Tuesday, June 30, 2009

And now for something completely different.

I have run away from home for a week, and I'm having a marvellous time! I enrolled in a class at Olds College, and I'm spending five days learning how to turn wool into yarn. It's the first time I've taken this much time away from home and family responsbilities in at least the last ten years.

About a year ago, my husband found a spinning wheel at a garage sale and came home to ask me if he should buy it. We went back to check it out and I became the woner of a spinning wheel that I knew absolutely nothing about. A friend gave me some indroductory lessons, and I have been spinning in my spare time since then, but I knew that to get really good at this, I needed more focused instruction. When I found out about these classes, I knew it would be a wonderful chance to learn morte about spinning, and to enjoy a break.

Learning a new skill (or improving an existing one) is a challenge. Often as a home educating mom, I have been exasperated with a child who isn't getting the lesson, because it seems simple to me. Going into a setting where I'm struggling to put together skills and information and achieve the correct result puts me where my child usually sits. It's not easy for the learner. It's not straight-forward to take yesterday's knowledge, and add a couple more bits, and do a new thing with that. And it's good to sit in the other chair and relive those feelings of frustration and realiuze that the way I'm feeling about trying to make fluffier yarn is exactly how my daughter is feeling about fractions. That's one of the extra lessons I'm learning this week.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Some helpful web sites

The government of Alberta has a couple of web sites that are particularly useful to anyone thinking about career options and post-secondary training.

The first one www.alis.gov.ab.ca is devoted to career information, including information about duties, working conditions, qualities leading to success in different fiels, training options and employment information. It is useful at every stage of career planning form jus tinvestigating what careers there are to specifics once the field has been anrrowed. So often, children have an idea they would like to work in some area but they don't know what jobs are actually available, and often we as parents don't know either. the Alis website is a marvellous starting place.

Anther very useful web site is www.acat.gov.ab.ca, the web site of the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer. This site lets you determine which courses tranfer with credit from one institution to another, all across the province. It's possible to begin a program at a college close to home (or one more accepting of home educated students) and plan a transfer to anotehr school knowing which courses will be most useful. This simplifies post-secondary planning and allows us as parents to give good advice.

The slogan on the Acat home page says "great planning leads to great futures." Both these site will help you and your children to make great plans.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Into the right path.

We all do get lost at times. We think we know how to accomplish a goal or objective, and we discover that we don't. We were very much off the right path to help Tim get into college, and it took far too long to find the right path again. We have learned more from his college entrance than we expected and that has had some unexpected outcomes. More on that next week; for now, here's Tim's admission story, part 2.

Because Tim's real desire was to study science, math or engineering, we knew he would need to establish some measurable level of success in those areas to be considered as a student. Writing diploma exams would have worked, but it is difficult to write a formal exam on material that was completed two or three years before the need for the test arose. (If we could back up, we would have had him write diplomas as he completed the course work that would have prepared him for them. In Tim's case, he probably should have been writing diploma exams when he was fifteen or sixteen.)

We considered enrolling him in distance courses through Athabasca University, but many of their course offerings are not similar enough to other first year college courses, or even to high school courses, to be considered as suitable substitutes for the prerequisites for acceptance. MacEwan college suggested their upgrading courses which require that the student complete the 10 and 20 levels in each course before enrolling in the 30 level programs that he needed.

Then we discovered that there are also college preparation courses available through NAIT that allow you to enroll in courses that are the equivalent to the 30 levels, and have absolutely no prerequisistes. Tim signed up for Algebra and Chemistry last summer. he achieved grades of over 95%, and earned back part of his tuition by tutoring a classmate in chemistry. In the fall, he took Physics and Calculus, again earning A+ grades. Those four courses, plus his college English credit, and he had everything he needed to be accepted into Engineering. He will take year one at MacEwan and then transfer to the University of Alberta to complete his degree.

So even though the path was longer than it ought to have been, we now have a third child enrolled in college. We're excited to see what the future holds for him.

Monday, June 22, 2009

And then the third child.

As our third child completed his home education, we began to look at his options for post-secondary, and rather than really considering who he is and what his inclinations are, we pushed him into what seemed an easy an proven path. He had similar musical ability to his brother, and it just seemed so simple for him to enter the same program at MacEwan that Ben had studied.

