This week the Start Homeschooling Summit is live online and you need to register right now to get a whole load of free resources.I thought I would blog a little bit about homeschooling for those folk visiting us from around the world… We take a good chunk of summer off every year, a complete break from anything that looks like school, but we are about to head back into it and after weeks and weeks of hikes on the mountains and endless beach days, quite a few (not all mind you) of my students are eager to get back into a more regular routine.
How we do school and every single homeschool is as unique as its students. So this is what works for us, but each and every homeschool has to find their own rhythm and figure out what works for them… some folks school completely differently to how we homeschool and it works really well for them… explore, learn and figure out what works for you. It won’t always run smoothly, there will be good days and bad days, savour the good ones and rescue the bad ones with a pile of stories or time outdoors, and move on.
The back bone of our homeschool has been and will always be our Sonlight Library, basically each child begins at the bottom and read their way through it… while I read a lot of books to them, they are expected to do a lot of reading too. Up and up and up the shelves until they are done. It doesn’t matter what the season is, they read from the school shelf. It is a living bookshelf, that cannot be kept perfectly tidy… because books move off and on and round about this shelf on a daily basis. Reading is the key to our homeschool and by the time our kids are finished reading their way through this bookshelf they are ready to write their school leaver’s certificates without any other special preparation and they are good to launch. This doesn’t mean that all our children are exceptional readers, some of them have certainly had their reading struggles. For some kids reading is easy and they just power through the shelves and for others audible books have been key to their learning.
How We Homeschool Right Now…
- There is a Season for Everything: We have two very distinct (to me) seasons of school in our school year… During the school part of the year they do do math and language arts and fill in their journals and their nature notebooks, spend a ton of time outdoors and read and read and read… and during the un-schooling part of the year they tend to do pretty much the same except anything that might look like a workbook is completely ignored. Math for example, is replaced with boardgames and card games, other language arts is replaced by bananagrams and scrabble. To be honest, as homeschoolers there is very little distinction for my kids, between the school season and un-school seasons because they are learning all the time. Everything is some sort of lesson, whether they are taught it or not. Learning is a lifestyle and cannot be switched on and off. The biggest difference is really for myself… I need the distinction, I need the change and I need time to refresh and gather new inspiration, ideas and resources.
- Grab Every Opportunity to Get Outdoors: I firmly believe that none of us ever spend enough time outdoors and immersing our family in nature is the best way for our kids retain their curiosity about the great outdoors and life in general. I say yes to any opportunity to get outdoors. Even dragging our table outdoors for school on a beautiful day. Schooling under blue skies makes it totally worth it. I don’t actively seek adventures, somehow they come to us… Living on the slopes of a mountain, besides a beach helps for sure. But, be it a local park, or a game park, granny’s garden or the local nursery, there are plenty of ways to get outdoors… even a walk to the library is getting outdoors. Everyone feels better for it.
- Art is Just as Important as Math: I am more concerned that my kids learn to think creatively than they produce magnificent works of frameable art. So art at our house looks very much like a pile of accessible materials. The wandering of little minds as they become totally absorbed in making and creating means that art mornings form a large part of our school days. Materials are available, inspiration is strewn and they are left to create. You cannot expect children to become creative thinking grownups if they haven’t been creative thinkers from the start. Creative thinking takes hours and hours to develop, you can’t squeeze art into an hour once a week… it has to be more and it has to have a lot of time devoted to it. Which leads to…
- You Can Totally Say No to Extra-Murals in Primary School: When my kids are old enough to take themselves to their extra-murals then they are old enough to do them… in the ancient of times, when we had two or three kids I was totally sucked into all the marketing directed at anxious and guilt ridden new parents… my children would left behind, they would not have the same advantages as other children they knew… the list went on and on and on… the fact is, at the end of one school year we ended out extra murals and I just “forgot” to sign up again the next year. Of course our kids loved their extramural and learnt a lot through them, but we paid the price of free afternoons and younger siblings sitting for hours and hours in the car, driving to and fro and otherwise, waiting. Basically, children need to play. Of course they love being busy and engaged and fun activities and of course they will love all the funky extra-murals tossed onto their hectic schedule… But much like ice-cream, that they also love, they don’t need it every day. Children NEED to play. Without play they will not learn, they will not develop the skills they need to learn and they will not get ahead… So with at least one morning for getting outdoors and another spent on some sort of artiness… they find time to fit their school work into the other mornings. And their afternoons are free to play. The temptation to fill their afternoons with playdates since they don’t do extra-murals is always present. But the fact is kids need hours and hours to mull over what they have learnt and if their schedule is always jam packed then they never have time to put all the new skills and lessons into practice.
