Why is it that the things that should be the most obvious to us are those which we find so difficult to grasp?
Take textbooks, for example.
I’m honestly astonished at the number of homeschoolers who seem to cling to this holdover from compulsory schooling- you know, that form of education most homeschoolers are trying to avoid?? And I’m not approaching this topic in an uppity manner, since I was once one of those very people.
Thankfully, I have gradually realized how little textbooks have to do with an effective education for most children, and I think a good number of other parents instinctively know this, too. Despite this fact, however, I’ve increasingly come into contact with many, many other homeschool moms who are genuinely aware that textbooks aren’t working for their children, yet they beat themselves up over it and desperately try to get them to work. Continue reading “Are You Homeschooling with Textbooks, By Default?”
As someone who is admittedly obsessed with the topics of homeschooling and education, in general, I have read dozens of books on the subjects. As fabulous as these resources are, many of them seem to simply repeat what I’ve read in other similar books.
My kids spent the week at VBS, and I feel like I was the one running around all week. We just returned from the closing picnic, where I spent over 2 hours trying to keep track of 7 kids, and I am exhausted.
So, without further ado, let’s get on with this week’s links!
Yesterday I wrote about what our family learned from our experiences using the school-at-home approach in our homeschool. Today I’ll be discussing the pros and cons of unit studies- something still very much alive and well in our homeschool days.
The unit study, or thematic unit, approach is a homeschooling method that tends to address education in a more cohesive manner than school-at-home. Rather than separating learning into subjects which quite often have nothing to do with one another, unit studies focus on one topic which will cover almost all required subject areas and can literally be absolutely anything the parent or child desires. Some unit studies focus on a character trait. Others will be chosen because of a child’s interest in that particular area. Still others can arise from a piece of well-loved literature. No matter the topic, the main idea of a unit study is to learn holistically. It can be much easier to retain knowledge when it is meticulously explored and not just touched upon as most textbooks will do.
Since this method is so different from the traditional school approach and may seem confusing to some, here is an example of one of our recent days of home learning with an Easter unit study from the Konos Character Curriculum. (I will list each activity under a subject area to illustrate how each subject can be covered while still encompassing one area of study, but it is important to note that I do not plan our days around school subjects. Just as we adults do not break our lives down into “subjects,” it is not necessary to do that with children either.):
– Language Arts– copywork (Hot Cross Buns nursery rhyme), rehearsed and performed Easter puppet show they wrote for their younger siblings, listened to the final chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
– Math– prepared and baked hot cross buns (fractions, measuring)
– Social Studies– learned about the origin of the hot cross buns rhyme in England
– Science– prepared and baked hot cross buns (effects of yeast)
– Art/Creative Expression– drew and colored a picture of a baker selling hot cross buns, performed original puppet show they wrote (earlier in the week they also made the puppets and the puppet theater)
Notice that a few of the activities are classified under multiple subject areas. Isn’t that a more realistic picture of how real life actually is? Sometimes life cannot be separated into single subject areas. Thus, learning shouldn’t be expected to happen this way either.
– Unit studies are flexible and can be used with children of multiple ages. All it takes is a bit of tweaking in order to make assignments an appropriate fit for where a child is at developmentally. For example, when studying vultures, my 11-yr.-old researched and wrote a report, my 10-yr.-old researched and wrote a paragraph, and my 8-yr.-old researched and wrote a fact sheet. It can be a very simple thing to change things up a bit depending on what your child is capable of, but it can make such a huge difference in the sanity of your homeschool.
– This method is a great way to include your child’s interests in their learning. Not sure how to go about doing that? The library is a great place to start. Check out several books on a particular interest your child has. Read through them together, find some good videos or movies dealing with the subject, and incorporate some artwork into your day. Chances are, this will stimulate your child to ask questions like: Where did this happen? How far is it from us? Can we drive there? How long ago was it? Were you born? Was Grandma? Can this still happen now? Questions like this are an awesome springboard to head back to the library and find resources to answer these specific queries, which will likely lead to even more. This is the beauty of the unit study.
– It is much easier for most children to retain learning when it is all-encompassing. If you instruct a student to read Shakespeare, learn about photosynthesis, and memorize important dates in the French Revolution, generally speaking, most students will find this to be an arduous and- dare I say it- boring task. But…if you read through The Little House on the Prairie with your kids and ask them where maple syrup comes from and how pioneers obtained it and what other events were going on during this time period, you’re more likely to get an interested and inspired learner. This is what unit studies are all about.
