posts tagged with 'homeschooling'

we're learning to cooperate

In an effort to find other homeschoolers interested for Harvey to play Pokemon with I joined a couple local homeschool mailing lists. No Pokemon players, but one of the first emails on the list after I joined was an invitation to take part in a co-op for the spring. It's a big departure for us—we're not really good joiners. Mostly, when I have an idea for something I try to organize it myself. But that takes a lot of work, and I'm not actually very good at it. So cooperating might be a good move.

Of course, I do have some trepidation. The Handbook has lots of text about what you must do as part of the group: attend the weekly gathering, plan events to invite other people to, communicate over the official channels... "Must do" isn't really my thing. But then, I want to do most of those things. The whole point of this exercise is to involve other people in our learning. So I reassure myself that all those requirements are just to keep the flaky homeschool types from ruining things for everyone else.

So then, having signed up, I want the thing to go well! And the way to make that happen is to have enough awesome people participating. The organizers have sent out a couple emails encouraging us to advertise on our social media feeds, but since that's not really a thing for me—though it was once—and, even more, since none of my facebook friends are homeschooling within the catchment area of the group. But! There is a small chance—infinitesimally small, but we have to try—that someone I don't know, who is a homeschooler in Bedford or surrounding towns and who found this blog due to it's awesome Bedford, Massachusetts homeschooling content, might be reading and might be interested in joining the Assabet River Coop for Spring 2018. So:

Join our family this spring for our latest homeschool adventure in the AHEM Coop! Details here: http://www.ahem.info/Events.html

I get ten dollars off the (already low low) price if you mention my name when you sign up, but that's not even what's motivating me. I just figure that anyone who has read enough words of mine to reach this point in the page has to be a pretty cool person, and I'd love to cooperate with you!

The co-op starts up the second half of March. I'll let you know how it goes!

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Pokemon school

Harvey's work these days is focused intensely on Pokemon cards (mine too, to be honest). Mostly the game, but also a little bit of the collection aspect. Since we do school at home, what we do at home is all we do at school; when people ask what our curriculum is looking like I have to tell them it's pretty much all Pokemon. Sometimes there's followup questions about just how we're integrating in into the curriculum—or even integrating the curriculum into our Pokemon play. If we wanted there are definitely options in that direction, including some pretty good ones. But the more active educational interventions, either content- or skills-based, don't really align with how I'm feeling about learning these days.

Content-wise, people question how much time and effort kids put into learning about things like Pokemon cards. I've felt the same way in the past, at least about myself: why is my head filled up with useless information about makes and models of cars—information I never even tried to learn!—rather than, say, plant identification?! I'd much rather be able to pick out an American Elm than a Suburu Baja. I imagine that's the kind of thinking that led to the creation of The Phylo(mon) Project, a crowdsourced trading card game that aims to build on enthusiasm for TCGs to help kids learn real-world facts about things like ecosystems and women in science. Which is totally cool! I just wonder about two things: how necessary is that knowledge, and how fun is the game?

Because you have to imagine that at least some of the fun of Pokemon is intrinsic—it can't all be fad or peer pressure. Most likely the reason why kids are into it is because they like it, and it's fun to be able to master something you like. So if, as an adult, I was to try and trade on that to trick kids into doing Pokemon-themed spelling worksheets, wouldn't I just be telling the boys that their interests don't matter, and that I'm the one who needs to direct them towards the real work?

To be honest, playing Pokemon builds skills without any intervention from instructors required. On the simplest level, it requires reading (to understand attacks and abilities) and math (to calculate damage). And then to get good at both playing and deck-building takes some good brain work in systematic planning, probabilities, and psychology. The specifics of those skills might not be particularly transferable—and the content area learning certainly is not—but I don't think that matters. Developing elasticity of mind and practicing learning are totally valuable on their own; any person who knows how to learn will in time be able to pick up any knowledge, or even skills, required of them.

That said, the teacher part of me is glad to see Harvey's enthusiasm around making a Pokemon Trainer's Notebook (making from card stock, sheets of paper, and embroidery floss) and then starting to write down deck lists and other notes. Especially when he told me he'd have to work to make his handwriting smaller to fit everything in. That's about as schooly as we're going to get around here these days, and that seems fine.

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social studies on site

Never mind that we're meant to be studying Lowell... when we heard of a class in pencil-making offered at Walden Pond on Monday afternoon there was no way we could miss it! It turns out that the folks there put on all sorts of awesome programs—if we had been paying attention we could have been enjoying interesting classes every day of the week. As it was, we were just in time to catch the last Monday offering of the month.

the boys sitting with other kids listening to a park ranger

pencil school

A lesson about pencil-making totally makes sense at the park: Thoreau's family were in the graphite business, and Henry was apparently an innovator in pencil manufacturing (as well as so many other things). The class was a little oversold—we didn't really get to make pencils, but we learned a whole lot about historical pencil-making, the Thoreau family, and life in the 19th century generally. And to be fair, the kids did get to make a pencil... by dropping a lead into a pre-drilled hole in a pre-sharpened bit of stick. Then they got to take their pencils home, which I guess is the important thing.

