Thursday, December 20, 2012

Our Homeschooling Journey so far

This Year - Grade 1

Thinking about our homeschooling experience as a whole so far, I think I could draw an analogy to what it's like to start a new relationship. At first it's exciting and scary and as time goes on you start to get to know each other and you begin to have more familiarity with each other, and the comfort level rises. That's kind of where we are at now. As things have progressed there have been some surprises, some headaches, some joy, some doubt, some encouragements. We've met new people in the same boat as us and it's been helpful to both get advice and give guidance, now that we have some of this "Homeschooling Thing" under our belts.

The last year has been full of trying out different things to see what works for us. It's been difficult getting into much of a solid routine because I've been changing things around pretty frequently. Some things that I thought we would love, have not worked out for us. Other things I had mediocre feelings about turned out to be really good. Then there's the issue of cost. We received a $1000 grant at the beginning of the year (not cash, the school just pays for it on behalf of us) and I used up most of it right away in fall thinking we had our bases covered. Not so. A lot of the curriculum that was recommended either we did not like, or else it didn't cover everything I needed it to cover. Glad those funds didn't come right out of our pockets, but at the same time those things are not returnable and now we're stuck with a couple hundred bucks worth of stuff that will probably never get used. By the end of the year I'm sure I'll have spent almost double what we received, in order to get the rest of the resources we need. Thankfully a lot of them are re-usable so I'll be able to use them for A once she is in Grade 1.

On the bright side, now that we know what doesn't work for us it's been a lot easier to figure out what does work for us!

Building LEGO replica's of various satellites from the Solar Walk iPad App.

I've made peace with the fact that my child is a visual learner and that most of our learning isn't going to come from doing worksheets. There are certain instances that workbooks have been very handy... "Explode the Code" for example is an awesome program for teaching phonics and early reading. It's absolutely a perfect fit for him. Doing our science through worksheets was a big #fail however. Science needs to be hands on and visual, so we are looking for a different approach. I just ordered the Astronomy book (K - Grade 6) and Junior Notebook from Apologia Press. I hope it's better then what we've got now. It looks more interactive then just filling in the blanks. I think he'll enjoy making a space lapbook. I also ordered some Astronomy DVD's that teach at an elementary level with the perspective of Intelligent Design. I hope they're good. It's been hard to find anything that doesn't pound down the Evolutionary theory.

J's favourite subjects are science, math and art. If I were to ask J what the highlights of school have been for him so far I think he would say things that he doesn't recognize as school so much... things like the Solar Walk iPad App, and the "Handwriting Without Tears" iPad App, BrainPop, and all the Discovery Education Videos. Especially "The Magic Schoolbus"! He really loved the math curriculum we did last year and I'm considering getting the second book to use alongside with what we're doing this year ("Mathematical Reasoning" from Critical Thinking Co.) He enjoys going to the local homeschooling academy resource classes. These classes are pretty much like regular school, held for 3 hours one day a week. I asked him what his favourite part of "real school" is, and his reply was: "Recess".  :)  The main reason I put him in the class was to make some friends, so this makes me happy. Would be even better if the entire 3 hours was just recess in my opinion....

Last Year - Kindergarten

We didn't start official Kindergarten curriculum until halfway through the year last year, in January. Even then it was just bits and pieces here and there, never spending more then an hour or two doing work at a desk. We did this on purpose.

He is among the very youngest in his grade level and had we lived in another province he wouldn't be in school at all yet, because of how they do the date cut-offs differently for grades. So we had a choice to make, either hold him back an entire year or just start half way through and try to catch up eventually. I think we made the right choice not holding him back. He's very slow on the reading and spelling front (actually, he's quite good at phonics and has known the phonetic alphabet since he was 2 years old, but he's still a bit intimidated at the thought of being able to read books - the obstacle is mostly psychological and we're working on it step-by-step), but in every other area he is just racing his way through. Holding him back a year would have been a mistake I think.

