Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Real-Life Learning {Part 2}

Welcome to Part 2 (of 7) of Real-Life Learning.  

If you missed Part 1, start HERE

We began homeschooling 7 years 2 months and 29 days ago.

Only, I didn't know it.

We brought Mowgli home from the hospital and our homeschooling experience began.  Our home learning, family learning, real-life learning began.  It wasn't really homeschooling because there wasn't any part of our life that looked like school.

I sang to him, read him stories, packed him along with me wherever I went.

I talked to him in the car.  I explained things we saw.  

I encouraged him to crawl then take his first steps.

I pointed out colors.  I asked him questions.  

He copied my words.   

I corrected him when he got mixed up. 

I taught him how to count as we'd climb the stairs each day.

We painted.  We crafted.  We explored.  We walked.  We swam.  We giggled.  We snuggled.  We colored.  We drew.

We kicked and threw balls.  We climbed ladders and monkey bars.  We slid down slides.

He squealed and smiled.  

We went for walks.  We looked at bugs.  Clouds.  Trees. 

He drew his first stick person.  I took a photo.

He wrote his name for the first time.

I cheered. And filed the paper away. 

We watched Curious George together each night as we waited for The Mr. to get home.   

We memorized Articles of Faith.   

We went to storytime.

We checked out bags full of books. 

We played games. Alphabet Bingo: every single day. 

He got on a two-wheeled bike one day and rode it.  Just like that. 

We visited farms and museums.   

He helped me cook and bake.

He asked me to show him how to tie his shoes.  So I did.   

We lived.

We learned.

The time came for him to go to kindergarten.  We were indecisive.  Should he go?  Should we wait a year so that I could spend more time with him?  I wasn't ready to see him go.  He had learned so much already and yet he'd never entered a classroom.  Couldn't we keep going?

To delay a decision we enrolled him in a 2 1/2 hour, 3 day a week preschool.

At 5 years, 3 months, he picked up a book and read.  No frustrating lessons.  No cajoling.  No tears.

He simply, read.  Just like that. 

The next February a decision had to be made.

I had heard about the book, Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto.  I stayed up late and finished it in one night.  School registration was the following week.

I approached my husband the next morning, "If we are going to homeschool, why don't we just do it now and not wait until we are done having babies?"  (We had discussed homeschooling previously, but it was usually in the time-frame of after all our babies were born.)

I wrote up a list of why.  On a Saturday afternoon, we met with another homeschooling family in our area.   My husband discussed homeschooling with his co-worker, who also homeschools.

We agreed.  Let's do it.  If it's a total failure, he could simply go to school the next year. 

I was nervous.  I didn't want to deal with negative comments or skepticism.  I didn't want to hear "What about socialization?"  "How are you going to teach chemistry?" or "How will they ever learn to stand in line?"  (The last one makes me laugh, I guess we'll just have to go to Walmart a lot so that we can practice.) 

So, I posted it on my blog.  I wanted to say it once.

It was February then.  We kept doing what we had been doing for the past 5 years.  We kept singing songs, going to interesting places, reading stories, making crafts, playing games, talking in the car. 

I continued to look for teaching moments each day.

But one thing changed.

Now that we were officially homeschoolers, I needed a schoolroom.  And desks.  And a flag.  And a schedule.  And textbooks.

And a calendar.  Definitely a calendar.

One with velcro.

And a poster to display what the weather was like.

We definitely needed one of those.

And it wouldn't be complete without a whiteboard. 

So I got us all set up.

And we homeschooled there for about two weeks.

Then we went back to what we had been doing for 5 years.  We read.  We visited interesting places.  We cooked.  We baked.  We talked about things we saw.  We played games.  We sang songs.  We wrote letters to our family members.  We worked.  Mowgli asked to learn to tell time.  I taught him.  Mowgli asked how to count money.  I showed him.  We cleaned our home. We spent time outdoors.   We learned about the sun, which led to the moon, which led to Galileo, which led to Leonardo DaVinci, which led to Antonio Vivaldi, which led to Italy, which led to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which led to the Colosseum, which led to making pizza.  

We lived.

We learned.  

When December rolled around, we learned about Christmas around the world.  We baked and crafted and played games.  We did math that whole month with only living books. We went to concerts.  We read and read and read.

