Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kids' Expo Cuteness

Our homeschool charter school had a student expo last week. Students could display any project they wanted.

Six year old Joseph collected some of his favorite artwork, named them all, and glued them to a board ~

 Nine year old Luke is obsessed with the Titanic, so he gathered up pictures he'd drawn, put together a few paragraphs, made a small diorama, and built the famous ship out of old-fashioned legos (no kit) ~

Eleven year old Ian is currently into the Civil War (or the War for Southern Independence, as he informs me is more accurate). He wrote biographies, made a diorama of Little Round Top and baked real hard-tack~

Fourteen year old Clare is a bona fide Potter-head and has drawn some fan-art. I insisted on an essay and she popped one out in half an hour ~

Here's her essay, as a clue to how our homeschooling looks in the dreary grayness here. Just add their mathematics, and they're good.


Lately I have invented a fun game for my younger siblings. I teach them and then test their knowledge on five different subjects. It's called Hogwarts. Yup, I set up our living room to look like the legendary school and I teach Addie, Joseph, Luke, and Ian what the kids in the books learn. I am the teacher: Professor Lyra Burke, pureblood head of Slytherin house.

The five subjects are all from the Harry Potter books and I teach them all. There's Defence [She has adopted British spelling.] Against the Dark Arts, where I teach the kids all about the evil Wizarding things and how to defeat them. Herbology is the study of magical plants such as Mimbulus Mimbletonia, Bubotubers, and Mandrakes. Almost everyone likes Care of Magical Creatures, and I'm sure you can guess what I teach in this class! Potions, however, is hard of most of the students because they have to memorize the ingredients, the way to make it, and how to use it. For the fifth class I choose either Quidditch or Astronomy, as an extra.

I have sorted each of my siblings into separate houses. Eleven year old Ian is a proud Gryffindor who is very good at taking notes during class. Nine year old Luke and four year Addie are studious Ravenclaws who often achieve high marks during exams. Last but not least, six year old Joseph is a happy-go-lucky Hufflepuff who goofs around a lot but like Herbology. They're all good students for the most part.

But they are naughty sometimes. I have a notebook where I keep records of the classes, and also a tally of points. The students' achievements will earn their house points. Any rule-breaking or not listening to the teacher and their house will lose points. When exams (which are going on now) are over, I will figure out which house has the most points and I will give its members a prize. The looming threat of defeat helps the students work harder to gain points and sit still in my classes.

Right now we are in the middle of exams, and Gryffindor is in the lead with 80 points. However, it is closely followed by Ravenclaw, which is boasting an impressive 72 points. Poor Hufflepuff, however, is still trailing a the bottom with 25 points. Still, it's a fun game and everybody involved loves it.

(Especially this mother!)

Hurry up, Spring!

Friday, March 4, 2016

7 Ways Homeschooling Surprised Me

Before jumping on the "7 Reasons I Love Educating One Way or Another" bandwagon, here are my credentials:

I am 46 years old.
I have been married for 25 years.
We have 7 children, aged 21 down to 4.
I have been homeschooling since 1999.
We have 2 sons that have graduated from a course of study acceptable to our state.
They both work and take college classes.

Sure, I love homeschooling and it's what we've done for 17 years. But I also love Catholic schooling and public schooling. I love kids learning stuff and parents engaging with their kids. It happens in all the places, each with its own dance between the pros and cons. The fact that tempers my points below is that homeschooling did not exactly pan out how we thought when our eldest was five. The rose-colored glasses got lost. I may have thrown them in the trash. We had all the feels about faith and family unity; all the plans for excellent books and science journals and museums; and all the expectations of academic curiosity driving them to be active learners. I was sure all the beautiful benefits would be ours. After all these years, I offer our surprises to the families just starting out.

1.) Children will not work without force. Maybe in the beginning when it's sunshine and roses but not as the months and years plod on. To leave them be means that they will play legos and fight (teenagers, too), not cheerfully look up interesting things and journal with abandon. And sure, legos are smart toys but that's not going to teach them times tables or geometric proofs. It must be insisted upon. Ballast becomes necessary. Shocking surprise.

2.) Most science experiments did not work. The rockets never went up; the paper never turned purple; the potato never shriveled; and what in the world is agar and why does the box say "common items easily purchased?" Grumpy surprise.

3.) Even if you read nothing but beautiful picture books and classic chapter books to children; even if you assign important literature to teenagers, you may get a kid who, at 18, does not read for pleasure but shrugs and says, "I don't like to read." This will embarrass you. But that kid may understand vehicle manuals and be a great mechanic. This will not embarrass you. Still a surprise.

4.) We rarely go on field trips because they are expensive for a big family (and absolutely crazy with a ton of kids). Galleries, museums, and shows all cost an arm and a leg. If I go with just the older ones, then I need a babysitter for the younger set. More money. Huge coffee table books are good friends and can usually be found on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble and Sam's Club. Actually, we don't have a coffee table anymore due to too many split lips, black eyes, and goose eggs. You can find gorgeous oversized books on art, architecture, Civil War, battlefield maps, and the real Ingalls family, and you might not have to force the kids to flip through them. OK surprise.

5.) My children don't love morning prayer time. In fact, I pass out sticks of gum if they are decent and there's usually at least one who doesn't get gum. We've been Catholic for 11 years, so most of them are cradle Catholics and know all the liturgical seasons and prayers. They still make jokes for prayer requests, balk at leading, and generally goof off. Worried surprise.

6.) Catholic school seems wonderful ~ the uniforms are crisp, cute, and scream Smart Kid. Daily rosaries and an extra Mass a week is a dream come true for this mother who often goes to Sunday Mass with a wet head and an empty stomach. If only it didn't cost 6 weeks' pay per child. There is no sacrifice to be made (Food? Gas? Braces?).  May we have some teaching sisters, please? Sad surprise.

7.) I signed my children up for a homeschool public charter school in our town. What this means is that I bring my kids to a building full of teachers teaching classes for homeschoolers  ~ grades K-2 one day, grades 3-5 another day, and grades 6-12 on another. So I get to lose a few kids each day and they get to do science experiments, oil paint, deal with bullies on the playground, and obey another teacher. I never thought this would be something I would desire. But surprise.

My sweeping proclamations in the first few years of homeschooling ~ of Christianity, unity, beauty, logic, community, academia, Kids that aren't lazy and don't make stupid decisions ~ didn't exactly come to fruition. I've been surprised both at them and at myself. Mostly, I now know that all the ways of educating children are good with parents' love. I no longer think any other way is second-best. It's what we do and we like it. We like reading science texts and good stories on the sofa with hot chocolate; we like older kids helping younger kids with math (sometimes what I have them do if they're not understanding theirs); we like high schoolers getting up at 6am to get their work done before the younger kids get up; we like taking off whatever days we want because Daddy's off; and we like arguing over what Jesus meant in Luke 6:30 (what we're memorizing for Lent).

I raise my cup of tea to all of us with children and adult children ~ to their growth and education in academics and virtue and to our growth and education in wisdom and charity. And surprises.