Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Rhythms *and* Homeschooling in California

We are still trying to find our groove in the area of focused learning.  What can an Enki (non-radical) unschooling mama do when her boys say they want real lessons?  I can't make them understand the philosophy, nor can I make them see that unschooling is working in their lives, and always has.  No, my responsibility is to meet their needs, and it is very clear that they want more.

You my recall that we had tried to return to Enki-style lessons not that long ago.  While the boys loved the structure, we were once again falling flat with the content, which means we all lost interest pretty quickly.  It's easy to burn out when we aren't loving it.

Perhaps part of the issue is that we have always been tidal schoolers more than unschoolers.  We move into focused learning, and then we expand and let what we've worked on sleep while we pursue other interests and learn that way.  This pushing and pulling exists mostly because I am more of an unschooler, and my boys like schedules and workbooks and whatever else it is that says learning to them.  It also has come into play as we've dealt with illness and loss.

Finally, after J-Baby told the cashier at a local store that I don't have time to teach him (obviously he can't wrap his head around the concept of unschooling), I racked my brain and tried to come up with something that I thought might work: combining Enki philosophy with Charlotte Mason methodology.  The way I figure it, the boys' needs are met by the short, focused lessons, I choose what to bring to them using my Enki background, and we have lots of time left over for unschooling.

Right now I am pulling it all together on the fly.  It's more CM than Enki; I'm using a booklist derived from the Ambleside Online curriculum, edited by a group of secular CM homeschoolers.  Some of our resources are from the classical homeschooling movement, some are from Enki, some are rather mainstream.

One of my goals is to maintain the rich multiculturalism of Enki, as well as the focus of us as human beings rather than people of times and places being other.  Most of the AO booklist has a decidedly British/European focus, with American history thrown in for good measure.  I find this especially true when it comes to studying composers, artists, and poets.  So really, I am looking more at the structure and methodology of CM rather than the content.

We are doing some remediation.  The boys can't print very well, and it bothers Papa, and it is starting to bother T-Guy.  So we're going to use Handwriting Without Tears along with copywork.  This seems to be a skill area that we've gone backward in; the boys were printing rather well for their age when we were doing grade 1 with Christopherus and later Enki.  Given the penmanship of many adults I know who do all of their writing via typing rather than print, it seems to be a use-it-or-lose-it skill.

We're also going to focus on bringing written math to the boys.  They are both great with math, and J-Baby in particular seems to be gifted with intuitive math ability.  Now that he is 8 we're going to place more focus on what we consider to be the language of mathematics.  We'll be using Miquon Math and lots of manipulatives.  I chose the math lab materials because I want the bulk of our math learning to be experiential, and to focus on developmental-mastery.

I'd love to take a break over the summer, but we've had a lot of "break" time with the events of the past year, and I think that we should establish a good, healthy rhythm to carry us into the fall.  So for now, our mornings (at least the "academic" portion) looks something like this:

History or Literature reading (alternates for now)
Math work
Daily focus: Art history (M), poetry (T), music history (W), and Shakespeare (TH)
Penmanship/Copywork
Natural History/Science reading
Phonics lesson

Unlike CM, we aren't doing narration right after the readings.  We are allowing a night of sleep before we reawaken what we've read.  It feels more intuitively correct, or more organic, in that as adults we often tell someone else about what we've read, but not the moment we finish reading it.  Typically, if we are reading it right then we stop and read it to them.  I suppose within CM this is a discipline issue, but my boys just don't get telling me exactly what I've just read to them (uh duh, I should know the story because I just read it!).  It make far more sense for them to tell Papa about it at a later time, or for us to revisit what we read before we start the next chapter.

For this spring/summer term we're mostly focusing on the rhythm, and on getting in as much medieval history as we can.  My plan is to approach history with a more classical approach than we have been via Enki and unschooling.  The boys have hit an age where history is fascinating to them, and I want to run with that.

My thought is to divide the "school year" into 3 -4 terms and still do cultural immersion as we have done with Enki, within the history spine.  We'll tie in art, music, crafts, poetry, etc.  The literature readings for the year can also fit in with cultural block.

It looks like so much when I write it all out. In reality, we're talking about approximately 2 hours of academic focus, 4 days a week.  Afternoons are free for community and nature adventures (which fall under academic content in a more experiential manner), as well as handwork, gardening, crafts, art, and music.  Papa will still be reading to the boys each night (more literature), as well as continue with their science exploration.

Because I am in California there are a seven subjects that we are required to teach at the primary level: English, Math, Social Science, Science, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and health.  The first five subjects are taken care of within the morning hours.  Physical education happens regularly around here with walks, bike riding, basketball, etc.  The boys participate in physical activity and learn the rules of various sports.  Health is also a continually visited subject; we cover hygiene, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, alternative/complementary healing, and more.

Actually, given the current homeschooling uncertainty here in California, I am feeling a bit more confident bringing focus to our academic learning.  I'm not sure what it is going to mean to homeschool in CA once the courts and legislators get done with it.  I'm almost 100% certain that the idea that homeschooling requires a parent with a teaching credential will get tossed out.  I have a feeling that ISPs, both private and public (including charter ISPs) will have to provide more oversight (which may prove problematic for private umbrella schools that have previously limited their involvement to record-keeping).  Those of us who choose the private school option, if it remains an option, may have to tweak how we've done things.   The affidavit is for "persons, firms, associations, partnerships, or corporations offering or conducting full-time day school at the elementary or high school level for students between the ages of 6 and 18 years".

Although the current court case involved parents using a private school ISP, all manners of homeschooling are now being examined.  For those who choose the private school option, the question seems to be, what constitutes a full-time day school?  Those who follow the philosophy of John Holt believe that our children are learning all of the time.  Will the state disagree?

My hope (and thus what I will be working toward) is that we can continue homeschooling CA as we always have, with the same choices and opportunities.  I believe that I have a parental right to educate my children as I see fit, and that within the current code I have the right to establish a private school in order to do just that.  If I have to change how I do things, I will.  If I have to log hours, or show progress, I'll find a way to do that.

One thing I do know is that this freedom I have, to change things, to refine our rhythm, to switch books and curricula mid-stream ~ it can only be seen as a plus.  I am creating education for my children based on their needs, and our needs as a family.  I don't teach them based on the needs of the government, businesses, or even what the state has determined to be the needs of the average student.  It's like making breastmilk; the education Papa and I provide our children is just for them.  There have to be alternatives, but nothing beats an education tailored to the specific needs of the individual child.  Even those parents who choose public school (or perhaps have no choice) would have a hard time arguing with that.

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