Thursday, June 26, 2008

When should the school year start?

If you didn't have any outside influences making up your mind for you, when would you start the school year? Now we all have some outside influences that help us make this decision, but since we homeschool, we don't necessarily have to follow the public school schedule. For instance, we finished up most of our school-work back in May. Right now we are very casually finishing up a few things that were left undone, but could be considered busy work, since they are not vital to her schooling. So how do we answer this question?

Well, one way to find an answer is to ask if our child is ready to start her new year of school. The answer to that one would be "yes." She has seen the new books. She has seen Mommy making plans and shopping for supplies. Oh yes! she is ready! She has on occasion asked to look at her new text books for the fun of it.

Another way to find an answer is to ask if the teacher (that would be me) is ready to start teaching. The answer to that one is "not yet but soon." I have always loved the start of school, but I also see the need for a little bit of a break before diving in to a new year (especially since we have a lot more planned for this year than last year). I also have to consider how to plan around other summertime activities. Last week was day camp week. This week and next are swim lessons. Both of these things had us completely shift our family schedule to accommodate them. After swim lessons are over, we are free to start a new year whenever we please.

Are there any other influences that might determine when we start? Well, yes. The society around us does influence us some, even though we are relatively out of sync from it. As far as I'm concerned the labels "Kindergarten," "First grade" and so on are artificial constructs and we are teaching our kids where they are. But, our children do interact with other kids (yes, homeschoolers do know other people) who are in public school and to whom such labels matter. Therefore these things matter to our kids. Our oldest has already started telling people that she is a first grader even though we haven't actually started her studies yet. The summer always was an awkward time where you always have to clarify whether you are finishing a grade, in it currently, or about to start it. I generally have liked the idea of year round school, but you still need to have some kind of starting and stopping point to be able to easily talk to others (especially non-homeschoolers). In our life, those other people we spend the most time with are at our church. Our kids are in classes divided by age or grade level as appropriate. This is where they get their "classroom" experience. So when does our church start the new year? July 6th of all things. I think this is actually because it allows the year to be divided up into relatively neat quarters for planning of classes. As a result most of the kids start their new grade long before they start school for fall. So we could start about the same time and be in sync with the church classes or we could do our own thing (whatever that is).

Another consideration is convenience. I had hoped to be pregnant by now so that the early months of pregnancy (when I generally am in a sleep-deprived fog) would be out of the way before starting the school year. Sometimes, that which is convenient doesn't happen and you have to make do with a more inconvenient alternative. Having no idea when said pregnancy might happen, it wouldn't do to delay our kid's education for it.

There is also the fact that this is the first year that we have to satisfy bureaucratic rules. Since we live in California, we will have to file our affidavit as a private school to exempt our daughter from compulsory attendance in public school. But that doesn't need to be done until October. Still, we have to figure out if we are going to join a homeschool support group (probably), decide on legal representation (since you never know), and watch what is going on in the court case that might change everything (probably no news until September).

So, have we come up with an idea of when we will start our new year?

We probably will start in early July. I don't want our break to be too long or our daughter will start forgetting last year's stuff and may decide that she doesn't want to go back to her school work. We will be in sync with her church friends. And we can do all the bureaucratic stuff as needed along the way. Though I may wait until after my birthday. :-)

Teaching to the Test

You know... one of the things that I like as a homeschooler is the ability to concentrate on comprehension and mastery without having to "teach to the test." There is a freedom in this. There is quite a debate in our society right now about how to teach kids and how important testing is. I tend to be on the side of those who say teaching to the test isn't the right approach.

That is why it is so ironic that I find myself "teaching to the test."

Why would I do this? Because my daughter wants to participate in our Church's "Bible Challenge." It is a Bible knowledge quiz (handled much like a spelling bee) that they have every year at the end of summer. It is open to kids who have finished kindergarten through sixth grade. They divide the kids up into age groups for appropriately challenging questions for that group. For every correct answer they earn a ticket to redeem for prizes. Everyone who completes the challenge without missing an answer gets a trophy. My daughter really, really, really, wants to do this. So we have the list of questions that they handed out in June for the quiz in August. The idea is to encourage Bible knowledge, not to try to trip the kids up with surprise questions.

