Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why I Stopped Pushing in Our Homeschool

When I first started homeschooling my daughter Alina nearly three years ago, I was very excited about all the things we would accomplish. I read The Well-Trained Mind and was enthusiastic to get into the rigorous, classical method of schooling. I relished planning our curriculum and was sure that I was going to give Alina the best education she could get.  

And yes, my daughter was only 4 years old. But I knew through the homeschooling we had done throughout her preschool years that Alina was ready to learn, loved learning, and loved doing worksheets.  So we dug right in and started rigorous classical schooling.

Fast forward awhile... Our rigorous classical schooling seemed to be working well.  Alina was reading 7th grade level books on her own at the age of 6 years old. Increasingly, I had to cajole her to do her math lessons, so I started incorporating more math games rather than worksheets. Alina was becoming increasingly resistant to writing, despite the fact that she had loved practicing writing back before we'd officially started homeschooling.

But wasn't the purpose of schooling my daughter having her master her academics as young as possible?

Our Enthusiasm Was Dropping

Even though I gave Alina lots of breaks and even though we were always done with school by lunch time, Alina's enthusiasm for school was waning. I was starting to have less fun with our homeschooling, since it was taking more and more creativity to get Alina to do her schoolwork without a struggle. I trolled the internet for new worksheets, since Alina was no longer interested in the plethora of workbooks we already had.

A Red Flag

A year ago, my kids had their tricycle and scooter stolen. As my kids struggled to understand the world that now seemed fearsome, they wanted to talk over and over again about what punishment the thieves would have for their misdeeds. Alina thought a just punishment would be for the thieves to have to do extra school work. A big red flag was waving at me.

My 6-year-old was now likening school work to punishment! My daughter, who had started out loving to learn and loving school, was now being pushed to do math and writing. And she no longer liked school or math or writing.

A Seed Is Planted

Shortly before my kids' bikes were stolen, I had started reading Thomas Jefferson Education. This book talks about the conveyer belt approach to schooling (which is the model used by the public school system and that which I was basing my own homeschool upon) as compared to leadership education. Conveyor belt schooling seeks to teach children what to think, whereas leadership education seeks to teach kids how to think.  A conveyor belt education wants to check off the boxes so that every child is taught the same things, whereas leadership education wants to help each child find their own unique mission.

Lessons From My Own Education

As I contemplated all of this, I thought about my own schooling.  I attended public school, then moved onto college, where I changed my major several times and finally settled on mechanical engineering.  I became an aerospace engineer working for NASA for ten years.  By most standards, my schooling was a success and I had accomplished what I should.

But while I was working as an engineer, I knew that something was missing.  I had chosen to be an engineer because I was good at math and so that I could get a "good" job. Once I had the "good" job, I was able to do it well and there were many aspects of the job that I enjoyed, yet I still found that the day-to-day grind of going to work was tiresome. 

I became a stay-at-home mother shortly before the birth of my son over 4 years ago.  At the time, I didn't have any further career aspirations; I just wanted to be able to raise and homeschool my kids. I had known for quite a long time that I had no true passion for being an engineer, no matter how well I could do it or how illustrious were the projects I worked on. I had no idea of what was about to happen in my own life.

2&1/2 years ago I found homeopathy. I was instantly hooked. I started devouring books on homeopathy, wanting to learn as much as I could. I didn't start learning about homeopathy with any intention of becoming a homeopath or finding a new career. I was just compelled to learn more and know more. Now I joke that homeopathy chose me, because it was almost as if I didn't have a choice.  It feels like I was made for homeopathy.

I now know what it feels like to find my own personal mission, and it is so different than going to school and picking a major to get a "good" job.  My passion for homeopathy is so far above anything I ever felt for engineering; they're not even in the same ballpark.  Every day I learn more about homeopathy, not because a teacher has assigned it to me, but because I want to and choose to.  And even though I am now juggling working as a homeopath with homeschooling, keeping house, and raising my kids, it all feels right.  I no longer have that sense that I am spinning my wheels as I did when I was working as an engineer. Instead, I know with full certainty that this is what I am supposed to be doing. 

