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.