Monday, August 31, 2009

Some Better Reasons to Home School-#1

I just got home from St Albert's Not-Back-to-School picnic, attended by at least 15 families and about forty children(maybe more-it's hard to count a moving herd). It was a lovely hot afternoon, at a park with a huge playgound and a natural area for the kids to wander through.

I've walked past the local school during recess and watched children there. Usually, it's chaotic, loud, jarring. And if I stop to watch, so often there's a child on the the schoolyard who doesn't look happy, who isn't included in the fun, or who is even being hurt by the things that are going on.

Our children today playing in the park were all having fun. They were making new friends, they were exploring the playground together, they were helping the littler children. There were some tears troubles because children do fall, or accidentally hurt each other, or break a rule and face a consequence, but the overall atmosphere was so peaceful and contented. It was a lovely way to begin our fall, to watch children being happy and being nice! I really believe that attitude is one of the hidden benefits of home education, not related at all to any of the academic issues, but so important to the quality of our children's characters, so valuable for our society.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

5 Not-So-Great Reasons to Home School

So I was driving along, listening to talk radio, and the topic was getting your children ready to go back to school. And as I listened, I realized I could compile a list of not-very-great reasons to home school. (Not very great because if these were your only reasons, it wouldn't be enough motivation. Possibly these are the fringe benefits of home educating.)

First: I do not have to shop from one of those amazing, ridiculous supply lists that schools send to Staples and Wal-Mart, causing mothers to wander the aisles looking for 30 Duo Tangs in at least three colours, or the prescribed brand and size of crayons. I buy what I want, what we'll need and use, and I can pick the cheap size!

Second: I do not have to pack a daily lunch that conforms to allergy standards, that my child will enjoy eating and that meets nutritional standards. We often eat leftovers for lunch. It's fast and easy. Or we eat peanut butter sandwiches! Because we can!

Third: Also very little back-to-school clothing shopping. This is actually a more serious issue in some ways since the pressure to conform and the way that even young children learn to judge on appearance is a big problem for our children. We've opted out of that.

Fourth: We do not have the morning rush to leave the house on time. Our mornings are shaped by us. If either mom or child is tired, we start slower and later. If we're perky, we can proceed more quickly into school. If it's lovely out, we can give the dogs an extra long walk first because there is no bell ringing.

Fifth: No homework. Well actually it's all homework, but there's definitely a reason for all the work I have my child complete. I often tell her that if she completes the first half or two-thirds correctly (and quickly) then she can leave the rest. If there's a busier week in some of our activities, we can have less homework to compensate.

I have solid, well-thought out reasons for home educating, developed over twenty years. But these are some of the lesser ones. Maybe funny, maybe true, you decide.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

I'm thinking more and more about the transition in thenext couple of weeks back to routine. There are a few things we have done over the years to help make the September transition a better one.

I try to have everything I need for school, not just curriculum, but school supplies and a well-stocked pantry too. I have a bookshelf in the kitchen that I keep all the curriculum on so that we can easily grab what we need as we go through the day. I like the idea of a dedicated space for home schooling rather than using the kitchen table but our house doesn't allow for that right now, and one advantage of using the kitchen table is that I do have to clear it all off at least three times a day.

The first day of school, I try to schedule something fun. This year our support group is having a Not-Back-to-School picnic. Other years, we have gone out for breakfast or booked a field trip. One year we went shopping for some of the fun supplies like craft materials and new books just to read for fun.

We don't then get up the next day and start in on the whole stack of books. Day two there will be a math lesson, some reading aloud, a glance through the history curriculum, and some kindof educational game. I'll add in more subjects as the days go by, and by the end of week two, we should be doing most things daily.

I try to schedule the recreational things as well, even if it is not a rigid schedule. Last year, I managed to take Hannah swimming once a week quite consistently. We try to have a regular library day. I would like to plan a non-academic day each month when we could spend most of the day workingon craft projects. I value those parts of "school" too, but if they aren'ta t least somewhat booked, they don't happen.

I don't do a lot of record keeping. I ask Hannah to put the date on her work so that I can flip back through things and see whether we're being consistent. Our Sonlight curriculum includes intructor's guides that also help with consistency. Other than that, I try to write down weekly what page we are on in each book just so that I know how far we're getting and whether there's a subject we're lagging in.

More about all of this soon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Favorite Places

I have always loved libraries. I can remember family trips to the library starting when I was about seven or eight. We lived outside the area that the library served, so there was an annual fee for us to borrow books, and my parents who had little extra cash ever, and never paid for a frivolous activity, paid the library access charge every year. We only went to the library in the fall and winter, adn I absolutely loved choosing my allowed four books a week.

Now as ana dult I still love the library. Where else can you browse and fill up your arms with fascinating possibilities, and walk out without paying anything (except of course that pesky annual fee and the occasional fine!)

Libraries are especially important to home educating families. No matter how well-chosen a curriculum is, there are gaps to fill in, or interesting side topics to pursue. No parent can buy enough books for a voracious ten year old reader, or enough easy readers for a first grader ( and many of those books are not re-readable enough to warrant owning them.)

Libraries are a wonderful way to find a favorite author, to learn about any topic uncer the sun, to flip through books of photography or art that are prohibitively expensive to buy, or to borrow a book of Peanuts cartoons and lighten up a little.

