Books were the center-piece of our homeschool.
More about that later, but I needed a photo for today, so it was the books!
(And, oh, lookee! It practically matches the header above. )
I have made several attempts to write a one or two (or even three or four) paragraph post about how my family homeschooled high school. I figure that the more you know what you’re talking about, the shorter you can make your explanation. That’s how it works, right? Well, if so, then I really don’t know what I’m talking about regarding our own homeschool!
It’s been six years since my youngest daughter finished homeschooling, and 11 years since my oldest daughter did. As I tried to write about high school in recent days, I wondered if, along the way, I had idealized our little environment and made it sweeter in my mind than it really was—if I had begun to imagine the kids as more lively, motivated, and productive than they really were. But I’ve been reading through some of my old papers, notebooks, and journals of learning (I’m pretty straightforward and honest in these!), and while there were obviously some ups and downs and less than stellar attitudes (the kids’ and mine) dotting the path, the kids really were enthusiastic learners and extremely wonderful, interesting people. In fact, it amazes me now, looking back, how lovely our general environment and spirit of learning were.
What I’m going to do is write a series of posts. Not trying to lump everything together in one coherent essay will make this much easier (and more fun) for me to write and easier for you to read (those of you who wanted to know about our high school). So, today, I’ll give just a few sound-bytes that give the long view of our homeschool, and over the next week (or more), I’ll focus on some of the details of this macro-picture. I’ll try to keep each post relatively simple and I’ll do my best to answer questions if you have them (in comments).
Before I start, I want to say that I am not trying to create a pattern for homeschooling high school. I am not arguing that this is the best way for everyone. In fact, as I read back through some of my journals and notebooks, I’ve actually wondered how this happened. How did we do it? Why did it work for us? Could we, would we, still do it the same way if my kids were young now? Can it work for anyone else? Do you have to live in the country to do this? Was this kind of learning only possible before technology began to harangue us every moment of the day? I don’t know. It’s a fast-changing world. Do people still know how to live slowly and enjoy long days of reading, thinking, and learning? Or are we reduced to distraction and efficiency?
Those questions aside, let’s get started:
We didn’t do a lot of things others do in high school. We didn’t use curricula (except for math and sometimes as a resource for science). The kids never wrote a research paper at home (or studied how to write one). There were no set schedules and lesson plans to follow. I didn’t give the kids assignments, and there was no memory work, drill, quizzes, or tests. We didn’t do SAT prep (with an exception I’ll tell you about later) and there were no AP courses or tests. We didn’t have a daily schedule. I didn’t plan the kids “courses,” learning, or direction. I didn’t teach anything. On the other hand, we didn’t totally wing it, fly by the seat of our pants, or propel ourselves by whim, emotion, or inclination. Laziness, complaining, whining, or boredom wouldn’t have been tolerated.
What we did do was learn to read, write, think, and research very, very well (and those college research papers were easy—more on this later). A lot of our learning—particularly science—was often project-based, if the kids so chose (more on this later, too). We learned all the time because it was what the kids loved to do. The kids knew our daily business was to learn, and the kids chose what they would learn and how they would learn it (most of this happened very naturally without set plans). I kept a journal of what the kids read, watched, did, and where they went, and this was the basis for creating transcripts at the end of our years (I’ll explain how we made sure we had a nice transcript at the end of high school). We did move forward with an eye toward the end (there was a guiding vision). There was a high standard of excellence that guided our behavior, in learning and in all that we did. We had a book called 10 Real SATs, and the kids did two or three of these (sometimes more) to acquaint themselves with the format and style of the test.
I’ll be touching on the ideas above, and more, in future posts. But before I close, I’ll copy something I found in a box last week. I wrote this for myself—to keep—just as Aimee (my oldest) was ending her “senior” year in 2000. At the time, I was creating her transcript and was struck that it could not possibly convey the spirit of Aimee’s learning. I think this shows the ideal spirit of learning in our homeschool, and this was largely the way it went. It didn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and I hope, by the end of these posts to have explained what I mean by that:
“As I look over Aimee’s high school transcript, I smile. It states starkly in black and white, “Botany, 1 credit.” That’s it. That’s all anyone will ever see of Aimee’s high school botany study. Everything appears so quantifiable—her education efficiently reduced to mere letters and numbers on a page. But thinking back on Aimee’s learning, I am smiling. I picture her—not in black and white but in vivid, living color—relaxed and happy, bent over a tiny flower in the field, or sauntering along the roadside, notebook in hand, carefully observing and picking wildflower specimens to draw. I see her busily pressing flowers and then mounting them on special boards to create her own herbarium. I remember a content and smiling girl routinely picking wildflower bouquets or just a single flower to place in vase or jar to brighten her desk.
“I can see Aimee building her little fenced garden area with raised beds for growing herbs, strawberries, and wildflower perennials, and then going out each morning to tend it. And sitting so often on our deck next to that garden in the clear morning sun, with a cup of tea or coffee, her Bible, and her journal at hand.
“I think back to Aimee, cross-legged on the floor, listening to Bach or to her favorite opera while creating watercolor paintings of the wildflowers she’d picked. I think of Aimee’s awe and delight at the simplest flower and remember her carefully extracting seeds from her favorite flowers in the fall. She was never in a hurry. She never had an assignment to complete. She was never pressed to study for an exam. Botany was, for her, not information to be studied in order to earn one credit for her high school transcript. “Botany” was simply the name of a beautiful and interesting world, and Aimee immersed herself in it.
“Aimee studied books and worked hard to acquire knowledge of plant life. She created slides to study under the microscope, rendered drawings of what she saw there, and kept a notebook of her drawings, paintings, and accumulated knowledge. She took a botany-oriented course on native wildflower and perennial gardening and xeriscaping at a community college. She visited botanical gardens. She accumulated a collection of beautiful, informative, and scientific books about botany, as well as biographies of some of its key figures (Gregor Mendel and others). Maybe because Aimee’s was a study born of delight, understanding the complexity of how plants develop, grow, thrive, and reproduce only increased its beauty in her eyes and mind. For Aimee, leaning about botany was a fascinating and enjoyable endeavor and not merely a course to be completed. In fact, we never thought of Aimee’s enjoyment of botany as a course at all until it was apparent she had begun to approach a level of expertise that would merit a high school science credit. In the end, we looked over all of the reading, learning, and projects Aimee had done and realized it was enough to make it official—“Botany, 1 credit.”
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You should know that this course wasn’t done in one semester or even in one year, but it developed over four years of high school. Aimee’s was a study born of delight that happened to end up as a credit. We’ve taken the other approach, too. The kids sometimes chose an area of study and began to pursue it with the intention of earning a credit, but the way it was approached was still student-designed and delight-led. I will share one of these studies with you. The project that resulted from one of these studies is my favorite one that came out of our home. (I’ll put up pictures of this so you can see how it worked.)