- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2006

People often ask home-schooling families how they can be sure they are doing everything that is covered in a fully equipped school. They wonder how a parent possibly could provide all the instruction in a wide number of subjects, equal to that of 20 to 30 skilled teachers with the latest books, labs and training.

The truth is, we do things differently; we have a different learning structure. Most home-school parents are not experts in a subject, setting up a series of lesson plans, assignments, tests and examinations, but rather are learning facilitators.

We are involved earlier in the process of discussing and deciding what is to be learned, and we are active in seeking and procuring the tools to accomplish the goal.

If that is a prepared textbook, the child may do most of the study and written work at his own pace, with the parent checking the final written assignment, or going over the written report and marking the things that need correction. Many times, however, families may choose to learn in unusual ways, such as through hands-on experiences, or perhaps through travel or sometimes through teaching others.

For instance, we are getting ready for a weeks-long trip covering about 10 states, with long hours of driving in between stops. Operating on the principle of killing two birds with one stone, we went to the library and checked out recorded books. We found a good selection of titles, and took about a dozen ranging from inspirational to humor to historical to mysteries.

By listening to good-quality books read aloud, young people can learn different aspects of literature. For instance, they learn how new words are pronounced, or how a voice can convey different characters in a conversation. They also learn the power of their own imagination, because as they listen, they create the mental picture of those people, places and events.

Listening actually is a skill that many schools no longer emphasize, but for centuries, this was how most people learned. They heard the Bible read in church. They heard stories from their elders. The family would gather at night after chores, and one person would read from the newspaper or from a certain book, and others would sew or knit, carve wood or do other handwork. Reading aloud reinforced each individual’s language skills, but it also shared information with a larger group, who learned through listening.

Since the advent of television, videos, electronic games and other highly visual media, children have had little experience with the power of narration and self-visualization. Listening to recorded books stimulates an entirely different part of the brain, and captures the attention and imagination quite rapidly.

In between, we discuss the events of the stories, and questions may come up on a certain vocabulary word or historical reference. This gives me the chance to explain the context of the story, or biographical details about the author. Thus, the story opens new avenues of exploration, and later, students will do additional research on the history or the author. I often find them going back to the library for more books on the topics we discussed.

I like to think of a young person’s brain as like a plant or a fruit tree. Situating that tree in a good spot with rich soil and plenty of sunlight and water, and feeding it the minerals and elements it needs to develop into maturity will ensure years of continued good harvests.

Providing a rich learning atmosphere allows children to continue learning, even when it’s not “school hours.” By taking advantage of the many resources at our disposal, we can expand their knowledge quite enjoyably. When the interest is engaged, the student becomes a self-initiating learner, and is able to absorb the information faster and more thoroughly than one merely forced to complete a certain number of pages or problems or test questions.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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