Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Home Schooling Week: Vocabulary and a Bit of my Educational Philosphy

I know there has been a lot more absence than here lately.
I'm missing it too, but life has been getting in the way.
That happens sometimes and I'm rolling with it.
Thanks for rolling along with me.

Now, vocabulary.
I know, it's an odd place to start.
But I have been thinking about this quite a bit and it actually makes a lot of sense.
The way I teach vocabulary sort of sums up a large part of my educational philosophy.
An educational philosophy that has changed greatly in the past 10 years.
And I do mean greatly.

Before I had kids I was a high school teacher.  I went through credential school and taught for 5 years.  I loved it.  But much of what I was taught and what I was expected to do in my classroom, I now think about with some sadness.  Much of it was formulaic, forced and manipulated.  Often I was filling time or preparing for tests.
Of course, I was working within the confines of 35 students for 50 minutes a day and a curriculum that I had to get through.  I was working with struggling readers whose favorite book in the 9th grade was still The Cat in The Hat.  There was only so much I could do.

Even 3 years ago, when James was 3, I loaded up on the little workbooks in the dollar section at Target, sure that he was ready to learn! 
He was beyond uninterested.
I realized then that I was trying to give him the exact thing I was trying to avoid by choosing to home school.  I had fallen into the trap of doing what I was "supposed" to do.  And I realized afresh how much more I wanted for my own children.  More than just what some officials writing state standards and curriculum told us to do.
And that was when things began to change.

Over the past 3 years I have learned that the best way to teach my children is to know them.  To know what they love, what motivates them, what interests and excites them and how they learn best.  I study my children the way some teachers study their teachers' guides.
My children are my teacher's guides.

What I have discovered is that most of our learning takes place as we live our lives.
It isn't when we sit around the kitchen table and "do school".
Some of it happens there yes, but the vast majority of it happens in a much more natural way.

It goes something like this:
James is carrying his dishes to the sink.
I say, "wow, James, that looks precarious."

James, "what does precarious mean?"

I explain.
He grins.
He understands.

And the next morning he and William are carrying their dishes to the sink, carefully balancing a wobbly stack, and they both ask, "Mom, is this precarious?"

If it ended there it would be a cute story but not much else.
But it doesn't.
They take the word as their own.  
Weeks later they are building a tower with blocks.  William says of his tall stack, "James, look at how precarious this is."

It didn't take a word wall, crossword puzzles, tests or word searches.
It just takes seizing the moment and seeing that almost every thing in life provides an opportunity to learn.

The other way we learn vocabulary is by reading lots and lots of good books.  When we're reading The Little House books, and they want to know what the big slough is, I explain.  And when they hear the word slough again in Pilgrims Progress, William says, "I know slough!"  
And when we're driving by the wetlands and James says, "this is kind of like a slough, isn't it?  Except I think this has more water in it."
The taking on of new words as their own happens naturally as we read books that they love.  

Yesterday when we were reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin.
"What's a gale?"
"Can you figure it out?"
He thinks for a minute, "like a big wind?"

This is the way they wanted us to teach vocabulary when I was in credential school, but it was very hard to do given the confines I was working with.
But now I have a classroom of 3 and a lot more freedom to teach the way I see best.
And let me tell you, it is so much fun!

And no, I am not an unschooler (although they aren't as crazy as I used to think) we do follow some curriculum, but I am not going to talk about that yet.
Next up is music.
Stay tuned.
Love from,


Lisa H said...

I love this post! I totally agree with what you said about learning happening during life and not necessarily while we're 'doing school'. That is exactly what we have discovered in our home. And I wouldn't have it any other way! :)

Jackie cook said...

This blog actually made my heart ache. Not from sadness but from the beauty of it. Greta, you are an extraordinary woman who, I'm sure, is raising extraordinary children. I admire you soooo much!

Jenny said...

Oh, Greta! Thanks for sharing your journey here. I get it so completely. On one hand I have worked in public education for 11 years, on the other hand, I discovered Charlotte Mason when I was about 21 and still can't get over the excitement. The two are not very compatible, but I walk the line!

Tammy Callis said...

Love this Greta! Glad you are back to writing, I've missed your posts.

Anonymous said...

Rock on Greta! Your kids are so fortunate to have you as their own...especially in this precarious time in public education! (Ashley)