Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Planning for the first year of high school

Where have the years gone?
I already regret the amount of time I spent second guessing decisions, worrying if homeschool was going to work for my son, or if I was really capable.
We started this journey nearly 5 years ago, and I've used Montessori materials and philosophy for a lot of it.
Now that we are embarking on the high school years, our homeschool will look different. Not so many materials.
Mostly, I plan to unschool. It's something we've been doing more of each year, it seems. Fifth and sixth grade were almost entirely Montessori, but seventh and eighth were much more relaxed.
We will formally "begin" school on Sept. 11, though he and I are fully aware that we all learn every day, and that doing school just means doing it with a bit more intention.
This year, Sean will take the reigns completely for his education. I plan to only be there to guide. He said he wants to learn languages, so we've already signed up for a Russian online program that is self-paced. It's through Rocket Languages, and I don't have an opinion yet, because he hasn't started yet.
I'm also looking at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Again, I have no opinion, except to say I'm seriously looking at it because it provides a high school credit. That's appealing to me, because I do want him to have something to show for his work.
As we've begun to talk about the coming school year, Sean has given his insight and opinion on school, spending time in traditional school classrooms, and learning.
He said he believes that school should involve travel, even if it's just in your community. You should get to know people, learn what they do, and learn about life in that way. He believes that basic math and algebra are essential. But he believes the rest of what you learn should be what interests you. For him, spending hours in a chair in a classroom is torture.
He just spent two days at a day camp, and compared it to his time in a Montessori school. He said the time in the camp was difficult because he had to focus on the teacher for so long, whereas in a Montessori classroom there is so much freedom to move around, talk to others, do work, and collaborate. He has never spent time in a traditional classroom, so this experience has been enlightening for him.
To practice his Spanish, he will volunteer one day a week at an outdoor, Spanish immersion school as an assistant.
For his interest in science and medicine, we are scheduling at least one day for him to shadow a veterinarian. I'm going to do some more leg work to find other opportunities in medicine. If anyone reading this has any ideas, please leave a comment.
This year he wants to focus on skills for retaining large amounts of information, something he knows he will need if  he continues his education past high school, specifically if he goes to medical school.
As we move through this freshman (EEK!) year, I'm sure he will come up with other interests and plans.
I'm excited to partner with him this year to help him find ways to engage with his learning, and to feel successful.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Serious talk about serious subjects

Warning: This post includes talk about rape, bullying, slut shaming, and the show "13 Reasons Why." If any or all of these subjects are uncomfortable for you, please feel free to stop reading now.
If you haven't seen the series, "13 Reasons Why," and you plan to, this post will have some spoilers. You might want to come back to this after you've watched the show.

A couple of weeks ago, Sean wanted to show me something on Netflix. We watched the first episode of the series, "13 Reasons Why," together. He proceeded to watch the rest of it on his own, and I spent several days trying to find the time to finish it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the series, it focuses on a high school, and specifically a group of students and their interactions and choices. Ultimately, the main character, Hannah, commits suicide, and we know that right away. She records herself on cassette tapes explaining the reasons why she felt that it was her only option.

At first I was concerned that the show was going to glorify suicide, and that the girl would be seen as a sort of martyr for her cause. It didn't do that, in my opinion. Though, since I've began the series, I've seen social media posts from others who believe that it sends the wrong message, I thought the show did a good job of portraying her imperfect humanness, and the people who could have been there for her if she had done more to reach out. It is fiction, but in my opinion it showed that there were adults who made mistakes, too, and that it portrayed pretty accurately the complexities, and stresses of high school culture.

I say high school culture because, so far, I haven't seen that same type of social order in the homeschool community. In high schools the athletes are revered, and seen as the most valuable students. Everyone else falls in line below them, down to the outcast and different.

This is nothing new. It's what we parents have all, who have attended school, experienced and witnessed.
But the way this series differs from our experiences includes cell phones, social media, and the Internet. Thanks to all of these, as well as some kids who make bad choices, Hannah gets labeled easy, and is called a slut.

There are two scenes that deal with rape. A girl who had been Hannah's friend is raped. And later, Hannah is also raped.

