November 19, 2008

Our Homeschool Journey: Changing Course


Homeschooling is a journey. Sometimes the path is clear and straight - the sun is shining, and all is well. Other times you have to turn on your fog lights, pray for protection and guidance, and hope that you don't run over anyone since you can hardly see ten feet ahead. A big part of preventing a wreck is keeping your eyes on what is ahead and keeping your hands on the steering wheel (foresight and a plan of action). This is our story... the story of how I learned to navigate a little better on our homeschool path.

For the past two years, the homeschool road has been getting darker. With the sun set and curves ahead, I've been praying about what is around the next bend. It isn't that I haven't enjoyed homeschooling... it is just that the children have been in the process of growing up - becoming more mature - and our needs have been changing. Eventually we were bound to come to a curve in the path. Just as a child graduates from baby food and picture books (well, maybe they can still enjoy picture books - I do) they grow out of certain curriculum and teaching methods. I have known for a long time that mine have been needing more than unit studies... less of a strict and stressful (parent-led teaching) schedule... and a lot more nature and literature. I knew that as they grew, what may have worked for them at 2 and 4 might not be the best mode of 'transportation' to continue stimulating them intellectually at 10 and 12. And with the gradual changes came a fear of the unknown for the navigator - because it meant I was going to have to steer off the beaten path.

And so began my search into Charlotte Mason. I knew enough about her style to admire her in passing.

A long time ago, I had read about learning styles, teaching styles, homeschool methods, and such. After skimming through these things, I just decided to go with what was working for right then and not worry about stereotypes until much later in the trip. After all, I started homeschooling when my kids were 4 and 2. Anything worked back then. It isn't hard to educate a toddler and a preschooler. Unit studies were the favorite, so we ran with it. The kids loved learning in a topical, hands-on fashion. They thrived as young kids spending a lot of time on drama, games, dress-up, activities, and field trips. Somehow, though, I ended up getting a little overwhelmed by my perfectionism (fancy that)... the rabbit trails got longer and longer as the kids got older. The lists got burdensome - even for me. We ended up spending too long on things and fizzling out because I was not willing to move on. The planning consumed me and I always felt like a failure because we didn't get everything done.

This began to wear on the kids. Not just me, but the children. We were all feeling like failures and the joy was quickly ebbing away from our learning experiences. The list was taking on a life of its own. The word 'school' was enough to send my kids running to their rooms. I knew something was very wrong.

And so we came to the curve in our homeschooling road.

Me being a mom, I knew that things had to change... and they had to start with me. Thus began the prayers, the discussions, the research. Now here we are with a brand new plan forming. I felt my heart opening and my life beginning to drastically simplify. This was a welcome feeling knowing that our new baby (due in March) was bound to bend us around another hairpin curve.

If you don't know anything about Charlotte, like I didn't when my kids were younger, you might just fall in love with the woman if you keep reading. Her ideals and utmost respect and admiration for children are praiseworthy. Here are some reasons below why we're changing course and planning to turn towards a more Charlotte Mason teaching style:

1. Charlotte believed that the home life should be relaxed, positive, and enjoyable. Lately our homeschooling has been leaving me stressed and negative. I could use a good right turn.

2. Charlotte believed that one of the most important parts of teaching were to help form good habits in the student. I think we all need a good dose of work on habits in our home. After all, self-motivation is the beginning of inspired learning and good work ethic. I don't want children who can't be trusted to do a job unless they have someone watching over their shoulder. I want to work myself out of a job.

3. Charlotte believed that all life is a classroom and the goal of the 'teacher' is to help the child become self-educated. I believe the way we have done unit studies has taught my children to rely too much on me. Being teacher-led so much has bred in them a hesitation to seek information without being told to do so. Also, because of our topical focus, it has quenched their desire in some cases to learn about other topics that they were interested in because they weren't "part of our unit". I don't think this would be a problem if we had been doing unit studies on occasion, but we have done them for 7 years! I can't tell you how many times we have set a book aside for a later date when we were "studying that topic". I want my kids to love to learn and follow their heart's desires (which God put there), not just a unit study scope or sequence. Life doesn't come at us in neatly sequenced topical units. We have to be able to multi-task and change gears - all in a matter of hours each day - to be effective and able adults.

