Friday, January 31, 2014

Homeschooling Arguments We Should Retire

I have been homeschooling for a decade now. In that time I've rarely been challenged about my decision in real life, but have battled with some people online about our homeschooling. I've morphed from the eager mom who wants to convince everyone to the brilliant wonderfullness of home education to the seasoned homeschooler who feels comfortable simply shrugging her shoulders and saying, "it's what we do. Pass the bean dip please." In that time I've seen a lot of arguments from fellow homeschoolers about why homeschooling is a good thing and honestly, even though I used to put forth some of them myself, I think a lot of them stink.

Like, really stink. Like really, really stink.

I'm sort of hoping to go through some of the worst offenders in a series of blog posts (we'll see, you all know how consistent I am with posting these days). On to the post.

"But no one can teach my kids as well as I do because no one loves my kids as much as I do."

I was at a meeting last year when this one came up. A lovely woman with younger kids said that and went on to explain why homeschooling is superior because we simply love our kids more then any teacher could. I stayed quiet. It was hard.

One, love is no guarantee of anything aside from warm feelings when you look at or hold your kids. There are parents who love their kids who also beat their kids. Their are parents who love their kids who, between work and other activities, barely see their kids. Love, modern love at least, in and of itself can mean very little.

Two, love does not mean the magical acquisition of skills. I loved my kids from the moment they were born, but I was not a very consistent or attentive parent for the first few years of my first-born's life, and there have been many times (many, many times) when I've realized how little I knew about parenting, healthcare, nutrition, homeschooling, etc. Although love was definitely a factor in why I learned more about some of those things, it also never interfered with me coming up with some pat justification for why I didn't need to learn more. Maturity and experience was much more useful in that regard.

Three, love of a child is not a necessary prerequisite to being an effective teacher of that child. I have no doubt that, although most of my teachers liked me in my school years, none of them loved me. The things the most effective had in common were a) subject knowledge, b) teaching skills and c) some concern for my success. Indeed, had Mr. Garden or Mr. Whidden loved me, that would have been quite a problem. Parents tend to frown on that sort of thing.

Four, love can often get in the way. Since most of us feel and express love as something squishy and rainbowy these days and don't really submit it to a hard examination, it tends to get away with all kinds of crap. It can distract us from the fact that our joy with a certain math program and our dreams for how it will turn our daughter into the next Einstien doesn't match the reality of what that daughter really needs in a math program. It can cause us to dramatically change course in our homeschooling when things seem too difficult for our little darlings when the truth might be that they need that struggle to get to the next step in understanding. It can cause us to be too timid, too restrained, too over reaching, too demanding...

Love, in the context of homeschooling, is a start. It's a hint, an intuition, a timid guide. Just a drop is sufficient and only then when paired with patience, discipline, creativity, skill and so on. And maybe that's how we should talk about love when we're discussing homeschooling with others. Otherwise to the outsider it's, "love is all we need," and it sounds like we don't even understand what goes into helping a child learn let alone have any of the skills and knowledge that are required. So, I propose we ditch that argument. Let it be a given that we love our kids and then move the discussion on to something else.

As long as it's not long lists of famous dead people who we claim were homeschooled. But that's the next post.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Extreme Homeschool Makeover, Part 1

10 years in and homeschooling can get a little stale. It's largely become a matter of picking curriculum and then finding time in the day to do it with the kids. Or rather, with Harry, since Catherine works, by and large, independently.

But we departed from the norm this week when I chucked aside all of Harry's English stuff and started winging it. I had bought one last writing/grammar program, Story Grammar, a few weeks back and as I read it I realized there was nothing in it I couldn't do on my own now. If Story Grammar has kids chunking and rearranging model sentences, why couldn't I? And why couldn't I take it a bit further?

So on Monday, Harry and I talked about a sentence I had printed in his English binder.

"The Big Friendly Giant took out a book, very old and tattered."

We discussed it, rearranged it, parsed it. He copied it. Then he wrote an imitation sentence.

"The Huge Angry Troll took out a club, very large and bloody."

A little gory, yes, but not bad. And the troll was interesting. So we took the sentence and had an impromptu art lesson. He designed the monster, I drew the basics and he did the details.

Yesterday we had a sentence that, in his imitation, turned out to be excellent for introducing a troll-defeating hero. In the sentence the hero is carrying a dagger so in the afternoon Harry and I worked on designing and building a toy dagger. It's still in the process of being built but should be done tomorrow so I'll be sure to post pics.

I'm sort of wondering if we can't keep the theme going and slowly build a larger story.Or maybe fold more subjects into the Fantasy theme. Or maybe make the homeschooling itself a story or roleplaying game with his subjects as elements of that. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself with this because I tend to get carried away with an idea, go off the deep end and end up burning out. So I'm holding back and trying to take it a step at a time to see what evolves. 

Hopefully, it will be fun.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Homeschooling With a Toddler? By Jove, I Think I've Got it!

He looks so peaceful when he's asleep. You'd never suspect the chaos he's responsible for when he's awake.

It's been over two and a half years since he started affecting our homeschooling, first with the pregnancy, then with his wonderful self and it's been a battle to find our homeschooling groove. More so this year because he's more mobile then ever. Add in a Grade 10 student with the extra work that demands and a boy in Grade 6 that's prone to focus problems and I've been on the edge of crazy for far too long.