What Do I Really Want for My Kids?

While I was reading Thomas Jefferson Education, I was seeing it's message right before my eyes. My daughter was liking school less and less, and the more I pushed her to do school, the worse it became.  Meanwhile, my passion for homeopathy was being ignited and burning with a bright flame. The contrast between my educational experience and that of my daughter was stark.

I finally realized that our rigorous classical approach to homeschool was not working because I had misunderstood the whole purpose of education. The purpose of education was not to cram as much information as possible into my daughter's brain. The purpose of education was for my daughter to fall in love with learning so that she would want to learn on her own. In the end, I want my daughter to be able to find her own passion, her own mission in life, and then enthusiastically work to fulfill that mission because she wants to, not because she is being forced. 

A New Approach

Shortly after I read Thomas Jefferson Education (TJED), I decided to take a leap off the schooling conveyor belt.  I decided to stop pushing my daughter to do academics, and instead adopt the TJED approach.

TJED is kind of like a mix between classically-based schooling, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason. It is more structured than unschooling, but much less rigorous than Well-Trained Mind. TJED focuses on creating an environment where children are inspired to learn. Rather than forcing children to fulfill our own agendas for their learning, TJED allows children to develop their own interests and then pursue them passionately.  You can read about the 7 Keys to Great Teaching on the TJED site here.

There is also a huge focus in TJED on the parents focusing on their own educations, which serves as a great example for the kids to want to further their own educations. This really works. The more the kids see me doing my own reading, studying, and writing, the more they naturally want to do those things themselves, without any of the pressure that I was putting on them before. My daughter is learning huge amounts about things that are interesting to her on her own initiative, and I am getting to learn lots myself rather than focusing so much on her curriculum.

The TJED approach has worked wonders in our homeschool.  Now instead of dragging her feet and thinking of school as punishment, my daughter Alina loves our homeschooling. She has even come up with a name for our new school approach: awesome school! 

Want to read more about our journey with TJED (Leadership Education)? Check out these posts:
Leadership Education in Our Homeschool
Our Daily and Weekly Homeschooling Routines 
Top 25 Read-Aloud Picture Books
Teaching Elementary Math Without a Formal Curriculum

What approach do you use for schooling?  Do you want to know more about what leadership education looks like in our home?

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Anonymous said...

TJED sounds exactly like what my family has been craving! Can you share what an average day looks like for your kids' learning? How do you meet your state's requirements, or if you live in a lenient state, how do others meet state requirements?

Rachel DeMille said...

Sarah, what a delightful narrative! Thanks so much for sharing your journey! I would love to feature your post on TJEd.org. Are you interested?

Rebecca Miller said...

Yes, please. More information would be wonderful

Sarah Smith said...

Absolutely, Rachel! I'd love that!

Christine said...

Yes, I want to know!

Anonymous said...

Perfect timing! My oldest son reads constantly, looks for things to fix daily, and invents all the time. As a former teacher, I am passionate about his learning but it just doesn't flow the way the "conveyer belt" flows. Just yesterday, after a weekend of not finishing his math from the week before, he found an unread book in the house (a Newberry Winner, I think, but below his reading level and not part of "my" curriculum for him) and read all day. I got on to him after lunch with heavy guilt until he reminded me, "Mom, you're constantly complaining about how the high school curriculum doesn't include reading novels anymore. I'm reading! Isn't that good?" And he has me there!

So, thanks for pointing out that book! I look forward to checking it out.

Lynda said...

Thanks for sharing all this. You don't post a lot on your blog, but what you do post is always so thoughtful. Glad I continue to follow.

