Homeschooling and Libraries

Things I'm thinking about and learning while working with homeschoolers and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 3

Adrienne: How would you describe your homeschooling philosophy? I know, for instance, that faith is an important part of your family's life, but I know, too, that you have strong feelings about academics and the use of literature.

Maureen: Oh gosh, where to start. You know, it's something that evolves over time and I'm not sure how to put it into a nutshell. But I'll try :-).

One's belief system is integral to that person and I don't know how it can be severed from everyday life, much less academics. As a Catholic, I strive to weave our faith into our studies.

I remember when I first began homeschooling, I attended a talk by Fr. John Hardon. Father, bless his soul, was an academic and prolific author. In his talk, he stated if all we teach our children is to love God and the world He created, then we can consider ourselves successful as homeschoolers. At first I was scandalized, but then Fr. Hardon went on. He explained that children who truly love God will want to know more about this world we live in. History, science, math, music, art – all gifts from God.

We are made in God's image. Let's think about that for a moment. What does God do? He creates. He created us and the earth. Therefore, it is only natural that we have a desire to create. It feels good to create, to learn, to explore, to discover. I try, as a parent and homeschooler, to take advantage of these natural tendencies in my children.

It's important to me to keep "school" fun and interesting. It shouldn't be a bore or drudgery. I don't mean that it shouldn't be hard work. But, if we know there will be great fruits for our work, it's not really drudgery is it? I try to focus myself and the children on the outcome. And, yes, admittedly, there are times when my children aren't entirely excited about learning. However, by keeping focused on the children's natural sense of wonder and discovery, those down times are few.

I do this several ways. One, I let them have a say in their studies. I have the final say, but I consult them when I plan out the school year. If a child comes to me and tells me his or her current course of study isn't going anywhere, then we'll work together to find an alternative.

Something else that works well for us is focusing on "real books." Oh, we do use the occasional textbook, but they are in no way central to our learning. My experience has been textbooks and fill-in-the-blank workbooks are often formulaic, rather than thought provoking. They can take the life out right of the story, bringing it down to bare bones.

Let's look at history for an example. History is story. It's the story of mankind from creation to today. Why not share it as story? Which will excite a child? Which will remain with the child for years to come? A list of bare facts? Or, an exciting biography or historical fiction?

Real books, used correctly, can awaken a child's imagination through their God-given curiosity, and sense of awe, in a way that's enjoyable. They take education our of the classroom and into the child's everyday life. Shouldn't that be our goal as educators – to take education out of school and into the world?

Finally, I work to learn alongside the children. How can I expect them to find joy in education, if they don't see it in me? I let them see my joy in discovering new things. For example, I keep about a month ahead of them in our history studies. When they were studying the High Middle Ages, I was reading about the Renaissance. They saw me curled up on the sofa, sipping tea, reading about history. They saw me put down my book now and then and discuss an exciting tidbit with my husband. Emotions are contagious!

So, I guess the nutshell version is: We look for God's hand in our studies, use real books, and find joy in learning.


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