4. Charlotte believed that we should be feeding the children the best intellectual food (God's Word, literature, fine art, nature). I feel that while unit studies can have many of these things added in at times, there is also the tendency to overlook them for lengthy periods or not spend as much time in them as you should. I have pretty much kept up with our Bible, but I know we have lacked the great literature and fine art that we would have been getting with more of a CM method.

5. Charlotte believed you should keep lessons (table time) short and make them a daily routine (part of your life, not 'school'). In other words, there is no "SCHOOL", there's just a family that spends a short amount of time EVERY day (besides the Lord's Day) around the table doing 'lessons'. Instead of the rigors of bells (yes we had a bell system - at home), the stress of a long list of assignments, the twaddle of busy-work, and the madness of expecting the children to stay busy when I was busy elsewhere... we plan to truly dedicate a two hour span each day at the same time TOGETHER to do our 'lessons' so that it becomes a welcome and positive habit - "a discipline and a life". No more endless school that exasperates my children. 8 hour school days are for the birds. Well, actually they aren't - they are for NOBODY. Nobody that isn't being indoctrinated to become a number in some socialistic workforce, that is.

I want to be one of those women who says that she's done with formal school by lunch time... the ones I have always scratched my head at in wonder (for the last 7 years). I want to keep our table time short so that the REAL individual and inspired learning (the self-led and delight-driven kind) can happen EVERY day. I want to free up half of our day for the FAVORITES of our educational life... art, poetry, science, nature, reading, ministry, family time, hospitality, personal interests, music, etc. I want my kids to forget the TV and video games ever existed because they are having so much fun LEARNING and DOING.

6. Charlotte believed that a child has a great capacity to remember, memorize, and store information. She suggested that language should be taught by reading and copying great writers (straight from the horses mouth, as us Southern girls would say)... by listening and repeating (narrating) what you have heard. I want my kids to do much more narration, dictation, and transcription so that they learn naturally to be good writers, speakers, and thinkers. I don't want to TELL them what to think (like most textbooks do). I want to hear what they think about what the great minds of the past have said. I don't want my kids to rely on the cliff-note version of regurgitated children's literature. I want them to discover through the finest intellectual sources that life is so much richer than textbook summaries and facts that some narrow professor found to be important.

Unit Studies are great, but we read far too much encyclopedia-type books and not enough living books. I want them to be exposed to and fall in love with amazing art, morsels of written truth, stirring poetry, heroic deeds and moral greatness. I want them to form their own opinions, treasure their own growing intellect, and have their own favorites. I also want them to learn about the people who wrote great books, painted great paintings, made great music, etc. I want them reading biographies and autobiographies about people that matter - not just reading little clips or facts that are not associated with any internal meaningful life experience.

7. Charlotte believed that the habit of boredom comes when a child is forced continually to do what doesn't come from their heart. I have seen this boredom growing in my family. It begins slowly and turns in to the desire to hide and isolate - to put distractions and twaddle before true learning (which if done properly is much more interesting and fun than anything on TV or the computer). I find that not only are the kids bored, but my husband and I are bored, too. It has infected all of us - and the family unit is, in my opinion, off track when we can't have fun without spending time in front of a screen every weekend. I think freeing up more time each day for self-driven learning will benefit all of us. Watching others create and grow is inspirational and contagious. Now if I could just get Dad to agree to joining us for family time each night!

8. Charlotte believed that you should spend time outdoors every day. I can think of no better way to get more nature in our lives, more sunshine in our lives, and more spring in our step. Not to mention it would be a wonderful way to continue my daughter's and my interest in photography. My kids need more vigorous play, exploration, and time alone with the beauty of creation. My long lists and our current schedule just are not cutting it. I have to free up time for this, and CM is the perfect excuse to do so.

9. Charlotte believed that the most productive time of the day was the FREE time. Free doesn't mean Gameboys and Xbox. Sounds strange, but if you truly consider it, you'll admit that you are most driven to learn something (see #7) when you are INTERESTED in it. There's something to be said about child-led education... with a little discipleship and guidance from the people who love the child the most, of course.

10. Doing school the CM way is the result of a heart change brought about by prayer (and a God-given curve in our homeschool road). I needed to revise my goals, revive my joy, and re-commit to the purpose and path we had set out on when we chose to homeschool. Doing school in a box doesn't allow God to guide us and doesn't allow us enough time to listen and connect with God or each other. Unit studies themselves are NOT bad. You can do CM and unit studies together, actually. I just think it is time for a little detox for the bee family. I want to slow down and refocus on the atmosphere, the relationships, the priorities and the joy of learning as a lifestyle. I think CM will provide the perfect 'driving conditions' to safely get us to the destination we have in mind.

