Friday, August 30, 2013

2013 Not Back To School Interview With Mikro

Q: What is your favorite subject?
A: Biology.

Q: What are you best at?
A: Making things up (creative writing).

Q: I need to get better at __________.
A: Handwriting, communicating, eating vegetables.

Q: What's the best thing about being a homeschooler?
A: Field trips.

Q: What's the worst thing?
A: I have to read boring books sometimes.

Q: What kind of work do you want to do when you grow up?
A: Lots of things. I want to be a writer, biologist or paleontologist, or marine biologist. And maybe an artist.

Q: This year I want to learn about ________.
A: Rocks and minerals, the Celts, metals, alchemy, comparative religions and mythology.

Q: I want to do more _________.
A: Field trips, educational videos. Art projects.

Q: I want to do less __________.
A: Boring books

Q:Who is your best friend?
A: Ezra and John.

Q:I want to go on a field trip to __________.
A: The Rubin Museum, Maker Fire, the World Science Festival.

Q: I want to go on vacation to __________.
A. Greece and Egypt when it calms down.

Things We Got Right

I posted my Homeschool Do Over List earlier this week, which got me thinking about what I would not do differently, or in other words, the things we got right. I'm always adapting and changing what we do in order to meet Mikro's needs, but here are some places I think we hit a homeschool homerun:

  1. We let him be a kid. I am a firm believer in kids learning through play, especially in the early years. We did things in a natural, everyday life way, and didn’t sit him down with workbooks and get all academic before he was ready. He learned to write using chalk in the driveway. He learned math with toy cars and dinosaurs and blocks. He learned biology through nature walks, visiting the riverbanks, going seining, bird watching, and trips to nature centers, zoos and museums. Later he took formal classes and started reading college biology and anatomy textbooks “for fun”.

  2. We have always followed a relaxed schedule, introducing a subject or a skill, seeing if our son was ready for it and receptive, and backing off if necessary until we saw signs of readiness or interest. (I was a gifted kid and come from parents who pushed. I think I was always a miniature adult. I decided I did not want that for my own gifted kid.) My son is somewhat asynchronous in his development. He reads at a college level, has a vocabulary that astonishes people (he sounds like a little professor), but has the handwriting of a kindergartener. He’s left handed and had some fine motor issues. He’s also stubborn, and did not want to write or draw because it hurt his hand. We have helped him over those hurdles, and he’s still not writing with grade level penmanship, but he is writing and drawing, spontaneously, voluntarily and often, because we never made a huge deal over this as a weakness, just encouraged him to do things that promoted hand strength and dexterity and trusted that he would do things when he was ready to. I bought him a book on drawing dragons that sparked his interest, and suddenly it became difficult to keep him in art supplies!

    He now spends hours drawing and writing in a collection of notebooks. He draws fantasy creature cladograms, where he diagrams the imaginary evolutionary trees of mythical creatures. He draws and labels their life cycle stages, draws maps, designs ecosystems where these things evolved, and generally just applies his biologist’s filter to mythology in a unique and creative way that is an absolute joy to watch. I think if we had made him to do copywork to improve his penmanship, we would have discouraged him from writing, convinced him he wasn’t “good at it”, and had a far less joyful outcome than we got from encouraging, supporting, and providing resources, rather than forcing the issue. We took a similar approach to creative writing, and encouraged storytelling before handwriting skills could keep pace with imaginative flow by being his scribes. We emphasized expression over proper grammar and spelling to build a love for writing, and then moved into teaching self-editing once he was ready to hear criticism without becoming discouraged or thinking he couldn’t write.

  3. We have always incorporated his interests into his studies. Mikro loves science, especially biology and paleontology, and we have let him run with it, even crafting math word problems around his interests. He also loves mythology and folklore, and those are a big component in our history studies.

  4. We spend as much time as possible outdoors. My son is interested in and engaged with nature. One day he said to me, “Mama, there is so much beauty in this world and so many people are too busy to see it.” That he can see it is success enough for me to be eternally grateful for our decision to homeschool. I am confident that he will carry the ability to really see, to stop and notice a pattern in a leaf, or the complexity of a feather, to appreciate nature and his place in it, on into his adult life.

