Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Excitement Builds

I can already see a big difference in Sean. It's as if a weight has been lifted, and he seems eager to learn again. He has found a new excitement for learning.

We visited a tutoring place a couple of weeks ago, and while we sat there for more than an hour I was thinking it could probably work. But I realized once I was home and thought back on the conversation with the tutor that I was trying to force it to work.

I talked to Sean about it, and told him I think we should look for another option. He was very grown up about it and explained that he really thought it was a waste of time and money because he thought it was stuff I could do with him here.

I'm no math teacher. I am not confident enough in my own abilities to teach it. So I knew we would need to find someone to help.

My next option became the best one. We visited Sean's old private school and talked with an Upper El teacher there who has a background in math. He seems really great, and has a wonderful energy and disposition. I instantly liked him, and felt he was a great fit for Sean and his personality. The guy is young, likes the outdoors, was totally encouraging about homeschooling, and lives not far from us.

Sean was there for our initial conversation, and is eager to begin his math instruction with Mr. Peterson. That will begin in a couple of weeks.

He loves observing animals in their natural habitat, so he has been doing a lot of that this summer. It's something he has been doing since he was very small, and I share in his wonder and excitement over a newly discovered type of bee on our flowers, or his explanation of how a bird common to our property uses its wings.

His natural curiosity seems to have taught him a lot. I can tell that I am already fighting the urge to be a "school" at home. I look at other blogs of homeschoolers and they have school rooms, and for a moment I feel guilty, like I'm not doing enough. But then I don't, and I've decided that at this age we really don't need a school room. I think we will be much more like scientists who decide on a topic of interest and do the research and present it, or go out into the field and come back and document our observations.

I've been reading a ton of information about Montessori at this stage of development, and also I've been reading some unschooling blogs and information. I think we will be somewhere in the middle, and that Montessori is unschooling with guidance.

I've decided we will have a very soft start to schooling, led by Sean, and with minimal intervention from me. Instead of making it a big deal, and structured like school, I plan to just begin some habits that will be part of our day.

We have animals that need feeding, eggs that need gathering, plants that need weeding and pruning and watering (until the rains begin) and some other practical life chores that need doing.

I'll use our curriculum as a guide, and come up with ways to encourage him to explore the areas I know we should be focusing on this year.

I've gone through a lot of school papers from Sean's time at school to see if there was anything I could save and use this year. I found a few things, like some spelling homework that I will reuse in a totally different way.

I found some really valuable information on the five great lessons, and will definitely put that to good use. And I found some pages that weren't used for some of his journaling and such that will make good templates for field studies and some other work.

We've signed up for fall education camps through our YMCA, and will have a family campout in October.

We are looking for a piano teacher, because that is the instrument Sean has chosen for now.

The principal at the school invited us to participate in any way we would like on a part-time basis. We are trying to decide what that would look like for us and if it will work.

I'm formulating some ideas for goals I'd like to see Sean achieve this year.  I will sit down with him and ask him to write down his goals first, to see if any of mine are the same as his. Then we'll discuss if my goals could be incorporated into his, and what the pros and cons would be to doing that.

We are very excited, and ready to get started!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back-to-Home Time

It's that time of year here in the Pacific Northwest. Back to school. Our friends in the South have already begun their 2013-14 school year, and we are soaking up every second of sunshine and carefree summer days.

Sean chopping wood.
I've been away from this blog for a very long time. Although we were still a Montessori family, we had found a public Montessori school. That meant a free Montessori education for Sean, and I was all for that. So from 2009 through last school year of 2013, I wasn't posting a lot. In fact, in 2011 life got so busy with everything I was doing that my last post was that year.

Sean experienced the most amazing Montessori community while he was in second and third grade at the public Montessori school. Even though each year meant a new school building.

We started in the original building that had housed students for decades. That first year was so much fun, and so warm and inviting. Sean loved his teacher, Ms. Diamond, and so did I. I got to know the staff, and worked closely with some amazing parents, and the principal.

