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#1 of 11 Old 09-06-2013, 09:06 PM - Thread Starter
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I have a 6 year old and a three (almost 4) year old and a 15 month old. This is our second year homeschooling (DS1 is in "first grade). We're off to a good start with our routine and such, and I'm feeling good about how intentional and consistent I'm being with our studies.


Well, I'm just thinking about stuff that we're teaching/learning. What's the point of it all? A lot of it, I think DS is learning as he goes and at his own pace and on his own initiative, etc, but the other stuff? Like he knows how to read (and so does DD- both basically self-taught), they obviously learned their letters and numbers at a pretty early age (by age two), DS is learning different aspects of math, like adding, subtracting, now he's talking about wanting to learn multiplication. He likes science and social studies, but some of the topics we cover I just kind of pick randomly, I've been reviewing the standard things for his particular level, and I'm just like, "oh, we haven't covered that yet!" and find activities to do based on that. The lessons, etc seem to go over well, but then I can ask the next day (or even later in the day) what we learned about and he's like "I don't know."


For example: yesterday, we had a lesson on MLK (inspired by the recent 50 year mark of the "I have a dream" speech) and we did a brief study on his life (like, very brief!) and watched a Scholastic video on Netflix of a book that was written about him, and did a coloring sheet. Neither DS or DD seemed particularly "moved" by any of it though, and I thought they might, especially because they are biracial...but nothing. Today I asked what we learned about yesterday, and he couldn't remember. Neither could DD.


I went to public school, and I remember vaguely learning about some of this sort of stuff, but I don't know exactly how much of it "stuck", you know? I think I've learned far more as an adult outside of school, and found many more things interesting than I did in school. School was boring to me. Especially high school. But now, as a woman in my thirties, I'm so much more interested in history and literature, and other stuff, that I'm now seriously wondering what the point is of teaching children certain things while they are young.


I agree with the principles of child-led learning (I guess to a certain extent), but I was hoping to be more intentional- unless Dr Seuss immersion is acceptable at this age. Lol! (Somewhat kidding). Last year, I think we basically ended up unschooling. We tried Five in a Row for a bit, but I had trouble finding some of the books. I didn't like how it was all "you *could* do this or you *could* do that" (obviously not exactly a quote- but that's how it seemed- lots of suggestions, no clear cut direction, again, so it seemed...I know lots of people love FIAR, and it's awesome in theory, and we may go back to it at some point). Also last year was difficult since it was our first year, AND we had a baby in the house (now having a toddler comes with a new set of challenges, but so far it seems manageable).


Anyway! All that to say, how does everyone plan their homeschool studies? How do you know your kids are learning? Does anyone unschool, and how is it working for you if you do?

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#2 of 11 Old 09-07-2013, 09:06 AM
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I think the advantage of being child-led-- whether that means unschooling, Project Based Homeschooling, or just the catchall "eclectic" homeschooling-- really has the advantage of making learning meaningful and *memorable*.  


I think to do this, one needs to step back from those lists that tell what kids should be learning when.  But even if you use those a simply inspiration, like you have (and I have now and then), you need to be prepared for the kids to underwhelmed.  At least your kids humored you and listened to the material you offered, so that's a plus.  


Instead of using those lists much, if you still want to introduce subjects that might be interesting, I've used their current interests as a springboard instead.  If they were interested in sharks, I brought home books on crocodiles.  Those might lead naturally to dinosaurs, then what about dragons, and something more fictional?  That led to Greek mythology, which led to Marcia Williams' books, some of which were about Shakespeare and Egyptian mythology.  The format was a hit, so we brought home Robin Hood and the Canterbury Tales and more Shakespeare.  The ghost stories were the favorite, which led to Hound of the Baskervilles.  Greek mythology brought us graphic novels, and we followed the love of that format to.... Garfield!.... and that really cemented their reading skills.  And onward.  It wasn't a line so much as a tree.


Occasionally I have brought home things on a whim, or when we discovered hexaflexagons via Vi Hart, we not only played with hexaflexagons, but explored Vi Hart's other videos.  (You are probably noting that *subject* is only one tangent to follow, but how it's *delivered* is another good one!)  Hexaflexagons got the girls excited again about origami, and on and on.....


But often those things I bring home fall flat.  Ah well.  Origami fell flat when I first introduced it. A year or so later, I found a book in a better *format* and that was a big hit.  Though, development had a lot to do with it as well.


How do I know thy are learning things?  First, I happen to have 2 girls who like nothing better than telling me everything they have discovered, but in addition, I am forever listening to them (it helps that they are never silent :p).  Some of that is simply my own scattered focus (a curse, a blessing, depending), some of that has been developed on purpose when I chose to unschool-- I listened and wrote down what I was hearing--anything that was remotely schoolish, or developmental "milestones".


