It's been a few months since I've put down our progress - something which I should do more regularly, if only for my benefit. The last time I wrote here we were jumping into natural learning with both feet and while it started off well, in the end we came back to a more structured programme.
Overall, we enjoyed it and I still believe it is the right way to homeschool, but I also had to learn some hard truths about our situation and then face up to how to work with them.
1. I work full time out of the home
And I work part time at home (thanks Hire for Baby). Our family situation allows me little alternative but to work, yet I also need to be the primary teacher. Without a facilitator at home during the day to pick up on interests and progress we were struggling to focus on interests and to capture them (neccessary for reporting, unfortunately). There are days, sometimes whole weeks, where my work demands mean I have to fall back on a basic outline. Our curriculum provides that. When I'm more available I can then enrich what we're doing, but if my time is being stretched in many different directions, the curriculum is still there.
2. The kids like having a plan
They do, really! Being Aspies they need a certain amount of structure. Not as much as the books and most experts would tell you, but some. Both of them needed to know that what they were doing was part of a bigger learning plan. They also like to have goals and continuity. So I had to provide a longer reaching plan. I can also see how they are responding now that we've got some structure back for the day - Vince in particular is calmer and feeling more secure. He is clear on what is school (required) activity and what is his free time and what he can do with it. Also having a plan gives them some part of the day where they don't have to be thinking up what comes next. They're not quite ready yet to fill up a whole day on their own, it really seemed to be wearing them out. They also seem to appreciate their free time more and (generally) use it to do things that we would have done in a natural learning approach.
3. I learned more about what the kids liked
One of the best outcomes of our natural learning detour was learning a bit more about what the kids like - both their interests and their learning preferences. Coming back to more structured learning I was able to incorporate much more of their preferences in learning materials. Both now do their maths online. Vince likes plain instructions, factual, no fussing or flashy stuff. He also likes hands on things to poke at. So we selected HotMaths as his maths curriculum for this year and it's going great. Rhiannon likes flashy stuff, silly jokes and game based learning so she's doing her maths with Time4Learning. Generally she's enjoying it. Both curriculums allow me to check in and monitor progress and I do this a few times a week and sit down to review things with them if needed.
Vince really values being independent and trusted, so as much as possible we try to give him leeway to decide how his day will progress. We set expectations, which we try to keep simple, and then let him work the rest out.
Rhiannon is a free spirit and has been learning how to manage her time better over the past few months. She really needs a ride along but that's not always possible so we have been trying to help her in small steps that are finally beginning to pay off.
So on to the future - what are our objectives for the year?
Hmm, saying objectives seems so formal and might give you the impression that I've really thought about this in such plain and clear terms - which I have not! But I have spent some time over Christmas re prioritizing and that is based on some goals.
Spend more time at home and with the kids - this means I need to find a new job or wind back my commitments or perhaps some of both. For the moment I've scaled back to a four day week and I will be stepping back my Scouting commitments, both of which will allow me to be involved more and balance out the fact that home life is getting more demanding between Jamie and the kids.
Simplify and prioritise - I'm not a huge fan of structured simplification or ogranisation but I am trying to be more mindful in my daily choices. I have limited time and resources so where is that best spent? I now get my groceries home delivered - the small delivery cost is worth having that time back on a Saturday. I am working a day less per week - it was either that or get a house keeper or au pair. I decided I'd rather trade working hours for home hours instead of paying someone else to be home for me. But I'm not fooling myself that my home will be any cleaner.
The simplify and prioritise plan is also being applied to what the kids are involved in. It's driving our curriculum choices for the moment and I have decided to work on a backbone of studies and to make everything else optional. We will always be studying maths, language arts and SOSE. Everything else is deemed optional. Every time Rhiannon writes her 'b's like a '6' I remind myself that beautiful handwriting is optional and that I don't need to add handwriting to the curriculum - her meaning is still clear and that will do. When I read other homeschooling blogs or I hear of all the great things other kids are learning that are outside of our backbone, for a moment I think we should add that too. And then I remind myself that we tried that and we all went crazy! The kids will learn what they want and what they need in their own time.
Know our limits and stick to them - Lastly, our schedule is developing some rules. No more than one activity on the weekend - one day must be for resting. School is scheduled five days a week but where there is an outing we won't do it. On quiet weeks we will bank a few schooling days allowing us to drop a few schooling days in busy weeks. And, last of all, time with friends is just as important and some time should be devoted to this every week.
And that brings us up to date. Kylie is having a blogging month for Not Back to School so I hope to expand more on our activities over February - I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone else, too.