We also don't really take school holidays off. We keep up our regular routine pretty much year round, including weekends! But that makes for shorter learning periods on a daily basis, and allows for breaks more often (which we all need!). The decision to do school every day including weekends and holidays came naturally. I noticed it was a lot harder to get back in routine after big breaks like summer vacation, and we wasted so much time getting back on track that it made the break not seem worth it. So now we just do smaller bits of school every day, instead of doing it weekdays and taking school holidays off. It's so much easier to keep in routine then.

All in all I feel like we are still just beginning. He's had his first parent/teacher meeting and report card last month. I'm getting the hang of knowing what we need to do on a daily basis, and what we need to keep track of for weekly reporting and for trimester reporting. I was very nervous and intimidated about the trimester report at first, but I really shouldn't have been. I'm still a bit confused as to how much work we actually need to do. From talking to our teacher and other homeschooling parents I think we are doing way too much. At the same times sometimes it feels like not enough. I need to sit down and go through the learning outcomes in detail and put together a checklist for the rest of the year (because, as I realized about one month into our school year, just because a particular subject's curriculum is recommended and approved does not mean it actually covers what we need to learn!). The whole learning outcomes thing is pretty flexible with us though, it doesn't matter to me that much that we are on track with other kids his age are doing in school. Some things we'll be ahead in and some things we'll be behind in, and eventually I expect we will probably be about a year ahead (by the end of elementary) if we keep going at the same rate we are now.

I am still undecided if we will enroll or register next year. Registering gives us complete freedom but no money from the government. If we enroll then we receive the $1000 again, but it also means we are accountable with weekly reports and three main semesters where we hand in samples of work. So far enrolling is going pretty good, but at the same time some more flexibility would be welcomed. I like the accountability of having to report regularly, but at the same time it's added pressure to do more work during weeks we need a break. By the end of Grade 1 I'm sure we'll have a firm idea over what we should do next year... I suspect either we'll have gotten into a routine and will continue doing the same thing next year, or else I'll want to break off from the typical schedule and do something different next year. We shall see...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Not Back to School

Knowing that we were planning on homeschooling J right from the beginning, I've had a deluge of questions on "How it's going" this past month.

"Do you have your curriculum all planned out?"
"Have you started yet?"
"Got all your supplies together?"
"Where are you going to meet people?"

How do I explain to the curious, that yes, technically we have started, but no, nothing has really changed.  

More naps...

You see, the way I see it, learning happens every day no matter what we do to try to do to hurry it along. A baby learns to walk with very little assistance from his parents, but no textbook, school or teacher is necessary. A child learns to talk and communicate and relate to others without a textbook, school or teacher. They learn by taking in their environment with their senses, and by following their curiosity. Why should learning academics be any different? Jake has started teaching himself to read. He asks me what letters different words start with all the time. He has learned to recognize the particular episodes of shows he enjoys on Netflix by the letters and words of the episode name, and can find them himself with the Apple remote. He knows how to use my iPod. He can beat my husband at Angry Birds and several other video games, by a large margin. But sit him down to do a worksheet about tracing letters and he looks at me with a look that says "This is so boring, what the heck are you doing to me??". So that approach went out the window. Now, take him outside to go exploring and he could spend all day out there getting his hands dirty. He talks non-stop about everything he knows about bugs, the life cycles of different critters, the environment, the seasons, how plants grow, how homes are built, what his body is made up of, space, planets, solids, liquids, gasses, how rockets are built, he knows what causes echo's... he makes up songs along the way as he plays, with correct pitch and consistent rhythm. Seven terms of hands on music "classes" (if you can call them that, more like music exposure) have paid off.

In my experience, pushing children, or even adults, who have a melancholy-phlegmatic type personality only results in frustration. You need to let them go at their own pace, in their own space. I know, cause I am one. But when they have the time and space they need, their production goes through the roof.

