Written by contributor Amida of Journey Into Unschooling
Recently, my kids wrapped up their science lesson from the previous weeks. They had a little mad science action going on as they mixed different substances to see if there was a reaction, both with specific combinations and ones of their own choosing. I think this particular lesson went a little too long (three sessions) and for the most part was a bit redundant, as far as what they already knew.
One of the moms in our co-op had acquired a complete chemistry curriculum with almost all the materials necessary for a middle-grade class. It included everything from textbook, experiments, lab books, and even teacher resources that told you exactly how to teach the class — all of which seemed very exciting but was, in actuality, a little on the dull side.
Which of course, leads to the question, why was it so dull? They’re sitting around out in the beautiful sunshine (mostly), hanging with their best friends, and learning about what promises to be an engaging, well thought out exploration of chemical reactions. They get to conduct experiments, fill out lab books, and learn state-aligned science standards! What was wrong with these kids?
Obviously, deep down, I knew the answer. The problem wasn’t the kids, nor was it the curriculum. It isn’t even the wonderful mom who volunteered to prepare and teach the lessons every week. The problem was trying to teach these homeschooled children in a conventional school manner.
For my kids, anyway, the tried and true formula of lecture, reading texts, and closely followed procedure just doesn’t seem to work. They don’t learn well that way. What they wanted to do, what their instincts were screaming at them to do, was to break out of procedure and test out their own theories. I don’t blame them.
Who would want want to spend three weeks going from point A to B, only to find out what he already knew going in? Unfortunately, in that particular setting, there simply wasn’t enough time for everyone’s free exploration. It was time for a change.
Trying something new isn’t always easy. I have to admit, science class was totally convenient — someone else was doing the teaching and we all got to socialize on a weekly basis. What more could a homeschool mom ask for?
Ironically, the lesson that brought up this whole inner debate was on finding the combination of substances that causes a reaction — sometimes, nothing happens. But other times, your mixture bubbles and comes to life. In our case, we never quite found that excitement.
It was a tough call, so I did what any good mother would do — I let the kids decide. After much discussion, they admitted they weren’t really learning anything and class was actually quite boring to them. So much so, in fact, that, even at the expense of not seeing their friends every week, they decided to pull out and seek another way. It was a very mature decision.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, things just don’t go the way we envision. Although the co-op had worked great for us in previous years (I had raved about it here), this time around, we needed to switch gears.
I am thankful we can evaluate our situation at any given moment and make choices on how we want to proceed. I am confident that through our experimentation, we will find our own winning combination of science and lesson.
How do you decide when to stop what you’ve started in your homeschool?
I totally agree! The thing I love most about homeschooling is the ability to stop what you have started if it’s not working for you and your family. Last year was my first year homeschooling my three daughters, who at the time ranged from 4th grader to preschooler, and I selected a multi-age homeschool curriculum that sounded good in theory, but the lesson plans (which attempted to tackle all subjects every day!) just didn’t fit the way my kids were wanting to learn. So mid-year I stopped using the lesson plans and took the same books but approached them as unit studies. What a difference that made! It was such a relief to be able to say “no” to what wasn’t working, and try, try again until we find something that does! We’re never stuck with a particular path just because it’s the one we happened to start on, and I am so grateful for that!
Thank you for sharing your experience of switching gears when you and your children agreed that it was time. I think that we should embrace our freedom as homeschoolers to make those adjustments whenever we deem them necessary — even if it’s in the middle of a school year or co-op course. That’s what makes homeschooling so great!
Renee Gotcher’s latest post: Monday Musings: The Role of Homeschool Support Groups
It takes courage to step back and stop something that doesn’t work! I have found that even when I have re-used curriculums, it is never the same with the next child. It may not appeal to their gender, learning style or approach.
But I’ve realized that I, too, have changed. With maturity and experience, one gains a broader perspective and it just isn’t worth seeing children get bogged down in something when there is just so much out there to learn and discover with enthusiasm and delight!
In the end, it is not about teaching information, but developing skills and growing characters, and we need to prayerfully trust the Lord as He leads us in our homeschooling.
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Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy
I didn’t use to be the kind of mom/teacher who was willing to stop what I’d started, homeschooling-wise. Hearing Susan Wise Bauer speak at a conference made a huge difference in my attitude on this one. She said that if my child is whining about pouting and complaining about a particular subject, or program, or curriculum, it’s probably because that one subject/program/etc is a terrible fit for that child! And that I should take the cue and drop it!
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We are using a math curriculum, which my son and I both like a lot. However, last year, 6 weeks into our school year, he burned out on math. So, we dropped math. Completely and for the rest of the year. When we started up school this year, he resumed his lessons with gusto. We decided to reduce the number of lessons that he does in a week which we believe will reduce the possibility of burnout. The point of this is that I didn’t feel that it would hurt him in the long run to completely drop the subject for a period of time. We are eclectic homeschoolers with a general lean towards unschooling. Being able to make these kinds of decisions is the backbone of the superiority of homeschooling over public school. To have to continue trudging through burnout and trying to meet the expectations of the school system, he would have ended up completely frustrated, hating math and our relationship would be in a shambles over homework. Makes me anxious just thinking about it!
