A reminder to remember

memories-407021_1280As we near the end of another academic year and my middle son’s impending graduation, I’m struck by the speed at which time has passed. It seems we started this family-learning journey just yesterday, yet it has been almost 10 years since we began. After moving our family 3 times, a plethora of career changes and many curricula switches, much of our homeschool past has faded into the recesses of my memory. But I haven’t forgotten everything.

I still remember how scary the word ‘homeschool’ once was.

I still remember the looks my teaching colleagues gave me when I said we were taking our kids out of public school. 

I still remember not knowing what to do first. Or second. Or at all. 

I still remember my timid entrance into the first co-op, surrounded by well-meaning but slightly confused moms trying to figure out what I was doing there without my wife. 

I still remember the weeks that I was sure the kids were learning absolutely nothing. 

I still remember my wife and I debating if we had made a mistake. 

However, I also remember how our children found their stride. 

I remember how they grew in confidence and in their ability to overcome challenges. 

I remember lots of laughter. Lots of time to enjoy our children. Lots of unexpected joy. 

And I can’t forget to remember, now that we’re nearing the end. Because that memory is what makes the next chapter of our family-learning so exciting.

I can’t wait to see what I’ll have to remember to remember next.

Something “Summer” This Way Comes

 As a musician who equates everything with musical themes and ideas, I would ask you to do me this favor as you read this post. Right now, please begin to hum or sing in your head, the theme from the movie “Jaws.”

(You should now be hearing two notes, a half step apart, played by the low orchestral strings, slowly beginning to speed up. Just in case you weren’t sure).

I begin my post with this musical interpretation to describe what I hear in my head as this week nears. You may feel it must be a foreboding moment I am anticipating – a dentist appointment, perhaps, or a project I’ve been procrastinating on that has an approaching deadline. I do have each of those situations on my horizon, but they are not the source of the scary music playing in my head. Rather, it is tomorrow, or for those reading at a later time, April 30, 2012.  What is this doomsday date signify, you ask?

No, it is not the last day on a South American tribal astrological calendar.

It is the last official day of our current homeschool academic program.

Yes, dear reader, the fear I am facing is the same fear that grips most homeschool parents around this time (and I’m sure grips other public school parents, but with the reprieve of a month or two more of school to shield them); the ever-present question of “What are we going to do this summer?”

It always amazes me that, as homeschoolers, despite the popular portrayal of being sheltered and secluded in our homes, we are very, very connected to our social and academic programs outside of the home. That, of course, is one of the strengths of the homeschool movement – the freedom to move in and out of various educational programs without the hindrance of compulsory school attendance to prevent certain schedule or lifestyle choices. However, there remains the inevitable moment that all these programs break for the summer, and just like our public school counterparts, we stare at these once ‘busy-beaver’ children and swear by our graves that they will not become couch potatoes for 3 months. Even as we speak those words, the fears in our heads swirl like little tornadoes, wrecking havoc on any hope that some program will appear that will keep them busy and out of educational lethargy.

This is the quandary I find myself in every summer. This, despite the fact that most summers my children find their way out of my now-non-existent hair and into their grandparents’ home, where they can both vegetate and receive plenty of allowance – ready work around the house to earn money for their church camp and other summer necessities. Every year I preach the same message to my kids about “lifelong learning” and try to fight their insistent plea that they must have total separation from anything even remotely educational. You would think after 8 years of homeschooling that I would be fully prepared for this season every year. You would, however, be disappointed in your optimistic thoughts of my preparedness. I find myself so consumed with finishing the “year” strong that I usually neglect to remember that our academic “year” is barely more than one-half of the calendar year. 22 of the 52 weeks of our year are non-scheduled, non-programmed – dare I say it – “unschooled” weeks.

And so, my emotions and intellect convene on that first of the 22 weeks to remind me that I have two choices. Either I can surrender to the panicky thoughts of lackadaisical children filling their heads with Playstation 3 and iCarly for hours on end, or I can be intentional about keeping the “R”s in my kid’s summer. Not the colloquial “Reading, ‘Ritin’ an ‘Rithmatic'”, but instead, Rest and Retention.

The key of this seasonal schedule is to keep both rest and retention in focus. Too much or not enough of either can lead to stressful summers. No matter how far behind a student is, rest is important, despite worries about ‘time off’. Without rest, the children would become totally unwilling to focus on their studies when they are necessary, and totally unable to prioritize their ‘downtime’ appropriately.  Therefore, to use the analogy of our homeschool ‘program’ being a car driven 8 months out of the year, we as a family have to take our foot of the accelerator of our homeschool vehicle, park it, cover it neatly, and let the academic engine sit in the garage for a bit. However, I’m not so quick to settle into relax mode without remembering to take the car out for a spin to make sure the wheels are still turning properly. So a math course for my daughter, or an online study in business for my son will find its way into the garage for proper maintenance. This retention strategy is not just about keeping information in their heads, but more importantly, it is about retaining their learning lifestyle. I want to foster and encourage an attitude that does not shut off their desire to learn based on the current month of the year. Keeping a healthy balance of rest from academic studies, and a plan to retain our learning lifestyle is my ultimate summer goal.

