January Homeschool Update

January 31st, 2010 § 0

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Holy cow, is it almost February already? I know, me beating the “where did time go?” stick is getting more than a little old. And really, I think I’ve been mainly conscious for most of January, but December – that month just eluded me this past year.

By November, it felt like Alli and I had sorted out a rhythm and a balance that was working for us both in our eclectic homeschool of interest-based studies, semi-structured home learning, and outside classes. At the end of November, we took a 2-week road trip, which was wonderful, but brought us back home and plopped us smack into the beginning of the holiday season. After living life ‘on the road’, slugging suitcases and arriving at a new destination nearly daily, just getting back into any home routine, much less schooling, was a mountainous task. At the time, I kind of threw my hands up in the air and gave December to the holiday gods, and I felt a lot of guilt over that. Looking back, though, I can see that it was nice to have that period of decompression for us both, and we did more than I gave us credit for. Lots of field trips to various performances, lots of reading, and lots of crafting, including several projects that resulted in holiday gifts for others. Alli crocheted several items on her own from start to finish, which is a major development for her (sticking with a task), including the great scarf pictured above.  I even completed 3 scarves, one that had been started 3 years ago!

In early January, I started working on an electronic portfolio for this homeschool year, and doing so after the first 4 months allowed me to step back and look at at what we’ve done. I found a new sense of having made significant progress along our journey. I may share that portfolio here at some point when I’ve gotten it fully laid out and roughly up to date; we’ll see. It can be very difficult in the throws of starting homeschooling, and from the trenches of being actively involved every day to see things at the 10,000-foot level, especially on challenging days.

And here’s the point at which I confess that in a moment of doubt when January set in, I violated my own intellectual rejection of NCLB standards-based learning and succumbed to the pangs of “keeping up with the Jones'”. I started rooting around area school websites and blogs to ‘check in’ on where we were versus them. Easily comparable in math, as we (in part) share the U of C Everyday Math curriculum. And I’ll be even more embarrassingly honest – I did a little internal mental jig when I noticed that even with our December ‘break’, we were well ahead.

And then I kicked myself hard in the shin for caring, and stopped surfing. Because while I’m sure it’s perfectly normal to feel some of these things when one takes the leap to exit “the system”, when I really thought about what was important to Andrew and I about Alli’s education and this venture into home schooling, winning a race against the Jones’ was nowhere on that list.

What has been important? First and foremost, the spark of joyful learning is again visible in our child. This was absolutely the most significant goal in choosing home schooling, and I am grateful and humbled to be a part of that. I also see her really experimenting with who she is as a learner and a person, without a lot of the social and institutional pressures of school, many of which I hadn’t even noticed until they weren’t there. She seems to be on a real path to discovering and embracing who she is, and is trying a number of different hats on freely as she explores her many developing passions. I also see her making a lot of connections across her learning, synthesizing and getting real and relevant meaning from what she takes in.

I’ve been able to supplement her strong math interest and aptitude with problem-solving (in addition to the U of C Everyday Math curriculum, which suits her quite well), and have gotten her started with a hands-on algebra program that she begs to do more of daily.  We started a history curriculum inspired by The Story of the World series, beginning with ancient history, and she’s currently deeply engaged in a pit-stop in early Egypt.   I don’t think I had ever seen the young scientist in her prior to this experience (and am noticing first-hand how little science is emphasized in elementary schools these days), and I find myself presently focused on nurturing that both with classes and by providing her extra outlets for experimenting and observing phenomena (a new telescope received for Xmas and the recent acquisition of a used high school microscope are welcome contributors to that end). She’s also begun to be more willing to revisit her passion and talent for writing that was so dominant in her early years. She’s reading again too, the voracious sneak-reading under the covers at night by flashlight kind, and starting and finishing more books than she abandons (not something that was the case last year).

