This year we began our six-year-old’s first grade year in the shadows of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. Obama even made a cameo in a noisy helicopter in the sky.
Our kids are curious, inquisitive, self-motivated, and ahead of their grade levels in nearly every subject. We attribute this success to the way we homeschool them, which is what I want to share with you. We are by no means perfect (I am regularly tempted to quit homeschool altogether), but we keep working and we try to be consistent.
Last year I wrote that we homeschool because we think it is fun. That is still true, but my thoughts and feelings about homeschool have evolved and deepened this past year into a three-part family homeschool philosophy and mission.
Learning as a Way of Life
We want our kids to learn that learning is not just something you do when school is in session. Learning is something you do every day your entire life!
We don’t go on “field trips”. Instead, we are out in our community every single day talking to people, visiting interesting places, and playing outside. Opportunities to interact with the community and to learn are a way of life for us, not a special occasion.
My husband and I model learning as a way of life and share what we learn throughout the day with our children. We listen to podcasts and read interesting books. We look up answers to questions we have. We debate various philosophies and beliefs over dinner. This leads to interesting conversations and stimulates questions. Our kids learn right along with us!
Learning as a Family
We eat dinner together as a family every single night and talk about what we each did and learned and accomplished during the day. At bedtime we read classical literature to our kids and then my husband often spends another half hour talking to our six-year-old about whatever is on his mind. Those teaching moments comprise roughly 80% of our effective homeschooling time. My son learns more about astronomy, biology, geography, politics, and cultures as he lies relaxed in his bed than at any other time during the day.
A big part of learning as a family is slowing down and taking advantage of teaching moments everywhere we go. When we go to museums we take time to read plaques and signs together. We interact with the exhibits together and talk about what we find interesting. We don’t hustle the kids along when we go on walks. We let them look at every leaf, flower, and bird feather they find. We talk about what we see.
I enjoy learning things that I am interested in. I remember things better when they are relevant to my life and when I like the subject material. How about you?
For the most part, we let our kids decide what they want to learn. This works because we celebrate questions in our family and take advantage of teaching moments, even when inconvenient. For example, one morning my six-year-old wanted to help me make pancakes for everyone. I could have done it myself in 5 minutes, but I took the time to teach him how to do it instead. He learned about fractions that morning as he doubled the recipe and measured different ingredients into the mixture. After we ate our delicious pancakes, we sat down and I showed him how to add and subtract fractions since he was already interested in it. He eagerly learned how to do it and then he wrote some fraction problems for me to do. It was so fun (and delicious!) and so much more effective to teach him fractions when it was interesting and relevant to his life than it would have been at any other time.
Child-led learning means following the child’s passions and diving deeply into subjects they love. My kids are inexplicably interested in cold countries like Iceland and Russia, so we borrow books from the library about those countries. They saw fascinating mummies at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, and so now we are learning about Ancient Egypt. After our trip to Washington we got books about Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. The kids love learning about these great men because we saw their monuments and talked about them while we hiked all over the National Mall. When a child feels like they are in charge of their learning it’s amazing how much information they crave!
Your Homeschool Philosophy and Mission
Take a few moments this Fall to think about why you homeschool and what you want your kids to learn this year. Not just the academic points, but the life lessons and habits you want them to develop as a result of your homeschool efforts. Having a clear focus and mission will give direction to your homeschool and help you get through the days that are tough!