Monday, January 17, 2011

making the grade

Sorry, this took me a lot longer to get to than I anticipated. Of course, I hadn't anticipated The Map Man getting sick half way through digging us out from the big storm, and my having to dig us out the rest of the way. So that occupied me for a couple days there. Then it was a matter of catching up on everything else that got pushed aside while I was digging out. But we're good now (see these photos). Until tomorrow, when we should get another several inches of snow with a half inch of ice on top of it. Fun. I'm imagining sheep rocketing down bobsled runs. I'm guessing that's going to be all too accurate a picture by tomorrow night.

In any case! What I wanted to do, while you enjoy my ridiculous snowy pictures of our farm, is to discuss a major change in our homeschooling plans for the rest of this year, and my reasons for making this decision. And a sort of general rant about categorizing homeschooled kids by grade level.

Basically, I've decided that it's going to serve our particular family best, and each of my children for different reasons, to continue on with our current (Grade 2) materials for the rest of this year, rather than switching to the next packet of Enki Education materials (Grade 3) in March as I'd been planning. But before I get to the details, I may as well jump right to the rant and get it over with.

Why is it that I feel pressured to categorize my children by grade level? Even amongst homeschoolers, one of the most common questions the kids get when they meet someone new is "What grade are you in?" Zoo Boy doesn't feel like he needs to answer that one. (Actually, he doesn't feel like he needs to answer anything demanded of him!) Sometimes he'll say "We homeschool," or sometimes, "We don't use grades," and occasionally he just shrugs and ignores the question.

J, however, wants to have an answer to that question. Everyone else seems to have an answer to it. This year he's telling everyone who asks that he's in Grade 4. And truly, if he were in a public school, that is most likely where he would be. But really, he's working anywhere from 2nd grade to somewhere around Grade 12, depending on what topic you're mentioning. (And I'd dare say, there's a couple of topics he could give a PhD a run for her money with.) I guess 4th Grade is as good an answer as any. But it bugs me -- it really, really bugs me! -- that he feels like he has to answer that at all.

And what bugs me even worse, is that *I* feel pressure to answer the question. Not necessarily pressure from other people. It's that "oh my gosh, am I doing enough? Is he behind? Am I holding him back and ruining his life?" panic attack that I think every homeschooling parent goes through every so often. Even me, who is about as confident a homeschooling mom as you're ever going to meet.

Does it really matter which Grade packet I'm using, if I'm using it in a developmentally appropriate manner for him? Why do I feel the need to refer to the materials I'm using in terms of Grade level at all??

So this is the last time you're going to hear me mention Grades on this blog in terms of the work my kids are doing. Rant over.

Ok, anyway, so on to my decision to keep working with the trickster/sage cycles for rest of this year. (See, no grade level necessary!!) I have a bunch of reasons, and here they are, in no particular order of importance (because they all weigh about equally in my mind, but together add up to a no-brainer in terms of decision-making):

1. The current materials are still meeting my kids in a totally developmentally appropriate way. And there are more of them that I'd really like to use with my kids, but haven't had the chance yet. In particular there are two sages (Stalking Wolf and Ghandi) that I really want to introduce my kids to this spring, and I feel like the way that will work best with them is via the Trickster/Sage format.

2. The Latin American cultural block that I am pulling together for my kids to more fully support their entrance into speaking in Spanish feels like it should take longer than the time I had allotted myself to finish "in time" to leave enough room for the Haudenosaunee culture we were going to work with for the entire Spring. Since we're going to be continuing on with our study of Spanish (hopefully for the rest of our lives!), it makes more sense to me to spend an adequate amount of time grounding the kids in the culture before switching gears, and my kids in general have shown that they need a good 9-12 weeks per culture in order to feel ready to move on. A 6 week cultural block here just isn't going to cut it for us.

3. My friend T has also recently decided to postpone beginning work with the next set of materials until the fall, and I have strong reasons to want to keep pace with what she's doing with her daughter. The biggest reason is that once we move along to the next set of materials, we will be working even deeper within the cultures and it becomes quite large-project based. We have been planning right along to work on the projects together, adding a very important community component to them. A smaller reason is that having another family we know and see regularly working with the same materials is nourishing to me, the teacher in our little homeschool. And anything that nourishes the teacher is a good thing!!

4. For a variety of reasons, I don't want to start this next package of materials with the Haudenosaunee culture -- I would prefer to start with the Torah, which I really want to do in the fall rather than the spring (again, for a variety of reasons). By pushing it off, we can do Haudenosaunee next spring, after the Torah.

5. Zoo Boy is just not ready to move on with math yet. It's a pretty minor point, actually, and I could work around it, but I don't want to push this with him, and it's just easier to take a slower approach to the Place Value stuff and really concentrate on getting both the boys firmer with their math facts before moving into more complex concepts embedded in the next packet of materials.

6. Not only is it going to be easy to meet J developmentally without having to switch materials packets, but he's also going to have enough new challenges this spring outside of our curriculum, with a more involved dance schedule, a new Social Thinking group session, and piano lessons added onto his guitar lessons. Seriously, I think it's enough "new" to challenge him, shifting formats in our homeschool would be piling too much change on the pile right now.

So basically it just comes down to it feeling right to stick with what we're already doing for awhile more. I know that I've felt a weight lifted in having made this decision. And I'm very excited for a fun, educational winter and spring!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this timely post. Just this afternoon, I decided to firm up some math and language arts skills rather than plowing ahead to "stay on schedule".

"Am I doing enough?" is a question that plagues me. Occasionally, I realize that I am.:)

Anonymous said...

In Dessi's school, they teach where the child is at , usually the kids are all over the place what makes sense. I dont like the approach where all the kids at one age move the across the same grade level in all subjects , that just doesnt make sense to me.

Stacey said...

yes, yes, yes, good post. amen on your rant. it is all about meeting our kids developmentally- thanks for the reminder.

Karen said...

I explained early on to my kids that one of the biggest reasons that people ask what grade kids are in is that they're trying to figure out how old the kids are, but that our society frowns on asking people how old they are. I explained to them that if they felt like they wanted to answer, they could tell the person "I'm X years old." If the person pushed a bit more AND MY KID WANTED TO CONVERSE, they could then explain that they homeschooled and weren't doing classes in the same order as the schools.

This helped several ways. It gave them something they could understand as a way to answer, gave them my directly voiced support for their ability to make the choice and helped explain the social interaction that was going on. Since at a younger age, this was almost always happening with me present, I would let them answer if they wanted, but be ready to back them up if the adult chose to behave in ways which would make Miss Manners disappointed.

As far as math skills, I found it was often helpful to put something away for a bit and move to something else. Even when I thought they got something, they might forget it if not constantly using it (ask me about percentages sometime!) so we were already coming back to things. We're using Aleks now (algebra and geometry), It lets the kids move around on their own.