Homeschooling with Bubbie: Evidence of Growth – Good Parenting


By Deborah Wood, Ph.D.

We’re getting close to the time for a mid-year review of this homeschooling venture. The reviewer will be looking at evidence in the portfolios for each student – my second grade and fifth grade grandchildren – “which demonstrates the parent or guardian is providing regular, thorough instruction during the school year in the areas specified.” This sounds more like a review of the teacher than of the student.

Furthermore, the evidence should include: “instructional materials, reading materials, and examples of the child’s writings, worksheets, workbooks, creative materials, and tests.” Also suggested are photos and short descriptions of activities and projects.

I’m pretty sure our portfolios will satisfy the requirement of “instruction” being given, but shouldn’t the reviewer be concerned with learning?

Teaching Versus Learning

Part of the magic of homeschooling is the ability to support each student’s interests, ability level, learning style, and pace. Additionally, we can plan around the weather and other spontaneous opportunities.

For example, on a 60-degree day last week I asked the children if they wanted to help plant two paw paw seedlings at Chesapeake Children’s Museum, purchased from a nursery, as well as a handful of seeds from paw paws that had been in the refrigerator since our camping trip to the eastern shore in September. If all goes well, a paw paw patch will sprout from this science activity and delight visitors for years to come. Then again, damaging forces of weather, wildlife, or vandals might disrupt the process. We shall see.

When I was in college learning to be a teacher, a professor told us that the science activity that doesn’t turn out as expected is often a better lesson than the one that turns out exactly as the teacher planned. There’s much more to ponder. A determined scientist, or science student, would be motivated to question what went “wrong” and to tease out the variables that could be manipulated to bring a different outcome. Ongoing observations as the project takes root could bring out new strategies to try. Maybe the spot we chose doesn’t get as much water as paw paw trees need. Maybe the seeds will be dug up and eaten by hungry critters. Maybe the hand-lettered signs identifying the seedlings will make the plants vulnerable to vandals in a public park. (That’s a variable of human nature.) If the students hold interest in this particular project, there could be ideas to be tested and lessons to be learned far into the future.

Broad Subject Areas

Directions from the school system for assembling student portfolios give the advice that, “While no specific content is required, a breadth of content should be evident.” This can happen “in a variety of learning experiences within the subject.”

As I mentioned in reporting about our field trip to an apple orchard in September, content for the fifth grader includes U.S. history from colonial times. At the orchard the students and I discussed how apples were brought from Europe to be cultivated here. (The only native apples in North America are crab apples.) We also incorporated second grade Earth Science content in noting the combination of sun, rain, and soil, plus the assistance of pollinators, that make the apples grow on the trees. So, naturally, the paw paw planting activity included discussion of intentional planting just like the colonists engaged in, albeit of a native fruit tree this time, and choosing a suitable growing environment for the seeds and seedlings. Just because we discussed these ideas previously about apple trees doesn’t mean we can’t add breadth, and reinforcement, to include paw paw trees.

But Are We Making Progress?

One thing we don’t have much of in the portfolios is anything that could be considered a formal test. There are photos of math and spelling that was done by one student or the other on the dry erase board, and a few worksheets, including handmade worksheets. However mostly we use conversation to assess what’s been gained from an activity, including whether it’s time to dig deeper into the subject or time to move on to something else. 

Another experience from college – from graduate school – taught me a lot about student assessment. The course was Quantitative Research Methods, better known as Statistics for education students. This professor proudly explained that his midterm exam would evenly divide the class between the half that “got” the material and the half that didn’t. In his view, a well-written exam question would stump 50% of his students. Sure enough, after the midterm grades were released, there were plenty of empty seats in the auditorium.

Although I successfully stuck out the course, my idea of how to be a good teacher is to have a goal of ALL the students getting the material. In my humble opinion, it’s the learning that guides the teaching. In homeschooling, we have a wide range of freedom from which to choose both the subject matter and the methods of engaging the students, as well as the freedom to say, “Let’s do something else instead,” when it’s just not working.

The bike riding component of our P.E. curriculum has been easy to assess. Both students have increased the amount of time they are willing to devote to the activity and in the distance they can pedal without touching the ground. Part of our encouragement has been in telling them that their brains are learning new patterns – for balancing, for steering, for braking – that will never be forgotten. Consequently the expression, “Just like riding a bicycle.”

Permanent Record

Considering that the students are in elementary school, and that the omicron variant of the coronavirus still has us guessing about returning the children to a school building, there isn’t any need to officially grade the students’ progress as in a Report Card. Nor is it required before re-enrolling.

I do wonder, though, about the lasting effects of this experience on the children. What will stand out in their memories of this time we’ve spent together? What are they learning that will be beneficial in the future? Diverse perspectives on U.S. history, names and needs of plants and animals, mastering the two-wheeler; sure. How to use math and spelling; very useful. A sense of their physical place in the world as we drive between family members’ homes, to local parks, to campgrounds, and to other fun places to carry out our lessons; essential for building maps in the heads of two future drivers.

As I’m learning how to comply with the regulations for homeschooling I am relishing getting to know how to best teach these two students. I’m also gathering anecdotes to tell and re-tell as they grow up before my eyes.

Some of our homeschooling objectives that can’t be easily quantified are:

To be kind

To enjoy and respect nature

To be creative

To take on new challenges

To know they have grandparents who enjoy being with them

To know they have parents who support schooling that’s not in a school

I see evidence that the children are absorbing these lessons cum laude, with distinction.

As the acclaimed blues musician B.B. King said, “The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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