Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Homeschooling Journey - Another New Start

Rhiannon has never been to public school so this marks our eighth year of homeschooling together.  It has been quite a journey.  I first homeschooled Eryn for grades 2 - 5 and I went through the whole evolution from doing lots of organized, schooly things at home to being really laid back and just living life but feeling guilty about it - like I was failing her somehow.  However, when she went to school in grade 6, she did just fine and I wished I had spent a lot less time worrying and feeling guilty.  I homeschooled Kaetlyn for kindergarten and grade 1.  I would have loved to homeschool her for longer but circumstances did not permit.  Andrew was my second wave of homeschooling.  I homeschooled him from grade 4 to the end.  By this time I had heard of 'unschooling'.  There are many interpretations of 'unschooling'.  You can google it and get various different takes on it.  Unschooling was good for us in that it took the pressure off and there was a level of trust that children could learn what they needed to learn when they are ready to.  It has faith in natural curiosity.  How each family interprets it is unique.  For us, it meant just living life and following our interests as we were able.

However, towards the end of Andrew's time as a homelearner, I began to see its short comings in preparing him for the life he wants.  And I saw that sometimes children need to be pushed and challenged and I believe that it is my job as a parent to do that.  I saw that sometimes some children can't find that inner motivation to do what they need to do.  One problem I have with most child development models - whether for homeschooling or language development - they assume that all children are the same, have the same needs and unfold in the same way.  They don't.  If I could go back, I would do it differently with Drew.  But alas, you can't go back.  Now its his job to figure it out.  I know he can do it.  And maybe that is just as well.

For the early grades, our life just ticked along with Rhiannon.  She was super motivated to learn to read - obsessive, even.  She could read anything by the end of her kindergarten year - and not because of anything I did - just because she was ready and very, very motivated.  She studied piano and violin and played with friends and it was all good.  Last year, things started to change.  She was bored a lot of the time but didn't seem as able to occupy herself.  Music practise became a daily struggle.  We had lots of goals for the learning year but we did not accomplish what we hoped.  At the end of the year I felt lost and uncertain and very worn out - tired of fighting.  And don't get me wrong:  I would be fine with Rhiannon quitting her piano and/or violin.  She didn't want to quit but she also didn't want to practise.  All in all, I don't really think it was about the practising.  I think her surly and resistant attitude about it reflected a deeper sense of dissatisfaction with her life in general.  She wasted a lot of time.  And I wasted a lot of time trying to get her do the most basic of things.  I was ready to give up the whole homeschooling thing - even though I really believe the school system would not serve her well and I especially eschew highschool.  But I just couldn't do another year like last year.

I pondered it all summer.  And for the summer we took a real and complete break.  I did not make her practise as I have done in the past and we had lots of company and did lots of fun things.  And I pondered what to do and how to do it.  Rhiannon was dead set against going into the public school system and I was reluctant to force her.  More than one friend encouraged me to do just that, though.  And I can understand why they would after all I had to say.  In the end, after lengthy discussions with Rhiannon (and Dean) I came up with a plan.  I had 2 major concerns.  One was that she was not learning and progressing as she was capable of (except in English - in which case she is way beyond her 'grade level').  The second was that it was taking way too much of my time for too little result.  In other words, I was wasting too much time.  We were both sick the first week of school.  (We are registered with SelfDesign as we have been since kindergarten - its a publicly funded Distance Learning program that operates out of Kitselano and Nelson).  So to start off the second week of school, I told her that she need to have breakfast and be finished her rabbit chores by 9am when school would be commencing.

Rhiannon working on her music theory
So now for 2 hours every morning, she studies.  She still has complete control over what she studies - except that she must do some math sometimes.  She has been working through the Khan Academy systematically which is an awesome site and I am so grateful for it! (thank you, Kyle!)  And she is learning how to write a report.  Her first one is about mini rex rabbits.  And we spend sometime working on cleaning and organizing her room - an important part of her learning this year.  Our theme for the year is 'discipline and organization'.  Its amazing to me that even in this short time what a difference this has made in our home.  She is happy.  She is agreeable.  I actually like spending time with her!  She's excited about what she is doing and learning - even the math.  She needed this push from me and she needed me to supply this structure.  She has some goals.  She would like to be ready to take the Creative Writing course at Okanagan College when she is 14.  She would like to be a writer.  And she would like to be working at Math at a grade 7 level.  Now these goals seem achievable.

