In the school world there is an obsession with product. It can be a grade on a test, a standardized test score, or glittered filled project related to the subject studied. Kids as young as 5 or 6 are taught these products are important. Homework must be produced to show mastery of a topic. As adults we vividly remember our homework and projects as evidence that we deserved that “A” or “B”.
When a family begins homeschooling it is easy to fall into the trap of expecting product. Don’t get me wrong—product is good but there are so many learning moments that will not be on paper or in a fancy Pinterest-looking project. The key is to recognize those moments and value them as much as you value that set of long division math problems or that spelling list. We hold on to this type of work because it is familiar to us, it is what we grew up knowing as valuable to education. But it is only a small piece of the learning puzzle.
I remember the first time I was introduced to Montessori. The beautifully prepared environment, the freedom to select purposeful work, and the engaged students were there– but I worried where was the product? My children rarely brought anything home in comparison to traditional preschool. I soon realized that the product was the process of their work. It was not simply a worksheet of the letter of the week, it was so much more. Have you ever seen a child fully engaged in purposeful work based on their own agenda? They are proud and feel a strong sense of autonomy. They want to show you and explain in great detail what their hard work yielded. We as adults owe it to the children to value their “work” and listen to what they have made.
Transferring this to the home learning environment, where it is not as prepared with beautiful Montessori materials , was a challenge at first. After all, we are now in 3rd and 7th grade so we should have a lot of paper proof of our learning , right? My background in psychology says no we don’t, but I still have days where I panic about not having enough product. When I find myself worrying about not having a portfolio full of papers to prove we are learning , I try to focus on their process of learning. They are not learning in a boxed subject every 50 minutes. They are learning in a multi-sensory, self-directed way with me as their guide. If I focused solely on the paper product I would miss out on :
1. Watching my son build an Iron Man suit out of recycled materials. He did not just build one but he revised his design after the first one had some “flaws”.
2. Watching my son draw an elaborate map of fantasy world he is writing a story about on his computer.
3. Watching my son and daughter build elaborate Lego buildings and worlds with detailed stories and characters to go along with it. If these stories were written down they would be and long, epic chapter book!
4. Watching my son and daughter work together to create stop motion videos (some of these videos coincide with what we have studied)
5. Watching my son and daughter read Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to each other at bedtime because my daughter wanted to share her love of the series with him. This is still my favorite scene to walk in on—my son on her bedroom floor listening intently while she is reading aloud. They share the insatiable love of books that I do! They are currently on book 5 and plan to read the whole series together.
6. Building a long, long list of literature we have read together and they have read alone
7. Watching them fill their bags with greek mythology books to read and discuss together when we went on vacation.
8. Begging to go to the library to check out an audiobook for the car. Seriously, we love books!
9. Watching my son design, gather materials and make several wands for himself and his friends.
10. Watching my daughter’s art and design take form by drawing animals, buildings, and humans.
11. Watching my daughter make huge progress in her piano and violin playing by practicing on her own ,without reminders ,because she wanted to “get” that song.
12. Watching my son and daughter ask for extra martial arts lessons because they want to learn the new moves
13. Watching my daughter make her own goals of completing her Latin and Math books so she can start on the next ones in the series.
14. Watching my children choose educational board games and documentaries to watch on a weekend
These are just a few examples off the top of my head of observations of my children motivated to learn on their own. It is so easy to become obsessed with the textbooks and the traditional homework mentality. If we get caught up and focused on what they are not doing then we are missing out what they are doing. So the next time you are worrying if you are doing enough—take a deep breath, find value in what your children are doing or asking about, and jump in with them to take their interests to the next level! Chances are, you are probably doing enough in the traditional subject area. I have found over the years that the more relaxed I am, two main things occur. First, the spontaneous learning described above occurs more frequently. Second, the kids have come to see their learning and education as something they own and value. I have evolved into a collaborator or mentor with them and they , in turn, respect when I have requirements for math, writing, and the sciences.