Thursday, January 15, 2009

Starry Sky Ranch Homeschooling Advice

Kim, the author of Starry Sky Ranch, has a link on her right side bar entitled "Schoolhouse on the Ranch". That is her homeschooling blog. The entry pasted below was also posted on her main blog. I found it very helpful, as it reaffirmed, again, what God is teaching me - that consistency and simplicity go a long way. i.e. Make sure the child is a very strong reader, writer and mathematical thinker, by simply reading a lot, writing a lot and doing a lot of computing and problem solving in math. While we do social studies and science, I regard them as having secondary importance, in these early foundational years. We do just enough to spark intellectual curiosity, so that in the upper elementary years and beyond, the child will have keen interest in these areas.

Enjoy Kim's article.


Begin Kim's entry:

"I am overwhelmed'
"I spend a lot more time on planning than on doing."
"Our plans sound good but they peter out."
"I never feel as though I am doing enough, but we are always so busy."
"I am having a hard time staying on top of things."
"How do you know when it is "enough." (read alouds, activities etc)

I have gotten some remarkably similar letters this past month. So similar in fact that I suspect they are touching upon an increasingly common theme. I wanted to share some of these comments (above) in case you also have ever felt this way and wondered if you were alone. You aren't. I don't personally know many of you personally but I am willing to bet you are diligent, committed moms who have some burdensome assumptions about what it takes to do this well.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject but only snatches of time on the computer. I am going to first share with you the reply I sent initially and then re-sent with variations afterwards. We are also working on a major blog overhaul which ought to help track down old articles which address "how we do it."

The short answer to that last question is that I only manage to do what I do because I have become ruthlessly realistic about how many hours are in a day and what I can accomplish in them. A little goes a long way - a little reading aloud, a little memory work practice, a little art, a little decluttering, a little bit of date night and time to think about something besides school. That is also important. As a good friend remarked, part of this dilemma is due to "school" taking up an disproportionate amount of our thoughts and lives.

Anyway here are my initial thoughts with more to come, Lord willing and the crick don't rise:

I do think it is very hard to both create all your own curricula and follow them in a large family. There is a lotta life happening for most of us. I have said before that no one is doing it all - at least not well. There is only so much time and this particular activity takes up a big chunk of it. For me, it took up too big a chunk to justify.

Some of the most organized and successful (large) homeschool families I have known through books and real life have not gotten caught up with reinventing the wheel. They recognized that real life is plenty full of meaningful experiences in many different areas. They cook, they travel, they garden, they care for pets, they sew, they paint, they are part of a church community, they play music or sports or games, they welcome new babies regularly. (some combination of the above - though certainly not all for every family) A child in an active loving family is rarely lacking in meaningful life experiences. This does not mean school just has to 'get done' with no regard to the quality of education. It does mean that there isn't just one definition of 'quality education' and that a curriculum designed by mom is not necessarily better than one she selects carefully from another source.

One advantage many of these families have is that they have chosen a program and stuck with it over the long haul despite the fact that many other homeschoolers may turn up their noses at their choices. Their children did not shrivel up. They thrived. Why? Because they knew what to expect each day and week. They had consistency. They made the most of their materials. They know them inside out and then can easily tweak when they teach the next child. Therefore, each year finds them jumping in again and making steady progress. They are not losing big gaps of time while mom wrestles with methodology and writing new material. They aren't waiting on mom because she underestimated the amount of time she would have to devote to teacher directed lessons. They know what to do and they do it.

Many, like your children, are not fond of open-ended assignments nor lessons that drag on and on. That doesn't mean they don't love learning nor that their learning is less authentic. They just don't need the type of bells and whistles activities that look quite impressive to other moms. Instead they do very well with careful reading of various subjects. If you feel you are selling out if you don't do extensive hands-on projects for school it may help to check out articles like this one which point out how educators...
" the quest for relevance or utility, are failing to reinforce the basic facts."
and that...
''Discovery is a lot of fun, but often there are questions about what students learn from it. It degenerated into activity for activity's sake."

