Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hillandale Farm School Philosophy

Okay, the Hillandale Farm School has obviously been a very long time in the making.  It has been influenced by my homeschooling sister, a mutual friend to whom my sister introduced me, and a great deal of reading and introspection I have done on the subject.  Although day-to-day, we may leave a lot of room for spontaneity and for the kids to develop interests they wish to pursue more deeply, at different levels of planning, there is a very intentional path being followed at the weekly, monthly, annual, and school time levels.   I believe this to be one inherent strength of home education; with one set of people at the helm of the education, the overarching plan from inception of the plan until college time can be very logical and planned out, rather than the kind of patchwork effort that can occur as children bounce through different schools in a public or private system.  So, what makes the Hillandale Farm School tick, and how did we discern this particular approach?
Starting with a series of questions from Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, I started with a list:  What do you think is most important for your children to learn?  In no particular order:  I want my children to:
·         Learn how to think critically & analyze information
·         Become confident, independent young men
·         Be inquisitive, curiosity-driven learners who enjoy seeking knowledge
·         Develop self-discipline
·         Understand the role faith plays in their daily lives
·         Understand and utilize the scientific inquiry process
·         Read widely for pleasure
·         Value both teamwork and independent inquiry
·         Speak clearly, concisely, and persuasively
·         Write well
·         Understand how to overcome obstacles and rebound from mistakes
·         Incorporate daily physical activity as a given lifestyle
·         Make ethically based decisions
·         Face their days joyfully
·         Have a strong inner compass to guide their decision-making
·         Weigh desires and consequences, and freely make their choices
Obviously, this step does not instantly point to curriculum choice, but it is a start.  Creating a list such as this helps to understand the long-term goals we have for educating our sons.  If they can do these things, they will be well-prepared for college and the world in general, and clarifies why we want them to have an education in the first place.

                Next, also from a prompt from Duffy’s book, came a question about how we think children should learn, and following that, an elaborate checklist style questionnaire that helped us to compare several styles of homeschooling.  It was interesting to see that our initial impressions—heading back to basics in grammar, a strong spelling and writing program, unifying history, literature, and geography through the use of real books rather than dry texts for history, and taking a methodical approach through the sciences rather than the “a few weeks of this and that” that the public schools seem to favor, and real attention to music and art in the early grades were reflected in a couple of specific methodologies in the checkbox list—I netted high scores in unit studies, Charlotte Mason, and Classical curriculum approaches.  Although I read about other approaches with an open mind, I focused my further research on those three.  (I scored as 27% aligned with a “traditional” recreate school around the kitchen table program and 32% aligned with send your kids to someone else to homeschool them—validating the survey’s accuracy in my book, as neither of those approaches appeal to me in our situation).  Unit studies, Charlotte Mason, and Classical curricula all share in common an approach that makes logical connections between subjects, utilizes the reading of literature and quality books rather than overreliance on “textbooks” for learning, and if carefully planned, can allow for a logical progression of certain subjects over time.  Not all unit studies focused schools adhere to that last component; but it can exist.

                From here, and with the help of additional reading, thinking, more reading, more discussion, more reading, more thinking, we were able to begin trying out some ideas.  A good friend encouraged me to read Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind, a book I had originally turned my nose up at as being too rigid, but which has now informed much of our approach to homeschooling, including its encouragement to not simply blindly follow all of its outlines, but to use them as a jumping point to make some of our own choices.  We incorporated Latin into the children’s program, and planned for later inclusion of additional language, logic, and rhetoric as they grow.  I was intrigued by the notion of the trivium—3 stages of learning—grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the idea of presenting history/literature/geography in more or less linear order by both Bauer and by running across the book Augustus Caesar’s World, which takes a snapshot of the world at the time of Caesar, so the reader can see all of his contemporaries around the globe.  I was also inspired by son#1, who for months had been going to the library to pick out books on his own to supplement his own interests—after reading Percy Jackson, he loaded up on Greek Mythology books and Ancient Greece nonfiction; after learning to play Sid Meyer’s Civilization, he went back to the library and loaded up on books about world leaders.  It seemed like such a natural way to learn!

                So now we had some goals to head toward, some beginning ideas for curriculum, and a background educational philosophy to guide us.  It was time to put down on paper a final statement—the Hillandale Farm School Philosophy Statement.  What is it that drives our decision making?  What helps us to decide whether we are heading down the correct path to meet our educational goals for the kids, or need a course correction?  Why are we doing what we are doing and how are we doing it better than anybody else could do it for the kids?

The Hillandale Farm School Philosophy Statement

Through homeschooling, we will foster a lifelong love of learning through which our goals will be achieved.  We will view the whole world as a classroom, and develop the practice of discernment to determine which lessons are bringing us closer to our goals.  We will work together to dismantle one another’s roadblocks to success, and rejoice in seeing all succeed.

We will accept responsibility for learning, and value knowledge for its own worth rather than external rewards, while also keeping appropriate respect for the worthiness of working toward a specific life goal.

We seek balanced, accurate, and deep knowledge in mathematics, science, history, and literature.  We will become fluent in written and oral communication.  We will understand the scientific process, logic and argument, and be prepared to respectfully and knowledgably navigate the world around us.  We will attend to our physical and spiritual health and fitness.

We will develop the confidence and ability to set and achieve goals that will enable us to live ethical, independent, and joyful lives.

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