Monday, September 9, 2013

Learning at Home: Part 1 of 9

Today begins a nine-part series of posts that I have written on the subject of schooling at home.  Yes, nine.  I didn't intend it to be in nine parts, but that's currently what it is.  This number might change in either direction as I continue to work on things...delete things, add things, etc.  But for now, anyway, it's a nine-part series.  Some posts will be relatively short; others quite lengthy - the divisions between posts merely reflect where I see a natural break or a change in direction.

By way of introduction, I will say that I have been thinking about many of the thoughts I will present here for quite a long time; some of them for months, and others for a few years.  I'm still not finished my thinking process, and I have written and processed elsewhere far more than I will publish here...but I have decided to stop merely drafting words and just put them out here now, even if somewhat unvarnished or incomplete in thought.  The writing of these posts has helped me clarify where my head's at, and maybe the posts will give us all something to chew on a little bit.  That's my hope, anyway. :)

You may read my posts and wonder what the big deal is...why I had to think through this stuff for so long 'cause it's just obvious.  Or you might think something like 'yeah, oh well, to each her own.'  Or you might find a nugget of something here that will help you move forward in your own journey.  Or you'll respond in some way entirely unlike anything I'm suggesting here.  Whatever your response, and whether or not you agree with me or frankly don't care, I'm ok with it.

I would love to hear your feedback if you'd be willing to take a moment to post a comment at some point over the next number of days.  Is there something that really resonates with you?  Something you really disagree with?  A further thought you'd like to add to mine?  I'd love to hear any and all of it.  The stuff I'm thinking about stretches my brain - which may just be an indication that there's not much going on upstairs - and I'd appreciate your response to it.  Good.  Bad.  Or ugly.

So, here rant on the subject of learning at home, and how this has led us in a new direction that we begin this very week.


What do I want for my kids some day?  What kinds of people do I hope they will be?  What are my deepest dreams for them?  What do I believe will be in their best interests as adults?

These are some of the questions that I imagine most parents ponder from time to time.  I've been thinking a lot about these and other questions of late.  Obsessing about them, to be honest...mostly internally, though I've had brief conversations with a few friends about them.  The whole thing has been precipitated by my observation that the way we have been 'doing school' at home isn't working.  It just isn't.  Even though we've chosen to keep the kids out of the public schooling system in order to give them the education that we hope is in their best interests, I see that how I've been going about things isn't working as well as I had envisioned, planned, hoped, assumed it would.

I thought that my good intentions, combined with diligence and commitment to teaching my kids at home, would be enough.  It's true, after all, that my kids have a mama who works very hard to teach them the best she knows how, the best she is able; my kids have a mother who changes methods as needed and who is committed to providing them with the best possible schooling, albeit schooling in a not-so-traditional sense.

From an outside perspective, I imagine that it looks like we are succeeding at the way we've been doing school for the past few years.  Matthew is currently 'on par' with his school-educated peers in terms of curriculum; Seth and Lizzie are making great headway as their brains integrate more and they're more able to 'do school' stuff.  By all appearances, we're fairly 'successful' h/schoolers at this point (whatever 'successful' means).  I am comfortable with where they are at, from an academic standpoint.

But at what cost?

At what cost.

There's the rub that has me sighing and re-thinking things.

(to be continued)


  1. Oh no, it's a cliff hanger! Can hardly wait to read the rest!

  2. So looking forward to this series, Ruth! I am also re-hashing how we do school (in my mind, anyway...) Like you, I'm finding that reality often clashes with how I envisioned home educating...

  3. Ha- I noticed the cliff hanger as well. Now we are all waiting with baited breath!! :)

  4. OK, so no real cliff hanger going on here, folks...just needed to break at some natural point. Sorry for leaving you feeling 'hanging'. There aren't any huge surprises,'s just really different for us.

    Anyway, glad you're soldiering on...more coming tomorrow.


  5. Hi Ruth,
    The questions you pose should be the orienting ground of all curriculum and pedagogy decisions... what is school for? (what is purpose of school?). What are our dreams (individually and collectively) for our children and young in our society? What kind of world do we want to inhabit? What kind of education opens forth from the answers to these questions... The old industrial model of schooling, that is still so dominant in our schools, is old and tired but still it strongly persists... which points to the essential difficulty and challenge of the questions you pose. Still, we/you ask the questions and that matters for children and for the future of life on earth. We should take courage in your questions, I think... it's very hard to change culture because it pushes powerfully back at us (both homeschooling and those in schools who are trying to change the institutions). The images of the ways things have been keep returning to haunt us. Yet, there are other inspirations and other images to follow. One wonderful and transformative one for me has been Reggio Emilia education, from Italy. Perhaps you might take inspiration from it too. Their vision for education, and their view of children and the life/learning children deserve to experience, seems aligned with so many of your questions and hopes. If you ever get a chance to see their travelling exhibit "The Hundred Languages of Children", I'd highly recommend it. In the meantime, here is a link to the 17 statements (images of children and learning) that they had hanging at the beginning of the exhibit to help viewers interpret the beautiful, amazing work done by young children.

