August 1, 2009

Our Approach

We take a pretty eclectic approach to home schooling. I think you have to know where you want to go if you're ever going to get there, and then you need a road map.

Where we want to go:
I want my kids to grow up to be kind, loving, and compassionate people who seek out healthy relationships with family, friends, and God. I want them to have a broad base of knowledge from which to draw and an understanding of how it all fits together. I want them to be creative and know how to express themselves so that when they want to show the world who they are, they know just how they want to do it. I want them to be joyful and curious.

How we're getting there:
We start our day with "spirit work." We pray together, memorize important quotes, prayers, and songs. We study the history of the Baha'i Faith through stories, maps, and art. We talk about who God is to us and how we can grow as people within the framework we've been given.

For academics we're pretty trivium based. We use Tapestry of Grace as our spine, and it carries us in a spiraling fashion through history from the beginning of time to the modern era. We use literature, not text books, to study ancient cultures and civilizations. We replicate the art, listen to the music, and eat the food of the people we are studying.

Math, being the one major necessity that doesn't fall under the TOG banner, gets its own curriculum. For this we use Saxon Math. I think the sequence and spiraling approach it amazingly effective and the colorful manipulatives and real world play make it fun and memorable.

For reading and literacy, we start with Engleman's Teach Your Child to read in 100 Easy Lessons, then Explode the Code, and when finally the ETC workbooks are done, the kids can move on to the ETC on-line series. That's like a phonics computer program designed for public schools which gives a pretty sophisticated bulk of results and information about the student's progress, skill level, and areas of weakness.

To accent our trivium pursuits, we follow their little interests and use lap books as a way to create a record of our studies. The kids may be interested in microscopes, holidays, weather, black holes, dinosaurs, etc. Whatever it is, we read books, make art, plan science projects, and watch videos about the topic at hand and fill our lap books with little mini books on sub-categories related to our topic. It's fun and gives them some creative control over their learning.

Outside of all of that, we employ a lot of Montessori/Waldorf inspired activities for the boys that involve experiencing color and texture, sound and taste. We try and dabble in "real art" whenever possible, meaning that the kids get to try techniques and supplies that an adult might use so that they develop comfort with the medium and feel like their creations are important and respected. Hannah Jane plays the fife (the civil war version of the flute) every day and is learning to read sheet music little by little. The kids listen to conversational Spanish CD's for about 15 minutes every day. We focus on one conversation per week, and Hannah Jane is quizzed daily. The boys listen in, but aren't formally instructed. I just want their little ears to become familiar with the sound of the language.

Other things we do that aren't so schoolish are things like morning stretches and mini-plays. The kids cook or help with the cooking almost daily. They clean their rooms and do animal chores like cleaning the rabbit cage and watering the goats. They visit the alzheimer's wing at the old folk's home a couple of times a month, passing out cookies, listening to stories, and answering the same question from the same people time after time. We take nature walks. All kinds of things make up our days.

Why we do it a home:
I have this notion that I can teach the kids all they need to know right here at home, but do it in a more personal and thoughtful way than it would be done in a traditional learning institution. When I was teaching in the public schools it became quite clear to me that every child had different needs and I couldn't' address them all individually within the classroom setting. There were just too many needs to be addressed. I think I can do better than that for my own kids, being that there are just three of them.

I also question the social hierarchy that is inevitable when you have a huge pack of kids and only one adult. All too often I witnessed a small hand full of children with big personalities become pack leaders and all of the other children, whom I believe may have been pack leaders in a different group of kids, were pushed down into quiet submission under the belief that they just plain weren't as good as the top dog. I know that's an ugly way to look at it, but for the very young, that's how it looked. More like a National Geographic piece than a loving interplay between friends. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that children learn compassion and kindness from modeling the behavior of those around them. When there is just one adult for very 20 kids, other kids become the role models long before they have the social graces to be showing anyone how to behave. I don't know how long we'll school at home, but I do want my kids to be fully formed, confident individuals who have only been influenced by positive and moral people before I send them out, unaided, into the world. At home I can give them the confidence of top dog while modeling compassion.

So, for now, we are plugging away at this earning thing on our own. We set up shop in a small room at the far corner of the house, where most any day you can hear singing, laughter,and admittedly a few well supervised squabbles. We're in this together and we're going to have a little fun along the way.

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