This post is in response to naturalmomma from xanga who asked me to comment on her blog but I don't have a xanga account so I'm posting this instead. I hope you find this! Jen or Kara, if you know who I'm talking about (or anyone can contact her to get the message through) please direct her this way. I could do more research to make contact, but I'm in time saving mode as I try to juggle homeschooling my 8th grader, 6th grader, 4th grader, and 1st grader; do "special ed" with my 2 1/2 year old; interact with my four high school students; attend the games of my high school and college sons; keep up with Aunt Susie; try to fit in my friends and extended family members; and maintain a growing marital relationship. I need a few short cuts.
Dear Xanga momma,
My first piece of advice to you is to Keep It Simple! Homeschooling--especially in the early years, should be a joy. It should be fun, and easy, and intriguing, and it should NOT be work. I think the biggest mistake I've seen people make over the years is to overstructure themselves. They either rely too heavily on workbooks and guidebooks, or they tie themselves to a method that they feel they must stick to in order to make things work.
The real beauty of homeschooling is being able to do what works for you and for your child/children. My favorite example of a successful homeschooling experience is the story of "The Miracle Worker". Anne Sullivan taught Helen Keller about as successfully as anyone has ever been taught. She started with basic communication and learning about the world around her and progressed as she expressed an interest and had the capabilities.
I start with reading--only when they are ready. I had one child read at the age of three (taught by an older brother) and several who didn't begin learning to read at all until they were over six. I have a friend whose daughter wouldn't read until she was nine, but within a year (after she announced that she wanted to learn to read) she was reading at a high school level. Reading is not a chore. Reading is a delight. Kids need to know and feel that. I introduced reading (I use "How to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" and the Christian Light Academy readers--both heavy on phonics) at around the age of 5 if they showed an interest. We spend about 5 or 10 minutes on the reading if they're interested. If they want to go longer I may let them but always stop when they're not interested. Sometimes they say they want to continue but I can tell they've had it and I offer an alternative activity or just say we need to do more later. If they don't want to do it at all, we don't.
In the meantime, we spend time at the library picking out fiction and non-fiction books as well as nature videos or real life videos at a kid level. At home we read books together, talk about the stories, make up ideas of our own, watch the videos, maybe color pictures or build things from blocks or play outside or, just plain play. Often they're on their own playing nearby and I interact as I can or as they want me.
As they get a grasp on the reading I have them read the familiar words in the books that we read aloud together. I don't like them to get frustrated. If they struggle with a word I just tell them what it is. I may tell them 50 times, but I'd rather have them take 50 tries to get it and not be frustrated than only take 20 times telling them to "sound it out" and be in tears half the time.
Then we add writing, just a few minutes a day unless they really love it and want to write. I had one daughter who learned to read by writing. As her brothers did their writing she wanted to write and I would print a word for her to copy. After a few months of copying simple words she figured out the sounds and patterns on her own and was hungry to learn more. That's when we got the easy reader out. No program, no schedule, no tutorial, just living.
Finally, I get a math work book (I use Bob Jones for grades 1-3) and use it for reading practice--as I have them try to read the instructions--as well as beginning math skills. I also let them go at their own pace with this. I try to have them do one page (both sides) a day but if they want to do more they can or if they just don't want to or are struggling with it we put it away. Some days they love it, some days they're not interested. It's seemed to balance OK in the end. I had one guy who LOVED math and was in the 3rd grade book when he was only six. He could barely write his name, though. That skill just didn't come as early. He's now one of my neatest writers. I love letting them work at their own pace. I had an 8 year old who just got stuck in math and did not get it. We put the book away for 6 months and when we started it up again he was ready and figured it out.
That's about it. Until the age of around 10 (about 4th or 5th grade) this is how we do school. It is very informal, very self paced, and leaves a lot of room for individual interests and time for siblings and appointments and laundry and meals--all of which the children are involved in learning about as well. They learn to sweep and vaccuum the floors, clear and wipe the table, make their beds, pick up their rooms, sort the laundry, put away clean clothes, and help prepare meals. They learn to behave in public, help load and unload a grocery carts, buy a book of stamps, check in at an appointment desk, and ask for directions. We talk about what we do, not because a program tells us to, but because we're just communicating. When we rake leaves we talk about why they fall off the trees. We talk about the names of the seasons, we use the terms deciduous and coniferous. Once we raked up a sluggish garter snake (cold and still), trapped him in an old aquarium and put him in the sun and observed the difference in his behavior an hour later.
I figure that my job is to awaken their interest in the world around them, give them the basic tools they need to discover it, and then do it with them. I'm not too worried about them being "behind" at the age of 5 or 7 or 9. When someone tells me they're behind I usually ask them, "Behind who?". Someone will always be ahead of them.
Most of all, let your young children communicate. We've all suffered through a five year old's retelling of a story or movie and have wanted to hurry them along or tell them we already know it. But, the telling is a valuable step to communicative writing. It is also a very important way for a parent to tell their child that they're interested in them and want to hear about what excites them. Parents complain that their teenagers don't talk to them. Maybe it's because they started to shut them out years earlier.
That's kind of a nutshell version of what we do and how we do it. It's not perfect, I'm not perfect, and the kids aren't perfect, but I guess it's been successful for us 'cause after 19 years we're still going!