Posted in education, extraschooling, Home

This Eclectic Life

Which way do you like to homeschool?

I’m still working on fully defining this for myself – and it could prove ever-changing, since homeschool allows for, and even breeds, such evolution. We certainly fall under eclectic, meaning I pull from many different resources and methods to sculpt something that fits us. I would say my style is probably a blend of three main types: traditional, unschooling, and interest-led.

As a homeschool/unschool graduate myself, it might strike some as odd that I have an element of the traditional in me, but I do. I am the offspring of teachers, so perhaps it is in my blood – or an unconscious nod to how permeated our culture is with a certain concept of what “school” looks like… Or maybe it simply speaks to my personality. Whatever it is, I both like and feel the need (which I don’t always like) for some structure, some bookwork, and a little grind-it-out mentality.

However… I also struggle with how stifling open-and-shut projects and ideas can be. I prefer to learn and teach in an organic, exploratory fashion. If you ever pick up an Extraschooling book, you will find the essence of what I enjoy. Something will come along and catch my interest, which will remind me of something else, which will inspire me to share some knowledge, and then we’ll be off down some rabbit hole on an adventure. Those books show the paper version of so many explorations we’ve undertaken. In fact, I’ve often said my son would make a perfect unschooler. He has such a boundless curiosity and the enthusiasm to see it through.

But… I can only venture just so far into the unschooling world myself. While I think it can be an amazing way to learn that has the potential to build skill sets hard to achieve many other ways, it has its downfalls as well. As much as anything, I have struggled with some of the community. For a philosphy that begs to have a very relaxed mindset, I have often found it anything but, and I struggle when it gets taken to the extremes, as I feel boundaries, rules, expectations, and so forth can be helpful for all of us.

I probably find it the most comfortable to settle into the notion of an interest-led approach. This is a bit separate from the term child-led, however. Education in this house is a joint venture; I certainly learn as much as he does, and we dive into our schooling side by side. I love helping him explore his passions, but I think it’s important to share my own, too, as well as those of others, so that he has a treasure trove of ideas to enhance his current collection. This also goes along with the concept that we don’t know what we don’t know; my dad always talked about the benefits of exposure to a wide array of topics, and I now subscribe to that wholeheartedly myself.

…Which can then lead back to some traditional studies. And so the circle keeps on going round.

A hard part about all this is finding the right community, as I don’t quite seem to fit in most that I’ve tried. I like to walk the middle of the road much of the time and keep my options open. I also struggle with social media – when we aren’t face-to-face, and when we are typing rather than speaking, much can get lost – and then take a turn for the worse. With all this in mind, I’ve decided to take the plunge and create a community of my own. Want to come along for the adventure?

Let’s build an open, friendly, safe space to share in each other’s journey. The Extraschooling Community Support group on Facebook has just launched and is open to everyone who joins in their child’s education – and especially to all the folks who are almost-not-quite-ish, un-label-able sorts. Let’s celebrate this eclectic life together!

Posted in education, extraschooling, Home

Curious Minds

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How important is curiosity to you?

I have said before that, for me, it might be at the top of the list of the 4 C’s. It is such a vital element of how we learn around here, with a question or hypothesis launching an exploration into new terrain. I have also named it as the first word I think of to describe my son; his mind is always rolling over the possibilities in anything he comes across.

But is this the case for everybody? It doesn’t quite seem so. Much has been said, in one forum or another, about whether public school crushes innate curiosity in children. I think it can, but it doesn’t have to. There are various factors that can lead to its diminishment, but none are a definite death knoll. I’ve seen some parents say their children simply aren’t curious by nature, and perhaps that is possible. I have a feeling though that curiosity is a pretty innate drive in us, as it is one of the forces that led to all the great discoveries and inventions that humankind is known for, and spurred us to ask some of the fundamental questions of life, such as. “Is that edible?” and “What’s that noise in the bushes over there?” Probably everyone has wondered at least once, “Where do we come from?” or something similar, or I’m not sure that either astronomy or religion would exist.

So, yes, I think we all have at least a degree of curiosity within us. This (of course!) begs the questions, How important is it in your household? and What do you do to cultivate it?

Some points to ponder:

  • Do you have active interests or question things in your day-to-day?
  • Do your kids see this, or is it something you pursue in your downtime?
  • Do you encourage discussion and debate over a wide range of topics, or are some off-limits or closed subjects?
  • Is disagreement okay?
  • Do you help your kids find answers to their questions, applaud their interest, and/or counter with a follow-up question of your own?
  • Are there any “dumb questions”?
  • Are you comfortable working with an unknown concept?
  • For abstract questions, do you provide concrete answers or an array of possibilities and why some people believe in various ones?

