Slow start, strong finish

This picture is from September 2009. It is one of the first pictures I ever uploaded onto TAD Town. It is a picture of my oldest working on his math which at the time was basic fractions. He was 10 years old and in fifth grade. In sixth grade he would complete pre-algebra, seventh algebra, eighth geometry, ninth algebra 2, and tenth pre-calculus. That is a good, strong math progression and yet in fifth he was just happily doing his fractions in chalk in our backyard.

Autry working in her sketchbook.

My daughter is working through several AP classes this year, and she is a very strong student especially in writing. We did not use a formal writing curriculum for years, and overall started very slow in this area. She would write what she wanted when she wanted. When she was younger this was mostly in the form of a journal entry or short stories that she would write. We worked on a few formal programs starting in seventh and eighth and completed Writing with Skill in ninth. By tenth she was writing numerous essays for her AP classes, and this year she is writing essays daily. She has become an extremely strong, creative, and capable writer who enjoys the process.

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My point with these two examples is to show that starting slow can work. I touched on this idea previously in this post, but I wanted to discuss it once more as I see more and more homeschooling parents scheduling massive amounts of work for their young children. It is my belief that this is not necessary at all, and in some ways I find it to be counterintuitive. If you have high goals for your child once they are in high school and college that does not mean you have to start worrying about those goals when they are elementary or middle school aged. This only creates stress for the parent and takes away from the joys of childhood and self discovery for the child.

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This is not to say that we did no formal schooling when they were younger because we did. What I am trying to convey is that one can be formal in their studies but do so in a very relaxed and informal way. Academics took no longer than two hours all through the elementary ages for my kids. Middle school became a little more intense, and the kids probably averaged about three hours a day on academics. We never did academics five days a week, and I always made sure they had plenty of free time to discover their own passions and to just be a kid. Whether they were playing outside for hours a day, listening to audiobooks for days on end, or messing around on their computer, the kids had plenty of free time to do what they wanted.

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Slow to start has been very successful for us. The twins now spend hours upon hours a day working because they want to. They have very specific goals that they want to attain, and they feel up to the challenge. They are not burned out from long school days and hours upon hours of school work from when they were younger. Nor have they missed out on any essential skills necessary for the work they do today. Instead they were able to learn these skills very quickly at an older age rather than trying to grasp them when they were younger and not prepared physically or emotionally.

Slow start, strong finish.

Homeschool Philosophy – A Meaningful Education

Last night I was having a great deal of trouble sleeping and, as is common for me, my mind started wandering. I began thinking about our homeschool journey, and I tried to put into words what my overall homeschool philosophy is.

The first thing I have come to realize is that I do not favor the term “homeschooling”. Yes my kids stay home for school, but I feel this term does not completely cover all that happens in the education of my children. They learn at home, at museums, at classes, with peers, with family, online. They sometimes sit at the dining room table, sometimes they are outside on a blanket, sometimes they are at a coffee shop, sometimes they are in the car, and so their education is not tied to home, nor do they always spend a great deal of time home. Also I feel people often hear the word “homeschooling” and a picture comes into their head that is not entirely accurate. I don’t like that.

Instead of homeschooling, I would like others to know that my children are being educated in a purposeful and meaningful way. I don’t simply follow a public school education at home. Instead I purposefully educate my children following a very specific path that I believe offers them the greatest chance at an education that is both engaging and worthy. One that exposes a great many ideas to the kids and allows them the tools to succeed and the time to develop their talents. An education that keeps in mind the child, the teen, the young adult and allows them to grow. An education that pays little heed to standards, public school goals, or the masses and instead thinks about the individual and his or her needs and gifts.

I started out on this path with a classical model, and this was a great way to start. Now I see that I have taken that model and adjusted it to my family and my beliefs. I do see that we have homeschooled in three different stages, but they are not the classical education stages. This model was too limiting for me and not healthy for the kids. For us the stages have morphed into a different model. They are:

Stage 1 – From about age 4 to 9, this is the time of exposure and exploring. Exposure to all the wonders of the world from science and math to art and music and everything in between. Listen to audio books, read together, look at art together, listen to classical music, jazz music, world music. Watch old movies, foreign movies, independent movies. Explore nature, have fun with science experiments, study the night sky, read poetry. Turn your back on the common culture  and instead open up a world of wonder.  This is also a time of short lessons, outdoor play, and free time that allows the imagination to soar. This is a fun stage, enjoy it and don’t stress about their formal education.

