Friday, July 31, 2009

It's That Time of Year Again

It's almost time for me to send our Declaration of Intent to Utilize a Home Study Program form to my county school officials. I'm half-tempted to simply shout:


(ala Michael Scott of The Office, who attempted to declare bankruptcy in this fashion). But I'll just send in my little ol' form instead.

By the way, my county sent me a helpful packet of homeschooling information, including lots of bonus forms requesting information that I am not required by law to provide to them. I highly recommend that homeschoolers be versed in the laws of their states, and not volunteer seemingly innocuous information to government officials (this is just a good practice anyway, IMO). I am required to comply with the law as it is written, and that is all I intend to do, since I don't think the government (local, state or federal) has any need to know about my children or their education.

I never completed my Homeschool Wrap Up from earlier in the summer, and it's a bit late for me to do it now, with the DOI just around the corner. So I'll just tell you about it as I describe our plans for next year.

We were very informal last year, which was my plan, what with the new baby and all. We had a very active out-of-the-house schedule last year though. Almost too active. My plan for this year is pretty much the same--informal go-at-an-easy-pace at home, lots of activities.

In case you're interested, here's our out-of the house activity schedule:

MONDAY: Taekwondo for Ryan

TUESDAY: Art Adventures class at Secular Educational Experiences (a new homeschool co-op in our area!) for both Ryan and Morgan, then our homeschool playgroup (as energy permits)

WEDNESDAY: Chess for Ryan, Journey through the Months for Morgan at the Georgia Enrichment Program for Homeschoolers (the homeschool co-op we participated in last year). Then Taekwondo for Ryan.

THURSDAY: Music Class for Sean and Morgan, Taekwondo Sparring for Ryan

FRIDAY: Free and clear!

SATURDAY: Taekwondo for Ryan, and Home Depot Workshops for Ryan and Morgan on the first Saturdays of the month

SUNDAY: Collapse and try to recoup the energy to face the coming week.

So that's our outside activity stuff. You'll notice that Morgan is not signed up for dance this time. We asked her and she just doesn't seem interested. As I wrote last night, she'll try Taekwondo sometime in the Fall--if we go for it, we'll be there on Tuesday nights, and longer on Thursday nights, for the White/Yellow Belt class.

We are not signing up for soccer again--Morgan simply had no interest last spring, so it's time to drop it. I had planned to add swimming lessons back in to the mix after taking the summer off, but after I wrote out our schedule and grasped its enormity, I simply couldn't face adding swimming back in. We'll try again in the Winter, I think.

And as much as I hate to think of it, I think it might be time to drop Music Class. I really want to keep doing it because it's so much fun and I love the leader of the class--we started Music Class with her when Ryan was Sean's age. The kids enjoy it, and I enjoy it (it's good exercise!), but I'm beginning to get bored with it. And Ryan is too old for class, so he either has to stay here with Brendan (which has worked out in the past, but Brendan might be getting an on-site contract so he wouldn't be able to stay home Thursday mornings) or come with me, which is fine with the teacher, but kind of a pain for me. We'll do it a couple more times, but I think our Music Class days are numbered.

I worry that Sean is getting short-changed a bit as the youngest, because I am ready to move on from this beloved toddler activity. I wonder if this type of short-changing will happen very often as he grows up. Will I be pulling him away from the things the others have done because it's old hat to me, and because the older kids have new interests and activities that require a different schedule? I suppose now is the time to do the short-changing though, before he really notices!

One thing about last year that I didn't anticipate was how much Morgan would be involved. As it turned out, she was an enthusiastic participant in any and all learning we did as a family. She was very upset that she wasn't old enough for Taekwondo or classes at the Enrichment Program.

As you might imagine, she is beyond excited to be taking Art and this Journey through the Months preschool class (where they will learn about the calendar and seasons of the year). She is certainly ready in the academic sense--her reading level is higher than Ryan's, she loves to practice math in workbooks (unlike her brother!), she can write very legibly (although she has yet to master the proper way to hold a pencil), she has amazing powers of concentration for any task that interests her.

Even though I won't DECLARE! her until the law tells me I have to (two more years), for all intents and purposes, Morgan is already part of our little homeschool and when I think about activities that are "school-ish" I think of her interests and needs, too. Honestly, I probably would think about her interests and needs even if she wasn't into the academic side of things. :o) But she is clamoring for math lessons, piano lessons, and wants to practice reading out loud. She is asking for this.

Quite a switch from Ryan who, for all of his smartiness, doesn't quite see why he ought take the time to sound out words because Mom is a whole lot faster at it. :/ For his benefit and my own, I have begun to refuse to read words for him that I know he could do. It follows a pattern of his life--from my first refusal to help him remove his pants at about age 2. I remember it clearly, he freaked and complained and whined--and then learned to remove his pants. :) I also had to refuse to buckle his seat belt, open certain containers, locate his shoes, and cut things with scissors for him. Le sigh.

So our in-house activities for Ryan and Morgan will include reading practice, math practice, and we will be taking Ancient History from History at our House--a special request from both kids! I think Ryan will be much better prepared this time, and Morgan is also eager to listen in. I'm not exactly sure what she'll get out of it, but I see no reason to prevent her from participating (as if that would be possible anyway). And this year I will have more time to listen to the lectures with them. We've been reading The Odyssey, too, just to get into the Ancient History spirit.

