Friday, July 18, 2008

6 Years and counting..!

You may not want to read this - it's a bit long!! But it's 'for the record' more than anything else J

As this next week draws to a close so does our sixth year of home educating. I can't quite believe we have been travelling this road that long and, as it is a milestone that sees my eldest leaving his primary years behind him and my number 5 just beginning them, I figure it's a good time to take stock of where we have been, the route we've taken and the road we are currently travelling on. It's been a varied and at times very tough journey thus far. I have at times felt like giving up, doubted my abilities to nurture my children toward their full-potential, doubted that my 'methods' are the best (still working on that one) and envied the way others around me seem to hold it together so well. I have added 3 children into the mix that is our family and moved house twice. I've discovered I have the ability to 'loose the plot' WAY to easily when I get over worn by the daily grind. BUT I have seen my children gradually growing into fantastic young-people, mostly assured of their faith, well balanced, socially capable, increasingly independent, confident individuals. Not only that but excelling in their academic achievements also. I have seen myself nurture my 'struggling reader' to the reading age of an average 8 year old (at only 6) and beam with happiness at the accomplishment that that is to her. I have learnt a whole tonne of things I never learnt at school and discovered the joy of new understanding afresh for myself J. Not only that, but I have learnt what loving my children can really cost at times… like when having to loose my hold on my eldest and allow him to attend regular school in order to preserve our relationship. I have learned to be thankful even for our education system when it has served my family well and for a school that has a very friendly, personal style of education that has suited my son - and at which he has done reasonably well academically - achieving an all round Level 4 in his SATS, with one 5 in reading.

So where did we start? In the beginning I started out with a 4yo who, on leaving nursery, could already read a little and was keen to learn more; a little man with a zeal for life and laughter and an unstoppableness that made him quite a handful. But he had a real determination and never gave up on something he set his mind to, which was good in its way but led to much frustration at times. He was a perfectionist who expected more of himself that even I think I knew at the time (else I might not have been so tough on him myself). But he was a 4yo with the attention span of a gnat and I did not know how to harness his energies effectively. Instead I signed up for A.C.E (TEACH) as our curriculum - and after initially enjoying it as he learnt to read, quickly got bogged down in the drudgery of it and the nightmare of making him sit at a table to complete work for hours on end when he was incapable of concentrating for anything like as long as it took. Also the slow realisation that it was simply too easy for him and he was bored out of his skull - and that was making him slower still. It became a vicious cycle of despondency on the part of both of us. I nearly gave up at the first hurdle! Instead I put away ACE - signed off and took a trip to WHSmith's! For a while this was what we did and the change was good, but I hadn't thought of a new way to do school, so while we pootled along with these books for a while, I did some resource research and happed upon Singapore Maths (plus Science & English) materials and EPS books. I bought I whole stock of these and was basically looking for things I could use over and over without too much additional cost for the younger ones to use them. JA could read well, but was reluctant to do so and writing…his writing was beautifully neat, but he HATED free-handing with a passion. I just couldn't get him to write anything at all that required him to think freely. He was almost OK if he could just fill in the blanks (which, considering that blanks and multiple-choice boxes were all that had been expected of him in his Paces, was understandable), but if he had to write an opinion, or read back to find the answer he was stumped and would get angry and frustrated. With Maths we had to start again too. He had to this point succeeded in learning lots of 'facts' and could get many answers right, but had no real understanding of why or how maths worked and I knew that sooner or later he would come unstuck with that weak foundation. He was grateful for Singapore Maths and for a while really enjoyed it. BUT then it too started to make demands on him and he simply could not complete the quantity of work I expected him to each day. To this day I do not know if I demanded too much (I suspect I did somewhat), but I was only going by what I knew other children at his level were accomplishing each day. Slowly but surely we got to a point of so much conflict over school that I had to admit defeat. I was not able at the time to be creative enough in my thinking to find a new way. I thought I was doing it right…I have learnt a lot since then!!