Harvey with the Thoreau statue, the pencil in Henry's hand

with the master

Of course, since it was a Walden Pond on a desperately warm early fall day, we also made sure to leave plenty of time for swimming with friends. Now that's how you do a school day!

Lijah at the beach sticking out his tongue

happy at the pond

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happy equinox

I hear from a reader who prefers to tell me things in person rather than comment that the chrysanthemum post might have been too harsh. I hear that! It's really about my own hangups—I'm glad I'm not in charge of anyone else, so they don't have to worry about my peculiarities. Or read my blog either, for that matter! Even in their pots all the mums will look nice once they bloom, which they'll do any day now... because it's fall!

We celebrated this afternoon with a lesson on the equinox and fall harvest festivals worldwide (our school work was this afternoon, because this morning we celebrated my dad's birthday... Happy Birthday Grandpa!). And this evening we totally ignored the reality of our ever-shorter days by staying up super late hanging out with friends. All very fun, only I'm a little concerned that we won't have the energy needed to for the real fall fun tomorrow, as we take in the Bedford Day festivities. Well, we'll be doing it either way! I'll most likely write about the day's excitement... if nothing else, it's better than complaining about other people's decoration choices.

that sounds like poetry!

For our poetry unit last year we spent much of the time talking about what makes a poem a poem—which is to say, poetic language. Unlike the year before we didn't actually read that many poems, because what tends to make poems interesting to the boys—rhyme and steady rhythm—isn't worth talking much about at this point. Instead, we read well-written prose, mostly in picture books, and noticed consonance and assonance, natural word rhythms, and figurative language. And it was totally worth it because now, a couple times a week, they point out poetic moments in the books we're reading. "That sounds like poetry!" they'll say.

This evening it was a bit from Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome. "A few of the oaks still carried some of the dried leaves of last year, which made a noise almost like water when the wind stirred them" called out to Harvey—or Zion, I forget which. Either way, somebody liked it and pointed it out. I enjoyed some beautiful language myself in What Forest Knows, which I read to Lijah this morning: "Forest knows fruit— / berries, nuts, cones / to seed new trees / and feed forest folk / through winter." And there's lots more where that comes from.

I think it's nice to notice that there's not a binary distinction between poems and not-poems. What poets do is pay attention to the sound of words and the way they fit together—but so do all good writers. Sound matters, images matter—to me at least. And, I'm delighted to say, to my children.

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kicking off the homeschool year

Harvey holding up his

third grader

We enjoy following the Bedford Public School schedule when it suits us. The buses came for the kids this morning, so we figured we could get going too.

Zion holding up his

first grader

With two big kids to get educated we need to be more focused than ever before. In the hopes of getting off to a good start we spent the last couple weeks building systems and previewing expectations. For day one, at least, it seems to be working.

the boys working at their desk

so far so good

Of course, we're flexible too. We squeezed in the morning's work around a visit to the doctor to get physicals for the two school kids, and then in the afternoon when it warmed up we took off for the pond.

Zion and Lijah swimming in shallow water

the place to be on a hot school day

Hey, all the work was done by then anyway! All but phys-ed, that is; some vigorous swimming was just the thing after all that mental effort. (Harvey showed us all how it's done by treading water for 66 seconds!)

Harvey swimming a little ways away from the beach

3rd grade swimming

We also went to the farmers market, picked my parents up from the train station, visited a library, and went out to dinner with friends. That's a homeschool day!

We're using Jonathan Bean's wonderful book This Is My Home, This Is My School to focus our thoughts a little bit these first couple weeks. We read it twice today and thought about the roles each of characters played in the homeschooling life of their family, as we talked about what homeschooling means to us. Then Harvey and I looked at the art, and tried our hand at our own version of Jonathan Bean's messy-on-purpose ink, watercolor, and pencil art. I'm pretty happy with how mine came out... Zion liked it too, so he took a picture.

my painting of our house

truth

You can ask Harvey if you want to see his. Suffice it to say, we all agree with the sentiments. Homeschooling 2017-2018 is off to a fine start.

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when every party is a pot-luck

We celebrated Labor Day with a cookout this evening, like you do. We ended up inviting all our friends who moved to Bedford after long pre-existing friendships—which is, surprisingly, three families. It was kind of an impromptu affair, with just what food we could scrounge from the freezer or grab on a quick trip by the store, but everyone contributed and we ended up with a regular feast! I'm still recovering from over-consumption of both food and drink as I finish up the tasks of the evening. There are other areas in my life—running events at church, for instance—where even with official notice it's hard to get folks to bring something to share for a pot-luck, so it's so refreshing to be part of a community of friends where sharing food and work just comes automatically. Thanks guys, and happy Labor Day!

