I hesitate to write a post like this because I feel so unworthy. Not only do I not know what the heck I’m doing, there are so many brilliant people who have been doing this for so long, my thoughts on the matter are laughably shallow in comparison to theirs. So just know that I know that. Fully aware.
We are going to continue homeschooling next year. Well, by “next year,” I mean the traditional August-May school year, 2013-14. I had been open to sending the rising 7th grader back to school, but I’ve decided that we are really just getting the hang of it, so we’ll give it another year. Plus I want to go places. If he wants to go back for 8th grade, he can (it will be the school which he’s attended since 2nd grade – he stays in contact with his friends through sports and scouts, so it’s where he feels at home). Then we’ll think about high school. Lord.
(How many of you have thought…”I”ll homeschool through elementary school, but could never homeschool high school..” but the closer high school gets, the more you think, “No WAY is he going to regular high school….”)
I’m pleased with how it’s gone so far, and the boys are, too. There are definitely some missing pieces that I am slowly trying to squeeze in. But I have to say that the experience is radicalizing my views on education, which I always thought were pretty out there anyway.
First, I’ll describe some of the things that are going on around here – let’s focus on this week.
The 6th grader has started Pre-Algebra in the Art of Problem Solving program. After he finished his school’s 6th grade math (which I had him do for the sake of continuity and possible return to that school), I wondered what to do with him. I considered Singapore, but I kept coming back to the AOPS website and considering whether it would be a good fit. It’s very different and is targeted at higher-level math students. My 6th grader has not evinced many hints of genius yet, but he has been a strong math student and it has always seemed to me that he has a mathematical mind. So I thought we would try this, and so far it’s a smashing success.
Even I, a non-mathematician (who, nonetheless did well in math in school and can do decent mental computation) am finding it interesting and helpful. We are just working through the first chapter now, and I’m finding that the treatment of these arithmetic concepts to be intriguing and presented in a way so that I can finally see the point of things like, say, the Distributive Property. And the 6th grader gets it. He’ll be presented with a problem that seems impossible to me at first glance, he thinks about it for three seconds and comes up with the right answer and using the correct process for that lesson.
It’s so good, I’m actually thinking about enrolling him in one of the online classes. I think he would really benefit from it.
The second grader worked through his school 2nd grade math, then completed the 3rd grade Math Mammoth program, and now I’m just waiting for the 3rd grade level program from AOPS - Beast Academy - to arrive.
Both of them have done a lot of Life of Fred as well, and the 6th grader has read a couple of Murderous Math books to keep sharp and expand his thinking.
So every morning after prayer, we do math. I do that first, not because anyone hates it and it needs to be gotten out of the way, but because it’s so neat and concrete. Even if nothing else seems to get accomplished during the day, math happened, and we can all feel good about that.
After math, the 6th grader does a bit of Latin. We are using this right now, which is very basic and slow. When we’re done with this, we’ll move on to a more traditional Latin program – in the fall probably. Since this was all so new, I wanted to start slowly, and it seems to have been a good idea. The boy is enjoying Latin, approaches translation as a rather enjoyable puzzle, and isn’t overwhelmed. I think once the fall comes, he’ll actually be eager to go into more depth and acquire the knowledge that will enable him to “solve” even more complex problems.
Then he does history. We had been bouncing between this and this, but now we’re at the end of the Middle Ages, so I want to backtrack a bit. I have so many random books I’ve picked up over the years, I really would like to use some of them. So over the past week, he’s been reading a couple a chapters of day of this book – a rather humorous, episodic retelling of some stories from medieval English history.
After he reads, I have him “narrate” to me in one of any number of ways. Some days, I just have him tell me about the chapters orally. Other days, he writes. I have him type because that’s another skill we’re working on – he’s been learning keyboarding over the past few months. He’s learned the entire keyboard, so now it’s time to just practice. It’s a way to reinforce the keyboarding and work on writing, as well. Today I had him write/type a newscaster-type report of the incident he’d read about - the wreck of the White Ship. Just a couple of paragraphs. We printed it out, talked about his errors, and tomorrow he’ll make his corrections and flesh it out a bit more.
Oh, and what is my autodidact 3rd grader doing through all of this?
He practices some cursive.
