Articles by Donna

The Perfect Homeschooler

As a veteran homeschooler and mother to nine children, parents often ask me for advice and guidelines for setting up their school year. I meet folks from all walks of life with so many perspectives on learning. Some want the full ‘school at home’ structure and others are more relaxed, but I have found that most are somewhere in between. And many times those who want a lot of structure relax after the first or second year as they see their children learning amazing things and how they want to know information.

Over the years I have thought about this concept we call “learning”. I have seen that throughout the early years of a child’s life parents have great confidence that they will teach their child to walk, talk, eat with a fork, tie a shoe, use a toilet, drink from a cup, walk up stairs and even write their name. But for some reason when a child reaches about six, parents lose that confidence and begin relying on people-“experts”- who proclaim to know many things concerning “all” children. These same experts of course will change their theories many times during their lifetime without ever looking back to the children and the damage done.

Why would we want to ignore our inborn instinctual and natural desire to guide and teach our own children? Why do we no longer believe our children want to learn when they turn seven and we are told it’s time for “real” school as if what we had been doing for seven years is NOT real?

Remember when they begged to wash dishes? To learn how to scrub the tub? To learn to write their name? To help cook? To learn to count money to buy candy? And we, their parents, just very simply in our daily walk provided them the answers and taught them the skills. We saw the interest and guided them. They were eager to learn and we were eager and confident in our ability to teach them. Why the change at seven? Why is it we as parents no longer see ourselves as smart enough to teach them to add? Or to read or to learn a noun or a pronoun? Is this small amount of information in the big scheme of life so hard to teach? Or learn? Or is it that we have allowed ourselves to believe the misguided conception that parents are just not qualified to teach anything except what the experts allow and bless And that children don’t want to learn from their parents anyway?

In general, homeschoolers have rejected these ideas by refusing to give the responsibility of teaching their children to anyone else….or have we?

If getting through a chapter, test or book on history is more important then a child wanting to learn about stars, are we really “teaching” them? If it’s more important to stay on “track” according to grade level, than it is to spend a year exploring the state, have we set our own standards in learning based on our own family or some artificial structure? Furthermore, if we rely on someone out there to tell us what and how our children learn without ever watching them to see what they are ready to learn, aren’t we still dependent on someone who doesn’t know our children?

No book or curriculum or teacher knows your child or your family well enough to presume to tell you what/how/when to teach them anything. Parents ARE the experts on THEIR children. We can glean from others, we can watch families and we can read books, but the minute we allow THEM to make us do certain things, we have succumbed to allowing someone else to “teach” our children.

Listen to our children. Watch them play. Converse on things from “why is water wet” to “Whether scarab beetles eat people from the inside out” to “are all Nazis evil?” to “is baking soda and baking powder the same?”. All day our children give us many opportunities to teach them on THEIR level of maturity, interest and desire. This is the ultimate giving to your child, to your family and years later to your grandchildren.

I will tell people who think with nine children and sixteen years of homeschooling that I have it all together and know all the great homeschooling secrets that YES!! I am an expert in homeschooling.. “MY” children. I am the perfect mom….for “MY” children. I am the most organized Structured Teacher….for” OUR” family. Here’s my secret: I don’t teach. My children learn in spite of the fact that I am not the “expert” for anyone but them.

Donna Mitchell
This article was originally published in the
November/December 2000 issue of HELM
(Home Education Learning Magazine),
and subsequently published online in the ezine

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