Back to school…..

So having decided to give PK the summer off has turned out very well … for ME. Because it’s given me time to plan for the year. And boy howdy have I planned. I always did enjoy creating syllabi.

So, with the wisdom of ONE WHOLE YEAR of this homeschooling thing under my belt, here is what I have learned.

1. The first year is a wash, or at best you’re treading water. Maybe this isn’t true for people who start out homeschooling from the beginning? I dunno. But for pulling a kid out of school, oh yes. When the unschooling people say you need at least a year to “deschool,” they aren’t kidding. BUT.

2. That’s cool, because while you’re flailing around trying stuff, you’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Between that and the kid taking the summer off, I’ve done a lot of observing him, a little bit of initiating conversations (“so, for next year, do you think you’d like to try an online course…?”), and a lot of listening to his random thoughts (“Mama, you know what I’d do if I could design the perfect school…?”)

3. So I planned this year based on PK’s vision of the “perfect school.” According to PK, a good school should have one subject per day, so that kids can focus and go into depth. Teachers should be there to present new information, sure, but above all to facilitate while the students explore stuff on their own–to answer questions, to ensure safety (“but don’t step in unless something is genuinely dangerous, or if someone is bullying!”). He reckons that about three hours a day is a good length of time to ask kids to stay focused. So, having observed his interests and listened to his thoughts, here is our plan.

I’m going to sign him up for a math class through Art of Problem Solving because I hear good things and b/c I think he needs someone who actually understands math to help him; he’ll start the school year by taking their assessment test to figure out which class to sign up for.

For history, the Great Courses folks have a new “food history” course that, when I saw it, I immediately latched onto; PK loves food history. So we’ll use those lectures as kind of the “backbone,” and I’m going to supplement with a lot of stuff I’ve found online (if you follow my Pinterest board, you can pretty much tell what I’m planning subject-wise because there’ll be a flurry of pins on it). I’m going to spend some extra time, I think, on the Renaissance (since that’s what he’s “supposed” to be doing according to our state standards) and on the African diaspora/African-American history, because I love that stuff and think Anglo-Americans have rather a major responsibility to educate our kids about race. Luckily PK is pretty interested in talking and learning about race and racism and global foodways–he already knows a fair bit about the Columbian Exchange–so I expect that will go over pretty well. Plus I had a huge brainwave, thinking about how I would fill three hours on this while mixing up activities and decided I’ll try having PK plan a meal one week and then cook it the next (or maybe cooking once a week can be “homework”). YAY SCHOOL/CHORE SYNERGY.

I’m going to bite the bullet and make him start doing some writing this year. I anticipate that’ll be my biggest challenge, since he loathes writing–but now that he can type, hopefully it’ll be easier. I’m also going to do some general “how to learn” stuff on those days, since no one writes for three hours at a stretch; we’ll start by doing the Brainology course that’s based on Carol Dweck’s work. I’ve also made him (and me!) PLANNERS, based on some of the stuff I’ve been reading about ADHD and organization. I don’t know that either of us have ADHD–though we might, and I hope to get assessments done at some point–but god knows organization is no one’s strong suit in this house, and the advice around ADHD and organizing has been super helpful.

One of my big observationally-based “aha” moments was realizing that PK freaking *loves* to draw. Which I knew, but hadn’t really thought to do as a subject until I slowed down and paid attention. So we’re doing art this year as well, which will involve drawing, letting him build artsy craftsy stuff (which he loves doing) and I think monthly field trips to museums. He’s always loathed museums, but I think if, instead of taking him and hauling him around we go, pick *one* thing to look at, and practice sketching it, that might be a way to go. Plus I am hoping it’ll help with the mindfulness and observation/slowing down things that god knows he needs help with.

Science is going to be kind of a mixed bag. He has a chemistry set which he’s barely dipped into, because I’ve always put him off (the mess! the time! I’m busy!). I proposed just using it for science this year and he agreed, so we’ll work our way through the experiments there. He also has some other science kits he’s barely touched and a digital microscope his father got him for Xmas a couple years ago, so I’m going to order some slides. But my real goal for the first half of the year is going to be getting in touch with the community college chemistry department, schlepping him over there, and seeing if they think he is ready (and if they are willing) to take a cc chemistry course in the spring.

