I promised I'd keep you all updated on our homeschooling saga, and I apologize to those who are totally uninterested in this portion of our lives, we'll get back to adoption drama in the next post :-)
Matthew and I had a talk this morning on the way home from dropping the boys off at school. Here are some of his responses, paraphrased as best I could recall them:
1) Do you miss being in school?
"It's kind of funny mommy, but it doesn't feel like I was ever there before...and it was a lot of years! It just feels like this is the way it always was supposed to be."
2) Do you miss ANYTHING about school?
"I miss Clay (his best friend), but that's about it...and we didn't see each other much in school anyway."
3) Do you think you'll miss the school activities like the Walk-A-Thon, sports when you are older, band, dances, things like that?
"No, not really. You know I don't care much about sports, at least not like a lot of boys. Joshie and Kenny don't either. It's like that is all high school is about...being cool or girls or being good at sports. I just don't want to play football or stuff like that, so I don't think I'll miss much. And I think the kids are getting meaner as they get older. I know my brothers won't be that way. I don't know about my sisters but I don't think they will be like that either 'cuz you and Daddy wouldn't let them be like that."
4) What do you like about homeschooling? And don't say it just because you think I want to hear it...I really want to know what you are thinking now that we have been at this a little while.
"I like it a lot better. It's like we get to study things deeper, not just talk about it for a few minutes and then we have to move on to something else. Kenny gets frustrated with that too because it takes him longer to do stuff and he never gets finished. I like being able to ask you more about something and you don't rush me. Like our Indians study...I am learning WAY more than I ever did at school about stuff, I feel like I am learning everything about it and not just a few important things."
5) What about me as a teacher? What can I do to improve? What is driving you nuts?
"Nothing, serious Mommy. You are the best teacher I ever had...I think it is because you love us and you care more about whether we understand something or not. You are NOT easy and you correct me a lot more than my other teachers. I could get away with things and they'd just let me do it. You catch everything I don't spell write, you force me to write neater, you make me go back and correct math problems when I get them wrong...but at home we HAVE the time to correct them and figure out what I did wrong, and I like that. Plus, like Kenny said, you know what we don't know and you explain things deeper than the teachers do. You don't treat us like we are just dumb kids, you talk to us like you talk to Miss Jill or Miss Jane, sort of like we are grown ups too, and that helps me learn a lot more."
Hmmm....that was one I had never thought about!
6) What do you not like studying?
"Math, but not because it is at home or because the book is boring, I just don't care for math much and I am not super good at it."
7) What do you like doing the most?
"Reading all the time and the unit studies. They are really cool and I like the lapbooking a lot. It makes learning more fun."
8) What else do you want to study? If you could choose to learn about anything, what would it be?
"Nuclear submarines, WW1 and WW2, electricity and how it works, architecture, I want to learn about all the famous landmarks like the Taj Majal and the Eiffel Tower and know how they were built, more music stuff, and I really, really want to keep on taking my art classes. Oh yea, and all about our government and how it works. I want to understand more when we have the next election." Umm, I think I got it all.
So although it IS overwhelming as the mom to suddenly be homeschooling, for Matthew it is really, really working. It is interesting to me that I started at one place in my thinking a month ago and I have progressed to a very different place. It is a real journey of thought, evaluating what it really is we want this to be and where we want it to go. We have already changed curriculum and I am glad I read several blogs and other pointers from others who said "Don't be afraid to make changes if something isn't right or not working...remember it is NOT public school and you have permission to do whatever works for you."
We have gone from thinking we would be more heavily computer based with curriculum to definitely more text/workbook oriented. I floundered a bit with Language Arts as nothing struck me as solid and all encompassing enough. I found that Saxon has a grammar and writing program for 5th-8th graders which is fantastic and I am thrilled to see how far Matthew will progress by the time we are finished with even this year.
