Saturday, 25 October 2014

Homeschooling: Making it your own

This post is mostly for myself as a reminder, although I do hope it brings some encouragement to others.  In light of some discussions I've been in recently I am now beginning to feel more confident in our homeschool style/method.  Do you ever struggle to explain homeschooling to others?  Don't quite fit in to one category?  For me it was a matter of just not getting hung up on labels, or what others were doing.

So here are some tips in no particular order.....
TJ decided he was going to build a waterfall

1. Read all about homeschooling (or not if you don't want to be overwhelmed or swayed). Now the trick is not to get overwhelmed.  If you like what you are doing then go with it.  If someone else's method isn't your thing, then put the book down and walk away.  I liked reading about my options because I felt more free to try new things, knowing there were others out there doing it too.

2. Don't compare your self to others.  Og those beautiful blogs that can totally inspire you, can also make you feel like you are doing it all wrong.  Please do remember that the person writing the blog or posting pictures is only presenting a small snipit of their day (the part they want you to see).  They didn't show the piles of laundry in the corner, or write about the fighting kids.  Your family is different from your neighbour.  Each child is different, so of course our way of homeshooling won't look the same.

3. Just do it. Live your life, start somewhere, try something.  If it works, then great and if not then you will learn from it and move on.  Close that Pintrest app and get doing rather than pinning, researching, reading, and stressing.

4. Believe in yourself.  You know your children best.  Everyone will have their opinion and give it to you.  Try to find some people who understand where you are coming from and fill your cup on occasion.  If you need a listening ear I'm here for you!!

5. Trust your children.  They are the ones learning (of course you'll be so surprised at all the new things you will learn on this adventure).  Follow their cues as to how they learn best, how fast or slowly to go.  If they have a particular interest then find time to work that in.  When children are interested and engaged then they can't help but to learn.  They get so excited and want to do more!  Learning how to learn is much more important that the facts and what they are learning.

6. Nurture yourself.  Take time for you.  What feeds your soul?  You can't give out more if you have nothing left to give.  Maybe there is something you'd like to learn, perhaps you have a hobby.  Maybe you just need a break, or social time.  Please don't feel guilty for taking care of your self.  I've fallen into that trap far too often.  But really then everyone is miserable.  You don't need to be a martyr, or selfish either.  There is a balance that needs to happen. Give yourself grace too.  Be patient as you are learning how to be a parent and teacher at each age and stage of the game.

7. There is a season for everything.  Just as nature has seasons, so to does parenting.  It is awfully hard to take those much needed breaks when your children are younger.  But then they don't need to be sitting in school all day at that age.  So get outside and let them play in the leaves/dirt/sand and just breath for a second.  Maybe right now you are carefully following a boxed curriculum to get started on this journey.  Go ahead and do that without needing to explain yourself.  There is a season for all things and they pass all to quickly.

Want the whole background and story of our journey???

MJ and his clock.  He's really into clock mechanics right now

When I first decided to look into homeschooling TJ was just a baby.  I got all excited and Googled homeschool blogs.  I made lap-books and flashcards for my little guy!  I was all set to do school-at-home.  I was a teacher at a private school after all.  Then I read some books and blogs that broadened my idea of what life at home could be.  I read all about the different teaching styles and educational methods out there (there are a lot by the way).  Some really spoke to me and others did not.  The beauty of homeschooling is that there are so many choices, as each of our children and families are so different from one another. I won't go into all the different styles and methods but I'm sure a quick internet search will fill you in.

My problem is that I'm an all or nothing kind of person.  I love to jump into an adventure wholeheartedly, but do tend to give up easily when things get tough or I get bored.  We are still going strong with homeschooling, however the way in which we do it, has changed over time.  I struggle with this, I sometimes feel like I'm giving up, or letting people down, breaking some unwritten rules or something...

The last few years we have been doing Waldorf preschool/kindegarten.  I have taken stories and ideas from a few different sources and brought them together.  The weekly rhythm we had going worked very well for our home daycare and my boys personality.  We had so much fun (you can read all about it on our old blog Raising Our Family).

