Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Homeschool is Revving Up for the New Season

OK, my work area isn't quite this bad, but my mind might be. ;)
(photo credit)

I thought maybe someone would be interested in how and why we homeschool, and how and why I create and prepare my plans for the season.  If you want to skip all the blah, blah, blah, go about half way down and I get into how I do my units.  Nothing special.  Just the way I do things.

Let's be clear up front.  I have long detested the public school system, and the further I got from it the more I realized it wasn't just the curriculum or the bureaucracy, but it was everything about it. The structure, the "mass" mindedness, the rank and file march toward mediocrity and "normalness."  Forget it.  There are NO redeeming qualities to public-so-called-education in this country.  From the government inflicted curriculum to the oh! so important socialization, they are nothing but very thinly veiled indoctrination centers designed to remake your precious charges, your babies, into good, silent, obedient little statists, and I'm out.  Like a fat kid in dodge ball, I'm out!

My views on public school are already well established within my immediate circle of friends, but for the visitors, lurkers and strays, here is my official declaration, stowed over in my facebook notes page.

I've homeschooled for many years and tried many different methods.  I've felt the biting constraints of too may rules, schedules, and too much paperwork, and I've felt the untidy, uncomfortable remains of a badly executed attempt at freestyle learning.  I think I finally struck a chord where the tension is right.  For quite a few years now I have leaned heavily toward unschooling.  Contrary to popular belief, unschooling isn't some oogy-boo thing where children get to decide what they feel like doing.  There are some fringe unschooling families who have, unfortunately, gained much attention, who go to extremes and let their kids do anything they want and swear it's "school," but in what arena in life do we not find those sorts of people that give good things a black eye?  All it is, as I understand and practice it, is a self paced, interest led method of learning.  If a child is interested he will learn.  My job is to aid in the directing and to cultivate interest.

I decided to try to do it on my own with as little monetary investment as possible.  It was necessary at first to conserve because of our budget, but eventually I came to believe that education-- learning-- shouldn't have to be a big, expensive undertaking.  With the internet available and all it's free resources, I discovered I could create my own interesting, comprehensive, top quality units, still covering scope and sequence and all the other nebulous ideals that most homeschool parents tremble with fear about missing or messing up.

Somehow, to a lot of people who knew me, I came off looking like some homeschool goddess.  It made me seem like I knew what I was doing, when in reality, for a long time I only knew what I WASN'T doing.  I WASN'T going to be like the public school!  I'd like to be able to take a bow and whatnot, but this goddess' scepter is just a pencil, my main realm is the internet, and the power behind the throne is simply determination to teach my children what they must know, to teach them to love to learn, to transform them into happy, successful, contributing adults, to be good citizens, and to be just good ol' decent people.  I want to give them a chance at a life outside the collective.

There were times when messed up so badly on things.  I have created some terrible units.  I have made things that didn't have enough substance, so we came up short, or that had so much material we couldn't have done it all in a year.  Over time, however, if I have not perfected the art, at least I have eased into a comfortable and competent way of dealing with our basic educational needs.

The needs vary from child to child, home to home, and day to day.  If you style things yourself, there is plenty of wiggle room for busy days, sick kids... surprises.  The main goal is simple here at our house: Teach them a love of learning.  Curriculum, units and everything else is secondary.

OK, anyway, in case anyone interested, with a few variations here and there, this is generally what I do:

I get an idea of what I need to cover this year and do some internet searches on the main topic(s) just to get the ol' concentration kicked in.  Once I land on something I think will be a good basic starting point, I search that subject and look at LOTS of links, lots of other people's ideas concerning the subject.
I find many interesting links such as (but CERTAINLY not limited to) this one:

Learning Through History

*PLEASE UNDERSTAND* This is JUST AN EXAMPLE link!  It was a random choice.  These may be great resources and they seem to be reasonably priced, and I'm not knocking them nor am I endorsing them. I'm just using them for an example for now.  Sometimes I will combine information and ideas from several sites.