I have hated...and I do mean thoroughly hated...the way the new math curriculum at the kids school approaches math. It is not systematic, it doesn't provide enough opportunity for review, it is so busy trying to teach things in a "new" way (do you all remember the last time we had "new" math?) that they don't solidify the basics. We have struggled at home to help with homework for the past two years since it was implemented...in fact I was interrupted by Kenny asking a question I couldn't answer as I was writing this paragraph. Funny how with the Saxon Math program I seem to have no difficulty at all understanding and teaching 5th grade math. I thought I was a total idiot (and still do with Kenny's math tonight!) and I realize it is the same reason the kids are struggling, because it is so busy trying to be "new" that it isn't teaching the basics. That is why Kenny still can't add single digit numbers with any speed at all.
I am gradually relaxing a little now that we have a bit of structure. I am quickly seeing that I could NEVER be one of those "unschooling" moms who is more free wheeling. I need to know the basics will be covered to feel comfortable, but I am finding the more removed we are from public school, the more I am allowing myself to think outside the box a bit and get a little more creative in my thinking. I think we will be spending 2-3 hours each day working on the core stuff like math, grammar, etc. and the remainder of our day will be more open to exploration.
For example, Matthew wants to learn a lot about architecture and eventually drafting. This is one of the areas which might eventually lead to a career, or at the very least his study early on might eliminate it from possibility. You never know! Well, I had a link sent to me by a friend who knows Matthew is a Lego nut, and I discovered that Lego is producing a new "Architecture" line which will offer kits of famous buildings and a focus on Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. (You can check it out www.brickstructures.com) Currently they have available a model of Wright's "Fallingwater" home as well as the Guggenheim. Surprisingly, most of these kits are more affordable, in the $40-60 price range with the exception of Fallingwater which is $100 (still better than the $300 Taj Majal which Matthew drools over!). So I have decided that we will do a unit study on Frank Lloyd Wright. We found a couple of books at the library here, one of which shows original drawings only, the other photos of completed projects, and we had a lot of fun looking at some of the incredible designs and then seeing the finished structure. There was another book that was kid oriented that was a biography which we checked out and I will have Matthew read it and write a report on Frank Lloyd Wright based upon what he has learned in all 3 books. Then we will maybe get the Lego kit and explore the design of Fallingwater, and I am going to try and track down a PBS special I saw once a long time ago which was very cool and I think that it would make Wright's work come to life. It is kind of fun to think of ways to pull in other core subjects on things that interest him!
Another example is that we are going to put together a display board for our upcoming Family Celebration at church, and Matthew is studying Kazakhstan and then going to create this display to educate others about his birth country. We started on it today by first creating a list of areas to study...culture, geography, history, facts, orphanage life, etc. Then as part of our technology studies I had him use the internet to look up the CIA Factbook online and find data on Kazakhstan, then taught him how to print out a web page. Although the boys have been on the computer it has been limited to a couple of safe kids web sites with games, and offline games that we approve of. So Matthew needs to learn more about the internet, web browsers, email, etc. to allow him to better research things.
We looked at his print out and then created a chart to compare and contrast data from the US to Kazakhstan. We looked at interesting facts such as the ratio of cell phone to land line usage, and we discussed the terribly outdated old Soviet infrastructure and why cell phone usage is so high there due to the timing of the independence of Kazakhstan and the adoption worldwide of cell phone technology. We compared infant mortality rates and life expectancy (and learned what those terms meant...vocabulary!!). He thoughtfully declared he was glad to be living here in the US as his own life expectancy is now far greater. He wanted to understand the finer points that differentiate the word "poverty" from "poor", so we looked each one up in the dictionary and discussed it. We also then talked about how poverty affects life expectancy and in what ways. He first said "They can't afford good health care" but then I pointed out other ways in which poverty affects life span such as malnutrition, fewer regulations such as requirements for seat belts in cars, etc. which raises the death rate, lack of heating in the winter and he mentioned "Yea, and like the old people sleeping without the mattresses that Aigula makes dying because it is too cold!" so it was great to see him tie in our church's project with John Wright in his thought processes. We then learned what "GDP" means and compared the Gross Domestic Product of Kazakhstan to the US and were stunned at the staggering difference. He was also very interested in what "arable land" was and we looked at a map at the vast expanses of unoccupied or scarcely occupied land. This led us to me asking him to guess why the number of TV stations was so low in a country so large, and he immediately put two and two together as we talked about the population density and the need for a decent sized market audience to target with advertising.
