I’ve been doing some thinking about why some things don’t seem to appeal to some of us moms or if they do initially, they don’t end up working well in the long-term for homeschooling. This afternoon, I’ve been listening to my boys bake cookies in my kitchen and I’m seeing something I haven’t quite noticed like this before in there. I figured this was interesting blogging material to talk about this.
The girls are out on a shopping trip – for clothes, etc.. I’ve been sewing a new dress for Sweet Pea who is bouncing around, adoring her fantastic big brothers. The boys have started to mix up some cookie dough – some for freezer raw dough (you can use this method for drop cookies to be able to make fast cookies in a busy time later) and some, of course, to eat today. I have no complaints with poor skills or unwilling attitudes – my boys love baking and last night, B.B. cleaned up all of my extra baking dishes without grumbling.
But I am very fascinated in observing how family dynamics have changed since it was just B.B. and his sisters who took over my kitchen in previous years. Or if a sister is around in the kitchen at the same time as the rest of the boys. But remember, the girls are out for the afternoon so these are the guys “left alone” (with me in the corner sewing) and they might even be forgetting that I’m around. 😉
Bachelor Button (B.B.) is a teen and has won for baking at the fall fair. He is quite comfortable with baking bread and pies or anything else. He is obviously “the boss” today in the kitchen as he orders his little brothers around and questions them…
“What are you doing with that?” “You’re going to have to go to another spot.” “Nope, you have enough sugar. NO MORE!” “Now, why are you…” “Wait a moment, there….” “Hold it!” “Now put this here.” “You can’t…”
Lots of commands but lots of wisdom. Short sentences and plenty of them. He is almost always talking to one or the other as he coordinates this mess.
Tulip is a pre-teen and is beginning to mature in his kitchen skills. But he is copying B.B. by trying to direct his younger baking partner(s). It appears that the guys have decided there would be 2 teams and thus 2 kinds of cookies. Tulip is also openly reminding his littler brother(s) of math – fractions, etc. and HE must do all the measuring and pouring to get it correctly. They might be allowed to stir but HE knows the math! (And generally, he IS really good at math too.)
It also appears that beyond the typical competitor nature of Sunflower and Dandelion (especially recently in the early mornings – AHHHH!) that the boys are “stealing” ingredients across the island from one team to the other.
“He took the sugar!” “I got enough before that happened but he took our vanilla AND baking soda!”
This kitchen to me sounds SO DIFFERENT!!! The girls are away and the boys have ignored the presence of “Mom” sewing quietly in the corner. I retreat for a few moments outdoors to better see some stitches that I need to pick out.
I mean, girls DO have fun in the kitchen and sometimes we banter back and forth but this guy way of doing it sounds so different when it’s just “the guys” AND this number of them. And it reminds me, that life has a habit of changing things as the children grow.
The “season” of family life matters. I did sort of a relaxed, hands-on, not overly scheduled homeschooling of kindergarten when there were just 3 children around and we were building a house, packing, etc.. Then, after we moved, we jumped unexpectedly into homeschooling and aimed for a traditional approach, which promptly fell apart during the first week and the first year as we tried various ideas. While my health was improving significantly, the traditional approach didn’t work well for our hands-on learner, I had 2 preschoolers and was pregnant with another. A schedule for everyone helped a lot but I added a lot of my own flavour to those teaching days, began designing what was working for us or tweaking other materials to be more fun and reasonable for busy moms like me! In later years when we had teens and were again moving and dealing with a more complex life than expected for that time, we tried the “just focus on the 3R’s approach”and the “sort of unschooling at times” approach. Over time, I’ve looked a bit into some of the Charlotte Mason approach (because so many people are doing it), seeing some of the curriculum (and trying some of it) and hearing from customers or other moms who were trying that but it isn’t for our family in any of those seasons. Why not? Well, there are a few reasons I have which are more personally important to me (you can click below for links to a deeper discussion on things like a classics/history emphasis instead of a math/science one and theological concerns) but one reason that I see fairly often which is more relevant to the rest of the homeschooling world like you, my readers, is that it doesn’t work well for all kinds of family dynamics. I’ve heard about this often enough over the 12+ years of being both a homeschool mom and a go-to person for help because of our business. The traditional approach doesn’t always work either, nor does the unschooling style.
So what might be going on? Why do popular educational approaches work for some HSing families but not for others? Is it just a matter of learning styles (which, I agree, is very important) or is there something more that we might end up accidentally ignoring?
