Monday, September 14, 2009

Life is School, and School is Life

Often, I have people ask me what we do for school. Usually, when someone asks me that, what they really would like to know is what curriculum I use, what kind of schedule do I keep, what kind of hours do we "school" - that sort of thing. When you ask me that question, be prepared to hear anything but what you were expecting.

We start school around 9:00 each morning - that is, if Baby Girl and Little Sister are cooperating at that moment. Then, we work until lunch. Well, we do have to stop for Little Sister to go potty, get a drink, turn on her movie. Then there are the stops for any phone calls I get that interrupt. And most work stops when Baby Girl wakes up from her nap, because she thinks the world revolves around her and her stomach. There are also interruptions due to low blood sugar (generally right as we're getting ready to start spelling), so we need to stop and have a quick snack.

In the afternoon, we work around the two little one's naps, and we try to actually get a little more accomplished. But more often than not, I find I MUST take a short nap in order to make it through until bedtime, because the baby rarely sleeps more than about three hours at a time at night. So we stop for quiet time, and by the time I get back to them, the baby is crying and ready to get up from her nap. Some quick schooling before time to fix supper, and then we're stopped again for a couple of hours of eating and clean-up. Usually, dad is home in the evenings, so we try to spend time with him, or at least wind down from the day and begin bedtime chores - like pajamas, potty, book, blood sugar check, snack. Before you know it, the day is gone. What happened to all my time?

So how, you may ask, do I get ANYTHING done with the kids by way of learning, when our schedule is start-stop-start-stop-start-stop. I'm so glad you asked! With our crazy "kid-friendly" schedule, we need something that works FOR us, and not AGAINST us.

First, I want to point out something very obvious, but something that most people miss completely. School is not an 8am-3pm deal. Life is school, and school is life! Every day, all day, your children are learning. They are learning as they are going about their day - that is, if you take the time to teach them as you go about YOUR day!

My children help me cook, at which time I teach them math as we learn fractions and doubling recipes, chemistry as we watch what happens with baking soda or yeast, and home economics as we plan meals that are healthy, inexpensive, and will feed everyone. As we are taking care of Baby Girl, we are teaching parenting skills and child care. When we grocery shop, I teach my children budgeting skills, basic math, nutrition, government business - by way of taxes (a real shocker for my kids when they first learned they had to pay taxes!!) - and people skills as they speak to the cashier and pay for their own items. Every time we go to the park, we are learning nature science while walking the trails and looking at the flowers and pond, and as we visit the zoo, we learn animal science while talking about each animals characteristics, eating habits, habitat, and whatever else. As we go together out to our garden to prepare our raised beds and plant our seeds, the kids learn earth science as they watch and study ladybugs and earthworms, nutrition as they are planning what we will be eating in a few weeks, math as they calculate how much needs to be planted to feed all of us, and physical activity.

We talk about everything we do. We talk while we are doing each activity in our day, and I tell them the hows and the whys about every part of it. I want my children to understand the real life reason for learning what we learn. I don't want them to think that school is punishment that I make them do each day. I don't want them to be forced to sit at a textbook for six hours just to think that the reason for doing it was simply to fill up a notebook. I want them to be allowed to use their imaginations and be creative in every aspect of learning. I don't want them to be boxed in by a curriculum that tells exactly what they are to learn and when. Which brings me to another part of our schooling.

We are very eclectic! What that means is this. I pull from many sources, take what I want to use, and leave the rest. We have no textbooks - at all. If I were to try to have my kids finish a textbook in a year, I would absolutely pull my hair out from stress! But I do spend quite a bit of time at the library and on my computer. I decide what it is that I want my children to learn, and I go to work finding books that fit my criteria for learning that subject. Then I find a way to incorporate it into our day and our life.

I do lapbooks with some of our learnings, which is nothing more than a scrapbook of your child's work. Also, I have three-ring binders for each child and each subject for notebooking. Notebooking is simply doing a page on a subject, three hole punching it, and adding it to your three-ring binder. With either of these methods, you are free to add any amount of information you like. Do only one page if you just want to touch on a subject, or go much more in depth and have lots of pages to add to your notebook or lapbook. I like both ways equally as well. The reason for doing this is, not to be bound to a book, but to simply have a way to keep your child's work and have something for them to look back on and see what they accomplished. No, we don't only TALK about the things we are learning about, but we do lots of activities with each thing! One thing I DON'T do is busy work. I don't bore my children with worksheets of problems just to give them something to do so we can say we filled out a page today. But we do many fun, interactive, creative, complex projects that give them lots of hands-on time with what we're learning.

Now, I'll bet right about now you're thinking that you wished you hadn't asked me how we school after all! You're probably more confused now than if you had just continued to wonder. Not too many people school like we do. There are many who are afraid to go without worksheets, workbooks, and textbooks. They need the structure of what someone else has already put together. And then there are others who simply think that the way we school just isn't school in the first place. And I would say this to you. For those who are afraid to step out of the norm, you can do it! It can be done, and it can be done well. But it all depends on your level of dedication to teaching your children every minute of every day in every detail of life. And for those of you who think it's not really school, I would invite you to spend a few hours with my children. You will walk away amazed at the things they know - things that most children their age would never even be exposed to. Because of the way we school, I have time to spend with each one of them individually learning things that most books don't have the pages enough to cover.

Life is school, and school is life. Go live it!


  1. Again, I love your family! :) I too find it hard to get through a day with cleaning, cooking, school, and blood sugar issues. We have a lot of stop and go and stop and go. It took me a while to know that it was okay!


“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.” ~Dr. Suess