Thursday, October 22, 2009

Homeschooling/Public Schooling Update and Observations

As I continue down the path of self-education as it pertains to homeschooling, and as I read many blogs of homeschoolers, I am learning a lot...and as often happens that leads to further questions! Things are moving along, I think we are making progress, we have adjusted and re-adjusted and I am sure will continue to do so. Are we where I'd like us to be? No, and I have a sneaking suspicion I just might not ever be fully satisfied. I tend to dwell on what I am not doing, what I feel incapable of being or doing, and not seeing what we are accomplishing. We have had a couple of surprises along the way including:

1) Matthew's reading level is quite high, thus justifying his comments about being bored in class when in public school. So are his science scores.
2) That being said, Matthew's grammar and writing skills are well below grade level and need a lot of focused work...something we were totally unaware of. His thinking and expression are in depth, but his "output" leaves a lot to be desired.
3) His intellectual curiosity, along with his brothers, is well developed.
4) I would firmly be categorized as an "Eclectic Homeschooler" without even trying to be one! See, bet those of you who don't do this silly stuff didn't realized that we categorize ourselves so well! HAHA!! Eclectic means that we don't use just one approach, but combine methods such as unit studies, reading, some textbook curriculum, etc. Besides, y'all knew I was eclectic without being told anyway :-)

Thus far in a month and a half we have completed an in depth unit study on Native Americans and just tonight as he was finishing it up he expressed an interest in learning more about Native American medicine and healing practices. He has retained a lot of what he has learned too, far more than I recall him ever sharing before when a unit was completed in public school. We did a quick study of our local water and irrigation system including the Gunnison Tunnel project. He of course did his Kazakhstan country study and display board. He has read about 20 books or so (I lost count as he skims some for War Facts), done 28
math lessons, increased his speed on addition, subtraction and multiplication math facts from 7 minutes per 100 to 4 minutes per 100. He has started blog posting, written 1 report and 2 short stories, done 13 grammar lessons, actively worked on some online curriculum with grammar/language arts for another 15 lessons or so, quickly developed a love of art that didn't exist before, and done 3 science experiments as well as learned more in depth about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Edison.

We have also had the pleasure of hooking up with a little older boy who is homeschooling who Matthew enjoys and I love his mom, so we will be getting together once a week. Also made a connection with another old friend who is homeschooling her son and we plan to start getting the boys together after we return from Kazakhstan. Socialization opportunities are starting to happen and will gradually be firmed up.

I think it has been a productive 6 weeks!!

Things I am struggling with are:

1) Trying to wrap my mind around a long term plan.
2) Letting go of the fact that I am simply NOT creative and will never live up to the wonderful homeschooling glory I see depicted on other blogs. My kids will likely not be taught Latin. My kids will not graduate at 14. They will never produce cool baked goods that look like DNA strands. What we WILL do is read TONS of books, have great discussions, explore at the drop of a hat anything that peaks our interest, take field trips often, have lots of hugs and relaxed learning.
3) Configuring ourselves and our environment for homeschooling is not feeling settled at all. We don't have a "school room" in our house as some do, nor do I really want one. But on the other hand, I would love to have certain things not have to be moved around all the time at the beginning and end of each day and I also would like to have maps and charts displayed, cutesy little classroomy type things. I am betting it will never happen and we will be using the kitchen table (and the couch, and the bedroom...and yes, even the bathroom with a laptop!) for the next 10 years. Oh well, there are worse things.
4) Trying to figure out how we really view education, what will not limit Matt and yet what will be freeing in terms of approach and attitude. It is like developing your personal theology in a way, but instead it is developing your homeschooling philosophy. I feel quite strongly about many things concerning the education of our kids, as many a teacher will attest (poor things!) and accepting "partially proficient" is one of them (See more down below! HAHA!). I want all the kids to be exposed to a broad range of experiences, ideas, thought, and to have an overview of all of history and a decent understanding of the branches of science. I also want them reading and writing at a college level by the time they graduate even if they decide not to attend college, even those who have joined Team LaJoy well into their school years. Somehow we have to come up with a plan to accomplish this. With our unique children and their wide gamut of needs, this is an amazingly difficult thing to wrap my mind around.
5) Knowing we are likely to be leaving reasonably soon and that the last couple of weeks will be hectic, I am in limbo a bit about what to do with Matthew other than the core subjects, as I don't want to get involved too heavily in a history or science unit study we will have to interrupt. I found something online which we are going to try which is sort of an online combination unit study with hands on experiences as well from which we are going to try, and it is about Orchestras. Since Matthew has been going to hear orchestras and performances for a long time and enjoys music so much, I thought this might be a fun and interesting way to tap that interest, and it is a shorter study than the one he wanted on the Revolutionary War. We both agreed this one would be fun as well and might fit our time frame better. It also might help me draw his focus away from Michael Jackson's older music which I already had the distinct pleasure of hearing over and over in the 80's and now get to relive as he plays it non-stop since doing the dance to "Thriller" last year in PE. Maybe...possibly...we can turn him on to some Bach or Handel for awhile! He did like Yo Yo Ma, so there is hope. :-)
6) This is silly and kind of fun, but others seem to have names for their homeschools and I am too lame to think of one! HAHAHA! As if that is the worst of my worries right now :-)

