So school is out for most of our students, a couple of them are busy with science experiments and others are finishing up their readers for the year… but we are pretty much in rest mode. And it is good. It turns out that this was one of our better years for blogging our journey… with a before and a during and now a nearly done post. When I look back on our year I see many things we really, really got right… we got outdoors, we had epic adventures… we played harder and we read more than ever. And it was definitely the year of projects and making.
Typically we were busier than we thought we would be, interruptions abounded and we welcomed them (as one does) and things took ten times longer than we thought they would… but experience shows that this is all good and part of life and so very much part of our school. A typical school day begins around the breakfast table, and about an hour of family school… were we learn all sorts of things together; followed by everybody working on their own thing. I had appointments with each of our children once or twice a week, were we spoke about what they had been reading, what projects they were working on and how they were progressing. They had to learn that that was the time to ask for help or tell me if they needed a resource that we didn’t have lying around. These appointments worked for me, I could very easily see progress because form one meeting to the next something had to happen, and most of the time it did.
Se7en + 1 Things We Got Right for School
- We Stopped Waiting for the Right Time:
- Learnt Lots Online:
There are certain things that I have always thought that “we must get round to that sometime” – and you know those are the things that never get done. Well this was the year that I realised for the first time that we really are running out of time and certain things just have to be done. So we did them. And we made a list of things we want to do and we are getting them done. Homeschooling is not forever, it often feels like it is, in the day to day of life, but actually I constantly have the feeling that we are running out of time. So instead of waiting to have a pile of books on a topic, or waiting until we could do an associated outing, or waiting until everyone was in the same place at the same time… we just dived in, and got so much done. By just doing.
I didn’t grow up in a culture of screen time and to be honest I never think about it. We have never really taken advantage of the internet in a big way before and this year was the year that we really found resources that we couldn’t refuse… A Couple of kids did a photography course, a couple of kids did computer courses… really this was the year for my older kids at least, that the pursuit of their passions, led them to learning online.
- Coursera: There are heaps of courses here, something for everyone really. The courses are not trivial and you will need to really commit to them in order to succeed. These are great way to discover that if you really want to learn something, you will have to work hard at it.
- Yuppie Chef’s Cooking School: There is heaps to learn over there and we only managed a couple of courses… We haven’t jumped in and tackled a course here yet this year but as soon as our new school year starts again it will become part of our routine again.
- Nanowrimo: This works for some kids and doesn’t for others. It is the National Novel Writing Month Program in November. My oldest three love to take part. There is a junior version of Nanorimo and our kids really dive in with gusto and take great delight in writing their own book. If you don’t want to spend a month on writing then take a peak at their great writing resources, there are plenty of useful goodies over there.
- Impact Virtual.Com: This corner of the internet has been invaluable in our kids learning online. Take a peak at the available courses, I have to say that I think all students should work their way through the first pre-requisite course, Digital Learning. This is a course that will teach your kids, in an online, classroom, environment how to work their way around on the web. Not just that, but how to present what they have learnt… how to create a website, how to include heaps of useful features, not to mention how to be “wise on the internet”… some things your kids need hear from someone they respect, who isn’t necessarily their parent. The projects take time, they are hard and require your student to think… but not too hard and help is available, and the confidence they gain by achieving something that they thought they couldn’t do is simply invaluable.
This was the year that we totally left grades behind. Why did it take so long? For folk who don’t homeschool, grades are important, they demonstrate that your kids are learning and progressing… honestly, my gang are learning and progressing and I just got so tired of trying to figure out whenever any one asks: “Well that child is nine so she should be in grade – whatever…” or “That child is reading about History from the Renaissance so they should be in grade whatever else.” Actually, who cares, we don’t, so we lost all the “shoulds” and just did the work. They are where they are skills wise and otherwise they just read the next year of books on the shelf. When it comes to reading I want them to be excited enough about what they are reading to tell us all about it at the next meal. And often all the exciting things that they are reading about are the things that they are way ahead of than grade level anyway.
