Tuesday, October 19, 2004

What Are You Doing In Your Homeschooling?

This is a question I have a hard time answering. I realize that saying "nothing" is probably socially unacceptable, but its the truth, so I'm trying to work out an answer to this question so that I don't fail in future social encounters.

First of all, there really doesn't seem like there is anything to be 'done' in preschool. Reading books about preschool, I've learned that most (non-Montessori) preschools allow the children free time to choose activities such as dress up, building with blocks, doing artwork, a library area with books, etc. There is circle time, which can involve show and tell or storytime or learning songs or games. There is snack time and maybe some outside time on the playground. All this for two or three hours, three to five days a week for at least $200 a month (and Montessorians are laughing because Montessori is twice that). I'm not really sure why people send their kids to preschool, I imagine there are lots of reasons, including getting a break from the kids, socialization with a class of the children's peers, and perhaps for learning. However, I have to question if learning is the main reason anyone sends their child to preschool because kids learn just by living -- I'd even argue that they learn more outside of a classroom than inside it. For instance, why make a child who has known the alphabet for a year sit in circle time and review what the letter A is, what sound it makes, words that begin with A, etc? Perhaps there is a hierarchy of things parents what their children to know, the child who does not know the alphabet in preschool may not be interested in it for several years but might be captivated by nature and learn all about science that way..... Opps, I'm not supposed to be telling you why I homeschool, but what we're doing.

Nothing, we're doing nothing. When the 2 year-old naps, my 4 year-old and I read books together, if she's in the mood. The other day, we played Go Fish -- a couple of good games after we got past an initial argument when she told me I could not put down a pair from the hand I was dealt at the beginning of the game. It was interesting, because we didn't really talk about winning or losing, other than I noted that I won the first game because I wanted her to know the game was over since I had no cards. The second game, she got rid of all her cards first, she won and I noted it, but I don't think she gloated over it. When Daddy came home she told him about the game, noting that I won the first game and she won the second. Its funny to hear what your kids learn -- it was definitely significant to her because she reported it, she wasn't asked the outcome.

We cook sometimes, she helps me stir or measure and looks at the recipe with me.

She plays and tells stories. Once, she wrote a book (dictated to me which I wrote down).

The other day, I got four books from the library. The 4 year-old was holding two and her 2 year-old sister was holding two. My 4 year-old told me that they each had half. I was pretty impressed with that.

What are we doing? Nothing, but I've got to come up with a better answer than that.


Anne Zelenka said...

Like you say, there are a variety of reasons that parents choose to send their kids to preschool. I'd like to add on to your list.

Preschool provides a built-in community at a time when community is hard to find. It provides a daily routine that most kids enjoy. It offers additional adults who can love and guide the child. It gives the mothers a break and gives younger siblings a chance for undivided attention from the mother. It gives the mother additional sources of insight about her child, because the teachers can observe and provide new perspectives on the child's development. Especially in mixed-age settings, it gives the older children in a classroom the chance to act as leaders, an opportunity that youngest children may miss out on. In the preschools that offer it, early foreign language training and music training happens at a time when the young mind is ripe for responding to such stimulation.

You can get the same benefits in a homeschooling environment but for some of us (like me) it's a lot easier to get it all in the preschool package. If it fits in the budget and works for the family, it can be a really good thing.

Like you, I don't think of preschool as an academic jumpstart. I read something recently that said that by third grade it doesn't matter what a child knew going into kindergarten. So you can hothouse kids (in preschool or at home) to try to get them going early but it's not going to have much effect on their elementary school academic progress. And by adulthood, genetics overwhelm environment in determining achievement on tests of verbal and mathematical capabilities, according to the psychological studies I've read. I'm not going to argue against the Head Start folks... I don't know anything about kids who suffer from impoverished environments. But for our demographic group, whether you send kids to preschool is probably a decision best made with reference to quality of life during the preschool years and not academic achievement later. I say that with the caveat that foreign languages are best picked up in the earliest years and early music training seems to have some real benefits on overall brain development. Am I doing anything about those things other than what our preschool offers? No. I'm not trying to create superbrains.

You say, "I'd even argue that they learn more outside of a classroom than inside it." Whether more learning goes on inside or outside a classroom is not something that you can determine without knowing more about the individual situation. It depends on the classroom and it depends on what's going on outside it. It depends on the kid too. There could be a high-learning environment inside a classroom and low-learning environment outside or vice versa, don't you think?

Marjorie said...

You mentioned Head Start -- from what I've read, thats what spawned the preschool movement. Head Start was designed for kids who don't have the same resources and advantages at home that most other children do (books, toys, someone to read to them...). Its interesting that it was called Head Start because I think the idea was really more to even the playing field.

>>>Whether more learning goes on inside or outside a classroom is not something that you can determine without knowing more about the individual situation

I'd still argue about it. I'm sure I could find a study that says what I want it to say, as you could find one that says what you want it to say. So arguing seems to be all I'm left with.

>>>It depends on the classroom and it depends on what's going on outside it. It depends on the kid too.

I'd say that only where there is abuse, neglect, or danger would the outside environment be worse and only where the kid has had all natural curiosity and self-esteem squelched. Ever watch toddlers play? They only need someone who is paying attention to them to keep them safe and assist if they begin to get too frustrated and lose control. They don't need to be directed or have activities designed for them. And we all know the annoying situation of buying toys for our children only to have them play with the boxes. I'd ever proffer that kids need to learn how to be bored and that it begins in school. Again, I think of toddlers and I've yet to see one who is bored.

Anne Zelenka said...

Sounds like you have made a choice in which you have deep faith. Good luck with that.

Marjorie said...

I think its more of an opinion for which I'm willing to make a hyperbolic argument. I'm a lawyer, I argue; determinations are for the judges.

Marjorie said...

I love to argue, but I owe Barely an apology here. She was posing some rational, thoughtful questions and I steam-rolled them like a zealot. Do I think homeschooling is a great option? Yes. Do I think its for everyone? No. I think it depends on lots of factors. I do think that many people sort of wave off the idea of homeschooling with an 'I could never do it' or 'I don't have enough patience' without really thinking about it. It is for those people that I direct my more tenacious arguments.

Barely deserved a more thoughtful response from me and I'm sorry I didn't give one.