Monday, June 25, 2012

Where Time Goes

Another chunk of time has slipped by without a post, I see. And yet the days are so busy: I've discovered Gardener's World magazine, Max is writing high-school exams, Dominic and FDPG are deep in grade 5 angles (second time round and I STILL don't like them, lol, they seem so, well, so  pointless), and the garden is growing quite well considering the gloom that has been our June.

High school exams?

How did that happen? It just crept up on us all, home-high-schooler included.

This morning Max and I walked down to the local high school so he could write the grade 10 English exam with other grade 10s (this is the way distance learning schools operate here). We walked through the crush of students on our way to the gym. I was surprised at the atmosphere, having mostly experienced some of these students at the tiny shopping centre adjacent to the high school. That crowd, the kind that buys slices of pizza from the pizza shop and tankers of pop from the grocery store, defines the word INSOLENT perfectly: they loiter in the middle of the outside walkways, are zealous swearers, and are obnoxiously oblivious to anyone outside their little gaggle of cronies. So I was prepared for some jostling but it was oddly genteel in that hallway. Even Max was surprised, which was even more surprising given the fact that he was preoccupied with the idea of taking his First Official Exam ever.

Watching him study for these exams gives rise to all sorts of reflective Homeschooling Parent Moments, mostly in the What Would I Do Differently? vein.

Did we do enough reading and writing? Well, he's quite a good writer but I wish that he'd done more reading. At one point during his adolescence we locked horns on the whole topic of reading, with him insisting that he was "just not a reader" (a little toss of the head thrown in for good measure). So, taking my cue from everyone who told me Pick Your Battles! I picked this as one of the battles I wasn't going to engage in; it soured the atmosphere and made us resent each other. When all was said and done, I thought, he was a good kid doing all his other work without any quibble. I decided not to stress about it. He'll come round, everyone said. I hope so, I thought. Instead, I assigned essays and the odd short story but left the topic of books alone. He did not come round. He read computer and music magazines, joke books, and all our Horrible History books, but not much else, unless, again, it was assigned. With two other kids to do school with I eventually forgot my angst. Then he signed up with a distance learning outfit and the first thing he had to do was read a few books. This gave rise to much hilarity: me finding it mildly cathartic; him feeling a bit OMG-ish, not to mention a tad sheepish. "I wish you'd made me read!" he said to me once, to which I replied "remember that phrase when we start calculus!"  Now he's discovering for himself why being a reader is so critical: it doesn't just help expand one's vocabulary - it also adds to one's depth of comprehension. Because, as I like to drone on and on tell the kids, "you can't learn in a vacuum!" If you don't read a lot of literature you don't get all those sideways tangents, meandering trails, and interesting perspectives (especially the ones that might differ from your own), especially the ones that come up time and time again in other places: books, newspaper articles, interviews, conversation, university courses. You also miss all those cultural references and touchstones that pop up - even if it's a minor Biblical reference in a Margaret Atwood novel - you miss it. We have some summer plans that include reading more, although if Richard gets his way there is a list of Recommended (by Dad) Classics hovering in the background.

Did we do enough math? Yes. Math is one of those areas where it's hard to overcome bad curriculum, a lack of comprehension, or a lack of practice quickly, particularly when faced with an unfamiliar textbook and a number of timed exams (not to mention being graded on them, eeks). For that we have Singapore Primary Math, Singapore Challenging Word Problems, Singapore Home Educator Manuals, and Chalkdust Math to thank (not to mention my friend Mrs Deeply Suburban). We couldn't have done it without you all. Come for tea sometime. I'll even serve cookies.

Would I do the classical route again? Yes, yes, and yes! All that poetry memorization, narration, word root study, and copywork, started early on, gave him a very solid grounding in listening carefully, grasping the meaning of unfamiliar words, writing clearly, and organizing his thoughts cogently, not to mention being a whiz at memorization. Plus, the chronological 'living books' history study gave him a decent understanding of what went on way back when and who invented what and why. He's learned that history is less a bunch of wars and heros and more a long and infinitely fascinating thread of people, times, and places. And no, we did not censor our history studies to cut out the nasty bits. Google 'bowdlerization' and you'll find out why I am firmly against the 'focus only on the positive' study of history. You're short-changing your children with that method, trust me.

Did we do enough? Well, yes and no. As anyone who homeschools their kids will know, it's hard enough being a parent, let alone being a parent AND an educator, and frequently those worlds collide, sometimes happily, other times unfortunately (give or take a little puberty, lack of sleep, additional siblings, broken appliances, or outside drama). Sometimes I let things go. Sometimes the other siblings needed more help. Sometimes we were sick. Sometimes I needed to see the latest Miyazaki movie more than I needed to know that they fully understood fractions. Give and take. Ebb and flow. Off and on. Use whatever metaphor applies best. Interestingly, while I was standing in the gym watching Max sign up for his exam, I felt pretty good about the last 8 years of homeschooling, despite its ups and downs: he's a really good person, he's helpful, he looks you in the eye when he talks to you, and he realizes the value of applied effort. He's also managed to get a series of straight As despite never having been graded before, too. In the long run that's really all I wanted out of this journey. A nice kid I was proud of. What's better than that?


Mrs. Deeply Suburban said...

You better serve cookies, honey!

Leila has had an extremely successful 9 months in school. But she's so exhausted when she gets home at 2:30 that she eats her noodles and naps until 5:30. So home life has suffered somewhat. I'm glad it's over for a couple of months.

And there's always gaps. Conventionally schooled kids have massive gaps. Don't worry, Leila's and Max's gaps pale in comparison.

sheila said...

LOL! Better bring Mr DS and some wine. That might be more fun, eh?

sheila said...

By the way, I think you're heading my way soon. Are we going to see you en route or are you headed to the big smoke?

Lisa said...

Thanks for the retrospective. Gives us hs'ing newbies encouragement!

sheila said...

Thanks Lisa, hopefully it's encouragement not to worry over everything, like I tend to do, lol!