As soon as I finished the final episode, "Beyond the Reasons" came up next, and I watched it. It helped me to understand more about how they put the show together, and that they took everything they did seriously.

I couldn't wait to talk to Sean about it all. He hadn't watched "Beyond the Reasons", so we watched that together today, and then discussed the show at length.

I was anxious to talk with him about all of these subjects--Parties, drinking, judging, spreading rumors, rape, entitlement, consent, friendships, and the complex people that we all are. These are all tough subjects, but I think the show gave us a point of reference to have the discussion. I've tried talking to him before about some of these things, but having the show as a reference point gave our talk some added dimension. It also helped to watch the actors talk about filming, and how difficult it was, and the guy actors talk about consent, and rape, etc.

It gave me a chance to talk to Sean about victims, about how victims blame themselves, and to have others dismantle them, question their every move leading up to the victimization, as if it is their fault somehow, is so wrong. The focus should be on every move of the perpetrator/rapist, and why his/her actions are to blame. What one person can choose to do in response to being victimized is not the same for everyone. There are reasons why people react, or not, in high stress and traumatic situations.

We talked about what other characters could have done differently. Another child tries to commit suicide later in the show, and we talked about what that child could have chosen to do instead. Even if they felt there was no alternative, there are always people who care, and there are ways to get help. Suicide is not the answer.

If you are reading this and you are having suicidal thoughts, or plans, please text: CONNECT to 741741
Or call Suicide Prevention Services at 800-273-8255.
There is also a 24-hour crisis line 866-427-4747.
Even if you don't think anyone cares, people do care. I care. You are valuable. You are needed. You are wanted. You are here for a reason, and there are people who want you to know that you matter.
If you have been raped, or think you might have been raped, here is a link to a list of resources: http://www.rapeis.org/support.html

