“We can see that there is no difference between living and learning, that living is learning, that it is impossible, and misleading, and harmful to think of them as being separate. We say to children, ‘you come to school to learn.’ We say to each other [educators], ‘our job is to teach children to learn.’ But the children have been learning, all the time, for all of their lives before they met us. What is more, they are very likely to be much better at learning than most of us who plan to teach them something.” – John Holt
There’s something incredibly awesome about spring. I don’t have a truly favorite season, but I’m starting to think spring is it, even though it’s too cold to swim. This year I’m doing some major Spring Cleaning, and I don’t mean my house (though, it’s obvious I need to do some of that too). I’m talking about Resolutions. I’m making Spring Resolutions. Here are a few of them:
- Trim the Fat
Some things just aren’t necessary. For example, my baby is now 8 months old and I probably don’t need to be comfortable wearing maternity shorts right now. So, yes, I’m working on that without uttering the “D” word because I don’t have the time or energy to focus on a
dietcalorie count or the like. I’m resolving to move more and indulge less. That’s all I can promise but I’m promising that. You know what else is not necessary? CEDAR PARK. I hate driving to Cedar Park. Don’t get me wrong – I love Cedar Park. Just like the name would have you believe, it’s filled with wide open spaces, great parks & pools and nice people. Lots of homeschoolers and lots to do. Very tempting to drive the 25 miles join in on a rewarding 2-hour activity. After driving up there regularly for Monday Co-op for a full semester I have to say, I quit. Love the place – hate the drive. Gotta save my gas money and time in the car. Plus, Remy hates the drive more than I do.
Finally, budget. We are ‘mission critical’ in that I tend to burn through any unspent or extra money, and I need to be saving rather than spending. This means I need to plan more carefully and think more critically about what we eat, what we buy (at Target, mostly) and such. Yada yada yada money blah.
- Find a Routine and Develop Those Habits
I’m terrible at routines. I know they aren’t good in large doses and I don’t want my kids to feel like they can’t breathe if their routine is disrupted, but if I’m going to meet all the commitments I’m making, I have to have some kind of routine, even if I can only loosely follow it. I need a goal. Most people my age would probably read this and think ‘duh; you’re just now figuring this out?’ to which I say yes. Yes, I am. I’m going to start with morning routines and evening routines, and try to fold those into our weekly scheduled events. Then attempt to expand on those and juggle other weekly & monthly tasks and do them regularly. Then maybe figure out how to schedule and assign chores to the boys, and harder still, enforce those chores. Not my forte. Especially with a mobile, busy baby cruising around. As impossible as it sounds, it has to happen.
- Accept the Facts
Sometimes I feel like I really don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I’m trying to be an effective person. I’m a wife, mother, daughter, homemaker, teacher, sister, caregiver, in-law, friend, consumer, patron, volunteer, acquaintance, fellow group member, and several other personas. I can’t do everything and be everything to everyone all the time. I can’t keep biting off more than I can chew at the expense of those whom I prioritize. I read somewhere to never let that which matters most be at the mercy of that which matters least. No idea who coined that, but I assure you it wasn’t me! So, I’m trying to make an effort to regroup, focus and devote energy to that which matters most.
- Seasons Change
If at any time it becomes clear that something’s not working, we will make a change. I’m not making long-term plans here. Just seeing what is working for the family right now. This is working so far, and beautifully.
Those are my resolutions. I am going to attempt to stick to them this year!
Aside from those, I am also trying to decipher our homeschool style. Starting out, I loved the idea of Charlotte Mason and “The Well-Trained Mind.” I didn’t like all the rigor and memorization work so early on. It’s also heavy on the religious influence, which isn’t my cup of tea, and the required reading didn’t seem to interest the kids. They prefer “twaddle.” I like a lot about Waldorf, but my kids thrive on media and technology. I liked the idea of Montessori, but it was so very counter to my own thinking I felt like I was just pretending all the time. Plus, my kids don’t enjoy crafts and gentle play. Not a good fit. Unit Studies are great for science, but I never can seem to stick to the program. I will omit the stuff that doesn’t seem interesting (to the kids) or skip over concepts altogether that I know they will master later. The best science experiments seem to happen outside while on a hike with our nature group, or the kids find something in the yard they want to learn more about. If it’s a waste of time or feels like busywork I’m simply not going to make them sit and do it. This is <partly> why we rejected the school system altogether. For some reason I’ve been fighting the idea that we are just true blue unschoolers in disguise. It’s still a leap of faith for me, and I cling to some level of prescribed curriculum even though I’ve seen that it doesn’t really work for my kids if I use it as intended. In case the term “unschooling” is foreign to you, dear reader, please have a look-see at this article for a more in-depth explanation of the concept. Here’s a good, brief synopsis of unschooling, taken from an excerpt of a John Holt book:
“<Unschooling> is also known as interest driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world, as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e. a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on demand” basis, if at all. This is the way we learn before going to school and the way we learn when we leave school and enter the world of work.”