- What about a Second Language: Once our kids are in high school and they are old enough and able to walk to afternoon classes they do attend language lessons at a local language school. By the end of high school they are pretty fluent, they love it… they have had a chance to learn a new language and culture, make friends and speak a language together that neither of their parents are very good at. In fact it isn’t just about second languages, don’t be afraid to let your children try all sorts of weird and wonderful things. We believe that if our kids are old enough to organise themselves then they are pretty much old enough to pursue their passions. Our kids have enjoyed music, cooking, woodwork and all sorts of skills in their quest to learn more. But there is no rush and they certainly don’t have to have tried everything before they reach high school. It is in fact critical to us that our kids are able to organise their own calendars, and activities… it is required in day to day life and we are living real life over here.
- What About Learning Online: Our kids are growing up in a completely different world to the one we grew up in… they do not know a time when there wasn’t internet or touch screens. The one screen that your kids really don’t need in their lives is TV, and I know you do get very “educational programs” on tv and so many folk are always telling me about the good reasons why kids need tv, but actually, though it was never that intentional, our kids have grown up without TV… and no they aren’t culturally deprived, they just didn’t need it. That being said, your kids do need screen time and they do need to be learning online… they need to be fluent in working in an online classroom, it will enable them to study anything they would like to and when they would like to. You obviously cannot just drop your children in front of a computer with access to the internet… but by the time our kids are coming out the other side of middle school we expect them to have a good grasp of online learning. I am not the best teacher at this, so we have outsourced this and our middle/high school aged students attend classes at Impact Virtual, where they have studied, Digital Learning, Photography, Money Matters, World Literature and Shakespeare to name a few. If you are interested in the skills they have learnt there, pop over and look at the student work there… children that had no idea where to start on a computer, very quickly learn how to build a website, do research and present their results in a useful way. They love these classes and the work is a lot harder than they ever anticipate and they always have to raise their game significantly… this is a good thing. There is a lot to be said for homeschooling kids getting the opportunity to learn from someone who isn’t a parent.
- What About Working and School: One of our priorities for our homeschool is that our children leave home with some sort of work experience under their belt. Not to mention an whole collection of life skills. We encourage our kids to seek opportunities for them to work or volunteer, as soon as they can. From the moment they are able to, our children help with chores around the house… I firmly believe if they are big enough to unpack things then they are big enough to put them back. Being part of the team and household chores are all part of daily life and yes, there comes a time when chores are particularly uncool… jobs still need to be done and then our kids are lucky enough to have two grannies in Cape Town that need household help from time to time. They build the skills, and I will make sure they are rewarded with a day at grannies house to help her clean her home, wash windows, carry groceries, whatever is needed really. Volunteering is work and we take it seriously, planting gardens, beach cleanups and reading to small kids have all been volunteer projects our kids have enjoyed doing. In terms of real work experience, once they are sixteen our kids are eager to find job opportunities: online tutoring, helping on building projects, volunteering, looking after younger kids… these are all opportunities for your kids to get ready for the when they are no longer in school. They quickly realise which jobs are a good fit for them and which are definitely not.
- How Do We Finish School: This is one question we get asked a lot… and I have to say that the question totally consumed me for years… but now that we have two students finished with school, I am guessing that our other students will follow along similarly. The truth is that, while I don’t expect all our children will choose to head onto to tertiary education, I do want them to finish school with the necessary entrance requirements in hand, should they choose to study further they will be able to do so. In South Africa most Universities and Colleges now have their own entrance exams, regardless of the matric certificate your students hold in their hands. This means that your student will have to write and pass the entrance exams to any college or university they might choose to attend. Read the entrance requirements to local universities really carefully and then tick all the boxes. Right now a student can get into college with an SAT certificate and GED Papers. To get into University it helps their cause to have done a year of college studies or if they have been accepted into an overseas college… they don’t have to attend an overseas college, just submit the application and be approved. That is considered evidence enough that your student can achieve the required level of work. Basically… do your research, it is not nearly as hard to finish school as folk think it is.