Saturday, September 12, 2015

Homeschool Preschool :Let Them Play

My teenager and I stopped at Chick-Fil-A for lunch after his orthodontist appointment the other day, and I ran into a young homeschool mom I know who was there with her twin 4-year-old boys. Before she stepped up to the counter to order her food, she gave me one of those smiles that was part "Hi, nice to see you!" and part "Help me, I'm dying!", and simply said, "It's really hard some days".

 Enough said.

I understood immediately where this mommy was coming from. Exhaustion. Frustration. Isolation. Guilt.  So after finishing lunch with my son, I asked him if he would mind watching a couple of 4-year-olds in the play area while I visited with their mom for a few minutes.

We had a nice chat and I shared what I hope was some encouragement with her about relaxing and maybe adjusting some of her expectations.   One of her stresses is that has started "homeschool preschool" with them, and... it was a struggle.  Although she kept saying things like "I know that academics isn't the most important thing right now" , she was stressed over not knowing if they "measured up" against other kids their age; if they were learning the right skills at the right time. She has friends with kids in preschool or kindergarten at this age, and said that she knows her boys are "behind" in some areas.   The boys weren't loving "school time", when she had them sit down to do the workbooks she had purchased, and she was wondering how she was ever going to handle homeschooling them as they grew older. In other words, she was feeling defeated before she had even started!

My mother taught public school kindergarten for over 20 years, before getting a masters degree in computer education and moving up to teach high school for the remainder of her teaching career. Something she used to say was "After the first month or so of school, I can no longer tell the difference between those children who went to preschool and those who didn't. What I can tell, is those whose parents spent time doing things with them and those whose parents did not."  She was referring to things like reading stories together, coloring, going on nature walks, playing board games,  working in the garden, matching socks while folding the laundry together,  learning to use scissors to cut up construction paper into strips for paper chains, singing songs, baking cookies, etc.  This was usually in response to a stay-at-home mom who was nervous that she was depriving her child of a good start by not sending him to preschool.  My mother's professional opinion was that preschool can fill in for a mom who cannot be in the home with her little ones, but it isn't BETTER than a mom.   As a longtime home educator who has homeschooled 4 of my children all the way through high school, I can say the same of school in general.  It can do what parents don't have the time or resources to accomplish, but that doesn't necessarily make it BETTER, especially if the parent is ready and willing to take on the role of educator.  But I digress. Back to preschool.

In large part because of my mother's influence, the thought of sending my little ones off to preschool never crossed my mind.   I was a stay-at-home mom and this was my domain.  We had a craft closet that held boxes of crayons and coloring books and stacks of colored paper and safety scissors and glue sticks and yarn  and colored pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks and yes... even glitter!  From the time my first child was born, I started collecting children's picture books, and also started visiting the public library on a regular basis with my children, and storytime was a daily occurrence, usually before naps as well as before bedtime.

We had a wooden playset in the yard with swings, ladders, a climbing rope, and fort, as well as a sandbox with plastic shovels, buckets, scoops, and toy dump trucks, and in the summer a small plastic pool filled with water and water toys.  Balls of all sizes  - tennis balls, plastic kickballs, rubber balls, inflatable  beach balls - were in a bin in the garage. Bubbles were a staple, as was homemade playdough and face paint.  We had a dress-up box filled with superhero capes, wooden swords,  a variety of hats, boas, flower wreaths and fairy wands, elbow length gloves, vests, costume jewelry, and assorted Grammy-sewn costumes.

I played a million games of Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders and UNO and Go Fish.  I do not have a green thumb - at all - but I did attempt a small garden at one point, which the kids loved.  When I went to the grocery store, the kids came along and were my "helpers". We got out when we could, for walks around the neighborhood, to the playground, to storytime at the library or to a friend's house to play.  We had a stack of Disney tapes (these were the days of VHS, friends) and those along with PBS shows like "Magic School Bus", "Arthur", "Wishbone",  "Sesame Street" ( not my favorite) and "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" (my favorite!) gave me a chance to clean the bathroom, start dinner, or lay down on the couch with my eyes closed for "just a minute".    If it sounds like my children spent their days playing... well, that is exactly right! 

I never once thought that I needed a curriculum for this.  I was just playing with my children, teaching them the ABC song as we sat on the couch together, counting out forks for the dinner table, finding the letter "A" or "S" on street signs, catching bugs, reminding them to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me".

You will notice when your child shows readiness for learning more.
"Mommy, what does that word say?"
"How do I write my name?"

"Mommy, how many Cheerios are in my bowl?"
"Daddy, how does that work?"
"Show me!"
"Tell me!"
"Let me!"

As a homeschooler, you can respond to your child's readiness instead of following some generic schedule of what to teach when. You can look at lists of preschool or kindergarten skills for ideas, but don't make it a checklist that must be accomplished by a certain date!

Edward Thorndike, a psychologist who spent his career at the Columbia University Teacher's College in New York in the early 1900's  studying learning theory, came up with these Laws of Learning.

