Learning By Doing

So you may know that we have been trying a new “system” of homeschooling here. Tensions were running high between me and she-of-the-raging-hormones. So we devised a scheme by which I would make a checklist of things to be done each day, with a deadline for completion, then hand it over and let her go with it. A list might look like this:

—– piano, 30 min
—– math, lesson 96, watch video, do practice set
—– German, 30 min
—– Chinese Pod and Chinese character practice
—– English, analogies and Magic Lens (grammar)
—– history, research confucianism

At first this went pretty well. Violet was enthusiastic about checking off tasks. We would talk at the beginning of the day about what she might want me around for. For example, we always discuss English together, but she likes to have me around during history because she often gets stuck on something she can’t find.

It did not take long for her to miss a “deadline” and suffer the consequences, minor as they are. Though we had “agreed” that I would not yell and she would not fuss, she would fuss, and then I would get mad and start blaming her for not managing her time well. Not a success.

I had been thinking of various ways of tweaking this, but this week I realized that the problem was not in the details, it was in the paradigm. The checklist and the deadline were entirely artificial: my attempts to enforce them, and her efforts to work either with them or around them, made clear that there was no good reason for her to have a certain number of things done by a certain time, or to do certain things for a particular amount of time, or even to do certain things at all.

This is an obvious point: the arbitrary nature of school-like learning is Homeschooling 101. And yet (for my part) I could not learn it by reading it in a book, I did not really see it until I got in there and started working with education myself.

There are other things I did not like about this system:

First, it was too much too soon. She was not ready to be cut loose from adult guidance completely. Time management is way harder than algebra.

Second, it broke things into sterile, disconnected blocks of work.

Third, and underlying the first two, it divorced learning from family life almost entirely. It was child-led, for the most part: everything she was studying was something that she, at some point, had expressed a keen desire to learn. At least I can feel good that her work was not keeping her from her interests. But our system was keeping us from functioning together as a family most of the day, at a time when she really needs to feel grounded. Classic rookie mistake: I interpreted her experiments with adolescent behavior as a sign that I should back off, rather than build on our relationship, albeit in some new ways.

We’ve agreed that we need to change the scheme. I had discussed this possibility at the outset — that we might find that our plan wasn’t a good idea, and if we did we could change it, no big deal. She and I will talk more about specifics, but in general I see us spending mornings together — Victoria, Violet, and I — doing more things as a group. This might include projects, or just being together around the dining room table with individual tasks. I will be adjusting our history and geography so that we can do more of it together, especially reading aloud and mapping. Afternoons can be more open, for writing stories, playing outside, but also working on languages or other things that didn’t get done in the morning. We have an expectation that foreign languages are everyday subjects, along with math, and that won’t change.

The checklist won’t go away — that’s just how I think — but I’m taking it back.



Filed under Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

6 responses to “Learning By Doing

  1. Oh, I so like this post. I’m not as concerned with the specifics as I am with the attitude with which you are approaching the issues.

    I don’t think parenting can ever be easy if you are really trying to do the job well, but I swear that homeschooling puts parents in the deep end of the pool. I’ve said time and again, that of all the things I’ve done in my life, parenting/homeschooling has got to be the most intellectually challenging and creative of all. I love it (and occasionally hate it) for that reason. And it’s really nice to see that other parents have to figure it out each step of the way, like I have to do.

    I admire you for caring and give such attention to your task. I also admire you for saying that you don’t have it all figured out the first time out.

  2. All the problems you found with this method are the worries I had when I considered it for us too. Responsible homeschooling does take constant rethinking, but I believe you’re doing a wonderful job.

    I like the way you are building your relationship with Violet in new ways rather than backing off at this time. I think that’s a mistake many parents make.

  3. Jen

    Thanks for sharing this post. I especially liked your honesty here: “I interpreted her experiments with adolescent behavior as a sign that I should back off, rather than build on our relationship, albeit in some new ways.”

    Trying to find the right balance of independence vs. parental involvement, child-led vs. parent led, etc is one of the hardest parts of homeschooling for me. Sometimes I think that I’m too “schooled” to be able to let go and really just let it all happen, trusting that they will actually get what they need.

    Really appreciate your honesty. Thanks!

  4. You know, several times I’ve tried the checklist approach when things got a little sketchy around here, too. And usually it works for a little while, but ultimately always fails. I think it is for the very reasons you shared here. But it was also because no matter how much ds participated and said he bought into it, in reality we both knew it was my checklist, not his, and the only thing holding him to it was me. So, rather than setting him up to be more independent it was actually having the opposite effect–making him more dependent on me as the “enforcer.” Not sure I am explaining that well at all.
    I don’t have the answer to this dilemma yet, but we have chucked the checklists (yet again) and we are definitely working on ways to build real independence. Oddly enough, as you have noted, working together more seems to be a big part of that. The more we function together as a team on some things, the more I see ds willing to take charge of other areas.
    It really is a puzzle and a challenge.Gotta love that!

  5. Good post.

    For me it is often about trying to make my personality/needs/wants/ways of seeing things and getting things done with Zoe’s personality/needs/wants/and ways.

    Recently I’ve been really into the Myers Briggs personality types (based on Jungian theories) to try to understand the motivations of people I am trying to have relationships with.

    Zoe is very extroverted, innovative, has a high level of confidence (usually warranted but not always), and is comfortable being spontaneous. Whereas I like lists, perfecting systems, and optimizing the environment.

    Our current system for learning works really well but I think Zoe would like it more if I added more opportunities for her to create and innovate.

  6. Max and I have been using a checklist this year, mostly as a way for me to head off his adolescent irritability. It’s been working well, but he’s 12 and likes working independently. There are times when he chafes, or when I chafe, for sure. But it’s the only way to keep the momentum from dissolving into inertia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s