Be a Fly on the Wall in a Homeschool Family Life, Part 2

(This interview is a continuation of a conversation with a registered homeschool friend who recently transitioned from Distributed Learning to Registered Homeschooling in the Province of British Columbia).

So the way that you’re suggesting you educate a child is to follow their interests. If you follow their interests, you might not cover everything that the school system covers. Are you worried about that?

No. Not at all.

No Barbara Walters, and you will not make me cry.

No, I’m not, because content in science and content in socials can be covered at any age and at any time and if they do show an interest, they will pick that up.

It’s the foundations they teach in school that I do think that they have the advantage over me–because they’re very good at instilling very early language skills and very early math skills. It’s something that schools do very well. Good educators do great work in schools. But those are skills and skills can be worked on and built. In their time, each of my children have grown in those areas.

But content–I was always resistant to the timeline prescribed in the learning outcomes for science or social studies. In my mind, those topics can be covered whenever and to whatever depth you want. Timing doesn’t matter – in fact I would go further and say that the piecemeal approach to science and social studies in the provincial learning outcomes hinders learning because it seldom gets placed in a broad perspective.  It is a series of bits of information that gives little overarching context.

Be a Fly on the wall in a homeschool family

I let my kids plan what they want to learn about in the beginning of the year. But I’ve now come to the place that twice a week they do history and twice a week they do science. And the next week, I choose what we’re going to do for the following week in history and science. So there’s a mix of both.

Mostly it’s them choosing, especially at this time of year (March). One of my girls has the Apologia Zoology book, and its advanced reading for her age, but she gets it and she loves it, but when she gets tired of it, I want her to keep going because I want her to finish what she started so she learns it’s important that you finish what you start…but it’s a big book. How do you approach that…do you let them move on to a different topic or what do you do?

Because it’s my first year being registered I haven’t found my pattern yet. Part of this year is just taking a deep breath, finding our pace and setting up the basics. We do math, we do reading, we do writing every day in the morning. And then the afternoons we read together–we read the Story of Canada, that’s our history for this year. But they also watch Horrible Histories where they’re exposed to Ancient Greece and everything up to WW2. So they’re learning it in a smattering, crazy way but they’re picking up a lot of history, a world understanding of history.

In science, I let it go out the window this year because we were heavy in science for many years.

We sound like we have very similar households. Do you feel like they’re absorbing it, like they’re enjoying it?

When they ask for it, I know they’re enjoying it. When they’re picking up their books and saying, “No, no, it’s eleven o’clock–drop your stuff and grab your books and read,” I know they’re engaged in it. I never set timers. The only thing we struggle with is math first thing in the morning and that is the one to get them started. It’s the one they’re going to fight with.  That’s why I actually put it first.

Everyone reads, for a full hour, even Solomon.  That’s a big change from last year. I would spend two hours trying to get him to do a writing assignment last year…two hours to get him to write a sentence because he was just so distracted and off topic.

Do you think he wasn’t ready for writing?

It’s partly that. We’re still looking at having him tested for ADHD. With his tendencies, it’s a possibility. But it’s also the tendency with ADHD if they are not interested, then trying to force them into it is all the more distracting. It wasn’t learning. It was forcing him to write something down.

Why do you think people are enrolled? Is it the funding?

No, I think it’s the perception of safety. The idea that you have someone looking out for you. What I hear from a lot of people is that if they were to register, they worry that they probably wouldn’t do enough. But that’s assuming that people are organizing it for you.

I think it’s distrusting yourself too. We’ve been taught that “they” know best. “The teachers know best, the school system knows best, I can’t possibly know what’s good for my kid.” So we’re scared of wrecking or ruining them or their future.

I bought this story, I believed it despite my choice to homeschool – I still wrestle with it and it is why I chose to be enrolled for so many years.  It seemed to validate my choice, placing it closer to the “right way” to school my kids.  But my rebellious (or non-conformist?) inner self had different ideas and it is these ideas which now guide our path (insert maniacal laugh here).

We are creatures of the norm and to break away from it and trust ourselves is hard when so many live with societal and cultural pressure every day.