Our entire schedule is going to change... and I think we're all going to be a lot happier travelers in the near future. For now mom is reading and researching (mapping out the trip), taking her notes and making her lists. We're looking forward to enjoying our holidays and starting fresh with this next decade semester of homeschool... a brand new method and a brand new MO (method of operation). Every homeschooler is going to eventually come up on a curve in the road. Often changes in course are truly a gift from the Lord. I think ours will turn out to be a heavenly short-cut.

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Sunny said...

Sounds good!I hope it all works out for you.We have been doing some "delight based learning" for the past 3 years,and it seems to be working for the most part.I just tested(CAT) my kids, and they are excelling in almost every subject, and ultra excelling in some.

Anonymous said...

I think I stopped by your blog when I first learned what blogs were a couple years ago. I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't been back to your blog much since, but, OH, I wish I had! Now that I'm actually spending a little time reading what you have to say, I'm loving it!

And the start of your homeschooling journey sounds almost identical to mine (except we started when my oldest kids were 1st and 3rd grade). On your ABOUT page you wrote that, when you were considering homeschooling, your husband asked:

“What about socialization?” and “What about sports?”

…and that he gave you time to "prove" that homeschooling worked.

My husband did exactly the same thing. It only took about 2 months of homeschooling to change his mind, and now he's my biggest advocate!

I've Stumbled your blog, and I will definitely be back often. I'm also following you on Twitter (I'm @fivejs).

Keep up the great blog!

Darcy @ m3b said...

On Nov 1 I spent the day at the Simply Charlotte Mason convention. We are already bent that way anyway. Philosophies that just intuively worked with boys (like short lessons) and now we are trying to fold in more CM philosophies.

If there is a conference near you, I recommend it thoroughly. Otherwise, you can email Sonia at the SCM site. She is warm and open.

I enjoyed her very much - you can tell when someone is really passionate about what they're teaching. And she is!

Tracy said...

Wow! Sprittibee, thanks for posting that!! As I read your words from your heart, I can truly say I agree 100% and am so glad that your goals actually reflect my Homeschool now! It has been a long road, but those were my goals...and though we haven't perfected it, we are well on our way to where we want to be! IT has been a great journey and so worth the bumps! Blessings~

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! We are pretty much where you're at ... that transitional phase. I would love to hear more of how this new approach fleshes out for your family.

I also follow you on Twitter. :o) I am KidzandDogs.

Kelli said...

We are looking into something a little less teacher involved an more student led, too. Hope your journey is a pleasant one.

Anonymous said...

I think you and your children are going to love what's around the curve!

Anonymous said...

i am inspired by your dedication and bravery. (do you hear that? i am clapping for you!)

Sharon said...

How interesting. I am definitely at a curve in my journey, too, though mine is taking me from a DVD based curriculum which isn't working at ALL to a unit study approach, because I just feel my kids need some hands on. I'm not familiar w/ the Charlotte Mason approach, though, so will research that, too. My question would be how to keep the kids actively learning and not bored or running to the TV (ok - so I can say "no TV", I know that). They have an alarming tendency to do just the minimum, and I'd like some structure to help me know when learning is happening, you know? I'll look into the CM approach.

By the way, thank you for your blog - I see it as a ministry, because as a new homeschooling mom, your daily email is such a breath of fresh air. I love getting it, and it always lifts my spirit to somehow feel that though we've never met, you're my friend and co-adventurer in this journey of homeshchooling. In other words, I'm not alone!

Unknown said...

Heather, can I post an excerpt of this of my homeschool blog (just the first paragraph or so) and link to you? This is such a wonderful post, I wanted to share it with those who stop by my blog.

Henry Cate said...

Good luck with the change.

One of the great things about homeschooling is the ability to change to what works best for your children.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, Heather. I have to admit I have had to navigate more than once curve in the homeschooling road, but I always enjoy the change of scenery. :D

Sprittibee said...

Sunny, I just love the term delight-based learning, don't you? :) My kids have always tested well (besides one year in Math when my daughter did awful - but she's a grade ahead anyway). I'm not concerned about the testing. In fact, I think they'll do even better with our new method!

