Thursday, March 20, 2008

Homeschooling and the pre-schooler

There are as many approaches to homeschooling and methods and styles as there are homes that school their children! Here are eight random points of our personal style of schooling the children. This will change and evolve as the children grow older and we learn more and try different things, but this is where we are at the moment.

We prioritize the children's learning.

Our first priority is teaching them to love the Lord. A great emphasis is placed on going forth out into the world to spread the gospel - but it has to start at home! We testify to our children, we pray with them, we read the Bible with them and we pray for them. We try to demonstrate God's love for them loving them to bits! And we try to demonstrate His justice by being fair and consistent. Our greatest desire for them is to know the Lord above all else.

Our second 'priority' is teaching them how to relate to others - that they may one day spread the gospel. This includes (for example) speaking clearly and politely (and loudly for the hard of hearing - like their parents!); using appropriate manners (saying please and thank-you, table manners etc.); asking politely and graciously accepting the answer (even if it's a no); respecting other people's possessions and homes; showing proper respect for elders and authority figures; obeying laws (house rules!). If this is not happening, we will suspend 'school' activities and concentrate on this!

Our third priority is teaching them to take care of self. This is getting dressed, cleaning the house, hygiene, chores, care and maintenance of their own and the family's possessions (stewardship) and later in life, money management and budgeting. In our opinion, it is cruel to raise an adult who can calculate pi to the 24562nd digit in their head - but can't run a washing machine!

Then it is school. Learning everything else the world has to offer!! How exciting!!!!! We are less rigid with our priorities from here. We want them to have the foundational skills to learning (reading, basic math etc) so that they have the tools to learn anything they want. From there, they sky is the limit!

Provide a rich learning environment and model a passion for Lord, love, learning and literature.

Our home is saturated with learning. We open the Bible daily as a family. We discuss and apply scripture, literature, current events etc. It is not uncommon for us to get the atlas out after tea and find on the map where pasta or burritos originate. Erin wanted to learn to read because she saw us reading and writing EVERY DAY and wanted to get in on the action. She wants to learn about cars and tools because Daddy is excited about it. She wants to learn about cooking because she 'helps' me and hears me talk about activating yeast, 1/2 cups, grams and milliliters. A lot of what we talk about is way over the kid's heads, but we don't talk in babble or two word sentences to a baby learning to talk - why should we discuss only what a child knows and understands in their presence?

Embrace teachable moments were possible.

When one of the kids shows an interest in something, we try to take a moment to teach them about it. It's not unusual to find Jon and Billy taking something apart to see how it works. When Erin started carrying around a book on anatomy we read it to her and made sure she got a Dr's kit (which still sees daily use over seven months later!). We don't wait to tell them about things when they are older or when the curriculum gets to it. We give them the tools to follow their passions and endeavor to cultivate a passion for the things we want to teach them.

Don't push "school" on a young child before they are ready.

Yes, Erin is learning to read at age 3 1/2. Yes, we use a fairly conventional method. I would have been quite happy, however, to wait until age six or seven if she hadn't displayed a desire to learn to read and "reading readyness".

"Reading readyness" includes:
- the ability to speak reasonably clearly so those outside the family can understand easily. A preschooler who cannot speak clearly is not, in my opinion, ready to sound out words.
- the ability to sit for a story of reasonable length and discuss the story with understanding
- able to interpret and discuss illustrations (eg. pointing to a picture and saying "that is a dog, it's chasing a ball")
- able to identify some, if not all, letters
- Shows an open curiosity and enthusiasm for words, reading, stories and books.

If you want your preschooler to learn to read and they aren't doing these things, read to them three books a day with enthusiasm and love. Choose books which will expand their minds and vocabularies. Beatrix Potter, Pamela Allen, Mem Fox, Shirley Hughes, Lynley Dodd, Dr. Seuss, Bruce Whatley, Jackie French, Dick Bruna.... are brilliant authors! If you are really stuck, read Dorothy Butler's book "Babies Need Books" for some fantastic suggestions! Even if all you read is the Bible, if you do it with love, passion and excitement DAILY, you will light their fire. If you sit them in front of a phonics program without that fire in their bellies, you are doing their learning the worst disservice you can imagine.

Keep lessons short.

If you keep going 'till they get bored, you create the habit of stopping when they are bored. If you keep going AFTER they are bored, you create the habit of being bored when doing school work. This habit has been well instilled in most children by high school, you can see it by the way their eyes glaze over when the school bell rings! Ten minutes, twenty at an ABSOLUTE most, is plenty on any given activity. This creates the habit of paying attention and working diligently. If they experience success, you can leave them wanting more (Erin hammers me almost daily to do more school work!). If the session does not turn out as you planned, you can pack up and do it another day without grinding associations of frustration, tears and disapproval into your young student. Teaching at this age is as much about teaching an attitude to learning and academics as it is about teaching ABC's. Your plans for teaching are there to serve your child and your teaching, NOT the other way around!

Teaching is about equipping our children for the world - not party tricks.

A five year old who can name every country in the world, or every prime minister, or say their ABC's backward without any understanding of what they are saying has not learned anything that equips them for the world. They aren't much more than performing monkeys! Now, that is not to say Party tricks are evil, Erin actually has a few of them. But they do not take up the bulk of our teaching time. Erin can't say the alphabet faultlessly. She can name all the letters, tell you their sounds and is reading some words - but only started learning the alphabet when she asked me to teach her. Why? Because the only time you use the alphabet in the world is when you are putting something in alphabetical order, something she is not cognitively able to do yet. Before spending time and energy teaching Erin something, I ask myself what REAL benefit it has to her life.

Memorizing something should be as much about writing on the heart of the child as teaching them to say the words - if not more so.

Their are children who can rattle off Psalm 119, but when you ask them "what is a 'statute'?" they look at you blankly. This is pointless jabbering in my opinion. Erin memorises scripture and can quote more scripture at 3 than I could at 13, but it is also used as a platform for discussing what scripture MEANS. For example, Erin memorised "The Lord is good! His love endures forever. His faithfulness lasts for all generations." When we first introduced this scripture, she and I ran on the spot until we got puffed out. I then told her that God's love endures forever, that means it NEVER gets puffed out, NEVER gets tired and NEVER gives up! We then talked about generations. We talked about great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and kids and how God is faithful to ALL of them. We talked about this every time we repeated the scripture and eventually she would put into her own words what it means to her. Genisis 1:1 led to discussions on "beginning " and "created", John 3:16 set us talking about "eternal" and added "whosoever" to our vocab. It has been prophisied that our children will ask questions (“When your children ask their fathers in the time to come, saying, ‘What…?’” Joshua 4:21), we need to encourage it, not quash it. Teaching Erin challenges my own understanding of the verses and so each one is chosen prayerfully and I ALWAYS learn something. This is one of my favourite parts of parenting! (There is a great Blog about kids asking questions on Holy Experience)

Don't underestimate a child's potential for understanding.

We do this all the time in this society. Let them have a go, explain it in real terms using the proper terms, read a book or article to them about it stopping to explain and define the terms used, ask THEIR opinion. I guarantee they'll surprise you! Billy sure did when he identified Russia on the map!! (yes, total party trick in terms of geography, BUT it showed he can memorise and recognise non-geometric shapes! Not something I thought he was ready for.) Take them seriously, kids are people too!

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