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Re: structure

After I posted last week about needing to introduce more structure into our learning lives I received a concerned email from my mom.

Do you mean that with homeschooling you "teach" the same all year round and have no unstructured months where you learn as you go ?  

and it became clear to me that a) I have a tendency to assume my language is universal, when really not everyone knows what I mean when I mean it, and b) I have no idea what I'm doing and sometimes I post without thinking things through clearly. I answered that there just isn't a yes or no answer to that question. The long answer is probably a little philosophical, a little ideological, a little opinionated, so read on if you want.

One of the reasons we are homeschooling is that we believe learning should occur all year long, so yes, we learn (and "teach," I suppose, although I tend to think of it more as "learning together") all year round. The current public school method is based on an archaic system developed during the industrial age and the subsequent push for educational reform (link). At that time kids needed a safe place to go (and to be trained to do, not think) during the days (while their parents were doing, not thinking). Before the reform urban schools were an eleven month process (and rural schools were in during the summer and winter, but out during the spring and fall planting and harvesting seasons). But there was no air conditioning, and cities were hot and dirty during the summer, so after the reform public school was out during the summer months. The winter/summer learning discrepancy is an artificially imposed one, and that is part of the process that makes learning the enemy; By confining learning to a schoolroom and a school day and a school year we take away its authenticity, and if we, in all earnestness, ask kids to accept that bit of inauthenticity from us, how can we expect them to treat any of our other "lessons" with a respect that is due only to truth?

Then, about that dangerous "structure" word I should probably have been more clear, because when I say structure I don't mean sitting at a table doing math, reading, social studies, etc. for x many hours in a day. And I don't mean doing the same thing day in and day out all year long. But some people really benefit from knowing what to expect, and what is expected of them. Without some kind of structure I lose my patience more, and I think Calvin pushes buttons more when that starts happening. So what structure means to me is having a plan, even if it's a loose one. It does means that Calvin can expect to have quiet reading time every day (usually right after lunch when we're sleepy anyway), and he knows that he's expected to practice, or at least play, the piano every day, and complete at least three journal entries every week, more if he so desires. And by "structure" I also don't mean inflexibility, and it certainly doesn't preclude learning as we go. More likely it embraces it, giving us landmarks around which we create our chosen paths of learning. In fact, it's the matter of adapting those landmarks to what we "learn as we go" that gives them their authenticity, and enriches the things we explore.

We will never stop discussing and investigating the things we come across in life because that's just the way we live. Calvin is suddenly showing an interest in dinosaurs, following a great program at the library this morning. So we checked out books while we were there (for the reading time that we know we have at home), we made a plan to visit the museum next week, and maybe the zoo, and we made a list of things we wanted to know, and talked about where to find the information. We will write about what we're learning (in the journals we keep each week). If during that time he loses interest, or we discover something else he wants to learn about instead, we'll talk about whether we finish the dinosaur plan first, or change directions, but the usual landmarks will remain—the journal, the quiet reading time, the piano, etc. And again, as I've mentioned before, our homeschooling method is still under construction, and probably will be for all of its life, and I reserve the right to change my mind.

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