In the Morning We Homeschool . . .

 Joyce Kinmont, .
LDS Home Educators Assn, since 1990 .

In the afternoon we play. Such was the sentiment of one father in the comment section fora Wall Street Journal article  about homeschooling. (The best part of the article was about the variety of homeschooling options. The author said, “At this point it no longer seemed to us like a binary decision. It was less a matter of either/or than of how-much-of-each.” . . . “As our habits evolve, it won’t be home schooling as we’ve known it, but it won’t be brick-and-mortar schooling, either. I call it ’roam schooling.’”) (My Education in Homeschool, by Quinn Cummings, Wall Street Journal, July 2012)

The father, whose name was Mark, said in his comment that his boys choose to study from 7am until noon. After that “we played.” He said he did teach them long division, but he also took them bike riding to the beach, surfing, hiking in the High Sierras, fishing in Baja, and much more. “You take home-enlightened kids, they love it. Home ‘schooling’ is a total blast.”

(I like both words: “roam schooling” and “home-enlightened,”  I do think we need to rebrand homeschooling in a new, more open way. Unfortunately, “roam schooling” gives the idea but won’t be understood, and “home-enlightened” is still home-based. I love John Holt, but the word he coined, “unschooling,” also has to go.  I haven’t found anything yet that really works  Any suggestions?)

Another man, Jose, said his parents took him many places: community gardening projects, political conventions, city hall, hospitals, schools, churches, civic groups. He participated in spelling bees, attended a hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony and the unveiling of a Microsoft product, and he met and asked questions of authors, doctors, and scientists. He also took classes from various providers and made many friends. After high school – he got an accredited diploma — he took a technical class, got a job, rose to management, and started a business of his own – without college. In working with his clients, he said he “holds his own” with the Harvard grads. (Although college is sometimes a necessity, I applaud anyone who can find success without it.)

Here in Utah parents must fill out a form to exempt their children from public school. Rather than being pinned down, I always wrote, “learning activities take place a minimum of 6½ hours per day, for a minimum of 180 days per year between July 1 and June 30 between 6:00am and 9:00pm and include, but are not limited to, the subjects required by law.” Our family’s learning activities included many real life, away-from-the-desk activities.

As Latter-day Saints, we are commanded that we should engage in scholarship, but we are also commanded to work and to serve. One of the biggest problems with the public school is that it drags things out so long that children lose their desire to learn and families lose precious individual and family time. Learning should be an adventure, and life should include much more than sitting.

Homeschooling should be more efficient than classroom school by virtue of its small teacher-student ratio, the freedom we have to innovate, and the love that drives and bonds a family together. We should accomplish more is less time. Families who follow the plan Elder Bednar teaches us ( see our YouTube video) should be even more efficient and effective as the learn to act as agents rather than being “acted upon” as objects.  And the family should have the help of the Holy Ghost, the only true teacher. Is there a better plan than this?

Thomas Jefferson, the greatest of scholars, recommended studying in the morning and then taking long walks. Experts from the past and from the pioneering days of home schooling, would agree. Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923) taught that 15-20 minutes was long enough for young children’s lessons and 45 minutes for high school. She would also expect the lessons to be interesting and the children to be self-disciplined.  (The adult Institute class my husband and I attend is 1 1/2 hours and the time flies by.  Our teachers are wonderful and most of us are too old to raise a ruckus.)  I hear often of young boys being forced to sit at their desks until the math is done if it takes all afternoon. I came close to chaining one of mine to his desk, but D&C 121 taught me that wouldn’t work. I gave him his freedom, and he did fine. (I think I could do my part better today.)

Charlotte Mason also insisted on an afternoon outing every day, even in the cold English winters. For my sons, the outdoors was the classroom, or at least one of the classrooms. Another was the shop teacher’s well-equipped back yard workshop. If the heart is not engaged and the brain cells aren’t lighting, what is accomplished?

Raymond Moore and John Holt were contemporaries in my early homeschooling days, although both are deceased now. Both wrote books on the subject. Dr. Moore, a professional educator and college president, taught that only half of the day should be spent in academics to leave time for work and service opportunities. He recommended no formal schooling until 8 or 12, and said mature reasoning isn’t there until 10 to 12, or later if the children don’t have sufficient interaction with adults. John Holt coined the term “unschooling” to describe the unlimited ways children could learn outside of the traditional classroom. The truths these wise men taught endure, but many homeschoolers today seem to prefer the security of an “acted upon” textbook or computer-intensive curriculum.

  • Today we have brain imaging so we know much more about what’s happening in our heads. In Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids, author David Walsh says that children need lots of movement and exercise for healthy brains. Their muscles and brains are connected: * Human survival depended [he’s an evolutionist] on both our muscles and our brains. And new research confirms that exercise not only increases the brain’s ability to focus, but also builds and strengthens brain cells involved in planning, memory, and learning. p.107

He notes that newborn premature infants were once tightly blanketed so they couldn’t move,

  • since doctors wanted the infant’s calories directed toward growing, not wasted on movement. Someone with good sense eventually realized that the premature infant would be turning somersaults and doing handstands if he were still in the womb, so maybe movement was good for a developing baby. Subsequent studies confirmed that gently exercised babies grew more muscle mass and strong bones in their arms and legs. Moreover, their bodies produced more growth-stimulating hormones. . . . If we could peer inside these babies’ brains, we would see neurons sprouting new branches like weeds. Brain scientists now know exercise doesn’t just build strong bodies. It builds strong brains. p.106

He also notes that with the current emphasis on testing, schools are abandoning recess and physical education: 

  • This is counterproductive since brain research shows that exercise during the school day improves brain functioning and raises test scores. p.110
  • Today’s kids don’t just get less exercise at school; their homes are often exercise-free as well, with screen-time the number one activity for kids today. . . the average K-12 student today spends over fifty hours a week in front of some sort of screen. That’s the equivalent of a full-time job. Our bodies and brains were designed to move. p.111

Since “moving and exercising our muscles directly builds better brains,” let’s take frequent breaks in our morning schooling (I highly recommend a mini tramp or running to the corner and back), and in the afternoon let’s play, let’s create, let’s work, let’s serve. And then let’s get innovative about the way we learn in the morning. All this in whatever way works for your family!

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