Friday, January 24, 2014

7QT: Answers to those Homeschool Frequently Asked Questions


So, how's it GOING?

I've been getting this question a lot lately, almost as often as I did back in the fall when we first decided NOT to send SuperSam to public school kindergarten and to homeschool instead. I guess it's a new year, halfway through a school year...everyone wants to know if we think we did the right thing.

(Okay, not everyone. That might be overstating it a bit.)

Still, a lot of people want to know what we think of our choice to homeschool this year. I think people are mostly just curious because this is such a different path than the ones George and I traveled as kids. Some people are concerned, too, and their questions reflect their affection for Sam and their wondering about how we are handling things.

So, to put all of your minds at rest, I'm sharing the answers to the 7 Most Frequently Asked Questions about our decision to homeschool this year (with lots of photos of SuperSam's education in progress, for your viewing pleasure).

These takes might be slightly less quick than usual. I do want to be thorough, you know?

Testing to see if this viewer will work as a telescope


Do you think you made the right decision in homeschooling this year?

Absolutely, 100% yes. I have no doubt that we did the right thing.

My son is an interesting kid.
  • He's curious and creative with boundless energy and lots of faith in himself. This can make him a challenging family member. 
  • He is always certain that what he has to say is the most important. 
  • He doesn't have a "lower" volume setting. 
  • He wiggles almost constantly and often falls off his seat at mealtimes or during church. 
  • He gets distracted easily (especially by written material, which he always has to read even when it isn't for him, especially if he's supposed to be doing something else). 
  • He has laser-sharp focus for hours on projects or books that capture his interest, but he can't remember to get his shoes on if you send him to his room for that purpose. 
  • He puts everything in his mouth...you can immediately recognize his pencils because the erasers are chewed off. 
  • He often makes crazy bad decisions in the name of science because he wants "to see what will happen." 
  • He remembers everything he reads. (Yes, I really mean everything.)
  • He corrects adults when he knows they are wrong and has to be reminded that it's not always polite to do so. 
  • He has no patience for rote tasks or for daily chores, like making the bed. ("Why? I'm just going to unmake it when I sleep in it, anyway...what's the point?")

Basically, he's a high-energy, intelligent five-year-old boy.

He is completely awesome at the following things: making up wildly entertaining stories, creating and performing plays with complicated plots, doing research to answer questions he thinks of while he should be sleeping, climbing things, memorizing poems, baking cookies, reading and retaining information, solving addition and subtraction problems with his whole body, planning menus, building things using multiple types of materials at once, digging in the dirt, remembering both the Greek and Latin names for mythological characters, riding his balance bike, ordering pizza online, composing catchy riffs with inventive use of vocal percussion.

Areas in which he does not excel: sitting quietly, waiting patiently, raising his hand before speaking, using his walking feet, using his library voice, remembering where his coat (pencil, wallet, shoe, sock, favorite stuffed planet) is, doing repetitive tasks, finding things that are right in front of him, being aware of where his body is in space.

I'm pretty sure that if he were one of twenty-something kids in a classroom, his teacher would be pulling her hair out. It's okay for me to say that because I love him dearly and sometimes, I'm pulling my hair out, too.  

The thing is, SuperSam is flourishing in our current arrangement and has learned a lot this year. He's very enthusiastic about it. He's not anxious about school. He has time to explore his interests deeply and has read a lot of books. He's having fun.

I'm free to adjust things to suit his learning style and his need for perpetual motion. I let him chew gum or chew on straws when he needs to sit still to do a task (which is hardly ever). We are putting sensory bands on the bottom of his seat at the table so he'll have extra input for his feet (and maybe won't fall off quite as often during dinner). He has the freedom to work fast, read for hours, and spend lots of time outside poking the roly-poly bugs under the swingset and drawing different kinds of clouds. He can still take an afternoon nap, which he really needs.

Most importantly, he didn't need an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) to get any of these accommodations. I didn't have to advocate for his needs in the classroom or have him tested. We can just do what works for him.

It's pretty amazing, really. Like him.


How does he get to socialize?

This question frustrates me. It assumes that socializing with people born the same year as you were is the most important factor in whether you will grow up "normal." Once we get out of the K-12 setting into the "real world," we are around people of all different ages...for the rest of our lives. It seems like it would be as important a life skill to know how to socialize with all ages of people, right? I'm not even sure what year most of the people I know were born.

Anyway.

He is actually socializing regularly with other people born in 2008, both at church (where they have age-graded classes) and at violin group lessons (where the other kids in his group are generally Kindergartners or first graders). He played on an age-graded soccer team in the fall and might do so again in the spring. We also have a few other homeschooling families with children his age with whom we hang out/paint pumpkins/take field trips/build Legos/ride bicycles/climb trees/catch crayfish/hunt for salamanders.

He also talks to our neighbors (all adults) when he sees them, makes his own requests for materials at the library (even when his favorite librarian isn't there), and volunteers to tell strangers at the grocery store about what constellations are visible this time of year. He politely and competently orders his own food in restaurants.

He's fine.


How can you be serious about school when you have the twins at home to deal with?

I know where this question comes from. Anyone who has ever met a two-year-old can imagine having two of them at once...the noise! the squabbling! the diapers! the constant unrolling of toilet paper!...and legitimately wants to know how I can accomplish anything at all around here. Taking on the serious task of educating my oldest child on top of behavior managing the Sisters seems like a lot to handle.

