06 September 2011

Schooling Outside the Box

We're off to a roaring start! This is our seventh year homeschooling and since that's the same amount of time (or it will be by the end of the year) that I spent teaching in private/public schools, I think I've decided I'm qualified to compare the two.

When we decided to homeschool, I quickly realized that I didn't want to do school at home. It didn't feel right (and in many cases, didn't work right) to just replicate what I had done in the classroom for just one or two students. Many things we do in the classroom as teachers are done from the necessity of managing many students in behavior, grades, learning goals and a myriad of other areas.When only one or two or eight students are involved, much of that is unnecessary.

But I didn't know how to get out of the box.

Now, after seven years, I finally feel like I'm successfully stepping out of it. One of my challenges as a homeschooler was learning what I could get rid of and what I should keep. Here's the list of things I tossed:

1. Schedules - when you have 20 kids, schedules are essential. Otherwise, nothing is accomplished due to all the rabbit trails. Life is not like that. Schedules drive us all nuts in this house. We spend too much time trying to stay on schedule and not enough just living. We tossed the schedule in favor of a list (loosely adhered to, with plenty of room for adjustment).

2. Segmenting each subject and teaching each subject every day - When you have 20 plus kids, and lots of state mandates, not to mention standardized test material to cover; you have to cover a lot of ground. We prefer to learn about life as we experience it: whole as opposed to parts.

3. Sitting at desks - We use the whole house and the backyard and the car and the country next door. We would use the whole world if we could.

4. Sticking to the plan - If something more interesting comes along, you'd better believe we are going to break out and discover it! Some of us are more organized (Straight-haired girl) and prefer to check every item off the list before we feel our work is done. Others of us (Curly-headed girl) have definite ideas about what school should be for the day and not much of it is what the teacher would like us to accomplish. For her sanity and mine, sometimes she gets to decide.

5. 8:00 to 3:00 school day - We learn when the opportunity presents itself. I prefer to think that we can learn something from almost any experience. My goal is not so much to have a child who knows items on a checklist provided by the state (or whatever governing body decides such things) as it is to have a child who is inquisitive, capable of coherent thought, and well-rounded in her interests. I firmly believe all parents would set that goal for their children. But I also believe formal school is just not set up to accomplish this - in spite of many teachers' efforts to provide their students with opportunities to achieve it.

6. Reward systems and discipline charts - Again, logistics. Two students mean that I spend less time dealing with discipline (most days) and more time learning.

Here's the list of things I couldn't get rid of:

1. Planning - Even though I would like to fly by the seat of my pants, I realize the best learning takes place when I thoughtfully plan our school year.

2. Goals - It is easier to grow and progress in our education when we set goals for ourselves. It gives us a sense of accomplishment and provides incentive for improvement.

3. Evaluation (which sometimes includes grades) - If we don't assess what we are doing, we will just keep meandering along without any idea of whether or not we have accomplished anything. Because I spend so much time with my own children, I can evaluate without the aid of formal assessment tools. I find that a plus.
 But I still need to evaluate.

4. Professional Development - Teaching at home does not mean I am off the hook here. It's important to be always reading and learning myself in order to become a better teacher. In fact, it's vital. How can I show them what it means to be a life long learner if I don't?

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