So, this week I have been teaching to the test. We have been reviewing the questions. I was happy to see that the questions didn't cover anything that she was unfamiliar with (with the possible exception of how many books are in the Bible). She knows all the stories mentioned in the questions, so I'm happy that she knows the context of what the questions are talking about. She also knew most of the answers. However, I have needed to encourage her to stick to the answers they expect the kids to give. Restating an answer in your own words is fine as long as it is accurate and doesn't confuse the issue (she has been fond of riddles lately and has sometimes tried to answer questions with riddles).

Now I have to try to find a way for this review of questions to stay fresh or she will get bored and not put effort into it. It would be heartbreaking for our little perfectionist to miss an answer in this much anticipated contest. (Heartbreaking for her that is, we are OK with it).

Which brings up another question: Are perfectionists that way all their life? Are there any recovering perfectionists out there? I've never seen evidence that this personality trait changes. Not being a perfectionist myself, I've never seen much point to it. My husband is one (that must be where she gets it), but he manages to use it to give himself the drive and endurance to work until he gets right whatever he is working on. That is an adult form of perfectionism. In our five year old, it tends to work more like "If I get something right the first time, I love it and want to do it constantly until I get tired of it. If I get something wrong the first time, I hate it and I will fight every attempt to get me to do it again." Anybody got ideas on how to move this stubborn perfectionist from point A to point B? I've just been making her do things anyway, until she gets it right (then I can't stop her). Nobody said parenting was easy. Parenting and teaching can be twice as hard sometimes.

So anyway, I am teaching to the test this summer as a favor to my daughter. How is that for a twist?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Confirmation that the Happy Boy is acting older

Over the past few days, I've been retiring old baby toys and generally removing some of the clutter of toys from our living room. As a result of this, I saw little change in my son's activities. So far, so good. I was removing toys that he didn't play with. Today, In the process of helping my girls clean away some unneeded items from their room, I decided to move the playmobile toys to the living room to be shared toys. These are the playmobile toys that are appropriate for 1 1/2 year-olds and up (fewer moving parts). I figured that he has only 2 more months to go to meet the age limit and he already loves to play with them every time he has managed to get in his sisters' room.

The result of this experiment? All of the kids play with the playmobile toys more. However, the Happy Boy is in heaven. He is playing with these toys for an hour or so at a time, with no complaints (except from his sisters if they are playing at the same time, he tends to act like Godzilla). The clutter is back in the living room, but it is a clutter from a different kind of toy. It is also the clutter of a well played with set, rather than the pick-up and drop five seconds later scenario we had before.

So what kind of play is this boy doing? The usual pretend play. He helps the playmobile people go down a slide. He puts them in cars. He puts them in and out of houses. This is pretty standard, I realize. But it shows that he isn't that far off from playing like his sisters do. It gives me hope that in about a year, they might actually be able to play together (all three) at times.

How are the girls handling the changes? Quite well actually. I've moved toys and books around and had them help me select which stuffed animals to keep. They know that many of the toys are going to be given new homes. It doesn't seem to bother them a bit. I'm sure that it will bother them the next time they want a particular toy and we don't have it anymore. But, that too is part of learning about life and the consequences of one's decisions. As for their play habits, I noticed them doing something new the other day. They were playing "Cinderella." They would take turns being Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother (or Fairy Grandmother according to the Adrenaline Junkie). They acted out the key events of the story in a whirlwind short version that took no more than five minutes. I think their Daddy's wish that they get involved in drama will probably come true because every time they finished, they would switch off roles and do it again. They entertained themselves like this for at least an hour straight.

Let me tell you...any time kids these ages can entertain themselves for an hour straight, it is a blessing from God. If I hadn't been suffering from a cold this week, Life would have been perfectly blissful. Well, OK, they did cry and complain and whine a little this week too. But they always do that. I'm trying to count my blessings.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Change happens in very little time

It is striking me once again, how fast a baby grows up. About a month ago, my son was mobile and into everything. I could barely do anything but follow him around to keep him out of trouble. Now, he actually follows directions (like "sit down on the chair, you aren't allowed to climb on the table.") He is getting better at pointing at what he wants, since he isn't saying much at all. You can only communicate so much with grunts, squeals, giggles, and wails. Fortunately, he has also begun to like me to read his picture books to him where we name the pictures. I'm consciously putting more time into that to help him learn the names for things, in hopes that he will start to say the names. A few weeks ago, he would run off having no interest in books at all.

