Developing a Philosophy of Education
How do you develop a philosophy of education? Read books? Talk to friends? Get online and page through hundreds of websites?
Yes. All of those. For a long time. It helps, though, if you know what you’re looking for. This post is about the kinds of questions to ask yourself as you develop your philosophy of education. Before I list them, let’s look at a few important principles to keep in mind.
A home education involves both a child’s aptitudes,
learning style and interests as well as the parent’s.
Both must be satisfied or you’ll either alienate the child or burn out the parent. When developing a philosophy of education, take student and teacher into account (not just one or the other).
Homeschool is a lifestyle, not a program of education.
That means what you decide to do has to fit with dental appts., soccer practice, parttime jobs (the kids and/or yours!), toddlers, pregnancy naps, grocery store runs, illness, and so on. Depending on how demanding your basic existence is (this will be determined in large part by the size of your family and the stages of their development), your educational approach must accommodate those demands.
No one approach to teaching will work with every child.
(Sorry to break it to you, if you didn’t yet know that!) Just because curriculum X worked for child Y doesn’t mean it will work for child Z as well. Flexibility is not optional in homeschool. It’s a core value.
Homeschools are reinvented every year.
Things change. It’s important for you to change with them. That doesn’t mean your philosophy will change, but it may mean how you execute it will! Ages and stages often determine how involved you need to be, or what your focus is.
You can’t do it alone.
You aren’t meant to either. Include outside support for your homeschool (co-ops, tutoring, classes, athletic teams, music lessons, field trips, lectures, volunteer opportunities, shared teaching with another parent, involving the non-homeschooling parent).
Once you embrace these principles, ask yourself these kinds of questions to help you fine-tune how you select curriculum and how you apply it to a lifestyle routine.
1. What kind of person am I?
Do I thrive on order, structure and a schedule? (Not ‘Do I wish I thrived on order, structure and a schedule?’ but do I actually sustain and support a schedule when it’s up to me?) Or am I a person who needs an over-arching routine, with flexibility built in? Alternatively, do I prefer to be led by inspiration?
2. What are the learning styles of my kids
(look at each one individually)?
Don’t be deceived by how they do or don’t learn grammar or math. Focus on something they love learning. When they want to learn a video game, do they simply start playing and figure it out as they go? Or do they read the instructions first? Do they like to know exactly what they need to do to get ready to leave the house? Or are they more inclined to wait to the last minute and then suddenly take care of business without much prompting from you? Is your child creative and led by inspiration or disciplined, in search of structure? Are they self-starters or in need of companionship and support?
3. Recall a time when you felt that all of you were happy.
What were the chief features? (Caution: I remember feeling that I had had the best week of homeschooling when Noah was in 5th grade and that turned out to be his worst week ever. What worked for me made him wilt. Pick a time when everyone – including you – felt that the day or week had been successful.)
4. Recall a time when you all felt miserable.
What were the features of that experience? List them.
5. Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself:
How would I know I had had a successful year of home education?
What do I want to say to myself in June that would confirm to me that we had had a good year? (Lots of work samples, memories of self-motivated learning, a sense of completion of particular courses of study, a feeling of happiness – that the kids felt good about what they had done that year, a way to measure progress that reassures you?).
6. What does your partner/spouse expect?
Think about your marriage (or your partner) if you have one. How does that person know that education is happening? What kind of pressure does that person’s viewpoint exert on you? How do you adapt what you do to that other person’s invisible pressure (if there is any)?
7. Recall a favorite learning moment of your own.
How did you learn to bake, sew, enjoy art, learn Excel, understand pregnancy, coach soccer, be married, study literature, garden, snowboard, choose a dog breed? What were the features of that experience? What does that experience tell you about the nature of learning itself? How similar or dissimilar was that learning experience to the way you expect your children to learn? Can you apply any of the insights to the way you lead your children’s learning now?
8. How frequently do you check in with your children?
When was the last time you asked your kids how they thought homeschool was going? Ask them now (each individually), if they could change one aspect of their daily routine, what would it be? Ask if they could study one area (any area – Lego construction, Facebook, whittling wood, trapping mice, quilting), what would it be?
Once you’ve worked through all of these questions (take some time alone to do it – at a coffee shop or the library – take your time), you’ll begin to see a picture of your family’s learning style emerge. I’ll post a sample of what this might look like tomorrow. The goal here is to create a framework for how you lead and how your family learns. Then as you look at curricula, you’ll filter the expectations of that product against the style of learning that works for your family. Even if everyone raves about it, if it doesn’t suit how you lead and how they learn, you can confidently discard that option in search of a more tailor-made product for you.