Homeschooling Methods and Jigsaw Puzzles

As you probably already know, we’re a homeschooling family. Many of you who have been forced by the pandemic to consider homeschooling are probably learning that there are vastly different ways to homeschool. If I were to label our homeschooling style, I’d say it was independent eclectic with strong leanings toward unschooling.

My eldest child is 13 years old, so, since we believe that learning starts at infancy, we often say that we’ve been homeschooling for 13 years. In those 13 years, we’ve tried a number of homeschooling methods. In the beginning, I fell in love with Waldorf. I had some concern about the spiritual aspect of it, but found a Christian Waldorf resource. We tried it out, but it involved an entire lifestyle that wasn’t always easy to keep up, so we took the bits that we liked and tried out other things that we thought might suit us better. It was early days, so we did a lot of sampling. At preschool age, my daughter ended up doing a lot of lapbooks and project-based homeschooling. 

In between then and a couple of years ago, we sort of fell into unschooling. I was busy with work, autism revelations, new babies, homemaking, etc. and it was just easier to let Marguerite follow her interests since I didn’t have the energy to be consistent with any structured curriculum. In those years, she got very good at different forms of art, amassed an impressive vocabulary, turned herself into a grammar Nazi, and cultivated a hodgepodge of really cool interests. She was definitely behind in Math. Her grasp of Science was splotchy but okay, probably not any worse than what I’ve retained after 15 years or so of traditional schooling. Her historical and trivial knowledge, however, was impressive. 

It was mostly going okay, except that I felt a lot of guilt and disquiet about the total absence of “schooling,” and I experienced a lot of anxiety about the future. I obviously didn’t go through proper deschooling like I should have to properly embrace the concept of unschooling. So, about two years ago, I decided to try another homeschooling approach that had interested me in the beginning. Charlotte Mason appealed to me because it prioritized a lot of the subjects and skills I valued. I like the idea of copywork, nature studies, narration, living books, classical art studies, practical crafting, etc. We tried following Ambleside Online’s curriculum, but we tended to deviate from it to read and do whatever the kids preferred, so, as with Waldorf, we took the bits that suited us and moved on.

I want to say that we switched back to unschooling, but it wouldn’t be true. I feel that there are skills and knowledge that my kids would benefit from and should acquire whether they’re interested in them or not, so I include them in their to-do lists.

I do still subscribe to a lot of Waldorf and Charlotte Mason resources and I remain a member in the FB groups oriented to these learning methods because there are just some things about them that I really love. Of course, I also affiliate our family with unschoolers because we just identify with them so much.

At any rate, in a local Charlotte Mason group, I recently came across a post advertising jigsaw puzzles depicting famous paintings. I was instantly interested. I love art, I love puzzles, and I loved that these ones were very reasonably priced. I would have liked to order every design available, but I convinced myself to calm down and just start with four. I let Marguerite choose two and I chose the other two. She chose Starry Night (Van Gogh) and Mona Lisa (Da Vinci) because “we should have those,” and I ended up going with Spoliarium (Luna) and Open Window (Matisse).

The seller (The Art of Homemaking) was very accommodating and the transaction went smoothly. I had the puzzles (and all my other shipments) delivered to my parents’ house because there’s always somebody there to receive parcels. I didn’t get to check them out until the day after when we visited my folks. While still there, I decided to try working on one and chose Starry Night. My sister worked with me for a short while, but I did it by myself for the most part. It’s pretty challenging for a small puzzle set (A4-sized, I believe). Of course, I was a bit distracted because I was also chatting with other people and watching TV the entire time (never say that I can’t multitask, lol). It took me two NCIS episodes and one NCIS New Orleans to finish it. We don’t have a TV at home – and obviously for good reason- so I binge watch when I’m at my folks’.

The kids and I worked on Starry Night again at home. It wasn’t in one sitting, so I’m not sure if it took longer or not. When we were done, we debated on whether to hang it on the wall in our homeschool room or not, but decided to break it up again so we could have it as an activity option when we have people over (after the pandemic ends, of course) or whenever we feel like challenging ourselves again. I think it will eventually go up on the wall though. Anyway, I think we’re doing the Mona Lisa next. It’s probably going to be easier than Starry Night, but we’ll see.

There’s only Marguerite in the picture because the boys liked to flit around. That orange on the table is actually Cameron’s. Usually when they’re doing mental work, I diffuse a blend of Peppermint and Lemon essential oils for clarity and focus. 

