Confessions of a former home school dad …
My wife and I home schooled our three children for two years—
it was the best of times, it was the worst of times …
Well okay, not that bad, but at times pretty close.
Now I could regale you with story after story of my exploits as a homeschool dad, but I’d rather answer the main question of this blog post, a question you’re probably asking yourself …
How did we manage to have three children home for two years straight—Monday to Sunday, 24/7/365 (barring of course summers at the lake and all that) without pulling our hair out, or seeming to come out of it with hair that hasn’t gone completely grey?
Well, it’s simple: WIGS!
But seriously, before I break down some words of wisdom there is a significant difference between home schooling and home learning that needs to be understood.
As a home school dad, I was responsible for my child’s learning—period.
There were no teachers, no assignments, no provincial curriculum, no tests—unless we implemented them—and no enforced direction. If we wanted to un-school our children (yes, that’s a thing) we could have. If we wanted to implement the classical curriculum and teach our children Latin, ancient Greek, and the Trivium, we could’ve done that.
Conversely, with home learning, your child has their teacher who uses the Profound Learning method and teaches Alberta curriculum. All the learning is a continuation from what was taught in the classroom prior to quarantine, there is a very clear direction and focus, and, most importantly—sigh of relief—you are not the teacher. Your role is to simply support the learning.
Doreen Grey has done a great job breaking down what home learning is in her blog post.
Nevertheless, in spite of several key distinctions there are some nuances of home learning that resemble home schooling, which leads me to my principles that you may find helpful.
Now take this post with a grain of salt—I did not homeschool full-time.
My wife took up a majority of the home schooling, and I participated from time to time while keeping apace with my day-to-day work obligations.
But that’s the point of this whole post, for many people are having to work from home while juggling all kinds of home learning issues.
I feel your pain …
No seriously, I do …
Okay, enough of the preamble.
These are home learning principles from a former home schooling dad …
1. Take a Deep Breath and Chill
An important part of home learning is creating the tension between routine and a laid back environment for learning, i.e., working with your child to complete various assignments while being able to stop and smell the roses.
When I was a home school dad the best days were when I was laid back and facilitated learning while simply enjoying time spent with my children.
The frustrating days were when I let external pressures or general anxieties bog me down and I was unable to be present for the children in the moment and foster it along. I became rigid, and concerned more about managing the clock like a Swiss train station than about my child’s ability to learn at his and her natural pace and rhythm.
So sit back, take a breath, and chill out—it’ll make all the difference.
I am not suggesting that you ought to let the deadlines slide or be sluggish in your child’s supervision.
My point is simply that keeping an environment that is calm and relaxed while focusing your child on the work at hand will make a lot of difference. And such an environment is largely a state of mind.
But this leads me to another issue that plagued me for the longest time … the stressor of being responsible for my child’s intellectual development.
“Am I doing this right?” was a question I routinely asked myself. I’m sure you’ve asked it many times too.
But after attending homeschool conferences, talking to other homeschool parents, and reading books on the topic, I learned that this concern is very common among parents. Which leads to another principle I learned as a homeschool dad …
2. Trust the Process
Learning happens naturally. It’s part of what makes us human.
We are learning machines. We are always experiencing the world and making meaning of it.
With that in mind, another key to home learning is providing opportunities inside and outside of the curriculum for your child to experience the world in a way that is meaningful. Books, audiobooks, documentaries, active journaling and exploring outside are ways to experience the world and find connections to curriculum.
Charlotte Mason is the classic approach to this way of learning. She built her educational philosophy on the belief that children are good and strive to learn. Mason believed that children learn best by reading good books and being out in nature keeping an active journal of their experiences.
By “good books” Mason meant that children should be learning from books about things, not books about books about things.
“Books about things” can be stories of actual historical figures and their struggles, for instance, rather than an exposition on a particular event like you would find in a textbook. History is then learned as a story, a grand narrative, rather than as an outline of objective events, hence her term ‘living books’.
So let’s talk about books for a moment …
3. Surround Your Children with Good Books
If you haven’t already, one of the best things you can do for your children is fill up your home with good books. There are countless lists of good books and “living books” for your child’s age group on the internet.
Typically you’re looking for readers that are award winners and more literary than entertaining.
(I’m not advocating Captain Underpants here).
Stumped for titles, you can initially start out by introducing books that you read when you were a child.
Getting your kids into the habit of reading may require you to turn off the phones and TV in the evenings and settle into some reading yourself. You want to create that structure and quiet for the reading of good books to take place.
