We’ve been quietly and happily homeschooling away since 2008 and loving it! We’re roughly following the Classical model described in Well-Trained Mind. However, I’m also a big fan of Charlotte Mason & Montessori methods. We’ve enjoyed some fun trips and have free time to try out different activities. Although our adventure has been reasonably well documented, I’ve been rather shy about sharing it with the public. So, here is my attempt to consolidate various the pieces of our life into something that may hopefully be useful & interesting.
In June 2013, I was invited to write an article about homeschooling for a Chinese university alumni newsletter. I’m posting it here to give you an idea about our personal homeschooling philosophy and approach…
After breakfast this morning, Alexis (10 years old) participated in an online literature class discussing Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Afterwards, she worked with her Skype tutor in Guatemala, creating yet another short story in Spanish that she will eventually illustrate and animate. During that time, I read Greek mythology with Joshua (7 years old) and work on some division drills. After lunch, we joined in a Math Olympiad group led by another mother with several enthusiastic kids working on pre-algebra level problem solving exercises. In the meantime, the younger siblings played at the park. Finally, we ended the day with a martial arts program loosely affiliated with the Shaoling Temple. Twice a week, the kids attend a local learning center doing history projects on the Renaissance and hand-on science activities related to Geology and Astronomy. They look forward to their weekly Chinese group with other heritage Mandarin-speaking friends to review their weekly reading assignments and enjoy some playtime. Wonderful writing and art mentors help guide them on certain personal projects. Otherwise, we try to keep our time relatively open to cover necessary academic subjects while still allowing for interesting excursions and pursuit of individual passions. In her free time, Alexis has been diligently finalizing the illustrations for her 2nd novel. Joshua has been building Star Wars Lego worlds and creating stop motion animation. This is a mere snapshot of our homeschooling routine.
Homeschooling is an alternative form of education where students can enjoy an individualized education, learning at their own pace in a manner that complements their learning style. Although this was the primary method of education until the Industrial Revolution, it is regaining attention and its popularity is growing exponentially. Homeschooling is legal everywhere in the U.S. but specific regulations vary from state to state. California provides numerous homeschooling options from filing a private school affidavit (PSA), private school satellite programs (PSP), to independent study programs through a public charter school. Each choice comes with a set of benefits and restrictions. Online or virtual schools may deliver a fixed curriculum. Many school districts and charter schools offer tax dollar funding to purchase secular curriculum and oversight from a credentialed teacher. For those receiving public funding, students are technically enrolled in public school, expected to follow the California state standards, and take the STAR test annually. Others prefer complete freedom by filing an affidavit as their own private school, where the primary requirement is simply to maintain attendance records.
Today, we are fortunate to have easy access to extensive homeschooling support. Park days provide plentiful opportunities for homeschooling families to socialize, share ideas and inspire. Many vendors are realizing the market potential and offering homeschool sports and all sorts of classes during the school day. Museums schedule special homeschool days & events. Co-ops are formed for other shared purposes. Organizations such as the California Homeschool Network (CHN), HomeSchool Association of California (HSC), and Christian Home Educators Association (CHEA) provide conventions, websites and books to guide new and prospective parents through a vast array of curriculum options and homeschooling philosophies. In reality, there’s no “typical” way to homeschool or an “average” homeschool family. Families may homeschool for reasons ranging from instilling religious values, fostering academic rigor, allowing for serious professional aspirations to accommodating for disabilities. Similarly, the implementation and methodology can run the gamut from religious focus, structured Classical, relaxed radical unschooling to an eclectic mix of styles.
The idea of homeschooling always intrigued yet intimidated me. Like most, I always thought, “Oh, that’s too much work. I could never do that.” Both my kids successfully attended local Montessori preschools; we live a good neighborhood with well-regarded schools. I wished for a childhood of solid academics balanced with extra-curricular activities yet enough freedom to explore personal interests and still enjoy leisure time with friends and family. Realistically, I couldn’t envision enough time to achieve this “ideal” without a rushed overscheduled life where I was relegated to the role of chauffeur. The luxury of time and flexibility from homeschooling became incredibly appealing, and I was excited by the potential. After some diligent research, I was delighted to discover that homeschooling didn’t necessarily entail classroom lectures & schedules in the home setting. That method works well for some but in our case, the actual time spent in preparing and teaching is perhaps comparable to what traditionally schooled families spend on completing regular homework. Learning takes many forms. Life experience can impart an enriching education if you are looking.
For these early years, we took advantage of the less crowded school hours and embarked on regular outings to museums, nature walks, festivals, and fun local events. We’ve done the expected swim team, ice-skating, piano, violin & voice lessons, but also experimented with sewing, flower arranging, cooking, drama, computer animation, animal care and a slew of others. Worksheets gave way to experiential learning. The kids keep journals of special activities, documenting with a couple sentences each day. A quick spelling or grammar point might accompany mistakes arising from those sentences. My kids also enjoy writing stories about objects of their current obsession, albeit dragons or Star Wars. Birthdays and Christmas were excellent opportunities to practice addressing envelopes and writing thank you letters. The quantity and quality children’s books about almost every topic in history through science are astounding. If the child grasps a mathematical concept easily, we may cover several weeks of material in a matter of days. However, if a roadblock is encountered, we try multiple approaches until mastery is achieved or even return at a later time awaiting maturity. As the teacher, I am aware of their level of mastery, and individualized learning permits us to optimize pacing.
Our family situation affords us the time & privilege for some exotic vacations, or rather educational field trips. A year studying ancient history and mythology culminated in a trip to Egypt and Rome. We coordinated our trip to Galapagos Islands with the study of volcanic islands, indigenous animals and the area’s history. Study of medieval history and the opportunity to practice Spanish served the backdrop for our whirlwind tour through Europe last summer. Similarly, studies of the country’s language, history, and geography preceded our visits to China, Japan, and Malaysia. For each trip, we have lovely printed journals, research reports, and photographs providing a portfolio of keepsakes & learning. When learning is natural & fun, the ability to retain & relate knowledge is beyond what the common core standards of public education require.
In conclusion, each child has unique interests & learning styles and likewise, each parent follows their own style & philosophy. As we wrap up our our 5th year of homeschooling, I was asked to share what homeschooling looks like in our family and I hope this glimpse to our approach may be helpful for someone considering homeschooling. While we are open to continuing through high school, depending on circumstances, we are also willing to consider traditional options as well. The challenges of homeschooling do require extra commitment from the parent and may not be a viable option for every family or situation. Nonetheless, creating memories together and learning as a family have been incredibly rewarding for us. For those who embark on this journey, be prepared for the adventure of a lifetime!