Monday, March 29, 2010

How it's going now.

Somehow, discussions of our children's post secondary education often end with the admission process. I'm trying to pay more attention this time to how things are going post admission. The short answer as we near the end of the second semester: Very well indeed.

Tim's entrance into post secondary took some time to work out well. His first semester three years ago at college was challenging and he chose not to continue in that program. To be accepted into the faculty he wanted to study in, he completed upgrading classes at NAIT, not because he did not know the material but because he had to be able to prove to the admissions office that he knew it, and that proof had to come in a form that they understood. We were told that we had abandoned our values as traditional home educators by having him take these courses, that we had had a chance to be trailblazers and had instead bowed to the powers that be. In reality, we had investigated every possibility and chose the path that would give our son the best opportunity to use his unique gifts.

Interestingly, he has definitely been the trailblazer and the positive representative of a home educated student. His professors comment to him about his knowledge. They read books he has recommended to him! One has said that Tim is the smartest person he has ever taught. His calculus professor is creating a summer research position with Tim in mind. All of these teachers know that Tim was home educated, and give credit for his skills and talents as a student to his innate abilities. (Much of that development was independent: Tim invented his own method of multiplying in grade 2. He thinks about math concepts and numbers in a way that I admire and do not remotely understand.)

We began the journey in faith that our children would be equipped by home education to find a unique individual place in the world. Tim, and his siblings, have proved our faith warranted. We are delighted to have been able to be part of the process that put him where he is right now, and we're excited to watch where the next three years will lead him.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why doesn't everyone...

I had an interesting visit with a home educating mom last week. Her son attended school until part way through grade 5, when she brought him home and started him on a very structured DVD based program plan. He’s had a great year this year, starting in September on grade 6 curriculum after spending all summer catching up on grade 5. He will finish early and with good grades. He has learned so much this year, and beyond that, he has learned how to learn.

His mom had tears in her eyes as she described the change in his attitude about himself. He now knows he is smart. He can tell when he’s losing focus. He has learned how to read for meaning and how to tell what the main idea is. His penmanship has even improved!

Then his mom asked me the question I often hear when parents have seen remarkable success from a particular program: “Why doesn’t everyone use this?” It’s a reasonable question. Answering it made me think about the ways we structure learning and how different thought patterns almost demand different programs.

Her child is not an organized thinker. His main problem in the classroom was his distractability. He doesn’t see the connections between things unless they are pointed out. Once he has the framework for his learning, whether that would be an outline or a set of questions to answer or a series of visual cues in his text like bolded vocabulary words or names, then he can use that to learn and remember the information presented.

Other children find that structure limiting and confining. They are good at making their own connections. The connections they find on their own resonate with them and do far more to help them remember the facts than any text or teacher supplied ones could. Maybe it’s a fascination with maps that leads to a real sense of history, or a knowledge of scientific discoveries that links into history study, but because these children have their own network of connected knowledge the tightly structured course frustrates and limits their learning.

I think it’s the difference between packing ideas into boxes (metaphorically speaking) and tying them to a web. One child goes to an encyclopedia and looks up the fact that he was sent for. Another flips through the rest of the book (once upon a time encyclopedias were books) and learns twelve other things while he’s at it. One learns the lesson of the curriculum and may learn it very, very well. The other is learning to group and relate ideas outside the context provided. He may never learn the capitals of all the provinces, but he may learn which provinces have bears. Which is better? That depends on your child, your goals. Neither is bad, and neither works for everyone.