This has been our approach all along because both my son and I (plus a son about to be in K) don't do well with a curriculum. I've been going off a scope and sequence and just teaching him how it seems to work for us both. But I'm starting to feel more of a need for a curriculum (2nd grade in fall). I've considered Classical Conversations because I understand it's about teaching them to think, just as you talked about with TJED, but now I want to check out TJED! Thanks!

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks Lynda. I know I don't post a lot, there's just not enough time in the day since I became a homeopathic practitioner! But I am glad you find value in my posts. I definitely have many ideas I want to post about, but just finding the time is the problem. I let the blog fall into the optional category; if something's gotta fall off the plate, it's number one. That way it's not stressful having a blog and I can still post when I have time.

Sarah Smith said...

Will do!

Sarah Smith said...

Will do!

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. It can be so hard to get out of the conveyor belt mentality, even when that is one of our primary reasons for homeschooling! I love that the TJED books really focus on getting out of the conveyor belt rut and still provide an excellent education.

Sarah Smith said...

I will post sometime soon about what TJED looks like on a typical day for us.

I do live in a lenient state as far as requirements, but there are people who successfully use TJED in every state. If you want to know more about meeting the state requirements, it may be helpful for you to join the Facebook TJED Discussion Group. I've seen some threads on there about that exact topic, and you could also ask any questions you need answers to. That group is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TJEdDiscussion/

Anonymous said...

Living in NY in a very strict district, it's almost like we have to teach to the test now at least in language and math. I'm not happy.

Columba Lisa Smith said...

It's certainly challenging to balance structure and freedom to explore our children's interests. I'd like to point out that the classical approach is not used in public schools, though, and hasn't been for decades. Classical is conducive to teaching children to think; it corresponds with a child's developmental stages.
It's true that we can burn out our kids using any structured approach. Yet unschooling carries the risk of leaving gaps in their education. It boils down to a balancing act.
I've homeschooled my three kids all the way through, as a single mom. Each family has to find the right path for each child. My oldest has graduated, and has retained his love of learning, much to my relief! He is pursuing his passion for engineering and/or physics, very successfully. My other two are progressing through high school. They will each need a unique, customized blend of approaches, as I try to balance their character development, freedom to explore interests, perseverance, and long-term goals.

Unknown said...

This is very interesting. I would love to do this but admittedly, my fear would be not realizing what my child's passions are OR maybe even not knowing how to maximize that potential. My son loves to draw and invent things - HATES to read though....My daughter is like a natural homemaker...I'm definitely going to look into this for my children, I love the concept.

Sarah Smith said...

Congratulations on homeschooling your three children all the way through. Especially as a single mom, I'm sure this took a lot of effort and commitment on your part. That is inspiring!

Yes, you are absolutely correct that public schools do not follow a classical educational approach. And classical education can definitely teach kids how to think. The problem in our homeschool is that I was trying to replicate many aspects of the conveyor belt school in our classical schooling (and The Well-Trained Mind does so as well), such as making sure we did math/science/writing/etc a certain number of times per week and really pushing my daughter to try to make her learn certain things at a certain time. Now with the TJED approach, it is still based on the classics, yet it does follow that middle path you mentioned of balancing between too much structure (conveyor belt) and no structure (unschooling).

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Stephany,
If you read the TJEd books, I think you'll find that finding their passions will naturally follow when you providing an inspiring environment for your kids. My daughter's current passions are dinosaurs, fossils, archaeology, rocks, ancient Egypt, and all things magical (fairies, unicorns, etc). That doesn't necessarily mean her own life's mission will involve any of those things, but I can continue to support her interests in those interests (through getting library books, talking about them, doing projects). She gets to see that her passions are important and that she can learn as much as she wants to about them.

Meanwhile, I continue to expose her to more subjects she's not even aware of yet. In doing so, hopefully we will find the spark that will actually turn into a flame as she gets older and is ready to pursue her own life's mission. The TJEd approach actually becomes more structured as the kids get on into their teen years, but through creating a love of learning at an early age, the teens themselves are largely responsible for finding their own balance and creating a plan to meet their own objectives in life.