Over Christmas break I began spending a lot of time reading an intense "school-at-home" blog.  It gave me a glimpse into the life of a very organized school-at-home family.  I love organization.  I like to think I am organized.  But if I were really organized, my school would look like this blog did.  So, maybe I wasn't organized.  And maybe the way my children were learning wasn't good enough.  I thought about the glossy and expensive science textbook I had purchased that we'd only cracked open once.  It wasn't that we weren't learning about science, we were, but all of these other topics just kept getting in the way of that text.  (Like the sun, the moon and Galileo).  I felt inadequate.  We weren't "doing school" like they were.  I compared myself and thought I didn't match up.  So I decided I would be like her.  

Starting in January, we changed.

We moved back to our school room for two hours every morning.  We followed a strict schedule.  I filled containers with worksheets for my boys to do.  We recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning.   I decided 4 year old Bud was going to read, whether he was ready or not, and bought a curriculum.  I was determined.  He was going to read.  We did the lessons.  He complained.  But, he was reading.  I was succeeding!  Yay for me, who cares if it was causing contention?  My toddler was often fussy and wanted my full attention.  He didn't want to be in one room for two hours.  We were cramped.  One small room.  One window.  We did this for four months.   I was expecting Tigerlily.  I was stressed to the max.

I really wanted this to work.  I really wanted to be the amazing school-at-home mom.  I wanted everything to fit into spreadsheets and to-do lists, because I love a neatly checked off to-do list.  I didn't want my kids to ask for a snack at 11:00 because lunch was at 12:00 and 11:00 snack time wasn't on the schedule.  I didn't want to do our science experiment in the morning.  Science was only for afternoons.  I didn't want to answer or research that specific question because that wasn't what I planned.  I felt like I was failing because everything didn't follow my perfect timetable.  I wanted field trips to always be on Fridays and why couldn't all the plays and events we wanted to attend be on Fridays?      

During those four months I kept thinking of all the natural ways we used to learn the things we were now learning.  I often thought of all the busy work I was giving my boys.  "Was it really necessary?" 

Before, I would talk to the boys about what we read and what they thought, but now I was giving them comprehension worksheets.

Before, they would write letters to their grandma.  Now they were doing handwriting worksheets.

Before, we would talk about the weather when it was time to go outside and we would decide if we needed a jacket.  Now we were looking out the window and putting a sticker on a chart.

Before, we would count as we took steps or jumped rope or split up a snack.  Now we counted to a chart.

Before, Mowgli would count the money in his piggy bank every single morning after he earned .25 for doing his "jobs."  Now, in addition to that, I was giving him money worksheets...whaaaaat?

Before, they would discover patterns as they played with Legos or blocks or as patterns occurred in buildings and nature.  Now they found patterns on the worksheets I gave them.  

Before, we would talk about the date or day of the week as it applied to our life.  Now we were updating a calendar each day. 

We were creating fake experiences to replace the real experiences, the natural experiences we had previously.

We had our "last day of school".  

We took it easy for the next few weeks.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the things my boys had learned without a school-at-home model.  Mowgli learned to tell time and count money and read.  He did so easily, quickly and with little frustration (from both of us!) because he was ready. They were things he wanted and needed to know as we went about each day. 

Our baby was born.

We fell into a new normal.  We read and read and read.  We played games.  We crafted.  We baked and cooked.  Mowgli learned to make German pancakes all by himself.  Mowgli played the piano.  He went to lessons.  We spent lots of time outdoors.  Mowgli went to Robotics Camp.  The boys took swimming lessons.  We visited our elderly widow friend and kept her company.  We helped her with her housework.  We adjusted to life with a new baby.  Mowgli played city league soccer.  Bud played tee-ball.  They played dress up.  They built with Legos.  They asked questions.  We went to the library.  We piled up on books.    

The schoolroom collected dust.  The comprehension worksheets sat on the shelf.

We lived.

We learned.  

Homeschooling is not the best word for what we do.  I've been trying to label what it is we do.  I've heard "us-schoolers", "interest-led", "delight-directed."

But real-life learning seems to be the one I keep coming back to.

I cannot tell my child to "hold-on" to learn something they want to know because its not on the schedule.  I've learned those are the moments when learning is most effective.  The moment my son asks a question is the time to help him find the answer.  The moment he walks to me with a pair of shoes and says, "How do I tie them?" That is the moment to show him how.  The moment he comes to me with his new watch and asks, "How does it work?"  That is the moment.  It's not on Wednesday at 4:13.  It is now.

