Skip to comments.How Do Homeschool Parents Know Their Children Are Learning?
Posted on 07/24/2004 7:58:36 AM PDT by LadyShallott
The assumption that homeschooling parents somehow lack awareness of their children's progress, and therefore require formal evaluation of that progress, is related to the fact that homeschoolers function beyond the arena of the schools, and our philosophies and methods are not always well-understood.
How do homeschooling parents know their children are learning? The answer to this question is, to put it most simply, direct observation. I have only one child. If a teacher had only one child in her classroom, and was unable to describe the reading skills of that child, everyone would be dismayed -- how could a teacher have such close daily contact with one child and miss something so obvious? Yet many people unfamiliar with homeschooling imagine that parents with just this sort of close daily contact with their child require outside evaluation to determine that child's progress. This puzzles homeschooling parents, who cannot imagine missing anything so interesting as the nature of their child's learning.
No homeschooling parents have twenty-five children, and we are thus free to focus on the enhancement of learning without being continually distracted by the many time-consuming tasks unrelated to learning that are necessary in a classroom situation. This freedom from distraction is a major factor in the establishment of a lively, creative, and joyful learning environment.
Any parent of a preschool child could almost certainly tell us how many numbers her child can count to, and how many colors he knows -- not through testing, but simply through many hours of listening to his questions and statements and observing his behavior. In homeschooling, this type of observation simply continues on into higher ages and more complex learning.
There are many times in the course of a day when a reasonably curious child will want to know the meaning of certain printed words -- in books and newspapers, on the computer or television, on board game instruction cards, on package labels, on mail that has just arrived, and so on. If this child's self-esteem is intact, he will not hesitate to ask his parents the meanings of these words. Through the decrease of questions of this type, and the actual reading aloud of certain words, ("Look, Daddy, this package is for you!") it seems safe to assume that reading is progressing in the direction of literacy. This may seem to outsiders to be somewhat imprecise, but homeschooling parents learn through experience that more specific evaluation is intrusive, unnecessary, and self-defeating.
If the government were to establish compulsory evaluation of babies to determine whether they were walking on schedule, everyone would think that was absurd. We all know that healthy babies walk eventually, and that it would be futile and frustrating to attempt to speed up that process; it would be as foolish as trying to speed up the blooming of a rose. Gardeners do not worry about late-blooming roses, or measure their daily progress - they trust in nature's good intentions, meet the needs of the plants under their care, and know that any further intervention would interfere with the natural flow of their growth. Such trust is as essential in the education of a child as it is in gardening. All healthy rose bushes bloom when ready, all healthy babies walk when ready, and all healthy children in a family of readers read when ready - though this may be as late as ten or twelve. There is no need to speed up or measure this process.
The child's progress is not always smooth; there may be sudden shifts from one stage to the next. Thus, formal evaluation given just prior to such a shift may give unfair and misleading information. At a time when I knew (through a reduction in the number of requests for me to read certain signs, labels, etc.) that my son Jason's reading was improving, but not, as far as I knew, yet able to read fluently, I told him one evening that I was unable to read to him because I wasnt feeling well. He said, Well, you can rest and I'll read a book to you. He proceeded to read an entire book flawlessly, at a level of more difficulty than I would have guessed.
Thus it sometimes happens in the natural course of living with a child that we receive more direct and specific information about his progress. But it should be stressed that this is part of the natural process of "aiding and abetting" a child's learning, and that requiring such direct proof is almost always self-defeating. Had I required him to read the book, he might well have refused, because he would have felt the anxiety which anyone feels when being evaluated. But because he chose to read voluntarily, and his accuracy was not being examined, anxiety was not a factor.
Homeschooling parents, then, cannot avoid having a good general idea of a child's progress in reading, or in any other area. Without testing for specific learning, we may underestimate a child's abilities to some extent, but all that means is that we make delightful discoveries along the way.
If homeschooling parents do not measure, evaluate and control learning, how can the child himself know when to move on to the next level? If we were to ask a horticulturist how a rose knows when to bloom, he or she could not answer that question; it is taken on faith that such knowledge is built into the miraculous design of the seed. A child?s schedule of intellectual growth, like the rose's blooming, may indeed be a mysterious process, but it nonetheless exists, built into each child at conception. There is no need to impose such a process from the outside, and no one but the child has direct access to this process. Thus any imposition of an artificial structure must necessarily be less successful than simply leaving these determinations to the child. That is, any attempt to make these determinations from the outside represent mere guesswork that is unlikely to match up with the actual unfolding of interests and abilities within the child.
