Thursday, February 16, 2012

First Stop: Our Roots

One of the first places we are going to visit on our journey is our roots.  Why do we need a government?  What types of government are there that function in different parts of the world?  How did we choose this one?  Why?  More importantly, what exactly should the government be doing for us and what should it not be doing?

These are all important questions and some of these are very hard to teach a child.  One of the key things about home school is that I have read too many stories of parents that got caught up in molding their own agenda into their children.  Their children are little robots that mimic mommy and daddy's thoughts.   They may or may not have been told why they think this way, but they have been told to think that way by someone.  So remaining impartial to the issues was extremely important to us.

Luckily, his father and I rarely agree on the proper way to fold a towel so our views on the government are often at odds with the other's opinion.   We tease each other but really, we do both think differently.  He thinks like those aliens on Mars while I bathe in the pools of bubble baths, laze on the rocks of pedicures, and stroll the streets of fashion in downtown Venus.   Very little of that is true but it paints the idea, right?

So I chose two exercises to introduce the topic of government.  The first one I presented him with a blank canvas situation and asked him how he would have created the government.  What type of government would he choose?  Being a boy he went straight for the dictatorship and tyrant ruling.  Ah, well, he will learn as we progress how well that doesn't work out.   As we have gone on to look at our rights, I already see his mind working out his previous choice and why he's not so sure that was a grand plan.

This next exercise proved to be a lot of fun for all of us.  It really should be illegal to have that much fun when you are teaching and learning about the government.  How boring is history? Not very boring at all if you can engage their minds and tickle their sense of humor.

For this exercise my husband was actually working from home and was able to participate.  We started with a sheet of paper and the question posed was:  What does society or the individuals within it complain about?  What makes them unhappy?

Any answer was allowed.  It didn't matter how ridiculous it was to an adult.  And despite the silly answers, I was pretty impressed with the list my twelve year old made.  He was pretty in touch to what he had overheard adults saying.  He knew the economy was in the crapper.   He'd seen the adults complaining about the lack of job opportunities.  He even chose to address health care.

The next task was for him to define who was responsible to handle that complaint.  The government? The individual?  The non profit agency?  Or the profit/business companies?  Who can fix those things?

After he thought he had his answers, we went over them as a family.  And we all threw in our two cents on exactly what defines the government's job and role in each complaint.  We laughed.  We debated.  We used logic and reasoning.  We learned that while we all differed on some things, there were basic things that were cut and dry.  The government can't fix your attitude.  You have to do that.  Duh! But the point was we learned a lot of things in one lesson.

He learned the government's job isn't always clearly defined in each individual's mind.  This is why the world has divided into political parties.   He learned some things aren't the government's job to fix at all.  They should be the individual's responsibility and that they needed to take their responsibility into account when they complain.   He also learned about civic responsibility and the role it plays in creating a happier environment for the people.  Why food banks can be important to our society.  Why we need organizations to help fund important research.

Of course, this is not our entire government lesson plan.  This was just the brief exercises we used to introduce the concepts we would be reading, discussing, and learning about in the upcoming weeks.  And it was fun.  It opened his mind.  He would get so caught up explaining his choices that he forgot he was learning something.   He was engaged in this process.  On the way to Grandma's that evening, he started complaining about the comfort of his seat belt.  Soon it evolved into a discussion of who bore responsibility for seat belt laws.  Why we needed safety laws.  And he generated this discussion process.  Not the parents.  It was so much fun to see him learn.  I'm so proud of him.  

It will be interesting to see how his mind develops as he realizes what is great about democracy.  Why it's important enough to defend our freedoms.  As our ancestors have done for years.  Why we have to sometimes protect ourselves, even from our own government when it begins to over step it's own role.  Thus, the need for the election process. simple little piece of paper and it is going to open so many doors to learn.  Which door should we open first?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Deciding Our Destination

Home Schooling

A wonderful thought. A scary thought. A lot more work than many given it credit for. Was I the only one who knew we could do it? And do it better than what my child was currently getting out of his schooling experience?

