Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Why & The How and The Journey!

I have been home educating now for 7 years, just going into our 8th. It's been an epic journey so far, not least due to our family size and the very different children that have, one by one, arrived since we first began! This could be a long read so grab a cuppa before you start!! :D
It all began way back in my teens when my youth leaders were talking about the fact that one day, when they had children, they might home educate as they did not have a great deal of faith in the system. As it turns out they never did so, but a seed was sown in my mind.
Years later when I was dating Paul we chatted and agreed that should we ever have children we would discuss the possibility (neither of us were too fond of our school days).
Eventually we got married and just under 2 years later JA arrived on the scene.  As he gradually approached school age we began to consider our options a little more. He was at Playgroup and loved it, had a nice group of friends and by rising 5 could already read basic CVC words and write his name legibly. I had spent a little time working with him 'for fun' from tot-workbooks and he was obviously very bright - one of only 3 to be reading before leaving playgroup. I loved teaching him then and we enjoyed our time together. Decision time was approaching and I was erring towards HE, but just about that time our church changed minister and our new pastor was H'Edding his three children using ACE (TEACH) - a Christian American program. I went over and looked and thought it looked OK - all set out and easy :D So, not knowing any alternatives and by now being convinced that HE was the right, best and God ordained path for us, I jumped right in and signed up to ACE. 
Paul and I dutifully poured over the training materials and I think even then I began to doubt it was right for us, but knew of nothing else, so persevered and introduced it to JA at the start of Sept 2002. He started out on the reading program and we both got on well with that - it was fun and easy and he quickly learnt to read fluently. Other work was not such a joy! As soon as he could read he was introduced to 'paces' that he was expected to complete independently and as soon as we began on that road the boredom began to set in. We struggled on with ACE for the rest of the year and a bit into the next, but by then we were both dreading school each day. I didn't feel he was learning anything and he was obviously bored to tears - even resorting to picking massive holes in his chair, but at the same time not completing his work till late in the day due to reluctance to actually get it done! He never cottoned on to the 'do it quick and go and play' idea - he just couldn't get motivated to do it at all! One day I simply decided enough was enough and called it a day with ACE & Teach, but what now..?
After that life became a little easier. I took a step down and back and re-covered all work other than reading, but using WHSmiths books (bright, colourful and relevant!) and chilled for a bit, while I did some research about what else was out there - though I now think even that was not enough.  Partly because of advise I was given on chat lists and  partly because I did buy those workbooks and I hate waste, I was kind of catapulted onto a structured learning path. That coupled with knowing that JA was not going to be an autonomous learner however hard I tried - he just never asked any questions and when he ever did at all, he still didn't have the attention or desire to wait and find the answers! I was at the time questioning ADHD/ADD with him (and to some extent think he still shows tendencies towards it), but no-one would hear me out on that one. I did not know how to work with it or him either and to cut a long story short we struggled along with an eclectic mix of curriculum & lapbooking for another 2.5 years, adding JI and then Boo into the picture by this time, before I cut my losses and sent JA into school for a while. 'Cut my losses' is not a fair statement actually - it was a real battle within myself, but in the end I felt God put his hand on me and allow me to send him into school, just for a time. Life became easier overnight - he thrived (even if he only  made a little progress academically) and so did his siblings in his absence!
By now we were working to a 9-3 timetable. Each child had their own with some group activities worked in for things like Geography, History, languages, cookery, music, etc... - all that could be addressed at multi-age level.  We mainly used text & workbook, but also I had discovered lapbooking which we use quite a lot for project work. They were signed up for Education City and this too formed a good chunk of learning, together with a few other online work-sites. There were long breaks woven into the day too, and playgroup runs to collect the littler ones. [Just as an aside, I have always used playgroup until now, because I believe it has been good for my children to have a short break from their family just a couple of three times a week and to get to meet other small children outside of home. They only went for 2.5hr sessions and they have all thoroughly loved it right up until they out-grew it around about leaving time! For my slow speakers it has also been the kick-start that they needed because they had to make themselves understood in an environment where not everybody already did :D]. Whilst Paul was at college doing his degree he had every Friday free - this was supposed to be our 'outings' day, but sadly somehow never really was that very often, but none-the-less it was a school-free day and I have never found the need to change that. We did school quite adequately in 4 days each week. As time passed I felt the need to create more breathing room in our week so I introduced 'non-book day' on Thursday. The thinking being that this would be a day when no workbook saw the light of day and the children were free to follow their interests and/or we did lighter 'fun' stuff like cooking and music, or project work. In reality it turned out that most of the children did their best to wriggle out of doing any work at all that day and I struggled to motivate either myself or them. All the same that has been the shape of school for the last four years I'd say (even after JA returned home again for Secondary) : timetable 9-3 Mon-Weds, non-book Thurs, non-school Fri-Sun. The children have done well and made steady progress & for the most part it has worked well, but we needed a change...