So after the last tutoring session is done, the testing complete, and the portfolios reviewed, I’ll wistfully wave goodbye to this academic year like a familiar face on a ship bound for places unknown and never to be seen again – well at least until August. Then I will square my shoulders, march back into the family room where my kids will likely have either a YouTube video about a hyperactive chipmunk-sounding teenager on their iPods, or yet another insanely ridiculous cartoon on the TV that I cannot find funny for the life of me.  I’ll then look them in the eyes and say the words that they hate to hear.

“Pass me the remote.”

What was your name again?

Oh, yes…it’s a fair question. Considering how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog post paragraph sentence about homeschooling in this blog, it would be safe to assume the title is simply an unfortunate attempt of former street wise cat to create a more family friendly persona.  “Big Daddy? No, its Homeschooldaddy now. I’ve settled down, dude!”

Um, no. I do still homeschool, and it is still a main catalyst for the lifestyle I lead. Despite all the life changes and career changes that have occured in 2009, the one constant has been my waking moments filled with the blessing and burden of managing (no longer can I truthfully say leading) my children’s education. Now in 6th and 7th grade, both my son and daughter have become very independent learners. Not that they weren’t already self starters, but as their interests have expanded, there has been less and less of a need for me to be constantly ‘on top’ of them to require certain assignments, save the curriculum guided language arts and math work that requires sequential testing. They both have entered Virtual School, which here in Florida is a free service provided for any Florida resident that wants to sign up. It’s a magnificent program with monthly phone calls and excellent instructors, and perhaps I’ve been a little worried that they were taking my place as the primary educators in the subjects they teach my kids. Then I realized, that’s the point. They can handle any type of instructor because they are taking ownership of their learning, which was always my goal – not that they look to me as some shaman of knowledge, but that they truly desire excellence because it is available to them.

They also were able to sign up for new classes in P.E., which was a boon for my sports addicted son, and not entirely rejected by my sweat adverse daughter,  and they continued enrichment classes in Chess, Dance, Writing, Ceramics, and several other courses. I continue to be amazed at the variety of classes available to homeschoolers. It is truly an example of what a community of like minded citizens can create with little (read NO) help from the government.  If you want to see a village raising not just one child, but a generation of children, check out my park group at 1:30 on Tuesdays.

2009 did bring educational challenges, however. I found that my daughter was still lagging in the traditional sense in math, which improved greatly with our switch to Saxon.  I was faced with the mounting pressure to keep up with several new classes and subjects that I didn’t feel I prepared for adequately. The kids had to stay home alone more frequently than I would like. And finally there was the very real possibility that financial pressures would end our homeschooling experiment altogether. That and my new work schedule required a hard look at the choices we were making and moved us more into a standard schooling structure than I usually would feel comfortable with.  I can say with assurance now that we did make the transition OK, and if at some point the kids have to return to public school I can feel more at ease.  In all, it is a testament to the whole ideal of homeschooling that we were able to continue my children’s path to a full and robust life of learning despite the obstacles. At the heart of it, it is still the emphasis on family that makes us strong, makes us flexible, and able to recreate ourselves and guide our children down different paths. Those same twists and turns will happen in their adult lives, and our educational decisions can only help them see how many different paths can still lead to the same goal. That’s all a homeschooldaddy could hope for at this juncture.

I’ll have much more about our 2010 goals when I think of them. Which is not going to be now. 🙂

Until then, looking unto the hills,

HsD

Some More Resources

The day after my birthday reminds me quickly why there are no special names for the 30’s. Everything as usual, back to work, hit the road running. I did feel pretty productive, and Marcus and Naomi made me feel good by continuing on their math and science lessons without being asked. Marcus is still reticent about continuing his Virtual School lessons throughout the summer, but he’s realizing it makes no sense to start over just to maintain his image of a work-free summer. Naomi is pushing to finish her Math-u-See Delta (Division) for much of the same reason I pushed through Calculus in high school – because she wants nothing to do with it next year.

Some thoughts on other resources I’d discovered recently – these are not reviews because I haven’t used the product, but if you’re interested you might drop a line and tell me if you like the concept.

Dadlabs.com:
Not exactly the style I would use for my site – these guys like their beer – but I really like the content, varied information, and the overall relaxed attitude these guys take toward fathering. Includes video and audio podcasts, reviews, a dads forum, and several links for additional resources. Very cool.

Familyman.com –
A site I found at FPEA. This dad is an author, presenter, and another fighter of the good fight of fathers. I really like his e-mail newsletter – gives me encouragement on tough days. Check him out in my resources section.

Sorry it took longer to get this one out, you’ll see why later…

Unto the hills,

homeschooldaddy