Monday, November 19, 2007

About our learning journey

Those who know us, know we homeschool. However, you may have some inaccurate preconceived notions about what that means. You may think we do the same things "schooled" kids do, only at home. You may be surprised to learn that for the most part neither of those notions ("school" and "home) is true. We typically spend more days away from home than at home. We also spend very little time doing things that look like "school". Instead our family has adopted an authentic child centered model of learning. This was not an overnight decision. We did not wake up one morning and decide "Oh, gee, let's let the kids be in charge of their own education." See, now some of you are cringing. I hear a collective cry of "Abdication! Anarchy!" But let's back up a little bit here. I do have a Master's degree in education after all. I have learned a thing or two about child development, theories of learning, and the like. I have taught in both traditional and alternative (i.e. Montessori) educational settings. I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of children and observe for myself what works and what doesn't. I have learned that children learn best when they actually want to learn. I have learned that all children are born naturally curious and eager to explore and make sense of their world. At some point during the school years that natural desire to learn is crushed out of them, and they suddenly have to be coerced into learning. Suddenly graduation is the magical destination. They can't wait to graduate so they don't have to do any school work any more. We decided this is not what we want for our children. We desperately want to protect their joy of learning. We also want them to understand that learning is not a destination, it is a journey. We are trying to cultivate a lifestyle of learning in our children because we, their parents, are lifelong learners who are most joyous when we are learning.

Maria Montessori was first and foremost a scientist who used the scientific method of experimentation and observation to develop several theories of education that are near and dear to my heart. Children need meaningful work. The work of the adult is to complete a task; the work of the child is to complete himself. All children have sensitive periods during which learning is achieved with the greatest ease. All children have an inner guide which directs them to that which will satisfy their needs. The adult is merely a guide in the prepared environment, rather than a teacher. Her job is to make sure the child has all of the materials and resources he needs, and to show him how to use those materials and resources, as well as provide assistance when requested. I could go on and on, but I trust you are getting the idea. I merely wanted to give you a bit of the scientific basis for the educational philosophy our family embraces.

Why this lengthy explanation and justification of philosophy? On the chance you decide to come back and visit again, I didn't want you to be shocked to hear my seven year old played video games all day, or my ten year old had a comic book reading marathon. I very much want you to understand that authentic learning can happen outside the traditional paradigm you possibly grew up with. Children do not need tests, grades, and the like to learn. In fact, those traditional tools are actually quite damaging to the learning process, as they program kids to fear failure and resist taking chances (two concepts that are essential to the learning process).

You may ask, "Don't your kids goof off all day if you just let them do what they want?" I'll let you be the judge of that. In future posts I will let you know what they have been up to, and you can feel free to post your opinion as to whether my children are being educated. Of course, as the owner of this blog, I can feel free to delete your comments ;)

I leave you with this little glimpse of what each of my children chooses to do when left to his own devices. Last week, while I was unpacking (we just moved), my 10 yo ds (dear son for those new to the lingo) walked in and announced he was off to the library. He had just finished reading the huge stacks of non-fiction (WWI, WWII, Revolutionary War - you get the theme) books he had checked out a couple of days earlier, and he was ready for more. A couple of hours ago I left my 7 yo ds upstairs working with a snap together electronics kit. As for my 2 yo dd, she is continually coming to me with her Sandpaper Letters or her "bead work" and asking me to work with her on her letter sounds or her numbers.


coolmetric said...

Great start to the Blog Tina. I think your explanations at the beginning were a good idea. A lot of people have little understanding of non-typical education methods. One statement in your blog really struck home for me. As a middle aged man from a low income household in my childhood the only option given was formal, institutional public school education. That format did, in fact, absolutely crush my desire to learn, or excell academically. As a nine year old I was reading college level text books for the pleasure of learning. By sixth grade I had lost all desire to learn, detested school and hated (literally) every single minute I spent in a classroom until I was seventeen and dropped out of school.

For any reading this comment who may not know, I am Tina's dad. I was VERY skeptical when she told me my first grandchild was not going to be attending a "real" classroom. I was evenually, slowly won over not by Tina's insistence that she knew what she was doing but by the huge advancements my grandson was making academically. He, by far, outpaced his age peers who were being educated in the state-run schools. This trend is continuing with her other two children as well. Proof enough for me.

Though, as a Granddad, I would like to think these three children are just exceptiona "little Einstein's", the truth is they are just ordinary kids being educated by a better method.

If you are a parent and don't homeschool you should really consider it. The rewards are limitless and your most important task in this stage of your life is the development of your kids.

Steve Russell

Heather said...

Well said Tina! I lost my comment I wrote before b/c I signed up for a google account. Sorry! I will write again next time.