Other favorite library options: audio books. Is a classic novel just too much to read? Why not listen to it. Or for a struggling reader, reading along with the audio book can help put meaning to what is read. How-to-videos show as well as tell us how to do something. Nature videos illuminate science studies (if you haven't wtche dthe Planet Earth DVD's you should see if your library has them.)

I love my library! I hope you do too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And yet more fall planning.

Who knew this was going to be a series? It's just working out that way: I really don't have a "plan," I just post what I've been thinking about that day.

One of the big challenges for me with home education has been managing the rest of the tasks of my day and week while getting our home education done as well. It is a continual struglle to keep up with laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping and cooking and getting through the math/history/reading/science and everything else.

When things are going well, this is what works for me. I need to get up at a fairly consistent time. I rarely set an alarm and since my husband works from home, he doesn't either. We tend to be up around 7:30 most days, which seems to work out well. I eat breakfast right away, and I insist that Hannah have her breakfast as well. Then before we do any school, I try to get the basic tidying up done. (Years ago I heard Mary Pride speak at a conference and this was one of her words of wisdom : Chores first; then school.)

I function best with meals when I have a menu plan for the week. The Sandy Richard Life's On Fire cookbooks are great for this. Each one gives you ten or so weeks of menu plans and the grocery lists to accompany them. When I use it regularly, we eat better, we waste less food, and I'm much less stressed at supper time.

Anotehr thing that helps me have a good school year is getting the problem areas in our home cleaned up over the summer. This summer, we have completely cleaned out Hannah's bedroom, emptied one closet that was far too full of craft supplies, given away about five boxes of books, and found places for all the things I brought back from my childhood home last month. I know that this kind of preparation makes a big difference to keeping things clean during the fall.

Finally, I had to learn years ago that I will never have a perfectly tidy home. It's not enough of a priority for me to set aside all the hobbies I enjoy so that I can wash the floor more often. And I think we all need to realize that home education means that we, moms and children, spend far mroe time in our homes than most families do. Every meal and snack, every craft project, every bathroom visit our children have druing a day is at home, each leaving its own mess, big or small, to be wiped up by someone!

Monday, August 10, 2009

The rest of our fall plans

August is as much about planning the extras as the academic stuff. Last year, we had almost too much extra curricular activity, but we made it through! Sometimes when I'm very busy, I feel overwhelmed, but if I were much less busy, I might end up unfocussed and not use time well. The question is balance between activities, essentials and free time.

For fall, Hannah will be continuing with gymnastics, dance, and swimming. She wants a break from voice lessons, but we will be giving piano lessons a try since I won a silent auction for a month's worth of lessons. She has taken piano lessons before but our marvellous teacher moved away and the following year we had an inexperienced teacher who just didn't spark her interest and passion. I'm really glad to have swimming lessons start up again. Hannah was a complete non-swimmer until Chrisstmas last year, and then completed three levels in two sessions, proving once again that late-bloomers in any area often catch up really quickly.

Hannah has always been gifted in gymnastics. She could do perfect cartwheels when she was four! Last year, she was the only student in the home school advanced class at Dynamyx, so she learned so much, but I think she's hoping to have company in class this year. Either way, she loves it.

At home, I want her to learn some basic cooking skills, and to take on some more chores. Our Sonlight curriculum has a list of tasks that are part of daily life, and I will be using that to pin point some of the things she could learn at this age. We also want to work on some needle felting projects, and some sewing.

So that's how fall looks for Hannah and me. Perhaps blogging about it will keep me accountable on some of my goals this year. I'll try to remember to do some updates as the year progresses.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm back!!

Apparently, I took July off. It wasn't really intentional, just one thing after another. But somehow August 1st is always the day that I start to really think about fall, and plan for school.

This year's curriculum is all planned out for Hannah, and almost all of it is here.

We will continue with Bible Study Guide for All Ages. We left off in June somewhere in Unit 2, and will pick up again and go on. I have written before about this program, and I'm commited to it for at least another year. (Once our children are in grade 6, they start Bible quizzing and it can be too much to work on that and the BSG.)

We will also continue with JumpMath. I think the popularity of this program is increasing steadily, because it's temporarily unavailable to order! This leaves me three choices: work on the units of Grade4 that we didn't get to, start with the grade 5 fractions unit which I can print from the web site and get the books when they are back in stock, or buy the Jump At Home book that has only the Number Sense, and Patterns and Algebra units (this is the version you can buy at Chapters.) I'm leaning toward option #3.

And for the bulk of our program: Sonlight Core 5, Eastern Hemisphere. We'll be reading so many good books: Just So Stories, The House of Sixty Fathers, The Horse and His Boy, The Incredible journey, Around the World in Eighty Days, and a batch of missionary biographies. We will study India, Japan, China, Africa, and ohter cultures, both contemporary and historically. We are also using the Sonlight Language Arts program that accompanies the history, geography and reading portions. I am glad to be back to a Sonlight year. Their level 3 and 4 programs are based entirely on American history, so we skipped those levels.

One gap remains: I don't have a science program yet. We may pick up something, or we may pursue unit studies on different topics, using the books that we've collected over the years. I would like to visit the museums and science centers in September and maybe there will be a good topics arising from that.

As the days get less summery, I feel more and more ready to pull out the books and get back to work. I haven't asked Hannah if she's feeling that too, but I'm guessing she's still delighted to be free to climb trees and ride her bike as much as she wants. And that's good for her too, so we'll wait until after Labour Day to sharpen our new pencils.