Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Schooling Journey

I was recently asked a series of questions by a friend who is researching homeschooling for a college paper that she is writing.  Those questions prompted me to write this blog entry.  Let me share with you now our schooling journey.

I have four children, all have experienced homeschooling.  My children are Christian (26), Keegan (25), Maceo (16), and Bishop (14).  Christian attended a magnet school for grades 1-6, a public middle school for grades 7 and 8, and was homeschooled for grades 9-12.  Keegan's schooling parallels Christians.  She attended the magnet school for grades 1-5, public school for grades 6-9, and was homeschooled for grades 10-12.  Maceo and Bishop have always been homeschooled.
When Christian and Keegan approached the age of compulsory schooling I had not heard of homeschooling, I only sought to find the best possible schooling institution for them.  I had fantasies of a very experiential schooling experience for my kids, Christian in particular.  That boy could squat for hours over a termites nest observing their movements.  As I watched him observing those termites I knew everything was right, that he was learning as it was meant to be and I knew that I wanted to find a school that would further his education in a similarly meaningful way.  I managed to get Christian enrolled in a math and science magnet school.  Keegan was soon enrolled in this school as well.  They fared quite well.  Although it wasn't all that I had fantasized about it was a relatively good fit.  While they were in upper elementary school we discovered homeschooling.  The kids and I would talk about the possibilities.  It appealed to us.  It appealed to me.  I had always believed that my children's educations were my responsibility; that the teachers and administrators that I allowed in to my children's lives were to come up alongside me (not vice versa) and use their expertise to help my children reach their full potential.  The literature on homeschooling affirmed this line of thinking - my children and their educations were my responsibility.  Although there was no intention of withdrawing them from school, the idea of homeschooling appealed to the kids and I alike and we were certain that the newest members of the household, Maceo and Bishop, should be homeschooled.  While Christian and Keegan continued their public school journey I continued to research homeschooling for Maceo and Bishop.  I gave serious consideration to what I believed about education.  I scoured my memories for all those thoughts and beliefs that I had about learning from when Christian and Keegan were young.  I began to develop my educational philosophy.
After moving to Missouri and experiencing two more years in the public school system I became convinced that Christian needed a more invigorating educational experience.  During the first quarter of his eighth grade year Christian read his American History textbook in its entirety while listening to lectures and scored 100% on all assignments and evaluations.  I added books on homeschooling through high school to my reading pile.  He and I took the plunge at the inception of his ninth grade year.  Keegan was still faring well in the public school and she was so social that I couldn't fathom withdrawing her.  However, after moving to a very small town in Utah where the academics at the local school were not challenging whatsoever Keegan chose to be homeschooled.
Christian and Keegan's homeschool high school was relatively structured.   We had a list of literature to read and subject matter that we wanted to cover during their high school years that served as a road map, of sorts.  I would make a list of assignments to be completed each day.  Christian, Keegan and I would meet every morning to review the previous days assignments.  We would have invigorating conversation and challenge each other to think more deeply.  I would then list their new assignments and they would be responsible for structuring the rest of the day.  They had the liberty to complete their assignments and any independent pursuits at any time throughout the day.
As Christian and Keegan were completing their high school education at home Maceo and Bishop were beginning their journey through compulsory schooling, they were beginning it at home.  For them, we began with math and reading curriculums.  The boys and I would work together each morning after I was done meeting with Christian and Keegan.  Afterwards, they had freedom to pursue individual interests. 
We experienced some bumps in the road.  Christian and I engaged in significant conflict as we tried to work our way through Algebra.  This conflict caused me to look back at the educational philosophy that I had drafted.  I revised it a tad bit but revised my practices even more to fall more in line with my philosophy.  Despite the fact that I had fantasies of him completing trigonometry and calculus I decided that I wouldn't force any more math on him.  I determined that our relationship was more important and told him that we would only return to math when he desired it or found a need for it.  Our relationship flourished while he chose not to take anymore math classes in high school.  Upon attending college he did take statistics for his undergraduate and his graduate degrees.  He received A's in both.
