How do I start? I wonder how many times I’ve been asked that question? I wonder if my answer ever makes sense? I’ve decided to write it down to at least be more consistent! Rarely does anyone discuss with me the pros and cons of homeschooling. They come to me after the decision in a panic! Its personal I think, a bit like getting married. You never hear anyone discussing that they’re thinking of getting married. You just hear “We’re getting married!” Then the fluster of wedding planning and marriage staying power begins. So it is with deciding to homeschool. Here’s my answer for beginning.
Start by stopping. Take some time for you and your child to absorb the reality of a new way of doing things. You have opened a new door to learning. Stand there a minute and let your eyes get used to the light.
Make baby steps toward active learning. Here’s a roadmap that will serve you well even as you grow more complicated in your home learning! But for now, stay simple.
Road Map: Restful decompression -> excited exploration -> intentional follow-up -> directed discovery -> presentation of discovery.
When starting homeschooling, the number one concern is getting behind. Either we think our children are already behind or they will get behind under our tutelage.
It can be an overwhelming fear I know! But let me assure you, they are not and will not get behind! “Behind” implies some measure you are comparing your child against. You are no longer controlled by this arbitrary standard. You are setting your own standard. You absolutely have time to absorb your new reality without harming the education of your child. The result, in fact, will be quite the opposite!
When we started homeschooling, our 11-year-old daughter hated learning and couldn’t read. We took off a full year from “school” related activities, and she went on to teach herself three additional languages before graduating high school. Read her more detailed story on my post “Take That System.”
Your goal in “schooling” your children is for them to learn. If your goal is to have them learn everything they can ever know by the age of 18, not only is that unrealistic for both of you, but also leaves them a pretty boring life after age 18. Don’t strive to teach ALL that you can. It will drive you both crazy trying to do the impossible. You want them to be learning for their entire life! Therefore, your goal is to teach your child two things: 1) To love learning and 2) to discipline themselves. With these two skills, they can go on to learn and conquer anything they tackle throughout their entire lives.
Step 1. Decompression.
If you are pulling your kids out of school, then obviously school wasn’t working for them. They need an extra step from those starting from the beginning. They will need time to decompress from the school regiment, in other words, time off. I highly recommend you give them this time to regain a love for learning, rather than just the ability to complete a given task successfully. Allow them time to play, rest, and essentially, goof off! Let them waste their time and get bored. Kids need time to get bored to spark their imaginations and inquisitive spirits. When every moment is scheduled for them, their own minds never have to engage.
Step 2. Exploration.
When their boredom transitions to investigating things around them, you might casually suggest some particular, more narrowed exploration if they have not already narrowed it on their own. One fun and full of mystery suggestion is the outdoors.
I highly recommend the “Handbook of Nature Study”
Give this book to your child to flip through. When they’ve tired of flipping, ask them to go see if any of the plants can be identified in your yard. If they can’t read, just look for matches to the photos. I was stunned at how much my children learned in this exploration time. You may find other exploring instigators work better for your child, such as disassembling the bike or radio, experimenting with cooking, or drawing dress designs for dolls. Let them make a mess. Sanity tip: Helping clean up is part of the exploration! The better cleaners they are, the more open to messes mom is!
Step 3. Intentional Follow-up
When you see learning for fun happening (excitement over a discovery) you can start to employ controlled follow-up questions. Questions that direct the interest and investigation in a desired direction. Steady now – Use stealth!! For example: “Are you sure that’s the same tree as in the yard? I want to see. Can you show me? What’s it called again?” Let them teach you what they just discovered, even if you already know. Let them show and teach you. Teaching is such a great reinforcement and its fun!
Step 4. Directed Discovery
We’ve followed up, but maybe there’s more to know than what we have at our fingertips. Now take your questions further. Press for knowledge not readily accessible. “Is that tree native to our state? If not, who brought it here? When and Why?” etc. Ask these questions one at a time. Careful not to overwhelm, but sound like a conversation and certainly interested yourself. Gauge your questions according to the age and ability of your child. When they don’t know the answer, suggest places to find the answers. The Internet, library, Dad, anywhere the discovery can be continued.
Step 5. Presentation
This step technically takes place all along the way. From the point where the child first points out the interest to you, they are presenting their discovery. Reciting acquired knowledge is a powerful skill which benefits from this practice. However, some things will be so interesting to the child that your directed questions lead them all the way through step 4 and beyond. Encourage them to communicate what they’ve discovered. This could vary from just telling about it, to drawing a picture of it, to building a replica. The key here is to let them discover the way to make their presentation. Hint: Don’t call it a presentation or they’ll probably balk! Same method applies with the presentation. Ask questions. Leading questions. “Let’s tell Daddy when he gets home. What’s the best way to help Daddy understands what you discovered?”
Questions lead to more and more discovery! Learning.
Repeat – for a Lifestyle of Learning
These steps may take place over days or weeks so don’t rush it. When you see the interest has died down don’t force it. Ask again about it later or they may bring it up again. They are not only learning about things, they are learning the process of asking questions to learn more. Possibly, the item of interest may change and you’ll have to go back to step one with the new focus. This will get fun, so be prepared; it will blossom into many interests to chase!
Whatever you do, don’t bring school home! Homeschooling is NOT school at home. Homeschooling is not school at all, its learning, learning everywhere with a home base. See “Schooling at Home or Homeschooling”
One last thought, like a blanket over all these steps, is reading. Read, read, read with, but mostly to, your children. Use audio books too. Hearing words read is very powerful.
Do it daily!
Congratulations! You are now having fun learning Socratic style!