It was almost 5 years ago today that I decided to take a leap of faith and transfer colleges from University of Pittsburgh to Carlow University. I was about to be a second semester Junior but was convinced my finally-made-up-mind was making the right choice in pursuing a degree in Art Education. Phew- thank you, mind, I think you were good at leaping back then.
Fast forward to today where I am teaching my favorite subject (art, of course) at a progressive preschool whose philosophy is the love child of a Montessori-meets-Reggio Emilia learning approach. I have a daughter with extra needs and a new interest in special needs education. I’m not certain where my path will lead but where once I did not see ability within myself to teach children with needs other than “normal” I now am starting to see only possibility.
New, also, is my piqued interest with all things home-school. So many scary things are happening particularly in public schools these days. Guns, drugs, sex, violence- I joke often with my husband that I’ll seriously (seriously) homeschool our kids thus forever cinching them to me in a safe, happy, information-exploration, bubble that will stretch it’s existence into Never Never Land. Happily ever after.
But I don’t live in Never Never Land and I’m fairly certain my career path and my family’s happily ever after leads me outside the home. I won’t be a play at home Momma forever and regardless of any feelings I may have on the subject, financial needs will always root for my hardworking side to take the wheel. My kids will most likely go to (and thoroughly enjoy as much as I) public school- thriving and flourishing just as I did under the watchful guidance of my own parents. I had a great public school education.
However, none of that matters when I sink into Lori Pickert’s Camp Creek blog; cup of hot tea totally mandatory. This project-based, home schooling Momma is the ever inspiring source of all things creative, explorative, and truly inspiring about learning as a whole. When I settle in to read some of her posts, I’m instantly reminded of why I do what I do, what’s truly important in the learning life of my kids, and how I can implement so many of these wonderful ideas into my own Mothering- home school or not.
Somehow on the journey from artist to teacher to mother, I turned into the mother of all college classroom buzzwords- a “life long learner” (go ahead Ed. majors, cringe). But it’s true. And Lori is a source of great and continued inspiration.
How did this home schooling begin? Were you home schooled as a child? Did you always know your own children would be home schooled? Talk for a moment about your roots here, Lori!
I always planned to homeschool, then when the time came I ended up opening a small private school instead. I ran that for several years and it was an amazing experience. Eventually, as my children got older, we closed the school and began homeschooling using the same methods: authentic art, long-term projects, self-directed learning.
I was educated at public school myself, and my experiences there — both good and bad — led me to want to homeschool. I had a couple of years in a progressive program where children had the freedom to learn at their own pace and be more independent. Those good years were radically different from most of the time I spend in the classroom. I was very, very bored. I always knew I would probably have to homeschool to give my children the kind of education I envisioned for them.
What, do you feel, is the greatest reward your kids receive from being home schooled?
There are so many, it’s really difficult to say. Obviously, an individualized education is wonderful — but my kids would probably do really well in public school, too. So I have to say it’s the more laid-back lifestyle — not being tied to a school calendar, not having to be up in the morning and out the door, not having homework cut into family and leisure time. Living a more relaxed life allows them to devote a lot of energy to their interests and their relationships. They don’t have to choose between the things they love to do; they have time to do them all. And we can travel in the off-season!
Are there challenges your children face that traditionally schooled children do not?
There are definitely challenges, and I think they are really beneficial. For example, we have to build our own social network; it’s not just provided for us. If they want to meet new friends, if they want a club or a group centered around one of their interests, they do the work of making that happen. They build their own curriculum based on their interests — finding materials, places to do field work, mentors and experts. They don’t just open a book, read it, and take a test. They have to do all the work themselves, building it from scratch. That has really made them amazing learners. And very self-sufficient.
Are there challenges you face, as a Mom who also takes on the role of Teacher?
It’s probably easier for me than for most. I’m a long-time autodidact. I started my first business straight out of college. I did the work of preparing to open the school. I studied education very seriously for years and worked as a consultant devising training programs for teachers. So I had a history of self-directed learning myself; I was pretty well prepared to be a mentor and help them learn to direct and manage their own learning.
I don’t think of myself as a teacher; I really am more of a mentor. I help them figure out what they want to do, and I help them find what they need to do it. I brainstorm with them; I help them solve problems. I’m always here for them. But they do most of the work.
What lessons have you learned through this whole journey?
Thoreau wrote that cutting wood warms you twice — once when you split it and again when you burn it. This is probably the deepest lesson I’ve learned, first through my own work and then again watching my children: building your own education means you learn exponentially more. You have to find what you need, you have to determine whether you’ve answered your own questions, you have to set and meet your own goals. You end up with the knowledge and skills you were seeking, but you also end up with remarkable learning muscles and powerful habits of mind. Then you can go forward and learn anything you need to learn.
Talk for a moment about “authentic art”. Why is it so important for children?
This ties neatly to what we were just talking about. So many of the art opportunities that are given to children have much of the learning stripped out. They focus on the end product rather than all the learning that can be built into the process. Authentic art starts with the child’s ideas. (I actually saw a Pinterest pin that praised a craft because “your kids don’t even have to have any ideas!” Argh.) Authentic art incorporates skills for a purpose that the child provides. The child’s need to create something drives their learning. It’s the difference between a bulletin board that shows 24 almost identical pieces of “art” and a child’s completely unique creation that only he or she would build — because it incorporates their questions, their interests, their ideas, their need to express something.
Authentic art, like project-based homeschooling, incorporates learning at every stage: Making a plan, figuring out what materials are needed, acquiring skills to do what you need to do, evaluating and reflecting, solving problems, doing multiple drafts. And it’s no more difficult than setting up a craft; in fact, it’s easier. You don’t have to know all the steps ahead of time — you just need to help your child get the materials and skills they need, and they do all the rest. And, of course, along the way they learn so much more than they would from doing a follow-the-directions activity.
Do you have advice for those who think negatively about home schooling?
Even if you are completely against the idea of homeschooling, your children still need the chance to learn to direct and manage their own learning. They still need to explore their own unique interests and develop their talents (rather than only focusing on what they don’t do well). These are the things that will help your child figure out his meaningful work and his purpose. School takes up an awful lot of a child’s time. If your child is in school and participating in some extracurricular activities or sports, they may have almost no leisure time to do what they want. So it’s especially important to get them started very young exploring real interests — before they run out of time and energy. That way, when they’re older, they have developed interests and built habits that support a lifetime of learning, making, doing, and sharing.
What about advice for those parents that are considering home schooling but don’t know where to begin? Resources?
There are a million different ways to homeschool. You might think, from browsing around, that there are only a few paths open to you. That is not true at all. Homeschooling offers you the opportunity to create something that suits your values and goals exactly. Take your time and read and explore; see what’s out there and whether it resonates with what you already believe to be true. Start slow and don’t be afraid to change direction as you learn more and understand more. It’s a process. Take the time to build it yourself and you’ll be much happier with what you end up with. Enjoy it!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview; I have really enjoyed it! People who are interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling can read my book [http://www.amazon.com/Project-
If you are curious, this is my permanently book marked, most favorite LP post- like ever. I find it inspiring as I trip my way through my first year teaching preschool art and also find it so centering. Play then purpose.
Thanks, Lori, for providing such great information for all of my readers!