Saturday, April 18

A Relaxed Home Education

By Beki Cowling

I think the most important thing about educating our children at home is to ask God what is right for our child(ren)...and then actually listen to His promptings! For some people this is going to look like Charlotte Mason, for others it will look very much like a classical education at home...for us, it looks rather different.

I have to confess that I absolutely love organization! If I had all the hours I needed in a day, my house would be very organized and probably over-labeled. My nature is to write lists and then savor checking off each item on the list. So before we had our first child, I was pretty sure that I was going to have a "classroom,” our homeschooling days were going to look very structured, and we were going to march right through them! Learning was going to be very systematic and organized. At the end of the day, I was going to be immensely satisfied with all of the wonderful check marks I was going to be able to make!

When I finally birthed my first child, I decided that it was time to start reading all about homeschooling. I read all sorts of books on homeschooling; I underlined, I took notes, I even did little book reports on the books that I read! In short, I started a huge research project...only without a thesis, so, of course, the core of information was much too huge to assimilate. All of the terms and labels of this type of learning and that method of teaching confused me. So I reached a decision...I needed to just set it all aside and figure out what was best for my child.

I didn't have a name, or label, for what I was going to do with our son, Jami. I just did it, making it up as we went along. I am fully convinced that the only reason that what we do works for us, is that it was God's design for our family and our children. So please do not feel that in any way I am trying to advocate that "relaxed" home schooling is THE way to go for everybody.

I thought that before I talked about relaxed homeschooling, I should probably Google it to see what everyone else thought it was. One definition that I came across (and really liked) for "relaxed homeschooling" is:

"Relaxed homeschooling? A term popularized by author Mary Hood. This is more a philosophy of homeschooling, rather than a method, and is characterized by tailoring a child's education to what they need individually at a timetable that is good for them. In other words, make loosely structured goals, but relax and go with what your child's interests are, meeting the goals in different ways for each child." Amy Ringger, A+ Homeschooling

In thinking about the last 10 years of homeschooling our son, I have realized that this is an accurate way of summing it up.

In researching "relaxed homeschooling" on the internet, I found out that it was NOT un-schooling, it was NOT delight-directed learning (although there are many ways that it can be "delight directed"), and it was NOT child-directed learning. However, I did find that there were several other labels that were attached to "relaxed homeschooling," such as mixed homeschooling, homemade homeschooling, individualized learning, watershed schooling, and eclectic homeschooling.

In Easy Homeschooling Techniques, Lorraine Curry defined "Watershed Schooling" as "... a ridge of high land dividing two areas that are drained by different river systems. A watershed is also a critical point that marks a division. I'm christening this group watershed because it is midway between unschooling and structured schooling. Watershed parents usually, in their own words, pick and choose curricula. Some make their own plans and schedules and teach whatever they want. Others loosely follow the plan of a chosen method. They sometimes focus on the child's interest—as in unschooling—but more often the teacher decides what she wants her children to learn. She may have a schedule, or may just do school when it is convenient. These parents are usually flexible in what, where, why and how, and yet not so flexible that they give the child complete control—as in pure unschooling. Often much time is spent in reading aloud. There are more homeschoolers in this third group than in any other."

The term eclectic homeschooling intrigued me as I have heard it often. The definition that I found for eclectic homeschooling was:

"Eclectic homeschooling (also called many other names) seems to be the most common type of homeschooling. This is where the family takes a variety of learning resources and chooses the mix that will work best for their children. ... Homeschooling in this way can be as scheduled or as relaxed as the family wishes, and can even change from month to month." Donna Donnell, The Donnell House

I think that perhaps eclectic homeschooling is the method of homeschooling in which the philosophy of "relaxed homeschooling" most often shows up.

And what does a practical application of a relaxed home education look like for our family? Well...I have always and only had two main goals in educating my children at home: first for my children to develop a real relationship with Jesus and second for my children to love learning always. So, the only imperatives for our day are reading a part of the Bible and working on Bible memory work. Of course, whenever Jami hears me list what is required of him each day, I also include math and piano! Everything else is optional. In part, our home education includes the following:

A very thought out, prayed over, detailed list of objectives for each of my children, for each "grade" level. I develop it as my child finishes, or is finishing one "grade" level, and then I promptly set it aside and only refer back to it a half a dozen times a year. It is tailored specifically to what that child needs.

  • Personal quiet time (PQT) with God - we shoot for one minute for each year of age for our kids.
  • Bible - read one section, which is usually less than one chapter.
  • Bible memory work – one or two new verses each week of a longer passage that we are working on.
  • Math-U-See - usually one page.
  • Missions - reading Youth With a Mission (YWAM) biographies on great missionaries and Voice of the Martyrs periodicals, one article at a time out of the Voice of the Martyrs magazine
  • Life skills – chores (We can teach them all we want, but if they can't shop for food, cook a meal, and do laundry, they may starve or look really frumpy!)
  • And lots and lots and lots of reading! We read all sorts of living books. We often organize our reading of some of these living books by subject. For history, we have used The Story of the World, and next year we'll use The Mystery of History. When we studied World War II, we stopped and read 15-20 books that were simply stories about people who lived through World War II in some capacity or another. We have all of the YWAM books, and whenever they mention somebody who is in a YWAM, Sowers, Landmark, or Childhood of Famous Americans book, we stop and read it. Many of these books I read aloud to my children...and just as many I pre-read and then have my son read on his own.
  • For science, we are enjoying reading the A Beka science readers. When they mention a scientist, we stop and try to find a good book on them. If there is a subject that my son wants to investigate further, we hit the library. We utilize the same series as I listed for history.
  • Piano - only three times through each song.
  • Typing - Mavis Beacon for 5-10 minutes most days.
  • Art - my mom teaches my kids once or twice a month.
  • Greek/Latin - only one word a week.
  • Horse riding lessons - once a week, weather permitting.
  • Homeschool swim team - twice a week, mid October to mid January.
  • Scouts - meetings are usually once a week.
  • And lots and lots of time playing!

I think, for us, the things that are the hardest to implement include time management and resisting the temptation to get involved in too many activities, which are probably the same thing really! After I find out what my husband's work schedule is going to be for the next month and write it into our family calendar, I then go through and cross off every day that I can and write in "Home Day"! We try to stay home three to four days each week.

When people ask us if we can do something, or when I am tempted to add another activity to our schedule, I can honestly look at our family calendar and say, "I'm sorry, we already have something scheduled for that day," because we do (and it's even written into the calendar!) This has been hard to do, but is KEY in keeping our home education relaxed.

In closing, I want to give you another quote I found floating in the great stratosphere of the nebulous Internet:

This relaxed method of homeschooling sounds frightening to many new homeschoolers because they're afraid that if they don't require much "seat work" or written work, their children won't learn much. They want to do everything "just right" so they try to imitate school at home—not realizing that it's not only unnecessary but also often inefficient and boring. Schools have to do things differently because they're forced to deal "one on twenty-thirty" instead of "one on one,” therefore, it's impossible for them to give individual attention to each child and customize their curriculum to fit every need. But we don't have these limitations!

We don't want our children to be turned off from learning at an early age or to think of learning as something that only takes place within the context of "school.” We want them to enjoy learning from the start and become a lifetime learner—interested and curious about everything whether it's "school time" or not. Tamara Eaton, August 15, 2008 Article of the Week on Christian Homeschool Forum.

And that, ladies, is a worthy goal!

Eclectic Homeschool Association