The problem for me was that I couldn't be both super-scheduled-school-at-home mom and follow-my-kids'-lead-mom.  I had to choose one and for now, I have chosen follow-my-kids'-lead mom.  Trying to be school-at-home-mom when real-life learning keeps popping up makes me looney, stressed and not much fun.  I'm sure there are many moms who can be both, but I can't, and that's okay.  I'm just trying to be me and not worry about doing things how "everyone" else does.          

We are living and we are learning.  The two cannot be separated.  Learning cannot be assigned days and hours.  It cannot take a holiday.  It cannot break for summer.  

It can happen anywhere.


UP NEXT: Part 3--A Look into Our Daily Learning--Day 1

The schoolroom remains pretty much untouched and this is where we homeschool now

If this leaves you saying, "That's lovely and all but you can't expect to learn advanced math or chemistry or other advanced subjects by taking a nature walk or singing in the car," then you missed Part 1 where I talk about how homeschooling means finding places, teachers, classes and resources for your children.)   


  1. I love this statement Sanz..

    "We were creating fake experiences to replace the real experiences, the natural experiences we had had previously."

    That is soo true. We have been going more to this approach, and no matter how hard I try to do the other way, this is the way it works best with us too. This is the way I flow and teach, and I need to just let it work, rather than trying to be the school room etc. My kids are so much happier as well.

    1. Thanks Shalae! I'm glad its working for your kids too. Sometimes I felt so "out of the circle" because we weren't doing school at home. Glad to know there are some others out there!

    2. I love that line, too! We just started 1st grade and up to now have been real-life learning. Suddenly I felt my son should be reading! His writing should be clearer. It must be time to get serious and scheduled. It only lasted a day before everyone (okay, just me) had a meltdown. It was a good time to reflect on what works for our family and that we CAN learn naturally.
      If you're interested: http://www.sandytoescreations.com/2013/08/first-day-of-home-school-freakout.html

  2. You know, I always leaned Charlotte Mason, but in a very relaxed (real-life) way for the first several years. Then we hit 6 years old, first grade, time for "formal" lessons, and I panicked. I had to LEARN to be a scheduled, checklist mom, or else I would never teach my kids anything. So I created a schedule and blogged about it and everything.

    Then I freaked out, because *insert toddler whining* I don't wanna do that! I don't want to stick to a timetable that worked for someone else's family, but doesn't interest my child, or follow his lead or meet his current needs. I don't want to be the mom who pulls out an encyclopedia when my kids want to learn about something. I want to be the mom who says "Let's go..."

  3. It's so wonderful to know that there are people like you getting the word out about effective homeschooling. I love the term "independently educated" for myself :) Followed a few "school at home" blogs and tried it for a while too. SO STRESSFUL! No thank you :)

    1. It was definitely a bit stressful for me too! I love "independently educated!" I think I'll start using that!

  4. SO WELL WRITTEN! Our experience, though different from yours, mirros yours at times. And, as I love the way you explain your journey here, I am sharing this on my THH page.

  5. So true! Love what you wrote and the journey you are on! Ours is a bit different, but we can all learn from eachother and cheer eachother on : )

    1. Exactly, Kristina! We can all do it they way that works best for our families!

  6. I love that you're sharing this journey! So amazing how we learn and grow. I love that you're following your children's lead. This is real-life learning. I love it.

    Wishing you a lovely day.

  7. Thank You for showing me the difference between real life learning and textbook learning. I feel I have to mirror a school setting. Love your post.
    P.S. What are the little cups that you store your school supplies in in your school room photo. Such a good organizing idea - I'd love to copy that.

  8. LOVE love this post. I love the idea of "unschooling" type of school. That was actually what I had wanted to pursue. My son is in Kindergarten so this is our first official year of school. But I found that for his personality he really enjoys doing worksheets and what not. As I read part one it totally described us....school room, desks, calendar etc. For us it really works, but I would also like to get more in to your approach. My son is not yet reading...I think it will help when he is doing so. Thank you so much for sharing. I have just started a blog as well, but its pretty basic. Still learning :-) Would you mind if I shared your blog? Thank you so much. I am going to check out your other articles.

    1. Thanks for your comment Lindsey! You are certainly welcome to share away. I'm looking forward to taking a look at your blog. :)


I appreciate your uplifting and kind comments and read every one. Have a splendid day!

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