I had two very interesting experiences over the past few weeks.
Here's the first:
Two weeks ago, Eli started gymnastics nearby. I sat on a bench outside the class and listened as a family nearby read to one child and quizzed another on math problems. One parent insisted that the older child complete the math problems all 100% correctly. It was interesting to overhear. The coach and the parents discussed that a child in the class needed to focus more so that she can move on. The child is under 5 years old.
I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. But, I couldn't help but overhear. It was very interesting to me. I have to admit it. I could see how important education was to these parents. They were doing well by their kids. Spending time with them. Investing. Caring. And with good intentions... pushing them to do well.
I went home and realized how thankful I am that I homeschool. There are some patterns from my childhood that I don't want to repeat--that sneak in--and that I have to push out again. There are some that I'm still working on pushing out! I was raised to push myself very hard in school and be super competitive (hence my getting straight As for 8 years and in grad school). I pushed Autumn in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. We were caught up in our society's belief that children need to start learning young and need to learn a lot young! Chris and I read The Well Trained Mind and had a very intense idea of how much work she needed to complete and master. I was more concerned about where I thought she needed to be than about going at the pace that was best for her.
God worked on me a lot and my family's homeschooling is different now. I still have a lot of learning to do, though, and I'm continually reflecting on my kids' education. Am I doing best by them and for them? Am I duplicating subjects? Am I asking enough of them, but not too much?
My second experience:
The second experience was this week when I met a homeschool mom who is new to homeschooling. Her children previously attended a private school nearby. I know several families in this same position. After a few minutes of talking with her, I realized that she has a private school perspective of homeschooling.
I have noticed in the past when I have spoken to former private school parents that are aiming to eventually put their kids back in a private school that their educational, physical, and social goals for their kids are different than mine. Their goal is to make sure that their kids are staying on track with the scope and sequence for either the school they used to attend or that they plan to attend in the future. They often have their children take standardized tests yearly to make sure that they are on track with national benchmarks.
I am not writing about this to criticize this approach. I understand why they do this. They need to make sure that their children will not be behind and have not missed material that was covered by the other students in school while they were homeschooled or already covered material that will be covered when they return to school.
Most parents, like me, start with what a book or someone they know recommends for curriculum. Many start with Abeka, Bob Jones, or Sonlight. Some choose curriculums like Calvert or Liberty that will give them a school diploma if they complete all of their courses through that school.
For public and private school students, the benchmark of how well students are doing is whether they are keeping up with or doing well compared to their peers. How are their test scores? Their grades? For parents who aren't in the classroom daily, this is a way to tell how their child is doing in the classroom. I understand this, being a former public and private classroom teacher. These grades and test scores are assessments. The purpose of all assessments is to tell whether a student has mastered the information and skills that they are trying to learn.
But, assessment looks different in homeschooling. You can't tell how your child is doing by comparing them to their peers. What we are able to do as homeschooling parents is personally listen and observe to see if our children are learning.
How we assess our children affects our goals.
My homeschooling goals have changed over time.
When I started out homeschooling Autumn, I remember the intensity of my concern about Autumn's academic progress. There are some notable bumps in the road that God used to teach me how to love my children well and teach them better.
When I started out teaching preschool to Autumn, my husband was concerned that I wouldn't be able to be consistent and stick to a weekly schedule. I wanted to homeschool, so I wanted to prove to him that Autumn was learning what she needed to. I found World Book's scope and sequence and a series of preschool assessment forms to use with Autumn. This documentation showed my husband that Autumn was learning, because he couldn't be in our classroom each week with us.
I came from a public school perspective that all children should and can learn from the same text. So, in kindergarten I picked a difficult math curriculum, Singapore. Autumn did fine with it in kindergarten, but quickly got bogged down in first grade. That was a bump for me. I knew Autumn was bright, but she was in tears trying to understand this math book that demanded she make abstract connections with numbers that math educators have long believed are more appropriate for 4th and 5th graders. Many children are able to make these connections. It is a good curriculum. But, it wasn't good for Autumn and God helped me see that.
We switched to HSP math and worked for her--and for me. It took smaller stair steps to help her make the same connections that Singapore was after. At the end of that year, I expressed to a friend of mine my struggle to get everything done with Autumn for school. When I told her our curriculum list, she encouraged me to consider what topics/material was being duplicated. She was right. I was duplicating Autumn for phonics and spelling even though she understood all the material. So, in second grade, I took out her spelling and let Explode the Code be her spelling and phonics. We finished up Phonics Pathways and that was the end of her phonics instruction. We stuck with HSP math and life was simpler.
I realized that I was pushing my daughter too hard--I was holding her to the regimen of study that I found in the book, The Well Trained Mind. But, my life with three young children and my personality didn't work well with the ideas in that book. My husband and I discussed it and we went back to standards based curriculum, rather than classical education.
Second grade was better. Different issues each year to think through. I began to observe my children during our school time. What is best for them? What curriculum and benchmarks are challenging for them? What is reasonable to expect? Where do I need to challenge them and where do I need to show them grace?
Being a student of my students will be an ongoing process as long as I continue to homeschool. I want to be the teacher they need.