Remembering the early elementary years (and the development of an education philosophy)

In my homeschool post on organizing someone asked why I keep records. I responded to that question in comments, but the short of it is I am a record keeper and recorder of our family story. It's just what I do. It's one of the main reasons I blog actually.

I write down the things my kids are learning for the same reason I take photos every day of our life, so I remember.

One of the pleasures of keeping records and taking photos is the reminiscing they allow.

When I was writing that tome on homeschool organization (which I wrote mostly to have as a reference piece for homeschool coaching purposes and support for other homeschoolers) I did some snooping around in my old digital files. I wanted to see just what what was in there.

This is one of the things I found.

Reflections for School Year Sept 2006 - August 2007 for Portfolio Review

Tuesday, May 29 2007 (3/4 of "school year" done)

It is very hard to sit down and do a review of our "school year" on such a beautiful spring day. We live by the seasons, and this is definitely an outside day!

We had a fantastic camping trip this weekend that in many ways was a metaphor of Celine's growth & learning.

Our weekend was about family togetherness, enjoying each other and the beauty of creation. We challenged ourselves physically and pushed some of our limits (especially the childrens') by hiking a mountain. We took off watches and followed our own natural rhythms.

Likewise, in our "regular" life we function as team of which Celine is truly an important part. Daily life presents opportunities and challenges that must be figured out and overcome. Celine's learning is inextricably linked to these realities. And it is within this navigating of family life that Celine is challenged to grow and learn and given the freedom to pursue those things that interest her.

Her interests presently include: creative dance, horses, reading of all kinds especially historical fiction, using math to solve problems, gardening and flowers, sewing and fabric/textile creations, outdoor activity and general imaginative and creative play.

Some of the ways we facilitate Celine's daily learning are through:

  • lots and lots of books of all kinds: reference, non-fiction stories, fiction. She is a prolific reader and we read aloud as a family.
  • other reference material, the Internet, audio and visual media
  • conversations and discussions throughout the day. Mealtimes shared 3 times daily, especially, involve an unexpected amount of math problem solving.
  • lots of outdoor exploration, fresh air & sunshine: home, farm, hiking
  • dance lessons
  • access to creative materials - usual craft cupboard stuff, fabrics and tools.
  • curriculum & course materials: Math U See, Getty Dubay Italics handwriting, misc. science experiment and activity books
  • musical concerts, theatre and general community involvement
  • travel & family adventures

As Celine's parent, and her biggest fan, I am pleased with the progress we've made recently in math and writing. Earlier this school year Celine was having difficulty writing, both the mechanics and the content. After differentiating these 2 parts of writing we decided to work on her handwriting skills so she could more easily and effectively communicate. The Getty Dubay practice has been enjoyable and has resulted in a greater ease of writing for her and less reluctance. Celine is now better able to express her thoughts through writing.

Celine loves math and her math education has been in the context of everyday problem solving. Therefore it is all relevant and useful. A few months ago she expressed interest in learning more math so we bought a curriculum to help with this. Since using Math U See principles (not the program's pace or pattern as of yet) her basic computation skills have greatly increased and I've gained more confidence in explaining the how to do math.

This has been a wonderful year growing as a family and watching Celine grow as an individual. It's a honor to be called her mother and to share in this journey with her.

I wrote that six and half years ago. Celine had just turned eight. The details are different these days but the heart is still the same.

I've been cleaning up some old posts at FIMBY, getting ready to launch my homeschool help resources page, and I came across this one.

I wrote that post the fall after writing those reflections I shared above. In that post, I talk about how I shifted that year from an un-directed, interest-led learning into a more intentional, interest-led learning environment, with help from some Charlotte Mason-inspired methods. I explain the process of starting to develop our own curriculum.

This was a significant juncture in our homeschool journey, and one of the notable milestones in the formation of our family's education philosophy.

There have been a few significant influences to our homeschool philosophy and practice over the years.

