Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How Home Education is Working

It's interesting to talk about homeschooling with young people. I am a mom of 4 teenagers, and as they get older their perspective on their lives is a resource for me and a corrective device, helping me see what is really longlasting and good and what is unnecessary and perhaps counter-productive. This is our 12th year of education at home; 4 of my kids have never been to school and the oldest left after 2nd grade.

Yesterday, my daughter was describing the reaction of her peers when they first find out she is homeschooled. She says that their reaction is usually envy. Ah, you get to sleep in every day and you never have to do anything.

My daughter went on to say that she thinks they misunderstand what homeschooling is about. In the first place, she doesn't WANT to sleep in every day. She isn't exhausted all the time and when morning comes, she wants to get up so she can do all the things she has planned. So she sets her bedtime so that she is rested in the morning. Sometimes she stays up late with her father and brothers to watch a movie -- for instance, last week they watched Henry V and she didn't get to bed till midnight. Well then, she CAN sleep in. Most of the time, that is. Last week, for instance, she had choir rehearsal for the Triduum and had to get up early. But she was able to take it easy the next day and catch up on her sleep.

Plus, she went on, they don't seem to understand that doing nothing is not fun for very long. In the past few days one of her projects has been to read several Shakespeare plays alongside with the movie and audiotape versions. Today she was googling for information on Latin declensions so she can get more fluent in Latin. She took the day off algebra yesterday because we were exhausted from Easter rejoicing (and Cadbury chocolate eggs) but she is going to get herself back on track today. This math schedule is her choice, though I help her with accountability at her request, because she wants to stay on a college math track and it helps her to have someone to check in with occasionally.

She plans out her day to include the things she values: her reading, her music, her walking for exercise, her sewing, her message boards, her nature notebook, her time playing with her little brothers or conversing with her older ones, her movies; and yes, her math and Latin and daily chores. She can take it easier on days after a busy day or week, or when she isn't feeling altogether well.

One major difference between her life and those of the people she talks to is that the pace is varied and set to her internal meter. There are lulls, and bursts of activity. She can set herself challenges and work on them in different ways in different times. For example, she plays violin and piano and also is working on her singing. She wants to learn more about music so she has been listening to classical music CDs and reading commentaries about them, and also reading some books about music history a bit at a time. But she doesn't do all of these every day. Sometimes she just wants to listen to her old favorite folk songs and musicals, and that's all.

Another difference is that there is no real distinction between school and life. We discussed a friend of the family's who wants to homeschool her kids. Part of the reason is because when she went to school, she was involved in several unconventional extra-curricular activities. Since the school wasn't sponsoring these, her "school life" was hermetically sealed from her "extra-school life". Only the school-directed things "counted" as learning, and she could even be penalized for devoting attention to interests outside of the curriculum, if they interfered with her school performance and requirements.

My daughter said that in her life, one thing flows into the other seamlessly. She finds our Henry V soundtrack while she is looking through our collection for something else. She listens to it for the first time in a few years and it's familiar, but enjoyable on a deeper level now since she is older and knows more about music. Since we have the videotape of the movie, she digs for that and gets her father and brothers to watch it with her. She discovers that the composer Patrick Doyle also wrote the score for some other movies she has watched recently. She listens to the music again and again, trying to pick out the instruments. She works at figuring out one of the songs on her violin. She teaches her 6yo special needs brother to recite part of the St Crispin's Day speech. She reads the play and we have a discussion about Kenneth Branagh and how his performance in Henry V is different from his showpiece role in Harry Potter.

Meanwhile, her family is coasting on her enthusiasm, and my 10yo asks me if "the French really killed the baggage boys." So we google it and find an article that compares the play with the actual historical record. My 6 year old makes a play on words with the speech she taught him "And crowns for convoy put into his purse" -- he substitutes "wallet" and is delighted with how everyone laughs at his joke. Then he gets to recite to his dad, to his brothers, and to everyone else.

The learning is organic, and also relationship-oriented. Just as I always smile when I see a picture of a salamander because of my second son's early interest in them, I'll always see the Henry V play through a filter of affection -- first for my husband, who loved the movie and taught my older sons the speech just by declaiming it around the house; then for my daughter. A richness accumulates over time, layers upon layers of meaning.

My daughter also talked about socialization. She points out that she is not spending her days lonely in a crowd, or being told "school is not for socializing" by her teachers. She has some close friends with interests in common. She could have more friends and more activities, but chooses to balance out her active life with her interior life (she is an introvert and needs time and space to recharge her batteries). She doesn't have to feel strange about this, and if she wants to change her lifestyle to include more or less social life, she can.

Homeschooling is not for everybody, no doubt, but it is working for us and it works better when I look at what we have, not at what others have or what we are lacking. There is an expansiveness there. There is a kind of energy based not on achievement and production necessarily (though those things can be a good byproduct and over the long haul the achievement and production is definitely there) but on making connections at different levels at different times.


Alice said...

This is a beautiful testament to home education working at its best. I loved reading about how your whole family's education is woven together seamlessly. Your daughter's experience, in particular, is exactly what I hope for my own children.

Amy said...

Ditto what Alice said. I love hearing about how homeschooling is working for the older set, as I have only 4 under 9 right now and envision something similar for our later years!

Leonie said...

I was interested to read your thoughts and your dd's thoughts on kenneth Branagh. We like him as an actor and have compared his roles in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Harry Potter. Very diverse!


Mary Vitamin said...

Thanks for the beautiful and encouraging post.
Ave Maria

Cajun Cay said...

Well done, Willa, as always. : )
I love reading about hs experiences and days through the lens of other teenagers.

Cindy said...

Can't our children give us such insight sometimes? I am finding that especially true as they get older. Thanks for this glimpse, Willa.

maryz said...

Hi Willa! How I wish California and Wisconsin were closer. I, too, have teens who haven't seen a classroom since second grade and four who have never been to school. Even many of their homeschooled friends do not understand how we blur the world's distinction of school being separate from life. We have violinists, pianists and a trumpeter here, and two of the oldest are introverts. I can relate in many ways to this post, and just want to thank you for its beauty! Your efforts here and with CCE bless my homeschool.