This summer I had our Waldorf Grade 1 all planned out.  But a week into the fall it felt so forced.  The boys were doing things reluctantly.   I was stressing that we weren't on track, weren't Waldorf enough, maybe they were missing things the other school kids were doing. It felt like I was stuck in a box, someone else's box.
Daddy's helpers

We ran into some major house renos that needed to be done.  Daddy and I were very busy.  The boys played so well and helped us a lot too.  We spent time doing some small projects that they were interested in.  It was lovely, but in the back of my mind I kept feeling like we were supposed to be doing more.  There are no specific requirements here in Ontario, but I felt like I was being judged or had to keep up with others.

Late in the summer I had heard of project-based homeschooling.  A link showed up in my Facebook feed one day.  I was very intrigued and checked it out.  YES!  This is sort of what we were doing through I didn't have a name for it.   I tried to blend the two in a scheduled way.  Mornings for school, afternoons for projects.  Though this may work for many families, I again felt stuck in a box.

So being me, I gave up.  I decided unschooling might work well.  We'd just live each day, I'd try to lay out some interesting materials and we'd go with it.  The boys were still so engaged with their projects and it was clear that they were learning.  I wish I could have had the support, and brave spirit to stick with that too.  I worried too much that we were missing something important.

I felt stuck in the middle.  Like I wasn't really unschooling, and any time I did want to teach my boys something I was breaking those unspoken rules.  We weren't purely Waldorf either and I felt I was betraying all those friends I had made who were.  In my mind I was like some kind of homeschool hypocrte.  Crazy I know but pretty blogs and Facebook groups will do that to you.  I realize that my own blog posts seem to focus more on the boys projects than anything.  Mostly because I'm too busy to take pictures when I'm teaching.  Also their projects are far more interesting.

Well today it hit me.  I wasn't responsible to any one but my own family.  Our goal is to educate our boys in the best way possible for our family and for the boys as individuals.  It is no ones' business what curriculum/method we choose.  In fact no one really minds or is asking me.  It's all in my head!!
TJ on a special hike with mommy.  MJ had a playdate.

 I will not be placed in a box with a label.  

Want to know what we are doing?  Loving life and learning all the time.

Are you seriously interested in the details? ... My boys are so very curious about the world.  They are interested in many things and bring up topics or projects that they would like to work on.  So we do those.  In doing so they are also learning math, reading, writing, science, problem solving and much more.  I know overall what the Ontario Curriculum is for each grade.  I know what the Waldorf Curriculum is for each grade.  I bring these topics to my boys through different means.  What ever we happen to have available at the time that speaks to us (stories, books, outings, songs, computer, games, workbooks). I am well aware of the ins and outs of different methods, rhythms, and philosophies.   Our days are not overly structured.  I do have in mind some things I'd like us to do each day, but if we become engaged in something else, then I don't worry any more.  We do have a few anchor points each week that we look forward to.  Our learning is a mix of child-led and Teacher-led.
Watercolour painting with fall inspiration

If you'd like some labels I'd offer up Waldorf-inspired child-led whole life learners.  So yea it's much easier to drop the labels.  I have decided to take what I know and have researched and just do it!

Wow it's all so much less stressful that way.

Of course it sounds easy but does take a lot of confidence to do so.  Thanks to everyone who supports our family in this adventure.  Those who don't will have to agree to disagree with us.

You all will be seeing amazingly great things from us...

TJ wanted to make some stilts.  As a family we built some adjustable stilts that he is learning on his own to use.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Observe your children

Watch them closely,
follow their interests, 
see who they really are.
Watch them closely,
even when they aren't aware of you being there.
You'll be amazed!!

Daddy repairs school clocks as part of our business. MJ has become very fascinated by them.  He has a tool box full of old clock parts.  MJ plays with them, connects them together and builds with the parts.  Recently MJ came to me and said he wanted his own clock.  I suggested we make one.  First he stuck some numbers and letters to a round piece of cardboard.  Then I showed him how to fasten the hands on so that they could move.  MJ looked at a box of clocks in the office and pointed out that Daddy's clocks had a box on the back for the motor.  We quickly found a box that he filled with clock parts and taped it to the back.  Oh how proud he was!  Daddy was very impressed too.

Still very pleased with his project, but not quite satisfied, the boys now wanted their own real clocks.  Daddy kindly found some that could not be repaired mechanically.  MJ now takes 'Clockey' on outings with us!  Of course Clockey doesn't work and NEEDS to be fixed.  It is also has a glass face an is sort of delicate.  Hmm... maybe a very kind Mommy suggested a trip to Ikea for some plastic clocks.  Hurray!!!  The boys counted up their money to help pay for their purchases.  With the new clocks decorated and loudly ticking we are all set.  Next up is learning to tell time.......

