Friday, August 24, 2012

There is no "back to school" for us.

It's late August and my dearest daughter is a big, giant five year old. School bells start to ring, the ice cream man mysteriously disappears, and daytime TV becomes even more unbearable.

That can only mean one thing: BACK TO SCHOOL!

Well, not for my kid. If it were up to me (solely), I wouldn't touch a public school with a ten-foot pole. Or a private school, for that matter. But alas, I give the aforementioned daughter her own choice in matters of overall educational approach. Every year, I ask "do you want to go to building school this year?" Every year, a resounding no.

Do I unschool? Do I let her do whatever she wants all the time? Do I count the fact that she learned to make a wicked banana bread as an educational experience? Do I use homeschooling as an excuse to avoid housework, real work, or any other traditionally prioritized structure? When I tell people I homeschool Dahlia, they wonder these things - so it's time to clear the air.

First of all, I homeschool year round, perhaps taking a week off here or there for vacation (we've recently moved to Tennessee to be closer to Rick's family, so we've had time off lately for adjustment, as well). Dahlia's had about three sick days for the January-2012-to-present term. She has school on most holidays, even if it amounts to learning about the holiday itself and doing a project involving the festivities.

What I generally do during the day is any combination of one or more of the following: the Reading Practice (Grade 2) book, Learn at Home (Grade 2), Children's Illustrated Encyclopedia, science projects, flash cards (addition and subtraction), number line work, phonics tests, crafts, journaling, reading practice, and we'll soon be picking up a copy of Brainquest (Grade 2) to complete the book curriculum.

Now, you may be confused as to why I listed several "Grade 2" items in the list of books I use to homeschool my FIVE year old (who "should" be entering Kindergarten this month). The explanation for this is simple: she works on a second-grade level. She reads on a second-grade level. She does lots of things a second-grader does. As a parent, I am not afraid to operate on an accelerated schedule or use early exposure to make later learning easier. My educational philosophy is mostly "start from the beginning and work your way up." So, my five year old can explain the origins of the earth to you (including the Big Bang and evolution), tell you about atoms and molecules, and rationalize things that are generally reserved for older kids. I believe it is necessary to give a child the basic understanding of the world around us, our bodies, cultural observations, numbers, and a vast knowledge of the beliefs of others so that they can form a skeleton upon which all the rest of their education can build. If you don't know what soil is made out of, or what the sun is, or what water is made of, how can you learn about plant life cycles?

The process for learning to read was more difficult than a traditional approach: I taught her how to read and write simultaneously, in equal measure. I did a Hooked on Phonics system with her, and as she learned to write/sound out letters, I started helping her write sentences. Even though she couldn't read the words she was writing, she was gaining a knowledge that made the transition from reading to writing much more smooth. It took longer than, say, just learning to read, but I wouldn't do it any other way.

Secular homeschooling is always a fun challenge. Even in day-to-day things such as physiological functions, the death of a relative or pet, and many other life situations, not having a religious cushion to lean on can prove rather challenging. I can't exactly tell Dahlia her hamster is in a better place, so I have to explain that "some people believe when someone they love dies, they go to a place called heaven, some people believe they have souls that are reincarnated, some people believe their spirit roams the earth, but we know scientifically that the electrical impulses in their brain stop, and their body starts to decay. They're gone, but they can mostly enter into the cycle of life." I've even had to explain why it's silly to bury the dead in boxes, all full of preservatives that keep them from being able to feed the animals which keep the soil fertile, not to mention it takes up valuable space, etc. It can be difficult to formulate these things in a way that she can understand while also taking her very sensitive personality into account - but the reward is so great.

The phrase "back to school" is meaningless to me. School for Dahlia is always in session. Public school is a state-run facility that aims to indoctrinate children in a rather xenophobic way. Pilgrims didn't sit down at the table of brotherhood, breaking bread with their cartoonishly silly neighbors, the Indians. This is one example of the rampant, unconditionally patriotic piles of crap thrown at children, and it's certainly not the last. In school, children are trained to refrain from asking questions (except after raising their hand, alongside 20-30 other curious minds who have just as much right to ask questions, but time doesn't permit that), they're encouraged to participate in a herd mentality, and overall so many of them fall through the cracks. Lowest common denominator learning does not a flourishing, creative mind make. So I try to go against that grain with my own progeny. Now, I understand that homeschooling isn't necessarily something everyone can do, but if it's an option, I encourage it every time. If you've understood with mastery, and then graduated from the grade in question, you're qualified to teach it. Yes, determining what method of teaching works for your child (or the child you're teaching) can be difficult and full of trial/error, but if you are decidedly full of perseverance, you can do it! Do some research ("the homework" isn't just for children) and don't be afraid to make a few mistakes before you iron out a great path to optimal education.

**Disclaimer** I don't have anything against public school teacher or officials - you do the best you can in a broken system! :)