Relatedly, a good way to improve your child’s cognitive development and language comprehension is reading good literature to them aloud. For reading aloud to be valuable to your child, the quality of literature is important—you want your child to hear the very best of the English language. And nothing beats Lewis and Tolkien in this regard. E.B. White is another great author to look at—Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little are great books.
If you’re reading good books to your children you’ll no doubt come across words that are too difficult for your child to know—but that’s actually a good thing. If they ask about a word, it’s a great time to provide the definition—even if you have to consult a dictionary yourself!
If you have high school students in your home, go on a literary journey with them by reading through some books you’ve been dying to read again like all those dystopian novels we had to read in high school that are still being peddled today (and perhaps now for good reason!): Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Brave New World.
Read with your older children and spend time over Coke floats or something unpacking every 3rd chapter. My daughter and I did this for a while in home school. We’d read a book together, then unpack it by the fireplace at our favourite cafe slurping hot drinks. (Not that you can do that anymore, at least for now, but you get the gist.) One we enjoyed together was A Wrinkle in Time by Madelaine L’Engle.
If you’re stumped for books for your high school student, Master’s own Renée Laugesen has created a College Book List that should interest you.
If you don’t want to read, then get audiobooks on your phone or tablet, create a comfy media space with blankets and pillows and give your child time to listen. The Hobbit read by Nicol Williamson (in my opinion, the original voice of Gollum) is a favourite in our home.
Another family favourite audio series of ours is The Story of the World: a multi-volume history series from ancient to modern times told in a narrational fashion. All of us in my family, including extended family members and their kids, have enjoyed and learned from this series over the years (a great thing to have in your car for long drives).
This leads me to my next principle with a prolonged nod to the great Charlotte Mason.
4. Get Out in Nature
Even though we are quarantined to our homes for the most part, we can still get out for walks, which is a great opportunity to learn with your children.
Get a field guide for Alberta wildlife and vegetation, take a pair of binoculars, and go exploring—kids love it! Take time to notice a bird perched in a tree or tracks along a path, take out the guide and try to determine what you are looking at. They can bring a magnifying glass to see bugs or flowers close up.
Encourage your children to bring a little notebook with them and a pencil to jot down and sketch what they see. If they like photography, encourage them to take pictures with your mobile device or have them bring their camera. Once home, your child can print out the photos and stick them in their nature journal.
Now I’m not an artist, but I’ve always been drawn (pardon the pun) to nature journaling—though I’ve only done it a few times. There are many resources online (tutorials etc) that will help you get started, but it’s a beautiful way to be in the moment when you’re out in nature—especially as the days are getting warmer.
Something you might be interested in is NatureLynx: an app with which you can “upload biodiversity sightings, have … data verified by experts, and go on "missions" to learn about the natural world and participate in biodiversity-related research.”
If you’re not into walking and exploring, there’s all kinds of stuff to do around the house with your kids.
It’ll almost be time to get some gardens going, which kids enjoy getting involved in. And what child doesn't enjoy baking cookies or helping make dinner?
This brings me to my fifth principle—arguably the most important one …
5. Foster Your Family
Home learning is all about building a strong family.
If you talk to most home schoolers, the primary reason why they sacrifice so much time to teach their children themselves is to build a strong family life.
My children took their swimming lessons two times a week at the aquatic centre of a local university. One day we were walking to the centre, and I noticed the three of them were holding hands—holding hands! If that doesn’t strike a tear to the eye of a dad I don’t know what would!
The whole point of home learning is embedding your children in your home life: family prayers in the morning and at night before bed, reading to your children, cooking with them, doing art together, going on nature walks, running the odd errand (though probably not a great time right now to do that …) and just chilling out with them.
I reached out to a donor-parent not to long ago to see how she and her family were doing, and she said something that is at the heart of the home learning phenomenon we’re in …
She said that the family is finally able to sit down to a meal together because they are all home.
What can be better than that?
There’s one consolation I take in this time of restricted movement and precariousness about what the future holds:
That we have been given a unique opportunity to be home together as families and help our children learn and grow.
This is a golden opportunity, a gift from Heaven.
The key is to chill out, take a deep breath, and create that inviting, comfortable, stimulating place for you and your family to learn and grow together.
And if all else fails, remember this one simple point from a former home school dad who has to remind himself of this daily …
Take time to stop and smell the roses.
What are you doing at home that you’d like to share? Leave your comments or questions below. We’d love to hear from you!