Home School High School

It's that time of year when I begin thinking and planning for the coming year of school. At this point in the year, I start to face the inevitable questions of, "Am I doing enough?" and "Is homeschooling the right choice for my children?" This question rarely comes up for my younger children; what could be better for young children than being at home, reading good stories, doing hands on math, painting, drawing and being in nature? It is easy for me to feel very confident about their education, especially as I see my eight year old daughter devouring books such as Indian Captive, by Lois Lenski and the Betsy Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, her imagination sparked by the sweet stories she reads.

High school is a little more intimidating for me though. True, my oldest three have all graduated or are dually enrolled in the community college and the two without learning difficulties are getting the grades we dream of as parents, but I still end up questioning myself. 

With these insecurities as the driving force, so far this spring I have looked into three charter schools and visited a Classical Conversations campus in an effort to explore other ways of doing high school, ways that might offer more structure to my 12 and 14 year old boys. As I was researching my options, I pulled out some of my favorite homeschool books and was very encouraged by the writing of John Taylor Gatto. 

"Schools train individuals to respond as a mass. Boys and girls are drilled in being bored, frightened, envious, emotionally needy, generally incomplete. A successful mass production economy requires such a clientele. A small business, small farm economy like that of the Amish requires individual competence, thoughtfulness, compassion, and universal participation; our own requires a managed mass of leveled, spiritless, anxious, familyless, friendless, godless, and obedient people who believe the difference between Cheers and Seinfeld is a subject worth arguing about.” ― John Taylor GattoThe Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling

This completely resonated with me. Looking into the charter schools was enlightening. In high school, they load the students up with six hours a day of their compulsory, state standards based schoolbooks. This leaves no time for personal projects, such as the ones my boys have been working on. My boys are writing books, programming games, creating ecosystems, writing blogs, milking goats, raising pigs, building wooden toys, designing solar systems and reading lots of books from our home library. As well, my 14 year old was able to take his first college class last semester online. If we were enrolled in a charter school, none of this would have been possible. Their time would have been completely absorbed in keeping up with recommended classes.

However, there are still subjects which we struggle with and which are necessary for them to learn. Algebra is one of them. With my first three students, we tried several different programs, struggling with each one, and when the two normal learners got into their college algebra class, it finally clicked. What had been painfully obscure with the programs we were using, suddenly became clear. My son, in his first semester of algebra at the community college (as a high school student) was recommended as a math tutor, my daughter was told she should be a math teacher by her professor. Ironic and funny when I reflect on how little I still know about algebra. Thankfully, even the areas that we have real struggles with are not hopeless. 

The best thing about homeschooling high school is that our opportunity to continue influencing these young adults carries on for a little longer. The opportunity to give them classic books to read, and quality history materials, the opportunity to discuss important topics with them, and to let them explore their own interests are all hidden blessings of homeschooling high school.

I don't think I have to be their only teacher, and high school is a good time to outsource some subjects. If your state allows dual enrollment, this is a fabulous way of getting a head start on college credits. Also, there are online schools such as Potter's School and Veritas which offer high school classes. There may even be a local homeschool mom who would teach your child a difficult subject, in exchange for help in a different area. 

Homeschooling high school is an opportunity for our children, who have learned such good basic skills to really take off in independent learning and interest led projects. It is not necessarily the time to suddenly put your freedom educated teen into a social construct that has far reaching, soul killing effects on our country and culture.
“I've noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don't really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers to care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic -- it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.” ― John Taylor GattoDumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling


The Prepared Environment

Homeschooling often involves keeping multiple aged children constructively occupied. Most of us don't have several children of the same age which we can teach all at once. We must integrate our different aged children into the same learning environment. In our home we do have circle time where all of our children are gathered for learning, with some of the material going right over the heads of the littlest ones, and some of it, such as singing the ABC song, boring to tears the older ones. The ideal then is to have an environment which is conducive to many independent learners of different ages. Why independent? Well, obviously, so that I can drink my coffee in peace (this is a joke)!

Really, the goal is to develop independent learners because when children are directing some aspects of their education, they are going to be more motivated about what they are learning. 

This brings us to the subject of The Prepared Environment. A prepared environment is a Montessori term that means a classroom that is carefully organized for optimum learning. In a homeschool environment, it is completely possible to have a beautiful environment for learning, one which makes independent learning a natural occurrence.

In the above linked article, the author explains that there are several  principles for a prepared environment. This is my adaptation of how these work in a homeschool.

1. Structure and Order- Young children are carefully taught how to do things. How to make their bed, get dressed, brush their teeth and wash their hands are all part of the basic lessons. Children, from a young age are allowed to get their own snack and drinks but they are taught how to do it and how to clean up after themselves as well. A minimum amount of clothes are kept in drawers low enough for children to reach, and toys are also kept to a minimum so that a child can easily pick up after herself. Tools are preferred over toys, tools such as; a small broom and dustpan, child sized table and chairs and even clothes washing supplies such as washboards and clotheslines.

