Archive for the ‘Developmental Stages of Growth’ Category

The Third Developmental Stage: “Switch it Up!”

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Once you’ve started homeschooling in earnest and have “applied the method” faithfully, a bump in the road will inevitably occur. Even if your kids are cooperating happily with your best executed plans and philosophy, you will still hit a bump at some point in your homeschooling career. The “Oops, here’s a bump!” moment is as inevitable as Cheerios thrown from a high chair.

The “bump” can come in a variety of shapes:

  • One morning, after weeks of successful implementation of the homeschool “schedule,” one of your children will awaken to say, “I hate my life.”
  • You realize mid-workbook that you don’t actually agree with the material (how it’s presented, its content, the style of the curriculum, the philosophy behind it, or workbooks period).
  • Your confidence has grown and you feel less willing to delegate your days to a pre-fab schedule.
  • Alternatively, you may be the parent who now feels a little at loose ends after a lifestyle of no schedule or obvious structure. You wish you could measure your days or years in a way that tells you that you are being successful; you want a routine or tool to help you monitor progress.
  • Your oldest child has hit “that age” (the one that you see as more “officially” significant than earlier ages). This “age” varies family to family, but can induce panic and re-evaluation as early as 4th grade (the “it all counts” moment of elementary school), or at the beginning of the junior high years, and most especially at the start of high school. “That age” causes the homeschooling parent to doubt the successes of the past, looking for the next new, right education process that will be more effective and more preparatory for academic life. (Some people address the “it all counts” moment with heavier-handed academics, while a surprising number opt out completely—going the route of unschooling or student-led learning as a way to ward off the cultural pressure to “do school”).
  • Conflict between siblings escalates. A desire to create space between children of differing maturity levels grows.
  • Online discussion groups, books, and homeschooling friends make you aware of options you didn’t know existed. You are drawn to a philosophy of education that better suits your personality and educational vision.
  • The vaunted tool isn’t working. Now, after consistent implementation, you have enough evidence to know it. Time to “switch it up.”

Any of these “bumps” can create the shift that takes you from “Applying the Method” to the “Switch it Up!” moment.

The most common way to address the bump is to switch – to change programs, systems, or philosophies. Many times this change is warranted and becomes a life-giving source of “new”!

Experimentation feels liberating. The new philosophy provides a rich contrast to the previous way of learning, and so jump starts the languishing methodology. In fact, often a fusion occurs where the best of what worked is retained while an injection of “new” creates refreshed momentum and optimism.

The “Switch it Up!” stage can last a good while. In the initial months and years, this stage of development is when the homeschool feels the most life-giving for everyone (parent and children). Often there are no high schoolers yet (though some parents who start homeschooling later go through this same set of steps, but tailored to high school characteristics).

During this stage, experimentation is king. It’s rare that the homeschooling parent replaces one system for another exclusively (though it does happen sometimes). Mostly, though, the homeschooling parent in this stage is creating a mosaic of learning, testing and trying a variety of ideas—sifting philosophies—to see which works best for which kids and for the parent.

It’s as though the home becomes a laboratory for learning. The parent is more tuned into the children and less beholden to the program. Together, they exchange their ideas; the feedback from kids to parents is valued. Adaptation ensues (even child to child).

A “one-size fits all” system is no longer trusted.

The benefits of this stage are immense. Research into learning feels productive, optimism that your children will learn stays relatively high, your energy is still available to you.

The dangers of this stage of development are as follows:

  • Too many switches! Once you invite change into your home, sometimes she moves in for good. Suddenly you doubt your choices over and over again, bouncing back and forth between philosophies. “If this choice was better than that one, could there be an “even better” choice somewhere else?”
  • The temptation to “apply the method” to the new educational style is strong. The homeschool parent still often believes that the promised results are only guaranteed if the new vision is applied scrupulously (from unschooling to K-12).
  • Big shifts in practice and philosophy can disorient children. To go from a methodology that uses workbooks and a predictable routine to a sudden absence of all schoolish materials can be frightening. Conversely, moving from unschooled freedom to a text book with tests and grades can feel like an invalidation of all those previous years, and so the child now feels “behind.”
  • The process of research is oftentimes more interesting to the homeschool parent than implementation. Research (done rigorously and thoroughly) doesn’t translate into energy spent learning how to follow through once the products are purchased (reading the instructions, taking time to plan for success) or philosophy adopted (imagining it practically in a day-to-day life). Even an educational vision like unschooling reads better online than it is often lived in a home, where the parent doesn’t fully grasp the act of strewing or the parent-investment in the child-led learning process.

