I believe we learn best when ____________.

At the conference I attended this past weekend I sat in on a “finding your way” sort of session. And while most of it was knowledge I already I had, there were some important questions that were posed that I honestly hadn’t thought about in such a direct way before. The session started with an overview of homeschooling styles and how knowledge is processed, went onto some questions about personal history for some reflection, and then those three important questions were asked at the end. I think the session was laid out thoughtfully, and that for blogging purposes it would be best to lay this post out in the same way.

So, homeschooling styles. We all know there are about a million different ways to “homeschool.” And probably anyone who might even happen on this blog probably has an idea of what all these entail. I’ll try to give a brief description just to get the ol’ gears turning though.

School at Home

Exactly as it sounds, and sometimes called “traditional,” school at home is replicating a classroom as closely as possible. Some families will even have a classroom set up in a room in their house, hold scheduled hours of when “school” is versus “home time,” etc. Curriculum is chosen and used when doing school at home, obviously, and looks most similar to traditional school.

Classical

Classical education is divided into three phases that children develop through: grammar (knowledge, learning the facts), logic (understanding, organizing the facts into rational order), and rhetoric (wisdom, taking the knowledge and understanding and using it practically). The Well-Trained Mind is an excellent resource for classical homeschooling. Think lots of memorization, dialog, writing, literature, and languages (Greek and Latin).

Charlotte Mason

Daily nature walks and nature journals are important in Charlotte Mason schooling, as is good literature. Living history books are used instead of textbooks. While there is no standard curriculum it is easy to find  resources online such as Simply Charlotte Mason’s Free Curriculum Guide. There is a lot of structure in this style as well as lots of copy work for the student. There is an overlap with this style and classical education.

Montessori

Here in the U.S. the term “Montessori” has no trademark or copyright, so use discretion when looking at resources and schools. Maria Montessori believed in complete control of the child’s environment (everything is safe and appropriate for use and exploration) and complete freedom in the child’s doing (they are free to explore within the environment and be spontaneous). The adult is there to work with the child during “teachable moments.”

Waldorf

I don’t think that most people realize that Waldorf and Montessori are pretty opposite. Waldorf offers lots of freedom in the environment while controlling what the child is exposed to and when. It features a rich variety of music, arts, and literature, but also delays academics (for example reading is not encouraged at all until the child is 7 years old). Lots of resources at Waldorf Library Online and a well-established K-12 curriculum is Oak Meadow.

Unit Studies

Commonly used in the preschool crowd, using unit studies as the basis of homeschooling can continue to work for older kids just as well too. Unit studies can be flexible or structured, and allow for a lot of customization. Parents and/or kids will pick a topic–say, baseball–and look at many areas within that topic: the world history of baseball, the U.S. history of baseball, the science and physics of baseball, reading about past and current baseball players, measuring and weighing baseballs, calculating circumference and length and volume, etc.

Unschooling

So I feel like this style holds the most stigma after some radical unschoolers have been featured on television. “Unschooling” can also be called “child-led learning,” or “natural learning,” or (as I just heard Blake Boles put it) “self-directed learning.” John Holt has written valuable books on unschooling. There are so many different degrees of unschooling that it’s hard to peg on description on it. I’ll borrow a Holt quote. He writes, “We can see that there is no difference between living and learning, that living is learning, that it is impossible, and misleading, and harmful to think of them as being separate.” I don’t think any unschoolers would argue that it could be defined as the parent(s) being the facilitator of learning in the home and allowing the kid(s) to follow their interests and passions.

Eclectic

Now I’d wager to bet that most homeschoolers fall in this category and take a bit from various styles of homeschooling and put it all together to make what works best for their individual kid(s).

Alright, maybe I wasn’t so brief in my descriptions. Nor was I complete. There are certainly many other styles of homeschooling that families identify with, these were just the ones I could come up with off the top of my head. I make no claims of being a homeschooling expert, ha!

Next we took a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Domain and “The Six Levels of Thinking”

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives explains that the process of thinking actually involves several levels. Infants and toddlers use mostly the first two levels, but by age 3 children can use all six.

1. Gathering knowledge consists of acquiring basic pieces of information. Asking children to identify and describe objects encourages thinking on this level.

2. Comprehending and confirming involves looking at the meaning of the knowledge that has been gathered and drawing conclusions from it. A good question to encourage this level of thinking might be, for example, “The yellow sponge floats. What about the other sponges?”

3. Applying entails using what has been learned in new situations. Asking children to consider a newly learned fact as they build or make something can foster this level of thinking.

4. Analyzing involves thinking about a whole in terms of its various parts. You can encourage this level of thinking by asking children what materials could be used for a particular classroom project.

