Thursday, 18 February 2016

Homeschool 101: Deschooling part 2

Deschooling is a process of transitioning from institutional school - whether public, private or church school - to a homeschool environment. The way we traditionally think of "school" is very regimented, with schedules; separated subjects; special rooms, desks and tools; textbooks; and a teacher lecturing students who listen. Homeschooling has a lot more flexibility and options available for a parent to educate their children. Deschooling allows for a break, so that a mental reset can happen towards school, and that the family can have the best chances for homeschooling success.

Many parents struggle with deschooling. Worries about "keeping up" and "not doing enough" often prevent deschooling, or cut it short, which is unfortunate. I believe firmly that homeschooling is a lifestyle, and like any major lifestyle change, we must give ourselves a transition period to fully detach and embrace the change.

Deschooling helps change a family's belief system about what school is, what it should look like and what the priorities are.  The majority of the time spent deschooling should be in doing things as a family that are as far away from school-like activities as possible. Deschooling doesn't include workbooks or text books, writing papers or tests. It may include reading books on ancient history, writing stories or doing a science experiment -- just for fun. But don't ruin the fun by asking comprehension questions on the chapter book you're reading together, or by critiquing the spelling errors in the story. The point of deschooling is to regain the joy of learning!

"What about keeping up?" many parents cry. This is where you're going to have to trust the process. Traditional institutional school has so often destroyed children's mental and emotional health to the point that healing will take time. Add to that many people's inability to recognize any but formal academic learning, with its reports and tests, as actual, genuine education, and many parents fail to see that their children really are learning. Even when it doesn't look like, they are.

A major aspect of deschooling is healing the wounds inflicted by traditional school. Depending on how long your family has been involved in an institutional school setting, this process takes time. A good rule of thumb is 1 month for every year spent in traditional school.  And like any healing process, there are certain stages that are typical for every person.

First, expect a great deal of confusion. Children, when changing routines, will often ask for aspects of the original routine. They may ask for workbooks, or to "do school". They may, at first, find this kind of neat. Resist the urge to jump right into doing school at home. You will burn out if you try to do too much too soon.

Second, expect general laziness. They may start sleeping in more, playing a lot of video games or watching tv, and resisting any kind of learning work. Besides your normal parenting standards (a standard wake-up time, chores and perhaps screen time limits), don't push learning activities. Remember this is like healing from a major illness. Just as you wouldn't push a child into a hike in the woods after a bout of the flu, don't expect them to want to do anything academic right away.

Third, expect resistance on normal parenting issues. They may begin to test the boundaries you've already set out as parents, questioning curfews or bedtimes, wake up times, chores and the other rules of your house. This is because every child wants to know what exactly has changed and what hasn't. It's a security thing for them. Do treat these as parenting issues. Don't let your rules and consequences slide, simply because you aren't insisting on school. A major part of deschooling is to re-establish the relationship between parent and child, so if there are parenting issues that have been ignored because of lack of time due to school, this is your time to take care of them! Don't tolerate disrespect, but have set consequences. Insist on chores (if that's your parenting philosophy!) and on following the rules of the house.

Fourth, don't be afraid to let your kids be bored. Boredom is what stimulates creativity. Don't help their boredom either by providing suggestions of activities. My personal response to my children when they tell me they're bored is to ask them to do a chore for me. After a while, they stop being bored, because they will find something to do, to avoid doing the chores! And in the meantime, I get chores completed. It's a win-win for me.

Fifth, DO NOT PANIC! Deschooling is a process that takes time. To fully appreciate the benefits, you need to fully take advantage of the time. This is not a time to rush or push, but to step back and relax. Let the healing happen, the relationships grow, and when you're finished deschooling, you'll be much more ready to homeschool.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Sick days and suffering

My kids are sick. All 5 of them. Between flu, fever, and a possible ear infection, not to mention the coughing fits, its been a pretty miserable few days, and promises to be a few more. I hate when my kids are sick. I'm sure no parent enjoys it. Between the extra work, and the worry.. and the sheer helplessness we feel, its no picnic.