By this time JI was working with us, he was reading and writing and doing really well. He was more able to concentrate than his brother and I could not help but compare the two boys. JI was happy to conform to the table routine and finished his work in good time most days. Some days I tried to do stuff together, and sometimes this went well, other times the boys would fight, argue, and make it all very unpleasant. I felt I had to let No.1 go for the sake of No.2 and the other little ones in our home. It wasn't an easy decision as I loved him dearly and I did not want him to feel different or unwanted, but it had to be done. To this day, I know it was the right choice and one that has worked out really well for us all in the end, but it still saddens me because I think if I had done things differently… Yet, on the other hand I am still not sure what would have worked best for him, as well as for the rest of our family.

By the time A (no.3) joined us my shelves were well stocked with books and resources. I keep looking (even now) at various other options, but do not know if I can face the thought of NOT using what I already have. A was enthusiastic right from the start and has remained so. She was a little slow to start reading but picked up quickly - and at 7 has the reading age of 11 (according to the Schonell test we did the other day). She writes well and creatively - and hardly ever complains about doing her work.

P joined us two years ago and having got off to a very slow start she has essentially learnt to read this year and her writing is making progress. She is not so keen and she finds everything hard, but she co-operates. She is however much more like No.1 and I have found that short sharp bursts of school work well for her, so that is what I try to give her.

E (no.5) joins us next year and No.1 comes back for his secondary years.

Style wise our school has shifted a little, but in reality I think I would like to see it shift more, however that would take a good deal of courage and conviction on my part. I increasingly like the idea of a more book-centred education (less workbooks), but in reality I don't really like reading anything challenging and even less like analysing what I read. I still like the idea of an all-in curriculum that tells you exactly what you are supposed to achieve each year and what to do on any given day - but on the other hand I don't like being told what to do and I enjoy 'shopping' around. I like the idea of a curriculum that addresses the child as the one responsible for their learning, but I do not want to become obsolete! I want science to be investigative, not read-it remember-it. I want English to be literature inspired, and 'free', but also rigorous in teaching good grammar and composition skills. I want maths to challenge and stretch their little minds, but also be investigative and fun for them (as much as is possible). I like the idea of online education for the boys (because I think they would like it) but on the other hand am concerned about hours of SAS time on top of what they already have for leisure reasons. I love lapbooking and would like to do more of that. I would like to encourage the children to create their own projects, but I was hopeless at that as a kid myself and when I try to help them (maybe that's where I do wrong!!) I am too thorough to the point of boring them. My expectations remain too high at times I fear, and yet I want to see my children become all that they can be. I am not an artist at all, but I want to inspire a love of art into my children and my eldest shows talent, so I want to foster that too. Music - I wish we could afford to do more here, but we are not doing too badly just allowing the children to discover what instruments they enjoy and helping them into those.

So what do we do just now? Well a mix of hard graft in the mornings with Mental Maths, Singapore/Miquon Maths, English, Spellings, Handwriting, Bible-Study etc… Then more relaxed stuff in the afternoons - Geography, Science, History. Then we have one non-book day a week for Music, Art, IT, games, etc… And one non-book/project week a month for anything else they'd like to do. Admittedly they do find Science a grind at times even though it's an afternoon subject, but that depends on the topic that is being covered at that point. I do try to allow them a balance of written work with computer time. Education City being a big feature in our school life, as is Smartkiddies and Starfall. The little ones like to play on Poisson Rouge a fair bit too. Somewhere in amongst all that we fit in reading, but sadly most of the reading that I do to them happens at bedtimes and on non-book weeks (Non-book means non-textbook, non-workbook). I would love to find more time for reading with them, but somehow it just never happens. A & JI are avid readers for themselves and A has just embarked on Shadow the Sheepdog, which I read when I was eight. P is getting more eager by the day. But somehow, I feel they are missing some of the richness that comes from hearing texts read aloud beyond your own ability to read them - iykwim?.