Thank you for your post. I love these posts that keep me on track and confident that we are doing not only the right thing but the best thing.
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Ah, the memories… years ago, when I was I a newbie homeschooling mom, I had my son do every single problem in his math book, every single day. Naturally, he developed a deep aversion to the subject and I couldn’t figure out what to do until another mom asked me why in the world was I assigning him all the problems? It was an eye opener for me. Really? We don’t have to follow the book assignment word for word??? We took a break from it for the rest of the year and came back refreshed and with a whole new approach.
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This is a great post. The freedom that comes with homeschooling puts us in a position to make difficult decisions BECAUSE WE CAN. This is a beautiful illustration of making one of those decisions. I love that you gave the problem to the kids to solve. And you are right – when we trust them, they find the right way. Choices and changes like this seem to be a constant process in the way we homeschool.
Just a thought as a previously homeshooled kid, and a homeschooling mom. Are your children thinking about higher education? While I enjoyed your post and agree that that is one of my favorite things of homeschool, it might be handy to introduce your children at some point to a slight traditional teaching just to transition to college. When I went off to college (conservative small liberal arts) its not like I had the hardest time but it did take me a semester to get into the concept of how to “do” school. Any thoughts?
Good question, Kelli!
Higher education is always in the back of my mind. Right now, they are still too young to worry about the transition, although my oldest has already taken classes in a college setting and is quite aware that not everything will be fun. When the time does come, however, they will be taking more outside home classes (via community college) and hopefully be well prepared for the change.
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That was my first thought as well. For the most part in college I had classes I loved and wanted to take with amazing professors but that wasn’t always the case, especially when it came to required core classes. Obviously the most important thing at this point is that your kids love learning and find a way that works for them and I am sure that will serve them well in the future, but I agree with Kelli that as they get a little closer to college some experience with a typical lecture type session may be helpful.
Just wanted to add here that is also took me a semester (or two) to figure out how to “do” college and I was traditionally schooled k-12. I also had friends who were traditionally schooled and who never managed to figure out college and eventually failed out.
I’m not saying that you can’t do things to prepare them, but I do think when a person wants to do something they figure out how to do it. Some kids thrive on a traditional follow the rules type of learning and others need to free wheel and they learn as they go. My thoughts anyways 🙂
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I completely agree! Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the mindset of ‘that’s how public schools do it’ or ‘we bought it, so we’re using it’, instead of focusing on whether or not it actually works.
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Living the Balanced Life
While homeschooling, we stopped using many different programs and curriculum over the years. We would give it a shot, but if it didn’t work, we would push it aside and find something else. It was a difficult lesson to learn as I didn’t want to teach my children to be quitters if something was too hard or uncomfortable. It was a good time to discuss these things and learn some life lessons as well.
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I think it’s all about being very aware and sensitive to our children’s needs. My son tends to be negative about things initially. I do feel more of a need to gently encourage him to try new things, and most of the time he winds up loving them. But after trying something new a few times, if he is still resistant, I back off. It’s not worth pursuing something when there’s a lot of resistance. I think resistance is a clue that something is not right. So, I think it’s so awesome that you trust your kids enough to let them make the decisions that are best for them in the end.
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While I’m not sure I’d always agree with the statement that what a good mom does is let the kids decide, in this case I’m with you. 🙂 I completely know what you mean about how presenting something school-y to kids who used to the relative freedom and flexibility of homeschooling can be like trying to get a maple tree to produce apples. (Sorry, couldn’t think of a better analogy right now.) I think that one thing that makes it hard for me turn away in a situation like yours (and I’ve been there) is that I get attached to the people involved — the sense of community, the relationships the kids and I have developed. And I find it can be very difficult to maintain those friendships once we’re not sharing an activity anymore, since the nature of homeschooling often means those people we click with or spend a lot of time with aren’t living in our neighborhood.
It must have been a tough call to change directions, and you showed courage in doing so.
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I jus wanted to say I really love this post! The ability to change gears is the best and hardest thing about being a homeschooling parent. Also, a note on college…I was homeschooled and found the transition to college to be fairly smooth. I think college requires self-direction and confidence, two qualities homeschooled kids often have a good handle on. I haven’t found the scientific method difficult to grasp or too schooly, (and I never had science classes or experiments as a kid). The confidence and maturity of a decision like that of Amida’s children in the post is going to serve them well when it comes to asking questions, wanting real answers, and being fully engaged in their education later in life.
I read your recent post and I had questions to throw out. I think I am an unschooler by default. I say that because my son and oldest is so interest led that we can not stay with a “curriculum” no matter how hard I try. Yet I am a routine person and lover of structure and checklists but want room to breathe. I feel like I am along for the ride and stretched most of the time since all of my children are huber independent and going in three different directions. Any suggestions for reconciling the desire to have a plan and feeling so stretched? I personally become consumed in one interest and study until my heart’s content so I know this is probably the best fit for the family. My gut need to know what is coming tells me it is all too much and I worry about the question of so what are you doing, even I would be hard pressed to nail it down in concrete terms. Let me know your thoughts…