Monday, February 27, 2017

Still here, still learning

It's been a long time since I posted on this blog, so I thought I should at least do a quick, and very brief, update about this school year so far.
Off the top of my head, it seems he's been learning a lot about history. We use a variety of resources for history, and have been studying it chronologically. I've used a series of books called, "Passage of Time," that have been good for introducing the history of the world.  It isn't in-depth, and allows for just enough information to peak his interest. If he wants to he can do more research on a certain event or figure. We started using these in 5th grade, and I've switched back and forth between those and other sources of history. Now that we've reached the time of Columbus and beyond, I've begun using A Young People's History of the United States by the Zinn Education Project. I also have the adult version by Howard Zinn, called A People's History of the United States. We will dive into that one next year. He has enjoyed A Young People's History. It seems to be something he chooses first most days.
Math has been a mix of the Montessori Adolescent Algebra album, with some Khan Academy (which I'm not as fond of, but he likes it) and some hands-on real life problems. He calculated how long it would take a bullet to reach a bullseye on a target by using the distance and the size of the bullet. He found how to calculate this online, and worked it on his own.
He discusses politics, social issues, and current events on a daily basis. He can discuss these in great depth, and shows critical thinking, and analysis skills.
We took a trip in December to see family in Tennessee, and had a great time. We got home just before Christmas, and had a wonderful Christmas celebration at home.
So far this year he has read the book, "13 Hours," and has started on two more. One is called, "X, a Novel," by Malcolm X's daughter. The other is "Echo," by Pam Munoz Ryan. My goal is for him to read those, and maybe one more before summer.
For Science, we've covered quite a lot in the Basic Foundations for Scientific Understanding books. We got these late, and I started with the elementary book, even thought he was already in Middle School. We recently covered the chapter on Elements and Compounds thoroughly, and discussed at length radioactive material, nuclear plants, and the disposal of that material. Then I jumped to the Middle School volume to cover the chapter on Atoms. We've studied molecular motion with heat and pressure, and just finished up on refrigeration.
Of course there is much more, because he's constantly watching videos related to science, physics, and technology.
He doesn't have formal art class anymore, and that is one thing I want to be sure to add as soon as possible.
Although he quit piano at the end of last school year, he continues to play.
PE class is still something he enjoys, and it provides some social time.
Some of the Field Trips/Hands-on learning we've done this year:
In January he spent some time with a local retired welder, and learned just a very basic amount of tack welding. Welding is much more complicated than we ever knew.
In February we attended a presentation on Black Lives Matter, but it really centered on LGBTQ information.
We also went to the Pacific Science Center for an engineering weekend exhibit, but it was chaotic and crowded, so not much learning happened with regard to that. We still enjoyed the other exhibits.
For Black History Month, in addition to what he's read in the Young People's book, we've read about slavery and the fight for freedom from a booklet called, "A Place at the Table," that I got from Teaching for Change.
We watched half of the documentary "13th" on Netflix.
He completed an activity sheet with a word search and word scramble, and a timeline of events for black history. And we aren't done yet. Although it's almost March, I plan to take him to the Buffalo Soldier Museum, and we are going to hear someone speak about the civil rights movement in March.
Part of school for us includes learning to do real life things, and he has been doing his laundry and cooking for a few years now. He is responsible for helping with chores. I had him read the voter's pamphlet in October, so he could see that in order to cast an informed vote you must be informed about each candidate, and each issue on the ballot. He learned about car batteries, and how to jump a dead one when my car died one day, and Chuck had to come with jumper cables to help us.
He got braces this month, and has been working to keep them clean.
He is a peacekeeper. If his friends are having a disagreement, he works as a mediator and helps each to see the other's point of view.
He hangs out with a friend on weekends twice a month, usually. He goes to birthday parties, and stays in touch with friends from his old school, and kids he has met through homeschool. He also has friends that he hasn't met in real life yet who play Xbox Live.
I don't worry nearly as much as I used to about whether we are doing enough for school. I've relaxed, and can see that he learns whether I'm worrying or not. His handwriting was not ever very good, and I used to think maybe I should push him to write, or practice writing, so he could get better. In the past I've tried to have him practice cursive, but he hated it. So, I've just focused on having him summarize what he reads, and write his thoughts and impressions on what he is learning in each of his composition books. He has one for each subject. Most of the time there were at least a couple of words that I couldn't read. But, just this week he began to write very legibly, and neatly in his composition books. He made a comment about it, and said he had been writing more, and maybe that was why his writing looked neater.
So, although I will continue to plan for field trips, and learning opportunities, and I'll keep bringing in books and other learning materials, I can see that maybe we all come to these things on our own when given the freedom to do so. Especially this child. LOL. It has always been so, since he was a baby.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Relaxing the expectations

I wrote this the first of June, 2016. We were almost finished with 7th grade. The information here is still relevant now, and it was helpful when I planned for this year--8th grade. I'm not sure why I didn't post it, but here it is.

I read so much that some days my head feels like it's spinning. I don't know what to believe anymore.

So, I decided to read with a little more skepticism. I am naturally skeptical, but when it comes to education, I tend to swallow what I'm fed without asking a lot of questions. Especially when it sounds good.

But all of that stuff is worthless when you start to apply it in real life. Especially when you have a child that is a natural skeptic, who doesn't swallow anything, and frankly, he doesn't fit into anyone's definition of teenager, or middle schooler, or anything else.

He's his own person. He learns the way he learns. He is engaged by what he finds engaging, not by some trickery, or whatever the latest research shows.

For this reason, I've become much more relaxed in my homeschooling. I used to use Montessori materials, and I followed an outline of subjects and topics to introduce. That worked for the first year we homeschooled. The following year, it wasn't working as well, but we still did OK. This year, it hasn't worked at all.

And so I let it go. And guess what? He's still learning.

I didn't formally let it go. I didn't announce that I was letting it go. I just sort of stopped doing what wasn't working, and I let him do things on his own. And if I was out for part of the day for an appointment, I would leave him a list of topics to choose from, and some things to do for real, and that worked pretty well.

But he was burning out. And I've realized that I wasn't structured enough with the calendar. I was so caught up in following the child that I forgot to provide him with dates to look forward to, events to anticipate, etc.

We've stopped our formal schooling for the year. He's still finishing up on a few things, like PE class at the YMCA, and art class through our local arts alliance.

This summer we will be doing a lot of life skills, like how to paint the porch, and some things he's been doing for years, like chop wood, garden, etc. I'll try to entice him into going to the beach, and taking a road trip or two.