Basically, it’s what we’ve been doing all along. I have zero interest in simply replicating school at home. Once, in weak moment, I considered enrolling in K-12 because I was sure that I made a lousy teacher. That moment came when Dax asked me to explain to him more simply what exactly water is. I gave the typical “layman’s” explanation of molecules and such, but by the time I got the video pulled up and all the info in the world he could have, he had already lost interest and moved on to something else. I reasoned, ‘if he had had a real teacher, he would have received a satisfactory answer.’ Then it was brought to my attention that a very good friend/homeschooling mom I knew had ended up in truancy court after trying K-12, which requires an immense amount of tedious time spent in front of a computer. So glad I didn’t act on my fear, although that fear kept gnawing.
Last week I had a conversation with a brilliant woman (also a pediatrician) who has successfully unschooled her 4 (now grown and/or teenaged) children. She reminded me that my kids are still young and I was looking at the water question situation the wrong way. The important part of that scene was not my answer, but his question. His curiosity. Right now my answer was enough. Later on down the line he will be able and motivated to find answers himself, and I won’t be the one fueling his curiosity about water molecules and such. The light bulb went on. He is SIX. He’s just starting out.
So, no, I don’t want to enroll in a virtual school or online learning other than general information-based sites, math facts games, and enrichment. We learn as we go, sometimes with a planned activity and sometimes not. Whether they will ace a state-mandated standardized test bears no consequence at this point in their lives. I will touch on this year’s plan later in the post, and none of it involves following a particular
prescribed curriculum to the letter. I think we are unschoolers, but I’m not looking closely enough at what that means or following all the flowcharts so maybe we don’t actually fit (because yes, my kids practice handwriting and I consult curriculum to find the best ways to illustrate some math concepts). I don’t think “unschooling” is completely without rubric. We are not
following one curriculum and most, if not all, of their actual learning is self-directed and self-motivated. I just provide the material if it’s not right there at the moment. So maybe we are “eclectic” rather than “unschooler,” but I feel like if I keep going in this direction (tossing boxes and boxes of the workbooks I bought last year onto my front porch and posting ‘FREE STUFF’ on the AAH list) we will be radical unschoolers in a matter of months. Here is another article I enjoyed about the “M” word (math) that usually follows any exploration of unschooling, from an outside perspective. I feel like I’m still looking at unschooling from an outside perspective, because I haven’t committed to it in real time. I believe in it, I’m convinced that it’s our path, and I’ve actually seen it work. The kids respond to the natural process of learning, and they do not enjoy prescribed curriculum and artificially reproducing learning on worksheets. All I have to do is realize that I’m already putting it into practice and go with it. Going back to my pictorial reference to The Neverending Story, I’m like Bastian in the attic scene, sitting there reading the book screaming, “I have to keep my feet on the ground!”
So, moving forward, what’s the plan? Here are the things we have on the horizon:
We will be operating on a year-round schedule! Summer breaks make no sense for us, as in Texas there’s little to do and see in the summertime that doesn’t involve a pool. Camping, sightseeing and exploring are more thoroughly enjoyed in the fall and spring, so that’s when we will plan our vacations. The summer can be spent learning new things indoors at museums, reading, visiting the library and doing activities with our groups or swimming in one of the numerous pools around town.
To my amazement, we were accepted into AAH Friday Co-op for the fall, which is a huge deal to me because I adore many of the people there already, and it’s such a fantastic group of kids. Dax met a boy at a playground full of children one afternoon, and he immediately connected with that one kid. They played so well for 2 hours and Dax was sad to say goodbye. When we showed up for Demo Day at co-op in May, Dax was thrilled to see that the friend he made that day on the playground was there at co-op! Jace and Dax have a few friends there already from another playgroup we had attended in South Austin. I know several parents there, and overall it’s a very supportive and positive community. Plus it’s just 12 minutes away! We’re stoked. Co-op will start the first week of September.