John Holt started it all when I read his work in university, about eighteen years ago. I don't remember if it was Learning All The Time or How Children Learn, or both. I can't remember the exact words anymore and the books aren't in my personal library (I'm sure I just borrowed them at the time), but those ideas started me on the path of freedom education.

In the early elementary years, on the recommendation of a good friend, I read the Charlotte Mason Companion. That book helped provide some needed structure. I made some tweaks at that point, which I talk about in this post, which held me in good stead for a few years.

Then, the talented writer Jamie Martin, my editor for a couple years at Simple Homeschool, put into my hands (literally, she ordered the book for me and sent it as a gift) Leadership Education. And shazam it all fit together - how to build freedom and structure in our home, the different stages of learning, and the purpose for it all.

(I've never read any Waldorf philosophy books but so much of our early years lined up with what I've seen of Waldorf in action, especially the emphasis on nature and seasonal rhythms.)

Of course, I've read other homeschooling books and am confident recommending other resources to parents. I'm working on compiling a list of the most helpful books I've read over the years to include with my other homeschool help resources.

The books I mention in this post were very instrumental in our journey, largely I believe because of timing. They were the right resources at the right time.  

I didn't go into homeschooling having it all planned out. We were committed to homeschooling through high school but I had very little clue about how that would actually unfold. I knew it could. I saw other people do it, I just wasn't sure how we'd do it. 

I still haven't written down my complete philosophy of learning, and I don't know that I ever will. There are bits and pieces of it all over this blog and in our learning binders and that's good enough for me, for now.

It's fun to look back over the years and see the path we've taken. And to be at a place where I have some confidence in that, even though I still tremble from time to time with all that I don't and can't know about the future.

But the unknown future is not the most important thing, and neither is the past, as much as I like to reminisce and look back to see how all the dots connect.

Today is what's important. That I do the best with the knowledge and resources I have. That I am open to new ideas but grounded in core values. That I love learning myself and build an environment and routines that support that in our home.

Just remember, it's not a whole lot more complicated than that, except when we make it complicated.

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  • Dianna

    Dianna on Oct. 24, 2013, 1:48 p.m.

    Oh how I love this post...and applaude you, Renee, for your approach to homeschooling.  Our son homeschools our two granddaughters and he has much the same approach as you.  And no matter where they happen to be at any given moment they are learning because he leads them in adventures.

    I loved reading about Celine at the age of 8.  Our youngest granddaughter had the same two problems...writing and math.  Her dad changed math curriculums from what he had previously used to Math U See and WHAMO!  That is exactly what she needed...the light clicked on and she LOVES math!  He changed the writing also...I'm not sure what he started using and that has also made a tremendous difference for her.  She is forever writing stories, making her own little newspapers, etc.  And she will be 8 in about a week!

    I find your blog SO refreshing.  I love to find parents who enjoy being parents.  I know...sounds kind of strange.  I mean why would you have kids if you didn't want to be a parent?  But so many are parents and don't get the concept of their responsibilities.  

    Great big hugs to you, my friend!  I'm cheering you on! 


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 24, 2013, 1:58 p.m.

      Thank you Dianna. In this post I had actually written more in the last section about how much I love being with my kids and then I took it out because I don't want to sound like an overbearing sappy mother and I say it so often on the blog! But it's the truth. I love being with my family and I love being a mother (even though it's hard some days). And that is one of the motivations behind homeschooling - is to share these years together. Maybe that's selfish of me? (smile)

      Isn't it wonderful to watch children learn? It inspires me. My children teach me so much about how to learn and be open to life. I never want to stop learning from them.


  • Leslie

    Leslie on Oct. 25, 2013, 12:34 a.m.

    We just started homeschooling our 7 and 5.5 year old (with a 2 year old along for the ride at this point), and I've used a lot of your posts as starting points for how to organize and plan our days and our longer-term goals. The learning is going well academically right now, but I'm worried about our daughter (the 7 year old). She seems to really desire friends, but we move a lot, and parents of homeschooling or school-going kids seem so busy and preoccupied that it's been easy to meet people but not to get to know them, and I think we are all a bit lonely. It's been a little stressful.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 25, 2013, 2:07 a.m.

