February 27, 2010

Education at Home: Conclusion

"When was the last time you saw a tombstone with SAT scores inscribed on it?" 
-Edward B. Fiske

Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

A Look At Year Three

I don't want to bore you with the hour by hour details of our days, but this is basically what our week looks like now.  We do not typically do any schoolwork or chores on Tuesdays (playdate), or Fridays (grocery day), though I would definitely argue that there is still a lot of learning happening.  We are "those homeschoolers" that sleep late and don't get dressed unless we are leaving the house.   Our mornings are laid back.  The kids can handle their own breakfasts and then they go play while I have coffee and go through email, Reader, Facebook and Twitter.  Yes, I am addicted to the Internet.  Sometimes I go ahead with my own chores, but usually Robotson and I jump right into reading. We read for up to two hours, but most days it's one and a half.  Then we spend about an hour looking things up on the Internet or talking about things going on in our lives.  Sometimes we go over conflict resolutions.  When we are done, we handle any chores that need to be done that day.  The girls are still constantly interrupting us, but at least now I can send them off to play instead of watch t.v.  Between reading, the Internet, and chores, we easily hit those 3.5 school hours per day.  I've read enough research about the importance for unstructured play, and I consider those hours above and beyond what is required by the state.   We do far more than 180 days as well.

I am still reading aloud to Robotson, not because I have to, but because I want to.  The last six months have really made a difference in his desire and ability to read on his own.  I want to stress that this is without any instruction from me.  I am always available to help him when he asks, but I never push or question him.  I do offer suggestions, but leave the final decisions up to him.  If he asks for a spelling, I give it to him.  If he asks what a word is, I tell him without asking him to try to figure it out on his own.  By doing this, I eliminated all of the difficulties, and he still retains the information.  When he reads on his own, he goes for books that interest him and not for just the "easy" readers.  He reads to his sisters.  He also reads well.  While slower than I am, he doesn't just read each word individually.  He picks up on the tones and tempos of entire sentences.  He reads punctuation correctly even though we've talked very little about it and he rarely uses it in his own writing.  Speaking of writing, I have the same approach.  Often he will show me something he's typed on the computer or written out.  After he reads it to me, I will mention that he has some misspellings or grammatical errors, and would he like me to help him correct them?  Sometimes he does, but not always.  I don't push it.

We cover all subjects in our reading.  I try to find math stories.  We have shelves full of biographies about scientists, humanitarians, artists, musicians, explorers, writers, former slaves, and presidents.  More shelves are full of stories about other countries and their folktales.  We have historical fiction and non-fiction, science and science fiction, classics, poetry, and art books.  I could go on, but the point is we have a lot of books.  Between them and the Internet, there is never a subject that we can't cover.

The big question here is always, "Does he know everything a third grader should know?"  After checking out that link, I'd say he knows about half of that, and we still have half the year to go.  I thinks that's pretty cool since this is the first time I've ever looked it up.  There are also many things that he has learned on his own that aren't on that list.

I should also mention the socialization thing.  Aside from park days, playdates, and book club; there are the grocery days, G.U.S.T meetings, AIR meetings, and family get togethers.  My kids are not in the least bit shy and will talk to anyone, about anything, at all times.  They stop strangers at the park to ask permission to pet their dogs.  They coo over babies.  They know all of the people who work at Costco and Ingles, usually helping check out our groceries and then bag them.  I have to laugh when people ask me if I am worried about their social skills.  If anything, I worry that they are too social.  No one that has ever met them could possibly ask me that with a straight face.  In fact, all of the homeschooled kids that we know are like this.

So there you have it.  What do you think?  Are we unschoolers or more like eclectic homeschoolers?   Perhaps because I do insist upon doing something each day, and I tie it to computer time, then we do not fit the classic definition of unschoolers.  However, the majority of what we do is chosen by the child.

So In Conclusion (finally right!?)

All of this typing and I finally get to the part that I've been wanting to say all along.  When I read other blogs and talk to other homeschoolers, I often let myself feel bad.  Their days appear to be filled with art projects, books, science experiments, math worksheets, field trips, co-ops, tests, reading levels, achievements, history units, IQs, and percentiles.  Sometimes there is even real judgement of anyone doing less.

Let me let you in on a little secret... I never wanted to be an unschooler.  I wanted to be a "school-at-home schooler."  I wanted my kids to sit in desks while I stood in front of them with the teacher's edition.  I wanted them to work quietly, and independently, while I graded papers.  I wanted to enroll them in extra-curricular activities that kept us busy, but well-rounded.  I wanted to brag to my friends and family about how advanced they were and how early they'd be entering college.  I always expected us to do far more academically than your average public school students.   It's not a comfortable feeling for me to be without a plan.  I like to be in control.  I prefer to call the shots.  This is not my personality by any stretch of the imagination.  That's where the guilt comes from.

I want to be clear though, this is not because of Robotson, Funny Girl, or Dimples.  There are no disorders, diseases, or diagnoses behind our unschooliness (totally made that word up there).  I went into this thing absolutely convinced we would do it one way, and have come out 2.5 years later with a different view of things based on our day-to-day experiences.  The books I read, the people I met, the blogs I came across, the ups and downs that happened in our life - they all brought us to this point, unexpected as it is.  So while I sometimes feel guilty, the truth is that I can't imagine homeschooling any other way.  We DO do more than most public schooled children.  It's just that most of it is unstructured and child driven.  It doesn't look like school, so it's hard to explain to the value of that type of learning in a 60 second snippet, to a random stranger.

