Homeschooling – How on earth?

Heading into the world of homeschooling, I discovered it was full of many different methods and philosophies – quite mind-boggling for a beginner.  It reminds me of how overwhelmed I felt as a new mum – schedule/no schedule?  Sleep in their cot/ sleep in your bed? etc etc.

I found it fascinating reading about autonomous learning, or unschooling, where you let your child decide what to learn according to their interests.  I enjoyed looking through the many very beautifully put-together curricula (is that the plural?!) where practically everything is done for you, you simply get on with the learning!  I was quite taken with the idea of Five in a Row, where you read an excellent book for five days and study different aspects of the book each day, ie maths, literacy, social, science.  All these came at a cost however.

I didn’t really want to spend too much money (Bertie didn’t have regular employment at that point) and I also found it frustrating that the different options were all so American-based, as that is where the majority of homeschoolers are.  In the end, I purchased an English/Maths workbook and LissaLou and I worked through it on and off, otherwise using resources around us, such as library books and things online.  We were quite flexible with our days, and had plenty of ‘field trips’, making the most of our free museums and parks and Bertie unusually being at home in term-time!  At 6, 4 and 2, LissaLou did the most work, CassCass mainly learnt to read (with very little help from me!) and JoJo went from one tantrum to the next and struggled through potty training!  I also kept detailed notes for the first two years which have been interesting to read through, reminding me of the highs and lows of that time.

I can’t remember when I stumbled upon the Charlotte Mason philosophy in amongst all my reading.  It was one that appealed to me, as this English educator encouraged amongst other things starting formal learning later (about 6 years old), learning through reading excellent books and getting the child to narrate them back, short lessons (10 minutes!) and enjoying the outdoor world.  One of her principles is that we learn excellence by looking at excellence, and I find that this applies to so many aspects of life.  Want to learn to do something well?  Go learn from the best!

I hadn’t really wanted to be too rigid in our learning, as that seemed too much like school and I like the idea of a free and easy life!  However, as I began to reflect, it struck me that firstly, if I don’t plan, things simply don’t happen.  Furthermore, I am naturally a structured person – I love having lists and ticking them off!  Finally, the children really seem to benefit and feel more comfortable with structure and routine in our life.  I have also been musing on the fact that living a free and easy life doesn’t necessarily help with learning discipline and the habit of seeing something through to its conclusion.  I love Charlotte Mason’s description of the educator’s job as putting a feast in front of a child and letting them taste as much as they are able from each dish; some take more, some take less, but they have all had the opportunity to taste of a broad and generous range of dishes made of excellent quality.  Taking the idea further, I guess such a feast does not just ‘happen’, plenty of preparation is involved!

As a result, I decided this year to actually follow a curriculum at long last!  But not one I had to buy, and one that I could still play around with to personalise it for us.  I opted for a mixture of two of my favourite homeschooling sites: Ambleside Online and Charlotte Mason Help.  These are such great resources, even if you don’t follow their curriculum or indeed homeschool, and we have so enjoyed all the new books we have discovered through them.  In addition, we have had a checklist up on the wall for LissaLou to tick off as we go along, and I suspect she has the same list-ticking tendencies as her mother!  It is certainly very encouraging to see  all that we have accomplished and get an idea of what remains to be done.  Or am I the only one who prefers to see the entirety of a mountain to be climbed, rather than getting to what I thought was the top and discovering there’s a whole new section of mountain to manage?

I do feel for LissaLou as, in true first-born style, she has been something of the guinea pig in all this.  Ironically, if I had been where I am at in my thinking now when I first started with her, I would have held her back in starting formally for a lot longer.  But it takes confidence to wait, and it is hard to combat the belief that we should have pages of filled-in sheets to show that we have been doing something, even if hands-on or mental work is actually so much better!  (The CM term is ‘busywork’ and I can see what she means…!)  CassCass is now 6 and definitely does less, but what she does is so much richer and more effective.  Ah well, we can only learn and gain confidence through experience, and LissaLou has definitely had the advantage of more one-to-one attention as well as having read so many great books with me!

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