      I hear you. Finding and making friends is hard work. I really understand this. Keep working and give it time. We've been in our "new" community for 2 years and just this fall are finally feeling quite connected. This has been a learning experience for our whole family and I think our kids have learned a lot about how to make connections and reach out, skills that will help them for their lifetime. I know loneliness can be anxiety causing, try not to let it be. Recognize it for what it is and say, "we're going to keep working at this".


    • Alaina

      Alaina on Oct. 25, 2013, 5:01 p.m.

      I am in a very, very similar situation in a lot of ways.  Sometimes I get SO frustrated that all people in general are so BUSY and especially don't seem to (in general) take time to get to know new people- either us as a family or as individuals.  It is harder on kids as they don't have the maturity to really understand as much as an adult eg. why the move, why did we have to leave friends, etc.  The stress coming from loneliness is definitely tough.  Personally we manage through continuing to try to reach out (without any expectations since they are often disappointed) and lots and lots of family time and investing in our family (meaning our own family under our roof).  That seems to help some, but not solve the issue.  


  • Michelle

    Michelle on Oct. 25, 2013, 1:14 a.m.

    It is so fun to read your posts.  Will the new format include dates?  As a new reader reading old posts, sometimes I wonder when they were written.


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 25, 2013, 1:44 a.m.

      Every post on my blog is dated. The date is currently displayed on the bottom left corner of the individual posts. You don't see it on the main page but if you click through to an individual post (which all links do) you'll see the date. I wonder the same thing about other blogs and always like to locate a date to give me a point of reference.


  • Nina

    Nina on Oct. 25, 2013, 2:05 a.m.

    As always Renee, I appreciate your posts as food for thought on how to inspire and support my daughter beyond her public school education. She is almost ten and is starting to be able to have more thoughtful conversations with us about her interests. Your references and the ideas you share from your homeschooling routines are always helpful as I try to motivate her to 'think' just a little bit broader than what is expected of her at school. You know, those often ignored but sometimes embraced books strategically placed on the coffee table :).

    (I'm going to check out the Getty handwriting series  you mentioned and have mentioned before because what my girl is bringing home from fourth grade that is supposed to be instructing her on penmanship shows how low a priority it is in the current state of NYS public education. I'm afraid she will never learn how to sign her name!)


    • Kika

      Kika on Oct. 26, 2013, 3:02 p.m.

      My son was homeschooled K to grade 10 and is a poor speller and has poor penmanship. He types with speed and accuracy -and is a great writer- and this suits him well. Anyways, people are individuals and it isn't always a case of "the system" failing them. (Whether that be public school or homeschool) just that we all have different strengths and weaknesses. 


      • renee

        renee on Oct. 26, 2013, 3:20 p.m.

        I totally agree Kika. My kids who have had essentially the same penmanship education have different handwriting abilities (taking into account their age.)

        Celine, who likes to be perfect the first time, has beautiful writing. Laurent, who likes to make everything into a work of art has quirky handwriting. And Brienne, well, I actually stopped penmanship with her as I saw her using the iPad more and also she is "the writer" of my kids and doesn't really need as much practice. 

        And I can already tell which of my kids will probably always struggle with spelling and like you say, I don't think that's a failure of the system, in this case homeschooling, though we haven't done it all perfect and I could probably drill more but at what cost? I'm not sure the benefits - perfect spelling - outweigh the costs - the time and energy it would take away from other things that really do matter to my son, like drawing and other studies.

        Just like you say, we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

        All that to say, I agree that when our kids aren't strong in some academic or schoolish area it doesn't mean we have failed or the school has failed. It might just mean they are not very good in that. (smile).


        • Nina

          Nina on Oct. 26, 2013, 8:43 p.m.

