By Nancy Lande

My husband and I watched our older two children gradually lose their spark for learning after attending public school for several years. I had spent a great deal of time and worked hard within the school system to establish programs and to effect change. While there were some small changes made, the major improvements we sought for our children would take years at best, and we needed immediate changes. But it's one thing to be unhappy with a situation and quite another to create an alternative.

That summer we heard a lecture by a well-known advocate for home education. Everything he discussed about education rang true and we realized then that homeschooling was the answer for the changes we urgently sought. But, since this idea was so new to us, we wondered how we would find the resources, skills and courage to get started in homeschooling by fall.

We rushed out and bought books about homeschooling, sent for newsletters, found Mary Pride's Big Book of Home Learning resource guides and met with other homeschooling parents, hastening to find out how to go about this enterprise of homeschooling.

While the homeschooling parents we contacted were very generous with their time and support and readily showed us their resources, we just couldn't pull the various pieces of information together and visualize what it actually looked like or felt like to homeschool. I knew that curriculum alone wouldn't produce good teaching or good learning and I wanted to comprehend how the whole process of learning becomes so much more than just the sum of its parts. It seemed especially important to be able to see other homeschooling families in action--to be able to sit in and observe how they do it. But, lacking the opportunity to be "a fly on the wall" in their homes, we made our decision to homeschool based on our trust that this would be the right thing to do to help our children.

Our first year of homeschooling was one of trial and error, wonderful and wasted purchases, changes in styles and routines, too many group activities, and the growing happiness of our family. We wondered if we had to do what the schools did and do it better. Or could we do something that had no resemblance to "school"? We wondered if we were doing too much, or was it too little? Did we have the energy that homeschooling required? Were we doing it "right"? Would we measure up? We had high academic standards, but would that make enough of a difference to bring back the spark of learning for our children? Since both of us were schooled we knew what school looked like, but we had never even seen homeschooling. Was it simply school-at-home or was it some entirely new concept altogether?

At the end of our first year, after hundreds more hours of readings, phone calls, workshops, tapes, discussions, and now actual experience, we had begun to answer some of our questions and to find our own style of home learning which still continues to evolve.

Early on though, I realized that the kind of book that would have helped us the most just didn't exist. There are many books on homeschooling philosophies, politics, and resources, but I wanted a book like some of the quilting books I have. They don't just list how much fabric to buy and tell you to go ahead and cut and sew the pieces together. The quilting books I like have numerous photographs that show different types of patchwork quilts made by experienced quilt makers and include colorful close-ups of the intricate details, quilting patterns and provide valuable short cuts. This helps to inspire and integrate my own ideas and styles for conceiving new quilting patterns.

My favorite quilts are story quilts, in which each patch illustrates a different person, event, or memory of the individual or family who designed the quilt. I was looking for a book that would depict examples of homeschooling just as clearly, giving us inspiration to create our own style of homeschooling. There are so many ways to homeschool, each wonderful in its own right, that it would have been useful to view a whole homeschooling quilt (made up of all different sorts of patches) when deciding which type of patch to design for ourselves.

Is this book for you? It is if you are considering homescholing. It is if you are already homeschooling but looking for fresh ideas. It is, even if you don't homeschool but are wishing to have a "close up and personal" view into how other families handle chores, resolve differences or help to nurture the growth and education of their children. This book offers you the one I wish I could have had. I designed it to bring forth for you an abundance of colors and textures showing what it really looks and feels like to grow and learn together as a family.

After proposing my ideas for this book in homeschooling newsletters, Internet newsgroups, online bulletin boards, to individuals, and by word of mouth, numerous families responded who wished to become a "patch" for the homeschooling "patchwork quilt" I had in mind. Their enthusiasm stemmed from encountering the same disappointment of "the missing book" that I had. They also wished to seize the opportunity to look closely at one of their own days, defining for themselves and for you what it is that they live and believe. Thirty of these families now share with you a wide variety of styles and experiences of how we homeschool so that you can have the advantage to "observe" us and search for what might be harmonious with your own ideals and style.