In any case, these puzzles are a great tool for teaching kids about the masters. They’re definitely more engaging than simple prints. If you’re interested, you can go to The Art of Homemaking Facebook page to check out the different available designs. This is not a sponsored post, btw, in case you’re wondering.

Anyway, puzzles hold happy associations that brim with ‘80s nostalgia for me. Since I do like exposing the kids to old school childhood elements, this activity is a win in multiple ways.

What about you? How do you feel about jigsaw puzzles? Are you homeschooling? What method are you using? Do you have a TV at home? How do you feel about the ‘80s? Let me know!

The Uncertain Homeschooler – Playing Things by Ear

worksheetsI want to homeschool; that’s something I’m absolutely sure about. That has always been my conviction, even before I got married. For the most part, I’m happy with this decision. Unfortunately, there are times when I question whether I’m really up to the challenge. The doubts creep in when I start measuring myself and the kids against the standards set about by regular schools. In any case, I’m interested in a wide variety of homeschooling approaches, so suffice it to say that our style is eclectic. The concept of unschooling has always intrigued me while Waldorf holds a strong appeal for me. So do Charlotte Mason, Ruth Beechick, Delight Directed, Lapbooking, Unit Studies… I think the only one I’m not interested in is Traditional or School-at-home, and yet I find myself striving to do this many times – like I said, when I’m suddenly seized by a panic attack borne out of a compulsion for comparison. If you must know, I was the kind of student who had to have the highest test scores. In retrospect, I was probably pretty insufferable. The tendency followed me to adulthood, and it takes conscious effort to combat it.

There are so many unschooling philosophies I subscribe to, but my personality is so much that of the traditional scholar who thrives on structure that what I want theoretically is hard to reconcile with how I function. My ideas about learning and life were so set that I had let many opportunities slip me by. The summer before my senior year in college I was offered a chance to work in Portugal for a year, which I thought was completely out of the question since I was still in school. I had a deathly fear of not graduating from college, as though without that diploma, I was doomed to a life of poverty and hardship. Prior to earning that diploma, life was completely centered on the effort to get it – with honors and accolades to go along with it preferably. My entire person was consumed with the portrayal of just one role: being a good student. It took precedence over being a good daughter, a good sister, a good Christian, etc.

It was really all so bourgeois, now that I think about it. I couldn’t understand how certain classmates of mine back in high school toyed with their studies. One particular girl would disappear a week or two at a time and then come back with a certificate from a doctor saying she had bronchitis, chicken pox, etc. That girl’s sister was a friend of my younger sister, Chipi, and when I remarked one time to Chipi how sickly my classmate was, she snorted and said, “She wasn’t really sick. Their family just travel abroad a lot.” I was outraged at the idea. Didn’t the parents worry about how their kids did in school?  Incidentally, that classmate was already a very accomplished dancer even in high school, and I’m not sure if she ended up going to college, but she was already earning money breeding and raising show dogs while I was still receiving an allowance from my parents. Hindsight is 20/20, they say. I might not approve of the deception, but I can now understand and even admire their family’s priorities.

I’m afraid I somewhat digressed. The point is that as much as I love the idea of freedom in learning and having confidence  in children’s individual learning schedule, my conditioning provides the most contrary impulses, which is probably why de-schooling is highly recommended for parents of unschoolers. The thing is, we haven’t officially chosen to unschool, And, whether it stems from conditioning or an inherent quality I have, I find comfort in structure. I just haven’t zeroed in  on the form this structure will take. I’m not closing my doors on ready-made curricula because that could possibly turn out to be the arrangement that will make our family flourish. In the interim, we play things by ear.

We’ve definitely adopted a rhythm, and we put great emphasis in art and nature studies. As for goals and lesson plans, for a time I tried to teach Marguerite loosely following an age-based list of things to learn (this involved a lot of worksheets), but now we’re mostly doing unit studies/lapbooking/notebooking. I’ve also, since the beginning of the year, tried following 3 homeschool planners (free, of course, as I’m an incorrigible penny-pincher), but ended up just making my own (I’ll try to make a prettier version and then share it here).

Meanwhile, I continue to find informative and inspiring reads about homeschooling, so our setup is definitely open to modification. I enjoy educating myself in the process and brainstorming on how to incorporate things that interest me, frequently surprising myself in the process. It’s really quite amazing how parents find so many ways to be creative with the purpose of enriching their children’s lives. I think most of us are gobsmacked at the discoveries we make of ourselves concerning talents, skills, traits, etc.

Of course, doubts about homeschooling still surface every now and then, but, for the most part, I’m convinced that it is the best option for our family as it is right now.

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