Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First Day of School

It was a big day for us all!

Bantam17 had only a partial day, in which they spent a short time in each class. He met all his teachers and said he was most excited about Art and World Literature. He thinks Art will be the hardest class he has this quarter, and I suspect he's right; there are a lot of out-of-class projects that will be coming due quite frequently. He really liked the World Lit teacher, who will take the class to Medieval Times (Dinner and Tournament) sometime this year.

He was concerned though, because all his paperwork listed him as in 10th grade, and he got a note from his case manager saying he would have to drop the World Literature class, as he didn't have enough English credits to take it. So I will have to call the school in the morning and make sure that gets straightened out; apparently his case manager, whom he hasn't met yet, didn't get the information about his homeschooled sophomore year. But his mood was good when he came home, I was pleased to see.

Blondechick was breathless when she returned home, rushing up the stairs to change for our first night of theater classes. "I can't believe I have to go and meet more new people tonight," she complained. "I think I've met all the new people I can handle for one day!" (Quite amusing, coming from our wildly extroverted child!)

"So can you believe there was drama on the first day?" she asked, once we were in the car.

"Knowing you, drama doesn't surprise me, but happening on the first day, it does," I replied, my heart sinking. Turns out there are two cliques wanting her to be in their group, each telling her bad things about the other. She feels torn; she likes both groups and doesn't know whether to believe any of their gossip. She wants to be friends with all of them, and I don't know any other advice to give her. These things have a way of taking care of themselves; we will just pray that the Holy Spirit will guide her and that she'll listen to Him!

Other than that, she didn't have much to tell; she spent the whole day with her "Crew," or homeroom class, which is where most of the character/leadership component is communicated. Today they got to know each other and the neighborhood, going for a walk to learn the landmarks and visiting a coffee shop just up the street.

At home, it was an unusual first day for us. I haven't had a chance to blog about my homeschool plans for this year, but I've decided to give "unschooling" a try for this fall, at least. Let me immediately assure one and all that I don't intend to let my kids play all day and call it school, but I do intend to let them choose, to a much greater degree, what they want to study and read.

So today I introduced that idea to them, and with it, some educational philosophy.

"Do you think you learn more if you hurry through lots of different subjects so you can check them off, or focus on one or two things that you really are interested in, spending extra time looking things up, experimenting and asking questions?"

"How about reading a book and learning magic tricks, like you did this summer--is that school?"

"We've done a lot of history for the past four years. What if we did a lot more science this year instead, like experiments and field trips? What if we did more art? What if you spent more time learning guitar and piano? Would that be school?"

"What if, instead of a spelling workbook, a grammar workbook and a handwriting workbook, we spent more time writing every day about your life, your pets, your friends, your thoughts?"

We had a great discussion. "This is really making me think," Bantam13 told me. "Let me get this straight. You mean no workbooks? Just learning whatever we want?"

"Well, there are a few things you will have to do every day. Math--although we're not necessarily going to do a chapter a day in your math book. Reading--chapter books, and I'll let you choose whatever you want from the history or science shelf and read as much or little as you like. Writing--I may give you writing assignments, but if not, I want you to write regularly in your blog, about whatever you want. We can hide all your previous posts and you can start fresh. Maybe we'll set up a separate school blog where you can post things I assign, and maybe we'll use it to keep track of what we do each day."

They liked the blogging idea. "We need to practice keyboarding, Mom," they reminded me--a subject we rarely get to. "Absolutely," I said, "that will be school." "And I'm teaching Chicklet to read, remember--every day," Bantam13 insisted. "Of course!" I affirmed. (He's an excellent teacher; he taught B9 to read.) "Hey, I want to help!" said B9. "You have to be really patient," B13 told him. "You can't be mean, or she won't learn anything."

