Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rollin' on the River

Following a great deal of passionate discussion-bordering-on-debate, we have arrived at our first homeschool unit study topic: The Ohio River (not to be confused with The Ohio State University).

It's broad enough to serve as an umbrella for all sorts of activities, localized enough to make field trips accessible and on target, and conceptually basic enough to serve as a good starting point. I mean, really, you could go on for years with a topic this broad, but I've been working studiously to brainstorm all kinds of activities and projects that will help to make sure we hit all those Ohio guidelines for Kindergarten (and frankly, first grade) this year. 

That said, it's a friggin' art to figure out how to both meet those standards and not get bogged down with curriculum that isn't always particularly thoughtful or imaginative. In other words, this is the point at which we figure out if what we're doing here is "unschooling," "homeschooling with a curriculum" or "eclectic" (somewhere in the middle). I suspect we'll usually land in the latter category during these early years at least. 

Anyway, so far I've made an outline that I don't think is crazy ambitious, reserved some relevant library books, and I'm working on creating a really awesome laminated map for the classroom table, along with laminated river-related clipart that they can dink around with in the course of me casually throwing out vocab terms like confluence, rapids and tributary. Then I'll quiz Andy on these terms and demand that he recite the definitions and correct spellings on the spot. OK maybe not. We'll make a vocab list for the wall, which always works great with him. He can't help but stop and read what I post on the walls, again and again. I guess I should take down all those Playgirl spreads. Sigh. Kids really just cramp your style, don't they?

The map/clip art is partly to hopefully occupy David while Andy is working on other parts of this project, but again, this whole juggling act is going to be part of the learning process.

A few highlights of my outline include:
- Examining our fossil collection, review of Ice Age deposits etc. (mostly a review since he's really into fossils but we'll get into more depth here)
- Looking at gross river stuff under the scope
- Visiting the Cincinnati History museum
- Compare/Contrast different Ohio river cities and towns (we'll visit a handful)
- Identifying Cincinnati's Ohio River bridges
- Learning about landscapes, sketching our own by the river
- A brief intro to Mark Twain and creating our own river stories (comic, written, puppetry, however it happens)
- Taking a trip on the Anderson Ferry
- B&B riverboat trip
- Creating a high level outline of Ohio River history (American Indian tribes, pertinent European explorers, very brief overview of Cincy history)
- Walking the Ohio River history trail at Sawyer Point
- River-related manipulatives for our math stuff
- Found art from stuff we drag home from the riverbank
- Other stuff we may or may not hit

So it's lots of stuff, and we'll play it by ear and then evaluate what worked and didn't. I have a feeling this will be the post I look back on in a year and laugh and laugh about. "I thought I was going to do WHAT? Ahahahaaha. Stupid Sarah." But really, I've tried to be reasonable, and many activities are really just more pointed than things we'd be doing anyway. Andy is an extremely active reader, so I'll be introducing related books into that mix, etc. He will also be doing Kendo for the first time, a Super Saturday science class, and they will both be participating once a week in a 1/2 day music/art enrichment program at a place we love near here. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When there's no sense to make sense from

Life is beautiful.

It's also sometimes painful, nonsensical, and now and again, filled with thundering sorrow. Today, the thunder is loud. A family has lost the central light in their lives - a mother of two growing, beautiful children, a sweet wife, a dedicated daughter, sister... Ashley was one of those people with very long arms. Even before Cancer came to call, she was one of those magnetic personas. 100 watt smile, sharp as a whip, clearly in love with her sweet son and daughter. While some of my friends were quite close to Ashley, I only met her briefly in person twice and talked to her a few times online, though I followed each of her blog entries. Even from this distance, it was impossible not to root for Ashley, and it was something beyond the shameful lure of the tragedy of a young mother dealing with cancer. She was so candid about her fight, so endlessly brave, so earnest in her desire to inform and educate. Now she's gone and the world seems a little less bright.

And still, life is beautiful.

Because of Ashley, an immeasurable number of people are more educated about inflammatory breast cancer and the realities of one of the cruelest forms of cancer out there. Because she was so honest about the treatments and symptoms she went through and because she so often shone a spotlight on resources available to people like her, other patients won't have to feel so alone when they read her blog. Because she spoke up, even those of us fortunate enough to not be dealing with something like cancer are reminded to not take any of this for granted. Someday, we will all face our own mortality. Because of Ashley, we are reminded that we all have our own journey to navigate and the power to take ownership of the choices in our lives, even at the end of our lives. Even as our hearts break, we are reminded that life is worth living because of love in all its glorious forms. Each day, each smile, embrace, petty argument, macaroni-and-cheese dinner, is a gift, even those days touched by sorrow.

Please send a peaceful thought out into the universe today for Ashley, her family and friends, and to all those touched by this frustrating, infuriating disease. We don't know enough about breast cancer in 2011 and that needs to change. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Local Homeschooling Blog Directory

I'm trying to compile a list of local* blogs related to homeschooling, unschooling, etc. I'll update this list when I come across more, and I'm happy to include any you may know about, too.

Unschooling Snapshots features picture essays from a local unschooling family - a great way to get a peek at lots of local activities.

St. Francis Academy details the adventures of a very active local homeschooling family with kids from 3 to 17.

Ramblings of an Unschooling Family follows the Riesenbergs, an unschooling family with TEN kids. Lots of great pictures and ideas for off-the-beaten-track activities your family can try.

