And just like that we made it to week eighteen and we are half way through our scheduled school year. And just like that the weather cleared overnight and we could feel the Spring in the air… and we celebrated by collapsing in heaps with coughs and splutters and fevers. So a much slower week than I thought possible, and not a whole lot of work of any kind. Tradition has it that at this stage I post about all the things that have worked for school this year, and lessons learnt so far this year…
Se7en + 1 Life Lessons Learnt in School This Year
- Life Lesson: It is Not Easy to Admit That You Have Made a Mistake. We actually have begun almost every school day with some mental math, miraculous I know. I know the initial purpose was to get mentally fit. Turns out it is not about the math at all. The biggest lesson of all has been admitting to making mistakes. I could have checked their work for them, but I chose not too. I know one or two of our students really do not like to mark their work wrong, even when it is glaringly obviously incorrect. Now my kids would be the first to say that mistakes are meant to be learnt from, but in practice it has taken a while for them to mark a problem incorrect. A hard lesson, I know… but it is so much easier to help the student who admits an error and asks for help than the student who says “everything is fine.”
- Life Lesson: Perseverance to the End, Cannot be Learnt in a Book. You would think that this lesson would be learnt by pouring over a difficult problem until it was solved. But no, it appears that some lessons really are best learnt in the great outdoors. My kids have got in to the habit of excusing themselves from work that is tricky, it is an art form. Now when you are out hiking and you know the game park gates shut at sunset and you have to be out or else… you cannot sit in a shady spot and hope that this “the immediate problem of the next hill” can wait until you are fresh in the morning. You have to keep going, you have to press on, no matter how much you want to call it a day. you have to finish and every time they do… they are so much more confident about finishing the next time they head out.
- Life Lesson: Comprehension Skills are Well Worth Fostering: While some of our students are very good readers, others are less so. Good reading skills or not, it was becoming glaringly obvious that certain lessons were flying past way too fast for them to be comprehending much at all. The question was how to get them to slow down… I needed everyone on the same level for this and so picked up some books from the library on topics that were totally not our typical topics. Our library has a heap of school text books, they full of assumptions and bias, but also large chunks of interesting facts to filter. I chose textbooks because one day, it is not unlikely that they might want to study at college, they are going to have to use textbooks and they need to get a little familiar with the format… and the fact that they need to concentrate on what they are reading in order to actually glean the information they are after. We started with tourism and then consumerism. We have been “touring” Southern Africa one country at a time form a tour guides perspective (a different perspective to a geography book by far) and we are all better equipped consumers… who knew how many rules had been written to protect consumers of clothes, food, property and even appliances. Let’s face it all good stuff to know.
- Life Lesson: Work Doesn’t Just Happen When you Get Around to it… You Actually Have to Schedule it. A number of our students beat to a very different drum and the expected school versus the passion that they are currently pursuing may be more than a few miles apart. That being said… it is quite ridiculous to nag your high school student to finish their language arts assignment of 250 words, when in actual fact they are writing an epic book and ten thousand pages later and an entire wall of their room devoted to the plot outline. I understand discipline, and students must complete what is set out for them on a particular day… but I gave the students who wanted to break free the opportunity to follow their own schedule, at their own pace. They weren’t terribly successful at sticking to their carefully devised schedules. However, they did get masses of work done and they did over achieve in the stuff that has nothing to do with school and everything to do with learning. I did not hold them back, I want them to be working on the things of their future, but I also wanted them to know that they need to spend a lot more time being intentional about those pesky schedules. There is plenty of time yet this year to gather any work that may have fallen by the way… sometimes it is good to take the time to make a few mistakes, let them happen. It is a semester of school and calendar planning, not their whole lives at stake here.
- Life Lesson: We Can Only Want to be Skilled, When we have an Idea What the Skill is. Some passions start young, and others emerge. Right now our six year old is passionate about writing books and has created a shoe box full in the last month. I am not about to stop her to check if she can parse a sentence, or bother about spelling at all. As all our students are getting better at writing… and astonishingly enough a little bit every day really does help them to improve, so their spelling has improved dramatically. Nothing surprised me more than the other day they asked if we could add spelling to our mental math time every day. I have never bothered with spelling for extended periods of time before… but now that they have discovered that it is a skill they can learn, they want to do better at it. In the pursuit of improving their writing skills, and a little sibling competition, spelling will be back on the menu.
- Life Lesson: It is Not About being Fluent, it is about Communicating. Here is one for the books, I grew up speaking two languages, like most South Africans and crawled through a third at school, I remember not a lot of it, and loved learning a fourth at university… but for some reason we just never got round to learning another language in our homeschool. When my kids get to high school, they start learning French from a teacher up the road and they love it. But this year we kept bumping into folk who were fluent in another language and my kids found they were always on the back foot… and so we starting learning away, it has been ridiculously easy. Just getting “first 1000 word” type books from the library and listening to stories and singing songs, they have learnt a remarkable amount in this short time. It is encouraging, everyone is keen to learn a smattering of another language next year… yup they are thinking that far ahead already. A language a year… I’m in for a very linguistic ride… I can tell.
- Life Lesson: It is All About Taking Part: One thing about most kids is that they are opinionated… this year I have let my kids voice their opinions more than ever. If they feel strongly about something, say dirty beaches, or Lego drilling in the Arctic… or even that all children should have a book to read at bedtime. Then I am all for them not just writing letters, but doing something. Yes it does mean some very early Saturday morning beach clean ups, and asking all your friends to gather books for a library, and yes it does mean sometimes having to put your neck out and say something. But if they feel strongly enough about a cause, and often kids do, then I want them to know that they don’t have to wait until they are adults to do something. Now is the time to do what needs to be done. As a family we will back each other and help each other to pursue each other’s causes.
- Life Lesson: To Work as a Team, to Make Shared Memories, Requires Endless Hours, Busy Hours and Lazy Hours… Together. I firmly believe that shared experience and memories made together will tie our kids tighter together than anything else, and stand them in good stead for any life experience that that is thrown at them once they finish school. In the last eighteen weeks our kids have spent a number of hours together. Family school all together in the morning and reading aloud is taking precedence over most other ways of learning over here… and for light relief our most popular extra-mural by far has been hiking. They are learning to depend on each other and work as a team, through thick and thin… trust me, figuring out how to cross a knee deep swamp on a cold rainy afternoon, or get your mother person over a five-story high sand dune is enough to teach the most individualistic members of our gang, how to work in a team.
And the se7en + 1th…
That’s us… I can’t believe half a school year has passed so fast… astonishingly nor can our kids. In a crazy moment I asked them if they wanted to take a break and catch their breath, there was a resounding, “no…” They are enjoying it too much. That in itself is a big relief when you are their teacher.