Changing Course

I thought I had our homeschooling plans loosely worked out for this year. But two months in, I’m tossing the plans aside and changing course.

When my oldest son was younger it took me a while to figure out how he liked to learn and what worked best for us. We tried a lot of things that made us both miserable. But eventually, our homeschooling focused on chronological history study as the foundation, with everything else growing out of that. Story of the World was our jumping off point. We loved the hands on activities, the discussion and questions at the end of each chapter, and, well, the stories. It worked well for us. We also used Oak Meadow from 5th grade through High School, and loved it for the same reasons — history, literature, hands on learning. It was comfortable for both of us. We were excited to learn together using these resources. We learned together at home and oldest son took classes of his choosing with our local (wonderful) homeschool group. Of course I thought I had it all figured out.

And now my youngest is seven. We don’t do much in the way of formal education in early years. It’s all about playing and learning from the world around us. We continue to do that in middle and later years too, but around the age of seven, we throw in some relaxed lessons as well. This was the year we were going to work on getting the seven year old comfortable writing, spend a little more time on science, and of course, dive into history study, using all the things that his older brother had loved. I got out SOTW, bought the activity books, prepared a timeline, and found some great videos and other books so that we could explore history even further. I was ready to set out following the same path that had worked so well before.

I think you can see where this is going.

Why was I surprised to find that what worked great for our oldest — our lover of books and history, mythology, world cultures and creativity — was not a good fit for our youngest — our lover of math and technology, science, symmetry, and building? I’m laughing at myself, at believing, just for a moment,  that I had come across a way of homeschooling that I could just pick up like a cloak and drape upon the shoulders of my youngest. I know — truly know — in my heart and mind that learning and education is not one-size-fits-all. There are as many ways to learn and be educated as there are people in this world. It’s why we homeschool. And yet, somehow, I fell back into the old “in the box,” “my way is the best way,” kind of thinking that I thought I had let go of.

Thankfully, my seven year old is one of my greatest teachers. From birth, my boys have shown me who they are and how they fit into this world and what they need and want to learn. I just have to remember to listen and not be afraid to let go of what (and when and how) “I” think they should learn.  And so I’ve tossed my plans, let go of needing to do things the way that worked best for our family in the past, and have decided to follow my seven year old’s lead.

Here’s what that looks like:

1.) Youngest son does not love history. He does not want to learn history in chronological order even though it makes the most sense to me, and his older brother enjoys it. Youngest does not like jumping from place to place and event to event in history based on where they fall on the timeline. He wants to go deeper. He wants to study one place or event from start to finish, read and watch everything we can about it, until he has had his fill and moves on to another place or event. Timeline, be damned! He wants to be able to study Ancient Greece one month and then move on to the Revolutionary War the next, if he so chooses.

So he’s picked a place — Japan — and we are jumping in to learn, together, everything we can about it….history, language, culture, holidays, current events, food/cooking. Everything. Until he is satisfied and ready to move on.

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2.) Youngest doesn’t love to read. I’m a reader and a published writer. I love words. Oldest son is also an avid reader. But youngest, though he can read, does not enjoy it at all. This one is hard for me. I don’t understand it. But at this point, it is who he is. He picks informational books that he will look through to gain tips for Minecraft or Pokemon. He’ll read through a magazine, skimming the pages for interesting tidbits. But that’s the extent of it for now, and that’s ok. We read together every day. I read aloud to him at bedtime and sometimes over breakfast. We connect through literature — some of which I suggest, some of which he picks out. We discuss what we read. I believe that he can be a lover of words and books, even if reading on his own does not appeal to him.

3.) Youngest loves computers and technology. He also, surprisingly to me, loves math. So, of course, he is all about Khan Academy. We practice math together through real life experiences like cooking and shopping, and through board and card games, and brainteasers. But he also enjoys sitting down with Khan Academy every day to work problems and master skills.

4.) Youngest is the most extraverted of our little family, but he’s still more introvert than party animal. I had so many classes planned for him to take this year with our homeschool group. I built my schedule around it. Some would be classes that I teach, some would be taught by others. I thought he’d be excited about the awesome offerings (who wouldn’t want to take a Mine Craft Build Lego class? Or a monthly homeschool class at the zoo?). But right now he says he’s needing to be home more. And so I’ve let him drop the one class he’d signed up for, stay home with his dad and brother when I go out to teach my classes, and choose what activities he wants to commit to for next semester.

Everything else just flows from the things we’re focusing on and how we’re spending our days. Science is being covered through videos we watch, experiments we do in the kitchen together, experiments we do with friends, and through books and discussion. Writing practice is done by writing things that are relevant to youngest — info from games, Christmas list, birthday cards to friends, Pokemon stats, etc. We play games, we explore our community, we pursue hobbies. It all comes together in a big healthy quilt of learning that feels natural and right, even without the comfort of a structured daily lesson list that I can check things off of.

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As parents we know that our children are individuals. We see it when we see them. And as homeschoolers (hopefully) we recognize that real learning can be nothing less than individualized. We have to be willing to drop our plans if they aren’t the best fit for our children. We have to be willing to let go of trying to fit our children into the way of learning that we prefer, or that older siblings preferred. We can (and should) embrace the beautiful flexibility that comes with learning at home and in the world.

Changing course is not a bad thing.

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