Thinking Outside of a Big Box Education

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret of mine. Whenever I tell someone that we homeschool I almost always follow quickly with an admission that I was once a teacher. As an introvert, I hate to get into conversations with strangers where I feel pressed to explain myself and my choices. So by quickly dropping the information that I have previously taught, it often convinces the speaker that I am knowledgeable enough to teach my own children and conversation turns to other things.

I’ll let you in on another secret. I think my career as a teacher is actually one of my biggest hindrances as a home educator. Being a teacher taught me many things about how to manage a classroom full of students or help kids pass the high school compentency exam so they could graduate (something my ESL students struggled with mightily), but it did very little to help me create the lifestyle of learning I desire in our homeschool.

Two Different Animals
Instead, I not only have to fight against the big box education mentality from my own school days, but the reinforcement of it from my professional experience. And it’s tough. I can recall flipping through an Evan-Moor catalog making mental notes that one day we might need those workbooks on dictionary skills, when it struck me that my kids simply needed my help using a dictionary a few times and they would have it down pat — no worksheets needed.

This is why for me posts like this and this are so very important. I need to read, and read often, that what I am doing at home in no way resembles what they are doing in schools. There are two different animals, and the schedules and methods they use there do not fit the rhythms we live here.

Course Correction
I find myself correcting our course as needed to best suit our homeschool. This time it meant throwing out the two 36-week curriculum we were using for history and science and returning to more of a unit study approach that we so enjoyed last year. Not only that, I sat down with the kids and we made a list of our current interests. So our upcoming units will cover a diversity of topics like Cinderella, teeth, Hawaii, squirrels, outer space, and ocean life. There went the schedule, chronological history, and a standard scope and sequence in one swoop.

But I didn’t stop there. With our fragmented day (think toddler!) I found that we weren’t getting to many subjects we value and enjoy. What to do to make sure we fit these topics in? Enter Faith-Filled Tuesdays and Fine Arts Fridays.

Playing Saints Memory on Faith-Filled Tuesday

Sadly, the faith studies part of our morning would often get skipped in some kind of rush and then never picked up again as we moved on to the next thing each day. Now we simply use Tuesday for all things faith-related — a chapter of Faith and Life to read and narrate, a saint story, a liturgical craft and/or goodie to cook, something to learn about the Mass. It all happens on Tuesday and that is all that is scheduled before we leave home in the early afternoon for gymnastics. If there is time they might practice skills on the computer, but all other formal work is not scheduled.

The same goes for Friday. We start the day with homeschool group or a field trip. When we return home and put Thomas down to nap, we spend the afternoon with picture study, composer study and an art project. These are things that I feel are important to a well-rounded education. It’s working.

So this leaves only three days a week where we actually do the 3Rs and our unit studies. We school year-round and this approach works for us at this stage. It’s not what the schools do, but that’s okay. If I wanted my kids to do what the schools did, then I would send them to school.



  • Sarah says:

    I’m not really liking those 36-week science/history curriculums either. I was so disappointed! I thought I would love them! Alas. Live and learn?

    Good post. 🙂

  • Pam Barnhill says:

    Yes, live and learn. I was bored with the sameness of them each week. So then I was adding things to beef them up. If I am going to have to do that, I might as well put together unit studies, no? Thanks for stopping by.

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