5. Synthesizing consists of putting parts together to form a whole. Asking children how to use an array of materials to create something, for example, invites thinking on this level.

6. Evaluating entails making comparisons and judgments. You can encourage this level of thinking by asking children which of the materials they used worked the best.To read more about these six levels of thinking, see Taxonomy of Educational Objectives by Benjamin S. Bloom (Longman).

(Source credit: Scholastic.com)

Also, an infograph to help visualize these concepts:

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So after considering that, what level of thinking to you want your child to be functioning on for your homeschool? This idea was something totally new for me to consider, but I think a pretty important concept to be aware of.

We went on to some questions about our past, such as…

What did you like and dislike about school? Where did you learn the skills that you use daily for your work? For your hobbies? Who most inspired you while growing up? What experiences do you want for your kid(s)?

And then we moved onto the final three fill-in-the-blank questions that are so simple, but made me think about things from a whole new perspective. Maybe these aren’t all that revolutionary, but I need to thank (and credit) Kathy Wentz for these. Seriously.

So, without further ado…

I believe that children learn best when ____________.

So in order to help my child(ren) learn best I should ____________.

When I put it all together it looks like ____________.

Yeah. Sit on that for a while.

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I can’t see into the future, and I think that might be okay

I went to a homeschool conference yesterday hoping for some inspiration and clarity on what path our homeschooling would take, and I came away with some inspiration, sure, but just as undecided as ever as to how we will proceed. I suppose we’ll just keep going with what’s working. And what’s working looks a lot like…unschooling.

The dreaded word. Unschooling. I think this style of homeschooling carries a lot of weight. The uneducated public sees radical unschoolers on the news that don’t make their kids brush their teeth or let their kids eat donuts for breakfast lunch and dinner and want to call CPS. Heck, even I see that brand of radical unschooling and cringe hard. I don’t want to be associated with unparenting, even if those out on the radical side of things aren’t unparenting.

I feel like surely there’s some balance of encouraging stuff that looks a little like living history lessons a la Charlotte Mason and making sure my kid is at an age-appropriate reading and math levels and going to our homeschool group’s art and nature classes while being child-led and the facilitator of learning in our home and taking my kid’s interests and passions and letting her explore them to her heart’s content.

Surely this is a brand of homeschooling–er, unschooling. I just can’t seem to get comfortable with the idea of no rules and no limits, but at the same time I am totally on board with (always have been) respecting my kid as a human with real thoughts and emotions and needs. I needed the reminder of the latter, which I’m glad this conference did for me, as it seems like every 6 months we go through a wave of butting heads with one another.

But since coming home yesterday I feel like I’ve been responding to her (sometimes) irrational 5-year-old-ness a little softer, kinder, which ultimately is all I hope for her in her future. When people ask, “what do you want for your kid(s) when they grow up?” I totally and honestly only have two things. I want her to be happy and kind.

And we have a reader

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This kid read 36 of the 63 pages of Little Bear yesterday and finished the rest today before and after dinner. I have officially gotten my first “I’ll come to dinner after a few more pages, Mom!”

Happy busy upcoming weekend

I woke up this morning and sleepily scrolled through emails and Facebook and Pinterest on my phone from bed. Lily eventually stirred in her bed next to ours and came over for a cuddle. We talked for a little while, as we do every morning, and eventually got out of bed to start our day. I made her breakfast and me some coffee (I can’t seem to do food first thing in the morning), and we sat at the table together with the light streaming in on all sides. For what I complain about with our little townhouse, I do love the western and southern exposures and all of the windows and light. She ate her breakfast as fast as she could and rushed off to play with her birthday present from her grandparents–a brand new dollhouse with lots of little rooms and stairs and an attic ladder and window shutters and a hinged front door. She is thrilled with this toy and has been playing with it non-stop. We have a nature class about tree tapping and maple syrup today, followed by open gym at the park district, and after that I rented the party room at the park district building for an hour so I can serve her friends cupcakes and they can sing Happy Birthday to her and she’ll love it. When I get home later I need to do another once-over on my humanities midterm essay and start my journalism assignment. Tomorrow we have my cousin’s baby shower followed by the arrival of my birth mom and her significant other from Minnesota and my half sister and her fiance from northern Wisconsin. We’ll have dinner at my parents’ house with them Saturday night. Sunday is Lily’s family birthday party with my side and Art’s side at Chuck E. Cheese for crappy pizza and games with crappy prizes and the kids are going to love it and have so much fun. And Chuck E. Cheese will do all the prep and cleanup for me and it’s worth every penny. Sunday afternoon I have to finish my journalism assignment and then collapse into a pile of happy exhaustion.