When it comes to education, I am definitely someone who prefers to learn organically. I start with a rough idea and see where it takes me. I might get inspired and dive deep or I can fizzle out and move on to the next great thing, but one thing that I just don’t do well is plan. Recipes, instructions, or any other sort of step-by-step how-to’s are just not in my wheelhouse. If I do an experiment, I’m likely to not look ahead to see what’s supposed to happen. If I do, I then become goal-oriented, and it becomes about the destination rather than the journey. Not only is much of the fun lost (for both of us), but the extra chances to learn are as well.

Lessons, projects, and experiments in books are often written with a formula such as: Do steps 1 through 5 and X will happen because of blah, blah, and blah, as discovered by so-and-so.

Ummm… did you have the chance to wonder about, oh, anything?

What if it said this instead: Try doing X, Y, or Z. What do you think might happen? What did happen? How do those two compare? Does this make you think of anything else? Who first decided to try this out? Why? Did this lead to any other discoveries?

I tend to avoid close-ended projects in favor of an interest-led style because, while the former is not guaranteed to crush curiosity, the latter is giving it room to grow. There are times for cut-and-dry lesson plans that get a point across, can be wrapped up quickly, and get you to the next thing or offer a sense of accomplishment when complete. Time, confidence in being able to “teach” what you may not know yourself (really better called something like guided exploration rather than teaching), resources, and other factors can dictate the way learning is approached. However, I think it’s crucial to find time at least occasionally to explore something in an open-ended way – and the more this is done, the easier it becomes and the more opportunities for it are discovered.

Cultivating curiosity is also a two-way street. My son is naturally curious, but there’s some nurturing in there, too. We feed off each other and lob ideas back and forth. Unknowns are not a thing around here; if a question is hanging out there unanswered, the refrain of, “Let’s look it up!” is soon to be heard.

Here’s some ways to begin integrating it into your typical day-to-day routine:

  • Mealtimes or car rides are perfect moments to have a “What if…?” type of conversation or discussion of a news item. Switch out who brings the topic, and try to find ones that have multiple viewpoints or possibilities. What will they find at the “edge of the universe”?  Why did someone first decide to write something down? What is the right amount of screen time?
  • Have everyone pick an item from around the house and then make guesses as to where, when, and why it originated.
  • Read a random chapter or passage from a book at bedtime and try to concoct a story around it. How did the characters get where they are? Where should they head off to next? What inspired the author to write the book?
  • Grab a food from the kitchen while making dinner and examine it. If it is a fresh item such as produce, consider why it might have the color, shape, texture, etc, that it does. Where is it from? Who eats it? What does the rest of the plant look like? How has it been cultivated? Is it native or introduced? If it is a prepared food, where was it first created and how has it been modified? What sort of nutritional content does it have?
  • When there is something someone in the family either loves or can’t stand, take it a step further. What makes for the strong reaction? Are there related things that might bring out a very different response? Why is this? And why do certain subjects make us feel deeply in the first place? What topics universally elicit such emotion? What does this say about us?
  • Send everyone off to find 3 or so questions. Any questions. We did this recently and my son brought back ones like, Who invented hammocks? Why does a branch decide to form where it does? and How is salt made? They may take 2 minutes to answer or inspire 2 weeks of exploration… Run with it!

On the flip side, if curiosity is not high on your list, then that will (of course!) lead me to ask – So, what is? …Let me know in the comments.

Happy exploring!

Posted in education, extraschooling, Home

The Big Worries

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There are a handful of questions and concerns that crop up regularly in any homeschool forum, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to gather some advice in one place. For additional thoughts, read the recent post Homeschool Reality Check, look over the Homeschool Supply Checklist, or consider a guided planner. I hope all this is will be helpful!

How do I start? First and foremost: know your laws – and your resources. Some regions require registering as a homeschool by a certain age; some places have no requirements at all. For some, you must administer yearly tests; others need to see a portfolio of work. Some areas offer funding for homeschoolers; in others, you’re on your own. Look to your state department of education or similar government institution for the specifics for where you live. After that, I always advise to start small and add to your repertoire bit by bit as you start to find how your family learns best.

Am I doing enough? ‘Enough’ is a dangerous rabbit hole of a term. I would replace this question with, “What is my goal here?” The goal, as I tend to get a bit preachy about, is to create lifelong learners. How? By helping them stay curious and enjoy learning and by equipping them with the ability to learn – to know how to question, research, sift information, and so forth. I have to admit, I did not enjoy my foray into college; I always grumbled that I wished it could be completed in the same manner as taking the GED to pass high school. I wanted some cumulative exam to show I knew how to take a test and write a paper, as the rest felt like mind-numbing tediousness just to prove the same thing in the end. The earlier grades are much the same: we need a working grasp of math and other concepts, but the mountain of stuff waded through in school is, by and large, trivia meant to fill the days and check the boxes.

