Hi, I've just had some time to go read more on your blog, and I just wanted to say that you are doing some really amazing stuff. As a homeschooling parent, it would seem like one needs to be almost an expert in everything. Which seems really kinda daunting at the moment to me! How do you start out, and how do you manage the expectations around shouldering the sole responsibility for your children's education? -Gwen
This is not an easy question to answer, Gwen. Homeschooling happened rather gradually with me because I needed to take my daughter out of school pretty much from the beginning. She was diagnosed with autism when she was three years old and still not talking. I went with her when she went to public school Kindergarten because she needed extra help with communication but I was then pregnant with my son and I knew I could not go to school with her the following year. It is a long story that is not pertinent to this question, but I only go into this enough to say that I had to take her out of public school and homeschool her as early as first grade. I was fortunate enough at this time to know someone who was already homeschooling and she put me in touch with the local homeschool support group, which helped with social activities, field trips and other learning activities. I then researched what curriculum was out there and ordered lots of catalogues. I also found out about a Homeschool Convention and our whole family (of four at that point) went to it. It was this huge convention center filled with booths from all the curriculum sellers as well as lectures you could attend, one right after the other, with speakers on all sorts of topics.
I, of course, made mistakes, just like I made some mistakes in all aspects of parenting with my first. But, as with parenting in general, I learned from my mistakes, and was able to tailor my schooling to fit our whole family's needs. Since I started from the beginning, I could handle her homeschooling fairly easily, and I grew with her. (She, by the way, "no longer qualifies for the diagnosis of autism.") I was able to pre-read everything that she read so I was moving right along with her. When we hit high school subjects, it wasn't a big shock, because it was just the next step up. As each of her brothers were born, it was just adding another to the school and I, of course, started from the beginning with each of them, whenever they expressed interest in learning. My first son learned to read just from sitting in the high chair while I taught my daughter to read. By the time I stared workbooks with him, much to my surprise, he already knew it all! He was already reading.
For a few years we belonged to a homeschool co-op, which is a type of school in which the parents share the responsibilities of teaching various classes and entertaining the babies in a nursery while the older children attend classes. The classes tapped into whatever talents the parents happened to have. We had a parent who had been an art teacher. We had one who taught piano. Some had majored in chemistry or theatre in college. All of these talents were pooled to the benefit of us all, and our children were able to experience being in a class setting, and having someone who was not their parent as a teacher.
By the time my youngest was able to participate, I decided that I had enough children to have my own group activities at home. This is what you now see in many of this blog's entries. They each learn at their own level. Sometimes my youngest get what they can out of an activity and then, once they have had enough, they wander off to do their own activities (often recreating what they have just learned with their toys!) and I can concentrate on challenging my older children a bit more. My older children, too, have learned to help my younger children with some of the activities and have learned the valuable skills of patience and how to teach others. It has made the bonds between them stronger as well. My younger ones learn by watching my older children as well. My now graduated daughter often teaches my younger ones because she has lots of energy and enthusiasm. My youngest son now often runs to my daughter to show her his latest work and get her praise.
Reading is a big activity at our house. Not only do they have ample time to read books of their choice, but we also read to all of our children every night. Often it is literature relating to what they are learning in history or some other subject. We savor these moments of being together and it is an important part of our day. When I pull out a book, new to my younger children, but much beloved in our family, the older children often act like they are seeing an old friend.
You don't have to be an expert in everything. My husband and I were having difficulty at one point with teaching my daughter algebra. We found a homeschool algebra class for her and she was able to learn with a different teacher and a group of teen peers that which was difficult to learn at home. Sometimes teens get together for study groups as well, in which they peer teach.
Through the whole process of homeschooling, which now just seems like part of parenting in general, my primary goal is not to teach any one set of facts. I don't want them dependant on me or anyone else for their learning. Learning should ultimately rest on their own shoulders, and not be dependant on anyone else. I try then, to teach them the skills of reading, writing, basic mathematical concepts and research. Once the foundation of this is laid in place then it can be built upon by a refining of those skills and by adding knowledge of a wide range of subjects. For this reason, although I have a basic idea of the direction of our school subjects, it is often interest led. You will find at our house that everyone follows their own interests on their own time, and there are beloved books, like our history and science books, that seems to pass continually from one hand to another, not because of assigned readings, but because they want to learn, want to know. They ask questions; we discuss things that come up. Sometimes I don't know the answers to the questions, so we find out the answers together. I don't have to be the all-knowing teacher, I just have to be willing to learn myself, for it is true that learning never ends for those with a willing heart.