This week was filled with parent/teacher conferences and IEP meetings, all of which went extremely well. Kenny is showing progress, but still is reading at only mid-1st grade level which absolutely concerns us but there is no sign of learning disability nor any other issue that can be resolved with much more than just time to hear, read and work with the written word. Whether that time will be allowed or not in a public school setting remains to be seen and we will continue to monitor his improvement closely. He seems to
have matured a lot in the classroom this year, and thus far there was only one minor incident no more concerning than any other kid. That is a big improvement over last year. He really has a fantastic teacher this year whose skills and understanding of Kenny's deficits are excellent, and her high expectations are something that at this stage Kenny finally has the maturity to live up to. He really isn't working firmly at grade level in any area but is close in math. His comprehension of things that are verbally explained, and his thinking and verbal skills are quite advanced when one considers them in comparison to his scores, so we are confident that time will take care of most of what is going on.

Joshie is doing great, he is a happy little camper who is working well above expectations in all areas and who LOVES LOVES LOVES writing and science, which of course is negligible in first grade but we need to find a way to supplement at home without watching praying mantis's getting their heads chewed off in bug cages. Sorry, that one just about did me in but had Josh enthralled. When I mentioned the idea of dissecting a frog already in 1st grade he was all over the I see a microscope in his future if not the actual frog :-) Dad just might have to handle that one! HAHA!

So basically, Josh and Kenny are working at much the same level with some exceptions. Makes it easy for reading time at night!

And then there is Mom...whose educational needs are also all over the map. As those of you have done will attest to, adopting internationally is a wake up call to what all you need to learn and how little you know. Believe me when I say that even though we have done this a few times, each time is different, each time can be terrifying, and each child brings their own history and challenges to the family. We already know we have much to overcome in terms of challenging past experiences as we move forward with this adoption, and I have been slowly prepping myself with reading on abuse, neglect, older child adoption, triad issues, etc. The "schoolin' ain't done" by a long shot in this regard, and I consider it a huge responsibility to be as educated as possible walking into this.

There is homeschooling educational practices, curriculum, lingo, philosophies and much, much more to research and I know I have barely scratched the surface. I can't believe how infant-like I feel about all of this and what a profound sense of fear there is that I might mess this drives you to want to learn more and as quickly as possible to avoid pitfalls and mistakes, which I am sure I will make anyway.

And let's just throw in lay ministry classes as well for good measure, as I just don't have enough learning going on! HAHAHA! Aside from my classwork, I can't seem to get enough of what others would consider totally boring theological reading. As my own Pastor said recently, she and a friend were categorized early on as "God Geeks". I am afraid I am quickly approaching that category myself, but there is a thirst I can't seem to quench and it is FUN FUN FUN to learn anything when you have a passion for it! Hey, at least it isn't quantum physics...although at moments I think theology might be just as hard to grasp in a different way.

So as I sit here with my feet propped up on the coffee table, the kids downstairs watching late night Flintstones cartoons for a special treat because there is no school tomorrow, I find I am surrounded by learning at all levels. Nearby we have a laundry basket full of library books (Yea, we walk into and out of the library with a laundry know you have a problem when they have to run in back and check in the ones you just dropped off because your new pile takes you over the legal limit!), on my coffee table I count no less than 21 books stacked up including a Calvin and Hobbs comic book, a half read Little Town on the Prairie, an Eyewitness WW2 book, The First Thousand Words in Russian, a bible, and Sand and Foam by Khalil Gibran. Whew! Yea, I guess we are a bit eclectic :-) HAHAHA! Eclectic or neurotic, I can't quite figure out which.

