Some of the neatest people I’ve ever met are under four feet tall.
Watching a small person discover the world, and helping to expand their access to that world, is a very exciting thing. I can’t imagine not having every day with my littles, and I’m very grateful we’ve been given the opportunity to learn at home, all together. As I’ve mentioned before, “home education” looks radically different from family to family, and I’m not out to convince anyone that the way we handle things (or don’t handle things) is the One True Way, because it isn’t. Home education is personalized, and should be tailored to the family.
But if our particular style of beauty looks comfortable to you, please feel free to swipe, adapt, or re-use any idea in your own home! It boils down to what I’d describe as semi-detached awareness parenting, so even if you’re not currently homeschooling, a lot of the ideas will translate right over into a family culture where the parents and children are all fully engaged in the household relationships, and are interested in one another.
There are some basic educational philosophies that I really admire. They form a foundation for how we approach learning here at home. If you’ve wanting to explore a bit, here are a few schools of thought that can inspire you. I’m 100% in favor of blending styles! These tend to be highly-blendable. Orthodoxy is not required in homeschooling. There are truths to experience in virtually any method, and no one method is best for everyone.
Charlotte Mason: I am particularly fond of Mason’s focus on “twaddle-free” resources for education, and in giving small children meaningful things to do. She focuses on developing positive habits and systems, rather than rote memorization or regimen. You’ll find some great resources at Ambleside On-Line.
Maria Montessori: Mason and Montessori could nestle side-by-side very neatly. Montessori environments have a multitude of child-sized, working tools, and the overall attitude expects that even quite small children want to learn useful things, and do well. Early education focuses on the development of life skills and learning through mentoring and play. The children are given charge of keeping their things tidy and in good order (with adult help as needed), and taught skills at ages most today won’t see as normal: folding cloths and “doing laundry” in toddlerhood, using a (sharp) knife for cutting foods at age 4 or so, learning to knit at 5. Yes, small ones can do this stuff! The gross and fine motor skills involved also wire their brains for complex academic thought later, too.
Rudolf Steiner/Waldorf Philosophy: while I don’t agree entirely with the secular humanist aspects of his philosophies, I adore the wonder and excitement and exploration of nature. As a Christian, I do believe we have an obligation to be excellent stewards of God’s creation. Though Steiner does not discuss God as the creator, his philosophies present the concept of stewardship very nicely, and encourage living with awareness and deliberation, and delight!
What’s interesting about Mason, Montessori, and Steiner is that all three developed educational programs for public schools, not home schools. They were recreating a healthy “home” environment for young learners from poor backgrounds. Therefore, the concepts are particularly easy to slide into an already-engaged, loving, healthy home life! All three philosophies can be done as expensively or inexpensively as you like, too.
My Mom: my mother is one of the most interested-in-things people I know. She anticipates that everyone wants to know and do nifty stuff. She also recognized that her finished “product” as a parent was not a child: she was raising adults, not children. She allowed us to participate in the daily running of the household, which was initially against her nature (she likes to do things “just so”)…. but having a whacking great stack of us in a short time broke down her resistance, and she realized she would never, ever get to sit outside in the grass and play with the toy trucks if she didn’t get us all involved in the household, and trained properly. I was my mother’s Minion, and I am ever so grateful! My mother does not, however, have a website or training courses.
Learning is not isolated from living. We do not learn to write merely to fill out worksheets (that would be twaddle-full activity, and we’re aiming for purposeful, twaddle-free learning!) We learn to write so we can express ourselves and share ourselves with those we love, and the world! Writing a letter to Grandma, or to a cousin, or a love-note to Daddy or a sibling, or an opinion letter to the local newspaper, or a book review on-line, has meaning and purpose, as well as giving a great practice opportunity.
Learning does not necessarily involve sitting still. Much learning can be done while wiggling, walking, rolling, laying upside down on the couch, or while swinging from a tree limb. Math facts learned while jumping up and down near the kitchen counter are just as learned as those drilled with worksheets at the table.
Learning may not look a lot like school. The child who accompanies Momma to the post office, and looks at all the stamps, and the maps, and has conversations with strangers about the interesting places a package might go, is learning about geography and the world just as surely as a child holed up drilling place names… and in my opinion, the child out and about, experiencing life in real, applicable ways, is going to be more enriched, and more engaged. The child who mounts a backyard expedition for exiting nature discoveries, and lines them up on her windowsill to admire for a week, is “doing school”, one-hundred-percent, with her whole heart and mind.
Learning can happen at any time, day or night. Discussing “how our bodies get well” to soothe an ear-achey child in the middle of the night is part of learning, just as much as learning to sing an anatomically-correct “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” at noon. We can discuss character issues and spiritual development just as well at breakfast as we can in a formal “ethics” course with workbooks and tests (and the lessons will generally sink in better through daily ethical living, rather than through a textbook!)
There is no way to separate learning from life. Home education gives us the ultimate shot of raising individuals who have passion and a solid foundation. No matter the over-arching philosophy you prefer, you can find some great resources to inspire and direct you.