Tidal Homeschooling

January 11, 2006 @ 3:34 am | Filed under: , , ,

Click here for the master list of all my tidal homeschooling posts.

People often ask me what kind of homeschoolers we are: Classical? Charlotte Mason? Eclectic? Delight-Directed? Unschoolers? How, they want to know, does learning happen in our home? Am I in charge, or do I let the kids lead the way? And what about math?

Over the years I have written with enthusiasm about the Charlotte Mason method (which is highly structured) and unschooling (which is not). These educational philosophies seem to have intertwined themselves in my home, so that the what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd, and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re “real CMers” because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered “real unschoolers.”

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us “Tidal Learners” because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

We have high tide times when I charter a boat and we set sail with purpose and direction, deliberately casting our net for a particular type of fish. On these excursions I am the captain; I have charted the course. But the children are eager crew members because they know I value their contributions. And also I provide generous rations. No stale or moldy bread on this ship: no dull textbooks, no dry workbooks. My sailors sink their teeth into fresh, hearty bread slathered with rich butter and tart-sweet jam. Well fed and proud of their work, my little crew exhilarates in the voyage. Every journey is an adventure.

And we have low tide times when we amble along the shore, peering into tide pools and digging in the sand, or just relaxing under beach umbrella. The children wander off in directions of their own choosing; they dig and poke and ponder. One of them may crouch over a rock pool and stay there for days, studying, watching. Another will run headlong into the waves, thrilling to the pull on her legs, splashing, leaping, diving under and emerging triumphantly farther out. Or a child might prefer to stay close by my side, drawing stick pictures in the sand or building a castle. All of these things may be happening at once. Sometimes it looks as though nothing is happening: there’s just an array of bodies on beach towels. But oh, the nourishment there is in a time of quiet reflection while the soul soaks up the sunlight!

Our family enjoys both kinds of learning—the heady adventure of the well-planned fishing trip, with a goal and a destination in mind, and the mellower joys of undirected discovery during weeks at the metaphorical beach. Around here, the low tide times happen much more often than the high tide times, and often I find that the children catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out. Beachcombing reveals many treasures. But they do enjoy their excursions with Cap’n Mom. I really believe joy is the key, the element we breathe whether the tide is in or out. It’s the wind that propels our ship; it’s the tangy breeze that cools and refreshes us on the beach.

In the coming days I’ll write about how the metaphor plays out in our house on a practical level. “So what do you do all day?” is a question I’m often asked, and since every day is different, it’s easiest to answer that question with snapshots and specifics. Right now, this week, we’re spending our mornings on the boat. We’re studying sign language and German; we’re enjoying a Robert Frost poem every day; we’re reading a book of English history together as well as the oft-mentioned The Penderwicks. Jane spends time on her self-prescribed drawing exercises every day, and my funny Rose continues her dogged pursuit of ancient Greek. (More on that another day). I’ve plotted a rough course that should bring us back into port in early April, when the newest member of our crew will arrive. And then I expect the tide will go out for quite a long time. It’s always a low tide time for us in spring, even when there isn’t a new baby. I’m laying in a good supply of books to read from the shade of my umbrella, but I imagine the children will spend most of their time off exploring the shore.

Read more about Tidal Homeschooling here.

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38 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Mary G in Greenville says:

    Lissa -=- this is such a great description of a homeschool! I love the imagery. We too have started German (we might be going back to Austria) and we’re enjoying a book about El Cid by Geraldine McCaughrean. It’s wonderful!

    Keep posting about the Tidal Homeschool — this is fascinating.

  2. Happyheartsmom says:

    This was so great, love the imagry(sp?) and metaphoric descriptions. I wish we were all at the beach with you right now. We happen to be hunkering down after a great all-day snow from yesterday! Warmly, M.H.

  3. Becky says:

    Brilliant! And particularly resonant for me as I finish packing for our five-week trip to the Caribbean to see my parents. Thank you : )

  4. AliceG says:

    This is a perfect description of the natural rhythms of homeschool life. Thanks for another winner.

  5. Mary Beth Patnaude says:

    Great description of your day! You continue to amaze me. Since our new arrival(5 weeks ago), I feel like it’s all I can do to read 2 books to my kids each day, and I don’t even homeschool(although I still have the dream)! Just don’t know if I can handle it.

  6. Ron says:

    Sounds alot like us. We’d like to include it in the Carnival tomorrow as long as you don’t mind.

  7. Atypical Homeschool.net says:

    Canival of Unschooling #2

    Just like dawn rising, snow melting and spring flowers easing their way into the sunshine, many long-term homeschoolers find themselves in a full-blown summer of unschooling, not quite sure how they got there.
    But first, for the new readers, WFR at E…

  8. Andrea says:

    Your post is up in the carnival of unschooling. Thanks!

  9. The Lilting House says:

    All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)

    The Sabine Women, Jacques-Louis David, 1796-99 Over at Bonny Glen I’ve been talking about the connections my kids are making during our read-aloud of Famous Men of Rome. This is for me one of the best things about homeschooling: watching

  10. Cara Fletcher says:

    I think this method you are talking about for home schooling is great and I am going to use it when my daughter.I think she would like it too.

