A happy student, that's what I'm after.
The benefits of our move to London have been many. Especially for the long term, I feel that we are in a good spot to meet our goals and to have the kind of family life that we want to have. But there have been short term benefits as well, the best of which has been the opportunity to take a look at how we were managing our family life before the move and make intentional adjustments as we make a life here. I really want our home to be a place of peace, and to pursue a peaceful life overall, whether we are at home or not. For us, homeschooling is one piece of the puzzle, and I'll admit that some of our homeschool practices in years past have not contributed to the end goal of peace.
It takes time for all homeschool families to figure out what works for them, and it was a gift to me as the primary educator to have some months to observe my children in our new setting, without a lot of outside obligations or any firm plans. I also had time to reflect on our previous homeschool year, and to admit some things to myself that I hadn't been able to be honest about before, as well as make adjustments that I just couldn't see needed to be made until I took a step back. Moving to a place where we know very few people allowed me time to reflect without distraction, and it has been enlightening.
First of all, I realized that we were doing too many extracurriculars in too many different places. I felt run ragged in San Francisco, like I was always rushing Zinashi through something so we could get out the door, be on time, not miss out on anything. What we missed out on, it turns out, was the peace I wanted to create. As we settled in here, and I saw how much more relaxed the kids were, and how much easier it was for Zinashi to pay attention to her lessons and to engage with me in discussions, I knew that I wanted to limit the extracurriculars, and I knew that I wanted to wait until after the holidays to begin them.
Three Saturdays ago, Zinashi began performing arts classes. She does three classes all in one place, all in a row. There's the option to add two more classes as she becomes accustomed to the new place and the new Saturday schedule, and that will mean that all her extracurriculars are in one place, on one day. It's a dream come true. She is making friends and learning to hold her own in a group, learning to listen to a variety of other adults who are not me, and doing it in an environment that is supportive and positive. It's a win in every single possible way.
I've also made adjustments to how we approach the curriculum we are using. I've mentioned before that we are using the Charlotte Mason curriculum available on Ambleside Online, and I've also mentioned that instead of following their schedule, which divides the books up into one chapter of each per week, we are going through the books at a rate of a chapter per day, starting our next text when we are done with the one we are using. I've also decided to eliminate some of the books entirely; I want to do just two readings per day, and we are on a four day per week bookwork schedule. Zinashi learns best by doing a lot of questioning and discussing, and more than two readings per day really doesn't leave time to delve deeper into the things she wants to know.
We've also laid formal narration aside, after I discovered that she wouldn't engage as well with the story if she new she had to narrate afterwards. It always felt stiff and forced, and it kept us from the very productive discussions we were having at the end of each reading. The magic of this has been that, now that she is not required to tell the stories back to me right away, she engages so well and gets so excited about the text that she will tell Jarod about the stories after he gets home. She is doing narration, and she doesn't even know it. She just wants to share the story.
I've found similar things are true when it comes to nature study. I bought nature journals for both of us, and we took our nature guide to the park and read about squirrels, and then we got out our colored pencils, and...I never got to use mine, because I was minding Elvie, and Zinashi ended up crying because she couldn't draw a squirrel that was sufficiently realistic. But if we study animals at home, and look at tons of photos on the internet, later I will find her with a pencil and paper, drawing an animal we've studied. Absent the pressure of the Official Nature Journal and the very present, completely real animals, she is doing it on her own, and liking it, too.
The one thing I've kept that she isn't thrilled about is copywork. She copies one paragraph from each of the texts we're using during the week (four total - the two we are going through chapter by chapter, and two that are reference type books, and thus practical for reading just once per week), and she must complete it by the end of the week. I was wondering if this would truly produce the results I was hoping for - that she would be learning punctuation and spelling, and that she would start to recognize words as she was writing them, even if they were hard. This week she piped up, "Oh! I know this word that I am writing, and it is a hard one!" Success!
We are finding that same success in math as well. As much as I'd like to return to our Life of Fred books exclusively, we've found that Khan Academy works for Zinashi. She is building skills and is able to do a lot of it on her own. We would butt heads a lot over math when I was doing much of the teaching, and now she just needs a little help from me sometimes. I'm keenly aware of the homeschool math gap, and I want to make sure that she is getting quality math instruction, however we need to get it. Right now, we get it from Sal Khan.
Finally, there's the exciting part, the part where home education frees us up to explore more. There are so many things we can see or do that relate directly to our curriculum. We are reading Robin Hood and will go to Sherwood Forest in the spring. From a history standpoint, there's really no better place to see artifacts than the British Museum. We can do so much, and see so much, and really help what Zinashi is learning to come alive. We have time for this, and we don't have to rush to do it or cram it in. It's pretty much amazing. It makes me overjoyed to be a homeschooling family.
And the joy comes from the whole homeschooling package, really. When I sit across the breakfast table from Zinashi and start our readings with my coffee within reach and the morning sun streaming through the windows, I know that we're living the good life. When I see how rich and full her relationship with Elvie is becoming, I know we've been handed a good gift. It's been a tough couple of years, figuring out how to make homeschool work for us, and shedding the insecurities that others have tried to foist upon us, but now it is good. We are finding our way, and our way has brought peace.