This year at the beginning of our school year, in a moment of idleness I scratched on the back of an envelope, exactly what skill I thought each of our kids needed to work on. And when I spent time with them for school that is what I spent time on. The child that needed better comprehension, got help with thinking about what they were reading; the child that really wanted help with public speaking got that help too; and so on down the line. I highly recommend having in the back of your mind one – just one, skill you would like to see your kids get a handle on over the next while. As homeschoolers we often say – we want our children to grow-up to be well rounded adults and then we create a list of skills that our children will need, and could they just acquire them by next week. Well they can multi-task in their free time, but when they were with me, we were focused and it made a huge difference. One child really needed to get reading off the ground, they had stumbled about forever… focused attention on reading everyday at every opportunity, for fun, in games, at the library… wherever. Huge noticeable difference. Try it – write just one skill down that you would like to help your child with… of course you do the other stuff that needs doing… but it is easier to say when faced with decisions: Does this fit in with what we are aiming for or not?
While my older children have spent years of their lives reading, I am not even kidding… my middle set were not avid readers and to be honest with years of never having more than a moment without interruption, my own ability to read a book from start to finish had dwindled away. So we established a time after lunch every single day – remember no car, no extra murals at that time of day, and everybody read. I didn’t read to anybody either, I was reading myself and re-learning how to read an entire book through in a sitting again. We all sat in the lounge together and read, and no distractions. While this was a quiet time, it wasn’t a time when anybody could play quietly, it was actually time to read. Some folk flipped through piles of books, others became immersed and only emerged hours later. But the dramatic difference was for our middle graders, that discovered if you read a chapter… and then another… and then another… books get read and enjoyed, you don’t lose the thread of the story as you do when it is half a page every other week. It is really all about practice. Similarly for listening… I realised after years of not listening to a talk or a lecture… my own personal listening skills had dwindled significantly. So we did a lot of listening all of us, during lunchtime mostly and we made full use of BBC School Radio… there is heaps over there, if you browse around you will find useful things to listen to.
We were without a car for the entire year, best thing we ever did. Oh the endless time, the hours and days that are wasted driving around in cars… we didn’t miss it at all. We could only do stuff within walking distance and then had to say no to everything else. I can hear people saying “Shame” how do you live without a car? It is easy really… we walked to the store, the library, the post office, friends, the beach… and suddenly a whole lot of little trips that we used to take were totally not necessary at all. Honestly, don’t for a moment think that Cape Town or the South Peninsula has any workable Public Transport. It doesn’t. Yes there is a train, but it is intermittent and reluctant, to say the least, and we were better off without it.
I know, folk have this idea that my kids all work independently and books are filled in and workbooks sorted. That’s not actually true. The point is my kids might tick a box, they may even slam their books shut and say done… that doesn’t mean the work is done. It means that they are done. So after years of trying to figure out ways to make sure that folk were getting their work done we finally found a solution. We have tried schedules, we have tried lists… this year we started out with everyone having a calendar… to write their work goals and things that they needed to do before we met up again one on one. We even tried to-do lists… then I kept a book with lists of what everyone was supposed to do and it was always open they could check it out anytime – but no, our children became blind to lists. So I tried everyone with their own list and finally I found the solution. A very simple and old fashioned solution: Carbon Paper… When our kids sit with me one on one, we make a list of the things they need to look at and figure out before I see them again. We both have the same list and there is no “confusion” over who is meant to be doing what.
And the se7en + 1th thing…
This was the year that we found a balance between friends and family time. We had heaps of friends over to play and our play day quickly became play weeks… and with a heap of kids all having their own heap of friends it actually turned out great. That being said, finding time just for us is a big part of raising our gang as a team. A good friend recently told me that in order for a good bread to bake it needs plenty of time to rise… well we finally figured out that our time together is so important to building togetherness and it doesn’t have to be around the kitchen table doing school. We took to the hills and got better and better at hiking, some hikes were harder than we expected and some were just manageable… but all of them helped us to create shared memories from shared experiences. And I do believe that shared memories are going to be the glue that tie my gang together tightly for many years to come.