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Wax On, Wax Off...

Homeschooling: It Helps If Mom & Dad Are On The Same Page

Or

How To Develop a Shared Parental Vision For Homeschooling

by Diane Flynn Keith

In July, 2004, a new report released by the U.S. Department of Education showed that from 1999 to 2003, there had been a 29% increase in the number of children homeschooled nationwide. This increase of about 6% per year seems impressive – until you realize that it is less than half of the 15-20% per year that was predicted by oracles who concern themselves with such forecasts. What the studies don’t tell us is what homeschool advocacy organizations have known for years – that as many as 50% of new homeschoolers drop out during the first year. Parents give up because they are unhappy with some part of the homeschooling process, and often it’s because the parents themselves can’t agree on how the homeschooling should unfold. Here is a letter from a homeschool mom that illustrates the struggle some parents face. The names have been changed to protect their privacy.

"My husband, Carl, and I are happily married. We agree on everything – except, as it turns out, how to homeschool. We have two energetic boys who are 8 and 10. I was introduced to the idea of homeschooling at a mother’s club meeting, and knew in my heart that I wanted a more natural way of learning tailored to my sons’ strong interests and abilities. Since my sons were in public school, and not liking it very much, I convinced my husband to try it.

Carl was more comfortable with the boys going to public school because he was concerned that all of their needs wouldn’t be met in homeschooling. He thinks that group learning situations lead to better socialization. I didn’t want my boys to have to endure public school peer group pressure, and I had a strong sense they would flourish more at home.

Initially, at Carl’s urging, I tried to recreate the public school classroom with textbooks and workbooks. The kids hated it and I agreed. A homeschool friend suggested we might need some "school detox" time, and so I set aside the curriculum, and began reading myths, historical fiction, and integrating Lego projects with mathematics. It only took an hour or two each day to make progress on basic academics in this non-traditional way, and my sons loved the freedom to do their own thing the rest of the day. However, even though my boys have been doing well overall, if they don’t see the relevance of learning something I introduce, they won’t cooperate. They whine and complain and are unwilling to try new things. Since I don’t like forcing the boys to learn subjects they don’t like, and prefer a less structured lifestyle myself, I lean toward unschooling. This makes Carl very nervous and he is concerned they will get "behind."

To appease Carl, I joined a charter school home study program and had teacher-meetings every few weeks to provide structure, assessment and to get resources. We liked having some direction and encouragement to try new things. However, after a while, the school started to require more accountability and looked for more "evidence" or a paper trail of our learning. The boys got bored with that regimen quickly. When my sons are miserable they act out. I get frustrated and exhausted and don’t follow through with planned activities, and then the boys just play. Carl tries to help by teaching them subjects he thinks they need to learn, but they are often resistant to doing what he asks. The ensuing arguments are exhausting for everyone.

Carl thinks we should consider putting them back in school or hire an experienced tutor to help out for several hours each week. While Carl supports the idea of homeschooling, he definitely brings more of a traditional educational viewpoint to it. I feel like we are on almost opposite ends of the spectrum and wonder if you have suggestions for finding a happy medium."

This mom and dad are engaged in a tug-of-war between the traditional school model that they know and understand, and new ideas of how education can unfold. They flip-flop from one methodology to another. It’s understandable. There are plenty of conflicting messages for beginning homeschoolers. Old school tapes can play in your brain, even as the hope of liberation from school-as-usual springs in your heart. The noise from our culture screams at us to conform with schoolish notions like curriculum, subjects, grade-levels, testing, academic awards, and socialization. But attending a homeschool park day reveals a community educating children without the common trappings and constraints of traditional schooling. Homeschool parents present an enigma – some tout the academic soundness of Sonlight or Calvert curriculum in kitchens converted to classrooms, while others tell of learning valuable lessons in math and marine biology without textbooks on a day spent at the beach. Parents are inundated with an excess of educational products designed to complement various learning styles or methodologies, not to mention the field trips, co-op classes, and social events organized by homeschool support groups. The demands on time to cover it all, and the challenge of family dynamics as you try to get used to a new homeschool rhythm and routine, can be overwhelming. As they are barraged with educational methods and curriculum products, it’s no wonder parents put emphasis on how the schooling should take place at home.