All in all, it was the coolest hour of our homeschooling yet, and I gained a tad bit more confidence in what we are doing. We both agreed that these kinds of projects can come to life and be more engaging if we just start them and see where they lead us. It was interesting to see where Matthew's brain took him as we analyzed the data and compared it. I'd point something out and he'd jump on it and take it the next step further. We will spend the next few days learning about the history of Kazakhstan as that is an area where he knows very little and I am sure he will be fascinated by it.
Interestingly, the whole feel inside our home is gently and subtly changing. Joshie has decided suddenly that he wants to be a scientist and is asking me to teach him "science stuff about bugs and maybe other aminals" (and yes the misspelling is his pronunciation.). It is as if this freedom to learn and dig deeper is "catching" and he asked me for a microscope so he could examine crickets and maybe start a collection of them (Dead please, Joshua, dead...I am scared of jumping bugs!). Kenny has asked several times if he can learn more about Rome and "Bible times" as that is very interesting to him. Funny how when the adults in the home change their attitude about where learning occurs, so too do the kids follow. And we have always been a home in which reading actually has been done most nights, where we have encouraged taking things apart, discussing issues and current events at age appropriate levels. But this new feeling in the air in the LaJoy home is very different, and it is obvious our life is changing in a big way. Flood gates are starting to bulge, learning is beginning to be seen as FUN and not only about homework and worksheets and testing. We will see if it continues to blossom. I sure hope so, even if it means I am scrambling to keep up and see if I can meet the challenge myself.
What I seem to be struggling with the most with homeschooling is letting go of the need to feel I have to keep on some sort of public school schedule...that Matthew has to learn certain things at a certain time or I have failed. Holding on to that sort of defeats the whole purpose of homeschooling, and I hope in time I feel freer to spin off, to be more creative, to realize that much of the "scope and sequence" of public education is what I DON'T like, so why am I feeling I have to be a slave to their schedule of when and how I educate my son? Of what I expose him to and when? I will surely be a better homeschooling Mom when I can dump those thoughts and quit worrying about increasing CSAP scores as I sacrifice real learning to teach to a test...the very thing that most public school teachers despise having to do.
Another thing Dominick and I have been discussing between ourselves is allowing ourselves early on to get off the whole "SAT" "ACT" merry go round. Kids today are so worried about college entrance exams and resumes that they give up what is remaining of their childhood in 8th or 9th grade so they can take on every possible extracurricular activity whether they like the activity or not, all so they can look good on paper to an admissions counselor. I would much rather see our kids follow their passions than to spend years fretting over college admission. We also recognize that we will have absolutely no money to put our kids through school, that they can still go to college and we certainly will encourage that 100%, but we will have to be non-traditional about it and look at Junior College first then step up to 4 year university. It also makes far more sense, as the cost savings is enormous, and it removes all stress to spend the remaining years of your childhood pursuing activities merely "for show". If they finish at a 4 year college, they still have a diploma with the University name on it, even if they started elsewhere...so why not take advantage of the savings and remove the stress at the same time? Whether we ultimately change our minds on this one or not, I leave open for debate. But I have been saddened to see how much attention is paid to the "prestige" of getting into the right college while everything else in a young adults development is pushed aside. We forget that the end result is what we should all be looking for, that our children come away from advanced education with a career that helps them support themselves and their family...and maybe offers fulfillment because they choose a field that allows them to pursue their passion. It is not about having a diploma from Yale hanging on the wall to point out to anyone who will be patient enough to listen. It is not about bragging rights, it's about self-discovery and transformation. It is about self-sufficiency. Sadly, higher ed has become the end result itself and ultimate reward rather than a stepping stone to a good career. The purpose of college is often lost in the high school years as everyone anxiously awaits acceptance letters and feels they will just die if they don't get accepted by their top choice.
I don't have a clue yet where all of this is ultimately leading us...or maybe I do have a clue and am scared of it. Either way I will readily admit it is very interesting and i am enjoying seeing some of my thoughts flipped upside down as I remain open to changing perspectives and seeing some truth in them.