What homeschool looks like at the moment

For those of you following along at home, J and I homeschool our two kids, M and K. There are so many varieties of homeschooling that I, from time to time, talk about what we do and why. This is partially to inform the curious, partially to give ideas and model behaviors for other parents who may be thinking of homeschooling, and partially for my own thinking.

1. K is nine-and-a-half, and in fourth grade. M is nine, and in third grade. This is … a little bit misleading, and a little bit arbitrary, but one has to pick a standard to measure the kids against, and that’s the standard we picked.

2. In the state of Minnesota, annual testing is required for homeschooled kids. We have the kids take the Peabody Test each fall. (Hence picking a grade for comparison.)

3. J and I decided some time ago that we have similar ideas about a curriculum. Competent human beings, by the time they are released into the world, need certain skills. Those skills are many and varied. It’s our job as parents to try to teach ALL of those skills. But in a more strictly academic sense we teach, or provide access to teachers of, the following:

Math – arithmetic, algebra, geometry, money, measurement, fractions, decimals, estimation, probability
Grammar, spelling, punctuation
Composition
Handwriting
Typing
Foreign language
Sciences – y’know, all of them
History – world, American, recent, ancient
Athletics
Swimming
Music
Performance and public speaking
Poetry
Literature – mythology, legend, plays, classic works, new fiction, sf/f, comics
Social Navigation

4. We teach school seven days a week, year-round. We miss about 40 days a year for holidays, field trips, birthdays, vacations, and performances. This is much easier than trying to stop and start each week or season.

5. Each day the kids have what I call “the mandatories.” That’s math, composition or grammar, history, and Spanish.

For math we use Singapore Math. Each kid has their own textbook and workbook, and does a small section of problems. This takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours, depending on the stubborn resistance of the child in question to DOING said math.

Composition switches off with grammar. For composition the kids each have a notebook, and must write a set number of sentences on a topic of their choosing. This practices handwriting, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and composition. For grammar we use The Logic of English, a title that makes me laaauuuuugh. LoE teaches spelling and grammar rules in a way that tries to enforce, well, logic, on English.

At the moment for history we are reading The American Story. It’s a really nice collection of events in U.S. history, those both well-known and more obscure. The kids have a fairly decent grounding in world history already, and now we’re working on specific times and regions.

The kids take a Spanish class for homeschool kids once a week. Each day at home they do a part of their homework for that class.

6. After the mandatories we have the free reading and video sections of school. Each week J goes to the library and gets a large stack of books on a variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction. The kids have to read for twenty-to-thirty minutes from this selection. We keep a loose eye on which books they pick. Left to their own devices K will pick all mythology, legend, and sociology, while M will pick all science, engineering, and military history. We step in from time to time and make them branch out each week.

After the reading the kids finish up school with a School Video. This includes educational videos J has checked out from the library, non-fiction videos we own, such as The Story of Us, Schoolhouse Rock, or anything by David Attenborough, and a host of choices from NetFlix.

The … standard … of what counts as a school video slipped a few years back when M had the flu and watched a LOT of NetFlix. But it includes Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but excludes Ice Road Truckers. So, y’know.

Standards.

7. For music both kids are in choir at Unity Unitarian Church. In addition, K plays piano and euphonium. For this she has a half-hour practice of each instrument every morning, and lessons once a week.

In addition, K belongs to a homeschool band. Once a week, over lunch, she goes for a lesson and a practice of her band music. (This term they are doing, among other pieces, music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.)

8. The kids take swimming lessons at the YMCA to which we belong. M takes lessons from September through March. K has finished the YMCA’s lesson sequence. We enroll her in a term of Shark once a year, to keep her skills up.

Both of the children are far, far better swimmers than I am.

9. Athletics. Yes indeedy.

Both kids take karate at Running Tiger Shaolin Kenpo, one class a week and five minutes of practice every day. Swimming counts as athletics as well.

M takes a non-performing trampoline class at Circus Juventas. Between karate, swimming, and trampoline, he’s in three classes that teach full-body coordination and awareness. We make sure that he gets exercise every day in addition to these classes. Either homeschool playgroup, or time on our backyard trampoline, or running around the block, or something. Exercised children are calm children. Just like puppies.

K takes karate, as I said, and swim lessons, as I said. She also takes classes at Anda Flamenco once a week. (The Anda Flamenco website makes noise on page load! Caution!) And then there’s circus.

