Saturday, March 1, 2014

Seven Quick Takes ~ Homeschool Edition

Somerset High School, Somerset, MA

1) We don't homeschool because we hate public schools. Ken and I both had an excellent education in New England's public schools (We graduated in 1985 and 1987). That's my school above; isn't it pretty? I still remember things from classes and teachers because they were good. I can still sing music from Cats and O Magnum Mysterium. I can break into a polka as Aunt Eller or British snark as Lady Algernon. I remember my 10th grade poetry project and the teacher who saved my iambic pentameter by informing me that I could use sans instead of without. I still remember extracting the spinal cord from the fetal pig and measuring gunshot vectors (separate classes of course). I especially remember Mendel's pea plant genetics, despite the genetic counselor's surprise that we were happy to have more babies (She was sure that I couldn't possibly understand what autosomal recessive meant...).

2) We homeschool because it's fun and because we can and because we like what we get. It's fun to do projects together; it's fun to do 'most anything together. We can do it because we live simply. Our needs are pretty modest and the few times I've made lists of What I would do if I didn't homeschool, the alternative paled. We like dealing with behavior problems the way we see fit, without a sniff of political correctness; we like switching books and programs the way we see fit, according to our children's strengths and weaknesses; we like the way the kids are growing up (mostly!).

3) We have a great philosophy, kind of a Charlotte Mason/John Holt/Rudolph Steiner/Laura Berquist plan (ha!). Did you know there was such a thing? It's a Howell special. What it actually means is that I like all of them; I find points of worth in all of them; I switch things around all the time. I love the classical model, but I love the unschooling model. A few years we bought boxed curricula because I didn't want to make any decisions. They were good years, too.

4) We do math, outside play, and a rest alone every day. We use Teaching Textbooks, Oak Meadow, Singapore, Life of Fred, Kahn Academy online, and enough manipulatives to ruin midnight bathroom runs for years. When a kid is particularly obstinate, I don't mind if they spend their morning math time helping a younger sibling or playing with tangrams. As long as they're thinking mathematically for a while, I don't care from which source. Outside play is because we live in Alaska. A rest, each one in a separate spot, is for my sanity and theirs. Everyone needs time with their own thoughts and it must be ordered in a large family.

5) Books, books, books. In the summer, planning begins for the following fall. I let the younger kids (high school ages are different) choose 2 topics they are dying to learn about, which I add to a few that Ken and I choose. These become the theme for everyone for a month. Here's what this year looks like. Clare (12) chose Ice Age and botany; Ian (9) chose flight and Alaska; Luke (7) chose Africa and space; Ken and I chose ancient Rome and maps. We are currently finishing up a month on the Ice Age. March will begin Alaska (and the Iditarod will move them nicely into maps). We get tons of books at all levels to dump on one of the downstairs bookshelves. After mathtime, the kids gravitate to "the shelf." Social studies and science flow directly from the books. 

6) An example: Space. We get books, everything from Usborne informational to lift-the-flap books to baby board books to biographies of Robert Fulton and Neil Armstrong. They do writing assignments and art projects and science off the books (copy work, book reports, paragraphs, drawing, models with balls, star-gazing, etc.). Sometimes I figure out all sorts of connected ideas (usually if I can't sleep and begin drinking coffee at 4am) but when I'm not feeling like Mary Poppins, it's fine for them to simply read and come up with their own thing.
From the shelf, children, from the shelf.

7) I love grammar. I took Latin for 3 years at the high school pictured above. I love picking apart a sentence into every single part of speech. I love working on just the right turn of phrase. But I don't want to be the cause of some of the children hiding in the woods to be raised by the nice mother moose who eats our goats' hay. So I have CHC's grammar books. They are simple, sweet, and cover what they need to. I pull them out about once a week, usually when I have a sit-down with one kid at a time. We have a warm drink, go through a few pages of grammar, then I help them with whatever else they want (See point #2 above. I likey!).

(So that's a Howell Homeschool up to 9th grade. Highscholers map out four years of classes and credits because so far, the big boys have desired continued classes and scholarships.)

Post #5 (On the 6th day, yeah, I know. I'm getting there!)


  1. I like your approach to homeschooling. We do something similar to your summer projects, we call them "special projects" but don't limit them to summer, whenever we feel a little burned out is when we take a break and do a little independent research into whatever topic my daughter chooses. When we are working steadily on school my daughter is using some high school homeschool curriculum from Time4Learning High School, for science and social studies, Life of Fred Algebra for math, and still using keyboarding games from Learning Games for Kids. She also has "free choice" reading, which is her choice but guided from selections off of the approved list like biographies and classic literature. Because we live on a farm, winter is pretty calm, but as soon as spring starts we get plenty of outside time, though not all of it is play :) I really enjoyed reading about your homeschool, thanks!

  2. An "approved list" ~ oh yes! And I've not heard of Time4Learning; must check. Glad you mentioned it. It's a good life, isn't it?!

  3. Have you read Mary Popping? I bet you are feeling more like her than not in those moments!

    Great list!