By Erin K Costello
Normally I don’t pick apart the homeschooling posts, but this time I’m willing to make an exception. It isn’t often that I walk away after reading a post, even a post by MAM, without having learned a single bit of information I hadn’t already known. It also isn’t often that I walk away more confused than ever.
Let me begin by saying I support homeschooling, and even unschooling just as much as I support traditional schooling. However homeschooling techniques should rival that of traditional schooling techniques. Just like we expect the very best teachers in our public school classrooms, we should put the work and effort in to becoming the very best teacher in the home. Our efforts should also be on behalf of our children and what is best for them. They should not reflect what is best for us. With that being said, let’s check out what must have taken MAM about 15 minutes to type up, and pretend it is a resource for educating mamas.
“Every year, I get excited to look at all the new homeschool material sand curricula out there…"
Of course she does! She gets to feel like a teacher for a while.
“Now, we’re an unschooling family, so I don’t pick curricula like some families do — for me to assign lessons and follow regularly. I just pick things that match my kids’ interests and needs at that time."
Most homeschooling, and even unschooling parents, make it a priority to arrange lesson plans that are successful, not plans that are easy. They also don’t mind stepping away from Facebook to to assign lessons plans and follow them regularly. They also aren’t careful to only pick “things” their child has shown an interest in, especially at such a young age. When I was 7 I was obsessed with unicorns. Imagine if my eduction for a time was based off my love of unicorns rather than consisting of lesson plans that helped prepare me for the following class, and ultimately life. No, instead most parents are stressing about their child’s preparation for college, or even just adulthood.
“Still, I have a possibly-crazy love for books, curricula, and office supplies, so it’s fun for me to look though all the things and select new materials."
Now she gets to play office! In all seriousness though, I can’t help but to notice how she expresses her enjoyment to “look” through and “select” new materials. I can’t help but to think she should be creating lesson plans, classwork, and exams rather than playing with books and office supplies. I also wonder why all this material is still new to her. I’d expect material for her oldest child to be new since it’s the first time she’ll be covering certain subjects at this grade level, but she has 4 younger children that are also of learning age, or at least 3 younger children depending on how attentive the youngest of the 4 is. You would think most of the information she was preparing for them would be familiar by now.
“I expected that a book/curriculum would have diagrams of weather patterns and cloud types, and lots of other information on what weather is and does, along with activity suggestons and places to write findings."
If you expect to buy a curriculum that teaches the children for you, might I suggest an actual school with an accredited teacher who has spent a good chunk of their summer and will spend most of their weekends planning each lesson for your children in detail.
“They were just a plan for which other materials to find and use, and did not contain anything useful in and of itself."
I thought that was the whole point of homeschooling, and especially of unschooling. Your children are learning at their own pace, and you are devising an education system that works for your family. Who better to know how to set this up than you, the parent? The materials you are given are an outline of what should be covered, while you fill in the details that will personalize the subject matter for each child individually, and form a process that serves your family best.
“#1: It’s Just Busy Work, Not Really Valuable Learning”
“There are lots of resources that come with tons of worksheets or little activities. For example, if you’re studying the letter “A”, there will be sites for tracing it in chocolate syrup, making it out of play-dough, doing a letter A treasure hunt (how many items can you find that start with “A?”), an entire day of tasting apples, etc,"
This paragraph here amazes me. Does she realize how she contradicts herself? The paragraph above this one said “I expected that a book/curriculum would have diagrams of weather patterns and cloud types, and lots of other information on what weather is and does, along with activity suggestions and places to write findings.” And now she’s complaining about all the activity suggestions and referring to this as “just busy work, not really valuable learning.” Kids learn by repetition, however mundane repetition can become monotonous for a child very quickly. These activities listed above; tracing letters in chocolate syrup, forming letters in Play-Doh, a letter treasure hunt, or eating foods that represent the letter being taught are exactly the kind of teaching techniques that will cause a child to learn quickly and happily. It won’t even seem like school for them.
“This is massive overkill and totally unnecessary."
Except this is exactly what you were asking for a couple paragraphs above.
“The truth is, if a child needs that many activites to remember what the letter A is, s/he is not actually ready for literacy instruction. And if s/he is ready for literacy instruction, s/he does not need those activites to remember the letter A!”
If MAM understood what teaching really looked like, she’d know that those activities aren’t about remembering the letter A. They’re about learning all about the letter A. All kinds of word that start with A, the different A sounds, how to spell many words that have the letter A in it, and learning how to associate one’s environment with different letters. Kids don’t learn how to train their brain on their own, they learn from exposure to people and things that are different and suprise them. As much as MAM would love to be able to claim that her children are remarkably different and don’t require such interactive, repetitive educational activities, she’s likely to not be able to make such claims. After all she and her family do basically the same things every day. This is most likely why they’ve been able to learn the things they have learned to this point.
“The same is also true for many worksheets or crafts. They’re busy work. They’re not teaching ta child new information or a new skill and they’re not improving his/her overall academic outcome."