To re-cap, K is heavily involved in Circus Juventas. She’s taking twelve classes this term:

Bicycle
Aerial Techniques
Low Casting II
Contortion I-II
Prep Team
Juggling I
Vault Mini-Trampoline II
Unicycle II
Low Wire I
Clowning I
Trampoline (non-performing)
Triple Trapeze

It covers fourteen and a half hours, over six days a week. K basically has “Athletics” totally covered.

10. Performance

This is covered by things already listed. Miles is in choir. Karla is in choir, band, flamenco, and circus. Neither child worries much about getting up in front of people and doing stuff, as long as they feel adequately prepared. I feel, and J agrees with me, that this is an essential life skill.

11. Social Navigation

This is pretty varied. It includes talking about sex, dating, sexual harassment or abuse. It includes talk of drugs, alcohol, and social situations involving same. It covers talking about friendship, meeting people, and negotiation. It covers etiquette and manners. It covers ethics and morals.

It also covers some pretty basic, yet horribly subtle, skills. How much eye contact is the right amount? What is the right amount to face the person one is speaking to? When does the other person want you to stop talking?

Tricky, tricky things.

12. Other Items

There’s so much to homeschooling that the things I’ve already listed don’t cover.

News: Each morning we read the BBC website headlines to the kids, and watch some BBC News video clips. We talk about the news items and try to explain current events and world politics.

Read Aloud: Every morning, and those evenings which aren’t too late, we read part of a book aloud to the kids. The books vary; science fiction and fantasy, older classics of children’s literature, books featuring girls, boys, and families — all sorts of things. We read books that are slightly beyond where the children are comfortable reading in terms of language or themes. We read books that cover a wide range of times and places and sorts of problems. We try to expose the kids to the sheer variety of human experience as revealed by narrative.

The future is easier is you have a map. Fiction is a guide to possibility.

Chores: Both the kids have chores. Not in exchange for money, but merely because the common good of all people requires that everyone take care of the commons. One takes out the garbage not because one has filled it, but because the garbage needs taking out.

Some chores are assigned because one child does do more of the messing-up. But cleaning one’s own things is not an assigned chore, it’s merely part of life. Cleaning one’s room or playroom are not chores, they are expectations. Picking up the dog bowls each day, now, that’s an assigned chore. It needs doing, and the dogs just don’t seem to help out, you know?

Community service / charity: The kids must perform community service or give money to charity. For now they choose to go with J on her monthly visits to the local nursing home. One morning a month they go and talk to the residents there.

This is also part of J’s community service; we hold the same standards for ourselves as we do for the kids. As a family we sponsor the education of a girl about K’s age living in Guatemala. I donate money regularly to Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International. As the kids get older they will make choices about how they will continue to contribute to the world.

Voting: We go as a family to the polls each year. Because it matters to not only vote, but to be seen by one’s children to care and participate.

Projects and field trips: Oh, we go to museums, and model rocketry launches, and Renaissance Festival, and concerts, and zoos, and vacations. We do stuff.

When we do these other things, we don’t make a Huge Educational Production out of it. Just going and having the experience is learning enough.

***

It’s a lot of stuff. Is it more work than conventional school? Less? I think that depends on what a family considers to be difficult. I listen to friends and coworkers discuss their wrangles with school institutions and I think I’ve got it easy. But then I spend three straight hours dealing with decimal-related tears, or cursive-script-rage, and I think that this is perhaps a bit difficult.

There’s no question that this is a lot of driving around and taking kids to various things. But is is any more or less than any family with active kids? I can’t say. I do know that we would find K’s circus goals and commitments very difficult if she were also in school six hours a day.

I’m profoundly glad that we homeschool. I think it lets us challenge our kids while also making allowances for their strengths and weaknesses. I think that they would be different if they were in school. M has certain behavioral and learning quirks which would make institutional education hard for everyone. K likes to slide to the lowest educational expectations unless her teacher, parent, or coach nags at her to do better. As homeschoolers, we can compensate for or counter these tendencies.

I like my kids. I like that they are confident, polite, outgoing, and reasonably empathetic. I like that they have goals they want to pursue, interests that fill them with passion and purpose. I like that they each have academic interests and fields of study they prefer. I am glad to be homeschooling them not only because I think it’s good for them, but because I get to see how awesome they are, every day.

My kids tell me, weekly, that they are going to take over the world.

I don’t think I would mind.

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