There are a few kinds of worksheets that I think are worth the ink and tree it takes to print them. One is the kind with math facts on it. (I use grade level math curricula.) Another is a copy work or handwriting worksheet or workbook. I add another to the list when my kids get older. I use parsing and diagramming worksheets in workbooks, or maybe a compact grammar workbook to reinforce writing. But for the most part, most of our learning is done through conversation.
I say conversation is the new worksheet because I think more and more people in the homeschooling world are discovering the benefits of conversation as the best means of bringing about true education. Worksheet in this post is just a symbolic way to represent my opinion of what modern education has become. And by no means do I claim that conversation as a means of education is new. It’s only new in that I, a modern educator, am unfamiliar with this ancient method. I am learning, and I continue to discover new things in this area.
In a house full of girls there is no shortage of words, and sometimes I wish everyone would just be quiet. But, I would not change this very organic way of learning. In a way, conversation is more taxing, but in another sense it is more natural, therefore it is less stressful. Being engaged as a mother is very time consuming and hard emotionally. It requires an active and intentional lifestyle on my part to be able to engage my children in conversations that are instructive and meaningful. I cannot check out, in any way. I, as well as my husband, must be on a journey of discovery and enlightenment. And out of this wellspring comes a dynamic and active learning environment. Ultimately our real life and academic life are not separate. They exist together creating a type of synergy that results in a knowledge of self and our world.
I do not think this kind of learning is possible without the acknowledgement that man is a created body and soul. And this is where I have a problem with public education. When the public intrinsically denies the unseen, when it denies the created nature of both the visible and invisible, I believe it fails in educating children. The conversation of life cannot happen because of this denial.
The goal today is to teach children what to think, not how to think.
Conversation is the way we learn how to think. It is a lifestyle. No subject is separate from the other. Science, religion, mathematics, philosophy, morality, etc. can a should be studied as a whole. And this does not start in high school or when a child matures enough to understand. It is my belief that these subjects are a part of the human experience, from birth until natural death.
The Church acknowledges this type of education through its sacramental understanding of the world. Very young children are Named and Churched. They are invited to the communion cup, to the baptismal font, they are Chrismated and brought into the fold, into the Church. Education is no different. If education is to be true in essence and practice, it must be from birth and it must be sacramental. True education must have the efficacy of grace and mystery, what we Orthodox call sacramental. This is the reason that we as Orthodox Christians are seeking home education as an answer to the nothingness we see in the public arena. We are not mad at teachers, or administrators, or text book writers. We are seeking truth, we desire the true, effective, and sacramental education of our children. In essence we seek Theosis. We desire that what Christ is by nature, our children become by grace.
The ongoing conversation of life is a truly remarkable way to educate children. Any subject, anytime, anywhere, and what is so great is that this type of learning is very organic in the sense that it is the child engaging with his/her world through the wonderful process of reason. Reason is not a Western discovery. It is a God given gift that can be used to become more human, more real, more whole. This is what I define as education.
The best way to converse is to have something to converse about. This is where reading and writing come in, and it will be the subject of a future post. But, for now I just want to say that there is no place to start this conversation. Like, let’s begin with conversation #1. The conversation is circular, we just start where we are. One way that we get great conversations started in our home is through a little game that my cousin plays with his kids. It’s called, “Best and Worst.” At the dinner table each person states the best part of their day and the worst part of their day. This makes for lively conversations, and you would be surprised where some of these conversations end up.
- A truly deep and moving guide for this kind of holistic education can be found in a book entitled Conversations With Children: Communicating Our Faith written by Sister Magdelen. Sister Magdelen shares conversations she has had with children about the Orthodox Faith and Tradition. However, this method can be applied to all subjects, and as she points out in the book, “It [is] risky to select conversations about religion as if it were a separate subject. How we think or act on one issue affects how we think and act on life as a whole, our own life and that of all humanity.”
- Although I would not classify our homeschool method as unschooling, I do use unschooling methods in our homeschool approach. One book that I love is The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom.
- Also, this talk given by Dr. James S. Taylor is very good, and worth a listen. Poetic Knowledge and Education. He also has a book entitled Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of Education that I have not read yet, but it is on my list.
- For a detailed illustration of this method Plato’s Republic is a good reference. In it, Socrates uses conversations to bring about enlightenment.
My goal for this homeschool year concerning this method:
- Keep a daily record of conversations I have had with my children. I think it would be a beneficial reminder on days when I panic that I am not doing enough. It will also help me to be at peace with not using a grading system.