Sunday, February 27, 2011

Delightful days

We're really appreciating the freedom we have, having had a taste of being part of the system.  What a wonderful life!  

I always enjoy reading 'typical day' messages written by home ed. families.    They are hard to write and impossible to keep short!  A few friends have recently had a go at it, trying to share the essence of their days, and I felt it was about time for me to jot down what we've been up to.  We have very few typical days, so my version is more of an overview of some of our usual activities ...

Elijah's recent interests have included:

-  counting his money to compare it to the price of whatever he is saving for ... last month, after 2 years saving, he reached his goal and bought an electric drum kit.  He also likes being the banker in Monopoly.

-  playing instruments ... he's never had a lesson, but does amazing things with drums and guitar (playing with both since a toddler), adding words to songs he knows or makes up.
-  'reading' an endless supply of non fiction history books, mostly about Knights, sometimes a book about Vikings or Warriors, the Roman Army or other parts of history.  Mostly I think he studies the pictures and labelled diagrams.  He looks at books for several hours most days, on top of our time spent reading together, and is eager to be able to read more for himself so that he won't have to rely on me so much (distracted by cleaning, cooking, phone and computer too often). 

-  Superdad helped Elijah make a bow and arrow from materials in the bush across the road (and string).

-  writing in his self-started 'future book' ... basically planning fun jobs for when he grows up.  So far he has designed a paintball army game centre (asked me to help find camo clothing designs  for the teams on the internet), and a Knights Land (role play for grown ups) with lists of horses, equipment, costumes etc. and a birds eye map of the place.  Elijah usually asks me to write it for him, either on the whiteboard to copy, or in his book to trace.

-  writing in his diary ... self-directed but often asks us to spell words.

-  building a castle using a kit with plaster of paris bricks he makes using a rubber mould.  Also still spends a lot of time building and destroying lego models, and talking to us about what he has made ... the talk continues even without an audience.

-  watching science, geography and history shows on ABC 1 and the internet (Bill Nye), and DVDs such as Leyland Brothers, Grainger's World Australia, and other nature shows either on TV or from the library.

Jasmine loves:

-  colouring in - from a box of colouring books (fairies, Princesses, Bible stories) and sometimes pictures we search the internet to find together (eg. she'll say "I want a water fairy).

-  craft - mosaic sticker pictures (from a few sets rec'd as gifts), bead necklaces and bracelets

-  books about fairies and princesses (mostly Rainbow Magic and The Tiara Club series) ... we read her 3-4 chapter books most weeks, plus picture books she owns (like a Tinkerbell series) and borrows.  As a welcome change from the predictable stories, we found a delightful library book called 'Fairy Foals' which both kids are enjoying ... very arty and imaginative.  

-  writing - a variety of handwriting books, exercise books for sentences and stories, and her own private journals, some locked.

-  Reading Eggs - we had a break for a few months, and Jasmine is glad I renewed our subscription.  The break was good as she is now ready for the lessons she had reached but was finding too hard last year.  100% on today's Map 6 quiz!

-  other computer activities - Targeting Maths Lab 1 CD-rom, Tux Paint, various games we find online, and just plain typing.

-  listening to music and singing along with toy microphone - Delta Goodrem, Jack Johnson, lots of Sunday school CDs, Australian songs etc.

-  playing her guitar or violin ... no lessons, just self-taught and improvised.  I LOVE Jasmine's voice and her way of making up songs as she goes, but I have to be careful as she doesn't like to be observed or adored TOO much!

-  games (like Monopoly Jnr, Mastermind, Jenga, snap, Uno) and puzzles, dolls of many kinds, Dora lego,  listening to stories.

-  people ... always making plans to see her friends, but happiest when it's not in a large group :)

Activities I've strewn/ inspired/ suggested, which have been very well received this year:

-  a new set of watercolours and art book each.  The kids use these freely several times a week and it's always a delight to watch them at work.

