homeschooling

A week in reflection: Moments to love & be thankful for.

It’s Friday. The weekend is nearly here, which means family time with the man of the house. It’s so much easier to keep all three of our children entertained when he’s at home. As much as I am enjoying having the girls all at home, I do have moments of feeling like I’m being held under ‘house arrest’ by my own children! There’s always someone that doesn’t want to go out, or a discussion about where we should go and why. Thankfully the house we are staying in is a very lovely environment to spend hours and hours, but I definitely need a couple of ‘outings’ to keep me sane – even if it’s down to the local village for a cup of coffee!

This week we had one outing which was particularly lovely, to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. We’ve been once before, enjoying the outdoor setting, water course, fort building and nature glen. This time around we discovered a ‘Planetarium’ and a new dinosaur discovery pit, where my junior palaeontologists got to work digging and brushing away the sand to reveal a skeleton. They enjoyed discussing what type of animal it would have been and whether it would have been a land, sea or air animal.

Dinosaur excavation at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

We were also opportune to visit on a day that an insect expert was sharing his knowledge. He had a ‘pet’ Vinegaroon to tell us about, otherwise known as a whipped tail scorpion (though it’s not a scorpion at all… See! I was paying attention!). He demonstrated the difference between six-legged insects and eight-legged arthropods and arachnids. He had some wonderful exhibits to show us and was so interesting to listen to.

After listening to him for a while, we made a speedy getaway as a big school group approached, thanking him for his time and feeling quite sorry for him as the crowd descended! We ducked into a fantastic display of more insects and bugs, trying to make our own spider web from a single piece of rope.

Learning at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Talking of rope, there’s been quite a lot of activity happening on the end of one too. Miss 7 has joined the Santa Barbara Rock Gym and, after her Dad took a belay course, she’s spending many an evening scaling the walls and hanging around. We all went along on Monday evening, with even young Miss 3 having a go – but she didn’t like wearing the climbing shoes or a harness, so had to be pulled back down the wall every time she climbed higher than my head!

The rock gym has a super friendly atmosphere and is definitely a great way to expel a little of Miss 7’s seemingly unstoppable energy (and there’s some good eye candy for me when the college lads are scaling the wall!). She went on Thursday evening as well, as a reward for working hard with her tutor that now visits twice a week; just for a couple of hours at a time.

Santa Barbara Rock Gym

I am so loving having a tutor in, to help with Miss 7’s learning. She’ll be eight by the end of this year and has only ever spent a total of two terms in formal school since turning five. It has been great for me to hear, from a professional teacher, that Miss 7 is achieving above average and not at all behind in any of her learning areas. She has a very ‘natural learning’ home environment, where I don’t so much ‘teach’ – rather I ‘facilitate’ her learning, with resources and encouragement. I see her reading, writing, applying mathematics in her every day life, as well as conversing confidently with people we meet in museums, cafes and so on, but do sometimes worry a little about ‘where we are heading’. Thankfully, I know a couple of inspirational people, through the blogging and homeschooling communities, that give me inspiration and faith to ‘trust in the process’. Nevertheless, I appreciate the input of a tutor.

The tutor brings in fresh ideas and energy, such as organising a fabulous practical experiment of ‘goo’ making on Halloween, tying in with the science of understanding the difference of a solid, a gas and a liquid, as well as sitting around the table doing formal learning.

Goo!

Our first ‘US’ Halloween was a very creative one and the evening was spent with lovely ‘Kiwi’ friends, enjoying ‘trick or treating’ in their friendly neighbourhood, where the home decorations were fantastic.

Trick of treating

Everywhere we went, in the weeks building up to Halloween, there were decorations in shop windows, cafes, restaurants – even the local Zoo!

Decorations

And of course the girls loved carving their own plump, orange, pumpkins – which are in very short supply in New Zealand in spring!

Pumpkins

The man of the house turned up to a very different office on Halloween too…

Halloween at work!

In the home this week my older daughters have loved designing and creating, both on paper with traditional pencils (which will probably be found only in a museum in another generation or so!) and on their computers. On paper they’ve been doing fashion design and looking at how fashion has changed over the last century. On their computers they’ve been designing virtual advent calendars on Minecraft.

Miss 3 has been doing lots of drawings and made a ‘turkey’ out of her hand and foot shapes. Her drawings always come with long explanations that I am asked to ‘write down, with arrows’!

Miss 3, 7 & 10, creating

She loves her drawings to be stuck into her ‘Dinosaur Book’ of treasures, that she likes us to read through every night before bed. She is quite taken with animals and dinosaurs at the moment, so we’ve been creating with play dough, as well as paints and drawing. She comes up with some interesting fictional species and tells me their behaviours, what they like to eat and the environments they live in.

Playdough creatures with Miss 3

Alongside her creativity Miss 3 has been showing great progress with recognising all the letters and sounds of the alphabet, numbers and doing simple addition with numbers under 10. She’s trying to write the letters of her name and creates letters with anything she has to hand – straws, play dough, skewers, in the sand or with water on the dry ground. When she’s not writing or drawing, she’s swimming and diving in the pool with great enthusiasm. She makes me smile with her wonderful imagination and living ‘in the moment’ – an art young children practice with ease.

Miss 3 picking me wild flowers and making me smile

So, that’s my week, the first since the clocks went back, throwing us into darkness from 5pm onwards. My body still thinks it is in New Zealand and expects spring sunshine and light till 9pm. I’m trying to compensate, with fairy lights and red wine… but feel totally confused and disorientated after over a decade of adapting to a southern hemisphere build up to the festive season. Thankfully Santa Barbara’s day time climate is beautiful, but I do miss getting out in the light of an evening, when the man of the house is home from work, for a run or some exercise by myself.