We had visited the territory known as home school once before. When we lived out of the country and my son was in the second grade. I was fun and engaging. I was putting in more hours than I would have if I worked full time. I wrote full week lesson plans on the weekend. I scoured curriculum, the Internet, books, and resources until my eyes watered. I was determined.

At the same time our employer called into question the fact that our son wasn't registered with the local schools. We had done everything to legally home school and they dared to question the validity of his education. In my research I had learned to expect this but more from the schools when we got home. I slapped down the box of file folders on the bed. With all of the lessons, notes, tests, worksheets, and activity plans. I said "Show them this."

We wound up making the decision to transfer back to the country and deal with some other pressing family matters before we let the employer have it about their concerns. We relocated to the states and enrolled my son in school and I forgot all about it until recently. When he re-enrolled for the second half of his second grade year I was shocked at the work he brought home. We had engaged in things miles ahead of this. It wasn't until his third and fourth grade years that he was even doing the concepts I had taught him in second grade.

This was the first time my mind thought something might be broken for our family. When I could have him that much ahead of a public school curriculum in half the time of a full school year, it made me question the value of the education he was getting. So in third grade I put him on the waiting list for a public charter school. He began sixth grade excited about the prospect.

Then we learned a second valuable lesson about our family. We valued each other. We valued our time together. We valued our holidays spent with relatives. We valued education but we placed a higher value on our time spent together, learning in engaging ways that didn't involve a textbook or quiz.

The charter school was focused on academics above everything else. Almost to an extreme it seemed to me as a parent. My son tested high in his subjects and was placed doing work above his grade level. I was very happy about some aspects of this schooling, please do not misunderstand. However, by Christmas break it became apparent that in some ways smart kid were punished for being smart. They didn't get to go home for the holidays without having ten page reports, extensive science fair projects, and thick packets of home work in every subject to do over the holiday. He had relatives flying in from states away that he only sees once a year, his time with them over the holidays had an importance.

Because of this he fell behind with make up work. He spent a few weeks getting caught up. Then he was behind again. It seemed the work they piled on the kids never stopped. Why was I sending him to school eight hours a day and then spending five and six hours a night teaching him myself at home? What about our family time? What about our family activities? His chores? He had no time to do anything but home work, eat, sleep. He was even starting to fall behind in how much boy scout participation I allowed. We passed on enrolling him in basketball this fall - a sport he really loved and had done the previous two years.

When I was called in to discuss his home work situation and some other issues, I finally had enough. I gave home school serious thought. I wrote lists of pro's and con's. I researched it. I prayed about it. I didn't want to feel like I was letting him quit school because school got too hard. But the thing is, and I feel it's important to stress this, it wasn't too hard. It was too much. Everything has to have moderation in life and kids, still need to be kids. They need their friend time. I understand homework. Please don't take that out of context. But they also need to do other things and not eat, breathe, sleep home work thoughts.

The straw that broke the camel's back was when the teacher decided to ease my burden of homework at home by making him miss the school sporting activity and the mandated choir. The only reason at this point he was still in school was because it could provide him with opportunities for growth and socialization I hadn't figured out how to do yet. He needs sports. He is a typical boy that loves tv and video games. Sports are a chance to encourage him to be active and engaged. To play. To stay fit and healthy. Choir or Band were the mandatory choices at the beginning of the school year. Kids enjoy learning and expressing themselves and it is a very healthy, engaging outlet. Taking both of those things away from him wasn't the answer to our problem.

Our problem was simple. You had eight hours to teach this material and it wasn't enough. So you expected me to do it for you at home. I wanted to say things I refrained from saying to the school. One of them being that this seems like a failure to effectively manage classroom time. Homework is acceptable, this much work, is not. This is no longer homework. It's like "night school".