(He doesn’t mind because it’s like a puzzle to him. He likes to present me with long, advanced words he’s managed to loop out in cursive.)
I grab five minutes and get him started on a new piano piece – and then he will, in his pigheaded way, work it out himself till he gets it right. Better to do it that way than me trying to help him and him arguing that he doesn’t need help. Cut out that stage, and we’re good. And then I’ll come back when I get a chance and play the teacher’s part with him.
And then he reads. He reads his own books that he’s enjoying at the moment or one of those I’ve “strewn” about or one of the magazines we’ve started to receive – you’ve probably all heard of Cricket – but did you know that the company also publishes many other magazines for children on different topics? They are GREAT. Take a look.
Then it’s time for us to work on things together. This week:
1) Got out flower diagrams – review for the 6th grader, but new to the 2nd grader – and sat out on the front porch in the late morning examining the few flowers we have in our garden. Studied them, picked them apart, looked at some parts of them under the microscope. Learned how weird daisies and irises are.
2) Went to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, saw some cool plants, but mostly focused on ferns. Also saw a copperhead snake in the Japanese garden (we know it was a copperhead because the people standing there looking at it told us it was, and then an employee came by and confirmed it, saying that he was going to be calling the Zoo across the road to come get him soon. But not too soon, because he sort of liked him.) Also spent a long time watching some sort of water bug slowly make his way across the pond, followed by a pack of desultory fish who would at times nip at its legs. It was fascinating. They followed the bug the whole way, nipped at it, but never actually consumed it, and the bug finally made it to safety.)
3) Went to the McWane Science Center where we participated in a demonstration about liquid nitrogen, then interacted with and learned about a Ball Python, an iguana, and a Bearded Dragon.
4) Watched this video - The Story of One - an amusing introduction to the history of numerical systems, hosted by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. Talked about the cuneiform writing we’d seen in the Louvre.
5) Did a fun exercise/game from Brave Writer emphasizing the importance of precision in description.
6) Read a little more of Macbeth, watching along with the Ian McKellan version.
(the Patrick Stewart version is fascinating, and I’ve shown them bits of it, but the whole thing is way too intense and violent and scary for an 8-year old.)
7) Watched a few other videos, namely Horrible Histories - which are great - and some from the International Space Station - Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has become something of a celebrity for his videos from Up There, and deservedly so.
I think that might be it. Well, it is, except for the constant, continual conversations which end with, “Let me look that up…” – answers to questions about everything ranging from why don’t oceans freeze to do alligators have scales or what is it about their skin?
Add to that Scouts, playing outside every day for at least two hours and usually more and COUNTLESS rabbit holes about everything from the missionary journeys of Paul to Dippin’ Dots (the liquid nitrogen connection) to the Jaguar’s new uniforms, and you have part of our week.
Here’s my homeschooling deal: I used to just stand in awe of homeschoolers, knowing that theirs was probably the better way in most cases. But me? I couldn’t do it, partly because I am an introvert who lives for Me Time and partly because…well..how shall I put this?
My late mother, God rest her soul, was a very difficult woman. She was deeply negative and contemptuous of just about everyone. I have had a difficult enough time shaking her (frankly) judgmental voice out of my consciousness and embracing the truth that God is God, not anyone else, that I’ve always tried to be very careful to not replay that tape in my own mothering. Bascially: If I had been homeschooled and the parental voices had been even stronger than they were with fewer alternatives…Lord help me.
Do you get it? I think you do. So this was always my worry with homeschooling. I want my kids to be around lots and lots of amazing, interesting people. Why would I wish 24/7 with me on them? I mean…I love them, don’t I?
Well, yes, I do.
And what’s happened is that the balance has shifted. I figured out that in doing this homeschool thing, and doing it the way that we do it, it’s not my voice that predominates. It’s theirs. I’m here. I’m the authority, I yell random threats and have the power to dispense or withhold Screen Time, but more than that, I’m the facilitator – and oh, it makes me laugh to say that, considering how much contempt I’ve heaped upon the word “facilitator” over the years, but there it is.
I’ve learned that as a homeschooling parent, my job is not to dominate. My job is to point. To turn my back on the ghosts, say what I have to say, and then to shut up… and point.
And so at the end of the day, on a good day, we’re like: