As a former teacher, I think a lot about my children’s education. Long before they were born, my husband and I had conversations about educational decisions we would make and how it would impact their future.
For those of you who are new here, my degree is in Elementary Education, and I taught first grade at a public school for two years. Those two years were hard, for a lot of reasons. I loved my students, learned so much, and realized teaching looks a lot different in a classroom than what I had envisioned when I was getting my degree.
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My Experience Teaching in the Public School System
I don’t want to speak super negatively about my time teaching, but I do want to share that the place I was working was not the best environment for a new teacher. Instead of offering support and encouragement, my bosses said a lot of hurtful and unsupportive comments. During those two years, I ended up in the hospital dealing with extreme digestive issues and unexplained weight loss. Looking back, I think a lot of it was stress induced.
I don’t think public schools are terrible places. The education system reminds me a lot of our medical system. There are a lot of good people who set out with intentions of caring for others and making a difference in their lives but systematic issues that make it difficult for them to do so. Yes, not everybody gets into education or medicine for moral reasons, but I like to think that most people do.
During my two years teaching in a public school, I saw teachers who loved their students and spent hours and hours working beyond their contract to make learning enjoyable and exciting for kids. I saw veteran teachers taking first-year teachers under their wing, offering them resources and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. Additionally, I saw students learn to read and learn to make friends and learn to work through hard things. There were a lot of positives.
But I also saw the extreme stress levels of nearly every educator in the building. Pressure to get good test scores and stay on task and cram as much learning into an eight hour school left little time for play.
And friends, there is so much learning that happens through play.
Harvard Research About the Importance of Play
Harvard is conducting ongoing research about the importance of play in learning. According to The Harvard Graduate School of Education, “Play is central to how children learn—the way they form and explore friendships, the way they shape and test hypotheses, and the way they make sense of their world. Much is known about how play supports learning, yet little empirical research has explored what it might mean to put play at the center of formal schooling.
In 2015, the Pedagogy of Play (PoP) research project began investigating the nature of playful learning in schools. Funded by the LEGO Foundation, the project focuses on three core questions: Why do educators need a pedagogy of play? What does playful learning look and feel like in classrooms and schools? How do educators set up the conditions where playful learning thrives.”
The article goes on to explain, “We began our research with the International School of Billund (ISB) in Denmark, a school whose mission is designed around learning through play. Our research with ISB inspired a working set of playful learning principles, practices, and tools; pictures of practice (stories illustrating playful learning in action); and the beginnings of a pedagogy of play framework. We also developed a research methodology for examining and enhancing playful teaching and learning. Recognizing the cultural variations of learning and play, we expanded our research to include schools in South Africa, the United States, and Colombia. In each context, we sought to understand what playful learning looks and feels like.” You can read more about their research HERE.
How Nordic Countries Approach Education
I have done quite a bit of reading about other methods of education, and the educational models in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden really caught my attention. According to the blog, Tip-Top Brain, “American schools are home to some of the most well-learned students, and qualified teachers in the world. However, countries like Finland, Denmark, and Sweden outrank the United States in education every year. What programs and practices does Finland, Denmark, and Sweden employ to reach the massive success they do? And which might be transferable here to American Schools?”
According to the article, “Recently, Finland made even more sweeping changes in their curriculum. In 2016, with the release of the National Curriculum Framework, Finland introduced “phenomenon-based” teaching into classrooms. ‘Phenomenon-based’ teaching refers to the centering of course goals and new material around current events. Finnish students may cover a science topic with a COVID theme, or a history lesson centered around the European Union.
Sound fun, no? Maybe even too good to be true? Well, this novel approach to schooling has seen massive payoffs. Finnish students score higher than most of their peers on international assessment tests. Crazier yet, Finnish schools generally assign minimal homework, and administer few tests.”
Finnish students are learning about current events, one thing that makes learning applicable, meaningful, and interesting to many students. How interesting is it that fewer tests and extra work can lead to better results?
Different Approaches to Early Education
Perhaps one of the most interesting things I found in my research was about the differences in preschool. While formal schooling does not start until ages 6 or 7 in Denmark, Finland, or Sweden, many students do attend preschool. From what I read, the emphasis during this time is more on social skills and play.
One of the stark contrasts to many American school is this, according to the blog Tip Top Brain: “Danish students focus mostly on basic academic concepts like letters and numbers before the age of six. Danish schools emphasize social rules centered around values like community and compassion. Quite unlike the United States, Danish students spend the majority of their day exploring outside or enjoying recreation time.” Read the rest of the article HERE.
When I was teaching first grade, there was a tremendous push for improving test scores, keeping on schedule, and focusing on academics. There was very little time for play or exploring or practicing social skills. I think this had a tremendous impact on both the students and teachers.
A Charlotte Mason Philosophy of Education
I don’t want to publicly make a blanket statement about how I will educate my children in the years to come. My husband and I have talked about homeschooling for the early years and perhaps a different form of education as they get older, but this is all subject to change. Ultimately, we want to consider each of our children as individuals–their own unique gifts, talents, struggles, and abilities–and make educational decisions regarding these qualities. But, the more that I have read and researched, the more that I am drawn to a Charlotte Mason form of home education.