2. Freedom- Within the framework of order, there is great freedom. A child may choose to color first or to do a pouring exercise. They may choose to wash some dishes or sew a button on a cloth. They may choose to diagram a sentence or do a counting exercise. However, a child is not allowed the freedom to stay in their pajamas all day watching cartoons. So, although freedom is highly prized in a Montessori environment, and can be a great motivator for young children, it is not freedom from all restraints, it is more simply, the freedom to choose activities which are available within the prepared structure.

3. Beauty- A Montessori environment should be beautiful, but so should be your home. Beauty doesn't have to require a lot of money. It can involve simple things such as getting rid of broken toys, and excess furniture. It can involve putting fresh paint on a tired and chipped wall, or finding a thrifted basket to keep blankets and toys in, instead of strewing them across the floor. Life with children involves lots of messes, but putting in the effort to keep your home an inspiring place does have a big impact. Also, keeping the T.V. off and instead having a variety of lovely books, and music in addition to Bibles and musical instruments will make a major difference in the atmosphere of your home.

4. Nature and Reality- When children have an opportunity to interact with nature it can be both inspiring and calming for them. This is why it is important to keep your environment as natural as possible. If you have outdoor space, let them have time daily to enjoy it. Keep your indoor space tuned towards creation as well by using natural materials such as wood and glass in your kitchen and workspaces and avoiding plastic toys and tools (we make an exception for a variety of items, such as Legos and toy animals.)

Although, these are some examples of basic things we have done to create an environment which accommodates learning, it is all grace if things go as hoped for. There are mornings where I fail to follow through on good habits and my kitchen ends up a disaster because the children have all freely helped themselves to breakfast (good), using up all the sugar, and smearing jam across the counter in the process(bad)!

Ultimately, the best thing I have done to create a prepared environment, is to prepare my heart by seeking God first. Only He can give me the self discipline needed to follow through on good habits, both for myself and for my children, and only He can give me the power to forgive, both myself and my children when we fail.

However, it is better to put in the effort, and through baby steps move towards a learning environment  that makes it easier for children to learn, than to not even try. It is better to receive forgiveness when you miss the mark, than to shoot for nothing.


Westward Expansion

We have been having such an interesting year, studying
Early American History. It is hard to believe that we are in the last three months of the school year already! It is flying by. I often wonder if I am doing enough schoolwork, but seeing my children excited about what they are learning, reassures me that we are on the right track.

We recently got together with friends to celebrate our studies of the pioneers and westward expansion. These get togethers are one of the highlights of our history studies. While at home, I read lots of great books to the children, we do map work, and also journaling, but the monthly co-op meetings are when we can delve into hands on projects that require more preparation.

At this months get together we made butter! This was actually incredibly easy and group friendly. We simply poured cream into clean mason jars, screwed the lids on tight and let the kids go crazy shaking them until a nice lump of butter had formed. I took a picture of our butter after we made it, but then when I was going back through the photos, I couldn't figure out what it was and deleted. It was yummy, if not photogenic. 

The butter was spread on fresh baked bread, the best of pioneer treats, and eaten along with tortillas, and cattail tubers which we had harvested from our pond. A good study of the pioneers and westward expansion wouldn't be complete without talking about some of the foraged foods that they ate to survive.

We also drank tea made from nettles. Not the tastiest of drinks, but super healthy and according to research, a good traditional remedy for all manner of illnesses, including allergies and anemia.

Another thing we do at our co-op meetings are oral presentations. I feel that being able to give a report is an important part of homeschooling. It is also a helpful motivator for my children to do well on their journaling projects so that they have something good to share with the group. We have been alternating Draw Write Now books with fine art postcards from Mommy It's A Renoir for art journaling prompts. These go nicely with narration exercises, and if we are not feeling creative enough to come up with an original narration, we simply copy the sentences from Draw Write Now as well. These journaling pages then become oral reports for the younger students.

Draw Write Now, Book 5: The United States, from Sea to Sea, Moving Forward (Draw-Write-Now) Mommy, It's a Renoir!

The oldest of my four students still in my homeschool prepared a report on health care, or the lack thereof, during the time period we were studying. My 12 year old created a stop motion Lego movie about Civil War Sea Battles. I love seeing them use various technologies and mediums to prepare their presentations.

For map work, we looked at where the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled, as well as what area the Louisiana Purchase encompassed. Later, we traced U.S. maps and labeled them with the route which the Lewis and Clark Expedition took, so many years ago.

Back at home, I read to the children from "Sacajawea" by Della Rowland, while they made a tent and pretend fire which they roasted pretend marshmallows over. Or maybe it was bear meat on a stick?
Stories are great at providing prompts for imaginative play. They also do so much to expand your children's vocabulary, these are a few of many reasons why we make a high priority of reading aloud. I also have a basket of books based on the period we are studying, which my children are encouraged to read from as we work our way through the year. If possible, I give my older children books which include source documents. I want them to be aware of what the thought process of historical figures was, and not just hear their stories through a modernist filter. 

The Story of Sacajawea: Guide to Lewis and Clark (Dell Yearling Biography) The Journals of Lewis and Clark (Lewis & Clark Expedition)
Little House Nine-Book Box Set

American History is full of fascinating people, and I am studying it again, with some of the most fascinating people that I know. I hope that your children, and your studies, bring much joy and inspiration to your life as well.

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