Now that Silas is five, we’re “officially” homeschooling. It is not appreciably different from what we did when he was four. But he’s five now, so that’s Kindergarten, so when people ask where he goes to school, he has to say that he’s homeschooled. The reactions we’ve gotten have been interesting… There have been a handful of the remarks I was prepared for (“What about socialization?” Obvious response: “Did you know that 99% of all convicted serial killers went to school?”), but mostly people have been quite supportive.
This weekend, I met a friend-of-a-friend, and as we were making introductions, it came up. She was kind, and very interested, but I wish I had prepared better answers to her line of questioning. She asked, “Is it like a full-time job for you? What are your school hours?” It reminded me of a number of people in the homeschool co-op we go to, asking, “What day are you starting school?” by which they mean that there is a day marked on their calendar when they will sit their children down and have some Official Learning.
That’s a surprisingly hard question. I know that some families do school-at-home, with a desk and a chalkboard in the living room, but that’s not at all what we’re doing. Not remotely. However, I don’t have the conviction to say that we’re straight-up “unschooling” either, not quite. I’m definitely taking an active role in trying to teach the things that I think will enable them to learn more things on their own–reading, math concepts, logical reasoning, rhetoric, music. The liberal arts, in the classical sense, leaving aside astronomy. But what are our hours? Every hour, or no hours. What day are we starting school? Silas’ birth day, or some date-to-be-determined in the misty future.
We don’t have much for curriculum, other than a nice collection of BOB Books. Even with BOB, they only read to me when they feel like it. We talk about letters a lot, and I read to them constantly, but I know that, at their ages, they’ll only be able to do it if they have some inborn predisposition toward it. Silas loves to write, and that’s a pathway to reading for many kids, so I spend long afternoons helping him sound out words to fill in the bubbles in his comics. As for math, they both enjoy counting objects, and they have an obsession with evens and odds, so we talk about numbers a lot. How many groups of things can we make? How many are left over? But we don’t assign it, it just happens in the course of our day.
Silas is obsessed with Magic Treehouse right now, and I’m thrilled about that. He’s getting a sense of history and how things affect each other. The other day, I shared a podcast from my church, where James’ great-aunt told a story about Jacob Wenger, a family member who lived in James’ house during the Civil War. Due to Jacob’s courage in sticking to his pacifist convictions, their barn was spared during the infamous “burning of the Valley” in 1864 (complicated story, listen to it here). Silas had just listened to a Magic Treehouse where Jack and Annie went to a Civil War battle. He loves playing in the barn at James’ house, which is still standing. “Wait,” he said. “I can play in that barn because a guy in the Civil War voted against secession?” So his “history class” is … living in Virginia, basically.
Science class? We live on a dairy farm in the woods. That’s it. They ask questions, we answer their questions or help them figure it out.
Mostly, they play. They paint, they tell stories, they play board games, they drive each other nuts. And at their ages, “mostly-unschooling” is exactly what school should be. I must admit, if Silas wasn’t so clearly hitting his “grade level” milestones a bit ahead of schedule, I wonder if I would have the bravery to be so “la-dee-dah we’re not doing school.” I’ll probably have the chance to find out one of these days.
I wish we had a better term than “homeschooling,” though. It’s not like “homebirth,” where the point is that you are at home. To the contrary, we’re out a lot. When I volunteer at church, they tag along. We are regulars at the local library. We’re doing a homeschool co-op, which is, it should be noted, not in anyone’s home. Silas is taking a dance class at the rec center, and loving it. Home is part of our equation, but not the point. I’ve heard the term “worldschooling,” which I rather like–we’re learning out in the world–but I think it sounds a bit too fancy and also a bit too much like we’re the sort of people who are jetting off to foreign continents at the drop of a hat.
“Life schooling”? “Experiential learning”? “Developmentally appropriate pedagogy”? “Lego schooling”? “Winging it”?
Why does it matter what we call it? I don’t really know, except that people ask. A good term would be helpful. People are so funny, even the well-intentioned ones.
Last week, one of the librarians said to me, “You homeschool Silas, don’t you? I can tell.” I hesitated before I answered because I wasn’t sure how much she could tell anything–we’d been officially homeschooling for about six weeks, technically, and I doubt six weeks of public school kindergarten would have changed him much. “I mean that in a good way,” she continued, misreading my loss for words. “He has a great vocabulary, and he really knows how to talk to adults.”
I thanked her, but all I could think was that it wasn’t because he’s homeschooled. He certainly didn’t learn those skills in six weeks of being legit…and she knows he’s only five. I wonder what she says to well-spoken kids who go to the local elementary school!
All this rambling is to say that I should come up with a more compact, less rambley way to say what we’re doing, because people ask and I hate being at a loss. But what are we doing?