School is OUT!

Kindergarten in our house ended much like it started–quietly and with little fanfare. There were no end of the year parties, no tiny processional of gowned children. And this was okay with us–JC is not the party type.

Instead, I mentioned to him that he had completed his first year of homeschool and that after the summer, he’d be starting first grade.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think so.”

A year ago, a comment like that would have thrown me off-kilter. Not this time.

“Well, everyone has some type of school. So what should we call it?”

“Super awesome dinosaur battle time.”

Alright, then.

Just because we’re not the last-day-of-school-party type doesn’t mean I’m not taking some time to reflect on out first year of homeschooling. I’m working on a yearbook for him, noting not only his academic achievements but his emotional and developmental ones, too.

I feel like this year went…differently than I thought it was going to be. I made a lot of tweaks and changes as we went. The phrase “unschooling” has always turned me off–but I have a suspicious feeling that we leaned a little to that side in the end. Some things that I thought went well:

  • JC continues to stay at the level of or excel the public school standards. I was concerned about his writing and word recognition/spelling earlier this year, but the moment I stopped pressuring him was the moment he started doing it. His strong subjects are still science and math.

  

  • He is finally warming up to hanging out with other kids. I think he still prefers the company of adults, but he’s learning there are perks to finding a crowd his size who like superheroes as much as he does.

  

  • We have found a co-op we really like and we’re looking forward to their summer sessions and joining them again in the fall.
  • Project based learning really works for JC. I love watching him getting excited about learning–especially when he doesn’t realize he’s learning. Favorite topics this year were the solar system, trains (of course), dinosaurs and World War One.

 

soldiers vs. jedi in an epic battle

 
It is a little bittersweet to see kindergarten come to a close. We had a lot of ups and downs as a family during the school year, and I’m excited to sink into summer. While there’s always things to work on, my singular goal for this summer is to have fun and play–because after all, that’s the way we all learn best.

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Halfway Through Kindergarten

So here we are–the halfway point of our first year of homeschooling.

How is it going, you may ask. If you’re a random stranger on the street, I may answer, oh, it’s great! If you’re a casual acquaintance, I’d probably say, We have our challenges,  but it’s going well. But you, dear reader…well, you get the truth. It’s…going. 

I do not mean to make it sound like we’ve been having a bad time of it. We did a lot in the fall and the beginning of winter. We’ve spent a lot of time outside, examining nature and observing what happens to plants as the weather cools. We’ve studied dinosaurs, our community, dinosaurs, maps, and dinosaurs. We’ve built cities that have been attacked by Darth Vader and his army of storm troopers and set up a jungle with miniature figures in our front yard. We’ve dug holes and glued things. Oh, and we learned about dinosaurs.

Here are my three big takeaways from the first half of the year:

  • When JC becomes interested in something, he wants to learn IT ALL, age appropriate materials be damned. For example, he really enjoyed the Peanuts Movie that came out earlier this year, especially the part with Snoopy as the Flying Ace fighting the Red Baron. For a stretch, everything we did had to do with The Red Baron. We did research (and I edited as I read out loud). We built model planes, recreated battles, wrote our own chapter book continuing the story. Everyone who came in contact with JC got a lengthy lecture on WWI. We had similar obsessions with At-At Walkers (I managed to create a word family tree activity with that one I was pretty proud of) and of course, the aforementioned dinosaurs, as well as pilgrims. He still requests to read all the first Thanksgiving books we have  This is great–it’s what project based homeschooling is all about. Sometimes worlds collide and I walk into his playroom and find T Rex has gone over to the Dark Side and the brachiasaurus barely escaped Hoth because the Flying Ace comes to his rescue. Oh, and there’s a feast at the end.
  • In a similar vein, because that’s the way my kid functions, long term planning isn’t a reality right now. I do plan activities around a theme each week and JC enjoys them…but we often blow through them in a day or two and he goes back to focusing on whatever has his interest.
  • As he gets older, JC really needs a schedule. He was a super flexible, roll with the punches baby and toddler. He was the kid that took naps when he felt like it without too many late afternoon meltdowns, the kid who handled crazy long drives and late nights at Disney World like a champ. Then he turned five and, overnight, BANG. A different story. He needs his morning and nights to be the same, and he does way better when he knows what’s going on. Too much decision making sends him into a tailspin. This has been a really big–and evolving–change.

With this knowledge in hand, here are the three things I’m changing up for our winter and spring kindergarten:

  • We’ve established a “wake up” and “go to bed” routine, but I want to give JC a “morning” routine: updating the calendar, going over the day plans, maybe making a morning basket with a book and a short project that goes along with our theme.
  • We need to get out more. My child and I are both introverts–big crowds, flurries of activity and prolonged socialization wear us out, so we have a lot of solitary time. Which is perfectly okay. I’m not trying to change that about either of us, but I am still hunting for that perfect “tribe” that really suits us. I also think that regular routine will help with this–knowing we’re going to our co-op or kid book club in advance can prepare him (and me!) for the process.
  • I need to stop reading every book I come across on homeschooling theories and just do it. I like to research, I like to know what other people are doing so that I can assure myself I’m doing it right. Which is silly, because I have a smart and healthy kid. I’m doing it right. So my personal goal for the second half of the school year is to stay connected but not second guess myself (probably something I could carry to all aspects of my life!).