Jason, though somewhat "late" in walking (17 months) and fluent reading (7 years), one day at age three taught himself squares and square roots. How could I have guessed that he was ready for that level of mathematics on that particular day? Had I been imposing a standard curriculum, I might have discouraged early mathematics and emphasized reading, and to what end? He is now proficient in, and greatly enjoys, both areas. Ultimately, it made no difference that he achieved this mastery along unevenly timed routes. As John Holt observed, children are not trains. If a train does not reach every station on time, it will be late reaching its ultimate destination. But a child can be late at every "station", and can even change the entire route of the learning process, and still reach mastery of all areas of learning in good time.
The homeschooling child not only knows what he needs to learn, but how best to go about learning it. Jason has always devised ingenious ways for learning what is currently in the foreground of his interest. His method for learning squares and square roots - rows and columns of dots on paper - would never have occurred to me, even if I had guessed correctly that he was ready for this subject at that early age. At about age 6, he was looking over a new globe, and made a game of guessing which of several pairs of countries was larger in area, then larger in population, and so on. These sorts of games went on constantly; his creativity in designing interesting learning methods far surpassed my own, and I never had to give a single thought to motivation. My child is not unique; many homeschooling parents have reported just this sort of creativity and joyful learning in their children.
Jason has had no lessons in the conventional sense. He has taught himself, with help as needed and requested by him, reading, writing, math, and science. However, these subjects are not treated as separate categories, but as parts of the topic of current interest. My role has not been that of "teacher", but of facilitator. I am not merely a passive observer, however. When he asked a question - which he did many times each day, I answered it as well as I could. If I couldnt, I became a researcher: I made phone calls, helped him to use the encyclopedia, accompanied him to the library, or found someone with relevant experience with whom he could learn; whatever helped him to find the answer. This was not merely helpful in answering his specific questions, but in the more general sense of modeling the many ways in which information can be obtained. That is, regardless of which specific topics were covered, our larger curriculum has always been "how to learn" and "how to obtain information."
In an age of "information explosion," it is no longer meaningful or realistic to require rote memorization of specific facts. Not only are these facts meaningless to the child unless they happen to coincide with his own current and unique interests, such facts are simply too numerous, and many will in any case be outdated by the time he is an adult. But if a child learns how to obtain information, he can apply that skill throughout his life.
While we do not consider ourselves homeschooling for religious reasons, we have always welcomed the time available to explore questions of personal ethics, and to encourage such qualities as kindness, honesty, trust, cooperation, creative solutions to problems, and compassion for others. This is a significant part of our "curriculum". We have also appreciated having time in the morning to discuss dreams from the previous night and plans for the day ahead, when I would otherwise have been preoccupied with helping him to get ready for school. Believing that modern life is already overly hectic, we try as far as possible to make room for unhurried time in our family.
What I have described above is sometimes called "unschooling", in which the child's current interests determine the curriculum, and the parents act not as teachers but as tutors and resource assistants. This method, one of several homeschooling approaches, is often misunderstood, because it is based on assumptions that are quite different from those implicit in conventional schooling.
Unschoolers are more often described by what we do not do; we do not "teach"; we do not impose an arbitrary, artificial curriculum; we do not structure the hours of our "school day". Let me describe what it is we do: Answer questions. Many of us believe that this is the most essential and critical aspect of a successful homeschooling program. Encourage creative and cooperative solutions to problems as they arise. Seek out resources and information to support whatever current interests the child is exploring. Attempt to illustrate, through the daily decisions we make, the benefits of such personal moral qualities as friendship, honesty, and responsibility. Model the joys of learning through our own discussions, reading, and research.
While it is not impossible for a conventionally schooling family to pursue the kinds of activities I have described, it is simply more difficult to do so when parents and children have so much less time together, and when even after-school hours are influenced by projects, homework, and other school-related demands. In addition, school children become used to seeking emotional support from peers, and this pattern is difficult to interrupt even when school is not in session. Rather than being threatened by homeschoolers and unschoolers, who will always be a small minority, educators would do well to see us as colleagues and sources of information on the nature of learning and motivation. After all, we spend nearly all of our waking hours observing, studying, and participating in this fascinating endeavor. Unlike school teachers, we also have the luxury of continuity: we observe learning unfold over many years of spending time with the same child. This helps us to understand the nature of individual intellectual development over the long term.
Homeschoolers, unschoolers, and public school educators share the same goals. That we take divergent paths to these goals should be seen not as an obstacle but as an opportunity to explore - in a cooperative spirit - the unique discoveries each path offers.