I actually feel I have to back off from my kids. So they didn’t get a hundred percent on their Latin test…most kids aren’t exposed to Latin at all. So what is the big deal? I have to tell myself to back off.

True, I know the kids would probably like it if I didn’t turn every outing into a “learning experience”.  It is important to turn the teacher mode off and just enjoy the moments as a family.

It is also why I choose not to “volunteer” to teach other things, like Sunday School or Awana classes.  My kids need to not have me around at times.

Do you feel more responsible being a registered homeschooler?

I think I’ve always felt the same. I don’t think it’s different. I have always been keenly aware that I have taken on the education of my children.

Being enrolled meant I chose to adhere to a set framework of learning outcomes but at the end of the day any teaching that happened in our home comes down to me.

Scary, hair-raising stuff, but still I get up every day and do it and usually without complaint.  I do fear that one day down the road, if one of my children will come up to me and ask me why I chose to ruin their life, but again, it isn’t enough to dissuade me.

On a practical level, being registered has actually brought learning into balance overall and I am more at peace with how the kids are learning.

Math is a great example. When enrolled, you have new learning outcomes for math every year. And if a child missing anything, you really don’t have time to go over that and make sure they’re keeping up because I worried about falling too far behind.

So I don’t have time for them to be slow. They need to stay on course every year.

And it’s the same in the school system, a child will have to keep going even if he/she is not getting it. The system has to keep moving them along down the line. Ones who are behind don’t know what they need to know but you’ve denied them the ability to catch up. For the most part, math is a skill that can be learned over time. It’s not a magic, “you know math and you don’t know math.” It’s like a language.  So if you have to take more time or go over again, you should be able to do that. So this year, I have stopped evaluating where they are and where their weaknesses are. We did Khan Academy and they did a check to see where their skills are and now we know where they need to go back and keep working on those skills.

It makes sense to me why they put ‘en masse’ kids from the same age into the same grade and decide that there are certain things that they’re going to learn. But it isn’t actually beneficial to the individual child, just because it works for the system.

It’s the best system we have for en masse education. Having the option to not follow en masse education is also nice.

I’m curious then, do you test?

No I don’t. I only test for assessment, not for knowledge. Because I really don’t see the point. I don’t have to have a way of comparing them to everyone else. And that is what most tests are designed for in school. You have to give kids a grade. Tests are a way to accumulate data in order to base a grade. But it’s not a test of knowledge. So the only reason I do testing is to see where their skills are so we can work on the skills that are weaker.

We did the foundation skills (standardized testing) with Emma in Grade 4, and again, at that point, we were enrolled, because I wanted to know if I did know my kid as well as I thought I did. She came back where we thought she was. We did it again with Sophie. Her marks actually surprised me. They came out much higher than I had given her credit for.

But all they really tell you is whether or not your child is below average, average, or above average. I don’t care what percentile she’s in. 85th or whatever, I want to know what she’s missing, what does she need?  That’s all I would really be concerned about with testing.

How do you feel about high school or post-secondary school? No pressure, but now you have to determine your child’s future, right now. No, just your thoughts…

It depends on the kid. It’s an by individual case basis. Because we have one who would be very comfortable in post-secondary and it wouldn’t be surprising one bit if she did, but is it my vision that they all go? No. I want to take into account what they want to do.

My biggest goal for them is that they want to find jobs or careers that meet their lifestyle, something that incorporates into their life, rather than be their life. Partly my motivation for that is that I did go to university and got my teaching degree: I was going to be a teacher.  It defined my future happiness as being a teacher, or so I thought.

I had not considered the possibility of how my perspective would change when I married and had children. I had no vision beyond the degree. So when I did choose to stay home and then homeschool, I gave up all that had gone before — ironically I don’t want it back either. But I have missed having some purpose which is separate from being mom and wife. I want my kids, I perhaps think mostly of the girls here, to pursue something they don’t have to “give up” as their life progress. I want them all to have as much of a fully integrated life as possible. Oh, and to be happy, successful and kind people, first and foremost.

Part one of this conversation is found here.

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