When the kids were young, learning at home often included outings that made our weeks go more smoothly and enjoyably. On Tuesday mornings we were involved with Home School PE. I coached the preschoolers while my children each went to age appropriate classes and exercised, learned sports, and prepared for the Presidential Fitness testing. Thursday mornings we went to story time at the library. This was primarily for the youngest, but the older children used the time to find books, read, and do homework. The librarians knew us by name and we often went home with the maximum 20 books per card for the week. Field trips with our home school support group introduced the children to the fire department, the grocery store, the dairy plant, the electric company, the hospital, etc. as well as to other children and their mothers. In addition to these regular excursions, we began swimming lessons, gymnastics, ballet, baseball, and piano which often filled afternoons and evenings.
I felt that these extra-curricular activities were educational and necessary for our children to be well-rounded and ‘socialized’. I must admit that I also felt the need to make sure that my children didn’t miss out on some of the activities that I knew other children participated in. Our days were full and our weeks were busy. I did, however, manage to make sure we covered math, science, English, and social studies. But when children are in the elementary years the academics don’t seem to take as long to accomplish and the experiences they have outside the home do supplement what we do inside…or so I thought at the time.
I had read many books written by the ‘founding mothers of home schooling’ who also supported experiential learning during the early years of a child’s life. They proposed that children learn best kinesthetically when they are under the age of eight and then have those experiences to draw from when the majority of their education is accomplished by reading. The ‘ah ha!’ moments take place when they read something that they can relate to from their own experience; for instance, studying biology or astronomy in high school and recalling what the nurse showed them at the hospital or remembering drawing pictures of the phases of the moon in first grade. So, naturally, I wanted to pile up all the experiences I thought they might need to ensure an adequate background from which to draw.
Needless to say to most home school moms, the days we went out, we did not accomplish much else. After a certain hour of the day other priorities took the place of addition fact memorization. Naps, dinner preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. became the necessity and the day was shot. It didn’t take long to figure out that some excursions were a good thing, but too many were detrimental to ‘home’ education. I also realized that the more we went out during the school days, the more resistance I experienced from my own children. Ironically, all I had been doing ‘for them’ resulted in fussing, complaining and procrastinating.
By the time my oldest child was in 4th or 5th grade, my wise husband called the problem to my attention. He saw what I had been blind to or perhaps what I refused to see. He established a new rule in our home, which I’ll admit I resisted more than the children even did. One day out a week was to be the new normal for our home school. It didn’t include some of the evening activities like dance or baseball, but by high school we began to look more closely at those commitments as well. It forced me to choose the most beneficial activities for all of our children. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been in retrospect, at the result of this new rule.
After only a week of instituting our one-day-out policy, resistance to school work at home virtually disappeared. I was amazed at how effective consistency in learning was. I was challenged to make more opportunities for experiential learning at home. We were able to finish most of our traditional academics by early afternoon after which we found we had time. Time to be creative. When we studied impressionists, we had time to go outside, set up home-made easels and paint our yard the way Monet might have painted it; or if we were studying a country in South America, we took the afternoon to make a 3-d clay model of the country. We read the Bible all the way through, and I introduced the children to my favorite classical novels by reading them out loud. It didn’t take long for me to thank my husband and tell other mothers what had dramatically changed our home education experience.
Looking back, I recall what a speaker at one of the FPEA Home School Conventions once said. She told us that she loved homeschooling her children not only because she and her husband felt it was the best choice for their family, but also because it allowed them the time to share their loves with their children. Her children all sewed their own clothing, harvested their own vegetables, played musical instruments, etc. I remember feeling frustrated hearing her testimony, thinking there were not enough hours in the day to even introduce myself to my children let alone share my loves with them. At the time, I had trouble remembering what my loves even were. But the secret is: the way to educate your children at home effectively is to educate your children ‘at home’.
I did manage to home school my children through their high school years. We had to re-evaluate our extra curricular activities on a regular basis. There were years the children did do too much outside the house. But we learned to bring them back in and take the time to establish strong relationships with each of them. Now that I am at the end of the home schooling journey, I am so glad I took the time to enjoy the ride.