Evaluating

So much has been happening since our last post before Christmas.

With January come and gone, so has our half year review with the school that we are registered with as homeschoolers.

The school review always has me at odds to start with.

This year we are registered with a wonderful, independent school in Edmonton. Progressive Academy. They are very helpful, informative, and supportive to our open style of homeschooling. Our province of Alberta thankfully provides a great amount of freedom, options and support for homeschoolers. I say this based on our life in Jamaica, South Korea and the experiences told to me from homeschool friends from various countries.

When it comes to this time of year so many emotions run through me. First, as with so many things, I leave it until the last minute. So there is always the stress of time crunch.

Then comes the next question. Are my kids learning enough? As much as I understand that we do a lot, and the kids are continuously learning, there is still doubt that can creep into my mind.  I have been conditioned by so many years of traditional schooling and what is acceptable by the mainstream that going away from the traditional approach is not easy. (But it is fun)

February Snow Fort in -30 Celcius

February Snow Fort in -30 Celcius

Then we get down to work. I try and go through it with my son (my daughter cannot be registered until she turns 6) but it can be a huge time intensive process, and with the volume of information he has a hard time sitting through the whole process.

Volume of information.

I say this because when I do get down to it, my worry about “do we do enough” changes to “Oh my god, there is SO much that we have done!”

But the big thing that happens each time I do their portfolios is that I question why am I doing this? Does this really matter?

Part of the reason why we homeschool is to have the freedom to choose. Choose what we like and feel is best for us. Without having to measure up to imposed standards.

So inadvertently, the process brings me to a new space that allows me to re-look at why we homeschool and how we are homeschooling. Re-evaluate the reasons and meaning it has for our family.

Freedom, space and love.

Spending time with my family. Really getting to know my children.

Freedom to travel and learn more about the world.

Signs of Spring at our Seoul Apartment

Signs of Spring at our Seoul Apartment

Signs of Spring at our Seoul Apartment (and some breakfast too?)

Signs of Spring at our Seoul Apartment (and some breakfast too?)

Giving our children the space and freedom to truly have fun and enjoy the learning process.

In the end, my children are happy, they enjoy learning, and have freedom to do so.

They are travellers and have already experienced many places in the world far different from their home country and culture.

They are voracious readers, are curious, ask endless questions and love learning.

They are not stuck in an endless circle of school social status, narrow measurements, or limitations on creativity and exploration.

That’s what matters to us, and that’s what we are doing.

Yes, the process has been beneficial in every way.

Drawing and Creating

Drawing and Creating

Gymnastics Pose in the Snow

Gymnastics Pose in the Snow

Reading By The Fire After Playing In Their Snow Fort

Reading By The Fire After Playing In Their Snow Fort

 

 

 

 

 

What I Missed

Last week I felt like I was missing something. Like we were missing something in our school days.

Something that I know we all enjoyed, that we still do from time to time, but in different ways and not to the extent that we had been in Jamaica and Korea.

Now I understand that maybe it is just the natural progression of learning, but I still miss this activity. 

Art.

The creation, study and appreciation of art.

I spoke with my kids about how I was feeling and asked their opinion. They agreed.

So during our morning reading time that we always start our day with the three of us looked at a book my mother-in-law had lent me about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Last year in Korea we had done artist studies on Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Gauguin. Both Gauguin and Picasso had featured exhibits, the first at the Seoul Museum of Art and the other at the Seoul Arts Center(SAC) so they were timely artist studies. 

Gauguin did not capture them as Van Gogh and Picasso did. (I admit, I am more of the Gauguin fan) Their favourite paintings are Starry Night, and Starry Night on the Rhone, but they were fascinated with the story behind Picasso’s Guernica. 

So last week we looked through the book Picasso’s Guernica – History, Transformations, Meanings by Herschel B. Chipp. The book is a bit intensive for younger readers but offers excellent detail on that particular painting, showing the research, planning, photographs and sketches that went into the large piece. 

We talked about the details and the small parts that really came together to make it (Guernica) whole. We talked about the sheer grand size of Guernica. 

Then Ronan announced, “okay, I’m done, I want to draw now.” Zahra declared she was going to paint, told me the materials she needed, and they both set themselves up to create.

Starting Out

Starting Out

Beginning Painting

Beginning Painting

Ronan was very adamant that he was creating only what he wanted to, his ideas that he currently had in his mind. I just helped them with materials set up and left them to work. 

Ronan worked for a hours. Drawing, taking a break, coming back to it, cutting, talking about his ideas and sharing them with me as he worked. He took the entire morning on his piece. 