WeHaveEscaped focuses on a local unschooling family who pulled their kids out of parochial education to embark on a home education path.

Our Eclectic Homeschool Journey details another unschooling family in our local area. Love the Top Ten lists and I've already discovered umpteen things I want to look into for the coming school year.

I know there must be more out there, but this is all I'm finding. Please share in the comments.

*Cincinnati, Northern KY, SE Indiana, SW Ohio...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Dead Yet

Gotta love Monty P.

I'm not, though! Still alive and kicking. I've been busy with all sorts of stuff, but namely we've been gearing up for our first year of homeschooling. Anderson, who insists he'd like to be called Andy now, is 5 and while we aren't required to report to the district until he's 6, we're moving ahead with Kindergarten this year. It's been an education just preparing everything for our first few months.

I won't launch into all the reasons we're embarking on this journey today, but I tend to think of us as weirdos among weirdos - a family homeschooling not for religious reasons in an area where the vast majority of homeschooling that does exist, is deeply tied to Christian values. On the other hand, we share some basic commonality with those folks and have been happy to find nothing but support from other families out there. Somehow, we have more in common than not, even if we won't be sharing certain science materials. :)

I will clear up a couple of really basic misconceptions right here at the outset, though, if for no other reason than being able to refer people here when we're asked about these things:

1. Yes, this is legal, and yes, there is oversight, just in case you are worried we'll let them watch TV all day.

2. No, we are not worried about so-called socialization. Not only is there plenty of research-based evidence out there that homeschooled kids do just fine, socially, but we strongly believe regular school provides a pretty unrealistic simulation of real life when it comes to interacting with other people. Homeschooling actually provides kids with more opportunities to interact with not only groups of similar-aged peers, but people of all ages in various parts of the community and farther afield. I suppose we could just lock them in the TV room, but the real dilemma we face is narrowing down the myriad activities available to us to a few manageable choices.

3. No, we do not think we are better than you. We were both traditionally schooled and think we "came out just fine," just like most people we know. We simply feel we can offer much more at home, that standardized testing is too big a focus and too big a waste of time in public schools, and that modern ideas about schooling don't seem to be keeping up with the modern realities of the world. It is difficult for schools to concentrate on cultivating creative, big thinkers when they are forced to worry so much about flawed, often meaningless testing. Perhaps even more extreme to some people is that we firmly believe children can, and should be able to, have a much bigger say in their own learning experiences. Learning, to us, is best when it happens organically. One discovery naturally leading to another discovery and so on. At home, these experiences aren't interrupted by bells, or 30 other students who also need attention. We will likely use some structured materials as well as allowing plenty of room for self-discovery.

4. No, despite all that, we aren't anti-school or anti-teacher. It is important to us to support our local school district and to encourage real change and improvements in the public school system because we'd like to live in a world where everyone has equal access to knowledge and the tools to succeed (i.e. the ability to make true choices as adults). Right now this isn't happening. At all. The disparities among schools in the same district are shameful and many children are certainly being "left behind." This doesn't spell good things for our future. On the other hand, plenty of kids come out of traditional school and go on to do great things. Why on Earth would we have a problem with that? Good teachers, and attentive parents, affect kids profoundly, and our kids will certainly have educational experiences led by some of them throughout their school years. Besides, you never know - if this whole at-home thing doesn't work out, we'd like to have a decent place to send them!

5. Yes, I do feel qualified to teach my own children. Even if I hadn't completed most of a master's in teaching before it dawned on me that I had major issues with the system in general, I would still feel qualified to guide this process. We aren't sure, yet, exactly what "homeschool" will look like to us as things progress, but we are sure it won't look like school-at-home most of the time.

6. No, we won't be sitting around a big oak table every day doing exactly what they'd be doing in school anyway. Our classroom, as cheesy as it sounds, is the world. There will be traveling, local exploring, hands-on research, digging around in muddy creek beds, and lots of community interaction. We will meet artists, writers, musicians and scientists. We'll volunteer as a family more, cultivate our own garden (one where everything doesn't die by July, hopefully), create a portfolio of all the trails we hike, create art, music and film, get some pen pals from across the world... and yeah, we'll do some reading, writing and arithmetic along the way, too.

7. Yes, they will be able to go to college. In fact, many homeschoolers complete their first two years of college requirements by attaining associate's degrees at community colleges or taking CLEP and AP exams during their high school years. Many colleges, including Ivy League colleges, recruit homeschoolers because they are often some of the brightest thinkers and most well-rounded students that enter their doors. We also feel the concept of college will evolve dramatically over the next few years as the value of a college degree becomes more and more questionable. It's hard to say what "college" will look like in 13 years, but we feel hopeful that they will rise to whatever challenge awaits, and that they will be open to a host of options.

OK, so that was 7 pretty big ideas. Sorry! It's hard not to rant. I have tried to maintain a reasonable tone here and hope I haven't come off as too defensive or critical. The bottom line is that we deeply respect individual choice when it comes to educating our children. We are positive our friends and loved ones make decisions about their children's education just as carefully, even when they reach different conclusions, and for the most part, we've been pleased to feel that sentiment in return. We are also happy to be in America, where this choice is respected and supported by the law of the land.

So that's that for that. Watch this space for the latest on our homeschooling adventures. I have a feeling this first year will be one of major discovery for all of us. Our first unit study will begin after Labor Day and I can't wait to share the experience with you.