I take all of the sub-headings out of this plan and use them for my initial list:

1. Tribes of the American Plains
2. The Italian Renaissance
3. The Rise of Nazi Germany
4. The Dutch Golden Age
5. The Roaring Twenties
6. The Late Middle Ages

I use it like an outline, add anything else I may want, and take away whatever we may have already covered. For instance, we've done all of our Nazi Germany stuff and our American Tribes, so I can knock those out and add in something else, or just teach the other four.

I begin adding in the main points to cover.  If I have trouble fleshing out the outline, I may Google up some other units on that subject until I get something I'm happy with.  THEN the fun begins.  I go in search of reading materials to go along with each topic.  ALL kinds of reading material are fair game: fiction, resource materials, comics, art for the period, music, etc... then I arrange them into usable units.  I try to keep myself under control so that I don't run more than 2-3 weeks per section.

I use art and music a couple of days, resources (aka "study" materials) 2-3 days, fiction or anecdotal reading daily, and maybe throw in a podcast or a video or two on the subject for good measure. I mix them up to break up the monotony, and if I find anything else interesting I can work into it we'll use that as well.  We use period recipes, 3D models, period clothing or weapons, take field trips to museums: whatever enhances learning.  Don't be stiff!  It's SUPPOSED to be fun.

A typical unit would look *something* like this:
Week 1

Study on major changes to society during period.
Who were major influences in politics? Music? Art? Lit?
Choose a book to accompany unit.
Research period architecture, who, what, where...

Read from chosen book (fiction set in the time or by an author from the time.  Ex: "The Three Musketeers" is set in Renaissance Italy.
Research the Kings of renaissance Italy.
Who were most important?  What did they accomplish?  Good?  Evil?

Watch example- "Rosencranz and Guildernstern are Dead."
What can you get from this movie that pertains to daily life, socially, ethically, etc.. in Renaissance Italy?

Read from the book chosen for the unit.

Who were major art/music influences?  Cover a multitude, but single out some of the major ones for study over the next week.
Read from book.

See how it goes? The next week we build on the info gathered in the first week with some reading every day. Some may carry over 3 or 4 weeks.  Big studies can go on and on.  We can do more than one at a time

I pick all of our vocab and spelling from the reading material.  Maps and geography, obviously, go along with  and incorporate nicely into it.  Then, I end with a written report/summary of the unit to be sure there was plenty of good comprehension and retention. This also helps me keep up on his writing, grammar, spelling skills and whatnot.  Sometimes I let him write a short story from the perspective of someone in the time period or even make a role playing game of it.  It's a very creative process, and as long as he comes away with a working knowledge of the subject and I am satisfied that he has, I don't care how we get there.  ;)

An alternate way to build a unit is in starting from the point of literature.  I started with historical time periods, but if I'd decided to go through a few great books by some of the masters, I could have taken the historical, scientific, social, architectural info from the context of the book and worked backwards.  You could conceivably use anything your child is interested in and dissect it into a unit, hence the idea that it is child driven.  It's really interest driven, and I cultivate the interest.

There are always those subjects that we not particularly strong in.  Personally, I'm not great at math, and therefore not confident that I can incorporate math into our units, especially now that my student is older.  I bow before the book sellers on that one.  I'd rather make him sweat through it old style than to trust myself on it.  I was never great at math and I want him to get what he needs.  A little rigid discipline is a lesson of it's own, so I only struggle with a tiny bit of guilt about it.  ;)

It's really easier than it may seem written out long like this.  I can knock out a years worth of studies in just a few dedicated evenings.  I think the process is enjoyable.  It insures that I am on top of what he's studying, and I don't have to hurry and study up on anything if he has questions or isn't grasping the concepts.  Even if I don't get many units completed early on, if I start now I can have a decent jump on it, then as he's doing a unit I can put more together.  I usually get more done than we can use!  It gets easier as you do it, too, and becomes second nature.  Then everything is a lesson.  ;)

PLEASE try it, especially on a subject your child doesn't really show a lot of interest in.  It makes things much easier on them and opens up so many new possibilities.

P.S.  If anyone has suggestions on incorporating math into units, please feel free to share. I would really like to try it, but don't feel that I could give him what he needs at this point.  I know it can be done.

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