You have to also consider “family dynamics”, I think, in order to figure out if a direction you begin is going to be a great one at the end of it or in the middle of it. Questions like – How many children are in your family? How many boys versus girls? How spaced-apart are their ages/skill levels? What are the current ages of the people in the home during schooltime? What season are you in now and what are your specific goals at the end of graduating from HSing? And how easily will it be for your children to transition to the next stage of education beyond your home? I really think these sorts of dynamics make a real difference for finding a style that works well! I wish someone had mentioned this more to me when I started out homeschooling.
If you just have a couple of kids who like to read and write, and you have time and space to be like a classroom teacher who keeps manuals open (or has a computer to mark things virtually for you), then traditional methods (of keeping separate grades and separate topics for individuals) are likely to appeal and work for you. My mom was a creative traditional schoolteacher – she homeschooled my sister and then years later, me – one child at a time. But it can be a frustration for larger families who don’t want so many different topics of different grades taught in the same morning and especially with families who ALSO have babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers who need their attention. Some families get around this by using the computer/multi-media as “the teacher” instead or transition the older students out to brick-and-mortar schooling so that they can focus on the foundational skills with the younger ones. Some families just say, “I’ll multi-grade everything and have everyone together then” and lean towards a one-room schoolhouse style. But suffice it to say that the modern traditional approach (intended for classes of no preschoolers and no huge age ranges) can truly be overwhelming to some of us. I remember about the time I first began writing curriculum, hearing at least one mom explain to me that she had 4 teacher’s manuals opened at all times on her kitchen island (one for each child’s grade) but without them, she couldn’t explain to her children what they were to learn in their workbooks! She had to stand/sit there until they were done “school” for the day, dedicating that time period of each day to do nothing else but “school”. Learning about that common-enough dilemma confirmed to me that it was totally fine if I didn’t write teacher’s manuals to go along with my lessons! (After all, if I wouldn’t want to use them myself, why bother?) It is no wonder why some families only want school for half a day if their kitchen is taken over with some many books and their time has to be so restrained to direct the lessons or else a child doesn’t know what to do!
If you have one child or very close-in-stage kids who have very inquisitive personalities and are a parent with lots of energy who can keep them on a reasonable track, taking them to the library and other field trips, then perhaps unschooling can work, at least for some years or seasons. And if you become a parent who loses that energy (e.g. as YOU age – remember everyone does get older) or you can’t travel all over the place to interesting places as often, then this style can tend to demise in its attraction. Then if/when it comes time for transition into other educational experiences, learning gaps that were created by not having an adequate structure can be frustrating for the student to have to learn. (You can see my main concerns about both the “3R’s-only” approach and the “unschooling” approach here.) (I do like the unschooling approach for the “school vacation” breaks if I’m “schooling year round”, as they say.)
Charlotte Mason wasn’t the only one to encourage multi-grade teaching but I think that style has appealed to many homeschoolers because of that aspect (and the part that she occasionally quoted Bible verses or claimed to hear from God). If you know you have (or desire to have) a large family to homeschool, you will likely love the multi-grade idea. And it works too, up to a point, for some topics/sub-topics. If there are just a few kids who remain more-or-less at the same levels of skills, multi-grade styles can work all the way through high school too.
But if you have a wide range of ages, “multi-grade or together-with-everyone everything” typically seems to begin unravelling around the stage when your oldest child grows up enoughto …
- to desire more details into new topics which have no interest, appropriateness, or skill/content to grasp for the younger siblings.
- to get bored (and “tune out”) when the units are repeated again, with most or all of the time spent remaining at a foundational level.
Notes: The real solution is not to require more in-depth writing about the topic, as is so often the case, but to actually change the content to new, unexplored topics, allowing them to study away from the youngest siblings. Solid general knowledge is great and practical but try planning for more than just a grade 5/6/7 level of education (which is the level that most or all unit studies tend to reach). A “multi-grade everything” plan with wide age ranges in your family is likely to be shaken, for at least due to boredom, around that stage of life for your oldest, and impact the rest of you. One way to do this is to split the multi-grade group – one younger group together and one older group; I personally like 3 multi-grade groups when I multi-grade subjects as I find that works absolutely the best for us – you can see this in detail in my “Four-Year Rotation” plan (click here for that free download). Obviously, the first kid to reach that “older group” would be having some studies without a group OR you could put the next oldest kid as a study partner for something, depending again on your specific family dynamics. (Our family appreciates a mixture of independent learning and group learning – our goals aren’t to multigrade everything.)