  6. Thanks so much Jackie...I've missed your voice here!

    "The images of the ways things have been keep returning to haunt us." Yes! I am experiencing this over and over myself. Every time I ask these questions of myself, I struggle against myself because of how strongly the education system is ground into my own life and way of thinking. Questions like this are deceptively simple - they're easy to pose and to think about but when really, really internalizing them (at least for me) it becomes so very difficult because of the lenses through which I have always viewed the world. And if one single person can have such a hard time with such questions, how can an entire school system possibly brave them? it is indeed, so very very hard to change culture b/c of how powerfully it pushes back at us, whether the culture of an entire system or merely the culture of one home/family/approach to learning.

    Thank you for saying what you said - it's both highly encouraging and so very profound.

    I'm off to check your links...thanks Jackie.


    1. Your comment here really reminds me of what I heard another homeschool dad say... "It's not our kids we're unschooling, it's us!"

  7. Jackie, I just read through briefly that list of seventeen statements and am going back to read them again momentarily. My heart felt so FULL reading them...especially #3, #6, #10, and #17. So many of these 17 things speak so eloquently to things that have been going through my mind.

    I've never even heard of this travelling exhibit but will check it sounds AMAZING!

    Oh, and Reggio Emlia education as well..going there as well.

    Thank you again.


  8. Reggio Emilia education is a philosophy, more than a methodology. It is the deepest exemplar of inquiry-based learning that I have witnessed. It is not child-centred or constructivist. All pedagogical and curriculum decisions begin with questions of what is ethical, and what is the 'image' of childhood and the world that orients learning. For this reason, it is ever evolving. Teachers (and children) are positioned as inquirers/researchers together learning about the world and how to relate together in and to the world. It arose in Reggio Emilia, Italy, after WWII. A group of parents (mothers mostly) and a philosopher named Loris Malaguzzi began working together with children to rebuild bombed schools but they dreamed of something different and more life-giving for their children than the harsh catholic education they had experienced, and also different from the horrific military violence they'd just lived through... something peaceful and life-affirming and generative and creative. It isn't a method that can be copied but a philosophy that can be studied, built on, applied differently and creatively in each diverse situation. There's a good (but challenging to read) book called "The Hundred Languages of Children" that has essays by Malaguzzi about the history of the approach/philosophy, and by other leaders who now teach in Reggio Emilia schools (in italy). You can also go on study tours to Reggio.... my dream!!!

  9. Fascinating, Jackie...thanks...that's just really interesting!


  10. Now you sent me back to look for my favourites... i love #2, that describes the pedagogical relation between adult and child as 'friendship'... so unlike what most learning environments are... student teachers often glibly quote that thing they hear about 'teachers not being friends with students'... well... this depends on what we think 'friendship' is, I guess... if we think it is loving, being truthful with one another, listening to each other, etc... then i think deep friendship bonds are possible between children and adults. if we think friendship is drinking buddies, then not so much! I also love #11... it resonates so strongly with your next posting about children's timelines vs industrial timelines of schooling as a productivity factory turning children into future workers in the competitive global economy (my words for what you said). The world requires something else of us and of education. Also 13 and 14 remind me of the photos you posted awhile back of Matthew building amazing things... how he was exploring and building his own theories, testing, designing and representing them.... this is real and important work and learning in the world. How do we learn to trust it? And to help children find spaces and places to share it and to demonstrate this powerful learning? That's what reggio has done so well... a strong focus on documenting children's learning (for and with them) so that it becomes public and visible... and a valid form of 'assessment' as well as an emergent creative curriculum...

  11. I, too, went back to the list of 17 things last really is a remarkable compilation. I then went back and read the post I'll publish tomorrow (#4) about the 8 specific hopes/dreams/objectives I have for my kids and could see reflected in those 8 things some of the notions reflected in the list of 17 things...though the 17 are, of course, written far more eloquently!

    Maybe the one area where I'm a little hesitant is about #2 -the 'friendship' thing. I'm hesitant to label either a parent-child relationship or a teacher-student relationship as a friendship. This implies something of an equal footing, where each party has an equal 'power' or status in the relationship. I see these roles more as a mentor-mentee relationship, where the adult/parent/teacher plays an alpha role to a child's more dependent role. I agree with what you said, however, that if they are talking about being loving, truthful, etc with each other, that is entirely possible for these relationships...and that kind of connection to be aspired to. I can imagine that it must be a very challenging way to be a teacher in that environment, because of the connection that is necessary with each child, the assumptions that must be let go, and the freedom that the teacher provides in that context. Inspiring!

    I, too, thought about #13 and #14 just yesterday when I was observing Matthew and Seth engaged in emergent play: They spent about three hours yesterday building a fort in the garage - complete with two-level bunk bed, a place for eating meals and the all important snacks (!)...even a place to put their shoes so that they wouldn't get the inside of the fort dirty. Their intent was to sleep there last night, and so they got their sleeping bags and pillows ready, but in the end they didn't feel comfortable enough sleeping in the garage and so they slept in their beds inside of their sleeping bags. But they will shortly be eating breakfast in the garage, at their table! Anyway, I watched them wrestle with large pieces of plywood and boards and giant water bottles used to balance things, and how meticulously they created a 'home' out of their imaginations and could totally see them testing their theories of how things would be strong enough and big enough to support them both.

    I was reading a bit last night about the Reggio documentation and I found that fascinating...I wouldn't have thought of that and yet the way it was described made such perfect sense - it was kind of a light bulb of a moment understanding the power that it would have in creating that emergent creative curriculum.

    OK, the kids are up and I must get on with my day...more later, Jackie! Have a great day!!