It sounds like you might be interested in Project Based Homeschooling:


I think this method has a great way of marrying child-led with more intention.


BTW: One of the worst ways of assessing what kids are learning is by asking them.  Some kids are enthusiastic, but most kids would respond with the same blah answers as "what did you do at school today".  Remember that question?  Remember that blank feeling in your brain when your parents asked this?  I think the method is a terrible way to assess learning-- or recounting a school day or anything.

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#3 of 11 Old 09-07-2013, 01:50 PM
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You've only been homeschooling for a year and you're already asking those kinds of questions? I think you must be a pretty wise, insightful person. And you're probably ripe for radicalization! I've had similar ground-shaking questions and realizations over the years. Homeschooling teaches the parents as much as it teaches the kids. And sometimes the questions it raises are downright unsettling, aren't they?


What's the point? 


Well ... my post-radicalized answer: I think the point of all that teaching is to make you feel like you're doing a respectable job of educating your kids. In school the point is partly crowd-management: keeping the kids occupied so that they don't run off in 28 different directions. And it's also to make the teachers feel like they're important, to make the parents and administrators feel like the teachers are doing a serious job, to make taxpayers feel like their dollars are being spent on lots of educating and so on. Hopefully the kids learn something too, but that's often not the case and often no one notices if the other aims are being met, kwim? 


Now, I don't want to get too soap-boxy here. I think that often you can expose kids to things with the expectation that they'll get a certain thing out of it, but when that doesn't happen you may miss that they're getting something else out of it. Maybe you aren't filling your ds's mind up with instant recall of names and facts, but he's absorbing and processing longer-term learning, bigger-picture stuff. Six months from now, you may overhear him in the living room playing out something that sounds for all the world like a Playmobil civil rights march. You never know, right? You help by providing exposures and opportunities: he'll do with them what he's ready for. I have a love-hate relationship with the word "expectation." I think that in education when you say, or think, "I expect that you will learn ___ and ___" in a specific prescriptive way, you're setting yourself up for a lot of possible stress, angst, disappointment and conflict. On the other hand, when you turn the word ninety degrees and use it in the way you would if you were saying "I expect the sun will rise tomorrow," that it becomes a healthy and optimistic word. Instead of "I expect him to remember who MLK is," this "I expect that if I give him exposure to interesting ideas and experiences, he will learn and grow in ways that are positive, developmentally appropriate and suited to his needs."


I think SweetSilver has a great suggestion. I think it is very possible to meld "interest-led learning" with "intentional learning." Project-Based Homeschooling might be an appealing way for you to do that. Alternatively you might find that by adding an intentional sort of rhythm to your days you will be able to reassure yourself that you are doing a proper job of this homeschooling thing without needing a lot relatively meaningless (to your kids) focus on the teaching of facts. Nature Walk time, followed by art/handicraft time, followed by story readaloud time, then help-with-food-prep time, then free play time, then math games time, then non-fiction readaloud time, that sort of thing.


One idea that I keep coming back to, no matter the age and stage of my kids, no matter the format or nature of the learning, is that if kids are happily engaged in something, there has got to be valuable learning happening, even if you can't necessarily see what it is. Moving away from specific expectations helps me see what that valuable learning is more readily ... but often it's still a bit of a mystery, at least for a time.



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#4 of 11 Old 09-12-2013, 03:39 AM
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I think the important thing about education isn't what you learn, but how to learn, think, and solve problems. I remember some of the neat factoids I learned in school, and college, but ultimately the data isn't what is important and I'll never remember it all. I can look up facts if I need them. What is important is that I have the skills to communicating, think critically, and find answers to problems. 


You'll know your kids are learning things because... they can't help themselves! You can't stop kids from learning, its like what their brains default to. And almost every activity is educational on some level. My kiddo is too small yet, but in theory I'd like to focus on self-directed learning, literacy, life skills, and problem solving. I figure everything else will sort of fall into place. 

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#5 of 11 Old 09-12-2013, 05:13 AM
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A lot of what kids learn just doesn't stick.  I think a lot of what goes on in school is pretty pointless for that reason.  But there's value in exposing kids to a wide variety of information and ideas, because bits of it (different bits for each kid) will spark a real interest and will stick. 


How do I plan our homeschool studies?  We do things that could be categorized as social studies, but it's random.  I don't make any effort to cover certain subjects in any systematic way.  We read a variety of books, sometimes go to a museum or have a conversation about historical events.  I don't worry about assessing how much of the social studies information they're exposed to my kids retain.  I know they're bound to remember bits of it that they find interesting and forget other bits, and if they decide someday they really need or want to know more about some topic, they can do that.