What about socialization? Socialization in homeschool will look very similar to socialization in normal life: you go to functions, run errands, go see friends, visit family, and talk to random folks waiting in line with you. Peer socialization may require being a little more intentional as so many kids are tied up in school most of the day, but hitting the park around 3:30 can help with that. Likewise, many activities – 4H, Scouts, library events, and so forth – are built around public school schedules, so there’s plenty of time to find other kids. If you want to find other homeschoolers, there are endless groups online these days, so chances are getting continuously better that you can make connections.

What does your day look like?/What curriculum is best? No two homeschool families are the same and comparing will likely not be all that helpful – plus, asking this will find you quickly drowning in responses with 100+ variations, which can be wildly overwhelming. There is no best, just best for you. There is no requirement for what a day or week should look like, and no schedule has any particular merit over another. Chances are next year (or sooner) will find you picking up a new book or adopting a new routine – or tossing both books and routines out the window. Assume that trial and error are your best bet and start experimenting!

I’m not sure I can teach. That’s fine – you don’t have to. And kids can have a tremendous ability to teach themselves, depending on age and subject. What you need to be able to do is to be their facilitator – the person who can help them find resources and reach their goals. This may be through teaching, discovering mentors, researching programs, or just encouraging them. At the end of the day, most of us can probably fumble through early math and whatnot; after that, it’s more important to keep showing them how to find their own answers, as I mentioned earlier, than for you to be able to instruct them. Think of it like cooking: if you can provide a kitchen and supplies, and then show basic safety and techniques, there comes a point where it’s up to them to find a recipe to follow – or to make up their own.

My child doesn’t want to do anything I try. Give yourself a little grace here. Being together – especially for those used to a different set-up – can be trying at times. We butt heads here, too. Honestly, it’s usually my fault. I can get a little carried away or determined I can make something happen just because I want it to. I like to challenge us with concepts and to offer exposure to advanced ideas and can forget when to bring it down a notch. Or sometimes it’s him doing that child-testing-their-parent thing. It happens. We talk about our successes and failures, and it’s another learning experience in the end, and tomorrow is another day. It takes time to figure out exactly what everyone’s role is, plus those roles change as we age. Time is on your side, though. If it’s not working today, toss it aside. Try it again tomorrow, next week, or next month, if you want.

Why did you decide to homeschool? Because I was homeschooled, and I know the benefits as well as the reality behind the myths. Because I have been teaching him – or helping him learn, at any rate – since the beginning. Because I want his days free for more: more fun, more adventure, more interests, more time to just be. Because I get to learn too, and I get even more out of it now than I did way back when. Because I love watching him light up when he figures something out or discovers something new. Because life is short, and I want to be present for as many moments as I can. Because I think the education system needs an overhaul. Because there is a lot more going on in schools beyond learning that concerns me these days. And… honestly, many more reasons, including simply because I enjoy it.

I hope this answers some questions and assuages any concerns – if you have more, feel free to reach out and ask. If you want to know more about what I consider important, read previous posts such as The Four C’s, which are the main tenants that guide what I choose to focus on. It may take time to find a rhythm, but it is definitely doable and absolutely worth it. Best wishes in your own adventure!

Posted in education, extraschooling

Homeschool Reality Check

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What does it mean to be homeschooled?

There was a time when those of us who were homeschoolers were just that… Homeschoolers. It wasn’t that long ago either. Now, though – phew! You might be unschooling, Funschooling, gameschooling, wildschooling, roadschooling, or virtual schooling. You might be Classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Eclectic, or Waldorf-Inspired. You might do unit studies, block scheduling, interest-led, or boxed curriculum. And don’t forget to deschool if you were originally in public school!

It makes my head spin, and I’m a veteran at this stuff. I’m rather amazed newcomers ever manage to wade through the overwhelming pile of terminology and get to what’s really important: the learning.

It doesn’t matter how you go about it. Seriously. What matters? That it works for your family. How do you get there? What does that mean? Here’s my advice, for what it’s worth.

Take your time. There is no rush. There is no ticking clock with a bell that is going to ring periodically. You do not have to start at 8 am on a late-August morning. You do not have to be mindful of days of the week, holidays, or any other time constraint the school around the corner does, nor do you have hundreds of kids to attend to. You have the luxury of time.