In addition the charter school was extremely rigid. Children were not encouraged to ask questions or think for themselves. They were to say yes ma'am, no ma'am and never ask why. Or ask how. Don't challenge a theory given in science because it went against the rules. Accept the theory, even full of holes. I wanted to raise a child that actively thought and asked questions. I wanted him to not just vote at 18 for someone because a Republican or Democrat told him to. I don't want him to be Baptist, Pentecost, or Mormon faith based because someone in his family believes those things. I want him to ask questions. I want him to read his own literature. I want him to research his own facts and draw his own conclusions.

This was stifled completely in the charter school environment. It was lost. This bothered me.

I finally talked to my child and husband about what I was thinking. The more I prayed, the more I realized the only solution was for me to undertake this. And I was terrified. There are certain subjects that terrify me. Beyond words. I would have to learn some things myself. He was no longer in second grade and we were going to be swimming in the Jr High waters.

One thing we all decided together was that we did want him to have the high school experience. I'm a firm believer in high school holding too many opportunities that are special and can't be replaced. At the same time I was firmly opposed to public school Jr High. This may seem like a contradiction but it isn't. My logic is fairly simple. Jr High isn't the Jr High today's parents may remember. There are now more drugs in the Jr High school buildings than there are in the high schools in many areas. Sex is starting at a younger and younger age. We throw these kids to the wolves right at the beginning of puberty when their emotions are at an all time high. Their bodies are changing and their curiosity is peaking about those changes. And we expect them to be strong when everyone around them is busy experimenting and pressuring them. We want them to be the lone wolf separate from the rest of the pack. Teased, bullied, made fun of, disliked all because they make good choices. Sorry, there aren't that many kids willing to do it. And many of us parents have grand illusions that they will. It's hard. It's hard to be alone as an adult but we are fully mature and responsible. We can accept that some times you might seem alone but you aren't. We can accept the consequences of becoming a social outcast. We know how to find other circles that accept our core values and beliefs. Twelve and thirteen year old's do not. The vast majority of them aren't going to.

I don't play roulette. I don't play russian roulette. And I don't intend to start with my son. I want to give him every chance at becoming the smart, capable man he is able to become. We tend our gardens. We water them. We weed them. We shelter them when necessary. We keep them safe from the elements. We stand back and let them flourish when the time is right.

In a few years when kids enter high school that is a few more years they have had to grow and learn. To become stronger. To see things from a different perspective. To begin establishing their own identity and needs. Not every child will be ready for high school, but by giving a few years of critical care to your child could it make the difference? If done correctly, I believe by the time they enter that environment their roots are embedded in the ground. It's not as easy to uproot and replant them in the wild. The plant is stronger and can bear more weight and fruit than when it was young and malleable. After high school they face college and hopefully are showing signs of their harvest. I want the harvest to be beautiful. I want it to be, if not perfect, as close to it as we can make it. I want to influence my child's formative years. I want the ability to influence his moral and ethical compass. What time did I have to do that the way things were going?

A few hours on the weekend in between loads of school work was all. A quick trip to the store when he tagged along? I guess you can say, in some ways, while there were problems with both schools he had been in, there was also a desire in my heart to be the best and produce the best. To love and teach, to guide and encourage. To put priority on all aspects of life. Many disagree with my choice. My husband has a thinner skin than he appears to have. This bothers him. He worries about our decision. Time will tell if it was the right one or the wrong one. But for now, we need to pack our suitcases, get our passports in order, and begin our own journey of home schooling. What will we all learn from the journey? What will we wish we had done differently? We won't know by thinking about our decisions, it's time to take the leap and figure it out.

Sometimes our trip will have scheduled destinations and stopping points. Certain things we have to do. At other times our trip may be an exploration into the wild. And I'm sure we will have the days where we laugh as much as we learn. But these are the days, the memories, and the education we want. We have chosen this path. For better or for worse. The good and the bad. Even if it means relearning new tricks, new ways, and new methods. Even if it means devoting more time to the process than we had been.

I am already debating enrolling in some college math courses to brush up on the skills I know I am weak in. Refreshing my own mind so I can enrich someone else's. It's huge. It's scary. But I am ready.