1.12.2013

Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with Newly-Minted "Middle Schoolers"


Just to keep things fresh, I've decided to try getting back to weekly wrap-ups this year, and I thought it'd be fun to link up with other homeschoolers who do the same thing. With that in mind, I knew that Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers - a blog I've followed for years - was the place to "see and be seen." After all, Kris, the blog's creator and author, has one of the most well-known homeschooling blogs around, and she's apparently been hosting weekly wrap-ups since at least 2008 - an "eternity" for such cyberspace series.

And this is a great week to start something new, given that, in addition to being our first week back after our nearly month-long Christmas/Year-End Hiatus, it also marked a fun transition of sorts in our home: the beginning of "middle school."

Now, in actuality, I'm not a fan of the notion of "grade level," and I don't pay any meaningful attention to it in terms of our learning endeavors. After all, I'm raising children, not robots. So we study whatever is appropriate for the girls at any given time, regardless of what their same-age peers might be studying elsewhere. And we make progress at each one's God-given pace, knowing that, in the end - if we are diligent - God will see to it that each of them is equipped with what she needs when she "leaves the nest." The idea is that they'll each be soaring in their particular areas of giftedness and as proficient as necessary in everything else for whatever next step each is called to take.

Thus, for us, the girls' assigned "grade level" is simply a general pointer to their expected high school graduation time and a way for them to answer the ubiquitous, "What grade are you in?" question. I have a friend whose kids boldly reply to such questions with, "We're homeschooled; we don't do grades," and I think the girls would easily respond as such if I suggested they do so. But in some situations it's just nice to have a pat-answer that doesn't elicit quizzical looks or require further explanation - such as when an acquaintance asks, "How are you?" while you're standing in the middle of the mall, and you say, "Fine," even if you're ready to scream and pull out your hair.

Of course, if you noted that the girls just began middle school ("6th grade") now - in January - you'll also realize that we do things a little differently around here even in terms of the pat-answer grade-level thing. Specifically, we homeschool year round - taking short breaks every six weeks or so and longer times off in July and December - and we align our learning year with the calendar year. Thus, a new "school year" starts for us in January and ends in December. But that's not as weird a scheme as it might seem at first glance; in fact, it's how school is done in most of the southern hemisphere. Never mind that I live in a northern region of the northern hemisphere; just look at it as our way of being "multicultural" if you can't wrap your mind around the concept any other way! Or, if you're really interested in my whole explanation and rationale, you can read my treatise on the topic here.

For now, suffice it to say that, as of this past Monday, I am the very proud mother of two "6th graders" - who, I might add, grow more beautiful (inside and out) every day.
And we had a good first week back to our formal bookwork. Of course, we don't start all new books just because it's a new "school year." As I said, I take things at a pace that works best for each child. So we start new books whenever we master the content in previous ones throughout a year, whether that's in January or April or November - because it is always, always about real learning, not just "covering material."

With that in mind, we jumped back in where each had left off in early December with All About Spelling and spent the week reviewing some math concepts and processes (before going back this coming week into Making Math Meaningful, the program we switched to late last year). We also simply continued with The Mystery of History Volume II, which we'd begun last November, and our composition program, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). Each of the girls also picked up where she'd left off with her latest literature book, and next week they'll jump back into Rosetta Stone Spanish.

We did begin the next book in the Amish Pathway Reading series we've used for years. And we started a new science core - God's Design for Heaven & Earth - after spending 2012 on life science, with the girls deciding we'll start with geology and work our way up (literally) to hydrology, meteorology, and astronomy as the year progresses. And I'd decided it would be appropriate to begin some more formal grammar lessons - going with Easy Grammar because it's the least grammar-like grammar series I've yet seen - so we started that new book as well.

In December, someone asked how'd I'd increase my expectations of the girls in middle school. Well, I've not made any changes just because of that "grade level" thing. However, I noted last fall how well the girls were doing with IEW and I decided last November, when we started Volume II in our history series, that it would be appropriate to expect more of them for the history narrations we've always done. Thus, instead of continuing to write very brief, one-sentence summaries for every history lesson as they'd been doing for a long time, they're now composing - without any complaint - more in-depth paragraphs using the techniques they're learning through IEW.

And we made a change with science this week. They now each read the day's lesson independently in the morning (I used to read the lessons aloud to them together) and take notes using IEW techniques; then, during our science group time after lunch, each shares what she learned, and we discuss the lesson's key points. Interestingly, neither of the girls has balked at having one more morning assignment on science days, and they've both said they enjoy this method more than the old read-aloud-and-discuss-all-at-once lessons we did last year. I'm thrilled because I know this is the next step toward helping them become more or less auto-didactic by high school - a goal I seek not to free up more of my time for myself but because it's best for them in the long run.

Of course - not to be left out - the little ones we babysit each had "firsts" of her own this week as well.

Five-month old Olivia got her first taste of both the exer-saucer and this "busy chair." And, despite the look on her face in this picture, she really did like them both, especially the busy chair. As for 23-month old Leah, she's been showing some definite signs of readiness for several weeks, so we pulled out the potty chair for her. We're not doing anything with it yet; she just sits on it fully clothed for fun and enjoys putting her "babies" in it, too. But we'll probably start having her try to use it for real after her birthday next month.
I had occasion several times this week to explain how long I've been homeschooling. And Olivia and Leah's milestones reminded me to say, "Really, since the day I brought my older home from the hospital."

Of course, that answer baffles most people, but it's really the accurate response. When I helped my children learn to roll and sit up, I was their homeschool teacher. When I cheered them on as they mastered crawling and then walking, I was their teacher. When I coached them through the potty-training process, I was teaching. And when I helped them learn their ABCs and basic counting, that was homeschooling as well.

Why we make a distinction between the learning kids accomplish before the age of five and after is really beyond me. In hindsight, I can see that it was no more difficult to teach my girls to read than it was to potty train them - different skills, yes, but almost any parent who is capable of the latter can accomplish the former as well. And jumping into "middle school" is essentially no different for us than the elementary years. Likewise when the girls get to high school-level material, I can teach that as well - even areas that were not my specialty at that age. If I'm not sure about particular concepts, I can learn right along with my kids, and I can employ the use of occasional tutors - such as my girls' wonderful piano teacher - as needed. But why any parent thinks she needs to send her child away from home at the age of five in order for that child to be adequately educated is what baffles me.

So here we go at the start in some ways of a new phase of life. But, really, it's just the next natural step we take together as a family, and I'm looking forward to it.

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