We are a family of five with three girls aged 5 years, 3 years, and 6 months who we have decided to home educate.
When I tell people we homeschool I get a lot of questions like, ‘How do you know what to teach them?’, ‘Do they send you the work?’, and ‘How is she liking her lessons?’, which make me think that people don’t really know what homeschooling is all about. Before I knew much about homeschooling myself I thought the name was pretty self explanatory and that homeschooled kids just did ‘school at home’. In reality, most of the time our learning looks nothing like a school day. We take a natural learning approach and so most of what is learned in a day comes about just from our day to day life. So what does a homeschool day look like?
With young children our days look a lot like this:
The girls really enjoy art and we do a LOT of it. There is paper, pencils, crayons, oil pastels, chalk pastels, charcoal, paint, glue, sticky tape, scissors, craft supplies, and play dough always available to them to use whenever inspiration strikes. They are constantly back and forth from the art shelf throughout the day, and I also try to set up an open-ended art activity for them once a day.
Some of our days also look like this:
They learn about the world around them by being in it. We notice changes in our environment and talk about the seasons, we collect things from nature, we spot insects and birds, we learn about looking after plants by tending to our herb garden. There is so much to see and so many questions to answer.
Spotting insects in the back yard has lead to learning about life cycles, habitats, insect anatomy, predators, natural defense mechanisms, and much more…
Learning isn’t divided into subjects as it might be at school, and there is often literacy and numeracy skills being practiced in many different ways. For example, we currently have a small worm compost which the girls are observing. Along with all the learning you would expect from that, there has also been drawing, writing, and even maths (recording the days it takes an apple to decompose using tally marks, predicting how long it would take, calculating how many days are in 6 weeks so she could write her prediction in days).
We also do a lot of this:
We read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction. We look up answers to our questions. We read many stories and sometimes dress up and act them out, or use them to inspire some art. They also love audio books and listening to stories online at Story Box Library.
Everyday ‘chores’ are learning opportunities. When cooking they are learning about measurement, fractions, and time. Even sharing out grapes is maths. This is how my 5 year old first learnt about odd and even numbers!
I am always amazed at the questions they come up with and the things we end up talking about. Just by answering their questions, or if I don’t know the answer then helping them find it, we have learnt much more than I would have thought to teach them at this age. We are often discussing different countries, cultures, and languages, history, biology, technology, religion, and science.
A question about how much a sheet of stickers would cost when we went to the shops sparked a conversation about money, identifying, sorting, and counting the different coins, skip counting, and finding different ways to make up one dollar.
And of course, the most important thing at this age, PLAY! There is a lot of time for imaginary play and free time every day.
And sometimes, it even looks a bit like school. In our home there are always materials available to encourage an interest in literacy and numeracy, and my 5 year old is very interested in both. The difference is we have no set time when it must be done. I have woken at 6am to find her practicing her writing, or let her stay up a little later than usual because she was busy doing maths. We will often find her sitting quietly with a book working on some numbers, skip counting with her abacus, or making numbers with cuisenaire rods. And there are many questions of ‘what does this say?’, ‘how do you spell this?’ and ‘what does this word mean, I heard it in this sentence’. She is free to use what is available whenever she likes, or even not at all. There is no time constraints, schedule, or pressure.
Homeschooling is not always in the home either. We are learning wherever we go. We may be talking about things we see while driving in the car, learning and playing with others at our homeschool group, taking swimming lessons, visiting friends and family, going to the museum, art gallery, or the many other interesting places we have around us. Homeschooling also isn’t done just by the parents. Although we are ultimately responsible for their education, we are also lucky to have very supportive family who enjoy being involved and sharing their interests and abilities with our children.
Our homeschool days are just like your normal family days. We have fun together, we play, we take our time, we ask questions, and the learning just happens naturally. All the ‘work’ is going on behind the scenes. I am observing them to see what they are interested in and how their learning is progressing, thinking of ways I can extend their learning, researching different learning materials, preparing art activities, etc. I am aware of the curriculum and what they would be doing if they were at school so if I feel there is something they should be learning I can easily set up an activity or provide some materials that might spark an interest in that area.
Hopefully, that gives a clearer picture of what a lot of homeschool families actually do. Of course every family is different, but for most of us homeschooling doesn’t mean sitting down to do written school work from 9am-3pm every day. I’m pretty sure kids in school don’t even do that! For us, homeschooling is a whole different lifestyle. We learn through life from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to sleep at night. We are able to explore each child’s interests and learn at whatever pace suits us. Most of all we are having fun and loving learning, which is why we know this style of education is right for our family.