I've spent the last few days cuddling my babies, while monitoring temperatures, getting drinks, and trying to coax food into them. All children want when they're sick is their momma, and this momma is feeling spread pretty thin. But I can't not just want to reach out and gather them all up, and make all the owies go away.

I despise this feeling of helplessness. I can give out the medicine, but medicine only goes so far to relieve the symptoms. I can get the drinks and soups and tissues, but none of that really makes them feel better for long. I can kiss hot foreheads and snuggle wheezy children, but they are still hot and wheezy.

Holding my sick child makes me realize again just how the Father sees me.  Despite my own worries as a parent, I feel amazed again at the love God has for me. Like my children trust me to make them feel better, to take care of them when they're sick, I can trust God to take care of me.

We all suffer sick days. We all have days where the pressure is squeezing and we feel like we can't breathe, when the way through seems blocked, or its all just coming back on us, too fast and too much. There are times when all you want to do is just curl up under  blanket and sleep it all away. Suffering seems pointless and you wish it would end quickly.

Thankfully God isn't helpless like I am with my children. He can, and already has, done everything necessary to end all the suffering we have. Thank God for Jesus.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Homeschooling 101: Methods

By now you should have thought about why you want to homeschool, and you should have some idea of the legal requirements to homeschool in your jurisdiction. If not, please go back to here or here.

There are as many ways to *do* homeschool as there are people. How you homeschool is largely up to you, your family, your reasons for homeschooling and your priorities in homeschooling, and your lifestyle. This is going to be a brief overview of some of the major "ways" to homeschool.

The method of homeschooling varies on its approach. I liken it to a continuum of sorts. On one end, you have the most-like-school approach, that we'll call "school-at-home". On the other end, you have the least-like-school approach, that is known as "unschooling".

School-at-home takes the public school format, and tries to recreate it at home. This usually includes a set school-room, complete with desks, bulletin boards and shelves, and may use some combination of online public school, tutoring, or textbooks. The parent-as-teacher will spend their days preparing lesson plans, teaching said plans, assigning school work, marking and grading work, and gathering supplies and activities. Depending on what kind of school-at-home you choose, this can have either the most amount of parent involvement, or the least amount. Either way, your child's day will probably follow the same school schedule as their public-schooled peers, both daily and yearly. (As a side note, many homeschoolers start out here, and morph into one of the other approaches as they settle into homeschooling).

Another option for "school-at-home" is an online version. There are many charter virtual public schools. These will often give you the same grades and report cards as public school, and graduation will result in a state-recognize and state-certified diploma. They don't avoid the government-sponsored curriculum, but your child is at home with you. For some this may be the best option.  Another online option is to pay a monthly (or yearly) fee for online learning. Examples here are Khan Academy or Time4Learning.  As a parent, an option like this is much less work for you, because someone else takes care of the planning and grading for you. You do need to check on completion and understanding, and it does mean that your child sits in front of a screen for a few hours every day.  There may also be a need for supplementation, to give some practical experience of the subject -- it's hard to learn how to write/print from a computer.  Online school options are usually recommended for middle and high school options, not early elementary students.

Unschooling takes the opposite approach. Rather than trying to recreate public school, these homeschooling families want to avoid anything that could remind them of it. So there will be no set-aside room, but rather learning takes place anywhere and everywhere. There won't be any set time for school, but instead, families may find themselves learning at odd hours of the morning or evening, or even on weekends. It lends itself to a year-round school year, without scheduled breaks. The philosophy here is to "strew" the child's environment with things that will stimulate curiosity, and the skills a child needs to have to satisfy their curiosity, they will learn when they need them. In this approach, things like grades, schedules, tests, and lesson plans are seen as unnecessary. Again, depending on your child and your involvement, this can have a great deal of parental involvement. For parents leaving a public school system, this also requires the greatest amount of adjustment in your thinking, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your reason for homeschooling.

