Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Relaxed Eclectic Homeschooling Lifestyle

It is incredible to me that this is our 17th year of homeschooling!  But then again, I can hardly remember NOT homeschooling, we have been doing this for so long.  We started homeschooling in 1994 with a 9yr old, 6 yr old, 4 yr old, and 1 yr old. Our 5th child came along a couple of years later, and now my children are 26, 24, 22, 18, and 13.  My oldest two have graduated from college, my third will be graduating from college this spring, and my fourth will be starting college in the fall.  I am now homeschooling just one child, and we are right around the corner from entering that homestretch called high school with him.

When my kids were younger, I was constantly reading books about homeschooling, poring over homeschool catalogues and websites, listening to my collection of homeschool workshop tapes/CDs, and writing and rewriting plans in notebooks and scraps of paper all over the house.   I wanted the best possible education for my children, but I also fought an inner battle over what I thought that should look like!
I didn't just want to find a great curriculum and learn how to create a great transcript. I was looking for the deeper, more fundamental underpinnings of what it meant to be educated, and what I, and more importantly, God, saw as the BIG PICTURE.  This was my quest and bit by bit, I started to assemble a philosophy of education and of homeschooling that translated into a fairly relaxed homeschooling lifestyle that didn't really fit into any neat "category".  I wasn't an Unschooler, I wasn't following the "Charlotte Mason way", I wasn't truly following a Classical model, but I pulled inspiration from all these things. I was and am an Eclectic Homeschooler.

Eclectic = adj.; not following any one system, as of philosophy, medicine, etc., but selecting and using what are considered the best elements of all systems.

Not only that, but I started to develop an approach to home education that did not relegate "school" into a particular place or time or activity.  Probably because I am by nature an easy-going, unstructured person, I came to embrace my children's education as something that occurs all day, every day, in a wide variety of ways!  As far as I'm concerned, just about everything we do is educational in some way. Now, I do use curriculum and I do strive for excellence, but I also take into consideration the gifts, abilities, and differences of my children.

The pillars of our relaxed, eclectic homeschooling lifestyle are Knowledge, Character, Service, and Relationship. 

Knowledge includes study of the Bible as well as the academic subjects like math, history, science, and  language. The Bible speaks much about the importance of knowledge, wisdom and understanding
Prov 2:6,9-11  For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.... Then you will understand what is right and just and fair--every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.
Prov 24:3-4    By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
Proverbs 9:10  "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I use an eclectic mix of curriculum.  This is our 8th year using Tapestry of Grace, and I love the rich variety of reading in history, literature, Bible, worldview, and philosophy. We participate in a weekly TOG Co-op with a dozen other families also using that curriculum, for reinforcement and enrichment of the material learned each week.

We have worked through all of Basic Winston Grammar this year and will now start on the Advanced Winston Grammar program.  For math we are using Teaching Textbooks for Pre-Algebra, moving into Algebra I in another month or so.  Flexibility is one of the things I love about homeschooling, and allowing a child to work at the pace that is best for him.  Sometimes that means taking longer than a "school year" to finish a particular level, sometimes is means finishing early and moving ahead to the next thing. 

Because reading is very draining for him, he has been doing an online earth science program called PLATO this year rather than the more reading-intensive Apologia that my other kids all used in middle school. However, I am having him start the Apologia General Science book now, halfway through the school year, and reading it while listening to the audio version on Mp3, to start preparing for taking a weekly class in either Physical Science or Biology next fall in 9th grade.  I am trying to increase his tolerance for reading by giving him the extra support of reading along with listening to the audio, to help with retention.

Writing is also a struggle, so we have done mostly journal writing on a topic, and I have recently added in IEW Character-Based Writing Lessons.

I generally do not grade assignments or give tests. Don't worry - my kids get that experience a few times before graduating from high school as they participate in group tutorials or takes classes at the community college, but otherwise I don't find it necessary.   I do not require my son to start school at a certain time and finish at a certain time Now that he is a teenager, he has rediscovered a love for sleep, so most days I get him up around 9 or 9:30am..  I usually give him a bit of structure to follow during the day in the form of a checklist.  We do some work together, I  read aloud some of the history or literature or other enrichment books. Then he works on his own.  In between working on a math lesson, writing in a journal, or reading about the ancient Philistines he might play his guitar or watch Sports Center on TV.  He is an athlete and most days include some kind of ball practice or game.  We play board games, watch educational DVDs, label maps, do puzzles, go on field trips, host a monthly geography club.