Part Of The Process

Part Of The Process

Cutting Each Design

Cutting Each Design

Placing and Pasting

Placing and Pasting

Zahra sat and painted until she was done, no breaks in between and promptly wanted to display her work when she was finished. 

The Painting

The Painting

Zahra's Finished Piece

Zahra’s Finished Piece

Both pieces were beautiful and unique to each person. 

Ronan's Finished Piece

Ronan’s Finished Piece

As I watched the kids work I remembered what I was missing about our art days.

It wasn’t necessarily the actual pieces that we were creating that I missed, but it was what those art days created for us. A chance to express our thoughts, ideas and emotions in another form. A chance to express something we had learned in a colourful or abstract way. Most importantly, what I missed was the beauty and calm that the process creates for us. 

 

Everyday School

“You know we do school everyday, mom.”

This is a comment my son made to me last night. I stopped what I was doing and listened to him continue.

“Even on the weekends when our cousins come over we still do art, math and write….”

I agreed with him and told him that yes, that is very true. School is a daily thing for them. I smiled to myself because for me, it signalled a goal that is being attained in homeschooling/unschooling our children.

My children play a lot. For an outsider looking in, the majority of their time would look like play. Which is what it is. I laughed out loud one time when a relative dropped by unannounced. She knows we have a fairly free homeschooling environment. My children had a cousin over and one of them had opened the door for them and then went right back to what they were doing (being characters in a world they had created). I was in a far unseen corner of the house. I heard our relative loudly announce after a minute, “who’s supervising you guys??”

To someone that is used to the traditional form of school, it may look like my children don’t do much of it. School, that is.

But to someone who understands that learning doesn’t have to be in a hard-core structure, they would see that their entire world revolves around learning. Building forts, filming home movies (even writing scripts, editing, filming), playing outside, pretending they are queens, kings, princesses and part of the royal court, baking, reading, building rocket ships, drawing, Minecraft, painting, “playing school” and more – it is all part of their learning process. Sure, we have some sit-down time at the school table to work on projects and areas that the kids want to expand into more, but that does not take up an entire school day, or even an entire morning. We may not even sit down at the school table at all for days.

Drawing and Painting in their PJ's

Drawing and Painting in their PJ’s

What I am happy about in my son’s statement is that he gets it. School time is not structured sit-down time. It does not mean worksheets and text books, and regurgitation. School time is learning time and learning time is fun. It is playtime, it is quiet time, it is time outside, it is “playing school”, it is dancing to Wii, it is playing with the dogs and cats, feeding the pigs, it is watching a documentary. It can also include time at the table, working on a math problem, editing a story, researching,  or working on grammar, if they so wish. But he understands that he doesn’t have to be sitting at a table doing a worksheet to be in school.

Shovelling Snow

Shovelling Snow

Dancing with Wii

Dancing with Wii

He understands that his learning is continuous.

 

 

The Poetry of Math

 

I am not a Math person.

I have never been good at Math.

Math is too hard for me, I can only do the basics.

Have you ever said this? Have your kids ever said this?

I felt this way. I was a “good student”, and I did ok with Math, but it was a struggle for me. I had to put in a lot of effort when it came to Math class, and the concepts usually seemed to out of  reach for me to fully understand. They seemed to be just operations to memorize and perform, but not something I saw applied in my life. Give me history, an essay or a humanities topic any day instead.

As a homeschooling mom Math was the subject I worried about. If I am not a “math person”, how was I going to continue with math education for my children as they get to older ages?  If I have no belief in my math skills, how could I show my kids that they could? (It’s what you do, not what you say)

My homeschool journey has slowly changed this for me.

Becoming a parent that sees the benefit in freedom to play and learn, with no hard formalities in the process has been awakening. I started to see that we are all homeschoolers. I am just as much the student as my children. With curiosity, and engagement we are all learning what we want to know more about.

For me the poetry of Math is unfolding.

This week I had the privilege of attending a talk with my mother in law and another teacher from her school. We drove an hour to see James Tanton, a Mathematician that is passionate about what he does, talks with absolute excitement, lives in his creativity and surrounds himself with expression.

James Tanton describes his journey and work as mathematical play.

He stresses the importance of play and exploration in life, learning, and specifically in Math. “The nature of play – that is, intellectual exploration, intellectual curiosity, the pursuit of wanting to know – is innate to our true human selves.”

He himself loved playing with math as a child in his room – looking for patterns and geometric designs in the ceiling, inventing games and puzzles – but found no joy in the math classroom at school. He always wanted to know the “why” in math but in class this was often met with being told to just accept that it is true, and to move on to the next question. He did not find the “joy and liberation” in math until a certain class in university. He later went on to become a high school math teacher and now researcher and global educator. He does this because of his love of math, and because he believes math is accessible to all.