Unschooling sometimes will branch out into a style of parenting known as "radical unschooling", where all aspects of life -- meal times, sleeping, discipline, etc -- will be modified based on the child's needs or wants. This is a lifestyle often followed by those who embrace "attachment parenting", and may include more unconventional aspects, such as co-sleeping or family beds, vegetarian or paleo or other unconventional diet, extended breastfeeding (often beyond the WHO recommended 2 years), and more.

An offshoot of traditional unschooling is "child-led learning" or "delight-directed learning". This is where the parent will design their educational planning around their child's interests, while not completely letting go of schedules and plans. Methods here may be combined with notebooking, lapbooking, unit studies and nature journaling (all discussed in later posts), the approach is that rather than sticking to a more artificially designed determination of "what your child must know by x age", education happens best when you follow your passion. School can be very fluid and flexible with this kind of homeschooling, and skills are learned while immersed in a theme of sorts. For example, if your child seems currently obsessed with dinosaurs, math skills may be taught by counting dinosaurs or comparing lengths/heights of various species, language arts is practiced by reading dinosaur themed books, and writing reports on various types, and even art or phys. ed. can be included with a dinosaur theme -- acting like dinosaurs, creating them out of modeling clay, going on a dinosaur track hunt, etc.

In the middle of the homeschooling approach continuum are the alternative approaches to education. These are based on methods taught by Charlotte Mason, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (also known as Waldorf education). Each of these people were pioneers in the education field, and experts in child development, and each advocated for a different kind of education than is traditional in public school. You can find brick-and-mortar examples of each of these types of education, but each is easily adapted to a homeschool setting.

Waldorf education begins with a wholistic approach to people, based on the ancient Greek philosophers. It divides a child's education into 3 stages, known as reverence, artistic and scientific, mirroring what endorsers believe is historical human development. In the reverance stage, a child is guided into exploring their world around them, through play and creating a relationship between child and teacher. In the artistic stage, the tools of the fine arts are used to learn the academic skills  -- using color, rhythm, melody, repetition, form and movement to understand and relate to the world and each other.  In the scientific stage, a more formal attitude is cultivated, using the methods of inquiry, hypothesis, observation and theorization to determine information about the world around the student.  It is the closest to unschooling, in that there is a definite bent toward allowing the child a great deal of freedom in learning, but still providing more guidance and tools.

Montessori education was designed to support children's natural development, with an emphasis on independence, respect and freedom (within limits) to learn. Here, children are provided with choices of learning centres and tools, as pre-determined by the educators, and are encouraged to spend as much or as little time with each learning station. There are stores and manufacturers devoted to the creation of toys, materials and educational supplies to support the Montessori philosophy. This style of homeschooling is ideal for young children, for special needs children and for those who are very hands-on learners.

Charlotte Mason is an education approach that is much more structured than the other two. It is based on the idea that children must be educated as a "whole person" rather than separating information into subject areas. The three main tenets of Charlotte Mason include atmosphere, discipline and life. Atmosphere refers to the idea that children must be surrounded by the right kinds of ideas and tools that help learning, and that one-third of a child's education is based on their environment. By discipline, Charlotte Mason advocates mean the cultivation of good habits in children, particularly habits of good character (ie. responsibility, self-discipline, etc). And "life" simply includes the idea that children learn best when facts are connected to living information -- the stories and observations that our human life is made up of.

Growing closer to traditional public school, yet still alternative are the classical approaches. Here we can include the Trivium, especially made famous by the book "The Well-Trained Mind", a coop method known as "Classical Conversations" and lesser known approaches such as the Robinson curriculum, or Thomas Jefferson Education. All take the approach that the best way for children to be educated is with a good knowledge and understanding of the ancient and historical figures, and their writings. They vary in which historical figures and writings they emphasize, but all have a great deal of reading included.  The classical approach doesn't use grade levels to divide children, but instead divides into 3 sections, based on an understanding of child development. In the Grammar stage, children are given a great deal of information to absorb and memorize, without much comment on it. In the Logic stage, children are taught to think critically and manipulate information, making connections and judgements based on what they have learned. In the Rhetoric stage, students are asked to express themselves, making coherent arguments of their own, and learning to analyze and master the subject areas.

