Friday, September 26, 2014

What Is Homeschooling Like?

Even though I’m not “officially” homeschooling yet (my son misses the age cutoff and is not eligible for public kindergarten this year), I’m doing it formally enough that it occasionally comes up in conversation, and people often ask what it’s like to homeschool. Every homeschooler is different, so I can’t answer that question in the broadest sense, but I can share what homeschooling is like for us. Here’s an example of a typical homeschooling day for us.

My son is naturally very curious, so I try to develop lessons based on what he’s interested in. Instead of having a separate math lesson, reading lesson, writing practice, etc., I try to tie them all together using something that he’s interested in. So I based this lesson on a police car craft that I found on Pinterest. 

I began by carefully writing out step by step instructions:
  1. Color the car blue.
  2. Cut out 2 black circles.
  3. Cut out 2 white squares.
  4. Cut out 1 red rectangle.
  5. Cut out 1 yellow star.

I gave him a paper plate that had been cut into the general shape of a car, a box of magic markers, a pair of scissors, a stack of construction paper with the appropriate shapes drawn on, and the page of directions. 

 In this single project, he had to 1) read, 2)  hold a marker properly, 3) follow sequential directions, 4) identify colors, 5) identify shapes, 6) master using scissors for both curved and straight cutting, and 7) use glue without making a big mess.

I followed this lesson by asking him to draw each of the shapes that he had cut out, and then had him figure out how to spell and write out the name of one of those shapes with help from alphabet flash cards.

From there we moved on to reading a library book about different kinds of vehicles (including police cars). As we read, we talked about the difference between nouns and verbs, figuring out which words were “things” (ambulance, policeman, siren, headlights) and which were “doing” words (drive, stop, help, fly). After that, we watched a “Schoolhouse Rock” DVD, starting with songs like “Verb: That’s What’s Happening” and “A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing,” then we moved on to a little American history with “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and “The Great American Melting Pot” and a bit of math with “Elementary, My Dear” and “Figure Eight,” all with appropriate discussion as we went along. And then we finished off the lesson by practicing writing numbers with more help from flash cards and workbook pages.

The nicest part of home schooling is being able to set our own pace and our own schedule. We can take breaks whenever one of us needs one and plow through when we happen to be on a roll. If we find ourselves on an interesting tangent, we can go with it instead of having to steer back to the original topic. Sometimes we take a wiggle break because we feel like it; sometimes we skip a boring book and find one that’s more exciting at the moment; sometimes we scrap a lesson altogether and find something else that works for us. Sometimes we get much more in depth than I'd anticipated and go two or three lessons at a time. If one of us is having a crabby morning, we can work on fun projects like crafts or coloring or cooking, and work on the harder or less interesting stuff after lunch when we’ve both gotten our second wind. Sometimes we "double-dip" by thinking of different kinds of ocean animals while we're swimming or practice walking like different kinds of animals while we're having a stretch break. We can even do lessons after dinner or on weekends to make up for breaks we’ve taken during the day. 

Making our own schedule also means we can be inspired by anything and everything around us. At the grocery store, we talk about nutrition, how plants grow, and where different fruits come from. We read the signs at the end of each aisle and talk about why the foods are grouped together the way they are. While we’re making brownies, we talk about the different ways we can measure things and we practice reading and following directions. In the car the other day, my son saw someone smoking a cigarette and asked what it was, and it segued into a discussion of health, how we breathe, and the meaning of the word “consequences”.

To quote John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” And, in turn, life itself is education. 

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