Helping one of my own kids while teaching at an Open Lab
When I started Curiosity Hacked, I had no idea that it would become what it is now. I also did not know at the time that it would become a full time job. In the beginning, it was fueled by my desire to see kids fulfill their visions in making and hacking in our community. I am grateful our mission has grown along with our programs, but it has changed our life at home drastically. This past year, as my work load increased, I had to find a way to cope. In many ways, it is because of the homeschool community that I could do what I have done. Other families have helped out by carpooling or watching my children while I am in meetings or at conferences, many members of our community attend the programs I run, and the inspiration the homeschool community continuously gives me by thriving on the notion that there is a way beyond conformity and standardization is limitless.
This past year I have (ironically) hacked together a plan as we went along. I thought if I were more flexible and fluid, that everything would fall into place. Not so much. While our lessons got done, my children were annoyed by early phone calls and inconsistent schedules. They didn’t want to wait for me to “take care of two things” before we began. In terms of methodology, I suppose I am eclectic. I like to say I am a Holt unschooler, meaning I subscribe to Holt’s original intention of unschooling being education outside the school system that is learner centered, giving children as much freedom as the parent can comfortably bear. I think this point is important, because homeschooling (despite the assumptions) is not just about the child. It is also about the parent. When a parent takes the responsibility of their children’s education into their own hands, they become a part of the journey and therefore their needs become just as important. This means having time for their own passions, this means defining what homeschooling should look like for their family, and this means changing whatever needs to be changed to meet those needs. It was obvious that my children felt the struggle I was having between my work and our daily rhythm. We needed a change.
A few weeks ago, we wrapped up the last of the projects we were working on, took a little time off, and then had a family meeting. All three of my kids identified that they like having a consistent schedule in which to do their lessons, and that their lessons are valuable to them. The oldest two admitted that having me guide their studies was helpful, and allowed them to experience new knowledge that they probably would have never sought on their own. This meant a lot to me, not just because I love exploring new things with them but also because just a few years back, we were struggling with the difference in methodology between us and friends of ours who are radical unschoolers. Now, I have no problems with whatever another family chooses, and I explained simply that different families have different ways of homeschooling but they were enamored by the idea. So we tried it, and it did not fit our family. Cool, now we know. Not the direction we need to go in. But how to solve our problem? Well, we went through and chose the lessons and classes we would do next year: continue History Odyssey (Early Modern), Singapore Math (their words: it’s not the most exciting but it makes sense and gets the job done), restart Biology 2 (we started this REAL science last year but it seemed a bit much. They want to take another crack at it.), individual projects every 6 weeks (chosen by them), and involvement in our programs at Curiosity Hacked. The oldest wants to take Japanese, wrestling, and parkour, the middle wants to take parkour, tennis, piano, and creative writing classes, and the youngest want to continue with her Moving Beyond the Page curriculum and take parkour and dance. Everything we have chosen, with the exception of math, can be modified to their interests. For example, in History Odyssey, I throw out Story of the World and A Children’s History of the World to make it secular. Then I cross reference movies and documentaries, as well as the supplied book list, to make it fun and interesting since my boys are very visual. I even have them do some of the research to ensure that they are the navigators of their educational ship.
This solved the what, but we still needed to figure out the how. Once again, they had clear preferences but were also willing to listen to my needs. Above all, I needed them to know that they are, and will always be, my priority. That I am willing to put in clear boundaries so they do not resent my work, but that they also needed to respect the work I do. So, we agreed that I would block off time for lessons, classes, park days, and work. We also decided that we should start by a specific time, so if I wanted to check my email before lessons, I need to get up earlier and do that before the scheduled time. We also decided to move to a year round schedule of six weeks on, one week off, six weeks on, one month off. I originally saw this schedule mentioned on a forum, where it was linked to the original blog post. It seemed genius to me, allowing me to think in 6 week blocks with time to catch up or re-adjust in between. The way it works out is Sept-Nov with one week off in October, December off (useless month to try to do anything anyway), January-March with one week off in February, April off (great month to travel!), May-July with a week off in June, August off. This time next year, I will let you know how it went, but the kids ratified this plan unanimously so I have high hopes. We also put some new markers in place. We hung a weekly calendar in the study and every week we write lessons in black, classes in red, and things that are optional (like park day) in green. That way, the kids have a general idea of what our week looks like and they can participate in deciding how to spend their time. We also agreed that when I am working, I would shut the door to the office if I am on a conference call so they know not to interrupt me unless there is an emergency. We defined what emergency means. When the door is open, I am available for questions. In the end, it looks like becoming more structured with our time is what everyone feels may be the answer. What we do within those time frames is still quite flexible. This was hard for me to wrap my head around, because I like to go with the flow, but now I just feel relief and hope.
