and since that time I've seen my oldest one graduate and complete one year of college. Nevertheless, the most remarkable changes in our household have not been external. No, the most significant changes have been the transformations of "self." Sometimes these changes came naturally, but other times I had to learn the hard way that it was time to let go of the way I was doing things and reach for something better. And inevitably, each time I reached for something better, I found that it was also simpler and easier than I ever could have imagined it to be. The following is a simple recollection of the ways homeschooling has changed my life. It is also a chronicle of my homeschool journey and what I have learned.
Homeschooling Taught Me To Be a Student of My Children
This might be the most important lesson I've learned; it was also one of the hardest. I wanted so badly to be THE TEACHER especially since I have a talent in this area. I laugh now, but I actually believed that everything my children were going to learn they were going to learn from ME. (Obviously this was before we had a computer in the house!) I though my children would sit quietly while I poured words of wisdom into their heads. However, because of this desire of wanting what was best for my children and wanting to be an effective teacher (now I am more of a facilitator), I began to study the area of temperaments and learning styles. I then began focusing on how my children learn, observing them not just as children, but as people. And I began to appreciate the fact that each child is a unique creation, with a specific combination of strengths and weaknesses. I learned a lot from my children, and in the process learned a lot about myself. It was a slow process, but now I listen when one tells me a particular workbook is stupid or a certain math program is not working for him/her. I finally came to a place where I could trust them. I've learned that sometimes I just need to step out of the way. These days, I simply try to do my best to nurture the talent I see in my children and I look forward to seeing what they do with the rest of their lives. The rewards of homeschool parenting are plentiful, and I continue to learn while I watch my children grow.
Homeschooling Taught Me That It's Okay To Do Things Differently
I've learned that English literature can be reading the bed or the bathtub. And I've learned that a unit of study can be started and then dropped because of lack of interest. And I'm quite pleased that hobbies can count as "school" and lead to careers. Obviously, doing things differently is at the heart of the matter of why we home educate. Perhaps it's even one of the things that defines home educators. I am so thankful for the freedom we have when we don't have to follow someone else's rules. For instance, our family likes to play Scrabble®, and when we do, we abide by most of the rules. One of the rules we disregard is the one prohibiting the use of proper nouns. This is understandable in regards to using people's names, as there would be no end to the creative words that would ensue. However, this rule is not acceptable when it comes to using words such as Iowa or Asia. These are excellent words! Also, we are not penalized for looking up words in the dictionary. The important thing is that we are exercising our minds. Every time I play Scrabble® with my son, his vocabulary is stretched and his spelling skills are sharpened. And so we learn and grow in the arena of language arts because we "expand" the rules just a bit. There is luxurious freedom when we know its okay to color outside the lines sometimes or to simply use different colors.
Homeschooling Taught Me That F-U-N Spells Education
This is not to say that learning is never challenging, but I know now that learning can be, and at times needs to be, fun. My son, who is my youngest, received the full benefits of this "insight." By the time he came to kindergarten age, I was willing to do things differently. Therefore, he had no formal kindergarten program and no textbooks -- (Gasp!) not even a phonics or handwriting program. Why? Because I was now a student of my children and I knew HE WAS NOT READY. However, I didn't just let him "hang out." I provided activities for him, but mostly I wanted to see what he would learn without the push of formal schooling. Therefore, every morning we played "Crazy Eights," "Go Fish," and "Bingo." Through these games he learned number recognition. We also counted pennies and played dominoes, and thus he learned to count. All the children participated in these morning math sessions, and all thought I was spending quality time with them - which of course, I was! Additionally, during this year, my son taught himself to put together 500-piece puzzles, after first mastering 100-piece puzzles. I just stood back and watched, amazed. He also learned to play chess through a computer program and a little help from dad. And finally, my son's mind was rich with literature because I read to my children. I read Johnny Tremain and Carry On, Mr. Bowditch and Daniel Boone's story in his own words. And while we were soaked in these adventures, I let my children draw pictures. It was a memorable year. I believe every year needs to have a bit of kindergarten in it. I believe every year should have at least one joyful subject per pupil (and teacher) per year, whether it's inventor's workshop, cooking or calligraphy.