Anyhow, I hope you enjoy reading more about it all!

Lynda said...

I truly respect that.

Megan said...

Thanks for this information! We have a 20 mo. old, so we're a long way off from homeschooling :), but I had never heard of TJEd books before and am interested in learning more! I SO agree that when you're able to follow your passions you become an even more productive member of society and THRIVE as a person, too!

From my own experience I also know that when I give myself time to follow my passions and learn more, I have more energy for the things I don't like to do! :)

Anonymous said...

I love the TJED way of learning. One of my favorite quotes is "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire." I'm not sure who said it, but I keep that in mind when I am tempted to fill (sometimes forcefully) my children's "buckets." If you can help them light that educational fire, I think they will want to keep it going!

KMB said...

I loved reading your post but I really feel like your approach to Classical education was a bit more stressful than it should be...especially for the younger years. That's really not the point of Classical education. The Classical model mirrors a child's propensity for learning at various stages and you as her teacher should pace it accordingly. I love TJE and think he has excellent points. Have you ever read The Core by Leigh Bortins? It is fabulous and a great read. We are a part of Classical Conversations which is a huge encouragement to moms who want to educate classically and want a support as well as families to be in community with. We have homeschooled for 12 years now (my oldest will graduate next year!...Never thought I'd go all the way through) Our children love CC and have threatened to revolt should we leave, haha. The rigor is as much as you make it since you are the teacher....the program for middle school/high school is rigorous but again, you are their teacher (not the tutor they see in class once a week) and you set the pace. Some kids thrive in the rigor and others do not. When my two oldest were younger we did a blend of Classical (more the use of Classical materials b/c we did not have a community to work with, which I believe is essential to Classical Education....it's hard to have dialectic discussions b/w 1 student and mom) and CM. We are going into our 5th year in community and it's wonderful and my daughter has almost exclusively been educated w/CC. The elementary years really focus on tons of memorization, but the kids have the capacity...train the brain, we say. SO I hope you will continue education your kids at home if that is what the Lord leads you to. The founder of Classical Conversations, Leigh Bortins was an Aerospace Engineer...I bet you'd like her :). Thank you for sharing your homeschooling journey w/your readers...Time flies by so quickly, enjoy your time w/your kiddos.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We are all intensely loving using TJEd now. It is such a great fit for our family. I love that it allows the kids to genuinely fall in love with learning so that the rigor of the later years will come naturally, without force. I do consider that I am still educating my kids classically, but with a different focus than previously with the Well-Trained Mind. I didn't mean to imply that all classical education looked the same as what I was doing, but that what we were doing previously was one version of classical education that really didn't work well for us in the long run.

How great that your eldest is finishing! Congratulations to you and your family.

KMB said...

Yes, I really liked TJ book also. It is one of Classical Conversations' suggested reading. Hopefully you can find some like-minded families to fellowship and practice skills your children are learning. I remember WTM was the first book I ever read and it is overwhelming...I set it down, and did a hodge podge w/Classical materials and CM style blended. Enjoy your journey and I'm sure you will tweak things whenever needed...one of the great things about educating at home.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful article! I am dealing with a dilemma and I am hoping maybe you can advise me on that. I live in Belgium and homeschooling is regulated and very much limited by law. You CAN choose to home school, but kids are forced to take the national exams. So "legally" they cannot tell you what to teach your children and what curriculum to choose, but by obliging children to take the national exams (which are based on the public school curriculum) they are actually telling you what the kids should be learning! How can I deal with this? How can I make homeschooling different and benefitial, while I am forced to follow the public school regulations?

Sarah Smith said...

I myself am not very experienced with this, but I am hoping the following resources will help:

-TJEd Discussion group on Facebook: if you join this group, you can use the search feature and will be able to find lots of threads where people were talking about how to deal with testing while homeschooling: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TJEdDiscussion/

-links I found that talk about this: