Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Educational attitudes

For a long time, I've felt that unschooling is the very thing for each and every child of every age; I've literally felt guilty every time I tried to teach reading or math, even if my children responded well, and doubly so if they bristled. After writing this post, and engaging in a very interesting discussion in the comments, I went through a process of in-depth introspection which convinced me that:

- It's quite alright and, in fact, advisable to actively teach children older than 6 to read, write and count.

- It's quite alright to gently but firmly enforce discipline in homeschooling, just as in other areas of home life (chores, meal times, times of visiting friends, etc).

- I'm not a bad parent if I sometimes make my children do things they don't like. I will occasionally encounter tears, tantrums, whining, and complaints, and my confidence as a parent should not be undermined by that. I don't need to be afraid that they will hate me for setting some rules, on the contrary (as long as it is all done with good intentions and a loving spirit). 

- I'm not destroying spontaneous learning or my children's interests/hobbies/curiosity if I introduce some structured learning into our day. The total of the basic subjects (spelling, reading, math) I aim to cover each day takes approximately two hours, spread through the morning: for example, an hour of math after breakfast, then a break and mid-morning snack, and another hour of writing/spelling before lunch. We don't have homework. So this still leaves plenty of time for the children to pursue their interests, do crafts, play outside, read, write, draw or look at picture books, meet friends, and so on.

I am still a big proponent of plenty of quiet free time, especially exposure to nature, for each child, every day. When I say "free time", I don't mean sitting in front of the TV or computer, naturally, but anything that stimulates curiosity, creativity and imagination: reading, crafts, dress-up, exploring the outdoors, etc. 

I have made a quiet resolution that I will correct my daughter's written work only during "school time", but not when she shows me a story she had written for her own and her sister's amusement (unless she specifically asks me to check her spelling). I believe that a child who perhaps struggles a little with spelling at this point, but who loves to write and does it all the time, eventually will become a better writer, with a richer language, than a child who does everything in a perfectly neat and orderly way, but only as a school exercise.  

This need for free time and unstructured play is felt by me especially strongly in the winter days, which are so short. I see school children coming home when the best part of the day is already gone - barely two hours left before sunset, when it gets too cold to be out. The children, as young as 6, are already so bogged down with homework that one of my daughters' friends told us last week she might not be able to attend the birthday party at our house because she has so much homework. This, I believe, is tragic. Surely little children deserve better balance. 


Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
I have read your blog for many years, ever since you were an unmarried girl!
I have four sons all grown up. I would like to share with you what I used to do when they were smaller.
I live in Argentina where it is illegal to homeschool. School is obligatory, so we chose schools where the children only had to go 4 or 5 hours. Not all day.
Then, at home I would homeschool: Maths, some Science, Music, English, Reading.
I would ensure they had free time to follow their own interests: Computer programming, fixing stuff, animals, music (in the end those were what each boy used to mostly do.)
Looking back, what most helped was having routines, and following them. The children knew from what time to what time they were expected to actively learn, either around the kitchen table or in the patio, also around the table.
We usually had fun times. What I still remember with amazement is how they learnt by observing what the other brother was learning. My third son learnt how to read in English and Spanish just by observing how his brother was learning. And he was only three!
I encourage you in the wonderful messy life you are giving your family.
God bless you. Ana

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ana, thank you for sharing your experience. Surely routines are a lifesaver! I try to get all the regular work done in the morning and then have the afternoon free for pursuing hobbies, visiting friends, playing outside, etc - while I catch up on housework!

Alycia said...

I think you are doing the right thing by confining your editing to school time. I wholeheartedly endorse the theory that in the early years, lots of practice with writing without regard to proper spelling and grammar can contribute greatly to general skill in writing.

Sometime during first grade, I have my children start writing a little journal entry once or twice a week. They choose the topics, and I make absolutely no edits. This is their first introduction to writing, and it can be difficult to convince them initially that it is okay just to write even if they don't know how to spell. I doubt that anyone besides me could understand these early attempts, but I think encouraging them in this way was worthwhile. Both of my older children started writing frequently in their free time once they got over the feeling that they couldn't because of spelling concerns. My oldest is in 4th grade, and he still enjoys his journal time, in addition to writing occasional stories for his younger siblings.

A few months after introducing journal writing (toward the end of 1st grade), I teach basic paragraph construction and require weekly papers on a given topic. These papers get thoroughly edited. I have been pleased to see that my children's spelling has naturally improved in all areas - journals, recreational writings, and assigned papers - gradually over time.

My 4th grader now writes three papers a week. One sums up the history he has read that week, and the other two might be expository, persuasive, or descriptive essays on assigned topics. He is becoming increasingly proficient at editing his own papers.

I hope this helps!

~mother of a kindergartener (age 5), second grader (age 7), and 4th grader (age 9)

Humble wife said...

Hello Mrs. Anna,
I am a retired homeschool mom! I homeschooled my children for 21 years and agree with your approach. The quantity of homework from public school continues to increase, yet here in the US our ranking worldwide continues to decrease. It is not the homework but the quality of material deemed educational. I worked hard to instill the understanding that one must know how to learn. With this information one can become anything. I encouraged reading, quiet time, many trips about here, there, and even while living in Europe several countries there. I never thought my children were lessor than me because they were younger and children. I treated them respectfully, and with the understanding that I believed that they could do or become what ever they so chose, from the most basic to the most challenging.

I notice I keep saying "I" and must correct myself, my husband and I worked as a team that our marriage suggests and he would help in areas I wasn't the strongest and vise-versa. We promoted the Creator, and kept Him as our focus.

One of my children did not master reading until around 9. I couldn't get her interested. I did not push this area but worked in other areas, and soon enough she excelled. In the homeschool environment the children all learned together so the younger ones picked up things early and the older ones had reinforcement all the time.

All four of my children graduated and ended up in occupations that are service oriented-by this I mean in jobs that help others. I have one in law enforcement, one working in nursing, one fireman, and one is legal aid. I am not typing this in a bragging tone, but in one of sharing. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I worried each night as I went to bed if I was teaching them what they needed to know, was I keeping up with the public schools, and so on. Now I look back and realize that I worried for nothing.

Be confident in your understanding of what your children need. You are their mother and you do know what is best for each one. Stand firm in knowing that it will take years to see your work come to fruition but be comforted in the hard days, the crazy days, and the exciting days, that it will.

Take care,
New Mexico

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear Jennifer, thank you for your encouraging testimony. I loved hearing your experience.