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.