Ronan Pointing Out The Patterns He Sees In His Hundred Chart- Counting By 2's and 3's

Hundreds Chart, Counting by 2’s, 3’s, 5’s And Recognizing The Patters

Math education is changing. We hear about the Common Core changes in the US, and in Alberta there is a change in curriculum as well. Some people are happy with the change, others of course are not. What I appreciate is that educators are working towards change and keeping progressive.

Change has to happen, especially in education. Do we realize how quickly the world, primarily because of technology is changing around us? Life today for our children is nothing like how it was when we were young. Why would we keep educating our children in a style and with ideas that served a different society?

Math research, exploration and discovery is a big driver in the fast changes. Listening to James Tanton I realized that the mathematicians that are driving the fast changes are those that are the creative thinkers, and problem solvers. The mathematical thinkers, not the rote doers.

That is where math is moving, and that is where I am finding the beauty and poetry in math. In the past, as Mr. Tanton points out, math was focused on the skill and what questions. His work is to help us “find the wiggle room within the rigid system to begin to ask “why, “ “what if” and human questions”.

Why is that important?

Soon we will be visiting Mars. Who do you think is going to get us there?

IMG_2201

Ronan Testing Out James Tanton’s Exploding Dots Lesson On The Explanation of Arithmetic And Algebra

IMG_2203

He Loves It!

 

 

Check out the Lesson – Exploding Dots

Other great sites for math creativity and problem solving that we love:

http://www.youcubed.org/

http://galileo.org/classroom-examples/math/math-fair-problems/

http://www.mathisfun.com/

.

 

 

 

 

Power Outage

Yesterday over breakfast Ronan asked me, “mom, was there civilization when you were a kid?”

Now, I am 37 years old. Things are different now from when I was young, no internet, definately no facebook, no cell phones, but we had civilization. It brought a little giggle from me, but I remembered that every question is worth asking and is asked to solve a problem or find an answer.

After thinking about this I realized that his question was brought about from what happened the night before.

The rural community we are in lost power. The family was all together, all 5 kids and 6 adults, but no power.

It was -25 degrees celcius.

The power went out at 5pm and stayed out for 12 hours. We brought out the candles, finished cooking dinner by flashlight, ate by candlelight, started the fire and sat in the dark together giggling, telling stories and playing.

Of course the stories we told were stories of the “old days.” What Great Grandma’s family did growing up with no power. How things would have been different in the evening when it became dark. How Grandma truly lived off the land when she was young growing up in a family that was homesteading. How my dad drew water from the well for the family in Jamaica.

Would storytelling have been a bigger tradition with no TV, computers, internet, cell phones to distract us? Only candle light to read by?

We also reflected on how quiet it was.

The absence of light and noise was actually quite beautiful.

For the 4 of us, just coming back from Seoul, South Korea, a city of over 20 million where everything is accessible 24 hours of the day, the difference in noise and constant artificial light was very apparent to us when we first returned.

But because of the power outage we realized we were starting to take these things for granted again.

For the first few weeks we would stop before bed and watch the stars light up the sky, the way we could not living in the big city. Or sit and listen to the silence (minus a few coyotes and barking dogs at times) that was otherwise nonexistent in Seoul.

During this forced power outage the kids did turn on the ipads for a minute, but sensing a time where everyone was there and very present, devices that had battery life were turned off. We enjoyed the time together.

The next day my kids were happy that the power was back on. We were thankful that we had a warm place to come into from the winter cold, we had lights to see our way, and yes, that we had power to charge our electronics.

Even still, we spent the day reading, making crafts, playing and cooking.

2014-12-01 05.44.30

Monday Omelet- Ronan’s Creation

 

 

Sometimes it takes us to go without, to remember how much we truly have.

 

Zahra Writing To Great Grandma (GG)

Zahra Writing To Great Grandma (GG)

2014-12-01 08.58.58

Ronan Working On His Homemade Christmas Cards

 

 

Snow Day

Snowy Day in Novermber

Snowy Day in Novermber

Wow. What a snowy day today. I look out the window at the horizon and I barely see the horizon. It’s hard to tell the difference between the land and the sky – it is a blanket of white.

Here in the cold, white north winter is just that – cold and white but it is beautiful. Being away from a Canadian winter the last 2 years has made me appreciate it more at this present time. It also helps that I don’t have to run out to start the car and get it warmed up, brush off the snow, wake the kids up extra early so we have more time to safely drive to work and school, get our snow gear on, have a good breakfast before heading out in the cold, pack our backpacks, make sure lunches are packed, hair is combed, teeth are brushed…..and the list goes on.