Another option is the project-based homeschooling, which can take several formats. In a Unit Study, the student learns about all the subjects tied to a theme. For example, one can teach language arts, math, science, history, and art all under the umbrella theme of studying Ancient Egypt.  The student would read stories based in Ancient Egypt, work on geometry and direction from the pyramids, study astronomy as the pyramids were aligned with the stars, or study human anatomy from the viewpoint of the mummies, look at hieroglyphics and Egyptian architecture for art, and learn about the pharoahs and the impact of Egyptian history on western civilization. In a lapbook, the student will create a poster or folder with different components related to their subject or topic. There are many packages you can find online (homeschoolshare is a great option for free lapbooks) for this option. It allows for children to learn about different aspects of the subject, and see the connections for themselves, giving a hands-on component for the crafty, and makes a great keepsake or portfolio piece when completed. Another, similar, choice is notebooking. Like lapbooking, it makes a great portfolio piece or keepsake, only with a smaller storage footprint. It does involve much more writing and less scissor work. Check out Donna Young for tons of resources on how to notebook for homeschooling.

Even the school-at-home methods can vary in approaches. You could take a literature-emphasis approach, a history-emphasis approach, or a traditional subject division approach. A literature-based approach means that the "textbooks" of school are based on either fiction or non-fiction, non-traditional-textbook books. For example, Sonlight curriculum is a Christian, literature-based boxed curriculum, that includes all books and workbooks necessary for education, and lays out the lesson plans in teacher manuals for the parent teacher.  A history-based approach means that the skills are learned in the study of history, and for a good example here, look at Tapestry of Grace or Mystery of History.  And a traditional approach can include worktexts, textbook-workbook combinations, DVDs, and online courses, with traditional subject divisions.

Finally, there is the eclectic approach. Here, the family chooses from all the varying styles and approaches the best things that suit them and their lifestyle and goals. For example, math may be studied in a traditional school-at-home method, with a textbook or work-text, but science and history and art may be studied in a literature-based or classical based approach, and language arts may have a Charlotte Mason flavor. And the varying materials and styles may change as the children grow, the circumstances change, and the parent-teacher becomes more comfortable with their role as their child's primary educator.

With all these options, you may consider having or joining a coop. In a homeschool coop, parents organize and help teach children in larger groups various subjects or topics. It may or may not look like a school classroom, depending on the format your coop has chosen. But the greater numbers allow for discounts on resources you may not otherwise have access to, or be able to trade specialties like bartering. For example, you may watch other parents' infants and toddlers while your child gets music lessons from a trained teacher, or learns to play volleyball in a gym with a coach. Check with your local support group, or create your own! The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you choose, be aware that changing from one style to another is never as big a change as bringing or keeping your children home from traditional school. You don't have to pick one now and have it last for the rest of your child's education. Nothing is ever set in stone.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Relationship reflections

Every once in a while something comes across my path -- a facebook post, an email, a blog post -- that makes me reflect on my former marriage. Even though I'm a year plus post divorce, I still evaluate and weigh my choices in that relationship.

I was reading a blog post "An open letter to a sh**ty husband" (excuse the language) by a divorced single father.You can read it here. He wasn't deliberately cruel or violent like my ex. He was simply.. neglectful. Immature. A little selfish perhaps. Clueless.  And his wife left. He wrote a series of blog posts that detailed the reasons why, in his opinion, she left.

Reading through those reasons, I found myself agreeing with some, though definitely not all. My ex wasn't just neglectful, but intentionally hurtful. That's a different story.

But to be honest, it wasn't his abuse that made me leave. I didn't leave my abusive husband because he was abusive. I didn't leave because he physically attacked me. I didn't leave because he was so controlling, that I couldn't even get a driver's licence, that I had to beg him to take me to medical appointments, that I lived with neglected infections that have caused lifelong problems..