Splash marvels at the clean window sills and windows from the top of the ladder
What do I do during these 2 hours?  I do housework that I don't mind being interrupted and I am available for anything she needs help with.  Getting some great housecleaning done....  Even Splash is amazed at my clean windows as she perches on the ladder I just vacated for a new view of the kitchen.  That's what we all have, I guess, a new view.

I am not saying that every kid is like this or that every kid would benefit from what we are doing.  But this is working for us.  I've never homeschooled in quite this way before.  It could be said that doing it this way is even counter to my 'go-with-the-flow' personality... but I think that maybe I need some more discipline and organization in my life, too.  Seems that way!


Sarah-Lynn said...

I really didn't realize that last year was such a struggle for homeschooling. I'm glad that you figured things out. I suppose I should get to my never ending housework...

Home Learning Victoria said...

I also think that different kids need different things at different times. We're going to be more structured for the next three years (equivalent of grades 7 to 9) because that's what we've all agreed to do. In fact, my son's been resentful when I don't provide some guidance and structure. He doesn't want to waste his time, either, and feels the desire for more rigour in his life. So interesting!

Laura said...

good luck on your new start! i found your homeschooling journey an interesting read.

The Painted Lady said...

it looks like you're achieving a good balance between structure and freedom. I know I definitely could have used more discipline when it came to studying/homework in high school.

Mom said...

It is really fascinating for me to read of your home schooling experiences and your mother ponderings. Personally, I'm pleased with your results. Thanks for being in my down line.

sheila said...

What a great post, Andrea. I'm glad to see you write this. Too often my pals make (slightly defensive) remarks like "Gosh, a schedule would never work for us but you know, my kids aren't any more behind than yours - so why stress yourself like this? You really should unschool more" without realizing that my kids and I actually LIKE what we're doing, lol.

I never want anyone to feel as if I'm judging them for their lifestyle but neither do I want to feel as if they are judging me.

sheila said...

ACK. I had to prove I am not a robot SIX TIMES before I, umm, proved I wasn't a robot.

Now I'm feeling mildly worried.

Miranda said...

It's been a couple of months since you wrote this. I'm wondering how things are going now. Has your new routine devolved? Have you found another rhythm? Are things still working out as well as they were at first? Is your girl still happy?

I'm curious, because I've had a lot of the same thoughts and ideas with my kids over the years. We've not had much success with daily academic expectations over the longer term -- mostly because I think I have such mixed feelings about them. When the slightest resistance crops up I lose heart and give up doing what I need to do to support whatever expectation we've agreed upon.

Fiona and I seem to be finally finding a groove that we can get back into when we slip out. We're doing a lot less than 2 hours a day, but usually a little bit of something five days a week. I'm hopeful we can keep it up, because we are both happier. Would love to learn from what's working (or even what's not working) with you.



Andrea said...

Hi Miranda,

For the most part our routine is going well. She has settled into mostly studying Spanish and Math in that 2 hours. She reads and writes voraciously for fun all the time but sometimes she works on a story she is working on in that time.

Having said that, we have just gotten off schedule. One week of sickness where I let her sleep in and one night of several one-time late night activities that I also let her sleep in. If this 2 hours of homeschooling doesn't happen in the morning, I find it doesn't happen. The rest of the day is busy for one or the other or both of us. So now we have to get back into the swing. I am not anticipating that being difficult.

One area that we have not managed to get going well, though is piano and violin practise. That is now left for the afternoon/evening and there are too many days where it doesn't happen at all. I wish that she was ready to take more responsibility for making sure that happens and I am currently brainstorming ideas on how to transition to that. She absolutely loves piano and violin and doesn't want to give up lessons but she will happily skip practising and doesn't feel badly if she is unprepared for her next lesson... Any ideas?


Miranda said...

Thanks for the update, Andrea, sounds very positive! We have certainly experienced how illness and late nights throw off a schedule ... and it seems not a week goes by without one or the other or both of those occurrences. Good luck getting back on track!