MJ loves to make concoctions.  We went to the store to buy a few ingredients that the boys could use for themselves.  MJ had invented a mixer (bowl with the tracks from an old truck) and needed to make something to mix in it.  After combining all his ingredients together: jello powder, salt, flour, paprika, water; MJ wanted to cook the mixture.  I suggested he could try pancakes.  My little guy was so excited to be allowed to cook the pancakes himself (usually that is TJs job).  He was so excited and talked about how delicious they'd be.  He couldn't wait to try them.  the first nibble was fantastic.  The next bite revealed that "These are disgusting mommy!".  But none the less he was thrilled to have the experience.

Not to be outdone in the kitchen, TJ's been reading recipes recently.  First we made playdough to replace the batch that TJ licked (yes he still eats the playdough!!!!).  While playing the boys opened up stores to sell paintings made of the dough.  MJ realized he had made this amazing owl.

A few days later TJ was rather hungry so we made muffins.  I tried to help as little as possible, only guiding things along.  TJ read all the ingredients and measured them out.  We talked about fractions and what they meant.  He was so proud to tell everyone and share them too.  I was happy that we adapted our regular recipe to be reduced fructose.  Incase you didn't know we found out that the boys are fructose intolerant (more of a fructose malabsorption).

Looking outside one day, the weather looked cold and miserable.  The boys and I were busy exploring, learning and playing when Daddy encouraged us to rush outside and enjoy the surprisingly warm weather.  So we took a drive to a nature reserve for a walk.  We walked through a lonely pine forrest,  told stories, brought our stuffy friends, discussed how seeds travel, and watched leaves float around like little boats on the lake.  The boys draw in their field journals as we enjoyed the beauty of the autumn season.

We babysat my adorable nephew the other day.  It was such a delight as we've never had him on his own before.  The boys had a great time playing in the dirt and forrest.  When they weren't aware of me and my camera I snuck a few photos.  TJ was climbing a tree near MJ's forrest home.  The boys collected acorns to plant in the forrest.  MJ helped his cousin into the house at lunch time.  I observed that my boys love nature and caring for the earth.  They are great problem solvers and are both wonderful with younger children.
When given enough free time to explore, play and use their imaginations children are fascinating and so creative.  The boys discovered some masks that Grandma Scott gave us.  Oh how much fun that was.  Somehow a plain green mask became a doctor's mask so we played hospital.  TJ planned a party in his forrest home for Fuzzy the dog.  We played games, had a snack and dressed up. Later as we were doing some house repairs Jon and I looked over to see the boys trying to ski down the gravel pile.  If you look closely you'll see a wooden board for skis and some shed anchors for ski poles.

Oh I wouldn't trade these times together for anything... What have your little one been up to?  What are their interests?   How can you feed those interests and the things that they love?  Have you played today? 

PS :

Try journaling.  Write about what you see and do with your kids, no matter if they are home all day or at school.  Taking the time to focus in and write down a bit about you kids will reveal a lot.  You can track their progress and also not forget about the things they mention (you know the things that you mean to get back to but often forget).

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A few October Adventures

I realized I needed to catch up on posts.  Looking at all we have done makes my heart fill with joy.  I love to remember these precious moments, especially on those not so perfect/bad days.

Early in October we went for a nature walk.  I decided to be brave and get out there to talk to the people in our community.  So we chatted with everyone we met along the way.  The boys watched the poop truck empty the port-a-potty and asked the man questions.  We saw another man taking pictures of snails, we would have missed seeing all the snails if we hadn't taken time to ask what he was doing.  TJ noticed a fossil in the rocks.  We also saw the turtles and snakes enjoying the last few warm days.  Along the way we always discuss things like hibernation, changing seasons etc...

My boys have taken a real interest in Mathematics. I tell them stories from "The Gnomes Gemstones" using our math gnomes.  Later we further our learning by discussing the number of the day, dong some word problems, and looking at all the ways we can make a number.

We are very blessed to be able to get together often with my sister and her children along with my mom.  My niece took a day off school to join us at two local farms.  We bought pumpkins, played in hay, enjoyed yummy treats and had a blast!