Often times they are learning something new, or at least new to them. They are learning how to hone their skills, improve their motor functions in ways that aren’t already routine for them, and they improve their writing skills, reading comprehension, ability to follow instructions, or even just how to color inside the lines. These examples aren’t instantly mastered in a day. They take time and practice. They are also precursors to their future education.
“If you simply enjoy those types of activities and your child does too, there is no harm in doing them. If it’s fun for you to have a letter A party, then by all means, have one! Some families are just crafty like this, and that’s fine."
But, what if it’s fun for the child? Don’t get me wrong, ideally the parent would find some enjoyment out of teaching their child. However, these activities aren’t about what’s fun for the parent. It’s all about keeping the child engaged and interacting in their lesson plans so they look forward to learning, and ultimately remember more information more accurately.
“Personally I don’t find them beneficial, and I’m not going to pay for curriculum that is just a collection of these types of ideas or other forms of busywork. And a lot of materials I find fall into this category."
She doesn’t see the value in “busywork.” Remember The Karate Kid? Remember how Danial had to repeatedly wash and wax cars, paint the fence, and sand the floor? The same concept applies to what she calls “busywork.” The child is wrapped up in doing these activities that he or she doesn’t even realize how every lesson is coming together to help him or her become the All Valley Karate Champion. In grade school much of what we learn is a foundation for our education. If we aren’t well versed in the fundamentals like reading, writing, math, then we are going to struggle as our education progresses, especially in college.
“(And if you’re wondering, I have never once deliberatly taught the alphabet, yet three of my kids can read. I’ll cover teaching reading, unschooling-style, in another post.)"
I know she meant this as a personal brag, after all this entire post about educating her children has been all about MAM, and not at all about her children, but this confession of hers says amazing things about her kids, and not so amazing things about MAM. Lastly, do you really want learn how to teach reading from someone who just admitted to never once deliberately teaching the alphabet?
“As I mentioned above, I’m choosing materials expecting them to be fairly all-encompassing. That is, they should give at least a reasonable overview of the topic within the material itself, along with activities, engaging text/questions, etc."
Activities, text, questions…etc…sound an awful lot like busy work if you ask me.
“I have also found math and spelling curricula that had weekly lists and practice pages/activities right in them. These I found valuable for the same reason —all -encompassing.”
Please continue on reading to the next sentence…
“This is why we tend to choose our own books and materials, or even create our own."
Which is it?! Lesson plans that come complete with worksheets and activities “right in them?” Or a DIY curriculum?
“So much of what’s out there has one (or both) of the two problems I mentioned, especially in the early grades."
I am so confused right now as to what she considers to be a problem, let alone two problems. At this point it seems the problem for MAM is that she has no fucking clue as to what she’s doing, what she’s working with, or even how much work she wants to put into the teaching her kids. I get the distinct feeling though that what MAM wants is an education style that suits her Facebook activity and requires very little getting up off the couch. After reading this post it seems as though she is looking for a curriculum that explains itself to her kids, provides activities that can be done solo or among the kids, tests the kids, grades the kids, and then presents itself with a show at the end glorifying MAM for her expertise in choosing such an amazing curriculum, and doing this by arranging her kids to read an “I owe it all to you” essay. You know……Just. Like. School.
“(For example, my 8-year-old has asked to study advanced vocabulary, now that he’s reading around 4th - 5th grade level. I can’t find a single thing that reasonably offers a study of reading, spelling, and understanding vocabulary words without being total overkill.)"
If your child is learning at an advanced level, what makes you think he or she can’t handle what you call “overkill?” Also, vocabulary IS the study of reading, spelling, and understanding vocabulary words. What part of this is too much for an advanced child, or most any child for that matter?
“We have a whole community, online and off, at our finger tips!"
I hope this isn’t the same community where MAM conducted her “research” and educated herself on many different issues. If the only teachers these kids have throughout their education are MAM, and this is the extent of which MAM puts in to educating her children, then the only thing they will learn is how to be like MAM, and how to think like MAM. It’s almost like a kind of educational inbreeding. They won’t be exposed to new experiences, observe new ways to think, or find inspiration for new and big ideas. They won’t branch off and out on their own.
Let me be clear about something here, I do not know the first thing about homeschooling, nor am I pretending to. But I do have a knowledge that MAM does not possess. I know what I don’t know. My still school aged children are ages 14 and 15. I know I am not equipped to be their teacher. I know I would hold them back. I would have to first learn the material myself before I could teach it to them. I am an intelligent person, however I’d still want to be sure to know and understand the material at every grade level before I were to teach it to my children. I would make this effort for my kids at 6 years of age, and 16 yrs of age. There is a reason why schoolteachers attend college and earn a degree before they end up teaching our children. That reason is because being an educator is not that simple, regardless of whether you’re teaching your own child(ren), or a full classroom of 30 new pupils. This responsibility should not be able to be summed up in a simple blog post. The fact that MAM believes it can be is disturbing, and sadly, quite unfortunate for her children.
By the way, I couldn’t help but to notice her blog page at Modern Alternative Mama still says she’s a mom to 5 kids. Can’t help but to wonder if that’s a Freudian slip?