  5. We encourage activism. Mikro has accompanied us to rallies, protests, and festivals promoting peace, environmental stewardship and Constitutional rights. He has a strong interest in politics and American History. He isn't afraid to express an opinion, understands that opinions backed by research tend to have more value than knee jerk reactions, has been known to make a sign, shout a slogan and sing a protest song, and is a joy to his old hippie mama.

  6. We are flexible. If we try something and it isn't a good fit, we move on, and find something more appealing. The few times I have forgotten this, I have made us both miserable until I realized that forcing us to do a program just because I paid for it was actually just costing us more: harmony, contentment, and enthusiasm for the subject, all of which are worth more than whatever sum I wasted on an inappropriate resource.

  7. We have always focused on our main goals: That our son love learning, and that he learn how to ask questions and find answers, rather than be able to memorize and regurgitate a particular approved set of facts according to someone else's schedule. So far, it's working!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Silver Lake

We are blessed to live in a town with a beautiful swimming spot on the Croton River. Normally, we spend every possible waking hour all summer there, splashing around and enjoying the most peaceful spot you can imagine. A variety of factors kept us from the beach for much of the summer, but we are enjoying this last window of opportunity and making the best of the time we have left before Labor Day (and closure for the season). I will remember this as the summer we spent more time in the library than outdoors, and that is very bittersweet.

Homeschool Do Over List

Inspired by this post over at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, I decided to come up with my own list of Homeschool Do Overs. And here they are:
  1. Engage less with the naysayers. This is what works best for our family. Period. No explaining, no justifying, no soothing ruffled feathers of people who insist on interpreting my choice as a criticism of theirs.
  2. Trust the process more. Kids are naturally curious little sponges. They are always learning, even if it doesn’t look like conventional government school. Worry less, enjoy more.
  3. More arithmetic practice earlier. I went so far in avoiding drill and kill and trying to make math fun that I didn’t insist on enough practicing. Once I did, things became much easier for him. We are still very far from endless meaningless repetition, but repetition isn’t a dirty word. There is value in practicing skills.
  4. Don’t spend less time outdoors just because kids are older and more academically immersed. The break is even more important now! Nothing resets bad attitudes or refreshes more than going out to our river. It’s like a dose of spiritual medicine. Actually, it would be great if we managed to make it into more of a daily multi-vitamin.
  5. More messy art days. There can never be too many.
  6. Listen more, especially at the end of the day. I am only human. After a full day of engaging and learning together, with an extrovert child who never stops talking, this introvert mama is more than ready for some me time. Once I sit down at the computer or with a notebook or sketchbook, my ears tend to turn off. It’s hard to get my attention, harder than it should be, and I don’t focus as well on the long and winding tales my son (and my husband) tell as perhaps I should.
  7. Balance. Now that my son is older, it is much easier to balance his needs with actually making my husband’s and mine a priority too. When my son was younger, he was the prizewinning orchid, and my marriage and my own intellectual life were the neglected weed grown garden surrounding him. Now I treat all of us as native plants, and the garden is full of bright spots and easier to maintain.
  8. While I love our free wheeling, fun, and mostly unscheduled life, there are some things that do benefit from a regular schedule. Building in more music practice is something I intend to work on. Same with foreign language practice.
  9. Avoid over- commitment and overscheduling. We used to be running to homeschool group classes and field trips 4 or 5 days a week. I have that dialed way back now, to 1 or 2 days maximum. Yes, socialization is important (for both of us-- I love seeing my homeschooling mama friends), but nothing eats up academic time quicker than a heavy travel schedule.
  10. Being more organized. We spend too much time hunting down lost library books around here.

We're back

My motherboard blew up, and I had to acquire a new PC... And figure out how to avoid throwing it out a window, because Windows 8 is a torture device... But the blog will be coming back to life, and I have months of photos to download, resize and post. Ouch.