Togas in the Backyard

Dorothy GillI must confess: I’m not a particularly energetic, clever or imaginative homeschooler. I just have attitude. 

And while I’ve been at this for over 20 years, like the Velveteen Rabbit, I sometimes sit still in the bracken of stacked teacher’s manuals and hope that the other homeschool moms won’t notice.  As they hop sideways, on their hind legs and whirl round and dance, I am longing to join them, but am keenly aware of my lack of artistic legs.   So while scope and sequence recommendations and Common Core standards do not intimidate me, I have always longed for the creative flair.   

Above all, teaching history requires imagination.  While I generally detest for-classroom text books with their “read the chapter, answer the questions approach,” left to my own devices I can never seem to fully launch into the “living history” method that homeschooled kids love.

This is where belonging to a homeschool support group really pays off.  With all sorts of talented homeschoolers —   left-brain, right brain, and menopause brain — you are sure to find people who will complement your strengths, compensate for your deficiencies and create magic for your students. 

Ancient History assignments had my kids merrily creating maps, time-lines, poetry, vocabulary or costumes for the Big Day. We recited the bloody portions of “Horatius at the Bridge” (did I mention I have only boys?) 

Birthed in the crucible of necessity, the modern homeschool co-op harnesses this diversity (sorry, I usually avoid this word)  and yields a blend of arts & crafts, literature, research, home-ec,  drama, composition and public speaking — all rolled into performance art.  They don’t teach history to your kids, they invite them to discover history.

I experienced textbook-free, blended-age learning in an Ancient History co-op with families from Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, Oregon. My first clue that I was onto something special was my kids asking, “When do we get to go to co-op?”  They were actually begging to do history!  Soon, they became the enforcers of the schedule, hounding me for assistance as they prepared for the Big Day each week. The younger kids would listen to stories read out loud and maybe draw a picture while the older ones would work on reading a novel or encyclopedia article.  Their Ancient History assignments had them merrily creating maps, time-lines, poetry, vocabulary or costumes for the Big Day.

My math brain boggled at the cornucopia of offerings: carpentry, cooking, plays, painting, pottery, sewing, singing, sculpture, science, weapon making, architecture and games.   No one mom could hope to teach such a series of classes, and not collapse in exhaustion.  And yet, joined together, the burden was light as our kids experienced a culture distant in both time and space in a way that no text book could compete with.  It was memory-making magic.

pax1CONSTRUCTING CATAPULTS AND ARMOR TO DEFEND ROME FROM THE BARBARIANS: An Ancient History co-op in Portland, Oregon.

In studying Ancient Rome, we examined the five century development of the Republic and worked through the Pax Romana.   But instead of only reading, we immersed ourselves. Tarquin brutally ruled over all in the household chores one day, which led to Brutus leading his overthrow, and the tension between the patricians and plebeians which led to a workers strike and no dishes getting done until terms of tribune representation were agreed upon.  We recited the bloody portions of “Horatius at the Bridge” (did I mention I have only boys?)  and constructed catapults and armor.

When our Ancient History adventure was over, we celebrated. The dads joined in, all of us wearing bed-sheet togas and declaiming in simple Latin.   We reclined in the backyard at our plywood table and guzzled grape juice “wine” from goblets as we were served by “slaves.”   We ate with our fingers off a common platter, dipping figs in honey and bread in olive oil.  

We will never forget these lessons and memories that our co-op adventures have brought us.  And while my legs remain as inartistic as ever, to my kids I am a dancing real homeschool mom.

The dads joined in, all of us wearing bed-sheet togas and declaiming in simple Latin.   We reclined in the backyard at our plywood table and guzzled grape juice “wine” from goblets as we were served by “slaves.”

pax2pax3ROMAN ‘SLAVES’ PREPARING FOR A BACKYARD FEAST: AnAncient History homeschooling co-op by parishioners at Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, Oregon culminated in a ‘feast’ for all who taught their kids about the legacy of ancient Rome.

 

by Dorothy Gill

The Homeschooling Goddess

Can You Homeschool?

by Dorothy Gill

You have no clue what it’s all about, or what a real homeschooling family actually looks like, but you’re pretty sure that they’re a strange breed of survivalist apocalypse- types who live off the grid behind their ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

After all, what else could possibly possess a family to say “no, thank you” to a free education provided just down the street, and instead take on the full-time responsibility of teaching their own kids — if it wasn’t for their paranoid anti-social tendencies?

You might be surprised to learn that the most frequently-cited priority of families who take this road less traveled is the happiness of their children.  I’m betting that you can relate to that one, so here’s a look at the top three myths about the whole homeschooling phenomenon.

MYTH #1: What about socialization?

If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  Or you have met them but did not realize it, because you were looking in vain for those rumored telltale socially-awkward clues.

As it happens, kids who do not spend the majority of their waking hours in the exclusive company of their peers end up being perfectly comfortable relating to and spending time with people of all ages.  (This is similar to what they will encounter in the real working world, after all, so you can rest assured that your kids will be well-prepared to take their place in adult society.)

If in fact you did notice anything unusual, it might be that you were surprised by the child’s polite, unaffected manner. Chances are you were greeted by name while being looked in the eye and offered a hand to shake — all from a smiling face that didn’t seem to hold you in any particular contempt for your adulthood.

Frequently, homeschooled kids’ self-confidence is not as vulnerable to pressure from their peers, and therefore they may well be more individual in expressing their style. This self-expression might manifest itself as anything from geek to fashionista, though chances are it will not mirror what you’d see on the local school grounds.

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 If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  

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You may also notice that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. This is because being able to use their time more efficiently, having access to home-cooked nutrition three times a day, adjusting their study schedule to accommodate their sleep needs, and the absence of the daily social ostracism, cliques and bullying which are huge sources of stress in the life of ordinary teens actually ‘dials down’ the usual teenage surliness.

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You may also have noticed that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. 

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MYTH#2: Most people are not capable of homeschooling their children

If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to homeschool, there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: “Got kids?”  If you do, then you qualify. 

In fact, the education of children in the home, by their parents, in the company of their differently aged siblings, is the most natural environment for learning. 

There is no automatic barrier that materializes in the mind of a child at the age of 5 or 6 that renders void the parent’s heretofore competence in directing the child’s discovery of her universe.  And there is no ingredient more important in the education of children than love.  In this, a parent is more qualified than any credentialed stranger can ever be. 

By virtue of your vocation as a parent, you are already endowed with everything you need to successfully homeschool your children.

MYTH#3: Homeschooling means re-creating ‘school’ at home

‘Home education’ is a much better description of this work than ‘homeschooling.’  This is because schools are where you load a room up with same-aged children sitting at desks and attempt to teach them all the same thing at the same time. This requires text books that are designed to facilitate 45 minute instruction segments, punctuated by a bell.

There is no need to replicate this dubious environment at home.  With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.   And your local library, community center, the internet and the dozens of online curriculum providers will provide as much or as little assistance as you could possibly need. This approach accommodates any budget, and allows you to custom-tailor your approach to each child’s needs.

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 With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.

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So, have the courage of your convictions. Turn off the TV and video games, harness your kids’ creativity, direct their natural curiosity and let the learning begin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dorothy Gill is the mother of four sons, ages 11 to 26 and she has been homeschooling since 1992.  She is active in her parish  and lives in Vancouver, Washington with her husband and three of her four sons.