Charlotte Mason was an educator in England at the turn of the twentieth century. She believed that the first six years of a child’s life were quiet growing years for learning, growing, and developing. While learning happened, it was not formal. She encouraged lots of time spent outside, exploring and observing nature.
Although I am still learning, some of the main components of a Charlotte Mason style of education include an emphasis on living books (engaging books written by passionate authors), time spent out of doors, teaching children to value art and music, journaling, and narration. Many Charlotte Mason families implement Tea Time as a daily ritual to enjoy good books, good food, and good converation. Read more about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy HERE.
Giving Our Children a Childhood
I laugh thinking back about myself two years ago. My son was barely over a year, and I was trying to do a formal preschool with him at home. Since then, we still sit down to do a more relaxed school from time to time–mostly a few songs, fine motor practice, and reading–but I have relaxed significantly about his early education since then. I don’t need to replicate what I saw teaching at a public school–I want to provide my children with a childhood. I want to help them reclaim the wonder that is lost when children spend too much time staring at a screen indoors. So much learning happens through play, and I want to use these early years to allow them time to do just that.
As I said before, we are still discussing the trajectory our family will take in regards to our children’s education. But I am spending the next few years reading them good books, spending time with them outdoors, teaching them good habits, and modeling continuous learning myself.
10 Books About Homeschooling That Are Re-Shaping How I Think About Education
If you are interested in homeschooling, here are a few books that I have read or am planning on reading as my view of education continues to shape as I continue to learn.
1. The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie
I have this book, but haven’t read it yet.
“Discover practical strategies to make reading aloud a meaningful family ritual. The stories we read–and the conversations we have about them–help shape family traditions, create lifelong memories, and become part of our legacy. Reading aloud not only has the power to change a family–it has the power to change the world.” (Amazon book description).
I myself make a lot of excuses about why I don’t have time to read. It takes discipline and intention. But when I do make the time, there is nothing quite like getting lost in a good book. I have a desire to teach my children to love good books, which means I need to find time to enjoy them myself.
2. The Call of the Wild and Free: Reclaiming the Wonder in Your Child’s Education, A New Way to Homeschool by Ainsley Arment
“Allow your children to experience the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood with this practical guide that provides all the information, inspiration, and advice you need for creating a modern, quality homeschool education.” (Amazon book description).
This book was life-changing for me. I resonated so deeply with Ainsley’s experiences–this book brought me to tears over and over again. There are so many misconceptions about homeschool–so many misconceptions I had about homeschooling. This book really opened my eyes to a different approach and how to instill a lifelong love of learning into the hearts of my children.
3. The Wild and Free Family: Forging Your Own Path to a Life Full of Wonder, Adventure, and Connection by Ainsley Arment
“As parents, we dream of creating a magical childhood for our kids, yet it can be so easy to slip into autopilot. Ainsley Arment—a mother of five, founder of the thriving community Wild + Free, and bestselling author—is no stranger to the barrage of decisions, opportunities, and daily tasks that each day brings. But what Ainsley has discovered is that the magic of life isn’t found in the hustle and bustle of constant activity but in the intentional ordinary decisions of our days. And when we assume that a family has to look or act a certain way, we miss the opportunity to build a meaningful and fulfilling life together.” (Amazon book description).
I am currently reading Ainsley’s second book, and I have been so inspired by her approach to parenting. She focuses on connection and relationship building and really knowing her children. I’m about ¼ of the way done with this book, and I have highlighted nearly every page!
4. The Creative Family Manifesto: Encouraging Imagination and Nurturing Family Connections by Amanda Blake Soule
“Embrace family life with creativity at its heart. The Creative Family Manifesto is a guide to using the simple tools around you—your imagination, basic art supplies, household objects, and natural materials—to relax, play, and grow together as a family. When you learn to awaken your family’s creativity, wonderful things will happen: you’ll make meaningful connections with your children, your children’s imaginations will flourish, and you’ll learn to express love and gratitude for each other. This book is just what you need to get started.” (Amazon book description).
This book is very practical and got me so excited about this season of life with my children! I am not someone who is naturally crafty or who loves making messes, but this book inspired me to be thoughtful about fostering a creative family culture within our home.
5. Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook by Sonya Shafer
So technically this is a bundle that includes 2-3 books, but I am grouping them together for the sake of this post!
“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.—Charlotte Mason. Charlotte likened good habits to rails on which our children’s lives could run smoothly. It is the parent’s business to lay down those rails. Here, compiled into one volume, are all the habits Charlotte mentioned in her writings with her thoughts and suggestions for cultivating each one. This work also includes Charlotte’s help for breaking bad habits, hundreds of inspiring quotes, and lots of practical tips.” (Amazon book description).
I asked for this book series for Christmas, and I can’t wait to read it! I have starting reading Laying Down the Rails for Yourself in order to continue building good habits in my own life. Because I have shifted my focus from academic rigor to building good habits during the early years, I want to use these books as a guide for teaching my children good habits.
