Saturday, May 31, 2014

End of the school year packaging

I can't believe that it is mid the end of may already, and our academic year is technically drawing to a close.

I say technically because the style of homeschooling that we have adopted doesn't use conventional curriculums, and doesn't simply pause when the weather turns warm.  I don't see this as depriving my kids of their summer vacation, rather I aspire to make the whole year enjoyable enough that there is no need or desire for a drastic, months long break every year. Life is learning; learning is life.

While I personally don't care for the name itself, I totally adore the concept. Called "unschooling", the idea is basically that kids learn best through experience, rather than sitting at a table, listening to lectures and regurgitating wrot facts from a book. Any good teacher can tell you that a key component of learning is passion; and this style of schooling takes full advantage of a child's curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the things that inspire them. Therefore, instead of purchasing curriculums and covering pre-determined topics, we follow what the kids are interested in, and try to act as guides and facilitators to those passions...in doing so, we can use things that they are genuinely excited about as a gateway to all of the topics that you need to cover, but in a way that is immediately relevant to that kid's life.

The example I like to give is horses.  Say your child is into horses. So, you take on mission to learn everything you can about horses.  You get them riding lessons, you take them to a farm and learn how to care for them. This can open the door to veterinary medicine, which itself can bring in a range of sciences and mathematics...You learn about the history of horses, and where they came from, how they were utilized throughout history. You can talk about how they were used by the postal service, and in the wars - and that opens a gateway into history and politics and industrial/technological changes...you can do all of this by visiting museums and libraries, and you can learn how to use current technologies to do independent research, to boot. Documentaries, books...you can write your own stories about horses, and draw them and...basically anything you can think of is fair game, as long as you and your child are engaged and working together to pursue whatever it is that lights a fire behind their eyes and in their hearts.

It's pretty basic, really.  We all have that one thing (well, at least one thing...) that we get so interested in that we go looking for more information about it, sometimes casually, sometimes voraciously, often staying up too late to read just one more article about it, or putting the finishing touches on some project we've gotten absorbed in...so the idea behind unschooling is to let that natural learning process gain momentum and guide the way while working to enable it, rather than standing in the way with a predetermined set of facts that someone in a business suit somewhere has decided you should be able to repeat.

But, even us unschoolers have to adhere to the law, and legally, the year is drawing to a close.  This means evaluation time, which means preparing to, to use a term from my own school days, "show your work." What has been done this year to further the child's knowledge of and ability to navigate the world? How has their skill set expanded since this time last year? Basically, we have to prove that our Kiddos are learning and that we as homeschooling parents are not, in fact, neglectful ignoramuses.

When we undertook all this, I planned to document every little thing we did along the way, doing, at the very least, a weekly recap of our adventures and discussions.  Unfortunately, my mother's death a few months ago hit me very hard, and I have found it incredibly difficult to keep up with all the paperwork ...grief took the reins of my communication for a while, and on top of the over 5,500 unread emails in my inbox right now, I have dozens of partially done portfolio entries that languish on my 'to do' list that have never been fleshed out.  It's not just a few here or there, unfortunately...it's all of them. Every single one. I never completed any of them. None.

I don't regret this for a second, though, because when it comes down to it, I spent the precious energy and time that I did have to actually doing things with the kids, and ultimately that is what matters. The fact that I have to scramble a bit now in order to prepare for the meeting with our evaluator is a fine price to pay for the fact that I was able to give my kids the attention and resources they needed to thrive during a particularly difficult time in all of our lives.  

And the fun bit is that I get to go back now and recap some of the awesome adventures we had together, and while it certainly won't be an exhaustive record, I hope to share at least some of that with you all here, as well.  So many of the people who read these posts have been there for my family in so many ways during a particularly craptastic year, and I would love to be able to share with you some of the more positive elements of our lives. I would like to share with you the results of your efforts, and give you a glimpse of what your support has enabled us to accomplish.

So I thank you, my dear friends and family, and offer this as hopefully the first of many entries about wonder, and learning, and hard work, and joy.

Oh, and that horse scenario? Not an arbitrary choice...horses were one of the first topics we took on at the start of our adventure.  Many thanks to Tina Legno for giving us the opportunity to visit and play at Alivio Farm.  We are glad to include your family in our circle of wonderful friends!

Hazel, Tina, and Star


Cadence and Star

Calliope gearing up!