No I didn't leave because of the violence.

I left, because it finally dawned on me that raising a family and running a household would be easier without him than with him. It would be easier to be a single parent of 5 young children, even with a special needs child, even with a newborn baby and toddler and preschooler, even with no job, no experience, no support... It would be easier to be without him than with him.

I left because living with him, not including the violence and tension and fear and walking on eggshells and everything, was so frustrating, so aggravating, so.. hard.. that doing it on my own was easier.

The truth is - it is easier. It's easier to raise 5 children on my own than to try to parent with a man who is so uninvolved in his children's lives, he didn't even know their birthdates. It's easier to clean a house with 5 young children running rampant, and their ensuing chaos, than to try to clean a house with a man who is so oblivious that he would complain about the dirty dishes, while leaving his all over the house. It's easier to plan a fun day out with my kids by myself than it is to try to manage their disappointment because daddy, yet again, decided work was more important than our family.

Leaving my husband was easier than trying to make a life with a man who didn't want it.

You can't push on a rope.

It wasn't the abuse that ended my marriage, really.  I never really had a marriage to begin with.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Provided proof

Sometimes I forget just how much my God loves me. I get all worked up and stressed out and fretful. It impacts my sleep, my mood, my productivity and my relationships. Thank goodness God is patient with me, because I'm sure He just smiles and tells me again that He has a plan for this yet too.

So last fall, my townhouse rental began having flooding issues. It began in late October, with a big rain storm that dumped inches and inches of rain on this area, and my basement flooded. Then it flooded again a week later. Then again.. and again. Over the course of November and December, I would have the basement floor covered in a couple inches of water 8 separate times. It was frustrating and alarming, especially since it didn't seem to matter what the property management company did, the problem never did get solved.

After the 8th flood in late December, I made the decision to move my little family. Since my lease was up, I gave my notice and started the search for a new place to live. Perhaps, my heart felt, we could get a house of our own? Maybe even with an extra bathroom, and a yard?

I looked at dozens of places. On the weekends my children spent with their fathers, I would set up as many appointments as I could. The rooms blended in together, and I was dizzy with the possibilities. After the first weekend, and viewing several places, I submitted an application. But no return call. So I did it again. Set up more appointments, viewed more potential rentals, expanded my search area -- even drove out of the city. I submitted a 2nd application. Again, nothing.

I was growing concerned. Our move-out date was fast approaching, and I still had no place to move my little family to. I was packing up boxes, wondering if I needed to start thinking of an alternative plan, in case we needed to be out without a home to move in to.

It was a spur of the moment thing, to be honest.  I saw the ad while waiting for another appointment, and I emailed. Surprisingly, I got a reply back right away. I set up the appointment for a little later that afternoon.  I had my children with me, and we drove over. I met the landlord, and left my children in my running van for the few minutes I walked over the very nice house. I happened to have my paperwork -- identity, proof of rental history, etc -- with me, as I had stuck it in my planner as I walked out the door that morning, not wanting to stop and put it away properly. So I showed it, and we began an email conversation. No real application, but more getting a feel for each other .. it was a different approach to renting, and I was beginning to feel hopeful.

After some more information, and back and forth, I got the email confirming the offer to rent the house. I am beyond excited to announce we are moving in just a couple of weeks from this posting. And God is sooo good. Not only does it hit everything on my wishlist (a house of my own, 2 bathrooms, a yard), but my children's list too! We have 4 bedrooms not just 3, we have space for a garden, and for things to play with, we have a playroom and storage and it isn't going to be wet. Plus.. and this is where God has given more than enough (again!) .. the landlord is a fire-station chief and his wife, which means that its safe, and more than safe, and inspected and certified safe.

Another example of how much God loves me, just how much He loves my children. He gives us what we ask for, and then He gives us what we need .. and then He gives again, just to show His love.

How great the Father's love for us..