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The McGraw-Hill Homeschooling Companion

After The Beginning – Homeschooling Day-to-Day

Chapter 7 of  The McGraw-Hill Homeschooling Companion
by Julie Gattis and Laura Saba

Congratulations! You’ve moved past all the necessary legal, organizational, and methodological issues and are ready to begin homeschooling. Now you can look at what your days will be like.

Homeschooling can be much more than just burying one’s head in a textbook each morning. In fact, textbooks don’t have to play a prominent role at all if you prefer not to use them. Our daily lives are teeming with opportunities for learning. If you look at your life closely, you will realize there are a myriad of teachable moments each day. When you check your car’s oil, you can discuss why a car needs oil or where oil comes from, for example. Or you can explain why you add baking soda when you bake a cake. The possibilities are endless. You will discover that if you learn to watch for teachable moments when they present themselves, your children will learn all sorts of things and are likely to develop a love of learning along the way.

What they learn will not always coincide with typical scope and sequence, but does that really matter in the long run? When your child reaches adulthood, will it matter whether he learned to tell time at age four or six? Or whether cursive writing wasn’t mastered until sixth grade, while algebra was studied in fifth? Sure, your child may miss a few questions on the standardized test if he doesn’t learn according to prevailing customs, but this may not be a problem in your situation. You are the principal, and you are aware that you have 12 long years in which to teach your child. It’s your decision as to whether or not you will indulge Sally’s yearning to learn Web design before she’s mastered her multiplication tables.

Impulse Learning

It’s no great secret that people learn best when they are studying something they are passionate about. Unschooling families exploit this fact every day. Though your homeschooling plan may call for certain information to be learned at certain times, make sure you leave some room for impulse learning. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that it offers extraordinary flexibility. So it would be a shame to be so schedule bound that you miss out on teachable moments. No matter what your style, whether your homeschool operates with military precision or your approach is more laissez-faire, don’t forget that your schedule is just a tool to help you get a job done. Make it work for you as you wish, but don’t become a slave to it.

Teachable moments can happen in a variety of settings and circumstances. One evening, while a mother is boiling water for pasta, a five-year-old girl points at the steam issuing from the pot and says, “Look, mommy! It’s smoke!” The astute homeschooling mom recognizes this as a teachable moment and capitalizes on it.

“It does look a lot like smoke, Amanda, but it’s actually steam. That water is so hot that some of it turns into steam. It’s kind of like a little cloud over the pasta pot.” If time allows, the mother might grab an ice cube out of the freezer and say something like “Ice is water, too. We have three different kinds of water now. We have ice, liquid water, and steam.” Amanda might ask a question or two, and by the time the exchange ends, she’s got the beginnings of an understanding about states of matter, and it all happened before the linguine was done.

Another example of a teachable moment occurs as a mother sits at her desk writing checks to pay bills. Her nine-year-old, wanting some company, asks, “Whatcha doin’ Mom?” She replies that she’s paying bills, and returns to her task, but then realizes she almost let a teachable moment pass by. She thinks better of it, and lays down her pen.

“See Chris, this is the electric bill. Right here it shows how much electricity our family used last month. This is the telephone bill, and here’s the MasterCard bill.” Chris might just shrug his shoulders and go on his way; but on the other hand, he might ask his mother how credit cards work, and the two could end up having an informative discussion about credit, interest, and debt. Perhaps she could show him an example of how interest is calculated on a simple interest loan. Since she had explained debt to him, she realized she might as well explain how credit works, important information many children learn in early adulthood, oftentimes when it’s too late. Because Chris initiated this “lesson,” he will likely retain this knowledge, not even viewing it as school but as something interesting he learned. Had his mom tried to impart the same information while he was plowing through a series of sci-fi novels, solely because she thought it was time for him to learn this particular piece of knowledge, he might not have taken as great an interest.

Of course, there will inevitably come times when a child expresses an interest in something that you simply don’t have the knowledge to discuss intelligently without the aid of reference help nearby, for example, “Mommy, if a great white shark and a Portuguese man-of-war got in a fight, who would win?” Don’t worry. No one can be an expert in all fields of knowledge. What can you do? If you don’t happen to have a shark or jellyfish expert to consult, you could say, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it would be a mess! All those tentacles, yuck! We can look it up on our next library trip, though.” Just by listening to the child and sharing in his curiosity, you’re conveying the message that learning new things is exciting.

Units Out of the Blue

Random situations can present teachable moments that lead to bigger things. If you find that your children aren’t satisfied with the answers you provide, consider allowing the topic to develop into an area that officially joins your curriculum. Some homeschoolers are rather systematic in how they use unit studies, incorporating them into a structured curriculum designed to teach specific topics at set times, according to preset lesson plans. However, others prefer to launch spontaneously into a unit study when the time seems ripe for learning, precisely what some teachable moments can develop into. We like to call these “Units Out of the Blue.”

These typically begin with your children’s curiosity triggering a conversation. Your answer, instead of closing the subject, captures the childrenís interest, and the next thing you know, you’re on the way to the library to check out books on the topic. Soon enough, you’re doing art projects that are related to the topic and researching it on the Internet or seeking out local experts that can add their expertise to the new exploration. Congratulations, you’re now involved in a full blown Unit Out of the Blue!

Units Out of the Blue are not part of a school plan, so they can make your homeschooling “untidy” because topics are covered in a haphazard fashion. Some parents just can’t cope with that sort of unpredictability, but others find it to be a very relaxed, enjoyable way for children to learn. Faithful unschoolers believe that allowing a child’s natural curiosity to spark such adventures in learning is at the heart of what homeschooling should be. If you can be comfortable with the spontaneity of this approach, you may find your homeschooling life is greatly enriched by it. Remember, you don’t need to fully embrace the unschooling philosophy to incorporate Units Out of the Blue into your school life. Instead, you can just design your curriculum to allow you the flexibility to incorporate one into your program when it comes up.

©2002 by Julie Gattis and Laura Saba

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