Sunday, October 06, 2013

Stepping Stones

We've been home schooling for just over a month now.  Things are going pretty well.

To state the obvious, it's been a learning process.  To state the less obvious: for me.  I haven't home schooled them since they were five and seven years old.  And up until that point, we were just playing.  And cooking.  And doing science demonstrations (not experiments, per se).  And reading lots of stories.  Oh, and watching lots of youtube videos (as resources, mostly).

I hadn't done any formal schooling with them.  There were the odd moments of panic (what if I'm completely and utterly WRONG?! what if I should be teaching them to write?!) that lasted about one or two hours and - thankfully - passed without much interference in the real business of playing.

Things are quite different now.

They have now spent two full school years and one half in school.
They are now 8 and 10.
They have become a bit jaded about learning.
I am not actually home with them in the mornings.
What if something happens to me and they have to get put back into school like before?
Things like that.  So as a result of things being different, things are a bit different.

It's not ideal.  It's not what I want.  And it's still a helluva lot better than before.  I am super happy they are not in school.  They are now free from the constraints of the series of little boxes of standards we like to call curriculum.  They are also free from the tethers of half hour blocks of time for learning different things.  They are free from tests and homework.  They are free to learn more about what matters to them.  They are free to spend more or less time on concepts they are exploring and skills they are building.

I am thinking about Brother in particular.  He was grasping concepts faster then he "should have" and had a lot of lag time in which to express his boredom kinesthetically, vocally -or both, disrupting the other learners and invariably getting into trouble.  Now he can go as fast as he wants on those things - and take time to revisit some of the content and building blocks he missed because of the mid-year skip up to grade three.

Sister, too, can linger or jump ahead.  In that regard, it's ideal.

In the other way(s), it's not ideal.  I am making them do math and language every day so they can keep strengthening and growing those skills.  Because what if?  I just can't take that chance again.  If there were a school that would meet them where they were if they needed admission, I'd feel less inclined to take this insurance policy route.  But there isn't.  I am trying to protect them.

We are certainly learning things together, with and about each other.  We've spent that last month or so figuring out what works best for us.  And, to be honest, we are still figuring it out.

I went from a loose list of things they might consider doing to adding time frames to Brother's daily plan to help give him more direction.  (Otherwise, he was often bored and ended up disturbing Daddy who is working from home in order to facilitate them being at home.) I then saw that sister was also having some difficulty flowing.  So I started doing custom notes every night before I went to sleep.  I added specific tasks and links to potentially interesting videos.  We did that for a while.  Then I noticed they were having some difficulty flowing with the white board General List and the laptop text file Specific Tasks.  They were confused.  Daddy was confused, too.  They were also ignoring much of the specifics in the text file.  Okay.  Nix that.  Back to the writing board!

Did that for a while.  Then I noticed that when I got home at 1:15 or so, they'd still be on 11 o' clock on their whiteboard time line.  This was happening consistently.  Why?  Because they'd get caught up in something they were doing (usually reading) and lose track of time.  Solution?  Get rid of the times.

We are now on a system of a numbered list - with a few things that happen every day without fail - namely, as I mentioned before, Math and Language.  (Math is a minimum of 1hr a day - critical for Brother because of his interest in Chemistry.)   I also pull books from the shelf for them and put them out as suggested reading.  This has been well received.  They like having jumping off points.  And this way, everybody wins.  Brother has a list of things to do, but isn't bound to a time limit, and has suggestions to help him when he reaches a block.  Sister is happy to have more literature.  They both enjoy watching science videos on Youtube or BrainPop.  Most recently, in an effort to help them master their multiplication tables, I downloaded an app called Sushi Monster and that is working well too.  It's really a series of stepping stones that I lay out for them each day.  They step when they are ready and have more ownership in the process.

The most important thing we are working on is balance.  We want to fit more activities into our week - like cooking and science demonstrations/experiments.  This means not planning anything on Tuesdays when I do not go to work at all, and spending the day at home with them and doing stuff together instead.  They really love it when I am home with them.  I do too.  (Do I even need to say here that if I could possibly stay home with them and do this without working, I totally would - before the heart even knew it needed another beat?)

Overall, things are going well because Brother gets waaay more science time and sister gets waaay more creativity time.

Now to get them doing some physical activities they enjoy.  It appears they'd prefer me to pull their teeth.

Without anesthetic.


Jaki Armstrong said...

Hi Cian! Thanks for posting your thoughts and 'worries'--we all have them. Remember, we came through the 'system'--we have to have a timeline and specific tasks otherwise we are just playing and wasting time. Have you watched Peter Gray's talk at Harvard? The conference was Alternatives to Compulsory Education in April. Check it out, it has become my 'mantra'. Love, Jaki

Milkshaken said...

Thanks for your comment, Jaki!

I haven't seen that talk. Is there a link you might be able to share? I'd love to see it. (If not, I'll look for it too).

I am a little bit uneasy with the sentiment that without deadlines we are playing and wasting time. It almost sounds like playing is being equated with wasted time. I will, however, reserve any real commentary until I see the talk.

Love dialoging with you!

Thalia in Jamaica said...

As usual, this writing mama is on point, people! Milkshaken Mama Cian is our voice!

Random thought - what about a list of physical requirements for them to get done before the end of the day in addition to their other lists? I am thinking of pedometers for measuring # steps and using fun stuff like hula hoops and skipping ropes, maybe even basic training kind of obstacle courses. Perhaps competitions between them? Could be charted and reported on (to include some of those reporting skills needed in Language Arts and Science)??

I love that you give yourself permission to learn and in so doing, give us other parents permission to... Keep on rocking!!