Friday, October 22, 2010

Thoughts about homeschooling

I don't have children, but when I was one myself, I wished I was home-schooled. I actually designed my own curricula :-D It was rather advanced, but I am multi-talented and very intelligent. Perhaps wouldn't fit everyone, but I loved learning and school - like the Librarian ;-)
[Now, don't think I'm bragging, I have Asperger's which means that a) I don't exaggerate and b) even when I am multi-talented and intelligent, there's a lot of things I'm not good at. Everything balances out in the end ;-)]
I built the curricula on my interests and the elementary school curriculum of Finland, and I think I would have managed to keep up with it. I also think I would have a better education now, if I had been homeschooled by my own design. I would be pretty "socially incompatible", but I would also not have PTSD and social phobia.

What I find interesting is that it's rather hard to find a ready-made curricula on-line. Internet is a huge chunk of homeschoolers' resource, and it's not ok that one doesn't find what one needs on-line.

I have been thinking, and this is just my uneducated thoughts - I'm not an educated teacher, I haven't worked (much) with teaching and planning the school year, and I have no personal experience of homeschooling. I am saying what I am saying to give ideas and to help people who are in the situation, and you can ignore everything I say, if it's of no help or use to you, ok?

This is an old elementary school timetable from Finland. These were published in most magazines and given out by banks and stores at Autumn. This is old, so there's 6 days; it was only some 50 years ago children went to school on Saturdays too. I suppose that's the same all over the world. The modern system is five days work and two days weekend.

When the child is about 5-6, he/she should learn to read.
There are different ways of teaching this, but according to my experience, the best way is to treat the words as if they were pictograms, and then teach the child the alphabet separately.
Children should also be read books out loud, and when they learn to read, they should do the reading loud themselves.
This should be exercised every day.
When the child has been reading a couple of years, you should teach the child some basic drama - that is, to read loud well. This can be taught by letting the child listen to audiobooks.

The child should also learn to write after he/she has learned to read. This happens by copying, first letters, then words.
After the child can write both prints and cursive, it's time to exercise this by letting the child write after what you read, and by writing his/her own stories or diary.
It is necessary to have writing at least once a week, preferably 3 times a week.

Have the child to read at least one book every week and let him/her keep a book journal. The length of books doesn't matter, but it should be at least one book every week. There is no better way of learning grammar than by reading books.

Maths is the next subject. Every person should know how to do the basic counting, numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication and divination. It's not difficult either, and it doesn't matter if the child has learning disabilities or not.
Use an abacus and marbles, or beads. You can also make small chains of beads, with one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine and ten beads in a string, all numbers different colors. You could also get the child a little farm with plastic animals representing numbers. It really doesn't matter if the child learns to count by lifting beans from one bowl to another, or moving plastic (or wooden - or knitted) animals from one pasture to another. Keep it simple. "You have ten beans in this bowl, and five in this, how many do you have alltogether?", "You have thirteen sheep in this pasture. If you move five of them to another pasture, how many sheep do you have left in this one?" 
The best way to learn multiplication is first to teach the kid the concept of multiplication with the beaded strings. 5x5 is five strings with five beads in each. Then the child should learn the multiplication table by heart. You can use flashcards to help the memory process.
Divination is done with the beans or animals. Let the child divide 15 sheep in three pens, or 20 beans in 4 bowls.
Basic maths is really a question of simple drill. Have a counting lesson every day.
Basic math is done during the first years, from class 1 to class 3.

On fourth year you introduce fraction. I think the best way of doing this is with the cake or pizza :-D
You can make cakes out of clay, felt, paper, and divide them into four, five and six pieces. It really doesn't matter if the child understand that 1/4 is a piece of the whole that is divided into four pieces, or if he/she learns the visual idea of a quarter. Let the kid divide food equally to the whole family, or a group of toys, or among friends. Sharing equally is the best way of teaching fraction.

One important and often ignored part of math is money. Money is a really good way of teaching the child basic counting and fraction, as most monetary systems are based on one whole and 1/100 of the whole, like Euro and cents, Dollar and cents, Pound and pennies and so on. It is also percent calculation in practice. Nothing makes learning easier than practical application :-D
Practice the usage of money at home when the child is small by letting him/her "buy" his/her clothes and food, or by having a play store or market. You can make play money our of paper and coins of clay or cardboard.
When the child grows older (7-8), you can let him/her pay the groceries and count the money he/she gets back under your supervision, and then (~10) he/she can go to the shop alone with a shopping list and change purse.

This is what every child should know at the age of 10.
When it comes to more advanced maths and mother-tongue, it would be better to leave the education to people who know what they are doing.

Then there are other things every human being SHOULD know, and this can be divided on the rest of the lesson time, about 2-4 lessons every day.
A 7-10 years old shouldn't have more than 3-4 lessons a day, all together, 11-15 years old can have 6-8 lessons. (A handy tool is to divide the child's age in half and use that as the amount of lessons)

I suggest the daily newspaper creates the frame on which the lessons are build, and you go through one or two news articles with the child, find out where the countries mentioned are, what is being talked about in the article, what is the historical, social, scientific ground for what happened and so on.

Every human being should be aware of that they live on a round planet, that is part of a solar system, that is part of a galaxy, that is part of a universe.

Every human being should have a basic understanding of the geography of this planet, know that there are continents, have at least heard all the names of the today existing countries and where on this planet they are, have knowledge of weather, biomes, geologic provinces and so on and so forth.