– This method does take a bit more preparation than your typical school-in-a-box curriculum. It requires some visits to the library and some knowlege of what additional materials (art, craft, science experiments, etc.) will be needed when, but just remember that the activities you choose are entirely up to you. If you don’t mind the preparation and are a crafty person, then go all out. If you hate crafts and prefer to keep things simple, then keep that it mind and choose activities accordingly. If your children see you are comfortable with what you are doing, they will be comfortable, and they will learn that much easier.
– It can be very tempting to over-do a subject area. If you’re anything like I am, sometimes you may go a little overboard in your preparation, especially if you will be covering an interest of your own. I’ve been known to plan enough activities for a 12- hour school day and will have to trim them down- a lot- in order to make them more realistic. Keep in mind that simple really is better.
– It can be hard to let go of a subject area that has lost your child’s interest but has kept you enthralled. Remember that this is your child’s education. If they lose interest in something, it’s probably time to change gears. You can always study it on your own in your free time. (If you’re lucky enough to have any!)
Have you used this method? Do you have any additional pros or cons? Feel free to leave a comment! Next week I’ll give an honest review of the unschooling approach. Hope to see you there!
A common theme among homeschoolers is, “Don’t be a slave to your curriculum!” The translation is: use your curriculum as a resource; you are not obligated to finish every last page. The key to a successful homeschool is flexibility. I’ve been thinking about this the last few days, and I think this theme can be added to labels, as well.
What do I mean by labels? In this case, I’m referring to differentiating between homeschoolers by their method- traditional, classical, eclectic, unschoolers. You get the picture. As with curriculum, this can be useful. Just as so eloquently stated by Sue Elvis on her blog,
“Labels are difficult. When they are used to separate people by excluding them (you’re not like us so you don’t belong), I hate them. But they can be good when they lead us to like-minded people who can support and encourage us. We sometimes need some reassurance we aren’t alone. When we were ‘doing our own thing’, I often felt alone and actually never talked about how we were homeschooling in case we were criticised. So saying all of that, even when we have adopted a certain label, this doesn’t mean we all have to be exactly the same…”
There is a time and a reason for these distinctions, but do not let yourself be bound by them! I think sometimes we can fall into the trap of defining our homeschool by these labels, and in doing so we can outright ban certain methods of learning because they don’t fit in with what those nifty handbooks say about our approach.
“We’re unschoolers, so we don’t ever use textbooks. We won’t even touch them.”
“Use a television show as a learning resource? No, thank you. They wouldn’t do that in school.”
“You want to read what??? But Charlotte Mason said that there’s no value in twaddle!”
Do you see what I’m getting at? I don’t see anything wrong with any of these homeschooling methods. In fact, I’ve probably used most of them. They all have value in their own way. My problem is with the inflexibility that can come from an attempt to follow each and every “rule” defining these man-made categories.
I, myself, have perpetrated this kind of mentality because I was trying to fall neatly within the “unschooling” parameter. But then one day I realized that I was more interested in “following the rules” than I was in what my kids were actually doing.
As Sue commented, it is helpful to designate which group your homeschool most looks like because that is where you’ll find camaraderie and your main source of information for inspiration, but it should not be the only place you search for ideas and friendship. As an unschooler, I read homeschooling blogs of every nature; I truly find ingenuity in each and every kind, and sometimes I take ideas from these blogs and incorporate them into our day.
So, as a self-proclaimed unschooler, and in keeping with the nature of this post, I’m going to confess to some (or all- how much time do you have?) of the un-unschoolish things that go on in our house.
– I require my kids to read everyday at a designated time, so that it gets done.
– I read aloud to the children at a designated time everyday, so that it gets done.
– I choose the read-aloud books based on things that I think might interest my children, but they would never pursue on their own. I also incorporate a lot of historical fiction/non-fiction because my children aren’t big history buffs.
– My children have a math curriculum, which we try to work on everyday.
– I’ve started a family newsletter, for which I’ve asked for a submission from every child.
– I’ve assigned “jobs” for the newsletter, such as: proofreader, senior editor, copy editor, photo editor, layout designer, etc.
Some unschoolers may well gasp at the amount of structure in our day, but that’s okay. We don’t need to all look the same; in fact, I don’t think we would even if we tried to. So when you go about your homeschooling day, remember that these methods aren’t set in stone. Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I promise you, your homeschool will thrive because of it.
Confession time! What do you think about homeschooling labels?