          I also agree that the student matters, although in this case it is our system. NYS has implemented the Common Core, and ELA and Math curriculum, state testing and of course, standards have changed. Teachers are struggling to learn how to teach the new standards. Testing matters very much, and ELA and Math scores are a reflection of the teacher, district, and depending who you are, the student. The basic work of penmanship is a non- priority as teachers  implement and students learn the new standards, which for many, unless you were a kindergartener or brand new teacher last year, happened in mid stream.


        • Cynthia

          Cynthia on Nov. 9, 2013, 2:56 a.m.

          Hi there, I enjoy reading through your article post. I like to write a little comment to support you.


  • Alaina

    Alaina on Oct. 25, 2013, 5:05 p.m.

    I love this post.  I really like posts that I can see how you have "been there, done that" (meaning you no longer have those young elementary children) and I can apply to my own life.  I love how confidently you share these things because it helps me be more confident. Thanks!


  • Sara Downes

    Sara Downes on Oct. 27, 2013, 2:08 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    Thank you for the post. My children at the moment are still in public education ( sometimes it slips and I say stuck in public education), they do okay in school, but have struggles, and I fear for them that there is really no connection to their learning. That they are learning just because they have too. The testing they have to perform and the dreaded response from teachers "there not meeting grade level". What happen to meeting children where they were at, letting kids be kids, and teaching them how to love to learn? 

    My daughter is in third grade my son is in seventh and sometimes I think it's to late. I dream for them to be in a different education system, we have many emergent based curriculmn private schools and I know homeschooling is a choice, but cost and the overwhelming decision making freezes me in my spot. I run a family child care program in my home and am currently in school myself. I go to a progressive college where we design our own studies and I am loving it. I want that for them.

    So my question for you is, how did you make the decision, how did you prepare, and do you think it's to late for me?




    • Kelly Ehrman

      Kelly Ehrman on Oct. 27, 2013, 9:10 p.m.

      Sara, I just feel compelled to jump in and say I absolutely don't think it's "too late" to make whatever decision feels right for your family right now!  One of my favorite quotes is from Geothe: "Nothing is more important than this day."  I think if your heart feels clear about a decision, your mind can follow and figure out all the logistics next - and there are many ways that we make things work as homeschoolers (even when both parents work, etc.)  Take care - Kelly


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 27, 2013, 10:08 p.m.

      Sara, I agree with Kelly - there is no time like the present to do the things you want to do. I don't believe in "too late". 

      If decision making freezes you take one step at a time. You do not have to have it all figured out prior to jumping ship from the educational system you find yourself in currently. You can learn it together, with your children, one day at a time. Really. You have the experience, as a student using this type of learning yourself (how fabulous!) You can be the model. I absolutely believe this. 

      As for your other questions... We decided to homeschool before our babes were born so we never entered the system and therefore I didn't need to pull out from it. I prepared little by little through the years but mostly I just learned what I needed to know as I needed to know it. In other words, figure out what you need for where your kids are at. You don't have to understand all learning philosophies, know all the curriculum options. Start with, "what are you interested in?" and go from there. And if your kids aren't interested in anything you may need to deschool. Which doesn't mean you'll be unschoolers, necessarily (unless you want that) but you might need a detox time from the philosophies and routines of compulsory schooling (which is not the same as becoming educated). Google books on de-schooling. 

      There are so many books and resources for homeschooling. I say that not to overwhelm you but to encourage you that wherever you are and whatever your needs are I bet there is a resource out there to help you. Also, find your local homeschooling group. Homeschoolers like to help other homeschoolers. 

      I offer one and one homeschool coaching but am currently taking a break while I focus on other work. I do have a homeschool resource page here. From that page you can find pages and pages of resources with book recommendations etc.


  • Kelly Ehrman

    Kelly Ehrman on Oct. 27, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

    Renee, what a wonderful post, I just love reading about your early years and how you work with each of your children as individuals and as part of a connected family.  :)


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