I have a son for whom the order of the day, if it were left entirely to him, would go something like this: 1) get up, eat, and play hours of soccer; 2) play hours of PS3 games or have other such electronic experiences; and 3) eat, sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’m not meaning to suggest that he doesn’t have other interests, but these are just the overriding ones. He does actually have a vibrant curiousity about the world around him, he loves animals and nature, he is social and makes friends easily. And he is quite a conversationalist – he can hold his own well with adults.
However, when it comes to academics and sitting down at a desk to do school work, the neighbors would think I’m administering slow Chinese water torture, to hear him tell about it. I am really not the strictest parent in the world, nor am I, hopefully, the most lax either. The same can be said about our homeschooling style which is probably somewhere between formal and Unschooling. I am using the Core Knowledge series (What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know) as a touchstone. It is a great series and I particularly like this book. It’s laid out well, easy to read without being pandering (to parent or child) and I’m fairly sure it includes more information and knowledge than your average fifth grader in public school covers in one year. No doubt more than we’ll actually cover. There are comprehensive sections on language, literature (excerpts from classics like Huckleberry Finn, Little Women and the Secret Garden), geography, European and American history, grammar, visual arts, music, math and science.
My tact at the moment is to read small sections together and talk about them. I do not do formal lesson plans or practice sheets. I have little faith in that approach. However, I am gearing L up for more writing to come by trying to break the news gently that he is going to have to learn how to write essays this year. Today we will be off to either the Natural History Museum or the Tierpark Zoo in East Berlin and I told him he needs to find something in one of these places that he is keen to know more about and will serve as his first essay topic. I figure it’s better to start with something he is actually interested in because it’s going to be hard enough as it is!
We are also reading Archimedes and the Door of Science which is a fantastic history of ancient Greece and Archimedes’ contribution to the world of science. It is well written, entertaining and has nice illustrations to show some of his inventions.
L hates to read. I mean really hates it. So it is not easy for me to force him to do it, but at the end of the day, I do believe some things just have to be done. He may never love to read – the perfect irony for a writer to have a kid who would rather do almost anything than read or write. Yet as with anything, you get better at the things you do more. And reading for even 20 minutes a day is working those muscles. So he has a book on time travel going at the moment which is working his way through and seems to be enjoying (even though he won’t admit it).
We are using the fabulous Kahn Academy site for math practice. Another less than favorite subject of L’s. My problem with the way math is usually taught in school is that everything is rushed and crammed through and if you don’t naturally get it quickly, you are always playing catch up. I have done a lot of reading on alternative approaches to math education that suggest kids can are more ready to learn math when they are a bit older – middle school age – than when younger. So we are spending time just reviewing math from last year, trying to get his times tables down, before we move onto what they are covering this year. It may not work. I may regret this approach. But it’s the one that makes the most sense at the moment. He had a very heavy 4th grade year of math as his teacher was stitched together by numbers and an obsession with math homework above anything else. He did not have one piece of reading, grammar, social studies or science homework the entire year. It was all math. A living nightmare in our household.
Finally, the other thing L is doing most days of the week is his touch-typing course. For Americans, this might seem to be a frivolous endeavor at this age as laptops seem to be rarely used in the public schools and there continues to be a diehard, old-fashioned work ethic of sweating out the handwriting, no matter how difficult. “How will he ever fill out a job application?” I’ve heard said to me before. Personally, I don’t remember the last time I filled out a hard paper version of a job application. I’m not anticipating a career working at McDonald’s or WalMart for L, so I’m not too worried about it being an issue. But more importantly, the sooner he learns to master the keyboard and can put thoughts on paper as fast as his mind works, the better. There is nothing more frustrating than being stymied in one’s ability to communicate by the slow technicality of trying to master handwriting, which does not come easy for everyone. My friends who work in special education with dyslexic or dyspraxic students are testament to the wondrous alleviation that mastering their ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas through typing can be for both schoolwork and confidence building.
There are probably many touch-typing courses out there but we are using the British Nessy Fingers at the moment. L feels it’s designed for younger kids more with lots of slaying dragons, etc., but yet I think it’s a good program and he does like the gaming approach involved that awards you different trophies and medals for speed and accuracy.
So that is an overview of our homeschooling for the moment. I’m sure this will change, morph and be adjusted as we go. I can’t say I am not without worry that I’m doing a good enough job of keeping him on task. But I also believe that experience can be a great teacher, and he is certainly learning many lessons about life, cultures, people, and how to be flexible, by our travelling. And a good long break from the grind of the school day with its fairly arbitrary division of subjects, ranking of kids by age and ability, and at times, prison like atmosphere (I mean, seriously) cannot be a bad thing.
Finally, I am a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks and writings on education reform. Check him out here on TED.
actor-writer-director, improviser, mother, traveler, life renegade