Monday, February 09, 2009

Stopping by Ambleside on a Snowy Afternoon

Today we were supposed to go to an early Valentine's Day party with our little homeschool group, but we got 12 inches of snow and so it was postponed. That gives me extra time on my hands today that I thought I would be spending digging out the driveway and helping the kids make valentines. So I thought maybe I'd try to work out some thoughts about how our homeschooling is going right now. (there's an interesting thread at Real Learning about mid-year revamping).

Ever since about mid-December, we've been in a more unschooly mode. The little kids -- Aidan and Paddy -- are still at the stage where they can pick up most of what they need to know just in the normal course of the day. So unschooling and homeschooling and normal family life blend pretty seamlessly with them.

With my 13 year old (and myself) I felt like we were getting too complex by December, and that we've needed this long just to "deschool" again. It's funny, because I know people feel wretched when their "best laid plans" start going agley just around December (or if not then, at least by January and surely by February). Often they then accuse themselves of lack of discipline. Or at least, I used to. I don't so much any longer, because I've started wondering if there is any inherent reason why we can't have ebbs and flows in the school year just as we do in the liturgical year, in the physiological development progression, in the agricultural year, in almost everything else that's natural or based on nature. Another type of work subject to ebb and flow is the writer's life; almost anything creative or truly generative is going to have a certain rhythm which can't always be predicted or planned.

Now, though, I'm feeling like it's time to start doing more formal academics again (as with writing, or early spring, or the precursor to a new liturgical season, it seems to start with a restless feeling, then a slow trickle of thoughts and intentions, then suddenly a rush of enthusiasm and energy -- I'm at the second stage right now). So I've been ransacking the Ambleside Online site again, and I spent the weekend making plans. I always seem to go back to Ambleside and Mater Amabilis when I'm looking for a return to structure.

Earlier this year, I was actually seriously considering enrolling the children in CAVA -- a California charter version of the K-12 program. I couldn't figure out WHY an unschooly, rebellious person like me would be so attracted to a structured program like this one. (I do like the way it looks and if I had to choose a public school option this would totally be the kind of thing I would choose).

But now I think I've figured it out, a little. I am the type of mom who likes to be supportive. This is one reason why I'm attracted to unschooling -- I envision a kid getting passionately interested in something and my role is to provide resources and encouragement. (In real unschooling, I've found, it often doesn't work this way; sometimes the kids do get passionately interested in something but then, very often, they are able to mostly provide their own resource-finding and motivation; what really tends to happen at least in my home is that there are long times where "nothing" happens but then you have a conversation and find your kid has thought deeply about something that was completely off his radar only a short time before, or knows how to do something he didn't know a thing about previously. It's a completely different dynamic, at least in my experience, than you think it's going to be; much more like the preschool years than anything else I can think of).

When my kids were going to school I loved being supportive and sympathetic. I think that's why I felt the pull of a charter school. The school could make the assignments; I could support my kid and sympathize with him as he did them. This is basically my role with Sean now as he is off in high school.

The down side -- there always is a down side. When Liam was going to school and a year later, when he was enrolled in a "school at home" type curriculum, there were times he had to do things that seemed ridiculous to me. I feel like a liar telling the kid he "has to" do something that essentially, I know he DOESN'T have to do and that might even be counter-productive. Plus, the children really don't learn as well, in my home as least, using this lockstep method. Sean is doing adequately in school, for instance, but it certainly isn't lighting any intellectual fires in him at the moment.

Charlotte Mason (and CM-inspired programs like the ones I mentioned above) and Latin Centered Curriculum have the least deadweight of all the curriculums I've seen out there, at least in my scale of how education ought to look. That's why I always go back to those particular types of basics, when I do go back to basics.

Yet, there's always a down side. With high quality programs where it is all excellent books and excellent courses like Latin, I worry about turning the kids off on the very things I most want them to love. I think of my "hedge school" upbringing. There was school, which I hated. Then there was learning, which took place in hidden niches of the day where the tyrants could not come.... at recess and lunch, where I kept my nose continually buried in a book; at home after school, where I valiantly ignored my homework so I could keep up my personal intellectual life; and through the example of my parents who took continuing learning seriously (my dad woke up at 5 am so he could listen to language tapes and write for an hour or so before he went off to work; my mother got her degree while I was in junior high school).

Will literature and languages become the prison for my kids while they were the key out of the prison to me? I don't want that to happen; so far it hasn't seemed to. I am afraid that possibly I don't trust the excellence of the literature and language to do their own work in the children. I probably still think it's about ME too much; more than I should. Charlotte Mason spoke of this as the temptation of the earnest, well-meaning teacher type. That's where I am probably sometimes more hesitant about assigning things than I strictly need to be.

Just some thoughts on the journey right now; no conclusions!


Susan said...

I find myself drawn to Ambleside and MaterAmabilis too. I find Ambleside easier to navigate, especially since it has more suggestions for Canadian "alterations" but I do like the religious education stuff from MaterAmabilis.

I've been trying to work on Year 0 stuff with my son since it really seems to focus on narrative skills. I admit, I am finding it tough since so much of it is nature study and, in the middle of a Saskatchewan winter, there isn't much nature study to be had!

I'm interested to know if you think starting with Year 0 is a good idea? Maybe I should look more into going right into Year 1?

Willa said...

Yes, I usually go to MA for the religious suggestions, too. We have the same problem with nature study here in the snowy Sierras.

I was trying to use Year 0 with the younger boys but I didn't feel we were really moving forward. So I thought that if I started Paddy on Year 1 very slowly that I would soon be able to see if he was prepared or not. He listens in on the books I read aloud to his older brother so that's why I thought he might be able to handle something a bit more solid for himself.

Aidan, my 9 year old with dev delay, probably isn't ready for Year 1 yet -- he is still so thoroughly concrete. That's why a lot of what I do with him is Montessori-inspired. He loves things he can move and touch. I have started him on "journalling" where he tells me about something that happened and I write it down for him. I thought that I could eventually work that into narrating from stories.

He also loves to sing and to memorize so we do that. I should actually do it more since it's a strong point of his.

Willa said...

Oh, and I'd be interested in hearing what you decide to do with your son!

Susan said...

I'm hoping to post on it soon. It's kind of an amalgamation of a bunch of things...