The party didn't go long—with the first day of school looming tomorrow everyone wanted to make sure to get home to bed at a reasonable hour—and it's just as well! We're planning on kicking off our own school year too, and despite all good intentions I find I still have a lot of planning and prep work to do. With that plus the dishes and bedtime stories and all I've currently blown past my hard make-homeschooling-successful bedtime by an hour and ten minutes and counting. Oh well, the school year is long; I'll have more chances.

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socialization again

We're getting geared up to start our homeschool school year; concurrently we're defending ourselves against critics of the practice. Well, not defending entirely, but... Yesterday morning I had a lovely conversation with a friend at church who questioned the socialization aspect of our homeschool program (it comes up a lot). She has a relative with kids in a small Christian private school, and she tells me that they haven't even heard of Oprah! Well, that is a cogent objection. I didn't think to tell her that, on the pop culture front, we're amply provided for by the weekly movie showing with Grandpa. The boys know all about movie properties I've never heard of myself. But I did mention that, never fear, they get lots of time to play with kids unlike themselves.

It's true they don't get to interact with other kids in a school setting. Our tiny homeschool group doesn't offer much in the way of social-economic-political diversity. The day camp group of 15 or so kids is limited to families who want their children going on multi-hour wilderness outings, only loosely supervised. But never fear: we have a great neighborhood for diverse social interaction! There are three families on our street with kids in early elementary school, including ours—and another couple around the corner. Playing with them our boys are exposed to a wide range of media consumption and plastic toy ownership!

And even more importantly, they get to mediate that interaction on their own. I suppose we do the occasional "play-date" with friends farther away, but for the most part when they want to play they just head out the door and look for someone to engage with. Sometimes I even kick them out! I think that's foreign to lots of school kids, especially during the school year. Besides not having a neighborhood as awesome as ours, lots of them are so exhausted by the day at school—not to mention occupied with homework and extracurriculars—that they don't have the energy to go out and just play. At best they might hop on a friend's Minecraft server for a while.

I don't mean to criticize—there's nothing wrong with any of that either. I just feel obliged to respond to the doubts of critics. And I have plenty of time to do it: both yesterday and today there were extended periods—hours!—when the boys were off somewhere playing with other kids... you know, socializing. I think they're doing alright.

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summer camp this year

the still waters of Fawn Lake reflecting trees and clouds

still waters

With so many kids around us on a school schedule, it makes sense for us to follow suit. And summer does seem special, anyway. But just not doing school doesn't make it special enough—we spend lots of time not doing school! No, to truly mark summer as distinct we need to do... summer camp.

Last time we ran a summer day camp program, back in 2015, it was fun but a little overwhelming. So this time I'm operating on kind of an invitation-only basis. That means it's only my fault if I get carried away and invite a whole lot of kids.

a crowd of kids stradling bicycles ready to ride

can I even count them all?

For our first outing, back on the last Monday in June, we biked a couple miles to Bedford's biggest pond, Fawn Lake, and hiked around it. Pausing of course to have lunch!

the kids eating lunch on the little cliff above the pond

a fine lunch view

With Leah at work I was a little worried about how Lijah would cope with the crowd—and with my divided attention—but he did fine. With plenty of good models around he sees himself at a pretty capable adventurer.

Lijah climbing up the rock

he can do it

All the kids felt capable; it was great to see them running and exploring and taking risks and communicating. My co-counselor Bridget and I did our best to give them free rein, even when they started negotiating street crossings on their own on the ride home.

kids cycling across a street on the ride home

happy campers

That's just what summer camp is for: confidence. That, and spending four hours outside on an outing and then running to play outside some more when you get home. Check and check.

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school summer

While weeks go by in a flash these days, it seems like forever ago that we started this year's "school year". Well now it's done: yesterday was the last day of school in Bedford, so we sent off this year's progress reports into the formless ether of the Bedford School System. It felt even more formless than usual this year, since I couldn't find an actual email address for the principal at the boys' putative school, so I had to use the web form. Presumably she'll get it; I don't imagine she cares very much either way. Which is fine, because neither do we. Both boys made lots of progress this year, some of which is even reflected in their school reports. You can read them for yourself if you're interested: Harvey and Zion.

I had some hopes this year of doing a mid-year report, and I'm disappointed that I didn't. Not because I feel like I should be sharing more information with the school—it's just that writing down all the things we did makes me think of even cooler things that we could have done. So a mid-year check-in would have spurred us to even greater heights! As it is, I'm starting planning work for next year right now. (OK, maybe after I sleep a little bit: I was up late last night scanning work samples.)

I don't know how different our "summer vacation" will be compared to our regular year. But it's nice to mark the end of Zion's kindergarten year and Harvey's 2nd grade, just as all their friends from the neighborhood are finishing up their school year. One big change is that all those kids now get to experience the freedom we have every day—and our boys are ready to have fun with them them! Happy summer.

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