And those are the school-y things we are doing. But I want to make the point that it is very hard for me, at least while my kids are young, to differentiate between school-y and non-school-y activities. We all just seem to do what we do, and we talk about zillions of different things all day long and we stop what we're doing if someone has a question that can't be answered readily and look it up. I never know if I'm going to be looking up facts about cobras and black mambas or cumulonimbus clouds.

I fill out my attendance forms like a compliant homeschooling mommy, but the truth is that they are learning every day, all the time. I find it a very silly exercise indeed to provide my form with X-marks-the-days-present to my county office. What about this summer, when we have all been listening to audiobooks and reading about snakes and practicing the difference between ch-, sh-, and th- ? I see I have disgressed just a bit.

Other things I'd like to do: regular reading out loud (which we are doing this summer and all really enjoying), listening to audiobooks (it's fun!), checking out story times at the library, visiting the library more often, and field trips to see peopleguys in their natural environments. :o)

Somehow, I have to do all of this with a toddler! He'll be the biggest obstacle to making progress with our math kit because those teeny tiny little pieces are so much super fun to taste and throw! Thinking we'll reserve that activity for his naptimes.

And I also view nonacademic activities as worthy of our time. Take the laundry, for example. Both older kids are now doing their own laundry (I help Morgan with the folding since much of that is beyond her motor skills just now). We're going to do more of that--cooking, yardwork, house repairs. They already help with those areas, of course, but I'm going to take the time to help them get the skills and practice they need to be independent in this area. Because one thing I've noticed about this laundry thing--I personally have less laundry to do! And that is a Good Thing. Can you imagine the free time I can find when they are cooking dinner and changing lightbulbs? Is it possible to teach them how to change the baby's diapers? (She dreams....)

Another point I want to make is that the activities the kids are doing--both school-y and non--are for the most part at their insistence and on their initiative (Ryan's reading practice being a notable exception). I think there's value in their having lots of free time to explore and find their own interests, and to learn how to find out more about them. I don't want them to view traditional academic subjects as something that needs to be forced upon them. When we encounter a math concept during the normal course of our day, for example, we stop and talk about it, make sure they understand it, and if I think it's warranted, I'll mention something about other uses it might have, or where it might lead. But we do not yet have a designated "math time" on our schedule. (As I said though, I can see we'll need to do this, so that we can do this during some Sean-free time.)

We don't do Montessori at home per se, but we do follow some of the Montessori guidelines, which includes allowing the kids to be free to pursue their own interests and to give them time to work on any given activity as long as they wish uninterrupted (except when necessary when we have to get out the door, for example). Now that Ryan is moving out of the traditional Montessori years, I'm finding that he is interested more and more in academic subjects without my suggesting them (even if he only wants me to tell him about them instead of read for himself--but we're getting there). I would not have expected that if I hadn't seen it for myself. And Morgan is a whole ball of amazement in and of herself.

I pay attention to what they know and where I think gaps in their knowledge might be. And when their questions have moved beyond my ability to answer them easily with materials around the house, I've gone and found tools to help me do my job of 'splaining. But I'm not inclined to push them too hard toward traditional academic studies, mostly because they are getting into those things without my pushing, and partly because I don't want to kill any initiative they might otherwise have displayed by being too bossy about this stuff.

I'm happy to take advantage of the local co-ops and online classes, and I can see us continuing that strategy in the future. And I foresee many, many conversations about tons of different topics, and more dropping what we're doing to find a book on the subject or get online, and study it until our questions are answered. I love how we have fallen into doing this as a matter of habit, and I don't see it changing. It's how I learned things on my own as a child--I was known for coming home from school and heading right to the encyclopedia set where I'd browse for hours. My kids have the beginnings of this same habit (yay).

So it's in this sense of not being pushy (yet?) that I am an unschooling-sympathizer. Or rather, because I hate the word "unschool" (it's too nebulous and negative), a child-led-learning sympathizer. Because I value both the development of their cognitive skills, and their being able to practice being independent, I'm not sure how things might change as we move forward in their homeschooling careers. It's very hard for me to see, and I'm certain that I have more reading and thinking to do about this area. I'm glad that, for now, at least, I have time to do that research and thought, since the kids are both currently independent in this area AND developing their cognitive skills (with me filling the role of question-answerer, resource-provider, and teacher as necessary).

Well now. That was a tome. Time to go for now!


Mrs. C said...

How positively awful. National norm-referenced tests every three years? Huh? Sounds like a moneymaker there with no real purpose at-all but butt-covering for the state/ home ed. parents.

And you have to "declare" and submit forms EVERY MONTH to the district????

Who is responsible for the education of the kid if YOU are submitting forms to the DISTRICT!??

Ugh. I suppose it's better than some states, but wow.

Mona said...

Hi Jenn! I always enjoy reading your homeschooling posts. I had an idea. How about doing math with the big kids while Sean goes to music class? Kill 2 birds with one stone? Of course, that seems to require your being in 2 places at once, but I'm sure you can handle that. ;)

Rosalie said...

Thanks for sharing this--very interesting stuff and great ideas for Math and History resources espeially. Thanks!