·         Law of readiness. Students learn more easily when they have a desire to learn. (mentally and physically ready)  Conversely, students learn with difficulty if they're not interested (not mentally or physically ready)
·         Law of effect. Learning will always be much more effective when a feeling of satisfaction, pleasantness, or reward is part of the process.
·         Law of relaxation. Students learn best and remember longest when they are relaxed. Reducing stress increases learning and retention.
·         Law of association. Learning makes sense (comprehension) when the mind compares a new idea with something already known.
·         Law of involvement. Students learn best when they take an active part in what is to be learned.
·         Law of exercise. The more often an act is repeated or information reviewed, the more quickly and more permanently it will become a habit or an easily remembered piece of information.
·         Law of relevance. Effective learning is relevant to the student's life.
·         Law of intensity. A vivid, exciting, enthusiastic, enjoyable learning experience is more likely to be remembered than a boring, unpleasant one.
·         Law of challenge. Students learn best when they're challenged with novelty, a variety of materials, and a range of instructional strategies.
·         Law of feedback. Effective learning takes place when students receive immediate and specific feedback on their performance.
·         Law of recency. Practicing a skill or new concept just before using it will ensure a more effective performance.
·         Law of expectations. Learners' reaction to instruction is shaped by their expectations related to the material (How successful will I be?).
·         Law of emotions. The emotional state (and involvement) of students will shape how well and how much they learn.
·         Law of differences. Students learn in different ways. One size does not fit all!

Reading this list, you can see that introducing traditional academic work too early will result in frustration for both the parent and the child.   You can also see how a home environment seems like an ideal place for learning to occur. ( I wonder who planned it that way?)


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Homeschoolers in College

Rivers Street Tunnel,  Appalachian State U.

Three of my children have already graduated from college and my 4th is a college senior this year.  All homeschool graduates, attending state universities.  All successful in navigating both college academic life and college social life.  All lived on campus for all or part of their college years, worked campus jobs, were active in intramural sports, ROTC, clubs, campus life. Three worked as RAs for  part of their time in college. 

What prepared them to be successful?  I'm not sure.  We aren't that special. They are not geniuses.  We did raise our children to be leaders, and gave them opportunities to build leadership skills through team sports, Boy Scouts, summer camp jobs, lifeguarding, and being part of a family that serves the lcoal homeschool community in various ways.  They entered college with a maturity that helped them to make good choices, focus on what was important, choose friends wisely, and work hard. As parents, we let them make their own decisions regarding classes, and didn't get involved with professors or making sure they were doing their homework.  That was expected. 

They each changed majors at least once in the process.  All but one managed to graduate in 4 years - 8 semesters -  except one, who needed one extra semester to finish. They have all pursued very different things - not a surprise.  Engineering switched to Political Science.  Interior Design switched to Photography with minors in  Media Studies/ Graphic Design.   Computer Science changed to Marketing changed to Sustainable Technology changed to Computer Information Systems.  Athletic Training switched to Child Life, transferred to a different college, and landed in Child Development - Family and Consumer Sciences.  

None are working in the field of their degree.  
 **I don't necessarily view that as a bad thing, as the education plus other experiences they received definitely prepared them for many things. Something to consider.

Our homeschool style is rather relaxed, but they each took a few outside classes during their high school years that gave them experience with other teacher's styles, expectations, deadlines, etc. Three of the four took a couple of community college classes, utilizing the dual enrollment program. The college credits earned were nice, but the primary benefit was learning to navigate a small college campus and schedule.   We did not do AP courses, nor did they take CLEP exams.  We did read widely, traveled some, encouraged a learning mind-set no matter where we were.  They learned to play musical instruments, took care of a pet, were expected to help with household chores and did not have TVs or computers in their rooms ( this was before smartphones ; they didn't get laptops until after high school graduation -  things are a little different with the youngest now, and we have to make smartphone and laptop rules)  

All but my oldest, who was an ROTC student, took out some student loans.  My husband and I paid half of the remaining amount, and my children earned money to pay the other half.  They did not have cars, so that eliminated a major expense. They found small scholarships to help -  the electric company,  department scholarships for their majors, Jr. Woman's Club, etc.  We are not one of those families whose kids earned full scholarships to college. I wish.  Nor are we rich. My husband makes a nice salary, but helping put our kids through college has meant sacrifice. Our house is kind of falling apart around us.  We don't take vacations.  We live pretty frugally. It is a season.

I guess I would characterize our family dynamic as encouraging excellence without being rigid;  using common sense when setting boundaries and limits, and offering increasing freedom as maturity was proven; laughing hard together;  fostering an attitude of gratitude over things big and small;  centering life around family above anything else, and celebrating each person's interests and achievements as a family; living out our faith in how we treat people and in the life choices we make; showing affection; living generously.  Perhaps these things played a part in their success. Perhaps it was just God's grace. 

We're not done yet. Our last child will graduate high school next year and then embark upon his college years.  His siblings will give him plenty of advice, I'm sure. That's how we do things in this family.