Learning my Childs Way

Home schooling. What is it? What does it mean to you? How do you home school? These were just some of the questions I had when we started thinking about home schooling our children.

While our daughter was a baby, I started reading articles in the paper about the local schools. Our school district was in financial trouble. They were cutting services and staff over and over again. The elementary schools were eliminating librarians, day time janitors, band, and the parents were fund raising for a crossing guard. That's when I realized that the local public school would not be anything like the school I went to.

Our first step was checking out the private school options. There are three Montessori schools within a 20 minute drive, a variety of Christian schools, and a Waldorf school about 45 minutes away. As I went and sat in classrooms, I realized that I didn't want my daughter spending most of her childhood in those classrooms. Nothing seemed to fit what I saw as her needs for education.

It didn't take me long to realize that home learning could be the best choice for Katherine. She is an intelligent child who does things in her own time. She didn't start talking until she was about 2.5 years old. About a year latter, we went through a speech assessment to find out if there were any long term problems. She could say all of the sounds of a 2 year old, less than half of the sounds of three and four year olds and almost all the sounds of five and six year olds! The final assessment was that her speech development did not fit the norm, but was OK. What if they hadn't tested her for the more advanced sounds? The results would have been very different.

This test echoed the developmental patterns we had seen with Katherine from the beginning. Any time I tried to compare her to a chart, she was fine at the levels below, had some of the skills at her current level, but quite a few from the level above. While I think she might like all the kids in the classroom, I am afraid that she will be labelled as 'below average' because she doesn't fit their standard tests. I do not want her public schools. Home learning was no longer a choice, but a very firm decision.

Fortunately, we live in a popular home learning area with some of the best legislation for home learners in Canada. I had never planned to home school, and wasn't quite sure what it meant. I did know people whose children learned at home, and it seemed to work for their families. I subscribed to one of the two local newsletters and started listening to conversations about learning at home.

I liked what I read, saw and thought about. Most of my remaining doubts were about me as a teacher. I love my children, our 6 year-old daughter Katherine, now has a 3 year-old brother Duncan. I feel priveledged to be spending their childhoods with them. However I do get impatient, need my own space some times, and don't have a teaching background. Could we home learn? We would try and see what happened.

An experienced home learning parent had told me about a great activity they did tracing coins and learning about money. Although Katherine was only 4y at the time, she loved coins and it sounded perfect for us. I picked a time when she and I wouldn't get interrupted, gathered the materials, and sat down to teach her about money. ( Experienced home learning parents are probably having a great laugh at this point. )

We started to trace the coins on paper to show how five pennies make a nickel, and two nickels make a dime. Much to my surprise, Katherine was not enjoying herself. She refused to count the number of pennies with me, wouldn't help trace circles, and became generally difficult. Finally I was so annoyed I just put everything away. She came up and hugged me and said 'I still love you Mommy'. My heart melted, but the doubts in my abilities remained.

A week latter, Katherine was watching TV and told me which three shows which shows were listed on the screen. She had never even watched one of the shows. I sat in stunned silence. She was right. Was it a good guess? Had she memorized them or could she read? I hadn't planned to 'teach' her how to read until she was 7 or 8. We hadn't even started any language lessons. What was going on? This event was not part of the plans I had been making for her home schooling education.

Truthfully, I don't think she could read that day, but I'm not certain about that statement. She is quite capable of selectively answering our questions when it suits her. We knew she could sing the alphabet song, and recognize some letters. I have been able to discover that she knows what all the letters look like, and can correctly tell us which letter starts most words ('My grandmother's name is Margery, what letter does Margery start with?"), even when she has never seen or heard the word before.

My husband and I have talked about this situation a few times. When she choses to answer our questions, we find out she knows way more than either one of us thought she did. She has correctly found a show she would like to watch listed in the TV Guide, much to my amazement since the look of the words in the TV Guide is very different from the logo with the show's name on TV. It's not just sight recognition. We don't know where or how she has learned these skills.

What has become clear is that Katherine doesn't need me to 'teach' her or have a master plan for her education. I do have to provide a good learning environment, answer her questions, help when she asks, and watch her learn.

I knew she would learn to walk, talk, and all those hundreds of other things babies are suppose to learn in their first few years. There is no reason to create an artificial line between life learning and academic learning. For me, that was one of the reasons I thought home learning was great. Yet I still fell into the trap of trying to artificially set-up a teaching situation. No wonder Katherine wanted nothing to do with my planned lesson.

I have to remember to trust her. She loves learning in her own way, at her own pace. Now if I can just stay out of her way, she will to a great job all by herself. I am looking forward to having a wonderful time watching her grow and learn in the coming years. I just hope I can remember what I learned from our first home lesson.

Christine Nicholls loves being mommy to Katherine who is now 9y and Duncan who is 6y. Her business, Creative Kids at Home (http://www.ckah.com) lets her combine her skills and business background with full-time parenting, and is a lot of fun for her kids.

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