Written by contributor Kara Anderson
My mom’s best pal Jan is a sort of unlikely homeschooling mentor.
Two years ago, she retired after more than 30 years as a second-grade teacher.
So you might expect her to voice some concerns about homeschooling or at least endorse the public school experience. But she’s never been anything but supportive of us and our stay-at-home path.
And she’s been a pretty indispensable source of advice. For instance, there’s her string theory …
See, Jan isn’t just a former teacher. She’s a mom.
Her kids were raised on their family farm, hanging out in the creek, and wrangling chickens.
During the decade she took a break from teaching to stay at home with them, the family lived on $4,000 a year, buying just whole wheat flour, honey, coffee and things like fabric. The rest they raised, grew and made themselves.
Because she just really wanted to be with her kids.
It was then that Jan developed an idea about parenting that I’ve come to call her “string theory.”
It basically goes like this: Imagine that you are connected to your child with an invisible string. When things are going well, you can let that string out. Let them wander in the creek. Let them visit the cows in the pasture. Let them spend lazy afternoons under a tree reading.
When things maybe aren’t going so well, you pull that string a little tighter. “How about you help me make dinner?” you might say to the kiddo who has taken to frequent complaining about mealtime offerings.
“I need your help today with the chickens,” you might say to a child who hasn’t exactly been nailing it when it comes to their chores lately.
(The “string” is really just a way for us to visualize keeping our kids close when they need it, and giving them freedom when they don’t.)
When Jan explained this idea to me, I realized that I’ve been using something similar as a homeschooling mom.
Let me give you a few examples of how it looks for us this year:
Reading – The string is pretty long
This year, my kids are both readers, which makes my job as a homeschooling mama so much easier.
Because they read so much on their own, I sort of let them do their thing in this area. 10 Nancy Drew books in a row? Sure. Audiobooks? OK!
We visit the library weekly, and I spend a lot of time on Amazon and on our library’s website tracking down books that I think might interest them.
I also let them read pretty much anything, as long as they are continuing to read a bit of everything. I try to take a “big picture” approach to reading and let them go with phases and fall deep into interests.
And I choose our read-alouds very carefully. Wink.
Math – A shorter string this year
One of my children has a strong interest in math, literally begging for workbooks.
The other … doesn’t.
So this year, we’re taking a different approach to math and using Teaching Textbooks.
The kids both enjoy the format, and my mama heart is at ease, knowing they are each getting a bit of math each day with complaints or cajoling.
‘Majors and minors’ – the string goes waaaay out
At 7 and 10, I know it seems a little early to be treating my kids like college students, so let me explain.
I tend to focus a lot of my energy on the “majors” — reading (of all kinds!) and math.
So when it comes to history, for instance, we listen to Story of the World, and we encourage the kids to read about the eras that interest them.
We don’t do an in-depth science curriculum right now. We read a lot, we explore nature, and the kids ask a lot of questions.
Their natural curiosity leads our science “curriculum.” For instance, a friend recently gave my daughter a nature encyclopedia. At least once a day we find her curled up with it. “Mama! Did you know that weasels are the smallest carnivores?!”
We do some Latin. We do some Spanish.
I think we kind of “unschool” the minors.
Art and Music – the string could wrap around the moon
I just don’t try to “teach” either of these!
We make art supplies available all the time, and we try to use mostly the good stuff.
My kids both love music, so we endeavor to connect them with classes and programs and find them musical mentors.
We’ve been told that my son is pretty musically gifted, but he struggles against being pushed in music. So we’ve spent a lot of time talking about how best to support him.
Should we “force” him to pursue classical music?
No. We’ve decided that this is a place where his love will guide him.
And so, we let the string out, out, out, and watch him thrive. We show him that we trust him.
Because the string theory is in a lot of ways about faith. It’s about knowing our kids, seeing what they need and being OK when what they need most is for us to get out of their way.
It’s about giving them freedom when and where they can handle it, and being their guide as they grow.
Who are some of your homeschool mentors? What lessons have they shared with you?