Homeschooling is an unusual worldview unto itself, one that deserves to be held up and examined. I wish deep in my bones that more parents would take a moment to try it on and see how it fits for their children. Homeschooling is something that can be tailored to fit beautifully, remarkably. Homeschooling can change lives for the better. Oh gosh, I think I'm becoming the homeschooling zealot that I did not want to be! Actually, I'm very good about keeping a lid on the boiling pot and not letting too much steam loose. I just close my eyes and wish really hard about it for some kids that I meet along the way.
I am deep into the following book right now and cannot express how timely its arrival on my doorstep has been. Silly, but I nod my head enthusiastically while I'm reading each paragraph and feel like breaking out all the highlighters in the house, just like in college. The authors words ring true and crystal clear for me - they resonate deeply and are dancing a mighty jig with my beliefs about homeschooling. Can you hear the clickety-clacking?
by Laura Grace Weldon
What caught me was the title: Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. That's where it began. I learned about the book on a secular homeschooling website, http://www.secularhomeschool.com/. Free and range are buzz words in my world lately. I happen to be interested in the plight of chickens in the food industry and think they deserve better from humankind (kind in this context is an oxymoron, isn't it?) Over the summer we've raised eleven chicks from the day-old stage to sixteen weeks and almost laying (another month or so before we see those eggs) and I made sure to give them ample space to do chicken stuff. They peck the day away happily, at least what I would call happily. Who knows how a chicken thinks, but the ladies seem about as happy as I can anthropomorphise them to be. I like that they have freedom to move about and follow their avian instincts to their heart's content. I like that they are not restricted to a tight structured way of life. I know it is the right thing to do and that's why I do it. My husband always says, "do the right thing and the right thing will happen". That's a grand philosophy of life and I'll pull it from my back pocket as often as I am able.
So, I have happy chickens. Which leads to thoughts about other areas in our life, like homeschooling. Can this same idea be applied here? Do I have a happy kid? Not giddy, silly happy, but content, secure happy. Not always happy, but happy much of the time. Kids do need structure for a sense of security, this I believe; they also need it to keep them safe, no doubt. Within those walls of structure though, can they be turned loose to follow their curiosities, their inclinations, their developing interests? Can we parents back off and turn into guides rather than leaders? Read what Laura Grace Weldon has written and give this concept some time to percolate.
Last year was a free-for-all learning fest. We read about math, but didn't do much math. We read umpteen books from the library about anything Max wanted to. We played lots of games. We did several unit studies based on his interests (all of which are detailed in the blog - click on the 'Unit Studies' link over there on the left), or what he thought he was interested in. Sometimes after starting something he proved not to be so interested and we changed course. We were all over the map and I have to admit that it went against my desires for a structured workbook curriculum and set-order-of-events type of schooling that I thought was the best course of action. This was evidence of my schooling days rearing its ugly head, telling me that I was miles from my comfort zone without a GPS. Things like drill work, worksheets, memorization, rote learning, outlines, flowcharts, deadlines, papers due, muckety muck. How much of what I learned in that manner do I remember?? Very little, if any. Yet, I worried about it constantly, if we were doing the right thing. What if he had to go back to regular school? What if he fell behind his public school peers in math? What could I do given the fact that he hated to write things down, did not like to be faced with pen and paper unless it was to draw? Should I force him to write against his will? Was he playing me to try and assert some independence, or did he really not like to write? What about multiplication? Don't all fourth graders nail down their facts? Would this mess him up considerably when we hit the algebra stage?
My mind was a raging battle unto itself. How the heck did I know if what we were doing was beneficial? I did know a few things. I knew that he loved to be read to and would beg me to get the books out so he could build forts in the same room. So, was this him just wanting to build forts? We read some sixty books last year in that manner. His vocabulary has improved dramatically and I experience a kind of jolt when I hear him use certain words - like, 'where the heck did he come up with that one?' jolt. I saw his conceptualization and spatial realization of world geography improve considerably via some of the games we played. I saw his anxieties about learning decrease and his curiosities increase. I saw him relax into the rhythm of his days and read with cats sprawled across his lap. I saw a well-rested child with much to content himself with. Lo and behold, we were on to something!
But still my brain said, "he needs more structure. He needs a curriculum to follow for next year." Over the summer I found a curriculum that I thought suitable, and I still really like it. It's the Connect the Thoughts curriculum and we are currently using pieces of it successfully. He is also taking two online classes in history. I find us slipping back into the way we did things last year, though - wanting to read more, play more games, explore more and head to the library, the museum, the zoo or wherever. Maybe because it feels right. Maybe because it's the right thing to do. Maybe because free range leads to the right thing happening.
Ms. Weldon's book is just what the doctor ordered. It is one of the most valuable contributions to the homeschooling movement that I have read to-date. Please, if you can, get your hands on a copy and read it cover to cover. Then read it again. It may help change your worldview and then some. Hooray for free range chickens, for free range learning, and for M&M's (which I'm eating right now mixed with salted cashews!) Try that, too.