While learning to think and wonder and not conform to an ever-changing society, a funny thing happened along the trail of homeschooling – the children learned these lessons, too! From veterinary college to mock trial championships, our children have been empowered by homeschooling, right along with their parents.
I used to be a typical working mom, employed outside the home, struggling to find any time to catch my breath, while juggling schedules, family demands, finances, and dreams of retirement. With the switch to the amazing position of homeschool mom, I discovered both the rewards and fascination of following our interests, from studying the stars to tracking the ocean tides, from planting a vegetable garden to learning to cook, from following the routes of the explorers to tracking the paths of the men that walked on moon, from learning to quilt like the pioneers to learning how to build a fire, and so much more. No one ever made learning “interesting” for me when I was a child, but I've discovered that this is a powerful gift that I can give our children on a daily basis – a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of their lives.
In the beginning, homeschooling was a nerve wracking choice – am I doing the right thing, what will I teach them, what books shall we use, will they be able to get into college, and on and on. Then, through trial and error, we hit upon unit studies – and the light turned on, and away we went. The choice of homeschooling is a wonderful choice to make for many families, and the combined power of learning and following interests together is a life-changing force.
First, let me tell you just a bit of my story. We began homeschooling in the middle of a school year, so we chose to keep using the textbooks that the children had been using in school. That was an easy enough decision, but it quickly became obvious that they were well-trained in the use of textbooks – they read for bolded and italicized words, answered the questions at the end of the chapter, and memorized just well enough to take the test. There was no interest in schoolwork other than getting it done – no joy and certainly no curiosity. Another problem that I became painfully aware of was that there was not much long-term retention of the material covered in the textbooks. Rote memorization of textbook material is no replacement for thinking skills and logic when it comes to leading a satisfying and fulfilling adult life. If the knowledge isn’t there to stay, there is no foundation or framework to build on for the rest of their lives. For example, if they memorize the names of the parts of a plant, but never get to take one apart and experiment with the pieces, studying them under a magnifying glass or microscope, how will the controversy of genetically engineered crops ever begin to make sense? If the framework isn't there, the new information isn't connected to anything, and it is difficult to use new information in a meaningful way.
With unit studies, we found a very powerful tool that has helped build a strong tree of knowledge for our children. Remember, your curriculum should be a shaping tool, NOT a vice grip. In my opinion, the strength of a unit study approach is that the student looks at a topic from all different directions. For example, when studying gardens, we look at the basics of plant science, the history of gardens, the gardens around the world, the art of Monet and other artists who were famous for their garden paintings, and much more.
To show the difference in textbook learning and unit studies, realize that nothing ever occurs in the vacuum of just being a historical, geographical or scientific event. When something happens, it happens in a particular place (geography), at a particular time (history), involving certain people (biographies), and has an impact on life in many ways (art, science, economics, etc).
However, when using a history textbook, events are presented chronologically, in a somewhat condensed and dry format. When we read about the first American landing on the moon, the typical history textbook will not include any information about the exciting scientific discoveries that were made to achieve this great feat. In this same textbook, we probably would not read about the astronauts and their individual contributions and sacrifices. The textbooks usually won’t include the thrilling descriptions of all that has been gained from putting a man on the moon – from the world of computers to the amazing breakthroughs in medicine. These exciting and interlinked accomplishments aren’t typically included in the brief paragraph on the American space program. See what we would have missed if we had relied on a typical history textbook to learn about the space program? And yet these missing pieces are the ones that open up the world to our children, and show them how to dream big dreams and understand how all things work together.
Boring Textbooks = Bored Kids + Bored Mom.
Continued tomorrow….don’t miss Part 2 – The Power of Homeschooling - What to Do Next?