Many parents also don't realize that they likely ARE doing LOTS of hands on activity throughout their day. If you keep your children alongside you as you do all the many things required to run a home and family (and for some families a business or ministry) you can bet your kids are involved in plenty of projects. You don't need to apologize for not adding yet more in their academics. We learn best by living, not by classroom activities no matter how clever they may be.

As far as what must be done academically if you aren't using a prepared program, I would say do math. Do it very well. Do not neglect to do it. I can't stress that enough. It composes a huge chunk of college entrance exams and upper level science depends upon it. Even if your child is entering a liberal arts field they can earn money for college by scoring well in the math area and it will make their prerequisite courses much easier.

Write regularly. A complicated program is not necessary. Keep journals. Write letters. Proof everything and discuss their errors. Then, have them read widely and well. If you can't keep up with booklists and thematic reading it is perfectly fine to use anthologies or prepared courses. Many kids really and truly enjoy them. Mine have often discovered new authors through such volumes. It may also help to remember that even a hero like Charlotte Mason did not do thematic, activity based unit studies. She used good lit and history books (often texts at upper levels!) and usually had a couple different things going at once (ie some world history, some national history, some ancient etc.) If you haven't read it recently a read through Colette Longo's tips for simplifying homeschool is well worth the time for the perspective it affords.

As mentioned here before, we also try to do Morning Time daily, even if it actually happens at noon time or dinner time. That is a short time all together where we go over history dates, the names of the planets and continents, times tables, poems, greek/latin roots and so on. Can't swing Morning Time? No problem. Try adding some audio learning products here and there. Throw a book on tape into the cd player when you run errands. It adds up.

Be honest with yourself about the time and energy you have to prepare and to participate. Don't underestimate how much time it takes to run a home and family and be a loving attentive wife. Also, don't OVERestimate how much mom-involvement is necessary for a student to learn well. I have shared before how the head master of Kolbe Academy once said that if you can help your student with his studies, fine. If you can't, then it's even better. Art Robinson, Drew Campbell, and John Holt would likely concur. Their reasoning is that you cannot learn for anyone else. It is not a team sport. The child may have to wrangle with the subject matter but odds are in his favor that if he sticks with it he will come out on top for the effort. He will really KNOW that material in ways he would not if he had someone holding his hand. That isn't cruel. (we do lend a hand, just not HOLD a hand) It is doing him a great kindness in my opinion by teaching diligence, proficiency and responsibility for his own work. We moms tend to shoulder that load for them too often and end up with kids who are less than self-motivated as a result.

Almost anything we do over and over we get very good at. There is practically no curriculum that a child cannot learn a great deal from if they just stick with it. There is also no perfect curriculum. There are imperfections in all programs and with having no program at all. Part of success is due to deciding which imperfections you are most comfortable with. For many successful large families (see above links) that choice is prepared curriculum in at least some areas. Mom is freed up to focus on character training (a big part of which is doing schoolwork responsibly) and homemaking and being a wife. Those are areas that often suffer when we get sidetracked trying to do every academic thing from scratch. In fact those very areas are often more key to children's success than the content of their academic lessons.

So am I suggesting we abandon hands on learning? No. We do school projects here and there but increasingly they are spontaneous and the curriculum does not depend upon them. When we have time we usually choose to allocate it to a real life project like making a skirt or helping an older neighbor or preparing for a church play or music recital. Like I said - there is a lot of life happening and that's ok. Life is good : ) We also have combined traditional materials (like texts) with alternative methods (like notebooking) with absolutely stunning results. More to follow on that! In this way we enjoy the best of both worlds and have the time and energy to dig into projects in the world around us.

Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a cross country journey for some of us. We have to pace ourselves. Be tortoises, not hares. : ) A little done well and regularly goes a long way.

God bless you!

a post script - I know its publishing with funky highlighting and if I figure out why that happened I will try to rectify when I get another moment

1 comment:

Jess said...

oh, miss pam, i feel like i have been out in the desert homeschooling all on my own and you have been offering me small drinks of water. thanks so much for the other resources and just thoughts on the topic in general you have been providing me. i don't know of any other moms with smaller children who are homeschooling in our area and have not been sure how to go about finding 'fellowship'. you are blessing me greatly, thanks so much!