In other news, we are still homeschooling...unschooling. I have implemented a few changes this fall, which are working out pretty well so far. The main changes are: A wee bit more structure to our days; and, for the first time in 2.5 years, I am using a little curriculum.
When I first cracked open a piece of curriculum with the kids a few weeks ago, it felt a little strange - we've gone so long without that it suddenly felt really formal to pull some out. I felt like clearing my throat and making some grand announcement that "...today we will be starting to make use of a little program that someone else prepared for us to use...it is called curriculum." I restrained myself, however, and simply made some mugs of tea to mark the occasion in my own brain. All that to say that it feels odd to me still. However, it seemed like the right time to introduce a few new things, and I've never been opposed to curriculum (in fact, I spent the first year longing for it because it makes life sooo much easier and more structured); it's just that I've just learned, slowly and painfully, that for the kids I have, I can't assume that curriculum will do a better job of teaching them than living life does.
One further little note about exactly that: Curriculum vs. living life. A few weeks ago, someone who worked a little with Matthew in June noted that he made some big developmental leaps over the course of the summer - in the way his thinking works and how much more advanced it is than just three months before. That startled and delighted me, because we'd done no curriculum-focused work whatsoever in the intervening months and yet his brain was clearly working on its own and cultivating new aptitudes and abilities that I, too, have been noticing. It is so fascinating and bewildering, and still such a surprise, somehow, that our kids simply do learn when their lives are full of experience and when their bodies and brains are ready to learn whatever it is that they need to know. I wonder and marvel at this constantly, and am slowly learning to trust and believe that what we're doing, and the way we're doing it, is really and truly working.
When we were at the very beginning of our homeschooling journey, I used to wonder (and feel anxious about) what our kids would be like some day. When I'd go to various homeschool events featuring older kids, teens mostly, I'd watch these super cool homeschooled kids who were older than my oldest by a good eight or nine years, and I'd wonder if my kids would ever be that awesome and cool and delightful and smart and creative, and all of those other things we see in other kids and long for in our own. Now, six or seven years later, I see my Matthew, not quite a teen, showing signs of being like those boys I watched so carefully five or six years ago. He's smart, philosophical, super creative, curious, shaggy haired, friendly and caring towards others (who are not his siblings!), and shows every sign of someday being one of those incredible teens I'd love my kids to be like. It's so amazing to see these things slowly working towards fruition, mostly by cultivating their natural interests and aptitudes and by attempting, with prayer and wisdom, to foster their inner spirit. Some days I can hardly wait to see what comes next for these crazy kids of mine. How thankful I am, most days, to be on this wild and uncontainable and messy journey we call homeschooling.
With that long pre-amble, here are a few things that we're doing this school year:
* I am working now with Seth and Lizzie on a simple learn-to-read program because I think they are finally ready for it. My dear Seth, with all of his issues over the past few years when nothing seemed to stick when it came to reading, is slowly starting to learn how to read; he's actually remembering things from day to day and week to week, and it is a huge joy to me to see him interested in and finally capable of learning how to read. The first 'short story' that he read on his own, about two weeks ago, was "See me eat." He was thrilled with himself! There were days when I wondered if this would ever happen. I'm so glad that we have been in a position of being able to wait until he was ready to make this huge leap of learning; and I hope and pray that this is Seth's year.
* All three kids are working a little more regularly on their printing. For Seth and Lizzie, this is going hand-in-hand with their learn-to-read program, and I'm taking it slow and easy with them both, so as not to frustrate them. Matthew loves writing me notes and little letters, and so I'm using this as an opportunity to work on printing.
* Matthew, though a reader, is not a very confident reader and so one of my goals this winter is to help boost this in him by sitting with him several times a week while he reads out loud to me. He has decided that Harry Potter is what he wants to read aloud so that's what we're doing, slowly, and bit by bit! He just finished chapter 1 and we'll begin chapter 2 this afternoon.
* Of course, I'm reading lots to the kids, including the books that they each need read for their monthly book clubs. Currently, Seth's and Lizzie's book club is doing The Secret Garden, while Matthew just finished Lois Lowry's The Giver and has started Underground to Canada for his next month's book club (which I co-lead...how fun!).
* I'm also reading to the kids individually. Currently, I'm reading Inkspell to Matthew (the follow-up to Cornelia Funke's first book in the series, Inkheart, which we read last winter); Survivors: The Empty City, the first in the Survivor series by Erin Hunter, to Seth (ever the dog lover); and the first book (Shadows) in Jacqueline West's Elsewhere series.
* I have just begun a spelling curriculum with Matthew, whose spelling is atrocious and who is wanting and asking to learn how to spell now (hence the introduction of this piece of curriculum). So we're dabbling in this, with some success so far.
