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...