English, Expat, Worldschooling

First steps of homeschooling

Listen and read at the same time: 

Last time I promised to tell you more about homeschooling, un-schooling, world schooling, whatever you want to call it. These terms actually refer to slightly different trends, but they all basically mean the same: we decided to take our daughter out of the official school system to re-invent it our own way. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t necessarily believe that schools are evil, or not doing their job. It’s just that, as a teacher, I’ve always felt that there must be a better way to learn than being crammed with 25 other kids in a classroom and just one teacher to attend to them. Call me stupid, but it didn’t seem like it was good enough for my child and I strongly felt that I could offer her so much more. So part of the reason why we came here was for me to be able to adjust my life, my work-family balance and to dedicate a good part of my days to our daughter’s education, to accompany her as she discovers the world and to discover it through her eyes.

Now, before I tell you exactly what it is I do, time for a little explanation. Most parents who homeschool generally follow a programme, or a curriculum. In the US, it seems that the majority of homeschoolers are Christians who took this step to be able to teach their belief to their children. This is not our case as we don’t really follow any dogmas and strongly believe in science. In France, it’s possible to follow the French educational programme through distance-learning courses, which could be reassuring when you’re hesitant and worried not to make the right decisions.

On the other hand, un-schooling parents put more emphasis on the natural development of the child, hoping that being surrounded by a stimulating environment, the child will pick up any knowledge related to his/her own centers of interest. This is based on the theory that children are little geniuses who are naturally drawn to activities that will train their minds in the specific fields that they are ready to develop. Forcing any kind of knowledge on them would be an interference with their natural learning process, and would create frustration when we want them to enjoy learning. This demands a great deal of trust in the child: when your kid is 12 and hasn’t learnt to read or to write yet, it must be quite challenging to keep going without telling them “come on now, let’s learn the alphabet!”. However, parents who have chosen this path have often testified that their children have learnt such skills at very different ages (some as soon as 2 years old, others as late as 13) when the motivation to do so was intrinsic and when their mind was ready, which allowed them to acquire literacy in a very short time, as if their brains were flowers that needed the right amount of light, water and time before being able to blossom.

Finally, world-schooling adds to this the notion of travelling the world, that becomes a huge classroom where the children, through their discoveries and explorations, learn about our human reality, develop a curiosity and therefore, through their questions, acquire scientific, geographic, historic, graphic, and human knowledge.

Now, if you know me a little bit, you must know that I’m not easily satisfied with following a path if it doesn’t exactly suit me… So I chose to blend these concepts to meet our needs. Because, since we are all different, there isn’t one kind of education that is suited for everyone. Now of course, not all of us are willing / capable / have the time to make the choices we made; but if you do decide to go for it, then why not go for it all the way and tailor the education we give our children exactly to their needs (and ours)?

Well that’s what we did. So we are homeschooling, un-schooling and also world schooling. But how so? Well, we have only just started, but so far one day doesn’t exactly look like the next one. The only thing that’s fixed is our schedule:

  • 8h Breakfast
  • 8h30 Learning time
  • 11h30 Swimming pool / Physical activities
  • 12h30 Lunch break
  • 14h30 Quiet time
  • 17h30 Outdoor activities
  • 19h30 Dinner
  • 20h30 Bed time

When it’s learning time, we sit at the table and we do exercises in our books, we read, we watch documentaries, we learn the alphabet and the sound system, we play with modeling clay, we color and draw, we sing, we dance, and soon we’ll be going on expeditions to explore the city where we live. At the moment, we are learning to write the alphabet with modeling clay and a white board. We do 3 to 4 letters per day, and we must find the name of an animal that starts with that letter. Then we watch a small documentary about it. That’s how we learnt all about koalas, lemur, monkeys and narwhals. Sometimes though, one of us isn’t in the mood and the energy isn’t right. So we play cards, or balls, or we go out for a walk. This is the first lesson I’ve learnt as a homeschooling parent: don’t force it! Otherwise everyone will be frustrated and it will become a nightmare.

When we go the the swimming pool, of course we learn to swim. Sometimes we just play around, and when I see that there are other kids and that Anais is ready to bond, I leave her and go rest to watch her from afar as she makes friends and develops her social skills. In the late afternoon, it all depends on the weather. Sometimes we go for a walk, sometimes we go to the playground. Yesterday we went back to the swimming pool as it had rained in the morning. And soon we will be going to the ice-skating rank next door. When it’s bed time, we read stories or little science facts from National Geographic’s book called “The Big Book of Why?”, which is fascinating for children her age (and mine). Yesterday, the iPad had no battery, so we invented a whole story together and we gave it a title: “Pebble the Frog”. I’m thinking it would be a great idea to draw it and make a book about it, what do you think?

So far, we are both enjoying our homeschooling sessions and the only missing element, although important, is the consistent socialization parameter. We meet children at the swimming pool and at the playground, but they aren’t often the same ones so she hasn’t really bonded with anyone yet. Neither have I, but it seems all the more crucial to her. That’s why we have enrolled her in a theater – dancing – singing class for September, where she will be going once a week to learn all about the performing arts! In the meantime, a little boy is coming home every week to learn French. He’s older than her, but that’s already a good start, right?

If you are thinking about homeschooling your child, I would like to encourage you and keep in mind that it’s a trial-and-error process as it’s important to accept that what works for one child doesn’t work for the other, and it’s always time to readjust whatever isn’t right. Giving your child this opportunity is a beautiful gift, it’s a legacy. You don’t need to teach them everything. You just need to accompany them as they learn. I’m a teacher and I don’t know the first thing about science. But I’m really curious and this is the most important value to teach, I believe: curiosity. Because if our kids are eager to learn, then, they will.

And to finish, I’ll leave you with two sources of inspiration for the days when you’re in doubts about all this. I know I’ll watch them again for sure…

Being and becoming: a documentary about different families in Europe who have managed un-schooling their children with a happy ending

Captain Fantastic: a movie that contrasts the paradise it looks like, because nothing is black or white. I’ll leave the interpretation of the message to you, but to me it was more encouraging than the opposite.

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