It was a mistake. Tim has a comparable talent to his older brother, but he had very different reasons for enjoying music, and very different ways of using his talent. The very structured format of the program was not adaptable to his needs, and after one semester, he left the program.

He did complete all his classes successfully, giving him credits that may be useful down the road. More importantly, the learning that took place in those classes is part of him now. He continued with the second semester of university English, so he will never have to take English again. Those are positive outcomes, even though he did not continue in the program.

Tim began working and studying independently while we took a second look at what college admission might work out better for him. I'll write about the rest of his story tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More of Ben's story

Ben's route into post-secondary was a music diploma, but working as a musician was not his ultimate goal.  Ben has known enough musicians to understand that very few support themselves solely by performing and teaching.  We have two friends who are outstanding gifted musically, very hard working and have achieved reasonable success.  Both men also have construction jobs.  So Ben was always planning to continue his studies after finishing his diploma from MacEwan.

Somewhat ironically, Ben moved on from a college that is relatively unfriendly to home educated students to a university college that welcomes them.  Despite his mother's warnings, he completely missed the application deadlines for the University of Calgary, so instead he applied to Ambrose University College (Alliance University College/Nazarene University College at the time he started there.)  There were two factors leading to this choice:  He had earned significant scholarships through Bible quizzing, and he wanted to be closer to his girlfriend who lived in Calgary (and who he had met through Bible quizzing).  

Ben was able to use his MacEwan diploma for two full years credit towards an Arts degree, probably because he had graduated with distinction.  He completed his Ambrose degree summa cum laude, with highest honours.  His ultimate goal is to attend law school, probably in 2010.  He will have used his musical gifting well as the starting point to a professional career.  

Of course, he continues to play every chance he gets.  He is part of the music ministry at Centre Street church in Calgary, he plays in a country band and a jazz trio, and he fills in in other groups as opportunity arises.  The advanced musical skills he learned at MacEwan will always be a very fulfilling part of his life.  Sometimes our children's passions will not be their careers but they will be vital to their joy.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And for our encore

As our second child neared the end of his home education, his passion was clear.  He wanted to study music in the jazz focussed performance program at MacEwan College in Edmonton.  We checked the MacEwan web-site and their printed calendar and found little help with the admission requirements for a non-diploma student.  Then one day, I was chatting with a neighbour who works in recruitment for MacEwan and he told me that there is an admissions test for the English requirement, which is the only specific academic requirement for this program (sadly, MacEWan very much limits the programs in which you can use this exam.)  Ben studied some grammar terms as a refresher and signed up for the test.  

He not only passed the test, he received a high enough grade that he qualified to take "real" English and not the music-program specific adapted English course.  So that solved the academic challenge.

The real deciding factor for the music program is the audition process.  This required writing a music theory exam and an ear training test, playing a prepared piece of music and a sight reading piece.  All of this was well outside of my ability to help and Ben was very blessed in having an excellent bass guitar teacher who worked with him to prep for all of the requirements.

My role was limited to hearing him practice his performance piece so much that I can still hum his line along with it every time I hear it on the radio ( if I don't instantly change stations!)  Hearing that song will always remind me of his diligence in pursuing his dream.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Lessons not on the curriculum

There's the course description given in the syllabus, the outline of what the professor hopes to cover during the course.  And then there are the extra things the students learn that aren't part of the official class, that aren't mentioned in the text book.

As a never-before-in-the-classroom student, our daughter had a few extra lessons like that to learn.  One of the first was that many students were much less prepared than she was, and that the simple matter of reading ability made up so much of the difference.  Even through her last year in university, she could see that her classmates struggled just because they couldn't get through the required reading in a timely way, and they didn't retain as much from their reading.  Because she had never had fellow students to compare herself to, she hadn't known just how smart and capable she was.

Another college first for her was the practice of group assignments.  I was surprised by just how many classes used group assignments at a university level and by the fact that they work as well there as they do in junior high:  the motivated students do the lion's share of the work, while hoping that their fellow group members won't mess things up too badly and everyone gets the grade that the motivated people earned.  Perhaps this is good training for some office jobs, but it certainly is an unnecessary and misplaced tool in a college class.

