Aug 27, 2012


Forget using the table for lunch...

Today begins the school year for the school district that employs Farmer Tim.  In the interest of scheduling, this is also the first day of school here on the farm.  This is our nineteenth year of homeschooling, although our belief has always been that "life is school" and that true education is a natural outcome living with and alongside our children and sharing with them the things that we value.  Considered in that light, we have been homeschooling for over 24 years, but who's counting?

We have "graduated" four students, now.  This means that they have satisfied our formal educational requirements for them and they are free to pursue further education, business or the like.  One thing that has proven standard, though, is that although we no longer require them to "do school", the curriculum and materials that we use are such that in all reality, even our "graduated" students do opt to continue study with us here at home at a more advanced level.  The olders often ask to teach of tutor one or two of their younger siblings and it is a great relief that when I have to leave the school table in order to tend to a toddler in distress (such as this morning) I have other adults at hand who are able to step into my shoes to continue the lesson.  This can be accomplished seamlessly because my older children-now-adults have not only been taught using the same materials, but in some cases helped chose the materials.

Discussing the Southern Renaissance, day one of the school year.
We made the decision to homeschool years before we had our children.  We wanted a different style of education, one that fostered creativity and that allowed the freedom to focus on areas of interest.  We also wanted a holistic approach to education that saw learning as part of a whole and saw the different disciplines of learning as interconnected.  How did styles of art and music flow from the thinking and advances of the time?    How did the scientific thinking and discoveries of the time change government?  How did the literature of the time act as an agent for societal change?   To this end we ended up embracing a modified classical model of education, in which the foundations of learning are established at a young age.  We learn terms and dates.  We begin exploring the personalities that shaped history through children's books.  We learn the Greek and Latin roots of words through games.  Later these dates and terms will be ready "hooks", if you will, for the student to pin events to, so that "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" becomes an understanding of how the Spanish conquering Granada in 1492 consolidated the monarchy and fueled Spanish exploration and how that sense of unfettered exploration and possibility could have inspired Da Vinci's sketch of his flying machine.  In highschool they will read primary documents and be prepared to more fully flesh out their understanding of the events of the time through discussion and debate.  They will study science in the context of history.  How are bacteria and virus' transmitted?  How did Typhus and famine combine to spur Irish immigration?  How did it thus shape American history?  When we lived in the city we utilized the wealth of museums to bring to life our studies.  Living on the farm we have found our study of science to have come alive.  There is nothing like gathering material (goat poop, anyone?) to study under the microscope and discuss which parasite has the blunted ends rather than pointed ones and what effect does it have on the host animal?

Our primary goal for our children's education is to awaken in them a love of learning and give them the tools with which to continue learning for a lifetime.  Part of this is respecting each child's individual development and temperament.  We have children who are absorbed by the process of learning to read, by learning the letters, the sounds, how to write them, recognizing them.  "Look, dad, that letter is a 'P'!"  and others who do not have the patience for that when the world is waiting for them to explore.  We have found that no one is well served when we decide to sit down and "teach junior to read, now that he is ___ years old".  We seek to work with them when they are ready and strike when the iron is hot--and not cool that iron prematurely by pushing it too hard, too fast, and making learning burdensome.  Some of our children have learned to read when they are six, others when they were almost nine.  In every case, however, once they did learn to read, they were insatiable readers.  The same desire to avoid making learning burdensome means that for history and government and the like, we avoid textbooks, preferring to use dialog and living books to explore the subject.  We also desire to see school as something that enhances, not divides the family.  The entire family studies the same period of history at the same time.  For the younger children studying the civil war may not mean much more than learning the important dates and singing about and eating "goober peas".  The older children will do more in depth study but everyone will be able to discuss what they are learning together.  We will return to that period of history every four years, so each student will be assured of studying it at least three times, each time building on what they learned previously.

Is it perfect?  No, sometimes it is very demanding, sometimes grueling, sometimes we get stuck on a subject because it is challenging and sometimes because we simply do not want to move on for enjoying the study!  My children do not fall neatly into expected grades or levels of education and in some areas they are behind their public school counterparts for that year and in other areas they are well ahead.  We try to keep in mind that like parenting, this is not a sprint but a marathon and trust that we will cross that finish line.

In the meanwhile we are having too much fun learning along with our children to even consider doing anything else!

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