Good Article! Can anyone who has older children tell me how they have been treated by the school district? Are Homeschoolers always made to take standardized tests in the district they live in, or does it vary state to state?
Homeschool vet of 9 years...could you please add me to your ping list? Thanks! :o)
In California the DOE contends that homeschooling is illegal. Of course this is not true but they attempt to further the lie nevertheless. My sister works for the DOE and knows the truth...and tells me of the latest agenda banter against homeschoolers. I should add that my sister is pro homeschool.
I've never experienced difficulty from the school district but know those who have. Thankfully those folks were members of HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association) and the matter was taken care of swiftly.
In California public schools there is enforced testing but most parents don't realize you can opt out. Private schools have testing as well.
I am an area administrator for a private school *for* homeschoolers exclusively. There is mandatory testing for 8th and 12th grade graduation...all other testing is voluntary.
Testing requirements vary state to state. An excellent source for gathering current and necessary information on homeschooling based on the state you reside is:
btw...your daughter is precious. :o)
It's easy to tell if your kid is learning. He just doesn't seem as dumb as before.
I homeschooled but I had my children enrolled in a satilite school. The school always sent a standardize test at the end of every year. The kids took it and I sent it back to be scored. That was one way I charted their progress. But I could tell when they were progressing or if they were stuck on something. If they were stuck we went back and did it till they got it.
I will be home-educating my older two boys (11 & 9) this fall for the first time. Could you please add me to your ping list? Thanks!
I don't know how you-all homeschool. I would not have the time to homeschool my son and be out on internet boards. My 14 year old son has attained the following: math: finished Saxon Calculus, Science: Biology, Chemistry and Physics(Saxon), Logic: Informal and Formal, Computer Programming: VB, MS Access, C++, Java, (He writes his own games), History, Economics, Literature and English. From what I have reviewed of his work, he's smarter than most college graduates. When he was 12 he scored a 1360 on the SATs.
And yes he's homeschooled --not by me-- but his mom. When I send her these posts to her, she does not have time to read them. How do you all do it? I wonder sometimes whether the people who do it well are the ones that have time to talk about it. I know I cannot homeschool.
Faites ce que nous disons, et ne faites pas ce que nous faisons.
Thanks for the compliment and the info!
I get a *lot* of grief when I tell certain friends I plan on homeschooling. I was a teacher.
I don't have oodles of time to spend on the internet so I plan my time wisely...usually. My daughter does very well in school and completes all that is expected and more.
Most of the homeschool moms I know carefully prioritize their time, ensuring all that needs to get done, gets done. In addition, homeschool moms need time away from the school room - to refresh themselves. I'm hoping you encourage your wife in this way. :o)
In our area there are a number of former public school teachers who also homeschool one or more of their children. God bless 'em!
Is she homeschooling the WHOLE day?
I homeschooled was done with schooling by 11:00 everyday, then we went and worked with my husband at our business.
That was one of the advantages of HS. Gave you time to be a family. Kids should be able to learn what they need to learn in a lot less time then they spend in school.
From what I observed, she enjoys teaching him. I think she has found her life's bliss. I think Joseph Campbell had the best definition for it. "If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time."
So, to answer your question, I do not encourage her to take time away from her true enjoyment. I'm just ecstatic that she is happy.
Who said anything about makeing learning work??? But then on the other hand what is wrong with teaching a child to work? What is wrong with a child learning that work is not necessairly fun all the time? IMO, that's is a big part of whats wrong with alot of children now a days. There are to many learning techniques being used to "make learning fun". Well guess what. Life is not always fun and kids need to learn to deal with that.
My husband managed a local resturant here that was part of a chain. He was moved to one particular store because it was having problems. When he got there he figured out the problems were from the crew having a big social event there instead of working. When he put them to work they all quit saying "its not fun anymore".
I think the ones that inherit the future are the ones who have grasped the concept that life's NOT all fun and games, but does involved dealing with work that is enjoyable because of the sense of accomplishment you achieve rather then that it was fun or you made alot of money.
Your are so full of yourself your pathetic.
My husband did not manage out of fear. He did not fire anyone they quit. He just explained to them the job they were hired to do and then made them do it. Is that managing with fear??? Is there anything wrong with asking/expecting people to do the job they are hired to do.
I love horses, love riding. People pay me to ride their horses for them, guess what. Even tho I love doing it, it's work and alot of days it's not fun. It's a grind. That's life. That is not to say I don't enjoy it and get extreme satisfaction for doing it even on the days it's a grind. That's the attitude has been lost. Probably because of the likes of you spouting the fallacy that that your job is "fun".
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