June 19, 2006

The Well-Upholstered Couch

The other day hornblower wrote a post called The Well-Decorated Home, which was wasn't really about home decorating or even home schooling, but a few hours later the kids and I walked to the mailbox where I collected the latest issue of Canadian Home & Country magazine. Paging through it later that evening, hornblower's article must percolated through or pickled my thinking, because as I read one of the features about a rustic house on Prince Edward Island (which frankly didn't look all that rustic to me), I kept thinking how much decorating has in common with homeschooling.

Maybe I'm finally in a planning mood for September -- I've even thought of some books and CDs to buy for next year (will post a shopping list another day) -- or maybe it's just rained too much, but the more I thought about it, the more sense the comparison seemed to make.

Here's part of a Home & Country article, and see if you don't think the principles could be applied to curriculum, too. And if you can't, well, nuts to the squirrels. And thanks, hornblower, for getting the percolating started.

"Susan's tips for taking old treasures and reinventing them for a new space:
  • Try not to be sentimental. If the piece was once used in a formal setting, dress it down for a casual new purpose with a slipcover or a coat of paint."
You have to be unsentimental about books and programs as well. If it worked for your eldest but it's not a good match for kiddo number two -- or if a friend raved about it but it's not for your family -- tweak it or pitch it. It's easy enough to sell curriculum, and there's no point in hanging on to something trying to get your money's worth if it's not a good fit.
  • "Remove furnishings from their original context to see them in an entirely new light."
You don't have to use a book or program as the author or publisher intended. If you want to use all of First Language Lessons or the Explode the Code workbooks orally because it suits your child better, do it. If you want to supplement Singapore with Miquon or Math-U-See rather than using Singapore as is, go ahead (though ratcheting up your selections to include three different math programs, as some families do, doesn't exactly promote a love of math in the kids or sanity in the parent). If you want to use just the Handwriting without Tears workbooks without the expensive wooden letters, or make the letters yourself out of fun foam, be my guest!

And, it's not a bad idea to look at particular methods of homeschooling, or just a particular method, as a Chinese restaurant menu, choosing one item from column A and two from column B. If you follow The Well-Trained Mind, which is after all subtitled "A Guide to Classical Education at Home", as a mandatory set of requirements, you will tear your hair out; however, if you consider it as a framework or guide, and the books and programs mentioned as simply suggestions -- not to mention remembering that even Susan Wise Bauer doesn't follow the plan to the letter (and she has her mother, who homeschooled her and co-authored the book, living right next door), you and your kids will have a much easier and more pleasant time of it. After all, when you take a trip, you certainly don't stay in every hotel, eat in every restaurant, or visit every site recommended in the guide.
  • "Invite a second opinion. Someone less emotionally attached may have a different vision for your favourite chair."
If you're following a particular homeschooling method, say, WTM or unschooling, you might find something worth borrowing from the Charlotte Mason approach, for example, short lessons or nature studies instead of a full-blown life science curriculum.

Or, if you are following, say, WTM, don't hesitate to look beyond that book for book and curriculum suggestions. There are a wealth of suggestions to be found from other homeschoolers you know, and online at various Yahoo groups, blogs, and websites; some are listed on the sidebar at right and there are oodles more.
  • "Push the boundaries: many contemporary pieces work beautifully in a simple country house full of honest materials and finishes. Likewise, the odd period piece can add interest to a spare environment."
Like the idea of classical and unschooling? Combine them! It's definitely possible, as various homeschoolers, from Doc to Faith at Dumb Ox Academy to EveryWakingHour, have shown, and in great detail. Do you want to skip science or Latin in the grammar years while still following a more classical approach? It's up to you. Would you prefer to move your studies around a more traditional, Latin center? It's eminently possible. You can even abandon all the labels and methods and go for an eclectic approach, choosing whatever books, programs, or methods that appeal to your family, regardless of style. This, fortunately, works much better in your figurative homeschool than in your literal living room, where a wild array of styles might give you a headache.

The beauty of homeschooling is that, like furniture and home decor, it's not only flexible but should reflect your family and its tastes. As the article states, what you're meant to do is take "old treasures and reinvent them for a new space," make them fit their new surroundings, which is your own home school. Don't be afraid to try that lamp on the other side of the room, add a little Latin to your life, paint the kitchen purple, unschool science, whitewash everything -- walls and furniture -- (this idea, however, tends to give my husband the shakes), or try a new and different couch history book that's not recommended in the magazine book.

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