- they begin to realize that in order to pursue what they want to for further education, they will need longer time periods to study other topics and skills more in-depth than what their siblings can handle for attention span at their stage.
- they want to be given some space to independently learn but might lack the confidence or skills that they need to have to learn easily on their own so keep coming back needing direction more often than what might have been necessary if they had gradually learned how to independently learn over the earlier years. This factor might show up around the grade 8-10 stage, for example, if they struggle with time management, keeping focused, and/or knowing how to do research projects and essays properly and efficiently.
At this stage in the natural growth of maturing, the moms can end up feeling…
- discouraged (because not enough skills have been taught over the previous years in certain areas and they have to somehow help them or find resources to catch them up – that’s pressure!)
- overwhelmed (because their responsibilities have increased as a result of the above point)
- sad (because they are told that family unity is so important (which it IS) and have understood it to mean that family togetherness has to mean “always together”; they can feel a loss that well, “school” will not be the same ever again and that life is getting messy.)
- puzzled (because why didn’t this work out – other people (with different family dynamics) said that it would work)
- floundering (about their decisions to homeschool in the first place and should they continue, questioning if they have the resources, support, abilities to enjoy successful homeschooling)
- P.S. I wrote a post entitled: Disappointed – When My Schedule Flops which might be a blessing to readers of mine who are disappointed over how their plans for homeschooling aren’t turning out as they had hoped. You can read it by clicking here.
This is one reason why I can’t be a together-learning-always-in-a-group or an “always-the-teacher-directing” homeschool mom: to me, it doesn’t work well to prepare children for the independent skills they need for the upper levels and I want to think of what is ultimately best for them, not just what I feel like. As much as we might like to hang onto the idea that our children will always be right with us, having fun and sharing every moment with us with hugs and stories, never wanting to be on their own until far into the future when they jump into adulthood, that isn’t what naturally happens as they grow up. Of course, I treasure the moments which are like this and of course, we make a point to share many times together. But I’m not concerned about doing something around the house while my children figure out some of their schoolwork on their own. Remember that although you likely absolutely love your hubby, you likely aren’t right with him for every task on his “to do” list. Children also need some space and that can be for a guided activity which they accomplish separately. It’s good for them. You still love them when you’re not in the same room with them or at the same table as them. Having a close-knit family does not really hinge on the amount of time you are spending together (unless you hardly spend any time together). Deep love and respect in a family comes from putting others’ needs ahead of our own and honouring God Who works in our hearts. The sooner we prepare for the bigger picture, the gradual and sure changes along the way, and have some flexibility, the easier it will be.
If you have a lot of changes going on in your life from year-to-year (and many of us do), the best homeschooling style is going to be one with built-in flexibility and has some reasonable goals in mind that consider the distance beyond just a year or two. In fact, I encourage this style for any homeschooling family and it is part of our twist to education. 🙂
I have a busy 2-year old still, a daughter in university who loves the Lord and enjoys continuing her studies here in Canada, a hyper-active 5 year old boy, one kid each in primary, junior, and upper elementary levels, and 2 teens in high school levels.While other parts of my life might be quite frazzled at times and there are a few odd days of homeschool discouragement (life isn’t perfect for me either), once this style was figured out a number of years back, the homeschooling aspect settled right down and it remains an adventure that is a sweet and refreshing in the midst of multiple changes in our family. I’m content with curriculum and I’m content with style. YOU can be too! ♥
To help YOU to figure out what style(s) might fit well in your family, I’ve made a FREE PRINTABLE with questions on it for you to think about, relating to what this post has been about. (Learning style(s) will be covered in a separate post and are not part of this printable.)
I DO think that our methodology of combining the more generally workable and enjoyable features of several styles into a “Peppermint Stick” style really DOES work AND is really a joyful, relaxed way of educating and raising children successfully!
There is a lot to digest in the “Our Twist” section of this website but sometime, when you have a few moments to go through the various pages (and their links) explaining more about our “Peppermint Stick” style, please consider doing so. There are lots of tips within those pages to help you! ♥
A Comparison – a series of charts and explanations showing similarities and differences with other styles
Remember to “bookmark our website” and come back often – for more helpful “Encouragemints” and for curriculum!
P.S. About those cookies – yes, both kinds were yummy as expected! The measurement was a little “off” for mathematical accuracy for the little candies inside the one kind! 🙂 Life isn’t perfect but it can be abundantly sweet!
Peppermint Stick Learning Company Inc. “…lessons that stick with a refreshing touch of sweetness”