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Self-Paced Learning

As I’ve noted before, there is one clear division between homeschoolers: those who chose it, often even before they had children, and those who ended up doing it out of necessity.
Because I’m in the latter category, I seem to have an endless capacity for appreciation of the surprising ways in which homeschooling works.
Yesterday my daughter announced that she wanted to go get a donut. In itself, I don’t see anything wrong with this. I believe in having a healthy attitude toward food, which means including fun food in with the stuff that’s good for you.
The thing was, we hadn’t had what I’d call a brilliant homeschooling week so far. So I informed her that before going to get donuts, we would have to do some math. OK, she said, and promptly got interested in something else. The day before I’d noticed an activity in a book we were using (totally excellent book: Critters Life Science). The activity had a chart of animals, split into their major groups: vertebrate and invertebrates, then down into the subgroups, mammals, amphibians, fish, etc.
She suggested that we make the chart, and we did:
Animal Chart
For each category, instead of copying down the animals in the book, I asked her to come up animals of her own. Some of them were pretty hard (echinoderms are invertebrates with a spiny exterior — sand dollars didn’t come immediately to mind). Some of them were quite easy, but she made them fun by naming particularly funny ones, like gila monsters.
In a classroom, this activity would have been modified. If I had a whole class of first-graders and no one to help me, I probably would have prepared cards with animal names to save time in writing. Or I would have done the writing. With all the kids at different levels, some of them would still be needing help with reading the long words, writing, spelling, and concepts, not to mention keeping focused on the task and not shooting erasers at their classmates!
As it was, our impromptu lesson involved word etymology (talking about the “vert” in “vertebrate” and other words that contain it), spelling, handwriting (my daughter, like many kids her age, has trouble with forming some letters and still writes a few of them in capitals), categorizing — all this on top of the science involved, and all of it centered on her interests and her abilities.
We posted her chart on the wall, and she cheerfully said, “Now we still have to do math before we can get a donut!” So she happily brought out the base ten blocks, which she has been enjoying. Again, in class she would have been presented with the same worksheet as all the other kids, or perhaps the teacher would have been able to differentiate at this point and she might get a more advanced math worksheet.
In our homeschool, we didn’t bother to use a worksheet. Her favorite thing to do is to make up problems to use the base ten blocks with. And don’t think she’d just make up the easiest problems possible: she loves making up ones that she knows will involve transactions with changing ten of one size for one of another. Kids who aren’t in school with lots of other kids take a long time before they start trying to go the easiest route, something that kids in school seem to learn way too young! My daughter thinks of the challenging problems as more fun, and she revels in making up even harder problems for me and having me solve them. That way, I can model the skills I want her to learn, all the while seeming to bend to her will.
By the time we got in the car to get the donut, we had done approximately two days of schoolwork. And if I hadn’t had to do other errands after the donut, I could have incorporated a walk to the donut shop, which itself becomes an educational experience.
Obviously, homeschooling changes as kids get older. There are more and more things that take focused time and require practice. But since by public school age rules my daughter should still be in kindergarten, I just love the self-paced lifestyle we’re leading. Our learning comes in creative bursts, and the rest of the time we just relax and have fun.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.

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