The final how in my plan is community- asking for help when I need it. Finding ways to carpool, finding volunteers to help at work, forming a support network of homeschooling mothers who run their own businesses, having a friend who is good at organizing help me create a sustainable system, finding time for myself, creating balance that was missing this year. I am dedicated to my organization for the long term, and I am dedicated to homeschooling my kids for as long as they choose to. I spend every day mentoring kids and mentoring mentors on how to fulfill their own visions, so I take the idea of modeling what it means to reflect and adjust very seriously. I am hopeful this new take on our rhythm is just right, but if not, I can always change it. That is the beauty of homeschooling and running your own business in my eyes- you are creating the change you want to see in the world while defining what that means at the same time. What an amazing adventure to be on!
Best laid plans and all. When you have your kids research their own education, they take it seriously! So our choices have changed from the above description. Here’s the final decision from the pack:
Parker (technically 6th grade):
History Odyssey (Early Modern), The Art of Problem Solving: Pre-Algebra (switched from Singapore for a more holistic approach to Maths with online support), Khan Academy for extra math support, Rosetta Stone Japanese, Economics, Judo, Drawing (classical college level course requested by him and taught by me), and CH Guild.
Simon (technically 4th grade):
History Odyssey (Early Modern), Beast Academy(switched from Singapore for a more holistic approach to Maths with online support), Khan Academy for extra math support, Economics, Creative Writing Class: Dragon Writers, Online Minecraft Mod Making Class, Judo, Piano and CH Guild.
Lucy (technically 1st-ish grade):
Moving Beyond the Page, PreHistory course (designed by me), Singapore Math (hoping Beast Academy comes out with their grade 2 this year so we can switch!) , art (with me), Ballet/Tap, Piano, CH Sparks.
The major change was our math program. It did not sit well with me that they found it something so boring that they just had to slog through it. Math is extraordinary, and I know too well what it is like to loathe it. I had heard great things about Beast Academy, and it seems to be a great fit for a kid like Simon who hates repetition, is attracted to the comic book/storytelling approach, and who thinks critically and expansively about problems. Simon also created an account on Khan Academy, a website he previously did not like, and miracles of miracles he enjoyed himself! Once Parker saw the new books, he was interested in seeing his other options as well. Beast Academy is a project of The Art of Problem Solving which, again, approaches math is an expansive, more critically thinking and problem assessment sort of way. They have a lot of online help and resources as well as classes (additional cost) which I will probably take advantage of once we get to the point where my math skills are no longer helpful. We are all excited about this new math adventure!
Also, Parker asked me for a classical, college level kind of drawing course to build his skills. I am so excited about doing this with him. Not only is is time for just me and him together, but drawing (in my opinion) is really the foundation of all art and I enjoy teaching it. I will post my syllabus soon, for anyone else who might like to give it a go!
Finally, our extra classes shifted a bit. The homeschool parkour class we have taken for over 2 years was cancelled so they boys decided to try Judo and they love it! We also found a new, gentler teacher for piano and while Parker does not want to continue, Lucy has picked it up enthusiastically and Simon has retained the incredible skill he has. Both kids like our new teacher, who is much more laid back and a better fit.
If anything, all of this serves as a reminder to be fluid and listen to your own instincts, as well as your children’s, on what will fulfill your goals and/or homeschool mission statement. We are always learning!