Character is what I want my children to be, not just what I want them to know.  I want them to be honest, responsible, kind, compassionate, humble, courageous, diligent, fair, loyal,  faithful, patient, generous, discerning.
A lot of this teaching is through conversation throughout the day, and this is where homeschooling gives an edge, just by virtue of the amount of time I spend with my children. Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 says "These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."   All day long I reinforce my expectations with my children that they treat one another with kindness, that they are truthful, that they do their work with diligence, that they act responsibly. We also read about the lives of people who exemplify these qualities, or watch movies that depict these things. I am deliberate about making sure my children understand that a person's character is who they are inside, how they act when nobody is looking, and that it matters, because God's Word says it matters. 
Psalm 15

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
   Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
   who does what is righteous,
   who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
   who does no wrong to a neighbor,
   and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
   but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
   and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
   who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
   Whoever does these things
   will never be shaken.

Service is something I value highly, and goes hand in hand with character. I know I must be deliberate about helping my child develop an attitude of selflessness instead of selfishness. As a family, we are heavily involved in homeschool group leadership and homeschool sports leadership.  Our children help in many ways with that, from sorting uniforms to designing certificates and programs to giving input into decisions. They see their parents making sacrifices to spend time investing in others - setting an example is so important in this area, as much more is "caught" than "taught".   Other opportunities for service come through church, missions trips, and our community -  packing shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child and volunteering at the Regional Processing Center in Charlotte; helping at the local food pantry; serving in the church nursery; sending money to pay school fees for a child in Uganda. Service also happens at home as family members chip in to help around the house. Again, being deliberate about using these opportunities to MODEL and TEACH is key.

Relationship is probably the most important aspect of our homeschooling lifestyle. Life is about relationships. Our most important relationship is with God, then with our family, then friends and those in our circle of influence, and then beyond. 1 Corinthians 13 speaks of love as greater than knowledge, greater than charity, greater than faith. Love is character put into action to reach the hearts of people, to draw them close to one another and ultimately to draw them to the One who is Love.  Homeschooling allows us as a family to build strong relationships with one another.  Just spending time together is not enough, because people who spend lots of time together can still have terrible relationships.  But when we spend time together and practice love, encouragement, kindness, selflessness, forgiveness... when we show affection and understanding, when we laugh together and fill a treasure-box of memories and shared experiences, and even when we discipline and hold one another accountable - this is where relationships blossom and thrive.  Good, healthy relationships need time and work as much as learning algebra or spelling needs time and work.

Knowledge. Character. Service. Relationships. These are what are important to me and my family, and the foundation of our homeschooling lifestyle.


Eve said...

Okay, so the picture of your oldest reading to your youngest put a lump in my throat, seriously.

Renee said...

Ok so I LOVE LOVE LOVE This post Beth Herbert. Thank you for encouraging us over the years with just being REAL! I am so relieved I am not the only one who lets my 13 yr. old sleep in because she functions better if I do. There are day when we must get up early due to schedules. James Dobson recommended this on his radio show years ago and it has worked for us and guess what my older children have never been late for work (on purpose) and could manage to get to classes on time they actually learned how to set their own alarm clocks when needed! So happy I also think of myself as eclectic. Anyway I am pumped to know someone I respect and admire because of your vulnerability and transparency does some of the things I do. Thank you.

Connie Jo Lewis said...

Love your post Beth! And that picture of your older son reading to your youngest is absolutely adorable. :) We may end up being eclectic too. I am leaning one way...but the other ways have so much to offer too! All the choices! It's overwhelming and wonderful.

Sojourning Sadlers said...

Beth, from the very first time I met you, I have considered you one of the role models God allowed me to know in the big adventure of homeschooling. For a couple of years now, i have explored the Charlotte Mason method, which is great, but have recently come to terms with the fact that I will NEVER be completely sold out to one way of homeschooling. I'm relieved to hear "real talk" of an experienced homeschooler that it's ok to be eclectic & it's wonderful to have the freedom to select that which works best each season & for each child accordingly.
Moving from NC has left a couple of holes in our hearts, not the least of which is the awesome leadership of the Lighthouse homeschool support group. I feel so incredibly blessed to be able to keep up with some of you whom I considered mentors & friends through the blogosphere, as well as other social networking tools.
One grateful Mama,