Monday, July 24, 2006

Homeschooling: What We Focus On, Our Children Succeed At

The longer I homeschool my children and the more that time goes on and I see other homeschooling families grow and change over time the more convinced I am that what we focus on we succeed at accomplishing.

It is one thing to read about homeschooling success (in a book or on a blog) but to see it happen in real life is so interesting and sometimes phenomenal. I love it when I see in real life, a theory or an idea actually come to fruition. It is interesting to see it with other families that I know, when I know their goals and what they are doing, then see how it works for them (as they are doing different things than our family does, because no two homeschooling families are alike). While all homeschooling families share some common goals most of us have goals with different details or plans and we all do things to achieve them in different ways.

(If you don’t believe yet that every homeschooling family is different I suggest you read the book “Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days” by Nancy Lande. Each chapter is a story of how a family spends their day, as well as an overview about their family and their homeschooling philosophy. If you like that book and want to read more, including how those same families are five years later, you can read the sequel “Homeschool Open House” (which also contains new families; the book is double the size of the first book). If you are wondering about the content of the book, religion-wise, exactly half the families mention their religion in their story and the other half never mention it.

Most if not all homeschooling families have goals and plans. So long as the work is done to achieve those intentions, then it will happen, whatever the ‘it’ is. We just have to trust the process and do each little step, to keep going and to move forward. It is hard to explain but I will try.

Living the homeschooling lifestyle is so all-encompassing that some of us like to refer to homeschooling not as something we do, not as just lessons that happen between this time of day and that time of day, but we describe it as a lifestyle. Homeschooling is a lifestyle for many of us. Part of that lifestyle is knowing that what we do and how we do it is broken down into such teeny tiny pieces that they are embedded into each minute of our day, and also affects some general decisions we make for our family (no watching that TV show, no video game playing, etc.). Having so much going on, not always busy-ness per se, but having our children with us all the time, and having so many experiences together can make living one day seem very long or endless, sometimes. Each day can seem very long and each day can seem like a lot of little steps. As one day moves to the next and the next, time goes on in a seamless way, blending from one day into another, flowing on and on. Sometimes it seems that time goes by slowly, and other times it seems that time is flying by. Our lives are so rich and full that it can sometimes be hard to gauge the big picture; we are living so much in the micro-environment that is our family’s lives.

When we have our noses to the grindstone of our life (especially for the homeschooling parent, the one who has the majority of the educating and the child care duties), it can be hard for those of us who are so close to our children to know what things look like from the big picture perspective. At times we may not even be able to see our own children through the eyes of others (what the grandparents see, what the store clerk sees). What we know is that they don’t know this certain math fact, or that they keep forgetting to capitalize that word or that they keep leaving their dirty laundry on the floor. We see all the little flaws and those things seem so big in our mind, and dealing with those things is always on the tips of our tongues. Unfortunately sometimes I find that my knowing all of the flaws sometimes prevents me from seeing the good things about my children. Since we have so little exposure to great numbers of children (unless we were formerly classroom teachers), we don’t have much of a measuring stick to measure our children against. Sometimes I think we may make the measuring stick with very high expectations, but that is another thing to ponder on another day.

I found that in this last year of homeschooling, that my children have excelled beyond my expectations in the area of reading ability. I made certain plans and goals and we took steps to arrive there. We didn’t follow those plans exactly as intended, due to the family crises and illnesses that we’ve had, and they had gaps in the formal lessons (forced daily reading practice) due to those things. However this spring we continued homeschooling by using the unschooling method. That led my children to self-initiate reading (after about three weeks of not reading anything because I was not TELLING them to). What they chose to read was Calvin and Hobbes comics, in book format. They read the books over and over and over. They read them in the car, in hospital waiting rooms, at relative’s houses, around the house and in bed until after midnight, sometimes. The result was when I tested their reading ability last month, they are both reading very much ahead of their ‘grade level’. I will withhold the actual test results as it may be perceived by some as bragging. Let’s just say I was blown away (especially since my older son did this same exact test 13 months ago and I can measure apples to apples in a test score format).

My friends and acquaintances in my local homeschooling community have the same experiences about success with what they focus on. This can happen too with schooled children depending on the things that the family chooses to focus on in the after-school hours. Here are some examples:

A family who won’t allow any television, video, movie watching, and no video games, but promotes reading by provides thousands of books in their home library have children read well and often.

A family who is active with their church, lives their religious principals in their home, and who all volunteers their time each year to volunteer work in Mexico has empathy and a fondness for the people of Mexico and Mexico as a place and a strong connection to their church and their spiritual beliefs.

A homeschooling mother who fretted so much about teaching certain subjects hired a private tutor for one school year (for those subjects) and now the children are above grade level in those subjects (and she is befuddled about what to do with them this year).

A family who spends lots of time writing has a child who loves to pen her own stories in her free time.

A child who spends hours preparing for a play excels while acting in the final stage production.

A child who loves to dance and takes many dance classes per week, over many years time, becomes quite good at it and is contemplating a career in dance.

A boy who loves baseball and is put on many baseball teams, continues to grow his skill and abilities over time.

A family who loves to read history together and who spends a lot of time homeschooling history has children who enjoy history and know way more than their same-aged, schooled peers.

A schooled first grade boy attends classes after school to learn Chinese, so he can know the native language of his parents, while most other American children of his age only speak English.
Feeling that American public schools lack math skill teaching, some families send their children to intensive after-school math classes starting at Kindergarten or younger (and continue through high school), and are able to do advanced college level math far before graduating from public high school. (Is it no wonder they are doing advanced math in college and that they have an edge in math and science fields?)

I see this happening over and over. What we concentrate on doing or teaching our children, the children will succeed at doing. This is not to say that every subject taught in the homeschool will be loved or will come easy. Not every subject a child is exposed to will become a passion; just as every sport tried will not become a passion. But what we set goals for, what we make plans to accomplish—if we actually do those plans (and don’t abandon them) ---our children will succeed at.

If you are at a place of worry about accomplishing something in your home school, try not to worry. Just set goals, long term (years ahead of time) and short term (this ‘school year’). Set those goals. Make plans to get there. Then DO WHAT YOU PLANNED.

If things don’t go well or something needs tweaking along the way, then by all means do it.

Just know that the work you do, what you choose to do and what you actually do (versus just thinking about it), will work and it will produce results. Put a process in place, and then trust the process.

The moral of the story is:

Trust the homeschooling process.

And know that:

Homeschooling Works.

If you are at all worried about starting to homeschool, I’d like to encourage you to:

Just Do It.

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Sally said...

very good post!!!


the spouse said...

Excellent article, ChristineMM!!