We've recently entered the second half of our school year and as such a thing typically goes for many homeschoolers, it has provided a great opportunity to mix things up.
We can wake up on a Monday and declare that "x, y and z" just aren't working anymore, and have it all changed up by Friday. This isn't something we do casually, because there is a certain stick-to-it-ness that we try to foster as parents, but we also believe that life is here for the making (not taking)... so we best get to it.
As the holidays approached we found ourselves checking in with all sorts of things on the homeschool front. How's it going? Do you need anything? Are there any new classes or experiences you'd like to have happen this Spring? That sort of thing. I love that we get to do this.
So, a couple of things were discussed. The fall semester Web Design class that she took? Html coding and the like most certainly did not ignite a deep passion at this time, there is no need to sign-up for Web Design II in the Spring. The Honors Lit. class though? More please! (We'll save those additions for next year as big ticket item funds are already allocated for this year.) But I agree with her, that class was an excellent investment and the course work was of quality and meaning. This class does run through the Spring semester, we aren't done with that yet, but Web Design was a single semester course so that is completed.
This is our first experience with a true online school and while there has been a learning curve for sure, mostly it has been wonderful. The learning curve came mostly as a result of understanding the technology that supports an online classroom (blackboard, dropbox, skype, etc.) but once we figured the system out it was fairly smooth sailing.
Like regular school, some teachers are incredibly charismatic and easy to connect with while others are a little quiet on the personality front. It's been interesting to see Emily experience this and her response/love for the subject has been definitely effected by how brightly the teacher would shine through the computer screen. So interesting.
As for her other subjects, she wasn't looking for any changes there, all seems to be well still.
But what I really wanted to talk about today is the big change that we've made for the second half of the year.
When we checked in with Emily, asking her those hopes and dreams kind of questions for the remainder of our school year, she requested one thing, and she requested that one thing quite firmly.
Now, Emily has always been one for a school-like feel to things, even resisting terms like "unschooling" when I was campaigning for a looser regimen. But we have total freedom Emily... each day holds limitless possibilities... let's think BIG!
She just wanted to know what History chapters to read and when the test would be.
This goes against my self-starter/free-spirit nature - so it goes without saying that providing true structure and rhythm hasn't always been a place of joy for me. But, I happily obliged as it seemed to provide what she was looking for in her learning experience, and that is the point after all.
But you know, I've always thought this was quite unschool-ish of us, perhaps. Providing a routine that looks very much like school can indeed be total freedom applied if that is indeed the true learning desire for the student.
The thing about writing these homeschool type posts is it can be hard to stay on track! So many threads weave their way into the bigger picture... it makes it hard to get to the point without telling a few side stories first.
In short, Emily was asking for less hour to hour type scheduling and more freedom to explore and study at her own pace - by her own accountability. That last part is huge and reminded me she is indeed growing up and ready to take the reigns more and more.
When we teased out exactly what she was looking for with this increased level of independence, we learned that she still wants the work and study of her typical school days as they are now - she just wants less oversight from us and more accountability on her own part, as well as more freedom within her days.
I'm so happy to see this development.
Basically, up until now we've scheduled blocks of time in the day and have broken those blocks down a bit into tasks/assignments to be done throughout. This format was based on Emily's request, not from some way we (the adults) thought homeschool should look.
Based on Emily's request for more independence, we've tossed that routine.
Now, Monday morning she is given a weekly syllabus (designed by Adam) with all of her assignments and lessons for the week. She can decide however she'd like to go about getting it all done, and knows we are always here for support and discussion, but how she decides to manage her workload and the rest of her days (basically) is up to her.
For my routine loving, rule following girl, this step on the path of independence feels pretty exciting for those of looking on.
And of course, it took her no time at all to figure out that if she applied herself on certain days and did a little "overtime," she could turn her five day school week into four days and go visit with friends at a local cafe for Friday afternoon lattes. That sure keeps a teen motivated!
We still hold an 8am-ish start time to the day, but she has a lot of freedom with how the day unfolds from there.
I should add that Emily has always had this level of freedom, she just wasn't looking to apply it before. It is so great to watch her mature in this way and come into her own by way of this significant step in self-management.
We still "hold space" for learning each day, (that's just part of our family culture) and Emily doesn't head off to her room closing the door behind her. Adam is still here three days a week, available as her primary learning mentor - facilitating discussion on politics, literature, history, movies, books, biology, sports, math, and who knows what else.
Because Emily is older now, there is a certain amount of mentor involvement that we feel is necessary at this level, more so than when she was younger. We homeschooled for a period when Emily was in fourth grade (before jumping in fully when she was in seventh grade), back then she could zip through her Wordly Wise and math lessons with little oversight. But now, deep into her scholarly years, dialogue is an integral part of the experience. We believe the best way to "test" someones knowledge on a topic is to simply see if they can have a conversation about it. Dialogue about everything under the sun is still a huge part of Emily's day. For us, how deeply and inquisitively these conversations become is the real measure of learning.
So, this has been a rather long winded way to share that we now give Emily her full week's worth of work on Monday, and she has until the end of the week to complete it.
And, it's totally working.
It's been a few weeks now and she is applying herself in ways that are new and fun to watch. She hustles at certain points during the week and also notices when she just needs some down time to simply hang out.
It feels like the perfect preparation for college really. Maturity, self-discipline, increased opportunity for time management - important life skills that are practiced more and more each day by this girl that is growing so quickly right before my eyes.
As I finish this up I can hear her downstairs with Adam - she's playing a tune on the ukulele and singing along. A much needed break from classifying algae and debriefing the disappointing triple overtime loss in last night's game. This afternoon she'll do research for her debate argument at co-op tomorrow, on whether the CDC should destroy the Smallpox sample it is holding. (She has debate at homeschool co-op as well as her competitive team.) After that she'll head off to piano. (Where I think I need to request the teacher stop assigning Bette Midler tunes to learn. Ahem.)
There is still more that I'd like to share about this school year. How Emily's Debate Team experience (the study, research, preparation and practice involved) is quickly becoming one of the most prominent subjects in her week. I'd also like to share a little more about her homeschool co-op and what exactly that brings to the table for us.
For now, I'm just so happy to see Emily step outside her oh-so-structured comfort zone and begin to explore new territory within her days. One of the top reasons we homeschool is for the freedom... so let us make the most of it each and every day.