The Wisdom of Mrs. Jo

Each evening we all sit down together and read a chapter of some book. Currently we are a few chapters from completing “Little Men” by Louisa May Alcott, and we are loving every chapter.

Some books that we read are educational, some uplifting, some humerous. This one is inspirational… at least it is for me.

Mrs Jo Bhaer and her husband, Fritz, run a boarding school for boys and the book chronicles the antics and adventures that occur where a group of rowdy yet well meaning boys (and a couple of girls) reside. I love how Mrs. Jo responds to the situations that arise. I love her creativity in discipline, her sense of humor, and her kindness. But what I find most inspiring is her approach to schooling.

The book doesn’t go into it too much, as a run down of the boys’ curriculum would be dry reading indeed, but the glimpses are inspired. Take the chapter that we read last night, for example, entitled “Compositions”. Each child was called upon to report on something that they had observed during the week. One boy had forgotten to prepare and read a letter that he had written to his grandmother, one child had observed moles and reported on what he could remember, and one boy had caught a small owl and shared all that he had learned about it. Each child was encouraged at his/her own level, whether that was to write notes or just recite from memory, and the atmosphere was one of laughter, acceptance, and fun. In a time before TV this was a highlight of their week, a time to learn, laugh, and be together, sharing with each other the richness that they had observed in the world around them.

So, in the spirit of Mrs. Jo, I sent all of my kids outside this morning on a mission. Find something interesting. Watch it, touch it, learn about it. Later today I will help them write out what they observed. Maybe the older ones will get online and expand their understanding. Then, tonight they can share it with the rest of us.

That is far better schooling than the dry workbook pages that we struggled through this morning.

Thanks, Mrs. Jo!

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Unschooling Has It’s Limits

I am a big fan of learn-as-you-live homeschooling.  For years our homeschooling style has been very unstructured and play-centered. I believe that curiosity is the best place to start a lesson, and that if my kids are very curious and well equipped with the skills need to find the answers to their questions, then I have done my job. And so far this has been working for us. My Bigs all learned to read when they were interested and wanted to (which happened to be before they were seven years old, but I was prepared to wait longer if necessary). We do math when we cook, play, stack blocks, go grocery shopping, budget our earnings, and every time I can fit it in to our normal day. We do science when we play outside and explore nature  (we live on 5 acres in the country), when we cook, when we go to the zoo, and every time I can fit it in to our normal day. We talk about current events. We read, read, read everything all the time (for a list of good books, see amblesideonline.org). We go to the library weekly (The Boy is a huge fan of non-fiction and regularly checks out books on physics, chemistry, and zoology. Yes, he is nine years old.). We Google everything (“Mama, what kind of bug is this?” “Mama, what do emu’s eat?” “When did man walk on the moon?” and on and on and on….). We watch educational videos. And did I mention that we read, read, read together all the time?

However, I am finding the limit to this style of educating the Bigs. There does come a time when life stops presenting you with opportunities to teach what they need to know. Math is a great example of this. There is a lot of math out there that doesn’t find it’s way into our kitchen. We need to get a book and set ourselves to “real” school. There comes a day when I realize that studying is not a natural skill and writing book reports is necessary on some level and there are some things that we are just going to have to buy text books for (could these be the skills that I mentioned earlier?). There is a time for kids to be kids. A time for play and exploration.

And then there comes a time when kids should be students. I am not talking about the Littles (let them play!). I am talking about The Bookworm. She is now twelve and in the seventh grade and we have decided that it is time for her to learn how to be a student. It isn’t just her age and grade that have influenced this decision, it is also a desire to shape her schooling around her strengths. As her nickname suggests, she is a reader, a thinker, a consumer of books, and she learns best with book and pen in hand. She is not really a hands on learner so much, and while she has learned a lot and thrived under an unschooling system, she is more than ready to hit the books. She is also mature enough to handle it, calm enough to sit through it, interested enough to learn from it, and excited to try something new.

So, this year, our school day has changed a little. The Bookworm is not with us when we read a chapter of “Our Island Story”, she is upstairs writing a book report on “Little Men”. But she does join us for craft projects and she still asks questions that we can Google together. I give her a weeks worth of assignments at the beginning of the week and expect her to manage her time wisely and get it all done (and done well) before the end of the week, when we sit down together to go over it. She is doing the full on amblesideonline school year in true Charlotte Mason style, only more (because she loves to read, so I have her reading the “suggested reading” books as well). And she is doing great! She is learning some things that fascinate her (“Mama, did you know that Pakistan split off from India because….”) and she is pushing through some stuff that she is not so thrilled with (“Do I have to show my work?”). She is learning important skills like time management and that sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do.

I am also learning. I am learning that sticking to your homeschool-philosophy-guns isn’t always the best thing and that each kid learns differently. I am learning that I can teach in a more structured way without going crazy and that there is a time when kids should turn into students. I am learning that unschooling has its limits. And that is good, because if I am not tailoring my kids schooling to their style of learning and their strengths and weaknesses, then I am missing one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling. I enjoy unschooling the littlles. And I enjoy hitting the books with the Bigs.

What an adventure this homeschooling thing is!