Start slow. Don’t try to figure it all out at once. You may have a hunch what your schooling style will be, but let it evolve. Depending on your choice, it can range from dirt cheap to really expensive, so test the waters. I always recommend starting off with an inexpensive book or two to cover math and English basics, then spending a lot of time playing games, reading, exploring interests, and other low-key activities. If you run across a resource that seems to fit, ask around (hint: when looking for advice, ask for the why in any opinion; that will give you a better understanding of if it will work in your situation) or test it out. There may be free samples, giveaways, or used options out there to begin with. Build over time in this way, until you feel you have a solid collection or know you want to invest in something specific.

Find your balance. Ignore labels and boxes. You may be a structured homeschooler using a grade-oriented boxed curriculum 4 days a week, but there’s nothing stopping you from unschooling the rest of the time. Or vice versa – let them have at all week long, but maybe Saturdays are workbook bonanzas. It’s okay. We all fall at different points along the schedule spectrum. Some of us (ahem) are a little disorganized but require at least a pretense of structure. Others have their ducks in a straighter row but like to let their hair down now and then. I’m betting all methods have their pluses and their minuses… The only thing you need to adhere to are the laws for where you live. The rest? Bahhhh. If I had to label our style, I believe I’d invent a new term altogether: Medley-schooling.

Grow your village. Be it family, friends, people in your community, fellow homeschoolers, or online groups, expand your circle. Homeschooling is amazing, but it can also be a lot. Not everyone relishes every aspect of it, and we all need some support at times, not to mention inspiration, commiseration, advice, sounding boards, and regular infusions of humor. Lots and lots of humor!

Know your goals. This is two-fold. You will undoubtedly have your own goals for homeschooling, but there are a couple big, universal goals to any education out there, and if your version is achieving them, you’re set. The overarching goal is to nurture a lifelong learner. This is done by first fostering or maintaining a love of learning and encouraging curiosity and exploration. Then it is fortified with the ability to learn, a working knowledge of how to ask the right questions, find the right resources, and absorb the right information to propel oneself forward in life. If you have those in your back pocket, you can set your course in any direction you wish and find your way.

Embrace change. What works today may not tomorrow. We change, we grow – it’s natural. Luckily, homeschooling is malleable and can adapt to your needs. Adjust anything at any time, put stuff on hold for a while, or take a time-out from routine to go off on a lark. Education should be an adventure, so see where it takes you.

Remember the words way up at the top of this page: Explore, learn, laugh, grow, repeat. They’re more important to keep track of than all those terms I listed at the beginning. Homeschooling sure seems a lot more complicated than when I was a kid, but it really isn’t. The upside of the astounding variety of choices is that there are a lot of really great resources out there now, and homeschooling is far more popular and mainstream. If you need additional help sorting it all out, there are three versions now of the Extraschooling Guided Planner & Journal: same information to assist you in navigating your way, different sizes because… You know. That schedule thing. Different strokes for different folks, as my dad would say.

See them on Amazon:

90-Day Jumpstart

180-Day

Year-Round

Posted in education, extraschooling

Beyond the What & Into the How

What part does the method used play in the ability to learn?

There is a formula I use to try to decide in which direction to move educationally. If it could be written as an algebraic equation, it might look similar to this: a topic x a current interest + where I would like to expand it to / method that suits him = learning approach. Most of this I covered in detail in What Works for Us, but now I want to expand on that last variable: how he best learns. I could focus all I want on an interest, but if I do it in an unappealing way I will likely still lose him.

If you go researching, there is a ton of information on learning styles – from different ways to label them (VARK being a popular one; it stands for Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, Kinesthetic) to whether they have any merit at all or are just another fancy way people like to label themselves. I would say we all have different interests, different strengths, and different methods with which we approach the world around us. I do not think it is vital to know the terms for the myriad styles or keep up with the studies; just stay in tune with your child as you explore. The more you can integrate their interests, strengths, and methods in what you do, it would seem sensible that it would offer a good headstart to learning.

To consider the effect of how we learn, take something as simple as a baking soda volcano or cornstarch goop. I recently did both of these activities with my son and another child. My son has always been a little engineer: give him a bouncy house and he will ignore the jumping fun until he has satisfied his curiosity as to how it operates. So for these experiments, he was all questions. How does this work? What is happening? How does it tie in with other things (like real volcanoes)? The other child is very sensory, so it was all about the feeling: the different ways of interacting with the goop, the fizz of the volcano. That child visually enjoyed when color was introduced to either project, especially the way it swirled through the goop and could be manipulated to create designs. But the introduction of color led to my child requesting containers to experiment with mixing colors. (Which some pretty hues were in turn admired by the other.)