Science is more of an integral part of our lives, since DP and I are both sciencey types.  We talk about science concepts a lot and read a lot of science-related books.  I may get more systematic about teaching science as the kids get older, but so far I'm pretty confident they're learning the important concepts kids their age ought to know.  I know they're learning because they talk about what they know.


Math is different, because you're constantly building on previous knowledge, so there isn't so much opportunity to learn a concept and then completely forget it.


I'd say that if you want to be intentional about what you're teaching, any information or ideas you really want to stick have to come up over and over again.  If you focus on one topic for a long time, it's more likely to be remembered.  When I was in 4th grade, we spent a good part of the year learning about Greece and Greek mythology, and a lot of that stuck.  For the whole year, we were exposed to a lot of information that was all connected.  We heard a lot of the same facts and ideas multiple times in multiple ways, and a lot of what we learned related to other things we had learned and gave us a chance to remember the previously learned knowledge.  That's the kind of approach you need to take if you want to be sure your kids remember what they're learning. 


Of course, they'll come up with their own areas of interest and focus and they'll learn things in those areas that stick just because they want to.  The question you need to ask yourself is whether it's enough for them to learn whatever they happen to get interested in, or whether there are certain ideas or facts that are so important that you need to make sure they learn them whether they want to or not.  (Or at least make an effort to interest your kids in them if that interest isn't developing on its own.)

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#6 of 11 Old 09-12-2013, 06:45 AM
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I'm just going to post a short note because what we do is very different.  Our kids are still very very young 4 and 2 but we live in a agricultural area that somehow managed not to lose all its family farms.  We do alot of practical learning.  Right now it isn't direct and they certainly aren't handling plow horses themselves, but they see it and know how its done and what it looks like.  They know that in the summer we have tomatoes and can them for the winter, and they get excited about it, but they don't run the canner.  They pick and eat the tomatoes.  For us right now practical skills and the natural world are the most important aspects of our education.  No matter what else they do in life being able to provide for themselves from a garden and cooking is going to be useful.  It teaches so many ideas in concrete vivid ways.  We also keep animals for milk and meat and they experience this too.  For me younger ages are for learning about how to run a home, how to live in nature, and the very basics of reading and math.  Most of this for us is learned through play, alot of it with the animals in particular.  Obviously my kids are still really young and we're in a unique situation but nature and gardens are great teachers no matter where you live.  Just my two cents and certainly not as comprehensive as the other responses. 

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#7 of 11 Old 09-12-2013, 08:25 PM - Thread Starter
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 I think you must be a pretty wise, insightful person.


Ha ha! Thanks!


Good thoughts all around! I like the idea that they'll pick up little bits and pieces here and there. I guess it's kind of like feeding a baby in the early stages. You prepare a meal, and put your whole self into it, and present it to them, and they just eat what they want, and you just have to trust that they eat what their bodies need. I GUESS! Ha ha!  Otoh, sometimes they'll find something they really love and chow down.


I love watching them learn, and love seeing the things they gravitate towards and hang on to. I trust them to learn stuff, as they always have. I mean, since day one they both have been learning. I love how in homeschooling, there's a very blurry line between school/life. I guess I just had a moment when I prepared and thought something would be meaningful and felt the need to assess/adjust based on their response (or lack thereof). Like, MLK is definitely going to come up again down the road. Right? I think I get myself in trouble when I forget that DS is SIX and DD is almost FOUR and the baby is well...a BABY. The end result of first grade (or Pre-K or toddlerhood) is not going to be "know all the stuff" lol! And they definitely are learning how to find the information they want to know. I feel confident that I'm providing that foundation. We visit the library regularly, they're learning how to use the computer, they know how to read, they know how to ask questions, etc, so it's just building on that, I guess. :-)



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#8 of 11 Old 09-13-2013, 08:22 AM
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Originally Posted by joyfulmomof2 View Post
 Like, MLK is definitely going to come up again down the road. Right? I think I get myself in trouble when I forget that DS is SIX and DD is almost FOUR and the baby is well...a BABY. 

Right!  And it' not necessary to wait for it to come up again, if you think it's important.


Usually when I introduce stuff when I am unsure if they will be interested, it's usually just a simple book, or a game or something, not a slew of material.  For MLK, I have brought home an illustrated book for "I Have a Dream".  And I just so happened to be explaining the "********** jail" line in the folk song "Down In the Valley", and I started to tell them about the famous "Letter from ********** Jail" (unconnected to the song, but I was on a roll) and was surprised when I heard on NPR that that very day was the anniversary of that "Letter", and so I told the girls.  