-  Australian studies - this mostly involves reading to the children, loosely guided by The Australian Book Traveller So far we've read 2/3 of The Australia Book (Eve Pownell), and it will be a slow but deeper journey, as I keep finding extra wonderful books to enjoy together; like "Lost" a survival story about 3 children lost in the Australian bush in 1860's.  Each chapter is followed by (genuinely) interesting facts about life back then, such as toys, homes, food, clothing.  The kids (especially E.) are very interested in Captain Cook's journey, early white settlement and how it impacted on Aborigines, gold rush, explorers, bushrangers etc. and how things have changed over time.

-  most days we read together a chapter from a Bible story book (currently from a huge, old but well written, 10 book series by Arthur Maxwell)

-  we're using phonics (mostly LEM, a bit of Jolly Phonics and Reading Eggs) to fill in gaps to help both kids read and write more confidently.  We use a variety of methods to keep us all interested!  Elijah is also working through Sounds Right, Read, Write Book 3.  

-  soon Elijah will start in the local soccer team, and Jasmine will again do home ed. gymnastics.

-  Nature Studies ... we've read a little of The Wonderland of Nature, complemented by Bill Nye science clips & Magic School Bus books/ shows, and serendipitous sightings around home.  Mostly though, we're on an Australian animals tangent.

-  most of our maths is invisible, just part of life and fun, but they both do a small amount of textbook or practical work to ensure me that their skills are recorded and progressing.  This is negotiable, in terms of when and where, what (limiting the boring, pointless or tedious), how (practical, visual eg. books and DVD's, answers for textbooks can be oral, written or scribed by me) and we're open to creative interpretation and wandering off the track onto more interesting tangents. 

And ...

The kids also spend heaps of time on the trampoline, bikes, at various pools and beaches, visiting friends and relatives, building cubbies with furniture and cushions and sheets.  They love cooking and watching cooking shows, helping Pete in the yard, sometimes doing jobs inside to be helpful or sometimes for extra money.

Recent requests of things the kids WANT to do, some of which I'll try to arrange in coming months:

-  woodwork (hooray, classes start next week!!)

-  sewing ... with my machine, needlework and handmade toys ... mostly inspired by pictures they've seen in books

-  ice skating (Jasmine) and ice hockey (Elijah) ... perhaps a one off visit will have to do for now, as they also want:

-  tennis lessons (Jasmine), violin lessons (Jasmine) and drum lessons (Elijah)

-  Elijah wants to make real medieval and Roman empire spears, shields, costumes, chain-mail suits, helmets, swords etc, preferably after researching the real materials they should be made from!

-  the kids and I want to learn more about Bush Tucker, and edible plants we might find in real life.

Our weeks are full of fun and learning, only a fraction of it planned.  So far today we've had a productive morning of reading, writing and spelling.  Oh, and I did housework while the kids watched school TV shows like Science Clips and Backyard Science.  We went to the shops, then decided to watch a Barbie Rapunzel DVD during lunch.  Soon we'll read together, play outside and sort out clothes which should go to the op shop.  I have to go out again later, while Elijah and Jasmine play or go swimming with Daddy.  The kids asked to do maths after dinner today.  It seems we all like to mix up the expected order of things a little!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A wild ride!

We decided to ride a roller coaster, knowing it would be fast and possibly dangerous.  We almost fell out on some of the loops and got jolted on the corners.  It seemed like it would never end, but finally we cruised into the exit tunnel.  We limped away, but can now look up at the ride and say we survived.  Most families have no choice but to ride this roller coaster every day.  For some it's a nightmare, for others it's comfortable, thrilling, even fun.  I'm just glad we are free to choose a different ride!

I know I haven't written enough about what's been happening here lately ... it's been too crazy to put in words.  I'll try and bring you up to speed.