Joy, Thanks so much for the stumble, follow, and comment. I love to read what others have to say when I post something. My favorite thing that my husband asked about when my kids were 4 and 2 when I decided to homeschool was, "What about prom?" LOL I'm glad your hubby is your biggest supporter now! Mine is, too... but he gets pretty silent about things when the finances are as tight as they are right now! It isn't easy to survive on one income in a two income world that is in a sinking economic boat.

Darcy - Thanks for the tip on the convention. I'm sure they have one in Texas at some point. I'll have to go to one!

Tracy - Yes, the bumps and curves are all a part of the journey, and they make it all the more rich and rewarding in the end.

Theresa - When we get to a point where we can reflect and evaluate our new method (maybe a few months in to next semester), I'm sure I'll be posting something. If the change is as wonderful as I am hoping it will be, I might post sooner! LOL March is going to be pretty crazy, though... with a baby on the way.

Kelli - I would love to hear about it. :) Let us know what your new method of operation will be.

Cindy - :) I knew you would say that.

Melinda - Thanks for the encouragement. It has been a little scary at moments... because it is hard to break free of a familiar routine.

Sharon - I tried to email you back, but you didn't leave an email address. Unit studies are not bad... and depending on the age of your child, they can be a huge blessing. The book I read not long ago about CM was Cindy Rushton's "Charlotte Mason Primer". She mentioned in that book that older aged unit studies - led by the child - and notebooked (a little more involved than lapbooking) - are GREAT. I just felt that since my kids are older, they need more literature, more art, more free time to learn about their interests, and more time to WRITE. CM involves daily copy-work, narration, and reading... and I'm looking in to getting Andrew Pudewa's Excellence in Writing as well. There will be things we don't drop, but that we rearrange in our schedule. I just think that the way we were doing unit studies was more for little kids (where mom does all the planning) and it was stunting the kids by creating an unnecessary reliance on me. I won't be getting rid of my KONOS volumes. They are priceless treasures to us. I'm sure the kids will pick them up and do their own delight-based unit studies in the future - during their productive free time. My kids are used to doing school without video games or free time for 8 hours (minus time for chores and lunch)... so they won't care if I don't let them get on their computers as long as they have time to do free learning. I would suggest you getting a notebook and having them help you make a list of educational fun things they like to do that don't involve "screen time" and limiting the productive free learning time to those things on the list - I mentioned a few in my post. I included Science in mine because I have a son who would LOVE to do science experiments. We have books with hundreds of them and never seem to get to it. I'm quite sure he'll be picking that book up in his "free" time now and learning independently. :) Before they know it, they will be cleaning up messes when Dad gets home because they were busy learning without hand-holding for the same amount of time I would have hoped they would be busy... but it will not have felt like school - because it was CHILD-LED learning. Self-education. I have seen these types of things in our home on days when I let them have free reign and watched them get along perfectly... sitting together drawing animals in their state books for each state page - looking up the information in books and practicing art and nature-learning without my guidance. It is a beautiful thing. I want them to be life-long learners. I think CM's method is a great way to instill that trait.

THANK YOU for your sweet words about the emails from my site. :) You aren't alone. Email me any time if you want to chat.

Mandy - You are pretty much a delight-based learning type mom, aren't you? I thought at one point that you considered yourself an 'unschooler'. ;) I wasn't ever able to grasp that word, but the more I learn about child-led, parent discipled learning, the more wonderful it sounds. Feel free to post if you link back. Can't wait to meet up with you next week!

Henry - Thanks. :) I knew I needed to change our schedule when I had a mom asking me, "When do your kids have time to play?"

SusanR aka Sunniemom - Yes, we have had curves here and there, but our life has kept us so on-the-go (we moved almost every year the first few years we homeschooled) that I haven't had time to stop and reassess like I should have. I hope that I didn't give anyone the impression that unit studies themselves are bad. We love doing them. It is just that sometimes you do need that change of scenery and reevaluation to freshen up the process.

berrypatch said...

Excellent post. You said it very well. I truly believe that as homeschooling moms we do have to change with our children & make sure whatever method we use works for them. That does mean that you may have to change it up as they get older & life changes around you. Good job for realizing this & doing something about it. I really enjoyed your post.

Anonymous said...

There's something so energizing about finally admitting that a change needs to be made, isn't there? You're in for quite an adventure with a baby plus preteens (been there, done that). What will really amaze you is how your older kids will each embrace their own interests and turn into incredible adults. Aren't we blessed to watch the whole process on a daily basis?

Enjoy these years....they really do go quickly.

Beck's Bounty said...