But, MLK didn't "stick" at the time.  It could be something to do with how depressing some of the common practices and laws were?  I don't know.  But that doesn't mean they won't be more interested down the road.


Another time I have introduced something on a whim, it was a book about George Washington.  I like the way the book was presented, and I thought it was something I'd like to share.  That led to "George Washington's Teeth" and any number of books about US presidents.  They loved it.  All of it.  My search for books on presidents led me to a rather morbid book on the horrible deaths of famous people.  I brought it home rather tentatively, but it was a big hit (depressing on one hand, but it made me so very thankful for modern medicine!!!)  They still love stories and fun poems about the presidents (and their pets).  I have no idea why!  (Aside: often, if you can find something more humanizing about an historical figure, that can be a way of engaging kids, like George Washington's Teeth, or Beau, the White House dog, or Teddy Roosevelt's pony Little Texas.  Keeping notes in a stovepipe hat.  Or being stuck in the bathtub....)


So, some things are treated with indifference, some things are loved, and now and then something is a total bomb.  I don't make a big deal out of it either way.

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#9 of 11 Old 09-13-2013, 10:51 PM
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JMO2 I love you posts and your thinking on this!


All I'd add is don't discount how much they learn by just talking with you. One advantage we HSers DO have is time to talk. I was trying to remember how my kids learnt about stuff like MLK or famous historical figures, or how they actually tend to start with an interests, and I think 9/10 its from talking. Its some small thing, tangential to a conversation. The rest of the time I think it would be books or visits somewhere but still, usually somehow filtered through a conversation. Sometimes this ends with us going to look something up, or phoning someone else who is a better resource. Sometimes that's it. But they do seem to remember the conversations really well, and usually everyone will be engaged, down to the youngest.

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#10 of 11 Old 09-14-2013, 08:31 AM
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Interesting thread, thanks!
I think it helps to remove the evaluation piece from learning entirely at this point. You know your children are trucking along and gaining skills and developing interests, and it doesn't sound like you have any specific developmental- or cognitive- or behavioural concerns at this point, which is awesome.
I'd say sit back and take notes (ala sweetsilver) about what they're interested in, what they talk about, what they gravitate to, and strew with that in mind.
Your 4yo is forever cooking something up in the play kitchen, having tea parties with her lovies, inviting people to eat her creative concoctions? Invite her to bake cookies with you. Endless 'teachable moments' there that need zero attention other than being present and including her.
Your 6yo is forever asking how things are made? Plan a day trip to a factory. Again, no need to do anything beyond standard field trip stuff.

The cool thing about interest-led learning is that it builds on itself. So when your 4yo wants to make cookies for everyone on the street, you'll be well -prepared to say yes, because you know that it's a passion of hers, she already has a favourite recipe that she's mastered, and she has already learned so much from cooking with you, and that her interest will help her stay the course when it comes to things like fundraising to pay for the ingredients, measuring and calculating how to double a bath, figuring out the best packaging for them, writing out cards, making a map, and then the best part, delivering them herself. The learning in doing a 'project' like that is immense! And best of all, requires nothing from you except saying yes and supplying the time, attention and supplies to make it happen.
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#11 of 11 Old 09-18-2013, 05:44 PM
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I think a lot of stuff doesn't stick - and doesn't necessarily need to stick, at least not in the way we think. Let's take American history as an example - I think it's important for people to understand the history of the country, how it came to be, why it came to be, what happened in those early days. But I don't know that we all need to specifically remember the exact date that something happened or what crops they grew. I think we need to go over the stuff, so that when we come to more modern stuff, such as voting and the Constitution and why people today feel the Constitution is being violated/ignored, they have that foundation of understanding that *this* is why we came to America and separated from England, and so *this* is why we feel that these particular things are not in line with what we wanted, or what our ancestors wanted.


Algebra is another great example - I have never, ever, not even once, used any algebra I learned in school. So, it seems kind of silly to make my kids go into algebra in detail, UNLESS they plan to go to college or have a career that would require them to use it. So I'll go over it, briefly, unless they indicate plans to further their education or have a career that requires it, but I won't freak out if it doesn't stick.


I also think that letting them learn about things that interest them is far more beneficial than forcing them to learn things just because we think they should. I've always loved learning, and because of that, as an adult, I will actively seek out information on things that interest me. I want my kids to do the same, and I know that if I make learning unpleasant and forced, I won't accomplish that. But that doesn't mean that I let them guide everything. I try to find a balance and kind of compromise with them. "We can learn about ______ that you want, but we'll also learn about ______ that I think is important." It usually works out well for us.

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