And in a few months, we will finalize our plan for 8th grade, and make it count.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Alchemist finds a friend

I've spent hundreds of dollars on books for my son. He has a bookshelf in his room, and has been surrounded by books all his life. I started reading to him when he was born.

And he used to love books. We would visit the library, and he would borrow more books than he could carry, so I would also have an armload.

Then he went to public school, Montessori, but still public. And when he was required to read in fourth grade, he lost his love for reading. Gone were his desires to borrow books from the library, or to read anything at all.

Once I brought him home for schooling in fifth grade, he regained some of his desire for non-fiction, but it has never recovered fully. His interest in fiction extended only as far as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," and a few of the old "Goosebumps" books.

And so, I've brought home so many books, trying to get him interested in reading again. He's 13, and had never read a novel until last month, when he finally finished "The Alchemist."
I bought that book at Costco as a Christmas gift for him, on a whim. I read a couple of pages, and it seemed interesting to me. As I checked out, a guy who was loading my items into the cart commented on how great the book was. I didn't have a lot of hope, but I gave it to Sean early, in November, anyway. I expected him to read the first chapter and put it down, never to read another page. That has been the fate of so many of his books.

But I encouraged him to finish it. Each evening I would tell him to read, and the next day I would ask him, with a mix of subdued excitement and quiet hope, "What's happening in the book, now?" Whatever he said, I expressed genuine interest. Whether he had read one page, or ten, I let him know that I was interested in what was going to happen next.

And finally, once I was certain he was enjoying the book, I decided we needed to come up with a deadline. I've avoided forcing him to read, because I felt that was what killed his love for reading in the first place. But now that he's getting older, and we're in the middle of Middle School, I told him he has to get used to having assignments and deadlines for completing them.

He took the book with him when he went to visit a friend, and although he didn't read it that weekend, he shared it with the friend and his mom. He has also talked about it to a friend he has on Xbox Live, who lives in Canada. And GLORY Halleluiah! that kid is a reader, and has recommended a book called, "The Hatchet." He talked about how he has 79 books on his book shelf, and it seems to have reignited Sean's interest in books.

I was so pleased with the way he understood the nuances of the book, and made connections with the metaphors for life. I knew nothing about the book when I bought it, and I realize now that it's probably not something a typical 13 year old would be expected to read. But I'm glad I didn't know, because Sean totally got it. And I didn't use any pre-fab lesson plan, nor did I require him to make notes and answer a bunch of questions about it. That's the quickest way to ruin a book for me. I think he liked the book so much because I asked him to retell it to me every day, and he understood it so well because he had to explain so much to me because I've never read it.

Here's what I did do in order to engage him a little more: I suggested that he pretend he is a book publisher, and Paulo Coelho, the author, has submitted the book to him, asking for it to be published. He liked the book, so I said, "Now, you need to write a summary of the book that you believe will entice people to want to buy it, because if they buy it, it means money for you, and for Paulo."

In addition to this, I asked him to pretend he is a movie producer, and has decided to make the book into a movie.
He carefully wrote down each character, a description of them, and then the actor or actress he would choose to play each role. He found photos of them online, printed them and cut them to size, and created this movie poster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Black History Month and a Professor

My husband sent me a text today letting me know that a professor would be speaking at a forum in our community tonight. The description I received said the talk would be about police and minority relations in the wake of Ferguson, Missouri unrest.

So, today I asked Sean to do some research on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. He read about Michael Brown, and the protests, and the decision not to indict the police officer, online, and he took some notes. Grudgingly. And then I asked him to look for information about Tamir Rice. The information he gathered on Tamir Rice included surveillance video of that shooting. It was so heartbreaking that it took my breath away to watch it. No sound, just footage.

After watching that video, we discussed the tragedy. A boy, alone at a park, goofing off with a pellet gun, or an Airsoft gun, or something that was not a real gun. (Sean and I both wonder if the term 'pellet' is correct. There is a difference.) And this is something that boys do. Almost every one of Sean's friends has a similar gun. Though they aren't what I would call toys, they are also not real guns. Sean surmised that Tamir Rice could have been holding a Coke can, and the results would be the same. A dead 12 year old. One year younger than Sean is right now.

