Saturday, September 15, 2007

Good years, better years, best years

Some homeschool years just seem to come together right. The kids are a particularly nice mix of ages, something sparks an interest, the threads of learning seem to make sense, nobody's having a particularly dreadful time with math. Those years you think to yourself, over and over, "I wouldn't trade this time for anything."

Some years go by fine, without too much excitement one way or the other.

Some years you can count the gray hairs sprouting daily. Those years don't mean that homeschooling is a bad thing or that you're a failure and the kids would really be better off in public school or that next year won't be better. It just means you're having a tough year. (Note to self: paste that on the bathroom mirror as needed.)

And this year is shaping up to be...well, it's still September. But I'm already pleased with some of the good things that are happening. Some weren't even of my doing, but they're making things go more smoothly anyway.

One funny thing that's kicking off our mornings a bit more smoothly these days is that The Apprentice has an early class this year, and when she's up and moving, everybody else has to get moving too. Not so great for The Apprentice (although the early class isn't too strenuous, just study hall), but at least it forces a lot of otherwise sleepy Squirrels into a definite weekday routine. At the other end of the day, The Apprentice usually settles in to do some homework in the dining room, and Mama Squirrel sticks around for moral support and checking-the-answers-in-the-back as needed. Even when the math problems are tough, there's a satisfaction in still being her coach and cheerleader, if not always her teacher.

Between those bookends, we have the delight of a first-year Ambleside Onliner getting to know the Just-So Stories and Paddle-to-the-Sea. I have the pleasure of seeing how well Ponytails is doing with her JUMP Math unit, and feeling that math is suddenly less stressful, more successful. We sit on an afghan, pretend it's our flying carpet, and sing Geography Songs before reading more about the landscape of Turkey. (I hear Crayons in the bathtub singing to herself, "16 countries of south-west Asia, Muslims, Christians and Jews.") We haul out the science kit and Ponytails is the one who figures out how to put the stethoscope together. The Squirrelings help time each other on Calculadder, and administer encouragement ("You got 57 of them today, and yesterday you only got 55!") I hear people asking me to read just one more chapter, both of our school books and of the extra readalouds that have snuck in there during the day.

Last week someone asked one of the Squirrelings what she likes to do for fun, and the answer was "school."

That's how I know it's going to be a good year. That and the fact that we've had less-than-perfect years too.

Unfortunately, when you're having a not-so-good year, or even a not-so-good week, sometimes you do not want to hear how well other peoples' children are doing. I posted one of Crayons' best narrations to the Ambleside Online list this week, and sent somebody else into tears over it because her child's narration consisted of "blerwm blerwm." ("So, when the bards and the heralds came to cry largess, and to proclaim the power of the king, and his strength, at the moment when they passed by the corner wherein he was crouching, Taliesin pouted out his lips after them, and played, “Blerwm, blerwm!” with his finger upon his lips.") Believe me, we've had our share of blerwm blerwm too. [Clarification: they weren't narrating from Taliesin; I just put that in there because of the blerwm blerwm.]

And then there was the awesome mom who posted to the same list about driving hours to take her kids to art exhibits and doing fantastic things with Shakespeare--that made me feel a bit blerwmish too.

But on the other hand, there was an article today in the local paper about math teaching in public schools, that tipped things back towards thinking again that we must be doing all right.
"Recently [the grade 3 teacher] taught the children to count by fives, using Popsicle sticks. She had them sit in a circle and line up four Popsicle sticks in a row, with a coloured one laid diagonally across each pile.

"Then she asked how many Popsicle sticks there were. One student crawled into the middle of the circle and counted up the piles: "Five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 45 . . ." he said and paused at the final two sticks. "Forty-seven" he called.

"The class applauded him. 'Good job!' she praised, and then sent the children to sit down with worksheets where they again had to add the "bundles" of lines arranged five to a pile.

"Instead of having the children write down the correct totals, though, she had them choose the right answer from some numbers printed on the bottom of the sheet. They were to cut out the right number and glue it in the proper spot.

"The children were enjoying cutting and feeling the texture of the glue stick under their fingernails.

"'Children at this age are very visual and very kinesthetic,' she said. They learn by seeing and often need to move around while learning, even if it's just working with glue."
OK, I know it's still September, and maybe that was a review lesson--but cutting and pasting answers in grade 3? And Crayons (grade 1) has been doing that same kind of counting-by-fives-plus-whatever's-left. Without crawling on the floor, I might add. Or needing to get glue stick under her fingernails.



Lydia Netzer said...

Great post. And thanks for introducing the iconic "blerwm blerwm" into my lexicon.

I love that your child said she does school for fun -- that is awesome. That means she's even enjoying the blerwms. ;D

Hanley Family said...

Glad it is off to a great start for for fun? I wish my child would say that.

But she thinks the 15 minutes of copywork she does is school. She doesn't recognize the rest as school. I keep trying to point that out when she is working on other things, but she doesn't buy it. So she hates "school" even though she has no idea.