And then I discovered Sue Patrick's Workbox System (via another blog I follow) and instantly loved the idea, but wasn't sure how to make it work for us, especially in the confines of our not-very-big home. I spent a few weeks thinking on it and became more and more convinced that I had to try it. So we bought the boxes we now have - and then we moved which solved the space issue somewhat, although not enough for them to have a rack each still. I set to work creating the necessary numbers and tickets and set to it. For the last four weeks of last term (Mon-Thurs) we gave it a try and it was brilliant - except that I had to drop to 10 activities each for my own sanity! I had Boo telling me that everyday was like a non-book day & thoroughly enjoying her work, JI keen and often finished by lunchtime, Belle and CT constantly wanting to 'do the next thing' & enjoying the structure it offered, Beefie able to see what she needed to achieve in a day and although a slow plod is her style she was mostly getting finished (which she wasn't before) and without sadness, and JA able also to see his quota for the day and applying himself pretty well - for him. He is now much more self aware and even though he still struggles to concentrate for more that 20-30 minutes at a time he knows that now, so he will work for that and then take a wander and come back. The advantage of this system is that he knows what he is coming back to and he is in control of it. He knows he isn't done for the day until all his 10 tickets are checked off. It really helps keep him focused and takes most of the nagging out of my day. I highly recommend the system - even if you have to tweak it a little to make it work for you.
My one difference this year is that we now live to far from a playgroup to make that an option for NJ without a car, so I have had to bring Tot-School into our home and have spent a good portion of my summer putting stuff together for that. It's not that I never did tot-stuff before, it's just that now it has a more definite form. 
Now I'm guessing you are all thinking this is all very formal - and to some extent you are right. We take our school holidays when the schools take theirs, but not because I feel we must, only so that the kids can catch up with their friends who are in school and do all the sleep-over type stuff :D, we work a 4 day week from 9am until they are finished and it IS a structured education, BUT in amongst all the structure is a lot of fun. The boxes don't only get filled with workbooks, but also with cookery lessons, jigsaw puzzles, Wii time!, outdoor play, project work (some of which can be of their own choosing should they wish it), etc... I have never had the courage to 'free-range' my children, although I am sure that Boo and Belle would do fine with it as they are quite sponge-like (unlike some of my others who are more like sieves!). JI would do OK so long as he didn't choose to opt-out too much of the time. JA, Beefie on the other hand I am very sure would not learn a thing. They are my non-questioning sieves. CT - don't know about him yet, but I think he might be a bit like JA when it comes to it. It's strange though because countering all that I have Beefie and Belle who both shut down/go vacant when they are put on the spot, or when they expected to learn one particular thing, so I have to tread gently with them both, or we end up with frustration & tears and a no-go sign right in front of them. Belle is best left to discover - and she really does - and then suddenly it's evident she has learnt something awesome with no effort at all. She is on-target (if you are interested in those sorts of things) with everything except she doesn't read, but I have taught her very little (and that which I tried to teach her I gave up with and she learnt it by herself in the end!). I fully expect that one day she will just pick up a book and read it - when she is ready and in her own time, and that no matter how much I try to teach her to read she is not going to get it until that time - not that that will stop me putting things in her path to help along! NJ - well he is sharp and I am/am not looking forward to having him around this year. He is a busy bee, but easily bored and when bored he is destructive and disruptive..!
So that's us - that's the FrogAcademy - each day 'Fully Relying On God' for the patience and strength for the day, constantly evolving as the road changes and working together as a team - well that's my ideal!! :D
Along the road others have joined us and we have met up with many fantastic people travelling with us. It's a road I would not leave and that for the most part I enjoy immensely - just as well as we have many years left to travel on it yet :D


Deborah-Lynn said...

Caroline, you're a star! I've really enjoyed this- esp. as I've now started homeschooling Boy thanks to you.
I'll be in touch soon- I need the link to that english programme you recommended for the Boy. Tomorrow I'm doing a wedding though, so I'll catch up with you next week.

For those reading this, yes I do know Caroline personally, and I've smiled as I've recognised each of her wonderful kids in this! She really is a fantastic Mum and home educator, ad her children are a joy to be around. She has helped me to find the right way ahead for my special- needs Boy.
D-L. xx

Kirsty said...

really enjoyed reading about how you came to do everything and how you do things now. Hope you're doing well.

HelenHaricot said...

i loved reading that, thankyou. i think one of the joys of home e is the ability to rethink and refresh so that it suits you and your family.

Elizabeth said...

What a great read. Just goes to prove that we all need to do what works for our kids and the family as a whole.