When we got home from buying pumpkins my boys immediately wanted to carve their pumpkins.  We don't really celebrate Halloween, but rather enjoy all of fall, harvest, Thanksgiving throughout the month.  The boys first drew their ideas on paper then got carving (mommy had to do the guts).  TJ did his pumpkin all by himself!  MJ was pleased to help me out too.  They had an idea to hammer nails all over to make light holes.

TJ's corn husk dog, our family rules, spelling game
TJ's made some major leaps forward in his learning this year.  The boys spends half a day with my mom and sister each week.  They spend some focused one-on-one time doing language, and math.  TJ is proud to be sounding out words trying to read more.  Daddy found a cool spelling game at the thrift store that is a huge hit! 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Let them take ownership

I have been working hard at letting the boys take the lead in their project work.  I am observant to what they are interested in, acting mostly as their assistant to where they want their project to go.  I have said YES a lot more.

Recently MJ asked if he could build a robot.  We said yes.  Daddy was cleaning out his truck and had lot of random parts to spare.  A few screws and a lot of tape later (my boys don't like waiting for glue to dry) MJ had an awesome robot.  I was simply his assistant taper while he directed me and explained all about how his robot worked.  Big brother wanted in on the action too.  It took some negotiations, some emotions and a big heart but we gathered parts to make another super cool robot.  The boys then played together all afternoon with their fun creations.

MJ's WALL-E looking robot on top, TJ's helicopter robot on bottom
I'd say a week or so went by and our focus at home switched to home renos.  We have some grading issues, foundation, and a wall to work on.  Since we are doing all the work our selves Jon and I have spent many days digging and digging.  I found several Mechano type sets at the dollar store to keep the boys occupied.  I am so amazed at how nimble and creative they are!  The two boys are also starting to play together a lot more which has been a huge blessing for everyone.  They now go off on adventures together.
"This is the day I caught my fish Greeny." 
This past week TJ came to me and asked me for a fish bowl.  We do have a pet fish who has been with us about 1.5 years!  TJ also had a strong interest in fishing early in September.  I inquired into if he needed the fishbowl for a few hours, for play, why?  He said he really wanted to pretend his lure that looked like a fish was his pet.  He wanted to play with it.  We talked about what else he could do with the fishbowl once he got bored of it etc.  I said yes, but he would have to pay for it because we just bought him some knee pads he asked for the day before.  So off he went to organize and help me count his money.  I was rather surprised at how much he had collected, mind you MJ keeps giving his away and TJ finds loose change all over the house.  MJ too wanted to get something so we went on a hunt in the couch, and around the house for more change.  MJ decided he wanted to replace a plastic backhoe that the two boys had taken apart (ok smashed with a hammer to see what was inside).

We visited a few different stores with no luck for the fishbowl.  MJ was so pleased with his purchase.  Success was met at the pet store.  TJ took care of everything.  Both boys played with their treasured items and introduced them to each other too (so cute).  TJ also wrote a story about his pretend play.  First he drew pictures then I wrote words on the white board for him to copy.  The writing for the first picture took a long time to finish with a bit of coaxing.  I did most of the writing for the second picture to help him out.

Astronaut TJ's rocket ship
TJ again comes to me with a new idea.  "Mommy I want to build a rocket that I can play inside."  Of course I say yes to the rocket.  We talk about what he needs and where we can get it.  TJ asked me to put out a request on the internet for large boxes.  A few days later we decided to go ask at some stores.  I let TJ know that it was his project so he'd need to ask.  We practiced what to say in the car.  I am so proud of my boy for being so confident and well spoken.  TJ tried at 4 stores to ask for boxes.  The clerks really wanted to help but didn't have anything to offer, though one store did take our name and number.  After a suggestion from a friend we tried Leon's furniture store.  They were so kind and great with the boys.  We received two huge boxes and the boys were even given a promotional toy and lots of well wishes.

In the time it too TJ to plan out his design and draw the cutting lines for me, MJ had already built his space ship, played with it and destroyed it!!  Oh they are so different at times.  TJ's rocket ship has a large door, and a window with Saran Wrap.  The box sticking out the side is to pass objects into the ship.  The boys have been on various space adventures already.  Again TJ and I wrote all about his adventures with adorable pictures.

My boys are learning a great deal from these projects.  They are communication with a variety of people, becoming more confident all the time.  They are working on writing, math, science, problem solving and more.  Their imaginations are blossoming and the boys are playing together more.  I am learning to let go, trust my boys natural curiosity and enjoy where it leads.  Honestly we are having so much fun!!