This year is the first year that I am homeschooling three children. My oldest son is in eighth grade. My second child, also a boy, is in second-and-a-half grade. The caboose, my daughter, just started kindergarten. If you’ve ever read my family blog you’ll know that I refer to my house as Bedlam, named after the infamous Bethlehem Royal Hospital in England. I joke that this place is an asylum. There are days when I must answer a question about algebra for the oldest, quiz the middle child on his spelling, and explain “A” to the girl, all in the span of a few moments. I find that this really is not difficult. After all, isn’t that what happened in one room school houses across this country years ago? President Herbert Hoover attended a one room school house. So did writer Joyce Carol Oats, astronaut Alan B. Shepherd, and author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Our country was built on small class sizes containing multiple grade levels. Why would that be a problem now?
I had to laugh last week when I realized one afternoon that the oldest was working on his algebra on the couch while the middle child was reading a book on my bed and the girl and I were reading Hooked on Phonics at the kitchen table. With the exception of three fish, the “classroom” in the basement was empty. I laughed because I was reminded of the August 30th post where non-homeschoolers wrote that new homeschoolers must have a specific learning area set aside from the rest of the house. If I may quote my father, “Bunk!” (90% of the wit and witticisms of my father are not repeatable in mixed company, so I have to use them when I can) Homeschooled children naturally gravitate to a comfortable location to work, based upon their individual wants and needs. I fail to see how this is a problem. As far the “classroom,” I’m still trying to convince my wife that we should remove the tables and chairs and replace them with a pool table.
One aspect of homeschooling that I find interesting is that from one year to the next it is always a new and interesting experience. With each year that passes there are new topics of study, new depths to which we study familiar topics, and a wider variety of activities in which we can participate. I cannot say the same thing for the freshman in Connie’s class. Connie was a veteran teacher at a Missouri high school where I taught. She was well liked by her colleagues. Connie attended all of the required faculty and department meetings. She rarely sent a student to the office. She didn’t make a fuss. On any given day you could walk into her classroom and find her students quietly working. On a worksheet. From the stacks of worksheets that she kept on the shelves in her room. For Connie, each day of each school year was exactly the same as the same day the previous year, because she mindlessly repeated the same lessons in the same order. The only thing that changed in Connie’s lesson plans was the year written in pencil on the front of her plan book. The extent of her reflective practice was wondering whether or not she had enough copies of the day’s worksheets. Connie was retired on active duty, drawing a pay check for doing little more than breathing as she ticked off the years towards retirement.
Homeschooling does not allow for that level of sloth. My children are too active, too inquisitive, and too curious to allow for anything but meeting their needs from year to year. The one huge difference between homeschooling parents and professional teachers is that we love our children in a way that professional teachers cannot. That love makes up for the years of college and teacher’s ed classes that most teachers have, most homeschooling parents do not have, and most homeschooling critics complain we need. I’ve sat through those classes. They are not all that they are purported to be. My reflective practice is driven by my love for my children. I'm constantly looking for ways to improve my instruction. And with the ever changing nature of homeschooling, there is no time for academic recycling.