Friday, November 21, 2008

It's really happening

This week I have realized that slowly but surely, we are becoming the Real Learning family that I always hoped we would be. Elizabeth, and others, assured me that it would happen with time, but for so long it has been hard to see the big picture evolving as I have been dealing with the details. Homeschooling is a joy, and it is as easy as breathing, it is all just flowing naturally.

Let me give a few examples:

1. After some reflection I realized that even in colder weather my kids need plenty of time outside. With the advice of a cousin who lives in New Hampshire, I put out a big bin of hats and mittens and hooks for coats, got the kids nice warm boots and started sending them out every morning. Yesterday I decided to join them outside where I found that they have been spending their time raking the leaves into huge piles to jump into. The older kids have taught the younger kids how to use the rakes and snow shovels to build the piles.

2. Today one of the twins woke up with a stomach bug. Instead of freaking out, I took clean sheets from the closet and tucked him into a clean bed, and then we moved our "learning" operation upstairs. Some children colored or worked on handwriting books, I read aloud for a while, we all took turns petting the sick child and bringing him sips of water, I did a lesson from the religion book. Almost every week, everything on my school "to-do" list gets checked off, even though we rarely have the whole gang assembled "classroom" style anymore.

3. Everyone adores the baby, and looks forward to the new one. H has made an activity of crossing off calendar days until the due date, and first thing in the morning she tells me how many more days we have to wait.

4. We are up to a Human Body unit in the science text, so I got a great DK Encyclopedia on the subject and just left it around. Every few hours, a curious reader announces a fact to me (Mom, did you know that asparagus can turn your urine green?!) or shows me a gross picture of a dust mite or something.

5. In general, our greatest joy is to sit by the fire and read in the afternoon or evening. We just finished reading My Father's Dragon, and whenever I mentioned reading another chapter the children would shout with joy and come running to the couch.

6. They have become "pen pals" with grandmother, and PT will write a few pages without complaining if he is responding to one of her letters. I am hoping to use this to bridge him to other ways to write for pleasure as a way to strengthen both handwriting and language arts skills.

There is such joy and freedom in this way of learning and teaching. It is very flexible, but there is also a plan in place so that I know that nothing is slipping through the cracks. I have learned to trust myself and the children enough to know that school does not look the same every day or week, and it will look very different for the next few months with a newborn in the house, Advent and Christmas work to do, Dad home for a few weeks, but it is beautiful and they are really learning.

In the past, I felt fine about teaching preschool this way, but I was concerned about what would happen when some of my children were really school age. The answer is that my second grader and kindergartener are at or above grade level in all subjects and that they love to learn, which is the most important thing.

To those who consider homeschooling, I will say that the hardest part is no "time off" from the kids -- something that is true when you have children who are younger than school age, anyway. This year, my mother in law has been coming once a week so that I can go to the doctor or do errands. This has been an invaluable contribution to our home life. Part of the reason that I could handle this morning with a good attitude was knowing that she would be arriving this afternoon to take over for a few hours -- I will go to the pediatrician and the OB with two kids, but it will still be a "break" for my spirit. If you don't have a family member who can do this, I think even arranging a trade off with another homeschooling family so that you have an afternoon off every other week would be a good start.


Right Said Red said...

The picture you paint of your family learning is incredible. I hope we have that here someday!

I'm only homeschooling a pre-school child, but I already completely understand the "no break" thing. I become very crabby without some time to myself. We have a sitter who comes 1 time per week, and it really helps with my sanity. While I often take the baby with me on errands, it is nice to divide and concur for a few hours.

Juris Mater said...

MaryAlice, praise God! What a blessing for you to be able to see the fruits of your loving labor unfolding before your eyes. Aren't these graces along the way so sweet? A special gift to give thanks for this Thanksgiving season!

MargaretJDmom said...

Mary Alice,
Could you elaborate on the resources that led you to make your decision to homeschool in this way? I am thinking about getting Elizabeth Foss' book Real Learning. We used to have the kids in a Montessori school and have moved to a new town and now have a traditional classroom setting that is just OK. I am getting more interested in Charlotte Mason/ real learning things. I am curious as to why you picked that over a more classical curriculum- i.e. Laura Berquist. Thanks!

Catherine said...

Thanks for the encouraging post! I'm a new reader to this blog and am enjoying it. I have a kindergartener as well and while we started with a classical classroom ideal in mind, the "real learning" model works much better because it is so flexible and positive. I'm happy things are going well for you.

Anonymous said...

As much as I love the idea of homeschooling, I also like the reality that my children get out into the world and are accountable to other adults as well as my husband and myself. Please I don't mean to start a debate on whether to homeschool or not. I don't have the temperment or desire to homeschool.

Mary Alice said...

Margaret, I am giving this a little bit of thought and will get back to you soon!

MargaretJDmom said...

No hurry Mary Alice! You've got a lot on your plate and with my husband being deployed and another on the way I won't be doing any homeschooling till next fall!! Thanks!

texas mommy said...

Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, MA. I have been pretty gung-ho about homeschooling for awhile, but definitely have some anxiety that I will either be so overwhelmed that I cease to function or will become tied to a curriculum that I lose part of the reason that I am homeschooling in the first place. Your words are inspiring and reassuring. It also reminds me that thinking back over our day is important to remember and notice the wonderful things that I may have missed in the rush to feed/clothe/change kids.