Monday, October 17, 2011

A Whole New World

Hello! It's been a long time since I've posted anything here. But, since The Kid and I are starting a new academic adventure together, I thought it might be a good time to ressurect the blog and keep a record.

After years of semi-classical homeschooling, we've decided to try something new. I'm cutting down the formal lesson plans to just three subjects: math, English and foreign language. Everything else will be done in an unschool-type style.

This change has been coming for a long time, I think. I have this Kid who is bright and enthusiastic and interested in so many things. But, no matter how much we tweak it, the whole concept of "school" seems to get in the way of his learning.

We had already cut back on the formal, planned school for this year, putting in place instead a list of subjects and a set of guidelines for each one. I had hoped that would be enough to spark something for him. Instead, we're still butting heads every day over whether he's "done" each subject and whether whatever he has accomplished is "enough." I'm seeing that my constant attempts to codify and control the process and his resentment of that are getting in the way of him actually learning anything.

In addition, I keep finding these wonderful opportunities out in the world, and I find myself frustrated and saddened by how often and how much "school" makes it impossible for us to enjoy and learn from those things. Instead, I am always rushing and feeling stress about the boxes we're not checking off at home and the items on my lovely, neat lesson plans that aren't getting done.

Things came to a head for me this week. I was thinking about a couple of things we have on our calendar and feeling wistful about the educational things we could do surrounding them if only we weren't slaves to those lesson plans. For example, we have tickets for the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Anna Bolena, which is coming to a local movie theatre in a couple of weeks. We also have tickets for the "field trip" day for a small, local Renaissance Faire that week. And the new movie Anonymous opens the Friday before. I was thinking how great it would be if we could just take the time between now and then and read about the Renaissance and let my son work on his costume for the faire and dig into the story of Henry VIII and Anne . . .

"But we can't," I thought, "because we're so far behind already."

And then, suddenly, I realized that was just dumb.

I know, from long experience, that The Kid will learn so much more from going and doing than he will from trudging through the reading list I carefully assembled and parsed out over my painstakingly planned year. Why, then, not do what will work? What is the point of following "the plan" rather than actually doing things from which he'll learn and retain someting?

So, after consulting with my husband and thinking it through over the weekend, I sat The Kid down for a talk this morning. Here's the new routine:

1. He is to be out of bed by 8:00.
2. We're going to continue reading aloud over breakfast.
3. Desk time starts at 9:00.
4. We will stick more or less to my existing plans for math and English.
5. He will continue the FLVS Spanish class.
6. There is no TV or computer time (except for educational purposes) until after 4:00 pm and then only if the three core subjects are done.
7. The time in between core subjects and 4:00 is to be used productively: reading, working on costumes or other projects, drawing, playing the piano, practicing for his dance or music lessons, learning lines for his current show, trying out ideas for his Lego robotics club, etc. "Productive" means pretty much anything except watching TV, playing computer games or goofing off in the backyard.

The agreement is that we'll give this a try until the holidays, the end of the first semester. At that point, we'll discuss and evaluate. If he's happy and I think he's learning, we'll continue for the remainder of the year and evaluate again.

I'm nervous. I'll admit that. I don't see, for example, how science gets done in any kind of organized way. And I'm afraid we'll still spend too much of every day arguing about whether he's doing "enough."

But, the truth is that something has to give. It's breaking my heart to see my bright, sweet, excited, interesting and interested Kid going through the motions and learning more about gaming the system for grades than about the subjects he's supposed to be studying.

So, the new adventure begins.

I'm hoping to return to the habit of doing weekly reports. I like the accountability it encourages for me, and I like having a chance to write up and read how much we actually did each week.

I'll keep you posted.
So, off the map we go.

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