Wednesday, August 28, 2013

homeschooling update

A number of people (in fact, I think, most people we've discussed the recent changes in our life with) have expressed surprise that Husband is just continuing the homeschooling now that I'm working full-time. I generally express surprise in return. We made the decision together. And it doesn't make sense to send a kid to school because another parent starts bringing home the pastured bacon. Or at least not to us. But I do understand that some couples are not on the same page around homeschooling. For all our problems, and there have been many (one day I will blog about how we narrowly avoided separating late this past winter), but there are two things that could have been a huge source of marital strife and haven't been for us: one thing that is unbloggable and homeschooling.

That said, we do deserve a bit of credit. I don't think every couple or maybe even most couples could change up their roles as successfully as we appear to have. He approached the transition like training for a new job, and I approached it as sharing what worked for me but with space for him to find his own way.

My sister recently asked us what our plans for the fall are, vis a vis Eldest and school. The question caught me by surprise, as our decision to homeschool is not a year to year thing, which makes the answer pretty clear: more of the same. I think Eldest is thriving. There have been a few areas where I thought the unschooling approach might break down, but it hasn't. (I've seen rumblings on the Internet that some people are quite dogmatic about what constitutes unschooling, but I haven't encountered them myself. And besides, I'm not much of a one for labels. I understand unschooling to be based on a trust in children's innate capacity and drive to learn and because of that fundamental trust, we follow our family's interests and give the kids space to pursue their own interests on their own timeline, rather than following an arbitrary curriculum or timeline).

One are where I thought approach might break down was swimming lessons. I believe swimming is an important life skill and it's one of the few things that I think my kids must learn (cooking and reading are two others), although I'm agnostic on the timelines for the learning. At the beginning of last summer, Eldest was afraid to even put his face in the water. He loved water in baths, but deeper water was very scary for him. Last summer, we discovered a wonderful learning opportunity: private lessons with a young woman in her family's backyard pool. No other kids in the water, and just one teacher to get to know over the summer. 

It took a while for him to trust the instructor, after a bad experience with private lessons at a public pool (the teacher told him she would catch him and then didn't - he was furious and so were we). But once he did, he made amazing progress facing his fears under her guidance. She just had a knack for when to push and when to withdraw and let him do something fun. This year, it's her sister who's teaching and she seems to have the same knack. He's now swimming across the whole length of the pool, treading water, and jumping off the diving board, all without a life jacket. What I love especially is that within the lesson he seeks out his challenges, asking if he can swim farther or tread water for longer or practice a particular stroke he enjoys. It's just wonderful to see his newfound confidence. It's worth noting that he made a major leap after our weekend at the cottage, when he spent an hour or two in the deep water (wearing his life jacket) playing with all the other kids with no intervention from grown-ups. 

The other area where I thought the unschooling approach might break down was with transitioning out of training wheels on his bike. For ages he was scared and refused and we didn't push him. I was of two minds: that he didn't really NEED to ride a bike without training wheels and that maybe we should just force him (Note to self: any time I've tried to force something on Eldest it has been not only unsuccessful but generally traumatic for everyone involved). Then, at the beginning of the summer, we realized that the training wheels had become bent and almost never touched the ground anyways. So Husband adjusted them even higher and taught Eldest how to put his foot out for stopping and starting. After a few days of that, or maybe a week, Eldest asked to have the training wheels removed and he's been biking like a fiend ever since. 

In other homeschooling news, Eldest is pretty much reading. Mostly he taught himself from road signs and grocery store signs and from having us read to him. Then one day he read a board book to Youngest, and now he's reading some of his own books. His vision remains a bit of an issue, I think, because he mostly reads larger print words and refuses to put his glasses on for smaller print. And he still likes the experience of being read to, which I think is great. 

I can't remember if I've already said this here, but I think there are disadvantages to reading independently at an early age. I was reading novels by age 5, and I don't really have any memories of my parents reading to me. And we never developed the practice of discussing what I was reading and thinking critically about it, so I got kind of messed up by reading all of VC Andrews' books when I was 11. And finally, I use words as my primary method of gathering information. If there are words, I pretty much ignore any other information. Whereas I see Eldest takes in all the other information first, and then the words add to it. 

I think one of the biggest benefits of homeschooling for Eldest has been that he can watch me try to learn my own things and make mistakes and learn from them. And he watches Husband too. Eldest has a bit of a perfectionist bent that was making him very private about his learning and making mistakes. But I think he's getting a lot more comfortable with exposing his learning and mistakes, and that's such an asset in life, I think.

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