March 29, 2010

Thoughts from my deck

It has been a long time since I could blog comfortably from my deck with the sun shining and a comforting breeze blowing my hair, today I can. Perhaps for some blogging outdoors barefoot in high 50's would seem very cold but after a long Minnesota winter it feels positively refreshing.

Clear blue skies, birds chirping, sun gently sharing the last of the days rays with me, seems a calm way to spend the few moments of quiet I can steal for this day. Back to school Monday after a sugar filled and late night birthday while the rest of the neighborhood kids are all running around outside off for their spring break seemed like a recipe for disaster this morning but we muddled through.

The thought of throwing in the towel did cross my mind before we even began the day. The house was a mess from last night, kids public school friends called to see if we could go swimming in the middle of the day and no one wanted to focus on anything remotely educational. It would be easy just take a day off and make it up later, why not?

They why not is because as warm as it is to me right now sunny 75 degree May days are not that far away. Days when my kids really do not want to be indoors working and when it would be nice to follow our tradition of finishing school in the first or second week of May. The freedom of May forces me to look at the reality of where we are in our educational plan for the year and keeps me motivated to work through our neighbors spring break. Besides we essentially took a spring break in Colorado a few weeks ago. Sure we did some school on the road and a touch of it at our families home but not much so onward march forward this morning much to everyone's disappointment.

The day actually turned out to be better than I expected. The kids realized school was going to happen one way or another and decided quickly and painlessly would be preferably to long and dragged out. That is always a positive development when it occurs and one wonders why they do not always realize that. The promise of a history documentary as a reward actually helped smooth things over as well. Yes I did not say the "torture" of a historical dvd. My kids actually really enjoy watching what I call "edutainment" entertainment with some educational value, maybe it is because we so rarely watch TV they are happy to settle for whatever we throw their way :) We watched the beginning of a made for TV miniseries on Marco Polo as we just finished up studying the Khan's and Marco Polo.

The beginning of the DVD was fairly good for a TV history documentary and the kids were very engaged and commenting on what they learned in history and what was being presented. We had to stop watching when it got to the romance portion of the film mostly because it explains things that would be inappropriate for young audiences such as multiple women being brought to the king and crimes committed by the kings armies. Thankfully I realized it was coming and stopped the film before it got to those points. I will continue watching and see if I can resume the film anywhere along the way for them to get any more out of it.

While we were sitting there watching and discussing the film and the girls were knitting and I was folding laundry I thought about what a different sort of education the kids are getting and how thankful I am for the opportunities we have right now in homeschooling them. Even in the little comments like Sirah (age 6) saying "that must be coal" when marco saw the rock that brought fire, or Ciaran (age 9) talking about the caravans on The Silk Road, or Maria (age 10) trying to explain why flashbacks are used in a film or book to make the story more interesting. We kept pausing the film to make comments or have discussions and it just seemed to happen naturally. I love those teachable moments and being able to take advantage of them as they arise and create an environment in which they can easily happen.

Serona and I were recently discussing our long term goals for our kids education. In the long term there are 3 main goals:

1. Research
They need to be able to research and learn anything they want or need to. They need to have the tools and abilities to know how to find the answer to any question they may come up against in life. They need to have excellent critical thinking skills to be able to tell good and bad research apart from each other and understand how to spot biases in positions and be able to synthesize the materials they collect in a logical way.

2. Argument
They need to have the ability to create good arguments and positions. They need to have the abilities and tools to translate their research into well thought out positions and be able to put that all together in an organized fashion. Essentially they need to understand how to take the research, make sense of it as it fits into the world at large and the particular circumstances and then bring it all together.

3. Presentation Skills
They need to be able to present their research and arguments in a variety of written and oral communication styles. They need to understand when and how to present information to different people and how best to express and relate their knowledge. They need to be able to translate and utilize all that knowledge somehow.

There are other things they need to understand and we know a solid education will give them. There are skills they simply need to have during their education, things they have to memorize just because (like multiplication tables) and test taking skills are important as well. In the end though if we can help our children become life long learners with the above skill set I will feel we did a pretty good job overall of educating our children.

Someone told me start with the end in mind and work backwards, those are skills I hope my adult children have in the long run. Those are some of my thoughts from my deck on this sunny day in Minnesota.

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