How do you homeschool a baby?

Recent media blitz on homeschooling in India has caused an uptick in inquiries coming in.  Suddenly India Homeschoolers is getting membership requests from parents of kids as young as 3, 2, and even 1 year of age.  Practicing homeschoolers raise an eyebrow at the very idea of homeschooling or schooling children under 6 but we are soon to be outnumbered by people who stubbornly identify themselves as homeschoolers even though their children have not reached school age.
And what is school age?  Six?  Five?  Four?  Then what is pre-school age?  As it races to the bottom, people are cashing in from all corners.  Baby music classes, toddler phonetics classes, gym classes are sprouting up everywhere and what parent would want to miss out on the promised “brain stimulation,” preparation for “child observation” and “free time for mom?”

So then, what to tell that brave parent who chooses not to enroll her toddler into such classes, and asks, what do I do instead?Here is an actual conversation I had recently with someone who was just beginning her exploration into homeschooling. She got my number through a series of mutual acquaintances.  Her side of the conversation is in italics.

 

What curriculum are you using? she asked.

Not wanting to scare her away, I simply said, we don’t use a specific fixed curriculum, we do various things. I also mentioned that in the early years it is vital to keep mental space free for exploration. If you start telling, this is shape, this is color, this is ABC, this is this animal, etc, then one hinders the process of discovery.

Then I asked her how old her kids were – they were 1 and 2. So I asked, “why are you interested in homeschooling?”

Because I don’t want to put them into school right now and make them learn ABC, etc.

But I want to homeschool them, not unschool them. Are you unschooling or homeschooling?

Before we go there let us say that maybe you are planning to start school for them at age 6. Then how would you support their learning process in the 5 or 6 years of life?

They are already driven by a curiosity, opening up various paths of learning as they go along and if you want you can consider this a “curriculum” that is created by them, and is more powerful than what is designed by any Board of Education.

It is so powerful that even if you impose drill-and-fill type of education on them, they will still seek out spaces between and outside of that to explore what draws them. But you can choose to allow them more time and space to follow their own curriculum, and in the process they will be learning things that we don’t know they are learning, they will also be learning how to learn and investigating the purpose of things they are learning.

For example, when babies practice “baby talk” inventing sounds and words, that is all part of creating / learning language, as if no one had ever done it before and one was doing it from scratch. Eventually they will move on to the standardized language of those around them, but the early experiments with sound and sense are very important – similarly they will experiment with other concepts. If we short-circuit their own experiments by telling them what to learn and what is what, then we deprive them of intellectual exercise and expect them to be passive recipients of knowledge.

How do you teach? she asked.

I replied, “Can you give me an example of something you want to teach?”

Reading, phonetics

Are there books in your house?

Yes.

Do you and others at home read these books?

Yes.

In general, if a child is surrounded by people reading then she will learn to read just as she learned to walk and talk, driven by her own interest in what those around her are doing and in the case of walking and maybe talking, partly also by instinct – reading may not be instinctive but if people are reading and also reading to her, with her, then she will pick up the skills. The skills are not just phonetics, it is a whole relationship with language and that comes from using language and objects in a variety of ways. Telling stories is even more important than reading aloud from a book.

What are some things she likes to do?

She loves to hear stories. She also plays with blocks.

Storytelling & story-making is also happening when we play with blocks, dolls, kitchen utensils, mud, all of those contribute to our thinking skills, interpretive skills.

Okay, this gives me an idea. I don’t think I understood what unschooling was. The thing is that in my neighbourhood no one is homeschooling. So they all say I am risking her future.

As you can see by the end of the conversation, she felt that she had a better idea of what she wanted to do, but still needed help in explaining her decisions to her family and friends. But I think she gained confidence that help was available.