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Self-Education – Not the Same as UnSchooling

In my last post I talked about how my boys are moving in the direction of being totally self-educated. After reading email and comments, I think I should probably clarify what I mean since it seems like what I had mind was misinterpreted by some readers. I apologize in advance for the long post…hardly seems like a clarification if it is longer then the original post. I never want to discourage anyone so I feel moved to make some things a little clearer.

Self-education in our family is not code for unschooling.
I am not leaving the direction of our homeschooling totally up to them or to chance. Self-educating defines our method after choosing courses and then how we offer those courses within our homeschooling goals for the year. I talk a lot about goals and pursing specific skills here on the blog so it will be no surprise that I feel that is where the self-education begins. Once we have goals and skills desired for the year defined, our courses are chosen, focus is sharpened, and the boys have input about how the direction of our homeschooling is going. If you read my Weekly Wrap-Up posts you can get glimpses into how this translates into daily and weekly assignments.

Self-Education is something you grow into.
The other point that I want to emphasis is that self-education is not something that is easy with younger children. I would never have expected my boys to be able to do what they do now even perhaps as late as middle school. I have done a lot of reading about the classical ideas of stages in learning (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) and in my experience the self-education trend happened in our family when my boys hit the rhetoric stage of development. They began to apply what they were learning to themselves and their world. This translated into questions they wished to pursue. (Here is an excellent article by Susan Wise-Bauer if you are interested in reading more: The Joy of Classical Education.)

Example from our homeschool:
History and literature began to have context and they could form questions about their reading and wonder how it all fit in with other things they were learning. A great example of this is Mr. A and his study of modern history, government, and economics. Suddenly reading about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison has context beyond just their biographies. Mr. A is trying to grapple with the fundamentals of our country’s legal and political system and how it has played out in the 20th and 21st centuries. He jumps on the internet and finds the primary sources to read because they now have meaning as he reads about the mechanics of a presidential election or how the government can manipulate the economy. Self-education just seems to stem from a desire to be able to ask great questions after reading about ideas and then knowing how to go about answering them. Once they have those answers, my boys enjoy talking or writing about them because it seems a logical conclusion to their self-driven pursuits. I didn’t see this happening until high school.

Socratic Discussion is a big part of our learning.
There is a time for explaining and I certainly didn’t mean that I don’t answer questions that come up but more often than not I use a Socratic sort of discussion to help my children make sense of what they are learning. (If you are interested in learning more about how to do that, I highly recommend this article by Marcia Sommerville on Socratic discussion and her explanation of the READ-THINK-WRITE way of learning.)

Letting Others Help Me
Another thing that ends up leading  my boys to self-education is that I never claim to know all the answers which has helped them be more comfortable seeing me as their fellow learner. Honestly, Mr. A and I have tackled some math in the last few weeks that I don’t ever remember covering before. I frankly tell him that I don’t know the answer and then we work at it together. The key is that I have left myself available to answer when needed. If I don’t feel equipped to help, we go to outside sources like the internet to find the answer. I will sometimes tell him to look it up and then have him tell me what he finds out and this is a great way to not only build his confidence by being the new “expert” but it helps solidify the material in his mind by his teaching it to me. I am not totally hands-off as far as school goes and if I gave that impression I apologize. I am more engaged in their learning than ever before and spend more time trying to keep abreast so I can not only be the guide that Charlotte Mason talks about but also the friend or learning companion.

Self-education needs to be modeled.
Self-education is also something that needs to be modeled. If all your children have ever known is a more regimented textbook, workbook, fill in the blanks sort of learning style, the more foreign it will be for them to shift over to a more question based, discussion based style of learning.We have gradually and naturally shifted to our current way of homeschooling. I have gradually become more concentrated in my efforts to learn alongside my boys because I see how it benefits them in the long run. I can’t emphasis enough how much homeschooling in high school is different than the lower grades. It is very different. I am continually feeling as if I am in over my head but when I stop and analyze things, I realize it is okay because I don’t need to be the proverbial bucket filling up my children’s educational cup. They are filling it up for themselves and only occasionally needing me to guide them to more water.

Sorry for the long clarification but I thought it was important enough that I wanted to make sure that what I said in my last post was not used to mislead another mom or even worse, discourage her. My point yesterday was to help those coming after me, perhaps just starting out in homeschooling or those that have younger children, to see homeschooling as a great opportunity if you just keep at it.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Homeschool Reminders to Myself

Photos from our Oregon Coast trip last week

I took some time this week to review some thoughts from my Charlotte Mason journey. These are reminders that I am printing out and putting in the front of my homeschool planner. I’ve listed these points for the days that I question my ability to do an adequate job homeschooling my boys.

They are for the days when I feel like I have a game plan and then someone changes the game. All quotes are from Charlotte Mason.

1. Don’t settle. Seek out the best in everything.

“A thick book, a short book, a first-hand source or a second-hand one–either one might be the right book, as long as we’re able to tell when a book is living, able to quicken the mind, and full of living ideas about its subject.”

2. Teach good habits and you will have less work in the long run.

“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.”

3. Be confident in whatever you decide to do. You know your child better than anyone else.

“Parents should have more faith in themselves. It doesn’t take a whirlwind of restless activity to get things accomplished. The mere presence of a proper parental relationship, with the rightful authority that goes along with it, is to the children what sunshine and water are to seeds in fertile soil. “

4. It is all about relationships. Nurture those that are the most important. Relationships between people and ideas….physical relationships, spiritual relationships. Relationships with what we know and what we are coming to know.

5. Nothing is set in stone. Homeschooling is in constant motion.

Enjoying the journey,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

The Futility of Comparison: Homeschooling Style

Crater Lake, 2007

What has been on my mind? It is something that every homeschooling mom thinks about from time to time. Comparisons….comparing our homeschool to other homeschools we read about in books and on the internet.

I know for a fact that many of you reading this blog entry have found yourself in the place where you feel as if “everyone else” is doing more than you are and that in some way you are slacking. I want to share something that encourages me when I start to feel that way.

It is from a forum post many years ago, I think from the Sonlight Forums. I didn’t save the original writer’s name but I will admit freely that she says it better than I could ever express. Don’t give me credit for her wisdom, I am just the messenger today. (If anyone happens to know who wrote this, please let me know.)


“We tend to look at homeschool mom A, who is doing great science experiments; homeschool mom B, whose kids are great musicians; homeschool mom C, whose kids read 17 books per week; and homeschool mom D, whose child just won a national art contest. Then we think ALL the moms are doing ALL those things, and we think we don’t measure up. All we do is play fun math games. But other moms look at us and think, ‘Wow, I wish I could even REMEMBER the math game ideas she makes up.’ “We tend to forget that we are all different, and we do different things. There probably is something that you do that many other homeschool moms wish they could do. Even if there isn’t, God gave you YOUR kids, because He knew YOU could do the best for them. “It is too easy to compare, and too hard to be content where we are. All the homeschool moms that you think have it all together are thinking of somebody else, or something else, that they would like to do, too.

Isn’t that the best? I have this in my planner and remind myself frequently that we all have our own gifts. We all have our own styles. Our children are our children and we know them better than anyone else and what they need in our homeschooling.

I may look like I have it all together when you read my blog but I am just like you and have my serious doubts about things too. 🙂

Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay, 2007

Just like I would never compare the two majestic lakes in this blog entry to each other, we need not measure ourselves up to someone else’s yardstick. Each of us is a beauty in itself….no need to compare.

Hope this is encouraging to someone.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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