6. Charlotte Mason Home Education Series by Charlotte Mason
I have a lot to learn about Charlotte Mason’s philosophy, and I have heard that these books are quite dense; however, I resonate so much with what I have read of her philosophy and want to continue to learn how to implement it with my own children. This is volume 1 of a 6 volume series.
“This edition of Charlotte Mason’s Home Education Series is presented complete and unabridged, retaining the pagination of the original to make research and referencing easy. All the books have been fully transcribed and formatted using a clean and easy-to-read font so that there’s no excuse not to read these revolutionary works.Written for both parents and teachers, Home Education collects six lectures on educating young children (up to the age of 9). In this volume, she shares her experience and wisdom on subjects such as:-how time outdoors promotes curiosity and learning-how to foster good habits in children-effective and natural methods of teaching young children-how to teach each subject-the power of narration to cement ideas in the mind-how to strengthen a child’s will so they can control their passions.” (Amazon book description).
7. A Place to Belong: Celebrating Diversity and Kinship in the Home and Beyond by Amber O’Neal Johnston
“Amber O’Neal Johnston, a homeschooling mother of four, shows parents of all backgrounds how to create a home environment where children feel secure in their own personhood and culture, enabling them to better understand and appreciate people who are racially and culturally different. A Place to Belong gives parents the tools to empower children to embrace their unique identities while feeling beautifully tethered to their global community.” (Amazon book description).
I have so much respect for Amber O’Neal Johnston. On her blog, Heritage Mom Blog, she writes, “Years ago, I started HeritageMom.com to document and discuss the joys and trials of raising my kids to love themselves and others. Since then, I’ve journeyed from a cookie-cutter approach to homeschooling that left my children feeling unacknowledged and invisible to discovering the magic of using my “special sauce” to create an inclusive and culturally rich home learning environment.
I write and speak about including diverse voices in traditional curricula and infusing culture and heritage into the home and beyond. I have a special emphasis on literature, poetry, art, music, history, and food, and when asked about my path, I like to smile and say, ‘In my house, Charlotte Mason has an afro.’”
A lot of homeschool book lists and resources are not representative of diverse voices and often whitewash our history. Amber graciously shares her knowledge and resources with other homeschooling moms who want to teach their children to listen to and learn from diverse voices.
8. The Montessori Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Your Baby with Love, Respect, and Understanding by Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike
“Drawing on principles developed by the educator Dr Maria Montessori, The Montessori Baby shows how to raise your baby from birth to age one with love, respect, insight, and a surprising sense of calm. Cowritten by Simone Davies, author of the bestselling The Montessori Toddler, and Junnifa Uzodike, it’s a book filled with hundreds of practical ideas for understanding what is actually happening with your baby, and how you can mindfully assist in their learning and development.” (Amazon book description).
This is not necessarily a homeschooling book, but it really changed the way that I approached parenting my babies. This book is practical and offers so many ideas for how to implement the Montessori philosophy from birth.
9. The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being
“It’s time to change the way we see toddlers. Using the principles developed by the educator Dr. Maria Montessori, Simone Davies shows how to turn life with a ‘terrible two’ into a mutually rich and rewarding time of curiosity, learning, respect, and discovery.” (Amazon book description).
Very similar to The Montessori Baby, this book offers so many practical ideas for how to teach children to be confident, secure, and capable.
10. Mere Motherhood: Morning Times, Nursery Rhymes, + My Journey Toward Sanctification by Cindy Rollins
“It was back in the 1980’s when Cindy Rollins, then a new mom in search of the best ways to teach her baby son, first heard of homeschooling. Thirty years and nine children later, Cindy has become a popular blogger, podcaster, and award winning teacher. This is her story.” (Amazon book description).
I am currently part way through this book. It is so encouraging for me to learn from an experienced mother like Cindy Rollins. Her writing is poetic and witty and will make you laugh and cry all in one sitting!
Education is Not One-Size-Fits-All
In conclusion, I am not against public schools. I think there are a lot of incredible schools that are doing amazing things for our children. But, I do think we, as a country, can learn from the approaches of different educational models–especially ones that emphasize the importance of play during the early years.
As for now, we are planning on taking from several of these different models and approaches and creating a learning environment for our children at home that encourages wonder, a love for learning, space to ask questions, hours spent outside, and time to dive deep into topics of interest. I understand that it is a privilege to even consider this option. I think education is not and should not be a one-size-fits-all approach–whether a child is in public school, private school, or homeschooled. But for my family, this is the path we are taking for now, and I am excited to give my children a hands-on education at home.
Right now, my children love learning, and as their mom, my desire is to continue to nourish this love and give them the time and space they need to grow.
I do not by any means think it is any of my business telling you how to educate your child. Only you know that–because you know your child better than anyone else! But friend, I encourage you–if you take anything from this post–encourage your children to play. It is absolutely not a waste.
No model of education is perfect. There will always be gaps. But time spent playing out-of-doors is a gift we can give to our children–regardless of the educational model we choose–that doesn’t cost a thing.