Today’s guest blogger, Tracy Stevens, is a former high school Spanish teacher who infrequently gave project-based homework to her students. She wrote here last year about her son’s difficult experience in first grade in a public school and her decision to have him repeat the year at a Waldorf school. This year, she decided to homeschool her two boys, and today she writes about that experience. You can also follow her on her blog, abettereducation, which is full of interesting interviews (including one with Daniel Pink) as well as reports on her experiences with homeschooling.
Experiences in Homeschooling
by Tracy Stevens
I got laid off in July of this year and after not finding any jobs that could keep our two kids in private school, I decided to homeschool. My older son is 8 and he did first grade at a public school two years ago. It was a very difficult year as he, one of the youngest boys in the class, struggled to learn to read at the pace they set for him. To “help” him learn to read, they kept him from recess to do more worksheets. This was in addition to the tutoring and the ridiculous load of homework.
So we decided to repeat fist grade, but this time in a private Waldorf school. The year went much better. There was no homework, plenty of art and nature, and the expectations of reading come much later in a Waldorf school.
I knew when I lost the ability to pay for a Waldorf education that he would be even worse off in a public school than the previous year, because now we were on the Waldorf reading schedule, making him even further behind the public school reading demands. This lead to my decision to homeschool my four and eight year old sons this year and surprisingly it has been an outstanding experience so far.
I take an eclectic approach, with influences from Waldorf and Democratic schools. We work on reading through art, stories, and manipulatives like magnet letters, in addition to old fashioned paper and pencil. We do math
mostly through stories and hands on (like cooking and measuring), but with addition and subtraction as well. Not only has my older son’s literacy progressed fantastically this year, we have balance. We study a country each month, including food, movies, books, artists, and customs, including any field trips I can think of that go with that country. This month is Spain and Picasso. We learn about and celebrate holidays as they come up, doing arts and crafts according to the season. We have a character theme of the month – this month’s theme is compassion, so we have studied Mother Teresa and we will see the play “The Ugly Duckling” in addition to the many other stories and movies we have covered on that subject so far. We also do a science experiment every day and a community service project once a week. When they become fascinated by ladybugs or frogs or kangaroos in our experiences, we get books on those subjects.
This has been a great experience for our family in many ways. The pace of our lives has slowed to not only manageable but enjoyable. We have time to play games, ride bikes, and fly kites. We are not always in the car doing drop offs and pick ups. We are not scrambling for childcare on the myriad days off. Because we are all studying what we are curious about, there is genuine attention and interest – even njoyment! The one-on-one attention has been a balm for my kids, especially in a school district that caps the classroom capacity at 35 kids. I can customize the learning experience each day for them, based on what their proficiency and interest is.
We have all learned a lot this year and have never felt closer to each other and more involved with our community. You can read about our experiences all year at abettereducation.