They both had the same lesson; they were both interested; but they had vastly different experiences with it. Both have value, both helped them focus on any input I offered, and I like to think that, as is the case with the world as a whole, their differences enriched the project, and they increased each other’s understanding with their unique perceptions.

When I approach a learning opportunity, I have to think how my son will naturally respond. He will want to test out the parts and working principle. He likes to be able to experience something in a tangible way, whether it is a real-life example or by utilizing pretend play. He has an amazing ability to learn from being read to and picks up subtleties in images in books. He hates being plunked down and “taught.” He has almost no patience for art. Workbooks are a no-no. So it is up to me to find a way to tie all this together.

What methods work best for your child? If you have more than one child, does everyone have a different approach? Is there overlap? How can that be utilized? Examine a lesson with the classic set of questions: who, what, when, where, why.. and how. Does that help or change the way you might structure it? What is your formula? Share your strategy below!


Example:

If he picked biology, he might be interested in studying the human body. We could dress up as scientists or doctors and do the Digestion 101 project. We could take a field trip to the park and see how our muscles and bones come into play to help navigate the equipment. We could grab some books from the library on the way home to read over a dinner that we made with ingredients that we have discussed being important for our bodies. I could turn over a jigsaw puzzle, grab a marker, and sketch out the path of food (the interlocking pieces showing all the links between what food does for us, how it passes through the digestive system, and how it is then turned into energy) and let him put it together.


Projects referenced:

Volcanoes – they can be done with either baking soda OR powder; the first fizzes higher, the latter longer. Simply dump some in a volcano shape & add vinegar. Bonus: do it in the sink basin as it is a natural cleaner/deodorizer.

Cornstarch Goop – you need roughly twice as much cornstarch as water (2 c of cornstarch and 1 c of water is a good start), then mix & adjust until you get the desired effect. It should be that when pressed in a quick or firm fashion, it acts as a solid; held in a hand or manipulated gently, it acts as a liquid. If you want uniform color, add food coloring to the water. If the swirls sound interesting, add to the mix.

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Posted in education, extraschooling

Learning Curves

How does your scholastic learning style translate into real life?

I’ve found myself discussing the theme of learning styles recently. It has been mostly in regards to my son, since I am beginning to slowly ease into a more formal version of homeschool with him. He seems to be an auditory sort, able to pick up anything after a listen or two and parrot it back. I have never done well with that style myself. Most of what someone says to me – including, always, their name at first meeting – goes straight in one ear and out the other. I don’t really mean to tune out, it just happens. Even if I do pay attention, it doesn’t mean I am absorbing anything. I can have the same issues when I read material, but at least that has a more painless rewind.

No, I am a tactile learner. Let me get my hands dirty, lead me through it step by step, and let me get a real feel for it or it just doesn’t register. I remember those puzzles that would give you a 2D drawing and then want you to imagine it as a 3D object; I can’t even begin to fathom things like that. But if I can examine something in my hands, I’ll be endlessly curious. In fact my tactile impression has always been strong enough that even if my brain misses a beat, I still have muscle memory to lean on. This was my study method: I would rewrite my notes two or three times, then my hand would automatically know the responses needed on a test.

Today I realized there might be a correlation with my personality itself. My dad always said I could be counted on to jump headlong off a cliff without apparent regard for life or limb – but come back in a few days and there I’d be, still hanging on by my fingernails. And while a part of me has always been proud of this tenacious, if hare-brained, spirit, there is a piece of me that groans and would like to know if it is really necessary to always take the long and rocky way around.

I got to thinking – what if jumping off metaphorical cliffs is the equivalent of tactile learning? To much of the more prudent world, forethought is certainly a sparkling attribute, but some of us simply don’t learn unless we’re there. In the trenches. Or over the edge. It seems obvious now that I consider it that one’s educational style of learning would indeed roll over into real life. Maybe rather than looking back with that 20/20 hindsight and sometimes kicking myself, I instead need to cut myself a little slack and understand I was just learning in my usual style. Maybe someone else is perfectly capable of following a recipe verbatim and popping a perfectly golden whatever out of the oven after a preset time, but that’s not me. It may take 4 tries, or 40, or 400 – the possibilities are endless, really – before I can claim success and produce something not merely edible, but worth a second helping. But at the end of that process, however long, I do get the satisfaction of knowing the result is all mine. There’s something to be said for that kind of accomplishment, too.

I guess it all comes down to perspective. What’s important – the journey or the destination? Probably both, but me, I’ve always been a journey kind of girl. Even when it’s an uphill battle… or off a cliff. But I am ready to trade those beat-up fingernails for some wings. Just for the record.

“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

Kurt Vonnegut
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