Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What We Learned in Our First Year of Homeschooling

We've officially completed our first year of homeschooling, {and it only took me 2 months to write about it, haha} and I'm calling it a success! It was a learning experience for both Big Sister and myself in many ways. We made projects, played games, changed our entire approach, practiced reading, laughed, created art, made music, refined our approach further, sharpened math skills, and got to know each other in a whole new light. We had stellar days and days that were kind of a struggle and days that we cut ourselves a break and watched a Magic School Bus marathon. Nevertheless, we made it through two portfolio reviews with the county with flying colors and the go-ahead to keep on doing what we're doing! {high-fives self}

Here's what we learned....
Big Sister learned all of the basic academic subjects by studying topics she chose based on her own interests and inquiries about the world. We studied blood and the circulatory system. She wanted to know why we have blood, what it's made of and what it does in our body. Through reading library books, watching videos, doing experiments, creating art projects and learning a few new songs, she was able to discover the answers to her questions and tons more.

She also wanted to learn everything about outer space, especially the moon and stars. Now she can tell you the name of each planet in order, what each planet is made of and its temperature, special features of each planet such as the red dust of Mars, rings of Saturn and the red dot on Jupiter which is actually a huge storm. We measured how far apart each planet it and its distance from the sun and created a 50-year timeline of major events in space exploration. We charted the moon each night to watch the phases. We also used a flashlight and an orange to recreate a small-scale sun/moon/Earth simulation to see how the moon moves through its phases.

For our third and final unit of the year we studied Native Americans. Library books were our best friends {aren't they always?}, but we found a ton of interesting videos and even a Native American station on iHeartRadio to listen to while we did our projects. That was cool. It was a mixture of traditional music and more modern songs. She really enjoyed comparing and contrasting the different styles. We did art projects and focused on the rich culture and fascinating lifestyles of different groups of Native Americans. We brushed up on geography by talking about how life was different for Native Americans living in different parts of North America. She loved learning about their different types of houses, clothing, food, and what they did for fun. 

I learned a lot this year myself. I certainly learned a lot of new things about the topics we studied, but even more than that I learned a lot about being a homeschooling parent. Even as a certified teacher with a master's degree, it was harder than I expected. I'm an organized person but it took me the whole year to figure out a system of planning that really worked for both of us, and even then there are things I'll do differently for the upcoming year. I learned that a traditional-school approach of studying each academic subject independently didn't work for us, and neither did a completely open-ended and unstructured school day. We both need a good schedule and routine, but one that is filled with age-appropriate activities and experiences we'll enjoy working on and learning from. Perhaps most importantly, I learned these two things...

1) Big Sister is an eager learner, and she's a quick learner. I need to capitalize on that to truly give her the advantage of home education over public school. In public school she is the child who would be given extra worksheets to occupy her because she was finished her assignment and the teacher was still working with other kids. At home, we can just keep moving along at her pace, cover more information, go further in-depth, practice longer, examine different angles, or just plain finish up and have some more time to be a child.

This is the cutest game called Camelot, Jr. The object is to get the knight to the princess by only using the blocks that each challenge indicates. She and Little Sister both will sit and play this forever!

2) Homeschool is absolutely the right choice for us. While she's a quick and eager learner, she's also extremely creative and imaginative. The rigor of a formal "sit-and-learn" experience doesn't work for her. She resists it. And I know that in a public school classroom this comes across as either a difficult child, or a child who doesn't have the skills. Both of these things are incorrect about her. Thankfully, at home we have the flexibility to learn in a way that's appropriate for her age and learning style. There is no rush because the test is coming up. I don't have to just move on because other students need my help. We'll get there, and we'll do it in a way that fans the flames of an eager learner instead of frustrating and discouraging her until they go out for good.

In the fall we'll begin first grade. It probably won't look like what her friends are doing and learning in first grade, but that's ok. We'll probably even change and adjust our plans a little more throughout the year because we're still learning what works. Also, Little Sister will begin some Montessori-inspired pre-school activities, in addition to her usual participation in whatever we're doing that she takes interest in. I'm not yet sure how that will all look until we get into it, but I'm excited. And I probably need to start my planning like, now :)

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