Friday, August 19, 2011

6 Things I've Learned in 10 Years of Homeschooling

It occurred to me the other day that I've been officially homeschooling for ten years come this September. These things are hard to calculate--how many moms have we all met who announce bubbily, and probably with some truth, that they're homeschooling their three- and one-year-old children?--but since Great Girl is beginning Tenth Grade this year, I'm happy to call it ten years. And somehow I've begun to feel like a veteran: I was invited this summer to give a talk at a homeschooling convention on "classical" homeschooling (My first convention! Good Lord I wish I'd had a shot of whiskey before I got up to talk. It went pretty well, but that's another post, one that might or might not get written), and moms of Wee Girl's age-peers often have a disconcerting confidence that I have advice to give. So, then, behold my accumulated wisdom.

1. The only real advantage of homeschooling over every other educational method is one-on-one tutoring. So don't sacrifice it easily.
Not very pithy, but the most important thing I've learned. Every civilization that has educated children knows that tutoring is top choice. Every study that's been done has shown that individual tutoring beats classroom learning, no matter how good the classroom teacher. So while there may be reasons to choose that co-op, or that popular math series that promises it will teach your child all by itself without your ever having to sit down next to him and get your brain dirty (*cough*teachingtextbooks*cough*), think carefully about where the proven advantage of homeschooling lies. It's not having better curriculum than the lousy public school committee-designed textbooks; it's not the better environment; it's you, sister. In the only words of John Holt that I ever agreed with: Teach your own.

2. The best curriculum is the one you actually use.
Yes, you recognize this one because I stole it. It's still true. You know it's true. Please ponder it before you place that $2,708 order from Rainbow Resource.

3. Books are your dearest friends.
It's so easy to replace them with screens. E-books, The History Channel, Khan Academy, iPod games ... and this isn't to say these are always bad choices. My own children all mastered reading early with the help of the relentless positive reinforcement of the old-school CVC phonics of Reader Rabbit. Languages are natural candidates for computer learning, as is any sort of drill (flash cards, touch-typing). Electronic technology can be the right choice. But it can also be a crutch and an addiction. Let's wire their little brains for the printed word first, then use screen-time when it makes sense.


4. Silverfish are your deadly enemies.
Exterminate. Exterminate. Raid has a fantastic product, Max Bug Barrier Spray With Auto Trigger. It's like automatic weaponry for bugs. I don't know its effectiveness versus other options; but I can assure you it's the most emotionally satisfying silverfish repellent on the market, until they invent tiny nuclear devices.

5. No one learns anything from posters.
I finally realized this when I asked Great Girl a question on taxonomy, and she had no clue. I reminded her that it was on the taxonomy poster that had been on the stairway landing for five years. She didn't recall that the poster even existed. Similar incidents have convinced me to give away all those lovely educational posters I acquired over the years, keeping only the ones that are pretty and create an aura (however misleading at times) of this being a House of Education. Also the Periodic Table with pictures of each element, and my cleverly made reversible large wall maps of the world and U.S., which are frequently used for reference. Oh, those maps do deserve their own post, with photos. (/smug)

It surprised me to come to this realization, since I recall so vividly every word of every poster in every elementary school classroom I ever attended. In retrospect, I think it must have been the sheer boredom that drove me to find something to look at and read and contemplate. The same reason, I suspect, that Great Girl knows the twenty-odd saints depicted in stained glass at our parish church in intimate detail.

This may seem like a very minor Thing To Have Learned; but I believe it relates to points 1 and 3. It's so easy to convince ourselves that children will soak up their education passively from the environment, so an hour in front of a worthy cable show, or the perfect wall timeline, will cause learning to happen. But everything we know about learning points us the other way: it's a dynamic process. You have to do something, you have to engage in some way for the little synapses to dig deep enough trenches (neurology is not my field, but you know what I mean). I'm betting that if I had had the girls play Pin the Tail On the Geographic Feature with the map I just took down from the dining room wall and tossed in the Giveaway box for this weekend's Curriculum Share, they would have gained something from it. But when it just hangs there, it's literally just wallpaper.

6. The Three R's are Everything
Yes, yes. Languages are best learned from the cradle, if you're in a position to make that happen; music should be started early; science and art make a child's heart sing. No one is saying to do nothing with your children but reading, writing, and math. But these are the things that must be taken seriously. If it's not realistic to sit next to every child at every moment for every subject (see Point 1), then do so for the Big 3. Make these the focus of your one-on-one time, your curriculum research, your self-study if you're afraid you didn't receive a good enough education to teach them yourself. A young person leaving high school who has achieved genuine mastery of letters (such that he can read broadly, comprehend, criticize, synthesize, and extrapolate), composition with ease in a variety of styles, and mathematics through calculus, will be able to handle anything. Don't you wish you had? I do. Let's get going.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Love 'em and Libum
Ho ho. A little Latin humor there. In an uncharacteristic attempt to be like one of those homeschooling Catholic mommybloggers who posts pictures of beautiful craft items or baked goods, accomplished by her well-groomed eight children in an immaculate house (wearing clean clothing even) between their studies of Latin and medieval history, as a tie-in to our whirlwind tour through world history we have baked Roman libum.

Libum is a kind of hard-baked mini-cheesecake, flavored with bay leaves and soaked in honey. The photo here shows exactly how they came out in my imagination. I would have taken a photo of how they came out in actuality, but "cheesecake soaked in honey" was a phrase ensuring their demolition shortly after their existence was announced. I am pleased to say that Middle Girl did all the work except the putting-into and taking-out-of the oven, which partially accounts for their less than photo-perfectness. The lack of crucial culinary details in the recipe, which came from Calvert's workbook accompanying Hillyer's Child's History of the World, was also an element. But really, there's not so many ways you can combine ricotta cheese, flour, egg, and honey (and one bay leaf) that will not be popular with the populus.

Note: The Calvert workbook is really quite good, the first half being fill-in-the-blank outline pages for each CHOW chapter, and the second half being a wide variety of auxiliary activities designed for those with no instinct whatever for craft/activity tie-ins. At $33 new, I found it was worth the $17 I paid for it used.