Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How do I know?


"I see a lot of crafts, reading books, and experiments on your blog, but do you do any actual teaching and how do you know your kids learn anything?" 

Oh, man.  If you homeschool for long enough, sooner or later you're probably going to encounter questions like the one I did recently. Teaching without textbooks, measuring proficiency without exams, report cards, or grades? It sounds like madness and chaos to some.

Yes, I am their actual teacher doing actual teaching. Though the children teach themselves new things all the time.
Yes, the children are learning. Though sometimes not the lessons I'm trying to teach.

It can be tricky knowing exactly how to answer someone who makes comments like that.  There is a difference between the kind of answer I would give someone who is genuinely interested, but maybe doesn't understand what education can look like outside of the school system because that is all they have ever known.

And, then there's the answer for the person who asks that type of question from a place of judgment.  Perhaps they are wanting to call me to task for what they feel is neglecting my children's education by allowing them to do astonishing things like spend days at a time crafting or doing math outside or using biographies, personal diaries, and literature to teach history instead of textbooks.

(Please, please, please note that I am not in any way demeaning school teachers.  There are many excellent, hard working teachers out there, some of whom I know personally and love very much.  But our family's path is different and that is a valid choice, too.)

The latter person isn't curious, they don't really want an answer from me, they just  to wag their finger and they want me to accept their criticism and, I don't know, maybe for me to humbly walk away, shamed by their words, vowing to change my ways forever?

While that certainly isn't going to happen, I'm also not going to spend much time trying to convince this person my children are actually learning and loving it.  I don't owe them an explanation and while I do think that a few minutes spent talking with my bright, articulate children will be the pudding that proves my point, were I to subject my children to such a once over (and I won't when I can help it), there really isn't much of a conversation that can actually happen there.

The second person?  They get a healthy serving of the "bean dip response."



But, for the first person, the person who is asking because they really want to know how it is that my husband and I can tell that the kids are learning, to them I would say this:

We can tell our children are learning in the same ways that you can tell your children are learning.

We can tell our children are learning because we see the recognition on their faces when an idea clicks and they understand.

We can tell our children are learning because we see them apply their education to their daily lives, solving problems and finding solutions.

We can tell our children are learning because when the books are closed and the experiments are over, the ideas are still living beyond the page and the experience.

We can tell our children are learning because they can teach others.

We can tell our children are learning because they are constantly developing new skill sets, accomplishing new things.

We can tell our children are learning because they can make comparisons to and draw correlations between history and modern day events.


We can tell our children are learning because they love books.

We can tell our children are learning because we pay attention to the books they read, the shows they watch, and the websites they visit and the conversations they have afterward.

We can tell our children are learning by the questions they ask.

We can tell our children are learning because we witness the progression as they go from struggling with a skill to mastery.

We can tell our children are learning because we see them self-correct when making mistakes.

We can tell our children are learning because they make mistakes often, but they don't quit trying.  That's an important lesson by itself.


We can tell our children are learning because they enjoy learning experiences (well, most of the time).

We can tell our children are learning because they talk to us and because we really listen to what they have to say.

We can tell our children are learning because they write down things that are interesting to them.  Or, in the case of our pre-writers, because they draw pictures or dictate to someone what they want to say about a subject or idea.

We can tell our children are learning because when they really love a subject, they become obsessed with it and live it, eat it, breathe it for days, even weeks or months at a time.  They love learning and they are enthusiastic, wanting to share all the cool things they know on a topic with anyone who will listen.

We can tell our children are learning because we witness them making connections.

We can tell our children are learning because, while often silly or acting totally age appropriate, they can also engage in meaningful conversations and often surprise us by the things that they say and the observations that they make that seem beyond their years.


How do I know my kids are learning?  I know because I know.  I'm there.  I see it. 

That's all the proof I need.


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