What is more important than academic methods or activities, is for parents to develop a shared parental vision of the kind of whole person they hope to raise in the course of homeschooling. Parents decide together what qualities, characteristics and skills are most important to them in the adults they hope their children will become, and then build an environment that supports and nurtures the development of those young adults. If they hope their children will not only be knowledgeable but also productive, capable, caring, civil, generous, creative, responsible, self-assured, wise, independent, and ultimately, happy – then that’s their goal – and schooling is just a rather minor part of the complete task.

Like many homeschool parents before them, the father in the above example is preoccupied with academics in homeschooling, while the mother sees development and progress in her sons’ skills as they explore their own interests without schooling. These parents must have a heart-to-heart discussion about what kind of young men they are trying to raise and how they can best achieve that at home. They must acknowledge the inherent risk and promise in homeschooling – that their sons may or may not achieve their academic expectations, and may or may not experience life-affirming opportunities that far outweigh any schoolish endeavors. But first, they have got to agree on the goal. If they can work together to create a shared vision, then they can make a blueprint of the atmosphere they will create to support that vision. It will reduce their sense of risk, and guide them in choosing from a variety of educational methods and curriculum so they can go about fulfilling the promise of learning at home.

Even with a shared vision, homeschool parents can still be sidetracked from their mutual goal by the luxury of too many options in the task of educating their children. Before getting confused by all of the curricular products and methods available, parents may find it helpful to take the time to observe their children and figure out their interests, needs, abilities and learning styles. One great resource to help parents do that is the book, Discover Your Child’s Learning Style by Mariaemma Pellulo-Willis and Victoria Kindle-Hodson. The authors developed "The Learning Style Model of Education" that helps adults and children discover their unique learning needs. They present a positive approach that is based on working with each person’s natural gifts and dispositions, rather than applying dysfunctional labels such as A.D.D., dyslexic, gifted, hyperactive, or learning disabled. Mariaemma and Victoria help adults and children use their Learning Styles as doorways into their unique ways of learning in order to reach academic goals and to discover their direction in life. To learn more visit their website at www.coachingforlearningsuccess.com and see their column on p. 7 in this issue.

Once parents have an idea of how their children learn best, then they can spend some time exploring the different educational methods that homeschoolers utilize, and the philosophies that govern them. From classical education to unschooling, there are lots of ways to deliver and pursue an education. Since nearly every method has spawned innumerable curriculum products, it helps to have a passing familiarity with the methodologies to filter and screen curriculum materials to find those that will suit your children’s interests, needs, and abilities best.

What follows is a brief description of some of the more popular methodologies. Read through them. If you are interested in learning more, you will find suggested resources to help you investigate further. Some parents will completely embrace one particular methodology. Others may take a more eclectic approach, using what works from several different styles. The important thing is to remain flexible. Be willing to get rid of what doesn’t work and try something new. Homeschooling is the scientific method at work – it’s all about trial and error. It’s messy and chaotic. There aren’t easy answers, and there’s no one right approach. There are just ideas, implementation, feedback, adjustments, and knowledge gained from doing all of that. Parents who take the time to develop a shared vision, and then work together to create an environment that supports it, will have a better chance of achieving homeschool success and happiness.

 

Charlotte Mason Method

Mason was an educator who believed in guiding a child’s natural curiosity and ability as a process for learning. She emphasized Christian morals and values and developing good work habits. She believed children should interact with nature and their environment as they learn -- as opposed to just mastering facts in drill and practice work.

 

To Learn More:

• A Charlotte Mason Education and More Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison. These books are available at amazon.com.

• A Charlotte Mason Education: http://www.christianity.com/cmason/

• The A, B, C’s of Charlotte Mason is a website with FAQs about this method of learning. Many of the recognized experts on CM are quoted here along with recommendations for resources that meet the CM standards. http://homepage.bushnell.net/~peanuts/faq1.html.

 

Classical Education

This philosophy has a number of interpretations but focus is on a rigorous academic curriculum of reading, writing, math, classic languages such as Latin & Greek, logical thinking and debate. Mastery of the basics of rudimentary subjects is emphasized in the elementary years, progressing to the development and use of critical thinking skills in the upper grades. Below are some resources that explain this approach more thoroughly and that offer help for those who are using this approach.

