Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lessons of a Homeschool Dad, Week 1

Now that Lliam is Kindergarten age, Will has been discussing Homeschooling with a number of parents. He told me last night that he thinks it's easy to have expectations that are off base as a Homeschooling parent. Of course I was curious what he meant by this. He got out the Math U See workbook that he recently purchased for Lliam. It is at a primer level, and contains a series of exercises that are meant to teach kids about numbers and counting.

Will has been going through the workbook each day with Lliam, and his first instinct was to progress sequentially, page by page. But after stepping back a bit, he realized that Lliam already grasps the basic concepts and doesn't need to do another 10 or 20 pages of variations on the same theme. He also remarked that for one counting exercise, Lliam was supposed to fill in with marker the number of blocks corresponding to a numeral written on the page. At first, Will directed Lliam to completely and neatly color in each box, to which Lliam started dragging his feet. Will then recognized that coloring wasn't really the point of the exercise, and simply leaving a little mark in each box would be sufficient.

Earlier this week, Will bought Lliam a calculator. Lliam has been learning about multiplication, and can multiply some numbers by 100, and some by 10. He absolutely loves being able to punch numbers into his calculator. This isn't something that a mainstream schooling program would do for a 5-year-old, but the results are truly amazing. Lliam is genuinely excited about numbers, and was in fact counting to 100 under his breath yesterday, for fun. He may not understand all the nuances of multiplication yet, but he does have excitement and enthusiasm that will motivate him to understand them when he's ready.

There are a couple of valuable lessons from this story. The first is that if you approach Homeschooling as selecting a predetermined educational "program" to follow and adhere to it strictly, you're actually missing out on most of what Homeschooling can offer for your child. In fact, if simply following a program is your thing, your child may be just as well off in a public school, which was designed to produce workers who aren't accustomed or equipped to think outside the boundaries of where they are told to be.

The second lesson is that as a Homeschool parent, it is your job to acutely observe what excites your child, and what kinds of stimuli he responds to. Then adapt your style and approach accordingly. In other words, before struggling with your child or forcing a certain method, look for opportunities to direct your child's natural inclinations toward educational advancement. I like to call this educational Aikido.

Children are full of innate sparks of curiosity and enthusiasm for just about everything they encounter. Our job as parents is to turn those sparks into flames of passion that could very well last a lifetime. Structured learning programs should be thought of as tools at our disposal to feed those fires, rather than the irrefutable means to igniting and sustaining them. Once a child is motivated to learn and grow in a particular area, and the parent is engaged to equip the child for success, the rest usually takes care of itself.

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