My Current Thinking On Education

-I do not think the bulk of learning needs to be done by the time they are 18 and off to college.  I would much prefer that is NOT the case.  Arthur C. Clarke said, "We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40 -- and half the things he knows at 40 hadn't been discovered when he was 20?"  I understand the need for a foundation with which to build upon, but I think it's better if they lay those first layers themselves. I know I always feel more invested in things that I have started, rather than those given to me by people who supposedly know better.

-You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make him drink.  My experiences with Robotson have made that crystal clear.  "No use to shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the problems before the child do not interest him, his attention will slip off to what does interest him, and no amount of exhortation of threats will bring it back." - John Holt  In my own life too, I can see how the more a thing is expected of me, the less I want to do it.  

-Is there really any topic in the whole world that, if studied fully and completely over years, would not lead to learning in all of the main areas of education?  If you love robots and spend your time drawing them, building them with LEGOs, reading books about them, researching them on the Internet, going to shows and presentations about them, and talking about them with anyone who will listen - how can you not study the history of robotics, the science and technology behind their evolution, the math that puts them together, the literature that brings them to life, the art that they are in and can produce, the music they make, the sports that they play?  And who has only one interest?  Imagine what you could do if you were given the opportunity to learn anything and everything about your passions without the worry of money, time, and commitments.  Those are real world concerns too, but they will also come up on their own.  You need funding to build or obtain the technology for new robots.  You need and have limited amounts of time to fulfill commitments that you may make as you create.  You can also hire people to handle your time and money for you if it's not your strong suit.

-High IQs, perfect test scores, and college degrees aren't the only ways to measure success.  

-Will I really love my children any less if they don't become whatever my definition of a success is?  If Funny Girl grows up to be a SAHM and Dimples gets a PhD, but both are blissfully happy with their choices, who am I to judge them?  Does it make a difference if I know that FG's IQ is well above average, while Dimples always had to work twice as hard to learn the same things?  Will I think FG blew her potential and Dimples should have just given up?  Of course not!  It's their definition of success that matters, not mine.

I keep those five things in the back of my head at all times.  I want to be confident in my decisions, but I'll always worry a little bit.  And that's not a bad thing either.  Reading about people who do things differently keeps me on my toes, so to speak.  I never get complacent, because I'm hyper-aware that there are other ways of homeschooling.  Who knows, we may still end up doing a more traditional model in the future, but for now this is what works for our family.

And a Thank You

Even though I wrote this as much (or more) for myself as anyone else, it's been really nice to see all the comments along the way.  So thank you so much, I really do appreciate it!  


  1. In a traditional public school class, there is so much time devoted to managing the group that it really is rather inefficient for an individual. This always drove me nuts when I was in school. It's where I first developed the habit of bringing a book along so that I could use every wasted minute reading :)

    I truly believe that reading aloud to children is the best possible way to educate them. When G started reading aloud, he also used the correct intonation and punctuation without being taught - and people would always comment on how he read with expression. I think that happens to all children who are read to. I work with 46 students who have speech and/or language problems and I can always tell the ones who are read to regularly. I'll also tell you my secret - I spend the majority of my professional day reading aloud to these children. Almost any speech or language problem can be at least partially remediated through reading aloud.

    BTW, have you guys read the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome? G and I have been listening to them from audible and he is on his relisten now, spending an average of 2 hours per afternoon/evening listening while playing with legos or doing other projects. They are lovely stories.

  2. I think you should do some minor editing to this series of posts and then submit the entirety as an article to Home Education Magazine or one of the unschooling journals. Seriously. :)

  3. Thank you for sharing all that you did!! I always wonder how other homeschoolers got to where they are and how there days look. In the past year of homeschooling, my own style has evolved and changed and I expect that it will continue to do so as we all grow. It's so comforting to me to see the other options out there, to know that it's okay to break free from textbooks and tests.

  4. What a great resource!

  5. [ ... ] link is being shared on Twitter right now. @zenx, an influential author, said RT @1ndus: Xtreme [ ... ]

  6. It's really a very fascinating series. I really enjoyed reading about your homeschooling journey, and I am curious to see how it evolves over time. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. BattleMaster- No we haven't seen Arthur Ransome's books. I'll check them out now! Thank you. I honestly never would have believed that just by reading to my kids, they would learn how to read on their own. But I gave it a try and I'm so glad that I did. It's led to my reading better as well as helped the kids.

    Thanks Kit. I'll have to think about that!

    You're welcome Christin. I'm glad you read along. :)

    Thanks Anon.

    Thank you for reading it, RaHC! I know how full your plate is!

  8. My husband linked me to this entry, and I was SO happy he did. I'm 18 weeks pregnant, and I've been toying with the idea of unschooling, but I'm worried I won't be organized enough. But at the same time, I want to foster a desire to learn and explore in our kids, rather than force them to go to school and learn subjects in such a cookie cut-out way that their individuality suffers. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, your blog, and this entry, really give me hope. How you've fashioned your unschooling is EXACTLY how I'd like to do it, and I feel a lot more confident that if I have materials, and encourage them, but don't push them, I can raise some thinkers of me own :)

  9. Steph- Congratulations on your pregnancy!

    That makes perfect sense to me. I could list off half a dozen books that talk about the very thing. I really need to write that book list post I keep thinking about. Check back for that if you are interested!

    I'm glad my journey was helpful :) I wish I had been half as prepared when I was pregnant as you seem to be! I know a few homeschoolers that are super-organized and then there are a few like me (what day is it again?)

    Just remember- whatever you choose, it will be best for YOUR family. :)