Of course the biggest difference from home education to university was the fact that the teacher is no longer named Mom.  Kaylin had been blessed throughout her university education with professors and instructors who are motivated and well-informed, interested in the needs and progress of the students in their classes, and especially so when they can see that there are students who are highly motivated and desiring to learn.  She benefitted greatly from the teaching and mentorship of these teachers, and often learned much more than the curriculum had promised because of their interest and help.  Of course, she had her share of average teachers too, but the shining light of the excellent ones was one of the greatest gifts of the university experience.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The first week of school.

September always brings those back-to-school articles in magazines and newspapers, and there are always first day of school suggestions.  Those are typically aimed at the moms of five year olds, and my daughter's first day of school came when she was nineteen.  I wasn't worried about whether she would want to take along her teddy bear or if she would get lost in the hallways.  And there was no chance she would want me to take her picture as she stepped into the classroom.  But there were definitely nagging worries troubling me.

I worried about how she would deal with note taking in a classroom.  I'm not sure how any home educated student develops the skill of writing down what matters from a lecture, but I think that our years of discussions at home helped our children to see what the most important points of conversation or discussion are.  This is an area that has changed a great deal even while our children have been in college due to the increased use of PowerPoint by professors who often make their outlines available to students as a help to note taking.

I wondered how hard it would be for Kaylin to manage due dates for assignments.  Home educating parents naturally stagger our focus so that if there's something major expected in science this week, there isn't an essay due in English, but college does not work that way.  We were glad to see that adapting to having to think about the demands of multiple subjects came fairly easily for her.  Of course the end of semester pressures are always challenging but because of her reading skills and study skills which had equipped her to keep up through out the term, she was ready for finals.

There may be a bit of self flattery in my worry that she would find it difficult to learn from a boring teacher (since she had always had a non-boring one!)  She might tell you that she had had more practice there than I knew, but she seemed to do well whatever her teacher's abilities were.

And the minor stuff like remembering her locker combination, and getting to classes on time were never issues.  I remember seeing her off on her first day and being so afraid she would come home saying university was impossible, but she returned happy, ready for the challenge and excited about the classes she was enrolled in.  It was a delight to know that she was ready to learn, ready for the challenge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Getting through the door.

While I had very confidently told critics that the path into college would be there when we got there, I knew that the details might be challenging.  I also knew that we had pursued a solid academic program and that once our children were in university classrooms, they would be able to show that they belonged there.

When Kaylin completed her twelfth year of home education, she was not sure what vocation she should seek, so she spent a year working.  Partway through that year, she visited the campus of a small university college where a friend was a student, and the size and feel of the school appealed to her, so we began to look into admissions.

At that time, some home education experts were extolling the virtues of the portfolio for college applicants.  This version of the portfolio filled a two inch binder and covered every aspect of the life of the student, from academics in tedious detail, through hobbies, volunteer and paid work, family background, travel, and anything else you could take a photo of or get a certificate for.  It seemed so over-the-top to us that we had never even begun the accumulation of the contents of such a portfolio.  (a couple of years later when our son and I were visiting a college registrar, she specifically asked me to tell home educators not to produce these books of data.  Her exact words:  "What I am supposed to do with a picture of a horse?")

Instead, we visited the college and talked with admissions people there.  Since Kaylin wanted to be admitted into their ARts program, they required proof that her reading and writing skills were sufficient for university level work.  We wrote up a basic transcript of the high school level work she had completed, including a list of the books she had read.  Even though I had not given percentage grades at the time, I reviewed her work and gave a grade for each subject.  We also submitted an essay she had written as proof of her writing skills.  She had a brief interview with a professor and she was accepted.

She attended Taylor University College for one year.  Unfortunately, it was too small a school to offer a sufficient range of classes for her to complete the degree she wanted, and she transfered to MacEwan College to have a more options.  From MacEwan, she transferred again to the University of Calgary for two specialized years in the faculty of Social Work.   Even before she had completed her B. S. W., she was researching her options for graduate studies at other universities either in Social Work or Law.  

Unfortunately, Taylor has since closed its doors, so her path to a degree is no longer available.  But the route she took can still be replicated through other schools.  We in Alberta are blessed to have the university college option, especially for our children who do not have diplomas or credits. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

What about college?