Welcome to the CM Style. Since you are researching, I guess you have found the Yahoo groups, Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Queens homeschool supplies, and much more ? If you need something, please do not hesitate to ask. the CM path is wonderful, but quite an adjustment -- pray, and then hang on for the ride !


lori said...

You know I HEAR you...those fogs and curves have hit us...with the girls in middle school and one ready to move into high school, they now have a, I miss those picture books some days..:)

We've worked it before and we'll work through it again with the grace from above..I'm blessed to have my hubs on board too...he is COMPLETELY for it and he too was "shy" about it, now he's the one piping up at the holiday dinners about how GREAT homeschooling is....

You know it's a journey...a journey, but all of life is...right..we pray and at a time...knowing that He's holding our hand every step of the way....:)
hugs Sprit!

Beck's Bounty said...

Sorry about not leaving my email

Have a great evening.

Grafted Branch said...

Yay! We love the Charlotte Mason way! Have fun...the road ahead is a winding country road with lots to see and enjoy--I think you'll find it cleansing and refreshing.

Surely you know of Linda Fay's Higher Up and Further In blog, right?

I look forward to stopping in more often and seeing how you're doing it, because even though I've pursued the method for 8 years, I'm guessing you're more organized and disciplined than me. ;)

Gwendolyn said...

We, too, are looking for something fresh. We left our Konos units for a while to start with TXVA. It is probably not the best fit for our family, but it has taught us self-discipline. (I am not as scheduled as you are.) So, next semester we are going to try CM. Your post really helped me to think about things because I am in such a similar state.
I am doing all the research I can. We are considering using Ambleside Online's curriclum, but I haven't figured out how to start mid-year. I'm sure God will guide us. Hope it works well for y'all this year!

Four Little Penguins said...

Thanks for sharing this. This is exactly what a relatively new homeschooling mom like me needs to hear. I'm the kind of person that gets stuck in a rut just because, well, it has always worked before! It's good for me to have this post to keep in mind over the next few years as my kids grow and change. Thanks!

Mama Kautz said...

We too have turned the curve and are going to be "schooling" the CM way

Unknown said...

Wow...This is exactly the point where I am at. However, we were at the other extreme. I could say I'm more of a Well Trained Mind kind of gal. When I started learning about CM I loved her and added more of her philosophies in our homeschool. What happened though is we were doing so much, I had less and less time for the fun stuff. We haven't done nature study in a LONG time. We haven't done art or composers in an EVEN LONGER time.

So, this was our first week doing KONOS because both of us were just getting so entirely burnt-out, bored, and irritated. This, is just so completely opposite of what we were doing...and I'm not necessarily comfortable with it. I don't feel like it's "enough".

So, I too am trying to find my niche. I know I'm keeping the Charlotte Mason part. But, my biggest goal in teaching my daughter is that I want her to enjoy learning. I want her to "want" to go find things out for herself. I want there to be that spark. I KNOW it is there. But, I don't think that I've helped nurture it. I positive that the "nurturing key" to my daughter's education is in the CM approach.

I hope you can find comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone.

Take care,


Melissa said...

But how do you do it??? How do you switch gears? I've read all the CM stuff and it IS so appealing and we are definitely suffering the same effects that you mentioned with children "hating" school and acting tortured all day. I'm so practical by nature that without a step by step I'm LOST!

I've read this post over and over the last couple of days and I know of others who have taken the CM plunge, but noone says how they managed to get from point a to point b and still have their children learn all that is necessary. I feel like one of those "pull-your-hair-out" moms! Even bribery has ceased to be effective at our house.

Is there anyone that you've read or know of that has documented the step by step changes/approach? I just don't. know. what. to do. Can you tell?? :)

Sorry for the discourse!

Susan said...

it sounds wonderful and I know you family will be blessed. I often wonder if I am doing enough with my kids, but then I look at how well they create, and crochet and all kinds of things and i realize that they have hte time to learn on their own. They teach themselves mostly. In fact one daughter can read a crochet book and teach herself how to do the different stitches. They can improvise and create something totally different. They are 11 and 10.

Anonymous said...

it's a shame i haven't stayed caught up with your blog. I see you've been doing CM for a few months, but I know you and your children will love it more and more each day!!!

Not to sidetrack you, but another great resource is Montessori for Everyone. I know it's "Montessori" but it can be adapted into CM style, my DC love it, even the older ones.

Hugs & Blessings,



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