Ah well, candles and fairy lights are my friends for now (and my two bears, to make me feel close to my ‘two’ homes, where my heart sits, split in two, on opposite sides of the world).

Fairy lights and teddy bears

First impressions | School life in America

School commenced for two of our three children yesterday. Our ten year old has been attending school in New Zealand for five years and, apart from a somewhat dissatisfying, unchallenging experience in her first three years, she has pretty much excelled. She thrived at a private girls school she attended for the past two years and performed well above average in all subject areas, even as the youngest in her class.

Our seven year old had a terrible experience in her second term of schooling in a public school and we were all dissatisfied, as a family. As she was under the age of six at the time – and school is only compulsory at the age of six in New Zealand – we withdrew her. Then we heard about the possible move to America and decided it was better to home educate up until the move – little did we then know that the whole deal would take a year and a half to get to a point when we could actually move countries (we were initially given the impression it would be a few months!).

Anyway, here we are now in America.

Our unschooler – as we were enjoying child-led learning in our home with a wonderful group of natural learners – thrived in a home environment, socialising with other home learners. Her reading is well above the average for her age, as is her mathematics. She enjoyed various science experiments, played creatively and freely, without time constraints, along with her natural learner friends, came up with stories, plays and poems under her own drive, and read books with a lot more interest than her traditionally schooled older sister. Also, as she wasn’t confined by ‘time’, if she was avidly into a particular book she would read till midnight, knowing there was no rush for a bell the next day. She thrived.

On her first day at a proper school, here in America, she was naturally nervous – but her natural personality is outgoing, chatty, confident with strangers in shops, cafes, museums, enquiring, unafraid to try new tastes, physical pursuits and so on. She has hit gold with a wonderful, experienced Grade 2 teacher. Further more her teacher is one of those special ones that has always continued with her own learning and is very up to date with modern times, technology and teaching methods. Win, win! It looks like this school experience will be perfect for her, at this stage in her education, and of great benefit to her social nature.

Now, our other daughter, the high achiever, from a traditional, private, girls school, walked into a very different scenario. A mixed class of 10 and 11 year olds, non-uniformed, who all knew one another. There was no prior warning about standing up and pledging allegiance to the flag… (whereas Miss 7 was given prior warning and provided with an explanation as to why students in America did this). Miss 10, in contrast, was surrounded by students that suddenly stood up like robots and hand on heart started singing – she was left thinking, ‘What the f*ck?!’.

She also found herself with a teacher who was aghast at Miss 10 loving snakes and spiders (turns out – none of us knew this – her teacher has a spider phobia – oops!). Then there was the health and safety notices – which Miss 10 found totally over the top – coming from adventurous New Zealand, where calculated risks are a normal part of life – they even have fully equipped carpentry benches in pre-schools for three and four year olds – yes, hammers, saws, nails… (and I never heard of an accident). Children in New Zealand run barefoot, climb trees, jump in water holes, and are encouraged to test their own physical boundaries. The only people that blink an eye when a young child runs on the beach in their ‘Birthday suit’ are the foreign tourists.

Love this video ‘Frosty Man and the BMX Kid’ – sums it up nicely 😉

Plus the teacher was doing the ‘strict’ thing – which is understandable given it was the first day and there were probably a few personalities in the class that needed the ‘don’t mess with me’ message – unfortunately Miss 10 found her style abrupt and loud (and Miss 10 dislikes conflict, loud noises etc.).

Furthermore, Miss 10’s avid interest of watching film documentaries and passion for ‘Minecraft’ was met with disdain and a comment of, ‘Books are best’. Miss 10’s reaction was to maturely bottle in the tears, frustration and annoyance for the entire morning and then, only in the comfort of a private environment, let it out. She was devastated. The whole experience hit her with a sledge hammer of what she’d given up in New Zealand and the amazing friends she has there.

We are going to enjoy our time here (Dan and I would be really loving it, but happy children make happy parents… and until they are all settled, we shan’t feel top notch).

We shall meet with the school, the school counsellor, try and make it work for Miss 10 – but we don’t wish for her amazing education in New Zealand to be undermined and if the wrong teacher for her doesn’t work out, then we will stand by our daughter and ensure she retains her love of learning – even if we have to do online learning (which I am very pro-doing – hubbie a lot less so – as are the grandparents – that live in the UK; it’s not as though they really know what we are going through as we’ve been raising our children entirely single-handedly for the past decade in New Zealand). The biggest concern for hubbie and the grandparents is that ‘Sarah won’t cope’ – because I’m on antidepressants (and have been for over a decade). The truth is, I can cope. With exercise, medication and a happy family I am fine. It’s when I feel, in my heart and gut, that one of my children is genuinely not happy that the mother bear instincts in me cry out – not out of ‘protecting’ and ‘wrapping in cotton wool’, but of being my child’s advocate in an adult world and setting an example that the system isn’t always right and not to be accepted blindly – but, at times, worked around – even if many people see it as ‘radical’.

Of course she will be persuaded to give the school another chance and we will ask her to give us a full ‘pros and cons’ write-up of schooling in America for a year versus online learning – and then we shall discuss further.

We are not dictators of our children’s future – but here to guide them, let them feel confident to express themselves and know that their voices are listened to and respected.