Finally, I’m planning a kind of economics & political science course. He loves to ask questions about economics and spends ridiculous amounts of time hypothesizing about what kind of political systems are ideal, so. Mostly I’ll be using cartoon guides / graphic novel type intros to various subjects–luckily there are a lot of those on topics in econ, sociology, Marxism, Capitalism, etc. I also asked my Facebook friends for book recommendations and got a lot of fiction which I can weave into the writing/language arts days for some interdisciplinary practice; am thinking, for example, of having him create his own “cartoon guides” to novels he reads.

You may have noticed that that’s actually six subjects–and if we only do a subject a day, presuming he gets weekends off (which he will insist on, believe me), that’s one subject too many. I’m not yet sure which two subjects I’ll combine, or perhaps swap every other week: possibly art and econ, since those are more “electivey” than the others. The husband has every other Friday off from work, which means that we’ll do either art or science on Fridays, so that the whole family can visit museums or so that his father can occasionally do a science project with him.

That huge robot head? He made that the other night while he was up and not sleeping. This kind of thing is why we're doing art (and also why I still need to figure out a separate space to store art materials and supplies, because kid goes big).

That huge robot head? He made that the other night while he was up and not sleeping. This kind of thing is why we’re doing art (and also why I still need to figure out a separate space to store art materials and supplies, because kid goes big).

Finally, I finally bit the bullet and went out and bought some stuff to set up a work space for him, after finally reading Lori Pickert’s book, Project-Based Homeschooling. She says something in there that I think is very wise: if you want your kid to value his or her work, then you need to show that you value it by creating space for it in your home. Now, our house is quite small, and there is no space for a “homeschool room”–but there is an unused fireplace in the living room. So we bought PK a small desk that has some built-in shelf space, and I bought some magazine holders, one per subject, which I color-coded (I have also used color-coded portfolio folders in his planner). He is SO. THRILLED. to have a desk of his own, and an office chair with wheels–which he uses to roll around the living room. It’s the first year ever that he’s been excited in any way about “back to school stuff”–so thank you, Lori Pickert!

Finally, since this post is part of the “Where & How to Begin” GHF blog hop, two other book recommendations. The book that actually made me think I could do this was Lisa Rivero’s Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families. I believe she is currently working on an updated version, but I’m not sure when it’s coming out–meanwhile, though, the existing version is (imo) first rate. And specifically for math–everyone is always worried about math, including me–for god’s sake get a copy of Denise Gaskins’ Let’s Play Math: How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It! I hestiated on that one for a bit because I was concerned it would mostly focus on younger kids–but I needn’t have worried. It does mostly focus on younger kids, but there is plenty enough in there to start with for middle and high schoolers, believe me–and again, I think she is working on either a revised edition or a separate book specifically for older kids (I forget which).

So to sum up, my advice, such as it is:

  • Spend the first year dabbling with various topics and approaches, don’t sweat it too much, and pay attention to what your kid is interested in and what approaches he or she likes best.
  • Ideally, ask your kid what their “perfect school day” would look like, and try to make your “school days” as much like that as possible. (If nothing else, this helps address any complaints later!)
  • Collect ideas like crazy (Pinterest, if you’re an online person; notebooks if you’re the pen-and-paper type; whatever works for you). It won’t take long before you realize there is way, WAY more out there than you could ever possibly use–but that’s great, because it means you can pick your resources, pick your approach, and pick your topics based on what you think will work for you and your kid.
  • Three books that are very worth buying: Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling; Lisa Rivero, Creative Home Schooling; and Denise Gaskins, Let’s Play Math. Links are above in main post–and for the record, no one has asked me to promote those books and I don’t know any of those women personally. I just truly believe that those three books are excellent.

Stay tuned to see how my plans work out. As Burns says, the best laid plans o’ mice and homeschooling mamas / gang aft agley….

Click here to read all the other posts in the hop!

Click here to read all the other posts in the hop! #ghfblogger

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