In regards to Curriculum, I have often looked at Calvert as an option. I think it looks like a nice balance between Sonlight (too much reading for me) and AOP (too much like Paces), but for some reason I have never taken the plunge - maybe the cost has something to do with it, but that's not the main reason I don't think. I think the reason is the thought of being committed to one thing, one style for a whole year regardless - and the fact that it is rather American in the higher grades. I like the look of FIAR as well, and may invest in it for E this year (4 1/2) as I don't think she is quite ready for formal table-work to any great extent yet. That is one thing I have learnt over the years - not to demand too much too soon, but to begin when they are ready and to do as little or as much as they feel they can at the start - allowing them to decided when they have had enough more often results in them returning to the table on and off all day and achieving more in the long run than they would by one solid stint. Meanwhile - tread water and wait - is my ethos these days! FIAR might be the water I tread with E as she loves books, but money might be an issue because of also having a secondary 'kit' to buy over the summer. This could be an expensive year!! Then sometimes I think it would be great to spend a year lapbooking - whatever the children chose, doing anything and everything. In reality though, from hanging around enough home-edders over the years, even those who set out to un-school/free-style (whatever you want to call it) most often end up adding in book work at some point. Somehow it seems almost unavoidable in the end. So maybe what we have set up here is in reality a good balance, even if my 9 yos (no.2) kicks off about it almost every day. I have decided in the light of hindsight that kicking off and digging heals in over work is a 9 thing (well in boys anyway, not got there with the girls yet, so I reserve judgement). Maybe because the work begins to stretch and challenge them and require more independence from them…whatever the reason, it's a definite sticking point!

My on going challenge then, is to give my children a quality education that will equip them for the lives that lie ahead of them (whatever they may hold) and also maintain that natural eagerness to learn that little ones have. For some reason I find that as formal education takes hold, some of their natural creativity takes flight and they rein it in even without being asked to. I would like to find a way of keeping them flying with that innocence whilst at the same time honing them and getting the schooly stuff into them - after all they are ones who have to prove themselves one day to someone - for college, Uni' or the workplace. I do, however, need to have some structure in my home otherwise with 7 children under 12 it all becomes too much like mayhem and not much learning happens other than learning how to fight argue, get over arguments etc…Whilst I acknowledge that there are some important social skills to learn in all that, they are not the be all and end all of an education - and hardly what constitute a 'full-time education' in anyone's imagination! ;-)

And so the journey continues - and the numbers in my classroom rise this year from 3 children to 5, as JA comes back home again - and I'm sure the road will change its course yet again as we explore the possibilities that having Secondary and Primary in the same classroom brings to us. I am excited and nervous in the same breath. I have spent so long thinking that secondary was a long way off and now, suddenly it seems, it is here on my doorstep and I have a rising teenager in my home. Exam years loom not too far away (not that we are planning on taking any!!) and the bar is raised in terms of what is expected of me. I hope I can rise to the challenge. I know one thing - the lad I sent to school two and a half years ago is not the same lad joining us again this year. He is helpful (mostly), thoughtful, funny and kind these days - and he can do a bit of work when he's asked to J The 9yo who never went to school is a constant challenge to me atm, but I now know there is light at the end of the tunnel J

The next year also holds a move away from all things familiar, so no doubt that will add a different feel to our lives. I hope it will be a good thing, although I envisage it being pretty tough for us all to begin with. Even Granny will cease to be a regular visitor (having been here almost every weekend for the last 5 years!) as she retires next year and will head back down to Portsmouth. I'm guessing then we will only see her when she can afford to make the journey to us - or us to her L The future holds a stash of excitement and fear for me. I guess maybe the children are feeling much the same, even if they are not so aware of it as I am.

Watch this blog..!

1 comment:

Elle said...

What a lovely entry. Your thoughts are quite similar to mine and I guess a lot of HE families. My eldest would be starting year 7 this September and I feel a pressure to "produce" has been put on me more now. Elle