Saturday, May 07, 2005

I was talking to my dad about homeschool the other day and it sparked some musings. So I thought I'd blog it here, since various folks have asked me about my approach to schooling the girls.

See, I am all about the value of play. Lets take Emily, for example. Aside from the times when I yank her out of a perfect state of bliss and over to the kitchen table to talk about fractions or do something concrete, Emily pretty much just plays all day. There's a lot of, hmmmmm.... I've heard it referred to as "benign neglect" happening at our house. She's on her own a lot of the time. Don't get me wrong, we're talking and connecting a lot, but I'm not up in her face all day either. We co-exist in the same space a lot of the time, but orbit around each other a good part of the time. I've noticed that since we started this, she's less and less inclined to complain about being bored and more inclined to find something to read or do or study on her own, without me directing her.

Em gets up about half an hour before I do, maybe an hour, so she's got some quiet time. She generally uses that time to read. Emily is a voracious reader. We go to the library probably 3x a week, sometimes more if she's really into it. She spends a lot of time in her room playing, too. Right now, she's organized the bedroom into a veterinary hospital with kennels, an xray room, a surgery... all the fluffies are sick and being treated for various ailments. She draws up their xrays on paper and brings them out to show me. Maybe we'll discuss which bones are affected. I'll nod and look over the xrays solemnly and ask her questions about things. She'll present her case carefully. Then she'll go and jerry-rig some sort of splint or "cure" together. I believe she used a scarf and some chopsticks last time. She'll often have various audio-books going during this time. So how does this constitute school? Well if mommy jumps on it, we can learn about things like anatomy, bone structure, animal care and related stuff. Science. History of antibiotics, for that matter. Everything can be connected, if you're paying attention.

I have her write, every day. Sometimes stories, sometimes essays, sometimes I just let her go and do whatever she wants with it. I will sit and help her refine the idea, brainstorm, figure out what direction she wants to take it a lot of the time. Provide her with some "scaffolding" so she can build her ideas, etc. But the writing process is all hers. I'm not a grammar nazi 100% of the time either. The point is - WRITE. I'm also bypassing fussing too hard about her handwriting, because this is one area where the LD impacts her. I have no issue with her learning to type and use a word processing program. If she's hung up on physically forming letters, she's not creating or thinking about the process of writing, so we skip that part. Both girls also keep a reading journal, though Em's is haphazard at best. She's not too nutty about it, truth be told. I think reading journals are important though - it's one way I can check and see if they're grokking what they read, and also what they think about various things. Sometimes stuff from the reading journal can be put into a discussion or expanded on, or it will point me in a certain direction.

We don't do math every day. Every other day, in general. Right now we're primarily remediating and reviewing stuff she didn't get in regular school and making sure she's got certain skill sets down pat. A lot of our math time is spent at either the kitchen table or on the couch with a white board and paper towels. We just work at it until she gets whatever concept we're doing, and then I send her off to do some worksheets to reinforce it. Usually she comes to me during that process and asks for help a few times, then we review it when she's done and pick up any mistakes. It works for us. She's getting the concepts and that's what matters to me.

History is another thing we often touch upon. Right now we're studying women in American history, the fight for women's rights, sufferage, the right to information about birth control, the sexual revolution, etc. This takes the form of discussion and reading, sometimes television or movies get hauled in to the mix. I tie history to the present, and civics, especially since both her parents are pretty politically inclined and love to bitch about the current state of the nation. We'll probably go on to civil rights next. Maybe gay marriage and civil rights as defined by gender and orientation after that.

She spends a lot of time playing on the American Girls website (historical) and Neopets (fun) but hey, even on Neopets she is often doing basic economics, simple math and calculating her "points" as she runs her shop and buys things to care for her pets. Heck, she even had a conversation with me the other day about charity as a virtue, when her points ran out and she had to visit the soup kitchen to feed her neopets, which ran into a discussion about what kinds of values she wants to have in her life.

Stuff like: "Don't be a jerk. Be nice to each other. Help each other out when you can. Love each other. Don't be mean to animals and things that are smaller than you. Leave it nicer than it was when you got here. Don't waste stuff. Clean up after yourself and if someone else drops something, pick that up too. DO NOT spit your gum on the sidewalk, the world is not your ashtray. Don't hit. Don't kick. No karate moves. Feed people when they are hungry and give them something warm when they are cold. Flush. Wash." That's what I'm teaching her and that's what we talked about the other day, and we talk about that a lot. Values.

I digress, here. Sorry. Back to school and the value of play. My point is, play and "benign neglect" and plenty of time to explore and learn and figure things out on her own is a huge part of what I think the learning process should be all about. I'm just here to provide some scaffolding and a safety net. Point her in various directions. Help her see the connections between various points and let her explore them. The rest is up to her.

There are some areas I need to touch on more, but all in all, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. I could build more on her interests, using the outside world as a tool, like having her volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue society, etc. I need to get her out of the house more, to outside activities more, to things in our community like museum days and special camps. I need to try to keep building up connection with other homeschool kids her age. Those are my goals for the immediate future. Otherwise? I'm pretty happy with it all.

So-chan, btw, is fascinated with serial killers (both modern and historical) and is also avidly reading about the life of Sylvia Plath and Plath's writings. Heh. I'm not too nuts about the serial killer thing, but Sorcha says it's a "what makes them tick" thing and professes to want to be a forensic psychologist or forensics anthropologist when she grows up, so I guess it's helpful. Creepy, though.


Dawn said...

Thank you for this post! I really loved reading it!!!

Dawn said...

Thank you for this post! I really loved reading it!!!