In response to pages of my detailed questions, each family sent me a description of one of their real days and, in the manner of a written interview, I wrote back to them and asked dozens of additional questions that would project an even more three dimensional picture. After they replied yet again, I wove the answers into their original descriptions and often repeated this process two or three times, continually editing as I progressed. I also spoke by telephone to gather more information and to become acquainted with the families. A sampling of the many questions I asked were of this sort: How does your family begin the day? How does everyone wake up--alarm clock, Mom sings or shakes, early risers, sleep as late as you want? How do breakfast and clean-up happen? How do kids get started on their day? What style of learning takes place? While you are doing one thing, what are the others doing? How do you settle squabbles, interruptions, or the "I don't want to" response? How do the children interact with each other? How do you teach children of all different ages? What do you do with the little ones? How do you handle irritability, noise, mess or time for yourself? Do you feel inadequate in some areas, proficient in others? How do parents find time to talk, plan, and be together? Do you have outside activities, work, or driving arrangements to make? How does the day end and at what time? What role does each parent play in the homeschooling process? What is the weather like on the day you choose and how does it affect your day? Do you live on a remote farm or in an inner city? What is your community setting and reaction to homeschoolers?

I also asked the families to note the resources they used during their day; the books they're reading, their outside activities, and support group opportunities. Because there were so many resources mentioned, it was not possible to list them all in detail. (Most of these resources are listed in the numerous homeschool catalogs now available or in Mary Pride's Big Book of Home Learning series, of which there are several volumes that review resources to suit different interests and age levels.) I requested planning or record (log) pages so that you could see various methods of documenting a specific day's events, knowing full well that what is written on record pages is the what and not the how of the day. Most of us seem to always look for better ways to keep track of our homeschooling activities. Families were given the opportunity to add an UPDATE (over a year later) so that you could experience the process of change in our families.

After choosing resources, the most pressing concerns that families face are about how to pull everything together while navigating through the days, dealing with the temperaments of various family members, their learning styles, values, beliefs and interests. There were even more questions to address. How do we resolve conflicts, struggles, anxieties, ambivalences? How do we handle anger and guilt? How do we manage children who are spontaneous learners or resistant ones? How do we structure time, organization of home, academic work, household chores, meals and laundry? (What is it like to be the principal, teacher, aide, playground monitor, cafeteria director, bus driver and custodian all at once?) How will our children get together with other children? How does homeschooling affect our marital relationship and decision making? How much do we coach, facilitate, or push? If we could become that "fly on the wall" what would we truly see and hear in other homes? That we all wrote about a real day is most important because, for many of us who tend to make comparisons and gauge ourselves against what we think is ideal, we often imagine that in everyone else's house there is a "perfect" mother like Ma Ingalls and that all goes smoothly, naturally and cheerfully. But what about the rest of us who fall short of these expectations? Are we the only worriers that lose sleep over the nagging reminders of the imperfections we feel at home? Can we "turn around" a difficult day or do we hope for a fresh start the following day?

To create a book that was honest and forthright, required significant self-revelation from the writers. Because of this, a few families requested that we use only first names or be given the option to use pseudo names. Photographs and record pages were optional. Some families just didn't have them and others chose to be more private.

As you read, you'll find that some of the days that were described turned out to be days that got off to a late start, had interruptions or unexpected visitors. Sometimes it was chore day. Some children were not thrilled with math or handwriting. Animals and gardens needed to be tended. Some families had spontaneous events that changed the nature of the day. Sometimes the pace was a bit of a whirlwind, and sometimes the learning just kept on going late into the night! Each family member had a role in the construction of their day. There is a portion of every kind of day--some pieces that wouldn't fit into the fabric of your family and others you'd like to tuck away for yourself or start using today!

The thirty distinct quilt patches that are on the cover of this book were designed by the families in this book. The only guideline was the size of the patch. From this blank piece of fabric you can see how the families chose to reflect their interests, activities, personalities, or community. I hope you'll find that the variety of resources, styles, interactions and structures found in our chapters will help you to take a plain piece of fabric and conceive a distinctive patch of your own to add to our homeschool quilt! A homeschool quilt, however, can never be complete as there is always change and other new patches to add. I'd love to hear from you and learn about your own innovations and solutions. Perhaps we will soon piece together another homeschool quilt!

Nancy Lande © 1996


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