I remember this time with my girls. When the Pillowfight Fairy was this age, she was also barely containable and I was pregnant with the Adrenaline Junkie. I remember at the grocery store, asking mothers of a toddler and baby how far apart in age their kids were. I was all the time trying to figure out how one manages two kids with very different needs while still doing the necessary errands. I needn't have worried so much. Once the Fairy turned 18 months, she began to turn into an older child who was easier to manage. I saw the same thing happen with the Adrenaline Junkie when I was pregnant with the Happy Boy. This time I'm beginning to see it with the Happy Boy (perhaps noticing it earlier, since it is a familiar thing now). He is still a handful, but I'm seeing the beginnings of a new life with an older child.

I suppose it is a tendency that all people have: to see what the present circumstances are, and assume the future continues on in that fashion. The reality is that change happens and it happens quickly.

The Adrenaline Junkie showed no interest in letters at the same age as her sister. She had different interests, but then we got a leap frog video teaching the alphabet and she had the letters and their sounds mastered in no time. She was never as interested in drawing as her sister. Her Sunday craft papers were barely scribbled for the longest time. She was too busy running around to sit down and draw. Then a few months back, she decided that scribbling was a fun thing to do. Then suddenly one day, she was drawing recognizable people figures and writing mostly legible letters of the alphabet. As my husband noted in a recent post, she is starting to sound out words. She is beginning to be ready to read at age 3 1/2 just like her sister. I would never have guessed it. She always seemed to be less interested in academics and more interested in climbing and running. Now she wants school work, too. She still has a tendency to wiggle off her seat, so I'll have to keep any teaching to just a few minutes at a time at first.

The Pillowfight Fairy has been changing, too. But in her case it has been more subtle. It has to do with her making choices to do group things (like Christian Day camp) when she has a very strong loner tendency and has often complained about how she doesn't get along with the other kids. She is also becoming more aware of her surroundings. It is like she is starting to pick up a small amount of perspective. She is more aware of the passage of time. She is more aware of the fact that people buy and sell and she would like to do some of that to get what she wants. She complained bitterly about schoolwork, and now that it is over she keeps wanting to get started on the new year of books. Her craft projects have demonstrated her increased mastery of words and art and numbers.

In each case, I see a little glimpse of the future in my children. So now that I've mostly got the next school year planned out. I need to turn my attention to a late spring cleaning and getting ready for the next phase. I can see it coming around the corner. It's trying to sneak up on me. The youngest is outgrowing his changing table. He is wanting to do big kids stuff like coloring and looking at books with thin pages. The middle child wants to be like her older sister and use glue, tape and scissors. The oldest wants to do all sorts of things she hasn't even thought of yet, but as soon as she knows about them, she's all for it. I need to sort through everybody's toys and thin out what isn't played with anymore. I need to start rearranging what toys are in the living room to be shared by everyone. I need to make room in each bedroom. For the girls, they will eventually need room for more older kid stuff, that their brother still can't play with. For the Happy Boy, he will need a new bed by the time he turns two next February. Since we are trying to have another baby and since any such baby would be sharing a room with him, we can't remove all the baby furniture yet. But we will need to make it more workable for an older Happy Boy.

Now, I love planning what needs to be done. I have always planned for the future (usually long before it is needed). But, This kind of planning, where one tries to balance the different needs of so many people when they are all in a state of change, reminds me of juggling. The attention is drawn to the most immediate action needed, but you can't completely ignore the other items yet, since they are on an incoming path, too. There is multi-tasking and then there is multi-tasking. This is some heavy multi-tasking. Hopefully, I can get the basic outline of a plan set up before I start the new year of school with the girls. Isn't summer just a wonderfully relaxing time of year (said with heavy sarcasm). I find myself looking forward to fall when I can get into a regular routine.