26 Oct Convince Me to Homeschool!
Written by Karen Schaefer Fecarotta
On that day I walked out of the library, I had no idea the book the librarian just handed me was going to change my life. I checked out Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read, write, count and investigate the world without being taught by John Holt based on the recommendation of my friend who was in her final years of homeschooling her two children. Discussing how children learn was nothing new to me; after all, I had been a high school English teacher. How could home education possibly be better than sending my child to school? I had spent years and thousands of dollars learning about teaching. What could Mr. Holt possible have to share with me? Little did I know the 162 pages would completely change my view on home-education!
The Kindergarten Dilemma
As my child approached Kindergarten, I was looking forward to going back to work and getting my child into school. Yet, I did not want to work full time or have my child in school all day at only five years old. My husband had been suggesting homeschooling for a year or so, but I wanted to get back to work! If I could just find a half-day program all our problems would be solved! But, I could not find any half-day Kindergarten where I lived. Maybe looking into this homeschooling idea would be worth it. And so I began reading Learning All the Time with a skeptical mind.
Philosophy of Education
When I was working on my undergraduate degree, I developed a philosophy of education. It was very much like what Holt describes in this book: meet the child where he is, let the learning be natural, and remember that children are born with a great desire to make sense of the world. My professors called this “child-led learning” which was a great buzzword, but much less practical in the classroom. Since being in the trenches of the public school classroom, I bought into this “child-led learning” my professors had discussed less and less. But, could Holt really be onto something? Maybe my view of child-led learning was more in line with Holt’s idea and less about the buzzword I had begun to dread. My philosophy of education was completely in line with Holt, but trying to execute that in a public classroom with 30 kids was not realistic. I could not sit down with each of them and gear the assignments to their level and interest. I would “teach to the middle” and hope for the best. Could I possibly have the mind of a homeschooler? Would I be wasting my education by teaching JUST my child? Oh, no, no, you see, Holt changed my selfish perspective (I must get back to work and use my education!). If I truly bought into my own ideals of teaching the student at his level, meeting his needs, and letting his natural curiosity lead his learning, than who better to be my student than my own flesh and blood? Would I be wasting my education on giving him less than MY best? He’d learned to walk, write his name, colors, letters, count to 20 and a host of other things and I never once “taught” him. It was just what we did.
Learning and Living
This is why Learning All the Time is so intriguing to me. Holt gives many examples of how simply through living a child learns. He shares ideas with the reader on how to engage in instruction, yet not in a dominating “I am the teacher” way, but with a gentle, natural approach. We often say kids are not “reading” unless they are saying the words on the page and with few errors. But isn’t “reading” looking at books when a child is just two? Isn’t doing math counting how many marbles you have? Few will sit down and think, “Today I am going to teach little Billy about counting. We shall count marbles.” Rather, it is just something that happens during the daily activities of living with a small child.
Holt often emphasizes letting the child come to terms with what he must learn in his own time. “They have to live with an idea or insight for a while, turn it around in some part of the their minds before they can . . . take possession of the idea . . . unless they do this, the idea will never be more than surface, parrot learning . . . “ (p. 25) In a classroom, this is not always an option. If it is time to learn the times table, it is time. A child cannot let the idea seep in his mind and mull it over while the class moves on without him. Well, he can, but if he has not grasped the idea, he is “behind”. When a child is homeschooled, the parent can cover multiplication for days and not see progress. So what? Often, just step back, work on something else and come back to it in a few weeks and see if the light bulb is lit. Meeting the child where he is and allowing his brain to fully embrace new ideas, even if it takes time, will always benefit the child. Once he is ready for the skills, mastery will come much more quickly.
Knowledge and Trust
Holt’s book is divided into sections such as “Reading” and “Math”. If you need ideas for math, you can jump right into that section. In the beginning of the math section, I appreciate what Holt says about learning versus knowing: “It is important to think in terms of “knowing” the tables not “learning” them.” (p. 60) This goes back to teaching our child how to speak. We do not sit down with our child and say, “Today’s lesson on speech is ball.” and proceed to say ball 100 times and see how many times our child can say ball in 60 seconds. Instead, children know what a ball is because parents will name the object in context: “Sarah, get the red ball.” Sarah brings the red ball over to her father and he says, “Oh, thank you for bringing me the ball.” Yet, so often, we teach math in isolation with worksheets and memorization, especially in schools. A home educator can take his child to the grocery store and say, “We have six pieces of fruit: three apples and three oranges. Six is two sets of three.” I do not believe neither Holt nor I are saying just approach math in a totally organic way as we do speaking, but in daily living it is easy to incorporate lessons in such a way that meets the child where he is and exposes him to new ideas or skills and then allow him to run it around in his brain.
Holt also spends time discussing the relationship between the child and teacher. Trust is at its core and as a child trusts you, learning from you is easier. I know there are countless wonderfully loving educators in schools, but no one will ever love and care for your child like you. The constant of a parent as a parent and educator builds on that trust; a parent can trust himself when he feels he is pushing his child too much or not hard enough. It is a two-way street.
After reading Learning All the Time, I came to believe that homeschooling was the best choice for my family (so my husband was right all along). I began to see it as an extension of my parenting- why do I need to turn my child over to the “experts’ for instruction in reading, writing and math, when for his first five years I had been there as he learned to speak, count, read simple words and write his name? I truly believe that children, just as adults, are learning all the time. We all simply need the time and attention to be able to figure out the world in ways that makes sense to us without the restraints of a one-size fits all learning.