* I am also just beginning a history curriculum with the kids (Mystery of History), which I think all three are ready for.
* We picked up again a book that we started (and didn't complete) a couple of years ago, called Who is God...and Can we Really Know Him, which is really interesting and thoughtful, and is prompting lots of great discussion. We are working through this two or three times per week.
* This week, all three kids resumed the Math tutoring that they began briefly in June. Over the course of the winter, each of them will have a one-on-one hour with our amazing Math guru/teacher every week, and they are very excited to be doing this. Our Math friend/teacher is wonderful - no curriculum, but real life and games focused...she is truly something and the kids come home loving Math...how awesome is that??!! I feel very blessed to have this teacher in our lives. We spent a good chunk of our Wednesdays at her house, and while she works with one child, I work upstairs with the other two - games, reading, writing, audio books, etc etc.
* The kids are still involved in weekly piano and art lessons, as well as swimming lessons (Matthew is just finishing level 9 Red Cross; Seth is in level 5; and Lizzie is in level 4). Piano practices might just be the death of me, I'll be honest...just thinking about the last two weeks' practice sessions with my youngest makes my blood boil!
* Just this week Matthew started a six-week course to learn how to sew with a sewing machine. He sews by hand all of the time (all self-taught because I don't sew!), but has been itching to sew by machine for almost two years...and this course just fell into our laps. He's so excited, and this week sewed a pillow together with the machine.
* I feel a bit uncomfortable that this year, for the first time, the kids aren't involved in much formal physical activity - only swimming lessons. It didn't work to attend gym class this year, for the first time in seven years, and none of the kids were interested in the usual soccer/gymnastics/etc etc activities. It's made our evenings lovely, because we're not running around to sporting events, but I was a little worried. However, I guess I needn't have worried too much - the kids are naturally so physical anyway. They trampolined every day of the spring/summer/fall that we were home, until last week when the trampoline was dismantled for the winter. And the boys have taken up jogging - they jog around our large neighbourhood block a few times most days; and in order to make that physical work more intense, they have created a system whereby they pull wagon loads of bricks behind them - they created some kind of harness thingee to fit to the wagons and to their bodies, loaded the wagons full of bricks, and they then jog with these large loads behind them. They come back exhausted and breathing hard...even Matthew's swimming teacher noted last week that he's got great endurance!
* On Tuesdays, we attend our Learning Centre, and it was nice to resume in fall having already had a year behind us. We moms, relying heavily on the kids' input to inform us, have created a pretty dynamite program for fall and early winter! The kids will be involved in a range of activities through the Learning Centre over the coming months, including book and writing clubs, science, cooking, art, stop animation, current affairs (I'm particularly excited about this program because I want my kids to learn more about the country and world around them), geography, and so on and so on. And, of course, the kids will be performing in the annual Shakespeare play that our Learning Centre puts on every April - this year it will be Henry IV, and advance preparation is already well underway. It feels great to have a regular and supportive community to hang out with, and the kids and the moms have become some of our people.
* I'm continuing, at a general level, to work with the kids on learning how to manage a household. My parents, in their great generosity, offered to pay for a cleaning service to come and help me clean the house every two weeks, but I'm doggedly (stupidly) resisting at the moment. They did this for us for a few years after Lizzie and Seth came home to Canada, to help us through the hardest of the adjustments, and I am so thankful to them for that; but when that lovely cleaning woman/friend retired in January of this year, I decided to go it alone...for better and usually for worse! I jokingly commented to my sister-in-law in Vancouver yesterday that my house has been neither clean nor tidy since she and the rest of my extended family were at our house for Thanksgiving dinner a month ago, and I'm sadly not really exaggerating. But the house does get tidied and it does get cleaned - just in bits and pieces here and there rather than on a specific day. The kids are all fairly competent and independent when it comes to cleaning a bathroom; my boys are moving towards self-sufficiency when it comes to laundry; they all vacuum and empty/load dishwashers; and they are (ever sooo slowly) learning to tidy after themselves. Matthew is learning how to cook and maintains/uses his own cookbook; Seth is not far behind him; and Lizzie is starting to show an interest. I am determined to continue down this path, so that by the time they are adults and living independently they take for granted that they can cook and clean and care for themselves and, ultimately, for their families. We are just beginning on the path towards financial management with them, because this will be the other big piece in being able to manage their households some day.
* Beyond this, we do lots of things that involve pursuing the kids' varied interests...which we all love and have gotten used to over the past couple of years.
And that's all that my brain is generating right now in terms of where we're at on our homeschool journey this winter, although it feels like I'm forgetting one or two chunks.
In the coming days I'd like to post a little about what it's like to be a homeschool parent...it's been on my mind of late because it can be rather overwhelming at times.