17 March 2013

Homeschooling the Primary Years

I wanted to share our cleaning routine/rhythm, after the previous post on Balancing homeschooling and domestic work, but I thought it good to first share a little about my homeschool style. 

Insight into how I homeschool, might give more insight on our cleaning routine, because the two cannot be separated.

I often get questions on how I manage to homeschool 8 children, give individual attention to each one, what  I teach at what age and how  I make sure they know everything they need to know.

With my eldest now almost at the end of his homeschooling journey, my youngest not in the journey yet, and 6 children in between, you might think I have it all figured out! To the contrary. Every year, like every season, is a challenge and bring along new trials and fears, as well as joy’s, laughter and learning opportunities. But most of all it results in more trust in the Faithful One who called me to homeschool my children. 

If I could give advice to any new homeschooling mother it will be: 

“The way you homeschool in the primary years of your child’s life will make or break your homeschooling journey!”

The single, most imported thing I’ve observed over the past 12 years, was the learning curve in my children.  Observing this learning curve, helped me see the big picture of when to do what in our homeschooling journey. I’m so thankful that I have the little ones on which I can apply the wisdom obtained while homeschooling my older children.

When I just started homeschooling CJ and Heidi-Mari, people often asked me if I’m intending to homeschool them all the way through high school. It was an interesting question for me, since I believed (and now after 12years, know) the biggest challenge in homeschooling is the preschool and primary school levels.  I truly believe the success of your homeschooling journey rises and falls on how you homeschool the primary years of your child’s life.  Not only are these early years of homeschooling crucial for your child’s learning experience and capturing a love for learning; it is paramount for you as the homeschooling mother’s satisfaction of homeschooling, in the midst of sacrifices and hard work.

I’ve come to recognize three stages of learning in my children:

First Stage - Exploring through playing and making messes.

This stage is roughly between 2 and 9. The years of investigating and exploring. Now this is not new to you! Children love to explore, take things apart, want to know how things work and making a mess. Children in this age range, constantly ask questions and eagerly want to learn! At least once a week I read about mothers who proudly share how their toddlers love to learn. How these little ones at the age of 5 are begging them to go to school or “do school” with their older siblings. They are like sponges and the Mother just don’t have enough activities to keep them busy, while they learn to write their names, want to read and write and eagerly listen as she reads to them.

But then at the age of 7 to 8 years old, things often change.  The child who with delight and enthusiasm jumped into the first few months of learning, now rather wants to go and play, reluctant to join mommy for the learning activities. I get these concerning letters, on a regular basis. Mothers who now have to drag their children to their activities. 

In observing my little ones, I got the answer: Little ones love to explore and investigate new things, and soon start to push mommy to teach them how to write their name, or read, eager to learn simple maths, after picking up how to count spontaneously. With the influence of the school system, and often pressure from family and friends the parent begin formal teaching. After all the child indicated that he/she is ready to learn.

BUT the school journey very soon become routine work and repetition. In the beginning everything is new and interesting, but then after a few months there isn’t much new, interesting stuff anymore, it is mostly the same work over and over again.

From the mother’s side the workload of formal teaching, is exhausting and frustrating due to a child who now is unwilling to learn and how does she fit in the other children or take care of her home.

Our work plan: 

Stay away from formal teaching for the first 8 to 9 years!  Do very little maths, reading and writing - let the child be free to choose and guide you. Create a positive atmosphere of creative playing, arts and crafts, Bible stories and accidental learning of numbers, letters, followed by spontaneous reading, writing and maths. 

These can easily be done by lapbooking and very simple, informal unit studies.  Lapbooking and informal unit studies, allow children to explore life around them. Answer their many, many questions incorporated into some kind of learning activity, with very little, to no routine work, especially with boys. Girls might start earlier with routine work and more formal teaching.
We’re playing most of the days. 

Bible teaching is done through Discipleland. Discipleland is hands on, each age group’s worksheets appropriate for their interests and due to the extra learning activities,  not one day is the same! 

We use Maths-U-See for maths and we play with the manipulatives over and over again, without me pressurizing to move on. I like to share with you what I’ve observed with each of my children, concerning maths. Each one of them begged me to start maths at the end of their 5th year, just before turning 6. For months they will eagerly learn about numbers and count the blocks. Then like clockwork at the age of 7 they would loose interest. It would appear that they forgot everything. But interestingly, around the end of the 8th year towards 9, it all comes back again. And then they are on the run! They will grab the concepts and in no time catch up with the 18 months they lost interest. During the time they lost interest, I put the books away, till they ask for it again, or I introduce it every 6 months and evaluate the response.

Since Afrikaans is our mother tongue, we do Clever to recognize letters and start simple spelling and “Mart Meij’s Lekkerlees” for early reading, but never on a routine basis. I observed the same pattern, I observed with maths, with language too. But I noticed, the language would often excel during the period the maths stagnate. 

Because the first language’s reading and writing only gets established at the age of 9, we never start the second language before the age of 10. Interestingly again, the child is then at an emotional level, that enable him/her to master the second language in no time, without frustration. At the age of 12 no one would be able to say the child only started with the second language at the age of 10.  We use Christian Liberty Reading Series’ Adventures in Phonics level A and B and the Noah Webster’s reading handbook with the Grade K phonics readers. For South Africans these books are available from Christian Liberty Press in Cape Town.

To summarize: 

Lapbooking and discovering every day things is the focus, not language and maths. Currently we are learning the days of the week, months of the year, we observe the weather, seasons, as well as what to wear and what is in season to eat. We also learn time and sequences in a fun way, using all 5 senses to reinforce the knowledge. 

I had an interesting conversation with a mother whose 6year old child is in Gr 1 in the school system, about crafts. Children don’t do starch painting, modeling clay and messy arts anymore.  I remember when I was still at that very young age (many, many moons ago!) how I enjoyed it. The first 3 years of school, grades one to three now days, consisted of arts and the occasional formal learning. Tests and exams didn’t exist!! I wrote my first exam in Grade 4.

It is a known fact that young adults leaving school, are not capable of spelling, doing maths, or have a love for reading. But at the age of 10 (grade 4) their workload is the equivalent of grade 7, three decades ago!  What do we want to accomplish by squeezing in loads and loads of information in an under 10 year old’s little head, while that child should still be playing, making messes? They are not able to concentrate for longer than 10 minutes, but have to sit in a classroom for 6 solid hours!

Dear mother allow your child to play the first, almost decade of his life. There are more than enough time to fill their heads with information, at an age that they are emotionally ready to receive the information.

With much love

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