The “Switch it Up!” stage can be invigorating and empowering for the now-skilled homeschool parent. It’s a necessary period of adjustment and adaptation to the reality of your family and your own personality. Parents act with more confidence in how they select educational tools and how they structure their days.

As long as the parent is careful not to overdo the curriculum swapping, and puts as much energy into envisioning the implementation as s/he did in the “research-conversation-with-friends” part of the journey, wonderful newness of life and educational energy follow, in most cases…

…until you hit the “It Doesn’t Work” stage.

Also, here are stages One and Two, if you missed them.

Cross-posted on facebook.

The Second Developmental Stage: “Applying the Method”

Image by Keetgi      The above image is by Keetgi and is an entry in our WBWW Kindle Fire Giveaway!

The first stage of development for homeschooling parents is the “I can’t wait to start” stage. Homeschooling gives a stay-at-home parent’s life meaning, a direction for the days, and activities to fill the long hours with small children.

Sometimes in our eagerness to move beyond Sesame Street, play-doh, and naps, we hurry to add “school” (structured study of phonics, math facts, and handwriting). We are keen to feel stimulated; homeschool bridges the need to entertain children and stimulate ourselves at the same time. As I shared before, though, slow down. Face paint and dress up clothes are still the best curricula for the 5 and under set. Don’t rush it, and accidentally inoculate your children against the joy of learning.

But what if you’ve got a 5-6-7 year old? Shouldn’t you be doing something by now? Most homeschoolers begin in earnest with a child somewhere in this age range. They either start with never-have-been-to-school kids or they pull their unhappy children from the local school.

These parents are wholehearted. They read everything they can about homeschool, they dialog with friends who are a couple years ahead of them, they join online discussion groups, and local co-ops and support groups.

Once they figure out what it is they intend to teach (in whatever method—Sonlight to unschooling, classical education to Charlotte Mason, Konos to Calvert, My Father’s World to Montesorri, religious to secular, Thomas Jefferson to eclectic, K-12 to Clonlara), they apply the method.

“Applying the Method” – It’s done with energy, conscientiousness, attention to the “rules” (even unschooling has “rules” as in – “You are not an unschooler if you…”), and a methodological approach. There are schedules or a scrupulous fear of creating them. There are new books, pencils, creative arts resources, library cards, Legos, and bulletin boards. Your enthusiasm is contagious and your children (most often) respond well to “the method” at the outset. This positive “call-response” energy validates your decision to follow this particular style of schooling. You feel secure. You feel excited to dive in and live the homeschooling life!

When “applying the method,” there’s a firm belief that if you follow through correctly, the results will be good (children will learn to read, they will master math facts, they will be interested in history, they will be curious about science, they will appreciate nature and art, they will show initiative, creativity, and diligence, they will go to college).

On the days when your plans are met with resistance, you double down on the method—looking for the one gap in your strategy. “Which piece didn’t I apply? What part did I not master? How am I failing to create the home conditions this method requires for the results promised?”

In these moments, the homeschooling parent seeks support from successful (or at minimum, committed) users of the method. “Did you have this problem? How did you solve it from within the method?”

A renewed commitment ensues. The parent takes firmer hold of the method and carries on.

The “Applying the Method” period of success can last anywhere from a week to several years, depending on the method and the children (combined with your personality). If you choose a method that is out of sync with who you are (or who your kids are), it will unravel quickly. If you pick one that for the most part fits your personality (or is well suited to most of your children), you are likely to have some success for a good little while!

“Applying the Method” has a shadow, though. In our newness to homeschooling and our relative insecurity that we can duplicate the standardized educations of the school system (even if we truly loathe the school system, we still find ourselves unwittingly measured against it at some point in time), we may err on the side of “system” over “intuition,” “observation,” and “course correction.”

In other words, we trust the method too much. We place our faith in the method rather than in our relationship to our children. Trusting the method too much may mean we forget three key components for a thriving homeschool:

1) Our children. They have a real say. They have real needs and feelings that differ from one another, and possibly from you. Their experience of homeschool is critical to its success.

2) Our context. Our spouses, friends, relatives, and local environment exert pressure. We are not immune to it. Spouses get a bigger vote than extended family, but sometimes where we live (too remote, too urban) also adds an element of challenge that must be taken into consideration when homeschooling.

