How I homeschool my kid: Part I

having a swingIn my first post about homeschooling, I purposely focused solely on the reasons why we chose to homeschool.

I don’t think anyone these days thinks the US educational system couldn’t use at least a little fixing, therefore it was easy for me to point out the reasons why we opted out of it.

Writing about how our methods of homeschooling work on a day-to-day basis is harder to write about publicly because while it works for us, it may not work for everyone — much like public school doesn’t work for everyone.

I got a lot of interesting questions from people via Facebook and Twitter, so I’m going to take them on, three or four at a time.

Here’s the first batch:

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1. Do you have a lesson plan? Are there themes? Is there a schedule?

This question is first because it’s the most important one, and the answer to it colors the rest of the answers I have.

The short answer is: no.

The long answer is: we’re unschoolers.

If you want to dress it up in educationese, I could say we espouse a child-led, interest-driven learning model, but basically, it boils down to she learns what she wants to learn and we trust that she’ll learn things she needs to know.

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2. Does the law provide curriculum, or benchmarks, or what?

During the summer, we’re required to draw up our own curriculum, called an Individualized Home Instruction Plan, for the coming year. I base it around what kids usually learn at a specific grade level, things I know my kid is interested in (e.g. insects) and things the state says we have to cover (arson prevention). I submit it to the NYC Dept. of Education and they approve my plan.

Over the course of the year, I send them four very brief quarterly reports. In a few years, we will have to administer an approved achievement test, when my kid, Beatrix (so I can stop saying “my kid” all the time), is at a grade level in which public school kids are also tested.

I refer to my approved instruction plan a few times to see if there’s something we should cover that we haven’t (last year, we both read up on New York state, because I know virtually nothing beyond the city and we’re obligated to learn about it) but for the most part, we have no lesson plans/themes/schedules/learning modules, et cetera.

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3. How do you teach stuff you don’t already know without resorting to worksheets/curricula? Do you head to the library or look through Wikipedia, or what?

For the most part, I feel like my job is to demonstrate research tools/skills and then allow her to look things up and learn it herself. When we bought goldfish, she asked the librarian to show her books about goldfish, which she took home and read. When she asked to make a volcano, I found a website on making a volcano, she made the list of materials and we assembled it (and exploded it) together. When I realized I had no information about the history and geography of New York state, I picked up a book from the library and we took turns reading it out loud every night for a couple weeks.

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4. Did you buy a special desk? Is there a dedicated homeschool area, or is the whole home the school?

At the risk of sounding corny, the whole world is the school.

For example, earlier this week, we were at the laundromat. We noticed two smaller washing machines take seven quarters each, while one big one takes 18 quarters, and decided on using two smaller washers. While things washed, Beatrix read the latest issue of National Geographic Kids. We did the Mad Lib-style activity together while I folded clothes. I noticed her lower-case Gs and Ps weren’t flush with the line she was writing on, so I showed her how it’s done again and had her write “ping pong pogo” a bunch of times on a New Yorker magazine subscription card. As we were leaving, a truck, advertising its recycling of cooking oil, pulled up to the restaurant next to the laundromat. I said the truck would turn the cooking oil into fuel cars can run on, she told me she knew this, having already read about it in the National Geographic Kids 2011 Almanac, and we talked about that for a bit while we walked home.

To sum up, that was: addition, some money skills, reading, understanding parts of speech, penmanship, demonstrating reading comprehension, and a bit of science — in just under 90 minutes, without a desk, without worksheets, without me saying, “sit here until these lessons are understood.”

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Did this post raise more questions than it answered?
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10 thoughts on “How I homeschool my kid: Part I

  1. you know what I love about this? I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the best way to LEARN something is to DO something. Like when you start a new job – sitting in a 3 day orientation class is useless unless you are allowed HANDS ON experience.

    I have an additional question – if you see her making a mistake, do you correct right away and discuss, or do you allow her to make the mistake and discuss after?

    1. I try to gauge how frustrating it will be for me to interrupt now versus how frustrating it will be if she follows through with what’s she’s doing with the mistake in there. Like, if she’s writing something and there’s a typo in it, I’m not going to stop her in the middle and go, “You didn’t use the comma right here.” But if, let’s say, she’s assembling something and has misread one of the instructions which will make it a disaster, I’ll probably point it out before the damage is done.

  2. Have you tried Learninggamesforkids.com? It has a lot of great games that teach while you are playing. I have so much fun that I play the games myself.

    Kathi

  3. I think it’s an awesome way to learn. Did you know that Tom went to country school in Minnesota, where there was one room, one teacher, a wood stove, an outhouse, and seven grades? Each row of desks represented a certain grade, and since he was so bright, he listened to each lesson as it was being taught. The kids in the lower grades who had already received their lesson, were required to color. He wasn’t interested in coloring; he was interested in what the higher grades were learning. And thus, a brilliant mind.

  4. a few questions-
    -do you ever plan to send her to a traditional school later on?

    -do you worry that she’s going to resent being homeschooled someday?

    -do you feel like she’s getting the socialization she needs?

    -did you ever, for even a moment, consider sending her into the NYC school system? what made you decide not to?
    -does your family give you any grief about your decision?

    just very, very curious about it all. thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi,

      If you don’t mind I’ll touch on a couple of these questions. I’m not from NYC though so can’t discuss the system there.

      Our three kids are all homeschooled. Our oldest had the chance to go with her best friend and spend a day with her at school.

      We were very interested in what response our daughter would have. She is very social, loves talking and being with other people.

      She hadn’t been back to a school since kindergarten which she tried for a couple weeks and then was sick of it and wanted out. We only sent her because we thought she would like the time with other kids.

      When she got home she was not at all interested in going to a school. She pretty much didn’t like the whole experience. She enjoys her homeschool. Not that is her experience and every child is different so keep that in mind.

      Sure there are days she is less interested in doing her work, but then aren’t there days you’d rather not do yours? So it’s just part of life, homeschool will not be as easy as sending your kids to school. The flip side is that they will get to enjoy a different path into their future.

  5. You have described just what I love about homeschooling! Your trip to the laundromat brought learning into the real world. Most kids always come back with “Where am am I ever going to use this?” when learning new concepts. Your trip really made a connection between learning and how its used!

  6. I’ve just discovered your web site, and hope this isn’t an ‘old’ thread by now. I just had to comment.

    If you have any worries about how your method of homeschooling will turn out in the end . . . don’t fret. My daughter was taught in exactly the way you describe. She is now 24 years old, and I am constantly looking at her in amazement, and wondering, “My God, how did she get so smart.” I was under constant and unrelenting criticism the entire time I was teaching her. Now, I can look at those people and say, “Told you so.” You’re teaching her how to teach herself. One of the most valuable things anyone can know.

    You’re doing a great job. Thumb your nose at the critics–no matter what their argument is–and treasure this time with your daughter. Those kids in public school will never have that.

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