As I read American homeschool blogs, I notice a flurry of homeschool planning and back to school stories. Canadians typically have their first school day after the September labour day weekend. The schoolchildren from our province probably won’t be attending even in September, since the collective teacher’s association is on strike. Maybe they’ll see a classroom by October.
Since my family is not bound by provincial outcomes or guidelines, we don’t follow conventional school schedules. No, I don’t make it up on the fly, but I certainly don’t follow the system or its schedule to determine my choices just because everyone else is doing it.
I am often asked about this, and that if we’re also not following the school curriculum, where do we find curriculum.
Naturally I wondered the same thing once upon a time.
Our schedule is defined by our family’s rhythm. We often take a month in autumn to travel, volunteer or vacation. There are other conferences my husband does that enable a trip for the rest of us. I find it hard to reign in energies a couple weeks before Christmas, family birthdays turn into holidays, and since there’s so much to do outside in May, we direct our energies toward botany (gardening & nature drawing) and weather study (just a good excuse to use outdoor activity in science). July and August there are just too many summer camps to ignore.
As for curriculum, our world is filled with books and printed words are for sale everywhere. Textbooks, workbooks, novels and well, you name it, someone wants me to buy something. Curriculum fairs abound and websites love to let you know where to buy your curriculum. In the first year, I overbought, assuming we were able to cover more than we actually could. Every year for the last five or six, I have bought less and less, sometimes relying on last year’s purchases and sometimes even just using my library card.
Even our oldest daughter eagerly responds when asked about her next year’s curriculum choices: “I don’t want to get curriculum that I don’t want“. She knows that I will expect her to follow through with the use of her purchase. She also knows that I am attempting to discover how she learns and I want her to take responsibility in choosing wise resources. I anticipate engaged learners, and when one of the kids choose something they like to do, or a topic they are interested in, they are also engaged. Their attention is full and present.
Yes, there are some wasted resources. Not everything she thinks she’ll use, does she enjoy. But together, each child and I study the resources, and over the years, continue to study their learning styles. Do they prefer reading history independently? (one of them does, the others like reading with me) Or filling in prettily coloured worksheets? (only one of them does, and he isn’t the youngest) Can I incorporate a kinesthetic activity like wikisticks into learning to read? (yes, for the youngest, not required for the others) Will that national geographic chemistry set be used (yes, it was, and adored, so I bought a similar one for a different child). Does apologia’s curriculum cover depth (yes!) but sometimes feel like there might be too much detail on underseas studies for an eleven year old (it did mine). Every year is a lesson in learning my child.
When I think back to school, I think back to my girlhood, tucking my new outfits into a bunkbed drawer that I wasn’t allowed to use until the first day of school…I still have that blue plaid two button shirt. I also think fresh school supplies. Another box of non-broken crayons and a package of those smelly markers. I think of important grade-specific supply lists. All fun memories.
Now that I’ve collected six hundred and fifty two broken crayons (no I didn’t count, but I’m really, really sure I’m close) and purchased oodles of white erasers that seem to only resurface under the sofa cushions, and it’s just the eight Crayola markers that get dried right out by the end of the ‘year’, I no longer do the Zellers school supply trip. And I purchase clothing based on season and need, not on latest style (though my girls generally apprise me of style).
If I thought of an education as solely ‘in the classroom’, or ‘textbook driven’, or ‘test proven’, or ‘teacher taught’, I might follow the system, might follow its schedule or purchase its curriculum. An education includes academics, of course, learning theoretical stuff, but the sky’s the limit to what we could know…Google is called google for a reason, and it might contain the content of human knowledge (and obviously doesn’t, cause we’re always learning new things), but have we got a fantastic education just because we can outstrip wikipedia? An education is learning how to live this life well, balancing work and play, nurturing a communal spirit, developing self-discipline, character and work ethic.
I’ll still plan a back to school party–it’s just plain fun! We’ll decorate cupcakes into frosted apples (tradition!), we’ll do a summer show & tell, maybe even write a ‘what I did this summer’ report. We’ll take a class photo (curiously, I have many of these in our family photo albums), they’ll sit beautiful in a new fall outfit with a black chalkboard declaring their grade (this will be the only time I’ll remember their grade all year), we might even do a scavenger hunt for school supplies and they’ll see a box of Smarties at the bottom…cause they’re my little Smarties.
In the meantime, we have stuff to learn…there’s a paddling camp next week…time to learn canoeing, kayaking and stand-up boarding; then there’s a sailing camp after that, swim lessons and world drums, choir and a musical theatre presentation too. Life is learning.
“There isn’t a right way to become educated, there are as many ways as there are fingerprints“. John Taylor Gatto