Home Education Taught Me That There Is Far More to a Good Book Than Meets the Eye
I've always enjoyed reading to my children, even after they could read for themselves. Our first year of homeschooling, I read the "Little House" books. At the time, I thought it was something we were doing "just for fun." I didn't view it as part of our curriculum or learning program. I knew nothing about the term "living literature," I just knew that this was something I had to do to keep my sanity. Later, I learned that listening comprehension directly translates into reading comprehension, and that interacting with a good piece of literature is interacting with a great mind. I realize now I could have tossed the programs I used for our first two years of home education and used good books as our "main course." My older children don't remember the workbooks we used and the fill-in-the-blank answers, but they do remember the books we read. And beyond my initial discovery of using historical fiction and biographies to study history, books have become the saving grace and backbone of our home education "program." On those days when I need a rest, I can assign my children a book to read, saved for just such an occasion. And of course, there are those days when I transform into the couchschooler, oblivious to the clock, because we are all engaged in a good story. Lastly, my children have been able to teach themselves a variety of activities through the medium of books; activities they would not have been able to learn from me. They have taught themselves - among other things - juggling, origami, drawing and card and magic tricks. Even if I had the talent for any of these things, I no doubt wouldn't have the time to impart all of these skills. Indeed, I am blessed that my four children love to read, and in turn, they too, are blessed.
Home Education Taught Me To Be a More Organized Person
I balked at first, concerning this whole issue. I was especially alarmed when I cam across some "day planning" sheets put together by some homeschooling mom who expected me to order my day into neatly-packaged, 15-minute time slots. Worse, yet, she expected my day to start at 6:15. (NO WAY!) If this was what being organized meant, then being organized was not for me! So, I continued on and I had to learn the hard way, that visual clutter creates mental clutter, which can be a distraction for learning. I came to the realization that I had to get beyond the frantic Saturday morning housecleaning. Thus began my own personal odyssey to organization. Finally, I adapted a system that worked for me. That system has evolved over the years, but most importantly, I no longer try to copy anyone's "perfect plan," just as I no longer try to copy anyone's home education system. I read books, listened to tapes, went to seminars and gleaned some great ideas, but in the end, I had to create a workable best, suited for me and my family. Therefore, I am purposely omitting any of my great "tips" except to say that what works best for me is a lot of delegation of tasks, with myself in a supervisory role. I am the "manager" that makes sure dinner gets onto the table every night. Sometimes this means I do all of it myself, sometimes it means someone else chops the vegetables. But most importantly, I've learned to create spaces and places for all of our stuff, whether it's baskets, file cabinets, or bookshelves. This means that we don't have a lot of space for decoratie items, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. After all, nothing gets done when one can't find the maps or the pencil sharpener or the protractor. In my home, being organized is a necessary ingredient for home education.
Homeschooling Taught Me To Be a Life-long Student
Yvonne Mutch also wrote the popular article in Vol. 6, Issue 3 entitled "In Sickness & In Health (Confessions of a Homeschool Mom)."
I'm glad my education is not "finished" and that my true education began after high school, after the birth of my children and after I began homeschooling. I've had the revelation that I taught myself all of the skills I'm now proficient at, the singular exception being that I learned to type in high school. At any rate, my true education began in my mid-twenties, and I will always cherish those early years of homeschooling and my "re-discovery" of learning. We studied planets and wars and explored rocks and spiders and a love of learning was birthed in me. After the first few years of homeschooling, with the "wow" of learning firmly intact, I went back to college to pursue a two-year degree in Early Childhood Education. And later, I took a creative writing class, after first completing English 120. This experience far exceeded going to college right out of high school, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, just trying to fulfill my parent's expectations. Being a student because I wanted to learn has made all the difference. At any rate, I hope my children are encouraged by the example I've set in this area, and I hope that neither they nor I ever become intellectually complacent. Furthermore, I desire that my children glean from the above examples and continue the homeschool journey for yet another generation. Y.M.