Saturday, June 24, 2006

Decluttering my brain

I'm rereading a book I first read very early in our homeschool journey.

In School-proof, Mary Pride reminds me of the things I love about homeschooling, and of what is possible: the simplicity, the directness of the teaching, the wonderful eschewing of all-things-clutter.

One of the reasons I love homeschooling is that the kids and I get to make decisions about what we do, what we study, what we read and when we read it. My standing joke in our first year at home (after having my eldest attend Kindergarten) was that I would never again be caught off-guard by a last-minute note requesting three large soda bottles for a "fun and educational craft project." Such notes inevitably left me whining, "But we don't even buy those big bottles!"

In a chapter entitled, "Educational Clutter's Last Stand," Mary reminds us that an awful lot of what passes for curriculum is just busy work. As homeschoolers, we can easily identify busy work when a child is in school. But sometimes we lose sight of it when we become the teachers. All those delicious curriculum catalogs, those exciting ideas, the fun-and-educational projects ... they're so tempting, aren't they? And before we know it, we're the bad-guy, sending ourselves a last-minute mental note to scrounge up three large soda bottles. Yikes.

I like rereading Mary's book because she keeps me grounded in a simple truth. She says,

The secret is out -- the better teacher you get to be, the less you will need expensive curriculum and supplies. A beginning teacher can teach all her children to read with a prepackaged curriculum and have them reading years ahead in six months or less. A good teacher can teach phonics with a few simple readers, flash cards and a chalkboard. A great teacher can do it with library books and a pencil and ten sheets of paper! The difference is simply that the great teacher knows exactly where she is going and how to handle each roadblock or opportunity along the way.

My aim is to keep in mind exactly where our homeschool is going. Thus, "The Plan" I recently mentioned. Yesterday, I finished one stage of it: I gathered every science-related book in the house (and ended up with three stacks of books on the dining room table.) I sat down with my girls and talked about what they'd like to learn. I filled in a couple of gaps with suggestions of my own, and I found everything we'll need in those stacks. Books, ideas, resources, experiments .... I'll post the details later, but the point is that I don't need to buy any new science curriculum, tempting as it may be. I can craft a course of study from what we own and from library books.

It comes down to this: The main thing my children need from me can't be purchased. They just need me. My time and attention. Resources are easy to come by; commitment -- of my time and of myself -- is the key.

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Liz said...

There was a time when homeschoolers didn't have such great access to curriculum. Because the curriculum companies hadn't yet discovered "the market" they refused to sell teacher keys etc. to homeschooling families. We had to use things like library books and trade books rather than the canned stuff (unless we either wanted to shell out the money for Calvert, or to to the limited curriculum of Rod and Staff). The curriculum bonanza has probably helped a lot of people gain some confidence in their own teaching abilities. However, as you have seen it can become a trap which actually undermines your confidence and clutters both your mind and your home. Good for you for charting your own path.

Now I must get back to reading my Flannery O'Connor lit crit. (or maybe I should just read Flannery O'Connor????).

Oh by the way - check out my new link. Anne might find it interesting.

Maureen Wittmann said...

Thanks Karen for the post. I shared the Mary Pride quote with my Thrifty Homeschooler list.

Becky said...

Thanks for the reminder of the book, Karen. I haven't read it in a few years, since we decided to start hs'ing, but it might be just the thing for a summer evening as I think (not too hard, though lol) about next year. I actually own a copy, since it turned up on BookCloseouts shortly after I had taken the library's copy back. Nice to have on the shelf for times just like this!

Karen E. said...

Liz -- Seedlings looks great! Thank you.

Maureen ... I didn't even think of how thrifty the post was. lol ....

And Becky, I agree ... it's nice to have the book around (I think I thriftily purchased mine from ....)

Amy said...

"The difference is simply that the great teacher knows exactly where she is going and how to handle each roadblock or opportunity along the way. "

And therein lies my problem! Hopefully this summer I'll be able to better figure this out before diving headlong into next year (not that we ever really stop schooling...)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Karen.

Karen E. said...

Amy, that's exactly what we're all trying to figure out ... :-)

Theresa said...

I love your thinking here, Karen. I guess I've gotta get this book. I have been leaning toward the spare side for awhile, but it is always so tempting this time of year. My main problem is that our library stinks, so it isn't curriculum I'm having to stock up on, but just plain old books.
My best advice: When you see a catoalog come in the mail, RUN, don't walk, to the nearest trash can. Let it go.

Leonie said...

Karen, I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I guess I have homeschooled long enough now :-) that I know that all the resources will never be the one super resource and we will never use any resource all the way through. We always go back to where we started - a bit of maths, living books, the library, the park, real life. :-)

It just seems to be the way we are - I am so over curriculum!