Knowing a storm would be coming today I commented last night about how it would be a good day to stay warm inside, snuggle and read. Ronan immediately said, “great – I think I am going to read all day. Can I do that tomorrow mom?” I smiled, and told him that was a great idea.

The kids have been on a reading kick this month. Ronan is going through books like crazy. My mom had purchased about 10 Geronimo Stilton books for him which he quickly completed, along with starting a few new series that he has taken a liking to. He has asked for the entire Geronimo Stilton book series for Christmas. So if anyone sees a good deal on the 50+ book pack, let me know!

We don’t push certain books for the kids to read. We focus on the fact that when it is family reading time, or individual reading time, they choose what they want to read, or want read to them. We may bring home books, or suggest books we have heard of or seen, but it is up to the kids what they want to choose.

My husband and I both remember a certain author or book series that really lit our fires for reading when we were young. For me it was the author Judy Blume. For my husband it was the Who is Buggs Potter? series.

I was the kid that walked around with a book in my hand. I read in the car, in my room, in the bathroom, at the dinner table. As a homeschooler my husband remembers waking up in the morning, opening his book, and being buried in it the entire day. We both still choose a good book over a movie or TV program.

Zahra’s reading is growing quickly. We have slowly started bringing out a few boxes of books that were in storage when we were travelling the last 2 years. Opening the boxes has been like Christmas for the kids. Ronan is excited to see books again that he loved years ago, and many of the books for Zahra are like new to her because she was so young when we had them. Every night she pulls 2 new books out of a box and sits in bed reading them, or takes them down to the main house to read the next day.

Today in the midst of a big play session with her brother, I noticed Zahra had snuck off. I found her in the playroom (which also doubles currently as my husband’s office). I actually heard her first because she reads to herself out loud. She was sitting in the chair by the window with one of those books.

Zahra Finding A Nook To Read In

Zahra Finding A Nook To Read In

Now these stormy days that I would dread I am instead looking forward too. Not that our lives are crazy busy, but it is again a reminder to appreciate and enjoy the simple things.

 

 

 

 

Homeschool Support

Let’s admit, the homeschooling movement is growing, but it is still a little off the mainstream path. People hear that you are homeschooling your kids, you get a few looks, or nods of agreement followed with a so, or but…..

But are you going to ALWAYS homeschool?

But your kids are so outgoing and social for homeschoolers!???

How do you know they are learning? Do you give them a lot of tests?

So now that you are back in Canada your are going to put them in school, right?

Sometimes I explain a day that we had, one that may seem quite different from a school norm and I just get a silent stare, although I see the wheels turning inside their head.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and I am grateful to live in a country and province that grants us freedom to choose. Not only that, there is a large amount of support and options here for homeschoolers.

I am very grateful though to have a family that supports our choice and helps facilitate our children’s learning in anyway they can. My dad is always excited to hear about what the kids are doing. My mom is always purchasing books for my kids, art supplies, sending articles that reflect conversations they’ve had, encouraging their projects and encouraging me as a parent. Ronan published a book on ibooks, titled Living in Jamaica about his life in Jamaica. My mom, like only she can, worked her magic and had 3 copies printed and bound for him. (Apple makes it very difficult to print any ibook, of course) Ronan was more excited about having his book printed than published on an international platform.

One of our biggest supporters of all - my husband

Mom and Zahra

I also have a lot of encouragement from my husband’s side of the family. My mother in law is a Grade 4 teacher. She has taught high school as well, and she has just completed her Masters in Math Education. My husband’s parents homeschooled him and his brother for almost 5 years, halfway through elementary into junior high. They stopped when my mother-in-law decided to go back to school herself, complete her high school requirements, enter university and receive a double degree in Education and English. She is one of our biggest homeschool supporters.

My husband credits his homeschool upbringing for giving him the tools and ability to think outside of the box to follow a career path that he loves, writing. That, and seeing his mother follow her passions in life. As he quotes from an interview he did with screenwriter and film maker Margaret Nagle where she stressed the importance of role models for a young person (especially for girls and women), “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”

With the internet and so much online, the homeschool community is growing and connecting more globally. It has made it easier to connect and build that community, not to mention providing greater tools and access to information.

Reaching out to someone, or to a community that is like minded is extremely important. It helps to have support, have a sounding board, gather ideas, or sometimes just to hear a few words of encouragement.

Who are your biggest supporters in homeschooling? What is important to you in the community?

My support network has helped me immensely – when traveling, resettling, looking for ideas, and with encouragement that I am not entirely crazy.

Or maybe that craziness is just a cool part of who we are.

Some of our Seoul Homeschool Family

Some of our Seoul Homeschool Family

HusbandandWife

One of our biggest supporters – my husband