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Being a parent is like being teacher but with household tasks. There is no miracle recipe, nor is there one to be an education specialist. We rely on studies, approaches or authors who write books that make sense to us. The beauty of the school is that it also lies precisely in the diversity of offered approaches. Learning at home, homeschooling or unschooling can also follow in the same vein. In other words, as there is a humongous amount of variables in education, it is therefore impossible to follow step-by-step procedures. I’ve learned that I must educate myself enough to choose wisely among all of these datas. However, making choices means also taking what speaks to me and leaving what makes no sense to our family values. The rest will follow, as it usually does when you are true to yourself. Hopefully.
I will not be advocating for Homeschooling or Unschooling here. In any field, putting all of your eggs in the same basket is never a good option. Especially not, in my opinion, as far as the education of children is concerned. Everything is a matter of balance and the balance lies in a succession of enlightened choices. Sometimes, even if you have the best ideas in the world, you have to bend to reality…So again…balance.
As I intend to post a number of activities I have created for my children, I would like you to understand the context of them. I will therefore have to share a bit of my personal experience.
So, two years ago I’ve decided to homeschool my daughter when she was at kindergarten age. My son was three and a half years old at that time. The reason why i thought about homeschooling was originally quite simple: We were then expatriates and sending the children to the public school was not an option. The Czech public school does not offer a language support program for children who would like to learn the language at school, as it is the case in Canada, for example. I agreed that they would attend a private school three mornings a week in English, but I had to compensate for their french education. After all, we were supposed to move back to Montreal after the school year (which we never did!).
It was the best balance we’ve ever had!
I think of the schedule we had, for myself and for them it was perfect. Fortunately, the principal of the school agreed to this part time attendance but I must say that I had to convince her and pay for the full week anyway. I knew very well that it was a chance for us to allow ourselves to this pace of life. I am telling you about it today because it was a great experience and I learned a lot at several levels.
Unfortunately, we had to change school after for the subsequent grades. So far I have not been able to find any institution that would allow me to do part-time school and part-time homeschool. I would even be willing to increase the number of school hours a little without it becoming excessive but it is impossible. All I could find as balance was to make the children miss many school hours, sometimes even full weeks. That of course, comes with the wrath of the principal. It is now for us a form of balance, it’s not perfect but it works now. I must say that the fact that my children attend a private school allows me more latitude in terms of decisions than in the case of a public school. Also, I am self-employed so I can choose my working hours. I admit it is not the case for everyone.
All I’m trying to say is that, again, everything is about finding a balance. Sometimes, in the madness of life we tend to forget that a certain amount of variables is malleable because it requires that we get out of our comfort zone (the hours of school for instance, proximity of work, etc). I agree that it is not simple, but I write today also because I don’t want to forget that we control many more variables than we think we do when it comes to our family situation.
Maybe you are wondering what we do when the children are not in school? That’s a good question. Sometimes we travel, that’s my favorite part of it. Sometimes we work on projects related to the children’s interest, ideally that have no connection with school. Sometimes the kids play, alone or with friends. That is because we have friends who tend to think the same about school. Are my children behind in school? The answer is no.
Do I sometimes find it heavy because I am the main point of reference for everything? The answer is yes.
I must say that they are still young. Before, I would say 9-10 years old, they develop their brain so fast and it feels like children learn so much at school. The truth, in my opinion, is that all these beautiful things they would maybe learn elsewhere if they were allowed to be as active intellectually as they are in school. Ask anyone? around you who has truly learned to read at school, you would be surprised. This often resides in a combination of: motivation to read / nervous maturation / availability of interesting books rather than a combination of letter / phonics teaching.
I will tell you something I’ve always believed: I think that all children are almost equal. I believe that their raw intellectual potential is a lot less different from each other than we think it is. The environment and the struggle they encounter will shape the percentage of time and energy they will put on something. The motivation of learning something will always be an important key driver.
In simple terms, suppose a 7-year-old child has 18 things to learn in his day (I just want to put a number here to illustrate even if it doesn’t really make sense). If he spends the whole day playing a video game he will learn his 18 things in this game. If he spends his day fearing for his safety he will learn to protect himself. If he spends his day learning to read and is struggling with it, he will learn to read but also avoid questions, protect his self-esteem and so on.
We can not control everything, but we can usually offer some tools and opportunities to our children. Every family has its own balance.
Sometimes I look at the school curriculum of my kindergarten son and I am baffled by the non-necessity of learning certain notions at this age. For example, I don’t know how much time they spent last month on fractions. I understand very well from a common knowledge point of view that it is important to understand a little what “half” means and even perhaps “quarter” since the words are part of their daily lives. We are talking about 5 year old children. It would be very natural if some of them didn’t even acquire yet the concept of numbers. It seems to me that maybe waiting a year would have reduced the amount of time and energy spent on this notion. Let’s say that additions, subtractions and possibly even the division of prime numbers would have been a better preamble. To me it’s like learning to ride a bike in theory without ever having seen one.
I have created, therefore a few activities in connection with the interests of my children because I wanted them to be intellectually challenged somehow but not in a ‘‘worksheets’’ and kind of way. These activities are not necessarily unusual, I am not reinventing the wheel, but I just wanted to bring a pedagogical aspect to their projects. My goal was also to open up their horizons because sometimes they tend to remain in their comfort zone. Without wanting to get into “homeschooling” or “unschooling”, I want, as much as possible, to let them choose their projects but also put them in some interesting problem solving situations.
I will post some of these activities. If you ever use some of them, I always enjoy having your story. Here is the first one.