Every human being should be able to read a newspaper and understand what is being said in it, and be able to find out more information, question everything, double-check everything and educate him/herself so that he/she is able to form an educated opinion on what he/she reads in the newspaper.

Every human being should have a basic understanding of history all over this planet, religions, politics, philosophies and ideologies that make this humankind act the way it does.

Every human being should have understanding of how the community he/she lives in, social codes and norms, traffic rules, civil rights, infrastructure etc. Visit the local hospital, fire department, police department and social care with your child.

Every human being should have a stronger knowledge and understanding of his/her own background and family history; know who they are and where they come from and what made them be the way they are now.

You should enroll your child to group activities where he/she has to develop his/her communication and social skills with someone who doesn't necessarily share the same values, qualities and attributes as his/her parents/family. Scouts would have been nice, if you can find a politically and religiously free scouts. Sports activities are nice too, like ballet or riding. 4H, Red Cross and other such organizations organize group activities for children. Try to choose these activities so that there is no ideology, religious or political, behind it, or that the ideology that lies behind is such that you can live with it, like Pagan groups. You could also start your own scout group and teach a larger group of children scouting.

Every human being should have a basic understanding of natural science, biology, chemistry and physics. You don't need to "believe" in what the scientists say are truth, but you need to know what they are saying and why.

Every human being should be able to express him/herself with at least one language, preferably with two.
It would be good if the child also knew a little sign language. Even though there are several sign languages in the world, it is easier to understand sign language that is different from your own, than spoken language different from yours. 

Every human being should also be able to express him/herself through art. Drawing is a very simple, mechanical art, that doesn't demand more than practice for a person to be able to do it.

Every human should be able to sing. (Not necessarily well, but enough)

Every human being should be able to do some basic crafts, use a hammer, drill, saw and screwdriver. Get some IKEA furniture and let the child build it. Every human being should also be able to sew a button, darn socks, iron his/her clothes and sew on a patch, and mend their clothes.

Every human being should be able to grow their own food, so if you can't give the child a plot, give him/her some jars so that he/she can grow plants on the windowsill.

Every human being should be able to take care of another living creature, so give the child a pet. Don't give a pet to a child under 10, though, because they really aren't ready to bear the responsibility. I just read about a team of firemen that managed to save a kitten that had been flushed down the toilet by its 3 years old owner. The poor kitten had stuck in the pipes about a meter from the seat and would have suffered a horrible death had it not been rescued. The child did not do this because he was evil, but because she was a child and didn't know any better. (On the other hand, my 3-years-old niece rescued snails and earthworms from the street after rain so that they would not be killed by bikes. Some people are born with compassion toward all life, others not.)

Every human should have basic survival skills and basic first aid skills.

Every human should know how to cook, enough to feed him/herself and his/her family.

Every human should know how to take care of the household, how to clean and make laundry and make beds and such.

Every human being should know how to swim, bike, climb trees and rope, and get a habit of exercising daily.
I also think one should know the basic ballroom dancing, like two-step and waltz.

As every human should know this, so should you, and you don't need expensive books and material to be able to teach all this to your child. In fact, most of this you should be teaching your child outside school, like cooking and biking and doing the laundry. 

The purpose of education is to create adults who can learn what they need to learn, who know how to find out information, who can express themselves, who can take care of themselves and others...
Being a home-schooler means you have a huge responsibility of your child. I suggest you read Noel Steatfeild's The Circus Is Coming, to realize the damage you can cause your child by insisting to home-school, so consider your decision really, really hard before you make it.

Going to an ordinary school shouldn't be a problem, because you can always fill in with the necessary information you think is missing, or if you think the child is being miseducated.
The school shouldn't be responsible of teaching your child the correct, desirable values and spiritual beliefs in the first place, that job is yours, and the only way to do that is by example.
Neither should the school be responsible of teaching your child how to behave. You should have done that already before the kid is 6.

There are things, though, one cannot give to a child at home, like all the possibilities in arts, crafts and sports they can in public school.

On the other hand, you should be aware of the bullying and possible sexual harassment, and other nasty things going on in the public school and take your responsibility as a member of the community you live in and step in to protect all the children, not just your own.

The best way to guard your child against bullying is to see that he/she has friends and they all understand the true meaning of friendship - semper fidelis. No-one left behind. Not even the weak, evil and stupid. It's a question of solidarity, co-humanity, consideration and working together for the greater good of all.
"Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable."
- Aurora Levins Morales
Bullies and bullying shouldn't be tolerated, not in the name of "sticks and stones", not in the name of "sense of humor", not in the name of "what doesn't kill you" and not in the name of "I was bullied too".  

Also, you should have given your child self-confidence strong enough so that he/she dares to come to you and tell you if a teacher is being unfair (they can be), or if their school mates are not nice, and about everything that happens at school. You should be present enough to listen and to hear your child, and brave enough to stand for your child and go to school and see things change for the better.

What really bothers me is that homeschoolers seem so oblivious to the downsides of homeschooling... so oblivious that they will get pretty nasty when criticized, and vehemently deny any insinuation that there might be something wrong with homeschooling. Of course there is. There is "something wrong" with everything.
To every smart homeschooled kid there are several less smart homeschooled kid, to every socially well adapted person there will be several socially impaired hermits, and so on. Most homeschooled girls become SAHMs and homeschoolers... I mean, one mother said that she had been explaining to her 4-year-old the pros and cons of homeschooling and the girl is happy about being homeschooled... SHE'S FOUR YEARS OLD! How could she make an educated choice? Ah!

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