We began homeschooling our 12-year-old daughter two years ago, so we are in our third year of this experience. As the saying goes, “The third time’s the charm,” and I think we are indeed having our charmed year. This is true for two reasons:
Reason 1: I am on research leave (aka sabbatical), so I have more time this year to be directly involved in our daughter’s home education. How did we manage homeschooling before without my being a stay-at-home mom? My self-employed husband and grandparents. Also, my teaching schedule is flexible, so I could go in late or leave early when necessary or teach my classes online, and my daughter could come to work with me and do her work in my office. Regarding the actual school work, we were tag-teaming it, with my part of it–mainly planning and checking– taking place in the evenings and on weekends.
Now that I have this year off from teaching (to facilitate a writing program for cancer patients), the experience for me is much less overwhelming and much more satisfying, as my daughter and I are able to be more involved in co-op activities, and I have a more direct role in her learning.
Reason 2: This one’s the biggie! I changed our approach to homeschooling. I had a “Eureka” moment one evening, as I was thinking about how I could translate my classroom teaching experience to homeschooling. I had thought about this possibility when we first started but was reluctant to pursue it because I teach college. Thus, I was focused on grade level and went “curriculum crazy”! But then I realized that my approach to teaching college writing and literature could be tailored to younger students. I thought about all the things I do to create my courses, including, first and foremost, creating learning outcomes. I first determine what my students should be able to do by the end of the course, and then I choose content and create assignments that will lead directly to the outcomes. I never begin with content and assignments, so why was I approaching homeschooling that way?
Learning outcomes are based on skills, not subjects. Guess what else revolves around skills rather than subjects? The world! That’s right—our skills allow us to successfully navigate the world. What we can do with the knowledge we have, not simply our knowledge, is what allows us to succeed in our personal and professional worlds.
For example, an English teacher doesn’t have a job Englishing. He/she has a job teaching. The subject is the means by which the teacher performs the skill of teaching. When asked at a party, “So what do you do for a living?” the teacher (not Englisher) responds, “I’m a teacher,” “I teach” or “I teach English.” In each of these responses, the skill is primary and the subject is secondary or nonexistent.
From this realization about skills, subjects, and the world, our new approach to homeschooling is skills-based (enhanced by experiences), rather than subject-based. We plan our daughter’s learning experiences around skills, such as critical thinking, logical and quantitative reasoning, reading, and writing. This allows for a much more efficient day because several skills can be addressed via a single subject. Deeper learning is achieved because more is accomplished with less. For example, a history lesson can integrate reading, writing, critical thinking (by including non-factual questions), and research. The learning is also authentic. For in the world, practically everything is connected. All we understand and do is understood and done in relation to something else. Therefore, home education should foster and nurture connections among areas of knowledge and diverse skills.