This is true. It is a lot to handle, but it's not as bad as you might think.

First, school is only so serious at this point. It's Kindergarten, and he already knows how to read, so the biggest hurdle was crossed before we started. Before school in general became as test-driven as it is today, Kindergartners used to play a lot more than they do now. They had dress up and blocks and lots more free play.  They got to focus on things like dealing with their frustration when there aren't enough red square Legos to make the airplane they designed, or working out how to share one wheelbarrow between three eager gardeners. I have absolutely no problem with going back to that model around here. He has his whole life to get serious about academics...he's only 5.


Second, the Sisters like to do what SuperSam does. If he's at the table working, they want to do "school," too. They each have a composition book that they like to make lines in while he is practicing handwriting. When that gets boring, there is a bag of special things that they can only use during "school" time. It keeps them busy for a while most days. Sometimes, they play with magnet letters on the refrigerator or play with the kitchen toys and make pretend food for us while we are working. If all else fails, I put a dishpan of water out for them and let them wash their babies or their dishes (which really just means that they get water all over the floor and each other). It usually buys us 30 extra minutes. Most days, that's all we need.


Some days, we finish school while they are napping.

On the days when nothing else works, we go outside or build a fort in the living room with blankets or set up a grocery store with the toy cash register and all the canned food from our pantry, and everyone plays. If you ask me, this is a perfect use of time- they're all together, they're working out their problems, they're being creative and doing dramatic play. We'll call it the best-case scenario for our mixed-age classroom.








Aren't you worried that he's missing out on what the other kids are learning at school?

No.

We are covering the basics with lots of extra time left over to explore various interests. SuperSam is a voracious reader, and he chooses books on all kinds of topics. This fall, he worked on dinosaurs, Greek mythology, Ancient Rome, and space. He also had a brief fling with Russian culture.

He has learned to add, subtract, count money and tell time because he wanted to know how to do those things. Math is his favorite subject, he says.



Finally, he's studying Latin. (This was his choice. Most people start later, I know, but he can do the reading just fine and has a real knack for picking up the vocabulary. I see no harm in allowing him to accumulate lots of Latin vocab now as it will only make later language study easier. As a bonus, he's learned some Latin prayers that we use at church sometimes, and that helps him feel he can participate more fully.)

Violin practice also takes place as part of our school time.

I know he'd be learning different stuff at school, but I'm not concerned about gaps in his knowledge. If he needs to know something, he asks or finds out somehow. Even if he somehow made it to adulthood without some key piece of information he should have learned in Kindergarten, I'm confident he would be able to find out what he needed to know.

Also, I'm sure there are things he's not learning from his would-be schoolmates that I'm just as glad he doesn't know yet.

So no. Not worried.


How long do you think you can keep this up? Are you putting him in first grade in public school this fall?

I expect we will keep this up as long as it works well for everyone.

We are not planning to put him in public school first grade next fall.

Things are working out great, and we see no reason to change the plan unless there is a reason to change the plan.


What curriculum are you using?

We are not using an "out of the box" curriculum at all. I'm piecing things together based on SuperSam's needs and interests. One of the biggest advantages of doing school at home is that I can personalize things for him without needing to label him "ahead of grade level" in one area or "at grade level" in another or "needs extra work" in a third. We can just work on things he needs to work on.

We are using Saxon Math 1, but kind of loosely so far...no need to rush into things (after all, he's just 5). Saxon has a placement test on their web site, which is handy for determining which book you need. We've enjoyed finding some great deals on gently used books through cathswap, a yahoo list where you can post items for sale and look for items you need. It's been great (even if the volume of e-mails is slightly overwhelming at times...it just means there is a robust used book market for homeschoolers!).

We try to visit the library every week for new books to read (although we got off schedule a bit over the holidays). SuperSam generally selects his own reading material with occasional guidance from me. I figure if he gets something too difficult, he'll figure that out when he starts reading it. I do try to encourage at least one more challenging book for every two or three picture books (which he still reads and enjoys a lot).

We are using Prima Latina from Memoria Press for Latin, and we love it.

We use Zane-Bloser for handwriting, and it's fine- he really likes doing handwriting, for some reason.

Finally, we spend a lot of time doing hands-on experiments and working on SuperSam's various projects. Since these are interest-driven, we don't need a curriculum for them. He finds books at the library when he needs to research something or looks things up online with supervision.

Next year, we'll add more stuff, but this is plenty for now. Again- Kindergarten. Not inherently stressful unless I make it that way, right?


Is there anything you wish you'd done differently so far?

I wish we spent more time outside. It's tough with the cold weather, but I expect as spring weather arrives, we will be doing lots more hikes and nature walks again. Almost all learning is portable, so there's no reason to stay cooped up indoors all the time. Being outdoors seems to calm everyone down, and SuperSam's boundless energy is less noticeable when there aren't walls for him to bounce between.

I also wish I had worried slightly less about whether I was doing the right thing by choosing to homeschool. I lost a lot of sleep over it. I guess the upside of having worried so much is that I'm now confident that we are doing what's best for our son and our family at this stage.

So, there you have it...the not-so-quick answers to your 7 most common questions about our homeschooling life so far. If you made it all the way to the end, thanks! 


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!