When J was 2 years old he had a very small vocabulary. Being quite the melancholic parent, I worried that he was not on track with development and that he was somehow falling behind. Fast forward two years and he talks a mile a minute, you couldn't get him to be quiet for more then 5 minutes. Not only that, but his vocabulary is pretty advanced for his age. He uses words like "Imagination" and "Meteorites" in every other sentence. He watches and understands very dry scientific BBC documentaries. He explains to me how the planets were formed, what the different planets are made out of, what fossils are... this is all without me doing any teaching. The only thing we've done is encouraged his exposure to whatever he is curious about. If he's interested in planets, I buy movies and books about planets. If he's interested in bugs, we spend a lot of time outside exploring and watching all the different little creatures who make their home in our neck of the woods (quite a few out here actually!). He loves to bake and he knows what ingredients go into the batter for making muffins. Not even my husband knows that! :)

More play...

He loves people and he is very social. As he gets older I'm sure the way he socializes with people will be remarkably different then other kids who are the same age who are part of the school system. This could be argued as being either good or bad, but I prefer to just see it as being different. I'm sure his differences will be rather obvious, and in our society differences are usually frowned upon. He will have more confidence in approaching others, he will most likely be more open minded. He will probably have more friends in different age groups then other kids his age. Some people might think he's weird cause he may approach others out of a kind but curious boldness. This could come in handy when he becomes a teenager though. He doesn't get told "No" much, so he doesn't have much fear of rejection and is braver then many kids his age. He is also kinder and gentler then many boys his age, and he may have less tolerance for bullies and unfair treatment since he's been accustomed to being without that. People are shocked to see how considerate he can be to other children, particular the younger ones. He may get annoyed with his little sister, but when he is around younger friends he is so protective of them. I see him turning into a very confident and good hearted boy, and our goal is to provide an environment that will encourage the growth of those traits.

So where does that leave us... how do you plan an unplanned year? Basically what I'm doing is taking his current interests and expanding on them. We're going to keep learning about space, and weather, and bugs and all the things that make his eyes light up. I buy curriculum that looks good to me, and use it in a way that makes sense to me. I may not use all the units or do them in order, but I am quite good at putting things together in a comprehensive way. If I notice a certain subject is over done (like weather for example, really how many activities can a kid do on rainy vs. sunny till they get bored of it? We're hardly touching that unit...) We'll keep going until it gets old and we're ready to either learn something more advanced, or move on to a different subject all together. No testing. No report cards. But I do plan to keep records of the different theories and facts he's mastered, just in case records ever become required one day - and also just for me to keep track to make sure there are as few missing pieces as possible. I'm sure there will be bits and pieces that we miss over time, but the same thing happens in the regular school system so I'm not worried about it. When he needs to learn something, he will learn it. We do not have a regular schedule yet, though I may consider it for certain seasons of our learning. We have not started with any particular curriculum yet, I'm still in the planning stages so basically all he's gotten so far is new books about the things he likes to learn about. Everything we do for the next few months at least, is bound to be very hands on or visual. I'm planning out potential curriculum for each subject and the supplies I need. Since he's a very young Kindergartner, I am taking my time with this. I don't want to overwhelm him with more then he's ready for right now. If he were in public school he'd probably be repeating this year in Kindergarten next year, since he's among the very youngest in his grade. If we lived in Manitoba he actually wouldn't be starting Kindergarten until next fall since their cut off is much earlier. Why the difference between Provinces anyways? Makes no sense to me. The few months really makes a huge difference, especially for boys!

I'm part of the local homeschool Yahoo group and as far as I can tell, there are a couple hundred home school families in the area. There are several planned activities every week, for all styles of home schoolers. Gym glasses, art classes, wood working, hockey, soccer, video directing camp for teens, going to see musical theater productions and the symphony, field trips to museums and nature reserves, dance classes just for home schoolers, specialized biology classes at the Aquarium, genetics and dissection classes at a local home schooling parents home... there is SO much to choose from. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it) most of these experiences are for Grade 1 and up, and since J is only a very young Kindergartner ... he is still 4 years old... he is not ready for all those activities yet. The time will come. For now he's getting in his naps and play time still. As the year progresses and next fall approaches, things will get quite a bit busier. I also have to keep in mind, that Lexi will be in "preschool" next fall and she may or may not be able to join Jake on these extra activities. We'll just go with the flow and figure out what works. I also value free time as educational. Kids need down time to process what they're learning, it's not a waste. So I want to make sure not to fill our days too much.