Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Am I a homschooler, yet?

I read my first book on homeschooling when I was engaged. I read my second book on homeschooling right after that. I read a whole bunch more last summer. My oldest will be three in October. I feel a bit funny calling myself a homeschooler (or I am the home educator in this scenario). Even if I wanted to send Joseph to school, he won't be three in time to go to preschool here. But, in this city, all three-year olds go to school, so I've gotten lots and lots of questions about my school plans for Joseph and, I have to say, it's been pretty fun to start calling ourselves a homeschooling family.

It hit me a month or two ago that I would have a three-year old this Fall and I had a moment of panic. Should I sign him up for stuff? Should he have more structured activities? Should I start keeping logs? The loves-to-plan part of me wanted to organize, plan, evaluate, do, do, do. The other homeschool blogs are all buzzing with curriculum plans and learning room photos. I wanted to join in the fun.

Then I went to a tiny fraction of the Real Learning conference and heard part of Elizabeth's talk which, I think, was entitled, "Don't Make This Harder Than It Already Is." The part I heard cautioned all of us moms against striving too hard for unattainable perfection. Margaret started crying then and I didn't hear the rest. Then I read this on Elizabeth's blog and I've been smiling and dreaming ever since.

Red Cardigan asked us to post today about what kind of homeschoolers we are. If you'll bear with me, I'll describe what I'd like to be. Those of you with small kids can dream and idealize along with me and maybe those of you with older kids can have a good chuckle at my expense (it's okay--I'm still young, and I've had a good day).

The books I've read about home education have run the gamut from hardcore Classical to radical unschooling. I've read about complete, pre-packaged curriculums done at reproduction school desks and I've read about kids who spend their days breeding rabbits.

Classical education bothers me because it seems to focus more on the destination than the journey. Unschooling bothers me because there are beautiful ideas I want to introduce to my children. I believe in active parenting, and I believe that a good teacher can be an invaluable guide. Pre-packaged curricula seems far too restrictive, but I do think that, at least occasionally, kids should be gently made to do things they aren't super excited about.

As I've said before, Elizabeth Foss's Real Learning has influenced my thinking and dreaming more than anything else. I think the idea that most resonated with me was, "Children are educated by their intimacies." We hope, first of all, to have a large family. I think that human relationships are probably the single most important educational tool out there so we'll do our best to have plenty of those in-house. Whenever people ask us why we want to homeschool we answer first, "Socialization." This really throws people off--but we do think children are best socialized in the context of a large family.

Second, we hope to have a lively life of family prayer, living the liturgy, and contact with the sacraments. We have, so far, not given up on our goals of Daily Mass, Morning and Evening prayer from the Divine Office, individual Rosaries, and spiritual reading. We have begun to establish beautiful (I think) liturgical traditions shaped by feast days and seasons with our daily teatime as a chance to engage the liturgical year in some small way each day.

Third, and this is the most challenging, we are trying to build a beautiful and ordered home environment. Household management (chores, if you will) are important as is the arranging of rooms and furniture to suit the individual and communal needs of our family. We hope to always live in a city, which means space will probably always be at a premium. I don't aspire to the luxury of a learning room and, even if we did have the space, I'm not sure I'd want one. I'd rather have books in every room of the house with a few nooks and corners for solitary pursuits. We don't have a television and don't ever plan to. I think a television often shapes the layout of a room more than it should. Our couch and chairs now are arranged for conversation and family prayer. I hope to always have a large kitchen so children can be in and out, involved and at the periphery.

I want excellent literature to be the mainstay of our day--books read aloud and to ourselves; creative projects and explorations inspired by the subjects found in those books. If we're fortunate enough to live in a history-rich area, frequent road trips with Dad to explore would certainly be in order. And nature study--more on this in the future--but certainly I want my children to be critically interacting with the world around them.

So, for this year . . . indulge Joseph's love of reading aloud as much as possible. Break out the drawing paper and crayons while Margaret naps. Let him crack the eggs and mix the pancakes on Sunday morning. Continue with catechism chats and prayers at bedtime (Dad's department these days.)

I am excited for this year. The world is opening up in a big way to my little boy and I am grateful to be with him as he begins to explore it.


Red Cardigan said...

Susan, it was a joy to read this. How long ago those days seem to me now--and I have to admit, if there had been pressure on me to school my three-year-old I'd probably have cracked under it, so your enthusiasm is a delight to behold.

God grant you a blessed and happy first "official" school year! :)

Christine said...

Ahhhh ... the joy of homeschooling ... it gets to be whatever is perfect for YOUR home - period!

I also learned to chill out when the kids were at Pre-K and Kindergarten ages. They learn through play and experiences. So, just live life and talk a lot ... and read to them a lot!

Mrs Pea said...

Your "school" sounds great! Can I enroll as a student?

divinagrace said...

This is a lovely post. Thanks for the link at the 4Real Learning forum.