In addition to the books we have a lrage Lego project on the floor at my feet (big surprise, I know), two small tables that Kenny has nicely stenciled for his sister's room, a lapbooking project spread out on the kitchen table along with thank you notes I just finished, yellow and pink balloons hanging from the ceiling above me, pumpkin carving tools are gathered and waiting a fun evening tomorrow night, a Native American tribe map rolled up on our hutch, and a small pile of "little guys and cars" that Josh was playing with and has abandoned for the Flintstones.

It's an unusually messy moment here in our home, a sign of busy and engaged lives with lots of learning and love flowing in, around and through us all. The days are long past when everything stayed in place, when fingerprints weren't all over everything, when I could walk from one end of the house to the other without stepping on hidden Lego bombs. And as chaotic as this all sounds (and it really isn't that bad), I can't help but think crazily "Boy, I can't wait to be avoiding Barrett Bombs from the girls!!"..hahahaha! Yea, I already know I am weird...oh have already determined I am simply "eclectic", not weird at all!

And a sign is sitting on the end table next to us which we received as a gift at our family celebration this past weekend which reads "FAMILY: Other things may change us, but we start and end with family."

Ain't life grand???


Michelle said...

My husband told me there is a boy scout group that is a touring native american dance group...I will have to get some more info about it and send it to you. he said they have been invited all over to train with native americans and to dance at events.

Anonymous said...

HI Cindy,
you might find English From the Roots Up flashcards as a nice compromise to studying Latin. My kids probably won't either. They (and I ) are learning a lot from just the root words and meanings. (available on amazon). Also, for classical music, the kids really love the Classical Kids Series. Might be at your library, also on Amazon. We have and really enjoy: "Hallelujah Handel", "Vivaldis Ring of Mystery" and "Tchaikovsky Discovers America" There are engaging stories that go along with the music. Their Christmas one is nice too.

Best wishes,
Teresa F.

wilisons said...

Ok, I think I want to go back to school and have you homeschool me! I am sure Matthew is learning many new and interesting skills and facts. Just have faith in yourself and you will both succeed.

I know you mentioned writing as a weakness that you wanted to work on. Check out Lucy Calkins. They use her work in NYC public schools. She is an amazing speaker and her books are easy to read and use to get amazing writing out of kids. Her manuals teach about differnet kinds of writing and how to teach kids to use them. There is a K-2 set and a 3-5 set.

If you do work on music, can you make a tie in with Kaz and some places you might visit there. Maybe you want to work on a unit on climate that can carry over while in Kaz and comp/contrast the 2 places. Something that ties together the 2 worlds wouldn't get interupted when you travel, it would get enhanced :-)

For Kenny, have you tried using the Explode the Code series. It is put out by EPS and really does break the reading code.

Happy homeschooling,
mom to 2 from Kaz
and elementary teacher who wishes she could homeschool her own kids!

Carrie DeLille said...

As far as homeschooling, your kids, just by being homeschooled and only the basics would be FAR ahead of the public school kids and they'll get the extra help they need in the right places. I never had a "room" either-just a giant plastic container with a top-you may need 5!!
Graduate at 14? The older they are when they graduate, the better!! Universities are scarey places with saturation of liberal ideas-the longer they're home, the stronger they'll be to face that tough world!! You'll do great and you are creative and who cares if you don't have your own mill to grind your own flour to make your own bread? I think they'll be A-OK!!
Ah yes, keep following that call-wouldn't it be the coolest to have a full time job of studying His word? I've only been with you a year, but even in that year, I've watched that thirst become insatiable!!

Lisa said...

You go, girl!!

Ohiomom2121 said...

Dear Cindy,
We used our last name as follows: LaJoy Independence Home School. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? For the military, our son had to have a diploma, so I used the opportunity to get 2 printed, one for each of our graduates. The cost was about $100, ouch! But, they finally have beautiful diplomas. On your trip, you will want to focus on packable things, and from the sounds of it you already plan to bring the core, presumably math, soc. studies & grammar. These need continuity, so I would not leave them behind. The bigger problem will be keeping the reading level up. A lot of classics are downloadable if Matthew can read on a laptop. There will be a lot of time he will be waiting in hallways, so look for some way to bring books without the weight! And, don't worry about the rest, that's the beauty of home school! Sherry

Maureen said...

Thinking about your too many books at the library comment made me wonder if your library might have an Educator's card. The libraries here have them and they allow teachers to check out more books for educational purposes. You are a teacher now, so you might want to check if that is something that is available to you!