Thursday, August 15, 2013

UPDATE: Defining Our Homeschool - 2013

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post called 'Defining Our Homeschool'. It was a generalization of what we were doing as Child-Led learners. Now that some time has passed we are even more secure in our style of education, so I thought I should update exactly what that means for everyone. I, personally, dislike the term unschooled. This is primarily because so many have used this term to mean Non-School, or Anti-Schooling. This conjures the idea of kids sitting around watching tv or playing video games all day every day. These kids often never learn to read or do arithmetic. This is by FAR the exact opposite of what goes on in our house. We treat school like college. I make lists of subjects the kids get to choose from - creative writing, chemistry, French, Latin, German, etc. The kids get to choose subjects - just like college kids choose from the course catalog. They must choose at least one from each subject type - writing, reading, foreign languages, science, etc. Furthermore, we do co-operative schools twice per week. I will usually teach 2 classes, from the subject list the kids chose. For instance, my eldest is interested in learning German and a much more in depth study of Ancient Egyptian mythology (this is an ongoing quest as, over the last few years we've done Greek and Roman, as well as Chinese myths.). My youngest is interested in Chemistry and computer programming. So I'll be offering all these classes at our co-ops (each co-op has 4-5 class periods).

Furthermore, my kids are not allowed to watch tv or play video games between the hours of 10 and 3. They also have to earn enough Behavior Bucks to rent each item from us. You can read more about our Behavior Bucks System as well.

Step 1: Subject Options: How do I make my subject lists? 

 I've made a 3 ring binder that has all the scope & sequences for every grade k-12. I separate it by subject instead of grade. So Language Arts, Foreign Language, Math, Science, etc. I use these as my bible, so to speak. I make subject lists based on what we haven't yet covered. When we cover something unexpected, then I'll go back and highlight it so I know we've covered it. For instance, last year the kids found an unhatched goose egg, and they spent a week researching goose reproduction and farming. One of the joys of child-led learning is that the kids can choose to follow those educational rabbit holes! But for the bulk of our education I will make up reading lists, and subject lists. So, it might be that they've done all the subjects for science for several grades (solar system, basic machines, etc), so I can easily sip ahead to whatever grades they haven't yer done. When doing this first foray into determining the kids interests I usually pick 2-3 grades of topics. Then I write out the subjects - DNA, Reproduction, Environmentalism, etc. Just keeping it general. So even though the scope & sequences get pretty specific, I keep things general at this stage.

Step 2: Materials: How do I find them?

Once they've chosen - poetry, let's say - I'll then delve into finding multiple sources of materials - books, websites, pod casts, videos, games, etc. The children then get to choose which material they would like to try. Again I refer back to the scope & sequences. Not that I care so much if the kids are doing every step for a certain grade, but just as a reference or guide for the type of materials I need to look for. Google Search is one of my favorite resources, as is Pintrest. I can find tons of materials ideas from there. I usually search for free materials. We can't afford to pay for much in the way of paid curriculum. And I've rarely found the need for it. This semester we will be trying something a little different. Since I will be teaching once per week at a high-school level co-op the kids will need to have easily carried curriculum they can bring to keep them busy. So the kids will be doing time4learning as well as StudiesWeekly. Studies Weekly is a weekly newspaper - we got it for social studies and science - 2 subjects a little weak in T4L in my opinion. So the children will have actual curriculum. This means they won't be choosing as much material based curriculum as usual.

Once I gather the various materials, the kids choose which ones to use. Sometimes, they end up hating the type of material. This just means they go back to the list of materials and choose something else. Since it's all their own choice there is a lot less arguments or dragging of feet.

Step 3: Scheduling: Does it really exist???

Yeah, this is the age old question for the homeschooler. Scheduling can be a serious source of anxiety for us teachers. The thing is, schedules are for my own piece of mind. The kids usually do everything possible to ruin and carefully outlined schedule I put together. But with an eldest on the Autism Spectrum, we need some kind of schedule we can stick to. So, while I'd love to have a schedule broken down minute by minute - like a college schedule, that doesn't seem to work. Ack! Instead, I have a general schedule.

Monday & Friday - Learning Time 10am-3pm (no electronics unless it's for learning) Time4Learning 1 hour, Reading 1 hour, the rest of the time they focus on whatever subjects chosen in steps 1 & 2.

Tuesday - Co-op

Wednesday - mom teaches, so they do time4learning, Brain Pop, & studies weekly

Thursday - we do grocery shopping w/ my father so we don't do a lot of school work, just time4learning & Brain Pop & light reading.

Weekends - they usually do about 1 hour of learning per day, usually their favorite subjects. (like the computer programming)

Step 4: Progression, Testing? Judgement??

The only tests my kids have ever done are the quizzes on time4learning and brain pop. Otherwise we don't finish a subject until the kids are able to grasp it. This is called 'mastery' - once they can converse intelligently about a subject then we can choose to move on. There's no need for a test since, essentially, they'd get all A's. If they would have failed a test then that would mean they hadn't yet mastered the subject, so we'd still be working on it...understand? Tests are more for the teachers to judge if all the kids in the room are on the same page. Since we work one-on-one it's redundant. Conversely, my kids look on in confusion when asked what grade they are in. We don't fit into those kind of pre-conceived boxes. For instance, my 12 & 9 y/o's have already finished high school Latin. My 12 y/o is doing high school level algebra & geometry this year (he loves math & science). Both kids are doing chemistry...which isn't an elementary school level subject. But they are both on par with their public school peers for reading, writing, language arts, and social studies. I don't plan on them ever having to go to public school, so this haphazard style is ok. If I ever planned on public school, then I might want a curriculum style that fit more like theirs.

When my kids master a subject, they go back to the list and choose another. Sometimes this means going through up to 3 grade levels a year in one subject. As long as the kids are mastering the subject and loving it, then I don't slow them down with tons of review or repetition. I will have a lot of conversations though where we discuss how we learned such-n-such and how that might help us on this next endeavor.