I, once again, had to revise my practices when I found that Maceo couldn't learn to read by utilizing phonics.  This was something I hadn't even remotely anticipated.  I and the older kids are all strong readers that were adept at utilizing phonics.  His frustration then my frustration mounted as I insisted that we utilize the shiny fancy-schmancy curriculum that I had purchased.  I hearkened back to the lesson that I learned from Christian; I placed relationship over academics and let go of the curriculum.  I read research on the development of the ability to decode language and found that the part of the brain that does so isn't developed until the age of nine and although many children can read prior to that many find it difficult.  Anecdotal evidence suggested that if a child were to live in a word rich environment with no formal reading instruction he would learn to read by nine, at his own pace.  This research helped me breathe easier while letting go of the curriculum and I determined to conduct no formal reading lessons unless Maceo or Bishop instigated it.  I then revisited my educational philosophy and found that this approach fell in line with that philosophy.
During this time we also experienced some amazing successes.  As I examined those successes I discovered a trend, almost all of them were a result of their own personal endeavors.  They happened while they were pursuing their own individual interests.  This applies to the older kids as well as the younger kids.  I found that Maceo and Bishop would do multiple digit addition and subtraction mentally while playing YuGiOh.  They learned how to spell when they wanted to search a particular topic on the internet and proper punctuation when they wanted to communicate something they valued on their own blog.  They learned math and science watching VSauce and ViHart and read more books on dogs than I ever would have assigned when they were trying to talk me into getting them a dog.  This too fell in line with my educational philosophy.
You see, I believed then, and even more so now, that learning is inextricably linked with living.  I believe that human beings are hard-wired to learn and that when children are living in a secure yet vibrant atmosphere, one in which they are encouraged to engage in the world around them, allowing them to find their place in the world at their own pace, they will learn at the deepest level and will increase the odds that they will discover their own unique calling in this world.
So, now, we are invested in a lifestyle of learning, student-led learning or unschooling, whichever title you prefer to assign it.  A curriculum might be used if it is determined that it is the best way to go about learning something that they desire to learn.  However, more often than not, you will find them acquiring knowledge through experiences and interactions with others, through the internet and books - through living.  You can learn more about my philosophy here and here and here and throughout my blog I share a bit of what goes on around here.
My educational philosophy has only minimally been revised throughout the years but how we attempt to live and learn in accordance to that philosophy has changed significantly over time.  I knew that a true education could come from squatting by a termites nest for hours but I didn't know how, or even if it was ok, to make it our full-time method of "schooling."  Initially I didn't know what it could look like, now I do.  Figuring this out and coming to a place of peace with the process, learning to move forward in faith has been the most difficult aspect of our homeschooling journey.  I share more of that here and here.
However, every bit of anxiety and all of the wrestling related to it has been worth it because the rewards have been many.  As suggested above homeschooling has allowed us to provide a highly individualized education for each of my four children, we have allowed them to develop at their own pace, and have allowed them to develop their personal strengths.  Most importantly, we have developed deep, abiding relationships.  We are together more often than not, this fact alone has required us to work on our relationships and it has given me countless opportunities to share my heart with my children.  I would also describe their education as abiding.  Because they are responsible for their education they have explored topics of great interest to them, made their own connections, thus, imbibed much knowledge deeply and fully.  I believe it to be highly advantageous that they are learning about the world and their place in it by living and learning fully in it rather than spending a significant portion of their day in a contrived setting.  This has allowed them to live their lives now, not waiting for when they "grow up."  Maceo is a singer and an actor now.  Bishop is a culinarian and a potter now.  Their curiosity is intact and they are natural, continuous learners.  It is awe-inspiring to witness.  There are advantages for me as well, the development of abiding relationships, the refinement of my character, the re-igniting of curiosity, and, oh, the things I have learned by walking alongside them on this journey, things I might never have pursued on my own but have enriched my life deeply.
Its been a great journey thus far.
I look forward to what is yet to come.

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