Late last year Jasmine started wishing fervently to try school, and after prayer and thought over the break, we decided to give it a go.  We enrolled her at the Public School near our place, where we knew nobody but had heard only good reports.  Despite it being her own wish to go, it's been tough for Jasmine, and she's made that very clear with tantrums and daily changes of heart.  In just 7 days she was late 3 times and totally missed 1 day because she carried on for so long that I wouldn't let her go (and wasn't fit to take her anyway after weathering the storm).  Twice her teachers had to take a kicking and screaming child from my arms, and I had to leave and hide around a corner until I knew she'd settled.  Things improved when Jasmine said she wanted me to drop her off and sneak away (previously hard to do, with her climbing me like a tree).  I spent some days happily teaching Elijah, and a few crying and sick with the stress of the morning.

Our hearts broke as we pick up the pieces each afternoon.  Jasi said the best thing was the work (basic phonics she already knows, and lots of colouring in).  On day two, she started sadly confessing that her new friend had decided to not be her friend anymore, and was telling other kids to leave her out as well.  The teacher said she'd help Jasi make new friends, but observed that she doesn't initiate friendship or follow when the group moves on.

Even so, she's done so much more than we knew she could.  Simple things like asking for an iceblock at the canteen, chatting with the teacher for a literacy assessment.  She was disappointed that they didn't do maths (though maybe they did, but it wasn't what Jasi expected).  We're proud of her courage in just giving it a go.

But we decided enough was enough ... I couldn't handle the tension and trauma, and didn't see that any good could come of continuing.  Jasi wanted to finish this week, but it was sealed for me when the teacher lectured me yesterday for bringing Jasmine late, saying it wasn't good enough and we'd have to get our act together and stop messing around (basically).  She repeated this when Mum picked up Jasmine in the afternoon (I was too sick with anxiety to go in) ... thankfully I'd typed a letter for Mum to deliver, saying thanks and sorry to the teacher, and informing her that we'd be notifying the Principal of our intention to resume home education today.

I was keen to exit gracefully, and hope the carefully written letters to the teacher and Principal will allow us all to end on a positive note.  Now we can get on with our lives without school, and I can salvage what's left of my dignity.

I am SOOOO relieved.  Jasmine is too.  She cried for half an hour yesterday when I told her she wouldn't be going back to school, then bounced back to being a free and happy girl again, grinning and excited about what we'll be doing together.  It is the same relief she expressed when we told her she could leave her stifling and boring ballet class a year ago.

Why did we let our 5 year old daughter enrol in Kindergarten at the local Public School?

Because we thought it was harmless to let her try Kindergarten.  Because I thought 5 year olds would be kinder and easier to befriend than older children in years to come.  Because we could always return to homeschooling, anytime we wanted, and just treat this as an innocent experiment.

Why are we letting her, after 7 days, return to home schooling?

Because we can.  Because I love my daughter and her turmoil each day tortured me, to the point where I felt physical pain.  Because teachers shouldn't belittle parents in front of the class, nor loudly and condescendingly lecture an already frightened child.  Because we believe home ed. suits our children and love tailoring each day to them.  Because home schooling allows us to raise our children the way we believe God wants us to.  Because of the scratchy uniform and the unkindness of mean girls.  Because I don't believe in school enough to force her to go again and again when she's determined not to anymore.  Because we have little trust in the staff, after one week and four different teachers already.  Because we ALL need to have some stability and continuity.  Because we want to get on with real life and learning, not playing the school game.

Was it worth it?

I felt like an incompetent Mum, an unprofessional teacher, inconsistent and too easily influenced by my daughter's fluctuating moods, wishes, strength and vulnerability.  We didn't last the term, as we'd planned to.  I got in trouble ... I've always hated confrontation and conflict.  The teacher spoke down to my daughter.  She won't have the chance to do that again.

BUT on the bright side, Jasmine's curiosity has been satisfied.  She is now keen to have a wonderful year of home ed., instead of feeling deprived and controlled.  We respected her wish to explore.  We had an intense two weeks, difficult in many ways, but have emerged with our love and respect for each other intact and strengthened.  I have learned more about Jasmine's character, learning style and inner strength, and can use this to be a better parent and teacher for her.

Onwards and upwards!  We have had a lot of fun today, together, and the future looks bright.  It'll probably be easier to write about too!!