Monday, July 18, 2011

Homeschooling is not what you do, it's how you live

As the school year winds down, I am reminded of an exchange I had recently with a colleague. We were discussing our blogs and our families, and school came up. “Oh, that’s right, you homeschool. When do you finish?”

That question took me by surprise, not because it was asked, but because I wasn’t sure how to answer it. I mentioned something about summer, and how we had activities planned, and changed the subject. I don’t think she even noticed. The truth is, I never “finish.”

You know that awkward review time that teachers have for the first couple of months after summer break? Where they can’t really teach anything new for fear the kids don’t remember what they were taught the year before? I don’t have that. I learned long ago that my kids don’t retain much over the summer if we take a 2 or 3 month break. So? We don’t break.

We scale back, maybe. Do less than we would normally, but we keep on keeping on. And my kids progress. Don’t get me wrong, we do all the fun things over the summer that you do. We go to the park. We go to the beach. We swim. We just do our school first. And sometimes, we even do it at those places. It keeps my kids in a routine, and when it comes to autism, routines are good.

If I gave my son a months’ long break? I would never get him back into schoolwork again. He is all about what he always does and a week of the same thing means it's a habit. He needs that structure. If I allowed my little one to take a break that long? We would lose much of the ground gained in her reading and math. She continues to see her speech and reading tutor throughout the summer. She also does vision therapy.

I suppose my oldest would be fine; but I have never had to push her academically. She pushes herself hard enough for the both of us. But she putters around and will finish her Psychology and get a jumpstart on her math for next year. I also expect she will pre-read some of the books for her government class next year to make it a bit easier.

How does year-round school work, you ask? Don’t the kids get burnt out? Not really. For once, we don’t worry about taking a break here and there. I take a break for almost a month around the holidays. (we always keep our foot in something, to keep up routine) and if we want to take off on an impromptu visit to the grandparents in another state for a week, we can. If we travel, we can throw in some area history, or a museum visit.

Here’s the thing: homeschooling isn’t just schooling at home. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of looking at life, to see what you can learn. Every experience can teach us something. My daughter learned to count at the grocery store. My son learned about life science through gardening. Is it more work to live this way? I don’t think so. I am actually one of the least-motivated people you will meet, to be honest.

I attend homeschool conventions and think, “When would I have time to do that? Formal planning doesn’t work really well here. At the beginning of the year, I do a master lesson plan for each child. We rarely finish it on the schedule I set. That’s not the point. The plan is the point. And we eventually do get done with those books, and those lessons and that plan. We just move on to the next plan. I am a learner. I am happiest when I am learning. I want my children to discover that joy of “Aha! I didn’t know that!” Showing them that learning is a way of life is how I do it.

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