Friday, June 7, 2013

Hope for Homeschoolers

I recently received an email from a father who found me on Parents for Liberty, a website on education I came across at Ron Paul Curriculum. Although this gentleman and his wife deeply believe in peaceful parenting and homeschooling, they are considering putting their only 6-year-old son in public schools next year due to the difficulties parents endure with homeschooling only one child. I was in this exact same position once, and I completely related to the mixed feelings this couple was having. I experienced this dilemma back in the fall of 2012.

Last October, I nearly gave up on homeschooling and enrolled my 3-year-old in a full day Montessori program in a public elementary school. I really thought that the extra time free from my daily child obligations would make everything easier. I was especially encouraged because I worked at that particular school as a Language Acquisition Specialist for three years, just before giving birth to my son, and I felt extremely at ease handing him over to familiar colleagues and administrators with whom I shared mutual professional respect. Things couldn't look rosier. My friends and staff at the school seemed to be thrilled to be receiving my son, and I was so grateful at this fateful opportunity.

To make a long story short, only three weeks into the program, the teacher and administrators felt like my son wasn't adjusting quickly enough and wanted to "evaluate" him with a battery of tests and reports and what have you. Nobody had any clue what it was like for a child to transition from home directly to pre-school, without any day care 'experience.' Suddenly my professional and parental knowledge and experience had no weight on the decisions and my opinion was suddenly insignificant in the eyes of the education masters facing me. I felt a profound sense of let-down, and immediately pulled my son from the school. Aside for fearing for his very life, I quite frankly found the morning routine of prepping and feeding my son to get him to school at 9am and picking him up, was also quite hectic and a difficult adjustment, even for me! They simply didn't want to give us a chance.

Later, I kept asking myself: if I couldn't entrust my child to a school under the care of my own former colleagues and friends, who can I entrust him to?

So without a second blink, back to home-schooling we went, where I again took my role as First-Responder. First to care, first to teach, first to ease the pain if he harms himself, first to notice his successes, first to cheer a milestone. I decided I wasn't going to give this job up to a stranger for as long as I could.

After getting over the disappointment and worry,  I started reading up more on educational philosophy, child psychology, and homeschooling styles. Finally I made up my mind that I would continue to home-school in the unschooling method, for as long as I felt nature intended me to do so..learning, doing, living by the day, by the moment.

Through my search for good guidance, I was recently intrigued by a statement I heard the late Dr.  Raymond Moore make in a very interesting recorded radio interview. He said that when kids are kept at home until 2nd grade, they will more likely than not, hit the ground running when they're later enrolled in a traditional school. A sigh of relief..

Among my mix of theories, I've been a subscriber to some of the methods in the Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) theory of education. One idea Steiner schools also practice is delaying formal instruction in reading and writing. This topic is discussed extensively in a book I'm currently reading,  Better Late than Early, by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. I'm a believer that the skill of reading emerges in children at different rates, on its own, through natural need and exposure. Attempting to accelerate  this process, as the modern practice does, only results in negative outcomes, misjudgement, and lost time for the child in doing what they naturally are inclined to do otherwise. Reading is all about readiness. This is what is not understood by the modern educators who are pushing reading in the womb today.

So for now, home is the place to be and here's what we do..

For socialization, my son participates in weekly yoga classes with other kids his age. He also has a playmate which he sees away from home twice a week for six hours each time (here's where I do my most constructive work). He also meets and plays with buddies, familiar and strange, at the various playgrounds in our area, at least twice a week. He knows the names of all the various employees in our buildings and interacts with these adults daily. At the grocery store, where he is taken several times a week for shopping and 'food education', everyone knows his name and speaks to him. He has two half-siblings, grandmother, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends and relatives from every generation who he interacts with in weekly visits.

 I love taking on the argument that home-schooled kids are short on socialization. I doubt kids who are classroom-ed between walls all day have the same opportunities to freely socialize, learn from, and interact with all kinds of people and develop relationships with them.

At home and outside the home, the world is his classroom. He plays with puzzles, and builds uninterruptedly with Legos, blocks, and train tracks. His imagination runs wild! He is left to freely grow his creativity with new ways to use his toys, water, Playdoh, or practically any home object he shows interest in. With high expectations for his learning abilities and capabilities, his father and I  show him how to use and do almost everything he sees us using and doing. From using tools to cutting, stirring, folding, and hanging. Just today he cleaned the living room glass perfectly with spray and paper towel. Such activities fill him with pride and confidence. They spark his lively interest in his world.

Of course, there's a little down side. When your child is with you most of the time, it opens up the day to more accidents, distractions, frustrations, and behavior issues. Things got so bad for me last week in this respect that I sought the advice of books. I found most modern books deal with child-rearing with either rewards methods or consistency in rigid expectations. For me, I found all the peace and liberty I need from an out of print book by Frances Kendall. Super Parents, Super Kids. This book which I found a used (and autographed!) copy of on Amazon for $7.00, is worth its weight in gold! After reading, it I was finally able to rest in knowing that this was the best method for me and my family to follow. It seemed natural, respectful, and the results since I've increased my awareness in it have been phenomenal.

For home-schooling or non-home-schooling parents, I found that Kendall offers good advice. Some of the book might seem dated, but in era and language only. Try not to take offense and rather see the bigger messages.

So rather than summarize the book, I'm posting a photo of the first page of the final chapter which does the job perfectly.  The author clearly illustrates what could be easily considered the "10 Commandments" of this gem of a simple book.

Finally, as much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes resort to TV technology to educate my son with "busy time." However, our houseold does't subscribe to any cable/dish TV services, and we almost never watch anything piped in from stations. We choose the DVDs we want to watch and watch them exclusively at our convenience. My son never sees us flipping channels, so he's not attracted to learning how to use the remote control as other kids are.

I engage him in yoga dvds for children which he adores. I also choose music shows, such as good old Raffi. I try to be extremely cautious about choosing stories he is fully capable of understanding. Animated Disney films about mother-child relationships are favored and so he watches Dumbo and Bambi on occasion. Just as adults see new things and notice new parts in films they view more than once, children are the same. So each time my son watches, he repeats  expressions he learned in previous viewings as he continues to grow into each movie and discover new information.

That said, the time spent in front of a screen is strictly managed and appropriate. I've come to strongly believe that technology exposure should be highly restricted with children under the age of 10. The risks of exposure are immense.

Travel is another thing I heavily rely on to educate my child. It is much easier to do this job out of a suitcase than out of a home-- in whole new environments, whole new world-classrooms. As much as we can afford,  we take our son on trips ranging from local hikes in nearby trails to short road trips to 14-hour flights to lands of different construct, color, culture, language, and wonder.  In travel, every moment of every day is filled with new things for young children to absorb in their awesome developing minds. Even with my Master's degree, I feel that most of the best education I have today came from the traveling I have done in my young and old life, not from my formal schooling. Travel gave me a curiosity, tolerance, patience, and a sense of wonder in the world around me.

In summary, home-schooling doesn't have to be that hard, I hope the couple that contacted me hangs in there and reconsiders their decision. With a lot of love and patience,  it can be done quite naturally, even with one child, when a child is respected, challenged, and included in everyday home -living.

There is no curriculum to follow. Let each day invent its own programs and lessons as it unfolds itself to your child and you.

For an extremely enjoyable and informative presentation on libertarian parenting, you may enjoy this youtube video:

stay tuned...

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