In homeschooling, as in art-making, the process may be more important than the product.
Following up on an earlier post
about how we came to apply elements of the Reggio Emilia (R.E.) approach to our home learning environment, I wanted to offer a fuller explanation of what the experience was like. I also wanted to share a more extensive bibliography.
Voila! A new post:
Setting the Stage
When you hear “homeschool preschool,” you might think have visions of an orderly micro-classroom. Um, no. Not here. In truth, our “classroom” didn’t look all that different from an ordinary suburban home. From the previous post:
Our living room, kitchen and even the yard became a large, light-filled (chaotic!) “studio.” Art supplies were in easy reach. I took the time to listen to “clues” about what might interest our child and then “built” activities around the interest. We read a lot. We watched PBS Kids.
We also used PBS Kids Go! quite a bit. Which brings me to a a hot topic: technology. From a Melissa & Doug abacus picked up second-hand to state-of-the-art Apple products, technology has played–and will continue to play–a big part in our lives and in our learning endeavors.
Technology with Supervision
Now, that’s something other people may disagree with–the use of the Internet, computers and even the DVR in education–which is fine. To each her own. For me it’s never been the technology that’s “scary” but rather the content. And I can control that. Moreover, in our household, physical activity levels are high, so I can’t see a direct correlation here between obesity and technology.
For what it’s worth, we kept television to a minimum until 18 months and then we went with what a friend calls the “afternoon matinee.” Basically, with a high-energy, active-alert kiddo 24/7, Mom needs a break. Period. (She also needs creative time. Period.) So we selected age-appropriate content for viewing. We’ve seen everything from “Wall-E” to “Nim’s Island” to “Harriet the Spy” to the entire “Spy Kids” series. Looking back, I see that we selected videos that reinforced key ideas we wanted to convey about responsibility, family connections, and the gift of being a very curious human being. Yes, it was something akin to bibliotherapy, which we also did (more on that in a sec). For us, incorporating technology into our curriculum worked well.
Out and About
Moving beyond our four walls, we turned to the zoo, the local natural history museum and parks to compliment/expand/nurture our learning. Our local PBS affiliate has some great outreach programs that we made use of on occasion. In recent months, we’ve used board and card games effectively, hoping to build good sportsmanship skills alongside reading and math development. The games are also helpful in learning that we don’t have to be perfect.
Store-bought workbooks were used on occasion for informal assessment, but overall they played a very minor role in our lives. While workbooks and coloring sheets may work great for some kids, they are too static and one-dimensional for this teacher-student duo. Flash cards got very little use, although we are using them now for math and Spanish. The one box of sight words that we bought was used exactly twice. The second time was when he went through the box and correctly identified 198 of the 200 words at the age of 4–and then we put it in the charity box. (Note that self-taught or “spontaneous” early reading, while not necessarily indicative of later academic prowess, does present some unique challenges and opportunities for early-childhood educators and parents. I will come back to that topic here eventually.)
Books were incredibly important to us then–as now–for both me and the kiddo. Here are a three of my faves: “Slow and Steady Get Me Ready” by June R. Oberlander, “First Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos” by Mary Ann Kohl, and “Homelearning Year by Year” by Rebecca Rupp. For kids under 1–and in addition to the Oberlander book, I’m a huge fan of “The Wonder Weeks” by Hetty Vanderijt and Frans Plooij. [Ed. Two books that I used early on were "In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia" by Lella Gandini and "Working in the Reggio Way" by Julianne Wurm.]
Favorite bibliotherapy books here included most of Pat Thomas’s fantastic “First Look at…” series, “Hi, I’m Ben! And I’ve Got a Secret” by Julie Bouwkamp (re: visible disabilities), and “Listening Time” by Elizabeth Verdick. As our son got older, we discovered that most myths, superheroes and other fixtures of children’s bookstore shelves could be used to stimulate discussion on important topics. One book’s reference to Metallo “whining”–and our kid’s disdain for the comic-book villain–is still useful as a model for what not to do.
As we prepare to move into the “grade school years” of our homeschool experience, I look back on the preschool phase with gratitude. Through trial and error we discovered an approach that works for all the pupils, including the teachers, in this household. There’s no name for what we did–at least not yet–and it might not work for folks who need a more rigorous plan to follow, we found success. By creating the atmosphere, mindfully selecting the content we’d introduce, and setting our sights on nurturing a human rather than teaching a student, we blazed a trail for ourselves to follow. I’m excited to see where we go next!
Pamela Price is an award-winning blogger, writer, editor, and homeschooler in San Antonio, Texas. She attended public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. Pamela can be found on Twitter at @redwhiteandgrew.