Saturday, February 9, 2013

In Pursuit of the True, Good and Beautiful

By the time Emma was three, my husband and I were quite certain we would be homeschooling.  It could very well have been earlier, as I do not remember a definite point when we decided this was our direction.  Certainly by the time she was three I was already reading homeschooling blogs, homeschooling books, and pondering deeply what it means to be an educated person.  I was fortunate to find some wonderful homeschooling blogs and to fall in with a group of intelligent homeschooling mothers who met regularly at a park.  Here I listened as moms chatted, helped each other, and thoughtfully considered various educational ideas, materials and opportunities.  I was edified and encouraged in my pursuit of the true, good and beautiful, challenged, as the saying goes, to light fires rather than fill buckets.  

And then I moved.  

I still had all my wonderful blogs, but I became acquainted with a different type of homeschooler.  The focus for this type of homeschooler is to just get stuff done.  Follow a program, fill out the pages, and get it done.  No pondering resources, designing and tweaking programs, trying to choose just the right book for a time period or subject...  all those conversations and thoughts I love.  Granted, this type existed where I lived before, but since I was so immersed in the other conversations, I never really took much notice.  And don't get me wrong - some of these families have become friends, good friends even - and I am not trying to denigrate what they are doing in their families.  But it is a method I cannot embrace because I do not think it brings my family closer to the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Cindy Rollins recently tossed off a wonderful tip on her blog that encapsulates how I feel about this approach.  As a long time homeschooler with a number of homeschool graduates under her belt, she can look about her and speak with wisdom and courage.
Here is a hint for homeschooling: Only use workbooks to save time for better things.  Workbooks should buy you time; if they do not, get rid of them. They are not worth it. Do you want your child to build up moment after moment of workbook pages over the course of their short time at home or moments of the true, good and beautiful?  It is appalling for me to see that whole methods of homeschooling are built around filing workbook pages for the year.  Here there be dragons.  Efficiency is not your friend and never will be if you are pursuing a classical, Christian or Charlotte Mason education.
This is why I spend hours reading out loud to my children every day.  (Have you listened to Andrew Pudwea's talk, Nurturing Competent Communicators?  If you haven't - do it now!  It is excellent! - follow the link, sign up for a free login, and go to their free downloads page - or go here to listen in the browser)  This is why we read only good books and we spend a lot of time in narration and discussion.  This is why we don't do canned and formulaic writing assignments.  This is why we have a morning time filled with readings from all sorts of wonderful sources - from the Bible to poetry to music - as well as recitation.  I want those short moments to be filled with living ideas that spark living thoughts and living connections, not read this dull paragraph, fill in the blank, finish the sentence, and circle the right answer.  


  1. Amber, do you ever have trouble with the kids not wanting to listen to the read-alouds? I'm running into that with Jonathan. Even when he chooses the book, he loses interest quickly and wants to read comics or just play. School of any sort is an ongoing fight (not sure if you've dealt with that, either?) and while I lean toward a child-led approach, I'm about to tear my hair out because this child simply doesn't want to do ANYTHING!

    1. I do let kids play quietly with Legos, draw, knit, or do other (quiet!) things while I read. So long as the crash! bang! is kept to a minimum, I don't feel like I am shouting to make myself heard, the other kids are able to listen, and the kids can all still narrate, I give them some freedom of movement. They get one warning, then they are in time-out where they can still hear reasonably well but have nothing to play with. This might be on a certain chair or in the downstairs shower, depending on how annoyed I am. :-) The kids generally all love to listen to me read though. I probably read between 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours a day, and they would like me to read more. I know I have a hard time just sitting there listening to a book (even one I want to hear) so I have a lot of sympathy for the desire to be doing something. When Matt reads aloud in the evening, I am usually folding laundry, sweeping, or knitting. I would have a really hard time just sitting there. BTW, in Pudwea's talk he mentions this issue and says pretty much the same thing.

      And yes, I do have one who doesn't want to do quite a bit, or at least do it particularly well. This one would rather spend her entire life in her room, listening to audiobooks, drawing never completed pictures, knitting never completed projects, futzing with this and that, or just simply staring at the wall. :-) GACK! Drives me crazy.

      What has ended up working best is a very structured part of the day where I am driving the agenda with short lessons, then lots of completely unstructured time later in the day. This structured time started out small (like an hour and a half or so), and has gradually expanded to about 3 1/2 hours (not consecutive) over the last 2 1/2 years that I've been doing it this way. I still really have to keep a close eye on her, otherwise it will all drag out and it makes us both really frustrated. In her unstructured time, I do make her go outside for awhile in the afternoon, but otherwise I place no restrictions on what she does or doesn't do. Even if I would like her to just finish something already! *grin* The boys thrive on this sort of arrangement as well. I only expect about 45 minutes from Nathan, and about an hour fifteen from Gregory. This doesn't include read-alouds - it is math, copywork, reading practice (or independent reading and narration for Emma), narrations, and foreign languages (for Emma) - the more hands on stuff.

  2. Your mystery child ;) who stares at the wall and starts projects never to be completed sounds an awful lot like I was. (Still am, perhaps...?) Sigh...