This weekend was a wonderful treat. Joe and Kiddo took off for a Cub Scout camping trip and of course, I had to stay home and take care of Milton and Sally Lou. Well, maybe I didn't really have to, but after a few months of homeschooling, it's been great to take a break alone. It was a weekend to visit with friends and relive some of my old life, BC. (You know, Before Child.) My ventures out were delicious and provided me with great conversations with dear friends and food for both sustenance and thought. One friend has her PhD and we always end up having discussions about life and the choices we make in how we live. She mentioned an instruction in the practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, namely the idea that one should plan, each day, one activity which brings the self joy. Ideally, once a day for the person and 2-3 times a week for the family.
Finding joy for a family isn't an easy task, but I do consider this as I sit down to plan the coming week's lessons. One of the very real challenges of homeschooling is building in time to just be and enjoy each other, enjoy the moment. It's all too easy to do school and, at the end of the day, not have a lot left. My goal for each day is about four activities and to keep balance. So, we do things like walking over to the park (fulfilling PE requirement as we go) to do a survey of colors of dogs: "out of all of the dogs we encounter on our walk, how many are white, or tan, or black and white, etc" and then using that information to solve math questions and make a graph. I try to incorporate as much real life in his arithmetic as possible, and if we are being truly honest, I sort of geek out on creating these activities.
But I digress... as I was saying, planning joy into one's day is easier said than done. So, I look for times when he solicits me for my company in what he's doing. Sometimes, we can plan some daytime 'joy' together. No longer constrained by the school calendar, I can do what I damn well please. A couple of weeks ago there was a painting at the Portland Art Museum I really wanted to see before it left. It was a huge painting of cats. Because I used to be a preschool teacher, I suppose I am in the habit of curious observation. It was just as much fun for me to see what interested him (the glass art was the big deal this time) as it was to see the art itself. We had packed a picnic lunch already, yet the Farmer's Market called us and we took time to get a few treats and that night's dinner. He practiced finding the totals for items he wanted (all in his head), what sort of change would he get back on a three dollar item with a five dollar bill, and he practiced doing those transactions on his own. After that, we hit the library and he read for the rest of the afternoon.
This is not a kid who needs to be forced to read.
In fact, I often build our days with little scheduled reading time for him. I start our morning reading aloud to him, and we do also read as we research bats (our bee unit is complete for now; we'll move back to that when we harvest the bees this fall) or look up affixes. Hazel Philosophy here: I love words and the best gift I can give my son is that regard is the tools to decoding language. Prefixes and suffixes are a big part of our summer schooling time... we handle the root words in the moment as the initial word comes up, however, a knowledge of affixes can get you partway there. (This, by the way, is an extension of our Greek mythology study-- many affixes were given to us by the ancient Greeks). With math we work on one new skill a day and review some other, previously-learned ones as well.
Yet, what he also is learning isn't straighforwardly academic. One of the concerns I had regarding conventional school is that he wasn't being given much room to think for himself. Now, I'm not saying this is true for every kid, but a bright little boy with slow processing abilities needs more time to get to the same answer than most of his peers. It also takes longer to learn and understand new skills and techniques, especially for computation and composition. Along with finding a well-scaffolded writing program for him, what has worked for us is going at a slower pace in introducing new information and being able to present information in multiple forms. I would wager my favorite pair of shoes that one big reason kids 'goof off' at school or aren't attentive is that they don't understand the assignment or what they are supposed to do. The hurried teacher in a larger class may often tell the student to ask a friend or three before asking for help, which is nice in theory, but in practice, some students will think you are bugging them, some students may not undersatnd how to explain the process/instructions and by time we get to number three, I'm sure the student feels daunted and, if we are being honest, probably not great about him or her self as a learner. So, instead of risking more frustration, the child sits at their seat and plays around, does other things, lets themselves be distracted or becomes a distraction.
The end result of this is that the student falls into a habit of not completing work without adult prodding.Thus, one absolute I have for our school is that we complete what we start. At public school, without help to organize himself and get going at school, a lot of work didn't get done, was misplaced or not handed in. I needed a way to help my son help himself; school really did not help him with was time management and admittedly, that would have been hard. He is easily distracted as it is and loves to be with his buddies. Keeping him on task is a lot to ask of any teacher; it's something he has to learn himself.
This means, contrary to popular thinking, that I have to give him control over this. Each morning he has a checklist to complete. Everything is on there, not just learning. He's more involved in helping with daily chores now that I have more time to teach him. Some things--like the oddly folded-but-still-neat clothes-- I let him do his way. Some things, well, you have to do them my way because my way is the right way. (Don't tell me you don't think this too. Of course you do. The Queen of the Castle likes the towels folded a certain way after she's washed them.) Life means doing basic tasks for one's survival. In some families, this means milking cow at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. In our family, it means soaking your dishes after you eat from them, or you know Mom is going to make you wash that crusty oatmeal bowl yourself. Managing his time is his new skill to learn. I allow media time at 3:30, not a minute earlier. That said, I tell him each day "Look at your list. I'm available for instruction until 3, and then you have to work independently." Frankly, I got tired of trying to coax him away from what he was doing--you know, the fun thing-- and being the heavy. So now, he has to be the heavy on himself. No media time until the list is complete. This is where the emphasis on completing work comes in. If it's not done, it's not done.
He is finding different ways to manage this. One afternoon he asked to work for ten minutes and take a break for ten minutes. He found the material demanding and needed to take the breaks, but when he came back, he worked the entire time before the next break. Finding ways for learning or work to be doable for each of us is a life skill. As an adult I have worked at some jobs which were not particularly engaging or demanding, but you have to work to eat, so I did it with my headphones on. Finding ways to endure either tedium or demands is a good coping skill to have in one's back pocket. I hand this responsibility to him knowing he's going to have bumps and failures. We've done well so far, and I know there will also be a day he goes on strike and will be sad when the end of the day rolls around and he can't play his beloved Minecraft. We've created a situation which can motivate while being emotionally safe enough that he's not devastated. Will there likely be tears? Yep. And tears are okay. Often, they are instructive and teach us not to repeat mistakes.
Will we one day return to public school? I cannot say for certain. What I do want, though, is time and situations for him where failure is not penalized, but a learning tool. It's a fact of life that one must complete one's work before leisure and that time commitments have to be met. Better to learn that now than in high school or adulthood, right?
We keep on together, in this dance where he is learning about real life and I am learning as a teacher and we are learning about each other. I've been touched recently at a new level of consideration he has shown for me. Kiddo's perception of himself as a learner is improving, and that is worth every minute of work on my part. Knowing that he can learn, he wants to learn more. His questions become deeper. I am enjoying this time with him, knowing that it is a moment in life which we will grow beyond and leave in the past. Today, rather philosophically, my friend stated "well, if managing his time is all he learns, then that's what he needed to learn." Truer words could not have been spoken, but he-- and I-- are learning more. So much more.