Socially, I think our efforts to jump with both feet into as much of the homeschool community as possible are paying off. I am starting to feel a sense of a ‘village’ of friendship and support around us. I no longer reach for the ‘newcomer’ tag at meetings, and Alli has become an active part of a peer group as well. She seems relaxed and open and well-received, and has been establishing friendships with a much wider range of kids than I’ve seen in the past. She seems to really thrive on having some of her learning in group settings and some of it on her own, where she is able to “focus better”, in her words.

In addition to the more tangible fruits, we’ve spent a lot of energy working on Alli’s commitment to following through on things and her willingness to take on tasks that can’t be learned or finished in 3 seconds, as well as her receptiveness to challenge (the latter is very much still a work in progress). She is exhibiting a greater sense of confidence in most things, and sensitivity-related meltdowns, while not gone, are diminishing in number and duration.

So what’s on the plate for the rest of the year? Well, I’ve leaned a little more heavily to Alli’s desire for getting involved in more activities than a human being really should, and we’re continuing most of the classes and activities she was in during the fall, with a few additions.

Here’s our current weekly away-from-home class/activity list:

Sundays:

  • Religious Education class
    (I co-teach; this year’s curriculum is Earth-centered, with a mixture of science and Native American spirituality/mythology)

Mondays:

  • Trivia Mania class
    (researching non-fiction texts and designing a trivia-based board game)
  • Art History class
    (studying various artists and producing pieces inspired by their style for a ‘gallery showing’)
  • Piano lesson

Tuesdays:

  • Critter Crew
    (alternate Tuesdays:  volunteer – caring for/feeding animals at our local ecology center)
  • Homeschool Science Class
  • Modern Dance class

Wednesdays:

  • Drama class

Thursdays:

  • Homeschool Open Gym

Fridays:

  • Gifted homeschool group Co-op
  • Alli takes:  Animal Ethology, Hip Hop Dance, Spanish, and Philosophy
  • I co-teach Hands on Algebra and assist in US Constitution, Arabic, and Photography
  • Evanston Children’s Choir

Saturdays:

  • Swim lessons

Also on the radar:

We’re trying to see if we can fit in a guitar class that we can take together, and soccer will be starting in another month or so, overlapping with softball by late spring.  I would love to find an additional volunteer situation for us to do together, and am in the middle of setting up an African drumming/culture workshop.  Am also looking into some kids’ science lab courses offered by Northwestern University.  There’s a major Illinois homeschooling conference coming up in the spring too, where we’ll spend a few days.

The rest of the time (insert chuckle here) I juggle to fit in our learning at home, ad-hoc workshops of interest, playdates and field trips – while continuing to squeeze in the work required for my part-time job which I’m still holding onto (the income allows us to afford all of these wonderful classes).  I’d personally prefer more time for unstructured, interdisciplinary learning and projects, but I have come to understand that that’s not where Alli’s head is at just yet.  So I’m hoping that after trying a bit of the many things that are available to us, we’ll be well-positioned to be even more selective in where we commit our time.

And where am I in all of this?  Well, exhausted on many days, if I’m honest.  I’m still working on claiming more time for some of my own needs, like getting back into an exercise routine and finding some time for photography.  Andrew’s proposed bringing in some help for the often last-priority house cleaning, which I’m slowly readying to climb onboard with.  And, yes, there are some days when I wish a magical fairy would come and whisk my child off into an educational wonderland where she can get this kind of education without me lifting a finger.  And other days when I can’t bear to spend one more minute being a parent to a whiny, strong-willed almost 9-yr-old, much less her teacher.

But, still being honest, most of the time I can’t believe I am so fortunate to be able to spend this time with my daughter, and to learn alongside her.  And how lucky I am to have finally embraced this passion for teaching and learning at a time when my own child was in need of something different, and in a community with so much support and so many resources.  Personally and professionally, it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to teach and learn freely without being confined by having to meet 30 childrens’ varying needs and interests in a classroom where I and the students are further constrained by NCLB-influenced standards and testing.

Yeah, I don’t get a paycheck, but it might just be the best job I’ll ever have.

And I’m hoping that the payoff is equally rewarding for my child.  A happy and engaged child is not a bad start.

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