(I remember when it happened, and how sickened, worried, and sorrowful I was. I cannot imagine that mother's grief and pain.)

He clicked on an editorial by a former police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, which revealed a deep problem of racial discrimination, and violation of civil rights by police officers there. That former police officer called for not only reforms in police training, but accountability. He said the problem is that police officers know they won't be held accountable. At worst, they get put on paid leave, something he said they call a free vacation. So, until we start to demand that they be held to a higher standard of conduct, with clear consequences, nothing will change.
Here's a link to that article:

Tonight we listened as Dr. Dexter Gordon, professor and Director of African American Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound, talked about these and other issues surrounding race, education, and poverty.
Though there were no clear quick fixes to the problems, the answer seems to be to continue the fight to change people's perceptions. Provide equal access to education and opportunities, and find ways to combat poverty.

And for me, the answer is to keep on doing what I'm doing. Keep exposing Sean to new experiences, provide him with as many examples of people of color in positions of authority and success as possible. Sacrifice, and do whatever it takes to give him opportunities, like piano lessons, and summer camps. And all of this will help him gain access to his goals.

But somehow, some way, I have to steel myself for the inevitable reality. My son will most likely have negative police interactions, and it won't matter if he has NOT broken the law. Unless you are black, or the parent of a black or brown child, you can't understand this.

I know some of my friends don't believe this. It is real. It is the reality of black and brown people. You can try to explain it away all you want, but if this started happening to white people, if we were pulled over for making eye contact with an officer, or assumed to be breaking into our own homes, and arrested or pepper sprayed for it, this crap would stop. White people would take to the streets, they'd be mad, demand that the Mayor, or the Police Chief, or SOMEBODY, do something to change it.
And yet when black people get angry and take to the streets demanding change, we call them names. White people start throwing out labels like "thug," and say things like, "the best way to not get killed by cops is to obey the law." But the laws, last time I checked, were put in place to ensure that we are all presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I am no expert on the law, but I've never heard about cops having the right to gun down unarmed people on suspicion of guilt. Their job is to make arrests, and only if there is cause, and then WE, the PEOPLE, get to decide if they are guilty.

Unless you are a person of color, I guess.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Harvard Professor Jailed; Officer Is Accused of Bias

N.C. Police pepper spray black teen in his own home

Ohio Cop Pulls Over Black Man Who 'Made Direct Eye Contact' With Him

But we have to keep moving forward, and one by one, step by step, work to make the world a better place for all of us.
And in the coming days, we will look closer at the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and see how much we think has changed since his I Have A Dream speech.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Black History Month and Poetry

Each year during Black History Month we highlight someone in history. Of course Martin Luther King, Jr. is a go-to, because he was such an amazing leader. We've also studied Rosa Parks, and a few others.

This year I brought home one book on Martin Luther King, Jr. from the library during his birthday week, and I also found a book of poetry by Langston Hughes, "Poetry for Young People."

Sean read most of the poems today, aloud, while I drove him to PE at the Y. I could tell he was enjoying them. He has always appreciated poetry. One of the poems, "My People" includes an editor's note explaining how Hughes clashed with his father, who had a negative attitude about Negroes. Sean and I discussed why his father might have felt that way. We didn't have a good answer.

When we were finally home, he sort of wandered around the house. I let him, and didn't ask him to do school work, or anything at all. I recognize his pacing. It means he is thinking, and trying to decide what to work on. I believe this is an important process, and should not be interrupted. I also know how important that time can be, because I used to do it every day as a newspaper reporter. To the outsider it looks like you are procrastinating, wasting time, goofing off. For the creative person, it's invaluable time. I was formulating a lead paragraph, recalling all of the standout quotes, and thinking, thinking, thinking. When I was ready, I could sit down at the computer and put together my story. Of course, at a newspaper this whole process has to happen within a very small window of time.

Luckily, we don't have to do it so quickly. After about 30 minutes, he asked for the book of poems. And within about 30 more minutes, he came out of his room. He had chosen a favorite poem from the book, and written about it, and Langston Hughes, in his history composition book.