Term 3 was tough. The new Board of Studies information pack and guidelines for APs came out last term, and even if that doesn’t affect me directly, yet, it took an emotional toll because I spent a long time worrying about the implications of the new direction, and what could be done about it.
Ironically, I had been studying government and democracy with Pokemon Boy (for the Human Society and its Environment key learning area) and I am afraid this did nothing to convince either of us that Australian government really respected democratic principles.
Also, my man went away for two weeks in the middle of term and Drama King’s behaviour was particularly difficult during that time. I am glad his trips away are very infrequent.
In terms of our homeschooling, what went well last term and what didn’t? What changes are we going to make?
Viking/Medieval presentation at SHEN: This was a one-off event but one the boys really enjoyed. The presenter clearly relished talking about the subject of weapons and warfare, and provided plenty of opportunities for the children to take part in the presentation, or try on armour in the breaks. Pokemon Boy has written an account of the presentation on his blog.
New schedule: Our days were too complicated in Terms 1 and 2. We went out early on some days, stayed in on others, had after-school classes and late dinners on some, and it was difficult for anyone to keep up. For term 3 I streamlined our daily structure. We did two hours of ‘bookwork’ in the morning, had a lovely long break for lunch, rests and free play, and then two hours of projects in the afternoon. It worked well. There was enough flexibility for special days out, and loads of self-directed time, but enough structure so that everyone knew what they wanted to do, and enough bookwork so that I felt we were getting through the academic subjects and covering the BOS syllabus sufficiently.
Project-based Homeschooling: I am very pleased to have discovered Lori Pickert and her approach to homeschooling. She comes from a Reggio Emilia background and has written a great little book all about putting these theories into practice in homeschooling. She talks about observing your children to find out what their passions are, and using that as a springboard for projects. She really believes in the value of self-directed learning but also the parent/teacher/facilitator being there to enable children to take their projects further and deeper. She also talks about the environment as being a ‘third teacher’ and encourages parents to consider how their home learning environment is set up. I recently took one of her online classes and was left with some incisive questions about the environment I provide for the children:
Is your environment a completed, finished space or a blank canvas?
How much freedom does your child have to transform the space?
Which speaks louder, your child’s work or the surroundings?
If a visitor came in, what would catch their attention first? Would they immediately recognize the work that was being done there? Could they look at the space and tell you what your child cares about and what your child enjoys most?
What materials are within your child’s reach? Can your child work independently?
How much of the available materials are really being used?
Does your space match your child’s interest?
I have plenty still to learn about providing a great environment, as you can see by the above photos of our living/working/eating area. I have at least started scheduling in dedicated ‘project time’. This helps, also, to free us from the constraints imposed when I try to follow the BOS curriculum too closely.
For his project, Drama King chose to study Italian food, and pasta in particular. We started off by looking at the structure of a wheat grain, and how wheat is milled to make flour. He then moved off in a different direction, inspired by watching a Heston Blumenthal DVD, and started to plan a Feast for his friends. Our nanny Sarah helped him to plan the menu and practise some of the recipes. This project has been very enjoyable and satisfying for all of us and I believe in this area, at least, we have achieved what Lori Pickert is talking about.
Maths: Math-U-See has been a great hit for Pokemon Boy, and this term Drama King had gone off Life of Fred so he joined in too. It has been reassuring to see them working together and helping each other through the problems. In addition, we won a Manga High Fai-To against another school, and took part in the NSW-wide Manga High competition (despite restrictions posted on the first day banning homeschoolers from taking part). Algebra has been frequently covered using the wonderful Dragon Box app. This app uses a very visual approach to teaching algebra, and all the boys have enjoyed playing it, especially Reptile Boy, who is only 5!
Mad Scripts: For many reasons, I wanted to introduce more drama and acting into our little homeschool. Drama King is (unsurprisingly) happy with spoken perfomances but Pokemon Boy needs a little encouragement. I found some scripts on the internet called ‘Mad Scripts’. There is a form for the children to fill in, e.g ‘a chore you don’t like doing’, ‘an interjection’, ‘an adjective’, ‘a type of party’. Then the author has taken classic fairy tales (e.g. Cinderella or The Three Little Pigs) and written a script which is altered based on the answers on the form. This has provided much entertainment for the boys and for me.
Pokemon Boy’s project. I haven’t worked out why, but Pokemon Boy managed to spend a whole term avoiding work on Youth Digital‘s online Game Design 2 course. It was a surprise, given that he did so well in Game Design 1, and that I had scheduled two hours every day to really focus on this project. His current passion is Minecraft, so in Term 4 I am going to give him plenty of time to develop his adventure map and mini game and whatever else he wants to create in Minecraft (on top of just playing it). I hope at some point he will go back to Game Design 2, although maybe he will prefer to do 3D Game Design first, which I have already purchased due to a discount offer last Christmas.
Science. I always struggle teaching and ‘doing’ science with Pokemon Boy. It may be that, because it is my specialist area, I desire a more rigorous approach and I do not feel that reading and watching videos is sufficient. It may be that he feels more pressured in that area than others, specifically because it is my specialist area. Nevertheless, I feel we need to cover more science together and at some point I will ask him to stop his computer game projects in order to do at least one science project.
Science Club with Drama King and his friend also felt a bit flat this term. There were many bouts of illness and tiredness and I feel I have lost my direction a little. I am stopping for now, but will look forward to starting again next year.
Pre-School Science felt similarly disjointed, although we have only just started so it was inevitable that there would be a few teething problems. In retrospect, it would be better to cover life science in Term 4 or Term 2, when the weather encourages more outside work. We have ordered some Creature Kits from Butterfly Skye’s Bug Shop and will be looking at the life cycle of various insects, which could be exciting. I will also be working hard to develop activities appropriate for this age level and attention span.
Writing with Ease I borrowed this from Jen at Jen’s Busy Days. I was very enthusiastic about using this approach with my boys. The author suggests using well-written texts for the children to use as the basis of copywork, oral summaries and written summaries.
I tried out the end-of-year assessments on Pokemon Boy and Drama King and this produced a torrent of complaints and tears. Clearly, the skills that were being tested are not ones my boys feel confident about. I will have to take a much more gentle approach to build them up to doing this type of work. I am, however, booking the family on an online course from Brave Writer. Since the Brave Writer approach has worked well with Pokemon Boy before, I have a good feeling about this course and I hope it will not only help with literary analysis but also bump up our production of written work.