Tuesday, October 6, 2009

For beginners

I meet families every fall who are just beginning home educating. When the family has chosen to home educate from the start and the child has never been in a public or private school, the first steps are fairly clear. Learning to read is the most important task in those early years of home education, along with the basic math and counting skills. For the content subjects like science and social studies, often field trips followed up with related library books, or simple nature studies and basic geography are all that's needed. There's no old habits to break or remedial learning to think about.

However when there are children who have been in school, there are more challenges. Choosing curriculum depends on the skills already in place. Thankfully, most math programs have on-line placement tests that clarify which program is appropriate. If there are serious academic challenges, there needs to be a focus on identifying the problem and fixing it. Even for a teenager, if the phonics skills haven't been taught there may be reading challenges that necessitate reviewing the most basic skills. If the mental arithmetic skills are not in place, they need to be learned before continuing on with algebra.

Beyond the academics, there is also the change in thinking about what school means. At home, the student is not learning to pass the test or trying to keep up with the rest of the class. The student is learning to actually know the subject, to acquire skills that equip them to understand what they read and to meld those skills into abilities that will enable them to do their life work, both in employment and in fulfilling their God-given role in the world. We are not just about completing the book, we need to be focussed on growing, changing and becoming better at all the things we are already good at. Learning is challenging, interesting, fun, sometimes difficult, but finally satisfying and enriching. Communicating that to our children is one of the greatest goals and challenges of home education.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The other part of my fall

Fall has always been about back to school, whether it's the back to school of home education, or of sending one or more of my children to college, and the start up of all the activities that follow the school year.

For me, it is also about starting the other half of my home education activity. For fourteen years, i have been a home education facilitator, working with families to help them plan their own families' home education programs. I count myself very fortunate to be able to be a support and encouragement to other families. By far the greatest part of my work consist of affirming choices and convictions parents already hold in regard to their children's learning. Sometimes more direction is needed. Very rarely a family just is not achieving what they should be, and they need help with setting up structure and consistency.

I have met such a diverse set of people, each with a unique story that led them to home education, each motivated by the earnest wish to give their children the education they need. I have seen an incredibly varied set of approaches to the task of home education, and I have seen remarkable success across that whole range. I have seen enormous pride in the growth and success of each child, and in the awareness by moms who have been the driving force behind that.

Next week, I begin again to make fall visits to families I have known for years, and to some I am just meeting. I look forward to all that I will learn as I sit down at kitchen tables to talk about the learning that takes place around those tables. It's a great blessing to me. I hope that I can be a blessing to them.