Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How Our Learning "Started"

When I first thought that I might want to homeschool Emma, she was maybe 3. I say, "I" because at first, Jared was not really thrilled by the idea. He had all the stereotypical objections- socialization, qualifications, organization, etc..


Emma was in day care, I was in cosmetology school, and Jared was working on his bachelors at ISU. Emma did enjoy school for the most part, but she cried every day as we dropped her off, and often times she would cry at some point during the day. She would settle pretty quick (with lots of love and hugs from one of the teachers), and she was always well behaved, but still wasn't as happy as I felt a 3 year old should be.

No one was really happy. Emma was super shy and would fluctuate between clinging to me when we would get home, to not wanting anything to do with us. I hated being away from Emma all day. I hated cosmetology school (who wants to live in a soap opera all day every day!). Jared was distressed by our distress. 

The turning point came when I picked Emma up early one day from school. When I got there they were doing letter worksheets. Emma was sitting at the table with a little boy from India, who spoke very little in his native language and even less English. I felt bad for the little boy because, despite the fact that all he was doing was tracing the letter 'A', he was still doing it wrong according to "Handwriting Without Tears," a program designed to help kids learn to write. A little amazed that someone could trace a letter 'A' wrong, I watched for a bit. Apparently there is a "proper" place to start and stop each of the lines for each of the letters. 

Many people might be thinking, "Really, this bothered you?" Well yes. My 3 1/2 year old, who doesn't really need to learn her letters yet because, well, she isn't even 4 yet, is being corrected when she doesn't do them "correctly." What else is she being corrected on already? 

I believe this was my awakening moment because all I could think was, "I don't care how Emma does it, if it looks like an 'A' I am happy."

(Now, I have talked to my mother-in-law who taught K-3 for 30+ years and she said that "Handwriting Without Tears" is a good program and it helps later on when learning cursive, but my reply to that was, "Who needs cursive?")

Anyway, as I had mentioned, no one was really happy. I missed being home with Emma, watching her grow and learn. I hated school, and I hated having to drop a crying Emma off everyday for someone else to raise and comfort her.

Jared and I did some number crunching and we decided that we could probably manage for me to stay home until Emma was old enough for school.

I dropped out of cosmetology school, (every time I say that, all I can think about is the part in Grease about the beauty school drop out), pulled Emma out of day care, and we started living frugally (well, more frugally than we had been before). 

I started to research about homeschooling. I learned about unschooling. I learned about life schooling, radical unschooling, earth schooling, Waldorf, and other versions of learning outside of the public (or private) school system. 

Everything I learned, I shared with Jared. We decided to give unschooling a try, knowing that public school wasn't going anywhere. Our days didn't really change much, because when we sat down and evaluated our lifestyle, we realized we had been unschooling all along :)

Within the first year, we were amazed at the change in Emma. Yes, it could have just been an age thing, but while she was in day care (getting socialization), she refused to talk to anyone outside of her comfort bubble (basically me and Jared). If we had gone too long between visits to Gramma, she would even hide her face from Gramma. We never forced her to talk to anyone (especially strangers- why force her to talk to them then turn around and tell her not to talk to strangers), and just let her be herself. 

I was slowly becoming aware of her comfort bubble opening up. When someone would comment on her outfit, hair, or toy when out and about, she would look at me, then respond with one or two words. For Jared, the realization was a lot more drastic. 

One day while shopping at Target, Emma (about 4 1/2ish) noticed that the cashier had a band-aide on her finger. Emma looked right at the cashier and said, "How did you get that owie?" Jared was startled. He had never seen her voluntarily ask a stranger a question.

As far as her learning, she developed a passion for horses. When she turned 4, she got all horse and dinosaur stuff (books, toys, clothes) because those were her interests.

Horses, over 2 years later, are still a passion of hers. What does that have to do with learning? Over the past 2 years, we have used horses to "teach" so many different subjects.

Homemade horse biscuits = math, reading, direction following, nutrition, etc. Horse (riding) lessons = focus, patience, compassion, anatomy, etc. Horse breeds = research, history, geography, culture, classification, etc. Model horses = budgeting, currency, priorities, organization, etc.

I could go on, but I think I have made my point. We also sprinkle worksheets, and other more structured educational materials around the house for Emma to discover. A few times we have even attempted to sit down and do, "school" but Emma really does not enjoy this and we usually end up frustrated and annoyed with each other.

So, we have come to realize that our lives work best when we just go with the flow. Emma (as well as Jared and I) are learning all the time, and we love it that way.

Over the next few weeks we will be following along with Stephanie over at Ordinary Life Magic, providing posts with insights into how we go about our lives as far as learning is concerned (although here, that really includes everything we do).

Feel free to follow along, learn a little, and if you would like, maybe even teach a little!

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