  11. Makita says:

    I just found your blog (via WTM forums) and have been browsing about… when I came across this description, I was immediately delighted. This is us! You’ve described it so beautifully and coming from one who has grown up on the Oregon Coast – it really spoke to me. Thank you!

  12. Renee says:

    Your description of tidal homeschooling so mirrors our own adventures. I have adopted your term when asked the probing questions by non-homeschoolers and homeschoolers alike. Thanks for sharing your journey and your imagination! On another note… Congrats on your latest edition! He’s adorable and you are simply glowing!

  13. Lisa Manske says:

    I love your description! We are unschoolers and what you just described sounds so much like our family. Homeschooling this way is a great fit for our family and such a joy.

  14. Liza says:

    Wow! I just found your site via TheHomeSchoolMom’s Site, and “ran” into your Tidal Homeschooling thought process. A couple of years ago I got the Cathy Duffy’s 100 Best Curriculum Guide Book (not remembering the exact title right now – green cover with an apple on it), and took the “test” to see what style would fit me and my home. Well, I was not too happy with the results that it told me, as I wanted to be a CMer and not an unschooler. 🙂

    However, the way you describe what Tidal Homeschooling is, you have describe my thought processes totally. Now if they would just figure out how to get that on the “test”, I would be happy. 🙂

    Thanks for your site and blog. I intend to visit more often.

    Liza from Nashua, NH

  15. Amanda says:

    Oh, I love the tidal metaphor! It sounds exactly like what we do!!

  16. Aadel Bussinger says:

    That sounds exactly like us! We are unschooling/Charlotte Mason/eclectic tidal learners too!

  17. Lori says:

    Hi. I’m Lori. Homeschooling mom of four. I loved, loved, loved A Little Way of Homeschooling! Actually it inspired me and others here in my area to let go and let our children live and learn!

    I’m passing The Versatile Blogger Award on to you 🙂

    Blessings, Lori

  18. Taunya says:

    I love the term Tidal Learners! This is one of the best answers to the “What style are you?” questions.

  19. tricia says:

    I found this post from a link to another blog I read. You have just given a name to our homeschool too! Like you, I couldn’t identify strictly with any of the well known methods of homeschooling. Now after 25 years of homeschooling and 7 children of my 12 still schooling I have a name! Great post.

  20. adrienne says:

    I completely disagree with your view that Charlotte Mason is so “highly structured” that is is not allowing for the creative ebb and flow that you describe in your homeschooling. I am so very sad that people misunderstand Charlotte Mason. Charlotte Mason is structured; yes! But, your description of how you homeschool is VERY VERY Charlotte Mason.

    I do not have time to list a lot of CM quotes, but here are two that came to mind that will help you to see the CM is very much supportive to the way you are teaching her children…

    From the pen of Charlotte Mason: “It may be hard, but it is not unsympathetic, if mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, on in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents. The mother would be able to hold herself in ‘wise passiveness’, and would not fret her children by continual interference, even of hand or eye– she would let them be.” Volume 3, page 33

    “Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair….There is so much task work to be done, so many things that must be, not learned, but learned about, that it is only now and then a child gets the chance to produce himself in his work. But let us use such opportunities as come in our way.” Volume 3, page 37

    I just noticed another misunderstanding about CM, and I quote:

    “But I couldn’t say we’re “real CMers” because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered “real unschoolers.””

    This quote seems to infer that unschooling does not allow for prodding, but CM does want the mom to prod or nudge her children along, as part of her “structured manner” of schooling.

    This sentence could cause another misunderstanding of CM. Charlotte Mason, as well as “unschooling”, discourages prodding and “nudging”. In fact, she has written a lot about it.

    Again from the pen of CM…. “What we must guard against in the training of children in the danger of their getting into the habit of being prodded to every duty and every effort. Our whole system of school policy is largely a system of prods. Marks, prizes, exhibitions are all prods; and a system of prodding is apt to obscure the meaning of MUST and OUGHT for the boy or girl who gets into the habit of mental and moral lolling up against his prods. Volume 3, page 39

    in reference to a mother or teacher prodding or “nudging” too much, CM says….
    “…our non-success in education is a good deal due to the fact that we carry children through their school work and do not let them feel their feet.” volume 3, page 38

    Living in JOY,

  21. Melissa Wiley says:

    Adrienne, when I wrote that post (6 1/2 years ago), I was responding to a conversation that sprang from CM Vol. 6, Towards a Philosophy of Education, in which Miss Mason states quite directly that her method shouldn’t be used piecemeal (as I have used it) if one hopes to achieve the results she promises. I’ll try to look up the quote later. Sorry to hear you think I misrepresented her—I’m quite a champion of her work. But a taker with many grains of salt, and far more of an Inconstant Kitty than she’d approve of. 🙂

  22. Vanessa Davies says:

    Oh! This is just what we do! (Although you sound so much more relaxed about it!). I can’t wait to make my way through all your posts and be inspired and renewed. Thanks!