Stage 2 – From about age 10 to 13/14 – This is a transition stage and will differ for each child. This is the time to cement a child’s skills, find the child’s passions, and move the child from a free learning environment to a more structured and formal one. My youngest is in this stage now. This year we are working on cementing his math skills and he is exploring his passions which include writing, animation, composing, and cooking. Right now I would guess he is going to be a writer when he is older, but I cannot be positive. He enjoys playing piano, making cartoons, and cooking almost as much as writing, so I am devoting time to all these areas to see where it takes him. He may end up losing interest in one area or discovering a real passion in another. These years give us the time to discover and explore one’s passions and develop the necessary skills  needed to take one’s passions to a higher level.

Stage 3 – From 13/14 to adult – We are just beginning our time in this stage, but it has been so much fun to see the twins spread their wings and take off. I have some great goals for this stage that I have already written about, but I want to articulate in words what the overall theme of this stage is.  This is the stage where passions get developed to a high level, where school is approached in a serious matter, and where the child transitions to an adult. Although the children are transitioning to adults, I am there every step of the way to guide them and help them, but we are now partners in this journey and no longer in teacher/student roles. By this stage the kids know what their goals are for the next few years, they know what they have to do to get there. I give them the tools they need to help them, and I give them the time they need to reach their goals. I do not micro-manage the teens; instead I support them and help them get to where they want to go.

This stage is a wonderful place to be as a home-educating parent. I am enjoying all the benefits of the years past, and more than ever, I am positive that our education journey was the best journey for us to take as a family, especially as a single parent on a limited income.  The kids are motivated, confident, and driven, and I am proud of who they are and where they are in life.

It is not always smooth-sailing though. Some days are harder than others because of the fact that I am a dealing with teenagers who are grappling with hormones, teen issues, and growing up (this is never easy for anybody). I try to always remember what it was like to be a teen, and I often deal with the kids with compassion and understanding (this too will pass is a familiar phrase around here) instead of anger or punishment. This helps all of us navigate this stage and makes it more enjoyable. Before I know it the kids will be out of the house and onto their own lives. I want to enjoy them as much as I can while they are still here.

Of course this is just a quick little blog post about our educational journey and my philosophy. I hope to develop these ideas further in subsequent blog posts, but for now I had to get down in words what was going through my head all night. It may make sense to you or it may seem crazy. Either reaction is completely reasonable. This is our journey, nothing more, nothing less.

Art-Based Education

I am often asked, as most homeschoolers are, what educational model do I follow. Are we classical homeschoolers? Do we follow a Charlotte Mason approach? Are we unschoolers? I usually reply that we are eclectic homeschoolers, as I have my children use a variety of educational materials, and we seem to take the best from different approaches.

Decca working on a picture.

However, as I think about my philosophy, which I have been doing lately, I realize that I do have my own beliefs about education. As I look back on our homeschool journey I am able to see that two main forces have driven it. These forces are a very strong belief in the need to expose children to the arts and to have them grow up in nature. It is the first focus that I want to talk about today.

At their first Jeff Soto art show, age 7

Tru at an art show of his hero, Jeff Soto, age 10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have tried to immerse and expose my children to a variety of arts in hoping that it will have a profound impact on them as they grow up. I have accomplished this in three ways.

The twins at an art show. They love their grandmother's work.

1. Exposure – From the time my children where toddlers I have made a conscious effort to expose them to as much art as possible. This includes art shows, museums, plays, films and music concerts.

Decca, age 3, at one of the many concerts he attended at a young age

2. Experience – Classes, private lessons, and workshops. Any experience they could get, in a variety of arts, I was open to. The kids have worked on many projects with my mom, who is an artist, along with a host of other classes. They all play an instrument.

Decca rehearsing for a recital.

The twins working on a found object sculpture at 5.

3. Appreciation & History – The history of music, film, and art is studied often. I try to expose the children to not only classical music but music of all sorts. They watch the typical Disney films and also foreign and classic films. They study the typical artists and modern artists as well. I want them exposed to as many different forms, styles, and movements as possible. My ultimate goal with all of this is for them to know that artists can express themselves in many different ways.

Taking time to watch the early Disney shorts at Disneyland.

All of this leads to self-expression, which my children are great at (as all children are). When they were younger this would bother me quite a bit as the amount of crafts, projects, and drawings they would do was quite overwhelming.  I have come to realize though that self-expression is a good thing, and I try to nurture it as much as possible.

A recent drawing of Autry's

What that means is that my kids go through paper and art supplies at an alarming rate. They are always filming a movie of one kind or another, and  they are always listening to music of all sorts. In addition we spend a good deal of our day driving from one activity to another. It can be quite exhausting, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Setting up equipment for a film shoot