Twenty years ago this summer, I took our daughter to the doctor for her five year old check up.  He asked her about kindergarten and she proudly answered, "I'm homeschooled."  And then he asked me "How's she going to get into university?'

Well, twenty years later, I'm proud to say that she not only made it in, she completed a professional degree and is working in her chosen field.  She has a passion for helping people and making a difference in her community.  And until her first day of college, she had only her parents as her teachers.

Yesterday was Kaylin's convocation from the University of Calgary, with the degree of Bachelor of Social Work.  It's a powerful moment for any parent, watching your child receive that recognition of the scholarship and effort that has equipped them to be awarded a degree.  For a home educating family such as ours, it's an additional affirmation that the years of working with that child did prepare her for the rigors and challenges of advanced education.  I felt like cheering as we watched her make her way across the platform.  I wiped a tear away as her name was read aloud.

Twenty years ago, I told our doctor that when Kaylin was ready for university, there would be a way for her to be admitted.  It was a statement of both faith and audacity, an answer that surprised me even as I said it.  Today I can look back and see it as truth.  I am so proud of the woman that that little girl has become.  And I am both proud and grateful to have had such a central role in so much of the learning that has taken her there.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On a completely different topic

Almost a year ago, a holiday in the mountains revealed to me exactly how out of shape I was, and I resolved to do something about it.  I hate running, I hate gyms, I knew I would not commit to any at home exercise program, so I signed up for adult swimming lessons.

I had been a non-swimmer until after our third child was born, when I signed up for the absolute beginner lessons taught at the pool near our home.  I learned to swim then, and would sneak in some exercise when I took the children swimming.  But we moved, the pool was not as convenient and I had not swum intentionally for exercise for perhaps fourteen years.

So I signed up for lessons.  I was a little surprised to find out that summer lessons are five days a week, 45 minutes a day.  That's a lot of swimming when you're not in great shape.  The first night, I could only swim half the length of the pool at a time and then had to rest.  But by the end of week two, I had improved my strokes, learned some new ones, and I could swim eight lengths.

Well now I'm trying to get back to the shape I had gotten back to in the winter.  I was not able to get into the pool for almost six weeks after my heart attack, and I am now back up to being able to swim about ten lengths before I tucker out.  It's incredibly frustrating to be doing this from scratch again, but I feel a little stronger and it's worth it to me to get truly fit again.

I think a lot of us let our health and fitness slide, just because we're busy with children and home education, and the general responsibilities of our lives, but it doesn't have to take that long, and it has made such a difference in my energy level, in how well I sleep and in how strong I feel.  Days that I can't swim, I try to take a brisk walk.  Some days, my most strenuous activity is knitting and folding laundry.  But I'm keeping going towards my goal, and it feels good.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Home school math OR Have I really been doing this almost forever?

I have been thinking about milestones frequently over the last several months.  We're now days away from our daughter's convocation, and she turns 25 this year, both of which seem momentous.  Our older son had his convocation in April; our younger son turned 20 in the winter, and our youngest entered the double digits with her 10th birthday in April.  I could start feeling old if I think about all of this long enough.

A random comment overheard at the cardiology clinic made me add up my years of home education.  The doctor taking a case history behind the privacy curtain (honestly, the things you get to listen to in a hospital setting are quite amazing) told a patient that his pack and a half a day for 20 years smoking history was "thirty pack-years of tobacco consumption."  Doesn't that sound like so much more than the way the patient had said it?

Well, I added up my child/grade/years of home education:  3 children finished at 12 grades each, and four grades done for the youngest.  That's 40 child-years of home education.  I'd be all the way across the wilderness if I were a Hebrew following Moses!

40 years of experience, plus two finished degrees, and the third accepted into Engineering feels like success.  We began this journey thinking we'd try home education for a while and see how it went.  It wasn't until about the fifth year that I felt confident enough to say that this was the path for our family.  And the past five years, as we've launched our adult children have been sweetly rewarding.  I'm still trying not to think much about the fact that I'm committed to eight more years of this, for a total of 48 child /years, and twenty eight calendar years.   I got here by doing this daily and I'll get to the end of it one day at a time as well.  And they are good days.