Thursday, 3 June 2010

Ok, not 'what do you do', but 'how do you do it?'

So, how DO you home educate three very different children who are at three very different stages of development, with very different needs and an unpredictable, sulky and disorganised mother?

The truth is, I don't know.

For a while, when I had a baby, a toddler and a young child, it was horrendous and to be honest no observable home education took place (although miraculously lots of learning did). Then, finally, when I had a 5, 7 and 10 year old, it became manageable: the youngest was old enough not to be a constant drain, the 7 and 10 year old were reasonably interested in some things some of the time and we could do stuff, whatever that 'stuff' was.

But now I have a 6 yr old girl who is very precise about what she will and wont do, an 8 year old boy who is at the right age to be led to the water to drink, but is lacking from maternal time and focus to feed the sponge-brain, and I also have a slightly sulky, show-off, but lovely really, 11 year old teen-child who is beyond being 'led' to the water to drink and wants everyone to know it.

As a friend of mine said - as soon as you focus on one child and take your eye off another they stop thriving. It's true. I am constantly flickering like a manic torch from one child to another trying to fulfil unmet needs (or work out what those needs might be), while putting the others on hold.

Now if I was a rigid, non-autonomous, or even slightly more structured home educator, then perhaps it would be easier. But though I like the idea of routines, somehow, according to some unwritten law, my routines, systems, timetables, plans etc always go udders-up. Sometimes it is because my stubborn group of goats are digging their hoofs in and refusing to budge. And often it is because of my inability to screen out all the other distractions of life. I I really want to supervise, half an hour of maths, half an hour of literacy, half an hour of French etc especially when it takes certain children exactly 1.5 hours to find a pencil, sharpen it, lose it, break it and go looking for another pencil, then lose the piece of paper, tip over the chair, feel hungry, raid the kitchen, then burst into tears when I ask them why they haven't written anything... No this is not what I want.

But neither can I, with my natural unpredictable personality, easily accommodate total autonomous education. I don't want to be on call 24/7, ready and willing to be interrupted (whatever I'm doing) and keen to provide an answer to a question, help to make a cardboard looroll tower, fix the pc, find a missing jigsaw piece, play snap, make chocolat muffins with a child (arggh!), discuss whether Roman Centurians wore underwear, buy wax for candlemaking, or play football. I like my children to discreetly disappear for at least part of the day, so that I can have some semblance of a life. GIVE ME A MINUTE, I'M THINKING! is a common phrase that emits from my lips. Is that too much to ask? I mean, even in paid employment it is a legal requirement to have a break during a working day.

Anyway, a while back I came across this article about Eclectic Home Education, which is a way of describing that place on the spectrum between autonomous and non-autonomous. And the article struck a familiar chord with me. Of course I aspire to have wonderfully autonomously-educated children, but I just can't seem to achieve it. It's not through lack of trying, or even lack of not trying. And I have for the most part deschooled now (apart from the occasional psychotic twitch).

Anyway, here is an excerpt from the above article:

"Our detour into "school at home" nearly derailed us entirely as homeschoolers. By the time all was said and done, I was ready and willing to send my kids to school, any school, just so long as I no longer had to be responsible for their education. Disillusioned and weary, I was completely confused about homeschool in general, and my own methods of homeschooling in particular.

Right about now I hear the chorus of voices crying, "Unschool! You needed to unschool! Relax and let life take over and allow things to proceed naturally. Allow your children to be responsible for their own education!"

But the problem was I had tried unschooling. While it may be natural education for many, for my family it was a natural disaster. I am not by nature an interactive person. People, including my own children, get in the way of thinking and creating. I begin writing, and everything else goes out the window. The house is a mess; the kids are unwashed and unfed. My husband wonders if and when his wife will check back in. It's not natural for me to focus on providing educational and learning moments for my children any more than it's natural for me to stop and clean the toilet the first or fifth time I notice, vaguely, it needs scouring.

Nor am I able to leave my own pursuits and follow someone else's at the drop of a hat. That sort of demand tends to make me cranky. My kids, curious as they are, given the choice to be responsible for their own education would quickly choose Lego blocks and computer games over biographies of great world leaders. In short, nothing about me or my family translated well into an unschooling lifestyle.

In my desperation and guilt--after all, I'd now failed at two of the "best" methods of homeschooling, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum - I took Hermione's advice and went to the library...