 

To Learn More:

• The Well Trained Mind: A Parents’ Guide to Classical Education by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. This is THE BOOK on providing a classical education in homeschooling. The companion website, www.welltrainedmind.com, offers workshop outlines of presentations by the authors on every subject as well as their resource recommendations for where to find products that meet their classical curriculum standards.

• For an extensive listing of Classical Education Links both Christian and Secular: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/8259/classic.html

• Trivium Pursuit (Christian perspective) http://www.triviumpursuit.com/

 

Unschooling – John Holt Philosophy

Holt was an educator who in the 1960s and 1970s spoke out about school reform, and finally abandoned the idea that schools were a good idea at all. He believed that children are born wanting to learn. In fact, he said, "True learning only happens when it is desired by the learner." To Holt’s way of thinking, taking a child and plunking him/her down at a desk all day with a textbook that was of no interest or relevance to the child bordered on psychopathic. He believed that following the child’s natural curiosity about life would lead to learning about every subject typically required by schools – and more. He saw parents not as instructors, but as facilitators of their children’s learning.

 

To Learn More:

• Teach Your Own by John Holt available from Holt Associates: 617-864-3100 or www.holtgws.com

• The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith

• Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee

• Teenage Liberation Handbook: How To Quit School and Get A Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn

• Christian Unschooling by Teri J. Brown with Elissa M. Wahl

Home Education Magazine at www.home-ed-magazine.com

• Family Unschoolers Network (F.U.N.) at http://www.unschooling.org/ is a website with information and resources to support families who are unschooling.

 

Waldorf Education

This is based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. Steiner was asked to develop a school for the children of workers at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Factory. He believed children experience three distinct developmental stages and that learning should be tailored to these stages:

 

1. 0-7 years, children learn through imitation.

2. 7-14 years, children learn through their emotions.

3. 14+ years, children learn through logic and reasoning skills

 

In Waldorf Schools traditional academics are delayed until at least age 7. Subjects are introduced creatively through stories, art, and music.

 

To Learn More:

• Ruldoph Steiner College & Bookstore, 9200 Fair Oaks Bvd., Fair Oaks, CA 916-961-8729 or www.steinercollege.org.

• Oak Meadow offers K-12 curriculum (with a complete High School curriculum) and you can download free samples of the curriculum in all grade levels at: http://www.oakmeadow.com/curriculum/samples.htm.

• Live Education – is a Waldorf curriculum provider. It started in 1997 and was founded by Rainbow Rosenbloom. LE stays truer to Waldorf than Oak Meadow. It offers curriculum up through grade 5 and it offers individual subject books for the upper grades including high school. Check it out at http://www.live-education.com.

• Barbara Dewey operates Waldorf Without Walls at http://www.waldorfwithoutwalls.com/ Barbara is available for private consultation.

• You will find all sorts of info on homeschooling and Waldorf education at: http://www.waldorfhomeschoolers.com

• You can find information on the pros and cons of Waldorf education and the Steiner philosophy on the Internet. One website that tries to provide a measured view is http://www.openwaldorf.com/.

 

Montessori Philosophy

Based on the life’s work of Dr. Maria Montessori, the Montessori method has a broad vision of education and follows the natural development of the individual child and their innate directive that freely guides them toward growth and maturity. The children’s innate passion for learning is encouraged by giving them opportunities to engage in spontaneous, purposeful activities with specific materials under the guidance of a trained adult. Within a framework of order, the children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities. Montessori recognizes a developmental order from birth to adulthood and activities and environment are adjusted to suit developmental needs.

 

To Learn More:

• The Absorbant Mind by Maria Montessori

• Website: Association Montessori Internationale: http://www.montessori-ami.org/ami.htm

• Montessori for Older Children: http://www.montessori.edu/homeschooling.html

 

Additional Recommendations

To better understand schooling and its impact on how children learn read the books by John Taylor Gatto. A former New York State Teacher of the Year, his writings are filled with observations over 30 years’ teaching in public schools and contain keen insight into the problems with modern schools.

• Dumbing Us Down – The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling and

• The Exhausted School and

• The Underground History of American Education and

• A Different Kind of Teacher

• Website: www.JohnTaylorGatto.com

 

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Gutterson – The author, a teacher and homeschool dad, recounts the discussions he had with his own father who was opposed to home education. Provides both pros and cons to homeschooling. -- DFK

 

Copyright © 2004 by Diane Flynn Keith. All rights reserved.