I was fortunate to be involved in steering the school those first couple of years as a member and chair of the site council.

We did great work, including selection of the interior for the new school, and applying for a waiver from the district math curriculum. Those early days of the new Montessori school demanded a lot of time and work!

Our second year at the public Montessori was at a different building. We were moved to a vacant school building while the new school was being constructed. What exciting times!!

Sean had the same teacher for his third year, and I was so happy about that.
Ms. Diamond cultivated a real community in her classroom. All children were accepted and celebrated by being included as an important member of that classroom community. That included the children who were not yet peaceful. I learned so much from her.

Last year was our first year at the new building. It is a beautiful structure, and it has some amazing resources within those hallways. That includes staff and volunteers.

I was the volunteer coordinator last year, and I loved the job. It was part-time, and I worked hard to create a system that would celebrate volunteerism, and yet ensure that our students were kept safe and respected. I will miss the job, and the staff and parents a lot.

They say all good things must come to an end, but I don't believe that. I believe that all good things must change in order to continue to be good.

We had a rough start for 4th grade. Very rough. Sean doesn't transition well anyway, and 4th grade was a whole new ballgame. There were so many things about Upper El that were so different, and the transition was not smooth. By November I had him moved to another classroom.

Although things got somewhat better as the year went on, it wasn't what I had hoped it would be.
Our commute to this school was a doozy. I was more than willing to do it in order to give Sean the education I wanted him to have. But he wasn't happy, and most days it was a struggle to get him to school.

I talked with my husband about this many times, and he encouraged me to just bring him home and do homeschool. The commute is difficult, the job doesn't pay much, and the most important thing was that Sean wasn't happy. I was watching the spark leave him. He had a couple of times in second and third grade when he mentioned that he didn't like school, and I quickly intervened and let Ms. Diamond know as well. We were both able to make headway and get him back on track. (She really is amazing, and I wish there were more teachers like her.)

I think it was the system that wasn't working for him. And in fourth grade I think it did him in. He wasn't interested in anything--said he was done with school. When I asked him what he would study if he had his choice of anything in the world, he said, "Nothing. I'd just play all day." If you could make your own schedule and study what you like, what would you do, I asked again. "I'd figure out how to play more and work less," he said.

That told me two things. First, that he needed more play time. It was so sad to me. He is growing so fast, and it won't be long before he won't even be interested in playing anymore.
The second thing it told me was that he had changed the way he looked at learning and it wasn't fun anymore. He had gone from a curious boy who loved to read books about snakes and spiders, and learn about science and geography and cultures and history, the arts, and the oceans and sea life, to a kid who didn't want any part of any of that.


What are our schools doing to our boys? I would say kids, but really, what I saw every day was what it was doing to our boys. I worked in the office, so I watched each day as Upper El boys were lined up against a wall at recess and had to stand and watch as the others played. They had gotten into some kind of trouble that day, and one day I think I counted 15 boys. No girls. All boys.

And yes, Sean was one of them. Because he didn't get his work done in a timely manner. And I know he is slower, and needs to focus more, and all of that. But I knew we had to make a change when he said to me, "No matter how hard I try it isn't good enough. So I'm just not going to do anything." I decided this system was not serving him.

Truly, if we lived in the school neighborhood and didn't have to commute, I'd probably be trying to find a way to keep him at that school. It really is the best public option. But it just no longer works for us.

I know there is a camp out there that believes we are supposed to force our kids to go to school and learn--that it is their job to go to school and learn. And I believe children need to learn, but I also believe they have an inner drive to learn if we get out of their way and allow them to do so.

But I DON'T believe it is a good idea to force them. I believe that is a recipe for a dropout. When people are forced to do something, they do it, and they look for any opportunity to not have to do it anymore. That comes in high school, when they are no longer required to attend school.

And so we are getting ready for Back-to-Home. I'm busy getting our curriculum put together, looking for homeschooling groups to join, and fun activities, too.

I'll be posting our experiences here as often as possible.

Here's to a great home year, everyone!~