We brainstormed a lot more about ways we could fill our days, and then pored over the homeschool co-op's enrichment class descriptions, which look fabulous. As we discussed some of the fees for various classes, I explained the concept of a budget, and shared with them my "magic number" that they can help me to stay under this month. "That sounds like a lot, but by the time we pay for food, gas, shampoo, an oil change, piano lessons and these fees, we might be having to clean out the freezer and the pantry shelves instead of going to the grocery at the end of the month!"

"Mom, I was just thinking that this is really interesting, but we should hurry up and get started on school," B13 said. "But then I thought, wait--this is school. I'm learning a lot."

I can't tell you how that delighted my educator's heart!

During our discussion, he asked another interesting question: "Will I learn less than I would if I were in school this year? Or more? Or the same?"

I didn't know how to answer. (There are so many angles!) "You may not learn the same things you'd learn if you were in school this year. But you might learn more--or less--or different things; it's really up to you. You know you need to spend time on math, mastering some of the concepts you've studied. What if you didn't learn lots of new things in math, but you really learned the old things this time? You need to be honest about what you need to learn, even if it's not your favorite subject. And I will make sure we cover our bases for the year."

So the experiment is off to a good start! In fact, the boys inaugurated the new school year with an experiment. After poring over the directions in a science activity book, they spent a long time supersaturating a sugar solution, and we inadvertantly learned why you want to replace those peeling non-stick pans; our sugar syrup is full of tiny suspended bits of Teflon which the sugar scoured off. We were still able to study crystals through a magnifying glass, but I don't think they'll be able to eat their rock candy!

Since they loved D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, the boys chose to begin D'Aulaires' Norse Gods and Giants and B13, on his own initiative, quizzed B9 while they cleaned up lunch. Besides reading to the two youngest, I started Chicklet in a favorite workbook that all my K-1st graders have loved, and we did a page on shapes in B3's coloring book. He was pretty cooperative, but insisted on coloring the triangles orange, not blue as I directed. Oh well.

Then it was time to leave for theater class, and for the first time, I took four kids. Blondechick15 is taking a Christian hip-hop dance class, B13 has a magic class he's really excited about, B9 says he's fine as the only boy in a jazz class full of girls, and Chicklet5 is thrilled to be taking her first theater class and learning music from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

It was a good first day. Thank you, Lord!


Heather said...

Sounds like a fun (and interesting) way to school! Keep us all posted as to what you like/don't like about this approach!

Jena said...

wow! I love it! It's fun to see your kids get the concept and be excited about it. I completely agree that they will be motivated and learn more if they follow their interests. If a child is able to delve deeply into their interests, they learn so much more than just content. There are a lot of facets to being an expert. Have fun with this. I'm looking forward to hearing how it progresses through the year.

Heather said...

Hello, Jena sent me over. What a great start!

I am wondering if I may use part of your post (the part about how you started the home school part) on my new group website http://christianunschooling.com. In fact, since you are beginning your journey I am wondering if maybe you would consider occasionally posting over there (no schedule, just whenever you have something that may help someone else in this same place.)

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Hi there! I found you through Heather's new site. I don't know many Anglican homeschoolers besides ourselves and our best friends. And I love your chicken metaphor for your blog! I'm a mama hen, too. :)

I hope you enjoy your unschooling adventure this year! I found it interesting to read about your conversation about "what is school." What led you to try unschooling after so many years of homeschooling?

Cathy said...

I hope you enjoy unschooling! My 12 and 10 year old have always unschooled and you would be amazed at what has come out of playing. It is amazing to see where their interests lead them and how they appreciate who they are. Cathy

Danielle Says Hello said...

Oh my gosh - I haven't been over here in probably a year - found you again via Yarns of the Heart. Will have to do some reading to catch up ;)....you may remember me by my pseudonymn Sissy when I wrote The Whippoorwill Chronicles.

At A Hen's Pace said...

I wondered what happened to "Sissy"! Welcome back!! Are you homeschooling now??

I already replied via email to Heather.

Thanks everyone else, for the encouragement!