As I mentioned earlier, I liked to think in terms of what my kids could do at home that they couldn’t do if they were in school. I don’t mean to sound anti-school, but that was a real question I asked myself.
Pre-homeschooling, I volunteered in my children’s classes. I substituted in primarily the elementary schools in two states. I saw a lot of busy work and a lot of time spent in settling students into their next subject or activity. In helping in my husband’s third grade class, I saw the coolest thing. I ran “Friday Activities” in the afternoon. My husband said he had several students who were identified as Talented and Gifted (TAG). When I went to do some creative things with the kids on Fridays, I was so impressed with all the students that I thought they were all TAG. (And they are, in their own ways).
So I learned the following:
- At home, I didn’t have to bother with taking roll or lunch count, nor did I have to hand out extra work for those children who finished early. I didn’t need groups for reading or math. I could help the one who needed extra attention without stopping everyone until I was done with the one.
- At home, my children weren’t distracted by noises and the constant buzz of talking, even soft talking. (Confession: we weren’t exactly silent at home though.) I didn’t have the TV going and we never had video game consoles. They had computer access but the computer was in the living room where I could see what they were doing.
- At home, my children could focus on one thing at a time. If they finished a section of their work in 10 minutes, they could move on to the next assignment until they were done with the things I required. (As mentioned earlier, I didn’t require a lot because then they could do their own projects.)
So, basically, I could teach in a few hours what it might take all day in the classroom. That freed up time for enrichment, e.g. piano lessons, swim teams, art classes, 4-H, theater productions (cool!), personal projects, all without creating an exhausting schedule (we didn’t do all the activities at one time).
Doesn’t the word Enrichment sound great? It sounds like something we want for all our lives. The definition of enrichment is “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.”
When my husband was teaching 1st grade, he team-taught with a co-worker. They would teach via integrated thematic instruction (ITI), which means teaching multiple subjects around a central theme. For example, they had an ocean theme in which math might have been adding seashells or graphing the depths of the ocean. The ocean itself was the science part. Reading included not only non-fiction books but poems about the ocean and sea creatures. They would also have little performances based on poems or short stories for which the kids created costumes. I guess it would have been easier for my husband and his co-worker to have the children sit and do worksheets.
For some, it would be easy to believe that the only “real” learning that can happen is if children are seated in chairs around desks or tables and they repeat things by rote; read primarily at specified times from specified books that they may or may not be interested in; answer test questions for every subject; and... are you catching what I’m saying here? Learning at school is not THE ONE AND ONLY WAY to learn. Let me give you another example.
What if a child reads a book on the couch or lying on the floor? Could that child learn to read? What if a child reads the sports section of the newspaper? Isn’t that still reading? What if a child picks up a book from the library with an interesting cover of a whale and then goes whale-watching with the family? This is the enrichment factor. Reading is no longer a chore. Science becomes fascinating. Children learn even if, especially if, there are fun, fascinating and enriching activities.
My first year homeschooling, I was pretty intense. But on April 8, I was panicked and called my friend. “How am I going to get my tax return done?!” Her reply was, “Take the week off.” What?? I could do that? So I did. No child was left behind just because I was “closed” and the kids took the week off. After that, I flexed our schedule according to what we were doing. Often, we took all of December off because we were busy with creative and entrepreneurial studies - we made gifts to give or sale. Sometimes we started school mid-September. We often stopped at the end of May. I grew up in Texas and school ended May 31; that worked for me. My children were still learning in spite of our shortened school schedule.
To sum up: First, you do not have to duplicate school’s schedule. Homeschooling does not need to be from 8 am - 3 pm, September through June. Second, you do not have to duplicate the structure. All your lessons can be enrichment learning rather than sit-down, be-quiet, fill-out-this-paper learning. Third, no need to duplicate the lesson plans of a school. Gear it for your children and their interests, and even your own interests. They will become educated without being hit over the head with learning. And I must come back to Concept #2: Read. If they become avid readers, loving to read, they can learn anything.