How to make it work?

Well, after some talking with the kids we think we've found a solution.

We dispensed with scheduling and replaced it with routine. I had been using Scholaric (an excellent planning site for homeschoolers) to schedule the kids' work. Once I started doing that I started micromanaging my daughter's workload. Where she used to just do the next thing, I was dividing up her work into specific blocks, adding videos and assignments to be done on specific days and taking away all her discretion. I also began to control subjects that had previously been led by her interest. She prefers days spent with school work but she does not like that work when it's dictated by someone else and turned into a joyless grind.

So although I still use Scholaric, it's much looser. Some subjects are back to being led by her interest and any assignments, like papers, flow out of the discussions we have about those subjects. What this has meant is that she has a little more time in the day that I can add into our larger daily routine.

Once that time was freed up we came up with the following plan:

7am to 8am - breakfast and chores.
8am to 9am - Harry plays with Lauchie. I do housework and prepare. Catherine practices fiddle and does her Latin.
9am to 10am - Catherine looks after Harry while I work with Harry.
10 am to 12pm - Catherine does her math, Harry does all his independent work and Lauchie has some time with me and then goes down for a nap. I get time to myself and am available if either child needs help.

The afternoon stills remains to be sorted but so far Catherine has retreated to her room after lunch to work until supper and Harry and I hold down the fort, maybe do the odd activity together when Lauchie is occupied with blocks or Mary Poppins.

I think this is probably a strategy that requires older kids but it's been wonderful for us. Hope it's helpful to someone else out there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Obligatory Start-of-the-School Curriculum Lineup


Another school year and lots of stuff to plan and do and record. More then ever in fact because I have a high schooler in the house and university to think of. So without further ado, here's the run down.

Catherine, Grade 10

Planning for Catherine was a roller coaster ride this year. I posted some time ago about how we were going to send her off to school for science. Ha ha ha! Didn't happen. Putting a part-time student in an institution designed for full-timers is challenging to say the least.

Geometry 2nd edition, Harold Jacobs. I choose the second edition rather then the third because it's heavier on proofs.

CK-12 Chemistry - Second Edition. I know I had chosen Zumdahl's World of Chemistry and I do have the answer key on my bookshelf but the actual text never arrived so I just decided to cut my losses and go to CK-12.

A Brief History of the World. I've abandoned the 4 year history cycle. We're doing a survey course of history this year with supplemental readings.

English Composition I. 
Poetry. We'll use the Norton Anthology of Poetry with this.
Assigned readings.

Lingua Latina

Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma.

Study Skills
Study is Hard Work

Fiddle lessons, Home Ec. skills, Art.

Harry, Grade 6

Knowing Mathematics, Singapore Primary Math.

Classic Science, Elementary Chemistry

Story of the World 2

Grammar Voyage, World of Poetry, assigned readings.

Philosophy for Kids

Piano Lessons, Art, Home ec.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On To High School

Well, in the space of a weekend our homeschool has changed radically.

In June, Catherine attended a science retreat put on by WISE, Women In Science and Engineering. Despite her usual introvert misgivings about spending the day with a bunch of public school kids she didn't know, she had a great time and came home talking about possible careers in molecular biology or computer science. Eep. My plan for grade ten science had been Zumdahl`s World of Chemistry with labs from a book by Robert Bruce Thompson. The lab bit was doing my head in in regards to planning and cost but no big worry, right? After all, she wanted to be a writer or linguist so science wasn't a huge deal.


Now science had to be rigorous. Not just that but Catherine wanted more structure then I generally provide and wanted to be taught by someone who, "knew what they were talking about." The nerve of that child. We talked and high school was an option we were both willing to explore.

Fast forward a bit and now my little girl is registered for two courses in the fall semester at the small local high school. One is an integrated General Science course (foundational for the next five semesters of science) and the other is a visual arts course that she thought might be fun.

She'll be fine. She's got the kind of confidence and self assurance you don't often see in teenagers today. And she was adamant that she still wanted to do the rest of her subjects on her own or with me. I think she'll have fun and hopefully meet more of the local teenagers. It's just me that has to adjust. I need to remember that she's capable of this and that choosing to homeschool is not a choice that means always schooling at home but rather centering the decisions about education in the home.

Besides, is only one semester.

So far.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

I went shopping for Zumdahl's Introductory Chemistry Tuesday night and ended up with his World of Chemistry. The difference? IC is apparently more of an Honours high school book while WoC is regular chemistry. Also, many tens of dollars. I've seen syllibi online for Honours Chemistry courses that use WoC so I'm not too concerned that I've chosen something with less rigor so the money became the deciding factor.

Besides, the cover is prettier, don't you agree?

Also...*sigh*...Robert Bruce Thompson is no longer selling his most excellent lab kits to those of us in the Great White North. It is an understandable considering shipping costs and cross-border paperwork but Istill want to cry.  I will now have to put together my supplies all by my lonesome and the prospect is NOT thrilling.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Housework With Lauchie

Today's discovery: when stocking toilet paper with a toddler there is no such thing as moderation.