"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Schedules and Blackboards

I'll admit it, a lot of mainstream articles tend to confuse me. I recently read this one, about designing a home school-friendly floor plan in your house, and I was left shaking my head (after I picked it up from my desk). It advocates school rooms and schedules, signs, announcements, and special posters. I can't help but wonder: If you do make the choice to home school, why on earth would you want to re-create the very place that you've decided to opt out of?

Here is a breakdown of some of the piece's key points, followed by what I would do differently:
Situate your home school in a dedicated space of your home. Turn a spare room or part of a guest room into a classroom.
Recognize that when you opt out of school, you've made the entire world your classroom. There is learning to be had in every room of your house... in the living room, in the kitchen, in the bedroom, in the bathtub, in the backyard. And that's just at home! There are parks and playgrounds, museums and libraries, lakes and forests, stores and post offices.  Learning.  Is.  Everywhere.
Hang a schedule of classroom hours to send a message to family members regarding your availability for non-school issues.
What happens if someone has a non-school issue during school time?  What happens if someone wants to learn something during non-school time?  What happens if someone has a non-school issue during non-school time, but you are still unavailable because you are busy planning for the inevitability of non-school issues disrupting your upcoming school time?

The beauty of being home with your kids is that you can be with them.  No need for schedules, no need for trying to divide your day into school and non-school hours.  You can curl up on the couch to read to a little one at 2 in the afternoon.   Or play blocks with a toddler at 10.  Or look through a microscope with a teenager at lunchtime.  Or watch a movie with your whole crew at 11.   Learning isn't something that happens between certain hours in certain places.   As a homeschooling parent, you have the unique opportunity to enjoy your kids, enjoy their company, and enjoy learning with them and from them as you go about your day.
Make the home school area attractive for you and for your students. Hang a bulletin board, large calendar and posters related to the courses you plan to teach.
Make your whole house attractive and interesting for you and your kids (and they're your kids, not your students)   Sure, hang a bulletin board if that's your thing.  Put up a calendar to keep track of play dates and baseball games.  Hang up a poster if someone wants one.  But forget about words like "courses" and "teach" and be with your kids!
Provide your student with a desk and a comfortable chair. Place a desk for yourself in front of the student's desk.
This one's a joke, right? Unless you're living in an old schoolhouse in an 1800's episode of Little House on the Prairie (in which case, I suppose you'd have bigger things to worry about) there is absolutely no need to think that a school desk plus a teacher's desk equals learning.  I understand that schools have limitations and need to do things a certain way.  I do.  But you made what one would hope would be a conscious, well-thought out decision not to send your child to school.  Why, with all the freedom that you've purposely gained, would you want to replicate the very thing you stepped away from?

And again, he or she is your child, not your student.
Use the worktable as a lunch table.
Or eat in the kitchen.  Or on the lawn.  Or in the tree house.   Or have a carpet picnic.  Or skip lunch altogether and make homemade ice cream.
Establish a library in your home school.
Books are great!  So this one I actually agreed with.  Until I got to:
Include grade-appropriate textbooks, fiction and non-fiction reading materials.
When you home school, you can remove the phrase "grade appropriate" from your vocabulary altogether.  When you're out of the school environment, grade levels and artificial age expectations no longer exist. You can pay no attention to recommended reading levels, and instead look to YOUR child.  What would he or she like to read?  Is he into Dr Seuss?  Does she like mysteries?  Do they enjoy books about history?  When you let your children follow their own unique interests and time-table, you eliminate the stress and frustration that comes with trying to conform to someone else's idea of what they should do when. 

Your seven year old might not be reading yet.  Your ten year old might be reading Chaucer.   Both are fine and normal!
Provide a break or recess area for you and for your student. Stock magazines, comic books and games to entertain during down time.
Do I really need to say it one more time?  It's your CHILD, not your student. 

And absolutely, get magazines if your kids like them.  Buy comic books, stock the shelves with games.  Fill your house with craft supplies, tools, science kits, building toys, DVDs, video games.  Recognize the recreation and the learning that is in all of the above.  But mostly make your home a safe haven... a place where your kids can be themselves.  Where they can play and grow and learn... in their own time in their own way.  A place where they feel engaged, confident, and loved.  Where they can make noise, make mistakes, and make a mess.  Where they are truly free.  Free to just..... be.

"What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn't a school at all."
John Holt

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