We still participate in our Tuesday group, Little Texas Homeschoolers. Science group meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month, we try something new every 3rd Tuesday, and gather throughout the week for fun events that come up. Our annual Valentine’s Day party was a success and we have had several purely social gatherings that provide a great outlet for me and fun times with friends for the kids. The group feels very “grassroots” and we have lofty plans to keep our kids together as they grow. I’m so
happy to have these people to share this journey with! I have started hosting a monthly book club with this group and if I can get my act together I would like to post recaps here!
Wednesdays are reserved for our nature group, Austin Families in Nature. We venture out into state parks, county parks, city parks, private parks, greenbelts, hiking trails and whatever else sounds like fun. We complete challenges, make things, learn things and get our bodies moving out in nature so we can see what’s going on in the world.
We have several camping trips planned for the fall: Inks Lake, Garner State Park and Lost Maples (which might become Canyon of the Eagles if we can’t nail down some sites soon!). It’s a great group and the kids really enjoy each other. There’s something going on with the mamas, though, because lately we’ve all been having babies or announcing we are going to have another baby! Baby Boom 2014!
Thursdays are reserved for P.E. and we have been keeping up with swim lessons at Nitro.
Jace is not interested in pursuing swimming as a skill, but Dax is moving up the ranks quickly so we are sticking with it for now. They have also tried a local Parkour gym, and Dax has become very interested in BMX bikes (great). I think it’s time to get Jace involved in a sport of some kind that involves a ball and perhaps a bat, so we’ll see if I can find anything. We are skipping the XGames this year, but I can’t wait to take the boys to see the skateboarding events next year!
I am adding a “history” element to the mix for 2014-2015. I’m using Pandia Press’ “History Odyssey” (Ancient Times, level 1) as a guide. I like it because it’s not really a “curriculum” but a “study guide”. It gives a general timeline for what to cover but it’s only 1 lesson per week, and you can do a little every day, or only when the topic arises. It gives a book list and I pick up all the books at the library and take my time reading through them with the boys. I don’t know how realistic it is to follow the “classical” model of studying history, which is essentially chronologically, but obviously more in-depth as you get into the higher grades. I don’t have a better idea at this point. It basically goes like this:
1st grade, 5th grade, and 9th grade – Ancient History
2nd grade, 6th grade, and 10th grade – The Middle Ages
3rd grade, 7th grade, and 11th grade – Early Modern
4th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade – Modern History
So, I’m reading this stuff with Dax and Jace comes along for the ride, though he is less interested in the Egyptians but will pose questions about the earth, dinosaurs, early humans, and things like that.
When we work on math, I’m drawing from a couple of different curricula. Dax is beyond the first 1/2 of 1st grade math, so I’m just picking and choosing from those lessons to fill in gaps. Lessons are pretty informal and usually take less than 20 minutes. We practice concepts wherever we see them in the real world, and Dax likes to explain things to Jace, which makes it pretty obvious to me that he’s grasping those concepts. Saxon is a very scripted, intense curriculum and I omit 80% of the lesson plans. The meeting books are basically busywork. I do improvised calendar work with the kids but we utilize the calendar as a way of getting our bearings for the week; to see what we’re going to do that day, what’s coming up that week, and look at what events have already passed. “Oh, that was one week ago today,” drives the point home in a way that artificially practicing on blank pages or coloring shapes and patterns or whatever can’t do. Totally unnecessary. Jace likes Saxon Math K because a lot of the “lessons” are just games to him. It uses a lot of shape cutouts, number cards and putting things in order, snap blocks and manipulatives. He loves that stuff. I have to hide it away when we’re done otherwise he will use them to construct guns and weapons. Everything is fun to Jace these days.
Reading is something I put most of my focus on. Reading is so important; more so than history, science and math facts right now.
If I can get Dax to sit and read I don’t even care what it is. I don’t know what his “reading level” is, but he enjoys reading and can read independently. Jace is developing phonemic awareness and enjoys
writing letters free-hand, but is not ready for the Code books just yet. He enjoys being read to and likes to look through flash cards, so that’s the extent of the work I’m doing with him on reading. I’m thinking Dax would benefit from some spelling help, but not sure how to work that in. I’ve ordered “All About Spelling” and will give it a go and see if he enjoys it.
Recently the boys constructed a Faerie House from natural materials as part of an event at Zilker Botanical Gardens. Groups from all over Austin built fairy homes and they were placed on display throughout the gardens. It was a really fun project. We hiked through with our nature group and saw all the different homes that were constructed. Some were really elaborate!
OK, I have to stop writing before my entire weekend passes me by. Thanks for reading! More updates later!