Confessions of a Homeschool Mama

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I have been thinking a lot about homeschooling and our style lately. Because of Stumbleupon I have met a lot more homeschoolers than I typically meet in Bloggyland. It is fascinating how meeting all these lovely ladies (because so far they are all ladies sharing their experience) has caused me to redefine our style–not because we have changed our style but because I have met more and more people who school like we do. I didn’t know that we weren’t the only ones who avoided curriculum, who did what worked with each child based on when they needed it instead of on set standards. I have always considered us Charlotte Mason with a twist, or maybe eclectic. I have come to a realization, however, I realize that our lack of formal studies except where needed (for instance Rachel desperately wants to learn piano so I am working through a book with her, she found she needed to learn to spell and do multiplication so we are studying those, and Issac desperately WANTS to read–so Hooked on Phonics works for him) makes us not quite either of those. We do have a school room but that is for Rachel’s sake–she needs to know it is thee so she can focus when she needs to. But really and honestly, if I am being totally truthful with myself, most of their learning comes because they are interested and they choose what they are interested in. There are a few things we require and otherwise we go with the flow. Dare I say that we, despite our plans and ideals, are unschoolers? I am not sure I am ready to give it such a name but judging from the unschoolers I have met I am finding that they are the ones I am most comfortable with, they are the ones who train their kids the way I do, and I have an inkling that maybe, just maybe, that is where we fit in. I say this with trepidation–because, you know, I am a former public school teacher and I never would have thought I would consider myself an “unschooler”.

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That confession out of the way, I would like to share something with you, some of our experiences which may explain what I mean. Over the last few days, since I have been under the weather I have allowed the kids freedom from their few workbooks (what they call their official homework but which is only a tiny bit of their school day.) Saturday they don’t do those books anyway unless they want to (sometimes they do). However this Saturday they opted not to. Instead they had an elaborate game of dress up and some other pretend play, played with Only Hearts Kids, watched daddy play a computer game–discussing physics and how it work sin the game engine and solving elaborate puzzles that stump adult gamers, they then went with me to pick up some paint brushes at Michaels. While there they discovered a lady demonstrating cake decorating with Fondant. They stood for 45 minutes watching her and asking all kinds of questions about how she was doing what she was doing , what fondant was made of, etc. They then planned to try the experiment with Play-doe and later to et some Fondant to try it on. They were the only ones in a full store interested in stopping and learning. They were so interested that after helping me pick the best brushes for the best price they went back and watched her work while I checked out.

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After we finished there we headed to Target to buy a new CD player for them –they had saved up and decided to go together–trying to choose the best one for their money (they listen to audio books anytime they are in their room, that and Beethoven or swing praise). Instead of going for the fancy ones they went for a better one and chose some cell phone decoration stickers to decorate it (Target had them on sale). When that CD player didn’t work they decided to try the cheaper one instead of buying the same one or one of the cutesy ones.

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Sunday they played all day after we had church together, doing many pretend games, so many that I couldn’t keep track of them all. Today they helped me clean up the yard (we are supposed to get snow tomorrow and needed to get all the summer toys into the basement.) When my mom showed up needing help (her car battery died) we stopped, ran her to

Walmart where we returned the broken CD (Rachel explained to the lady what was wrong with it and asked for their money back so she could decide on a different one) and chose a new cheaper one and some more cell phone stickers. We also perused the 75% off Halloween stuff looking for Christmas presents for each of them (cheap dress up clothes are a great Christmas present).

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When we returned home we attacked the back again, burning all that needed burned and putting the rest of the stuff away. This prompted an impromptu lesson on fires and how they burn. The kids spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out how best to keep the fire burning without making it blaze. If you recall earlier this summer our neighbor died in a huge gasoline fire that took his house-sized garage as well as all the equipment he stored there. Since then the kids have had a great fear of the house burning down (they saw the fire–they couldn’t help it, our yard was full of onlookers and the firefighters were everywhere). However, they used this fire to experiment, testing to see how long it took different types of sticks to catch fire, what worked best, what caused a blaze, what smothered it, how to put out a fire (kick sand on it–just like on Rescure Heroes where they learned quite a bit about fire safety including how forest fires worked–you wouldn’t believe what they explained to me about forest fires during the California fires). They collected fire fuel from from our yard, from our garbage bins, from the neighbors yards, from the collection of cardboard boxes they had stored in the basement (they used them to build all sorts of buildings, race cars, whatevers). They kept at it for several hours until it started to pour down rain and thunder. Now they sit drinking hot carob and listening to Adventures in Odyssey and eating some supper they made themselves. I know Rachel plans to work on her Young Nanowrimo this evening, as does Esther. They also paused a bit to peruse the Target toy gift catalog, found a doll house that was perfect for their Only Hearts Club dolls and called Grandma, telling her they had a $10 off coupon and would she consider getting it for the two of them as their only Christmas present from her and Pappap–they knew about how much she usually spent on them and that if they shared it would be about right. They had already made a request for another Cabbage Patch doll to add to their collection from the other grandma.

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They also played several board games, including Scategories, Blockus, and Perpetual Notion in there somewhere, built several projects with their wooden marble game, last night we practiced swing dancing to Benny Goodman, read part of a Wishbone book and part of William Bennet’s Treasury of Heroes, and they did a whole lot of drawings and wrote several letters to friends. They also carried clean and dirty laundry to where it belonged, sorted the laundry, helped put the clean laundry away, cleaned up the kitchen, and did several other normal chores. These kids lead busy lives. 🙂

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Occasionally it is tempting to feel bad that they aren’t doing “real” school, that our classroom in the basement sits unused. If they are working in their books they would rather do it by the fireplace or on the floor of their rooms. And when they aren’t, they are learning to use real money, to cook real meals, to buy groceries, to clean up after themselves, to love the Lord, to love each other, to serve one another, to help their neighbors, to deal with uncomfortable situations maturly, to perevere if they want to learn how to do something, how to get over their fears and solve problems. It might mean the house is messier than it would be if they spent their time working at the school desks doing “real” school, but all of our lives are richer and fuller because of it, they get to learn by living and grow in the process, they learn things you can’t get out of books–especially problem solving, how to be social in different settings, and develop character. They learn how to stay out of smoke, how to smother and build a fire, how to serve one another. Is my house a mess, more than likely. Is it worth it, absolutely.

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