Thursday, March 26, 2015

At It's Core...

I have had several opportunities to talk with people about our decision to homeschool over the past couple weeks. And everyone has been intrigued, curious, and kind, but they have all expressed sentiments along the lines of, "I could NEVER do that! I need a break from my kids, and they need a break from me!" or "It's a good thing you have a background in early childhood education because not just anybody can homeschool their kids effectively," or "What about the social aspect?" or "We tried homeschooling and it was horrible. My child just ended up eeking out a GED," or "Aren't youworried about them falling behind? What about testing?" or "What exactly do you do with your day?"

And all of these are great questions that I was asking or thoughts I had  as I pondered the possibility of homeschooling our children. The problem is, it's more difficult to answer those questions or respond to those ideas that I had previously thought. The reason it's difficult is because we aren't doing "school." But if you've heard of "unschooling," we aren't exactly doing that either. We are getting off the "converyor-belt" style of learning...or the one size fits all learning. So it's almost as if we are speaking another educational language that most of our society doesn't speak fluently, though it tends to ring true for people once they understand it. 

What we are doing is weaving education into the fabric of our family life. We aren't doing online courses, though we could. We aren't doing worksheets, though we could. We don't have set times when we study history, science, math, reading, etc, instead we have time set aside for learning and we choose each day what we will spend that time studying/reading. What we have is a "life of learning." And it isn't just the kids. In fact, it's VERY MUCH the parents. 

The whole goal of A Thomas Jefferson Eduation (TJed) is to develop leaders...of our children and ourselves. To develop critical thinkers who have a VAST liberal arts education that gives us the ability to encounter problems and solve them...or know how to find the necessary information if we have not yet learned it. To be life long learners and readers.

To do this, the parents MUST lead out. As we delve into the classics (books, art, music, science, math, etc.), not text books, and as we begin to study ourselves, our children will naturally follow. I have seen it already in these first couple of weeks. It is vitally important that, as parents, we are engrossed in our own education, let our children see us learning and reading, and then share with them what we are excited about. 

As our children are very young, we are in what TJed calls Core Phase. And for the first (approximately) 8 years of life, children are in this phase. The lessons they learn here are not academic, they are moral. They learn right vs. wrong, true vs. false, bad vs. good. Instead of spending their time focused on learning addition and subtraction, or even being TAUGHT how to read (they often come to this ability on their own if not pushed), this is a time when they must gain a sound understanding of these moral underpinnings of life. If they do not, life and learning will be a struggle. So while we read, read, read, read, read with them (we are currently doing a family read aloud of Charlotte's Web, we read scriptures at breakfast and a picture book at lunch, and have additional one-on-one book time throughout the day), and we do fun science and cooking activities, or a fun Letter Musical Chairs game, our MAIN focus is on the  principles mentioned above. If this phase is not completed well, it will hinder their futures. They will struggle with key leadership characteristics like honesty, integrity, hard work, and responsibility. 

So how, then, do we accomplish teaching our children these things? Most of you may not even ask the question because it seems so obvious, but it is worth mentioning a few things. 

1. We are an example, just as we are with academic pursuits. We model the desired values, and use teaching opportunities as they arise. They often come through classic books like fairy tales. *Sidebar here...Disney pretty much stripped the fairy tales of any redeeming educational or moral value. I had no idea until I started reading the originals. That said...I love me some Disney. So we'll do both. :)

2. We work on better parenting techniques. We set firm limits and rules in our home, but we administer consequences with firmness and love. 

3. We do chores WITH them. Doing meaningful work around the home is key to helping them gain an understanding of hard work, team work, responsibility, etc. All of which they will need as they move farther into their own studies. This is not an easy thing to do and I struggle with the logistics of this, but Charlie and Liv have both showed more voluntary interest in helping out around the house since we began homeschooling. 

4. We took back control of electronics. Minecraft (Charlie's obsession) and video games are gone indefinitely. This alone has changed our family culture DRASTICALLY, and he has begun to engage in age appropriate play again. The TV is off most days, and when it's on we are watching a documentary (yes, all the kids actually like watching these!), movie versions of classics, or classic movies themselves. *A necessary point to make here is that a "Classic" does not mean "old." It refers to a work that you can come back to repeatedly and continue learning something new from it.* We also limit tablet time and educational computer games. They do not happen every day. Maybe once or twice a week. We do use the internet and YouTube a lot as the kids have questions or interests, but always with an adult.

5. We give them as much freedom and unstructured time to play, explore, read, and delve into their own interests as possible. Because along with those important values, we also want them to fall in LOVE with learning. And as they do, they will naturally move into the next phase, aptly called Love of Learning, and they will begin studying more on their own.

But for now, we are firmly in Core Phase, and my role is to be the Guardian of Core Phase. I'm not perfect, but I feel this responsibility keenly so I am working hard to improve. I want my children to emerge from Core feeling valued, capable, excited about learning, curious, moral, and LOVED. And it's working. We have our struggles, but now that all of my kids are home, I can tailor their learning and education to what THEY THEIR strengths, interests, genius, and ultimately their missions. Because everyone has one. Some major contribution to make. And they will find it at home, surrounded by family who value the things they value, who dedicate life to learning, growing, and achieving...and making a difference. 

As I put Wendy down for nap today, she snuggled under her covers and said, "It's so COZY, Mommy." And it is. It IS cozy. And cozy is just what we need right now.

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