...And when I was done, I had drawn what was for me a clear generalization of unschoolers. Most folks who adhere to a true or complete unschooling method are naturally outgoing, with entrepreneurial personalities. They're organized and scheduled from within, not without. Me, if I don't draw up a schedule for basics like housework and cooking, they never get done. If they're not highly scheduled people, unschoolers are flexible, able to go with the flow, adapt their course and accomplish necessary tasks without a schedule. (See above comment on my life without a schedule.) In many ways, I believe unschoolers are born, not made. And the evidence from my life and my five years of homeschooling was irrefutable: I was not born an unschooler...

...My trip back to the homeschool drawing board took well over a year. In the end, as is usual for such trips, I wound up about where I began. A little higher up the spiral, and a little more confident of my decision to honor my own personality and my children's, more certain of my ability to create a method of homeschooling that fit my family's individual learning styles and beliefs.

...Despite conventional wisdom, unschooling isn't the answer for all homeschoolers. Most families better define their method of homeschooling along a spectrum than in a box. Many unschoolers use curriculum here and there with their children; many structured schoolers study at least one or two subjects that are completely driven by the child's interest. There's no shame in not unschooling, and there's nothing wrong with not using a school-from-a-box program. The only shame is when homeschoolers are left feeling like they are less than other families because they follow a different path for their learning adventure."


Carol said...

Did you write this post or was it me...? Sounds like something I would have written!

I always think everyone else has got it sorted and I'm the one losing sleep. waking up i a cold sweat worrying that J at 9 can't write very well or that S, 13, desperately wants to do more practical science than I have the energy to organise.

But there are eureka moments - days when things happen and you realise they ARE learning and developing. What frustrates me is that most of my sense of inadequacies come from that spectre of "the system" that's always in the back of my mind. What would they be doing at school? etc.....I know it's all rubbish but I can't completely shake it off. If that wasn't there.............things would be so much easier.

Oh, and I'm glad to know that I am not the only disorganised mother who's only hope of getting through any tasks in the day requires copious list making.

Now where's that pen and paper.......?

Grit said...

that's a useful article, thank you.

handling different age children sounds pretty tough. at least in the early years i could go for the volume approach!

now, i am definitely one foot in both camps. tiger would probably take to an autonomous route, and she gets more freedom than the other two, but i simply cannot go there fully: shark likes a plan and makes timetables for herself.

i look at it like a schedule and a plan keeps me sane, keeps me involved, organises the week, and helps make sense out of chaos.

say what, we could make that type of compromise living into a life lesson too, eh?

Big mamma frog said...

Carol, yes I think so much of it is the expectations ingrained in us from our own schooling. These are then topped up with external reminders from well-intentioned, family, friends, neighbours, or the media, who feed into our fears about how good we are at parenting and whether our children will be happy and successful in the world. No matter how illogical the thoughts are, or how much we try to squash them down, they still bubble up!

I do feel like I'm constantly trying to get it 'right' for all the kids all of the time, which is probably near impossible!

I suppose at least you have the benefit that your kids have tried school, so you do know that school isn't always the wonderful thing it's made out to be!

Grit, yeah, I'm guessing that managing same-age children with home education has advantages and disadvantages. But as you say, even with same-age kids you are still trying to cater for different personalities and learning styles.

MadameSmokinGun said...

There's just no such thing as THE WAY. I have no idea what I'm doing (other than very little) - but I'm happier with that than when I tried to control things and was met with incredible resistance. They have bursts of interest in things that take me by surprise but most of the time I think they will simply end up working in McDonalds. Weirdly tho', I don't seem to care.

I have always felt that what held me back so much from following a fruitful path was my parents' attitude of having that old chestnut: Something To Fall Back On. At the moment 3 out of 4 dream - no - PLAN to be sports stars, and the other one IS GOING TO BE a rock star. I am very happy with that. If they don't make it, it won't be because I have chipped away at their self-confidence from the start. As far as I'm concerned these are ambitions to be taken seriously, not pie-in-the-sky.

Academic stuff can just clog the pipes I reckon. Most people I know who left home to go to college did so to LEAVE HOME. That was the driving force.

And the being graded - from age 4 now, right up to end of college days, doesn't make any real sense to me. I know I have given up things I was 'no good at' that I actually enjoyed. Is that successful education?

Taking professional golfers as an example - there are plenty out there who don't win tournament after tournament but who still make a great living, have a lovely time, still do their best each day to improve but are they 'winners' in the eyes of others? If they are having a nice life then YES. This applies to anything really. You don't have to be the top of the class all the time to be a worthy person. But this seems to be at odds with our society's perception of 'success'. To be a Successful Parent our children must have pieces of paper with A on it to prove it. This is never going to happen in this house for sure.

Having said that we have lots of pride in medals and little trophies - but these are looked at as reminders of a good day - when things went great. Not as judgements on their abilities and personalities and 'worth' in general.

OK - shutting up.