3) Ourselves. We matter! Our personalities, attention spans, curiosities, interests, and our particular tastes and distastes—some methods are just not suited to the kind of person you are or I am. It’s important for there to be a good fit for us, too.

Once you come to the end of “the method” (every homeschooler does!), it’s time for the next season/stage of development. We’ll look at that next: The “Switch it Up” phase.

Image (cc)

Cross-posted on facebook.

The First Developmental Stage: “I Can’t Wait to Start!”

The First Developmental Stage:

I’m thinking about the developmental stages of growth in homeschooling; I’m thinking about the ways our growth parallels our children’s and how we forget to account for the fact that we are learning as we go, too.

The “I can’t wait to start” stage: That’s you if your child is 5 or under and you already know you’ll homeschool. It’s as if your child can’t grow up fast enough to let you begin! You’ve done your research, you may already have workbooks lined up, you may have already “played school” with this little tiny kidlet who mostly wants to wear tiaras to bed and climb too-tall walls to walk on—not sit at a table clawing a pencil, dragging it across a page, shaping that frustrating letter ‘q.’

When these moms call, they universally want to know how to “get their kids” to sit still or care about school or make progress. They worry that they are behind (they really do). Their kids are usually “advanced” which often means that they are exhibiting the brilliance that is FIVE YEARS OLD. After all, five-year-olds are incredible human beings. They are developing vocabulary at a rate they will never repeat. They are acquiring information faster than they ever will again. It’s an amazing age for brain development. And it happens whether you homeschool it or not!

Veteran homeschoolers would say to the “I can’t wait to start” parents: “Slow down! It’s like you’re sprinting on mile one of a very long marathon. Save some for later.”

Meanwhile, the best curriculum for the under 5 set (and even up til 7-8, really) is still dress up clothes and face paints.

You’re at home. Stop waiting for a chance to “teach.” You already are! You want your child to learn to write? Write notes to your child. Tuck them under his pillow. Put them in your daughter’s hidey hole where she plays with her Legos. Write riddles on the white board and read them to your kids at breakfast, then solve them together.

Read the ingredients off the back of the cereal box and see if you can spot the same word (“fructose” for example) on each box. Make it a race to find a word that looks just like that on every box in the house…even non-readers can kinda help! And will want to.

Find your daughter’s first initial all day long in every book, on every billboard, in every flyer that crosses your path.

Let your kids dictate emails to you that you send on their behalf to grandparents or aunts and uncles.

Read, read, read to your kids. Not just books on the couch. Not just library books. Read the notice boards at the zoo that describe the animals, read the magazine headlines at the supermarket while you stand in line, read the traffic signs as you drive, read the instructions for how to play a game out loud, read the funny Facebook post you just read, read the text you sent to their other parent…

You want writers and readers? Read and write with your kids, on your way, as you go, all the time. USE these skills. They live in your life right now.

How did you teach your kids to tie their shoes? With a book? With two-dimensional pictures of shoe-tying? No. You got down on the ground and started tying shoes, together. (Or you bought clogs and bypassed the whole thing until your daughter was in tenth grade and finally had to tie a pair of shoes without her mother being present. Yeah, that happened. In our family.)

My point is this: if you can’t wait to start—stop and consider if you haven’t already begun, just by being a parent! If you want to include the conventional subject areas about math and reading and writing, take the same strategy. No need to wrestle a four year old to the kitchen table to “do school.” No need to spend big money on a history curriculum for a five year old.

Live, be, do, share, enthuse, pay attention, play, take trips, dress up, read, write, calculate, take naps, eat food, tickle, cuddle, and be patient.

If you really really really must “start”—whatever that means to you (because you can’t help yourself)—by all means, home educate yourself. Buy books, sit at a table and fill them out, keep records of all you are learning about history, math, science, and language. Teach yourself by the very methods you wish you could foist on your kids. Use those methods, and those materials, in those subject areas, for yourself.

And wait. Save your kids from school a little longer. Include the subjects you want them to learn “along the way, as you go, in the mainstream of your life.”

If you need some support (are plum out of ideas, Family Fun magazine used to be great – may still be, haven’t checked lately, and Jot It Down by Brave Writer seeks to be that kind of resource for you).

Enjoy this phase! It goes too fast!

Image by Brave Writer mom Carmen