In my last post, Parenting in Baskets, I reviewed Dr. Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child. As I read the book, my mind wandered, as it is wont to do, to applications of the basket system to homeschooling. To review, Greene advocates the use of three mental baskets: Basket A for nonnegotiable items (health and safety), Basket B for working on learning flexibility and problem-solving, and Basket C for issues to set aside from the time being.
Lately, I’ve wrestled with my older son’s educational malaise and generally very 13 -year-old approach to homeschooling. By age, he’s an eighth grader, although he’s completed a fair amount of high-school level work, especially in science and math. Homeschooling high school is therefore upon us, if not officially by the calendar certainly by academics. Approaches to homeschooling high school abound, and numerous books, websites, and listservs exist to guide a family, offer transcript templates, give advice on community college, early college, no college, online virtual high schools, and more. It’s enough to cause serious sleep loss for any parent who worries about five to ten years down the road.
Back to the baskets. As I struggle to define my homeschooling goals, especially for high school, I find the basket system helps me prioritize, thus avoiding the worse of the panic that he’s terribly behind and that I’m a slacker homeschooling mom. Basket A is for the basics, the knowledge and skills I see as indispensable. For now, Basket A includes strong reading comprehension and interpretation skills, writing clearly with excellent mechanics, and a high level (yet undefined) of math skills and the ability to use math in science and beyond. Yup. Basket A is reading, writing, and arithmetic. Novel, huh?
In Basket B are the subjects and skills that certainly aid in his becoming a well-rounded adults and are part of his studies each year, yet I’m much more flexible about how they occur. Basket B contains science, history, geography, and music. Both boys love Basket B tasks, with my younger focused on history and geography and my older on music and science. It’s often via Basket B studies that skills in logic, research, experimentation, and critical thinking. If I asked my boys what was the most important material to learn, they’d pick what I put into Basket B. Basket A is more palatable, however, in the context of Basket B topics.
Basket C contains all the subjects that, either due to lack of skills, interest, or time, aren’t happening, at least for now. It’s the basket I often want to shove under the bed, so I don’t have to see (and then worry about) all we’re not doing. Art usually sits in Basket C, along with foreign languages, creative writing, handwriting (for my older son – we gave up), and formal spelling instruction (for the same child), It’s not that I don’t value these subjects, but they’re just not on the table now.
So why bother with the baskets? The baskets help me focus my energy and time when I become overwhelmed by what everyone else is doing, what my ideal homeschooling world resembles, and when I just worry that I’m missing the elusive “something”. I’m not sure who everyone else is, but when I’m a bit anxious about our path, I tend to avoid reading some very fine homeschooling blogs and posts on homeschooling listservs, simply to avoid feelings of inadequacy (but come back later when I’m feeling more secure). Avoiding my mind is a bit more tricky.
I don’t want to imply a lack of flexibility about the baskets, especially Basket A. My older isn’t studying a formal writing curriculum now, but he is writing across the curriculum this semester. He’s taking Precalculus with Trigonometry at a leisurely pace, since we’ve both decided there’s no hurry to higher math. I’d still place reading, writing, and math at the top of the “academic stuff you gotta learn pile”. Perhaps its more precise to refer to the contents of Basket A as “necessary skills you gotta learn to discover the wonders of Baskets B and C”. I would maintain that sometimes the best way to master those skills is through practicing them on B and C material. Certain elements of math come alive when logarithms, linear equations, and geometry appear in Chemistry lessons.
Basket C, poor stepchild to the rest of their education it often seems, keeps what we’re not currently studying from completely disappearing from view. And, while I’d guess plenty of homeschoolers would have a similar Basket A, I’d guess that B and C vary a good deal from family to family and even from year to year in the same family. Foreign language jumped from B to C in December, and study skills (as a subject of study) are now firmly in basket B (no coincidence at that swap). After all, flexibility remains a top benefit to homeschooling.
I’ll pass the question to you. How do you prioritize academic subjects? How distressed do you become at the thought of all that’s left undone? Let’s talk!