We’re “back to school” for the first time in 2016 tomorrow! Are your kids–homeschooled or not–back to reality? What’s new for them this year?

JC’s January: New Year, New Pattern and New Things to Learn

We started pre-k “home school” in August this year. I say it like that for a couple of reasons. One, I think kids of all ages–but especially young kids like JC–learn best by playing and exploring. Two, I wanted to take the years before I have to start reporting to the state to really hone in on JC’s learning style and what works for us as a family…knowing that what works right now may not work down the road. What is working for us right now is Project Based Homeschooling. It allows kids to immerse themselves in what they love doing, and through that, learn the important skills they need. I think it’s a really happy medium between unschooling and a more traditional schedule. Before you write me off as being totally granola-crunchy, let me give you a couple examples of how it’s working for us right now.

JC is really into costumes and imaginative play right now. He got a handful of costumes for Christmas, so we’re doing a lot of dress up. In the past week or so, he’s been a pirate, reading treasure maps left over from a Disney trip, made his own map, and experimenting with a compass; a doctor, giving his animals check-ups and creating his own “big book of boo-boos” a la Doc McStuffins; and a train engineer, building tracks and bridges and combining his many sets. Out of that imaginative play, I got plenty of educational opportunities: we talked about the four directions and what direction our favorite places were from our home, he drew pictures and wrote in his doctor book, and he got a good exercise in problem solving skills (and patience) while trying to figure out how to build a bridge big and sturdy enough to go over his tracks. And all this happened on a non “school” day.

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There be treasure close by…

I guess that’s what I really love about project-based learning at this age–it all happens naturally. It reminds me of the first rule of improv I learned in theater 101: “Yes, and…?” When he makes a suggestion, I get to say, “great! Where can this go?” instead of “sorry, no time now. We have to sit down and learn.” Of course, there are some potential pitfalls. Because this way of learning is so child-driven, it requires a flexible schedule. JC, since day one, has never taken to any of the schedules I’ve tried to put him on…and I personally thrive on a schedule. So one of our January goals is to replace the word “schedule” with “routine” and find a daily pattern. Here is how I’m shaping our days right now.

Mornings are a combination of…

  • Independent play. JC is pretty good about playing on his own, and I often leave “invitations to play” on his kid-sized table: puzzles, a coloring/activity book, a simple construction project, etc. This is one way I’ve found to guide him in how and what he’s learning.
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Some mornings, we do our thing side by side. Work and play, anyone?

  • Errands. Is it just me or does everyone go to Target as much as I do?
  • Play dates/outdoor time/adventure time. We try to get outside at least once a day and do local activities like the zoo or aquarium.

Lunchtime…is often a struggle. JC likes to lunch late in the day, which can throw off dinner and then the evening. I’m trying to find the right breakfast time and combination of morning snacks to get him lunching at a reasonable hour. Our afternoons include…

  • One-on-one time. We left the afternoon nap in the dust long ago, but afternoons are still JC’s needy time. I try to make this time electronic free (unless we’re working specifically on a project/topic that requires it) and we read books, play together, or do an art project.
  • Screen time. JC gets an hour of screen time in the afternoon while I write. Right now it’s two episodes of Curious George.
  • Getting the wiggles out. Usually in the late afternoon we have a dance party or JC rides his trike for a couple loops around to get out the afternoon crazies.

One day a week we have a “field trip day”…we spend the day at a train museum, a park we don’t visit often, or take a day trip somewhere. I try to plan something related to what he’s learning about, but sometimes it’s just an extra long trip to explore a new playground and have a picnic. The best part about it is that even though there’s no “school” time set right now, he is still getting the “reading, writing and arithmetic”. As with all kids, some days are better than others. Most days, it works really well. Some days, it works so well it’s like magic. And of course, there are always days when I want to pull my hair out.

Although we’re using a very child-driven program, JC still needs to be guided. This month, these are the 3 things I hope to expose him to:

  • Introduction of chapter books: I’m really excited to start included simple chapter books into our nighttime reading together. Some of the ones I’m considering starting with are Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne, and the Paddington stories by Michael Bond.
  • Nature in the winter: we live far enough south that it isn’t unbearable for us to be outside playing (most days). I would like to help him discover some of the unique things about nature in winter: why animals hibernate, what animals are still around and active and how they eat/survive, and how the animals and plants adapt to the cold weather.
  • Introduction of a chore chart/system. I’m still not really sure how we’re going to approach this and what the reward will be (coins for the piggy bank, extra iPad game time, etc) but I know it’s time for something.

What is your little one up to this month?