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Celebrating high school independence (Back to School Week)

Contributor Amida writes for Journey Into Unschooling

This summer, my oldest child went off to college for the first time at thirteen.

Wearing a backpack filled with a simple folder, a couple of pencils, and enough food to survive the night if need be (two sandwiches, two fruits, two thermoses full of hot soup, snacks, a water bottle, and a dark chocolate bar), I saw him board the bus alone — his first time in one since he was three-years-old — and watched as he disappeared down the road for the next eight hours.

It was a scary moment.

For many, thirteen is no big deal. Heck, I was walking to and from school on my own years before that, as do many public school children. But most of the homeschoolers I know are somewhat sheltered in that respect.

Call us strange but we like to hang out together and do family things. I know all my children’s friends and peers and their parents (and brothers, sisters, and sometimes cousins and next door neighbor). For the most part, we learn together, and being such a close knit bunch, my children have had little opportunity or desire to be away for too long.

Granted, this isn’t the first time my son has been out of my sight. He does take and has taken outside classes on his own. Somehow though, the act of boarding the bus in the morning and not returning until evening feels like a rite of passage.
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Confessions of a new (e)book lover

Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling

I used to love reading. One of my fondest memories in school was hanging out at the library during my lunch or break times with Judy Bloom and Laura Ingalls Wilder. As a child, I owned very few books and the ones that I did have (Harry the Dirty Dog) were very precious to me. I even had discarded textbooks that I’d read over and over again!

So it was no surprised that I ended up as an English Lit major in college. What was surprising, however, was how that ultimately zapped all the fun out of reading! Jane Austen, Norton Anthology, Joy Luck Club… I hated it all. It was simply too much of a chore to read through and analyze selections that weren’t my choosing. In the end, I dropped the “Literature” and switched over to “Creative Writing”, which I found much more rewarding.

After I had kids, I rediscovered long ago forgotten stories and found joy in sharing them. I was reminded of how much I actually enjoyed reading. Unfortunately, with each child, I also found that I had less and less time to read my books, especially with the younger ones, who always ask for “just one more” story.

Through the years, I did manage to get in a few good reads during meals or late at night, after the kids had gone to bed, but it wasn’t until I bought an e-reader that my appetite was truly satiated. I must admit, I was skeptical at first and for weeks, only used my tablet to play games.

I’m for technology as much as the next person but by golly, I loved printed books and the feel of paper in my hands. Somehow, the image of one sitting in the dark and staring into the the eerie glow of a 7-inch device was synonymous with being a, well, loserHow could reading off a screen possibly give the same sense of satisfaction as reading from an actual book?

As it turned out, it did. I started slowly, with one book in digital form. That quickly led to another and another until I had burned through a whole series. My dear husband obliged in keeping me well supplied until I figured out how to input my own books. I started reading multiple books at a time.

Photo by kodomut

I stole many hours just reading in the dark while nursing my baby to sleep or snuggled under my covers just before bed. I discovered the convenience of slipping ten different books into my purse and pulling them out while waiting for my kids’ various classes to finish. I constantly put ebooks on hold at the library and delighted when a new title became available.

In just a few short months, I had burned through the Sookie Stackhouse novels, got inspired by Punky Brewster’s child rearing philosophy, was thoroughly entertained by Pioneer Woman’s writing style, and even reread the Joy Luck Club to see if I still hated it over a decade later (I didn’t).

The convenience of poring through multiple books at once allowed me to discover new subjects that I never would have picked up before. Who would have known science writers or medical exposés were so fascinating?

One of my favorite features of ebooks is the ability to instantly look up the definition of a word. I’ve learned thirty new words from my latest science book alone! Another convenience is being able to get new material without ever leaving home, a definite plus for busy mamas.

Before my first year’s love affair with my new e-reader was up, I had crafted not one but two nifty cases, published an ebook of my own (of my son’s stories), and undoubtedly read more than double the amount of books as the typical pre-tablet days.

Granted, I still love a good ol’ fashioned paper book. I keep a stack that I read during daylight hours at home. Come nighttime however, it’s just me and my ebooks until my eyelids droop. It’s my time to unwind and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Are you an ebook lover? How has your reading life changed with technology?

Lessons from the school year

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling

For many of us here in the states, summer break has finally arrived. With it brings a collective cheer of joy from kids and parents alike. There is something about the end of the school year that just puts a smile on the face of every homeschooling mom I know. For me, just knowing that another essay or assignment isn’t required for a while is a welcomed relief.

Homeschooling is a tough job, and whether we take just a week or the whole summer off, sometimes, a well deserved break is just what the doctor ordered. As usual, after a couple rounds doing the happy dance, I like to take a moment to reflect on the school year.

Unfortunately, at first glance, this year hasn’t gone especially ideal for me. Going in, we had two new considerations to deal with — high school and speech therapy — both of which sucked up so much extra time and energy I didn’t have much left over for Kindergarten. Granted, I am a believer in playing-as-learning for the first year, but still, I wished I had been able to help my more daughter along her reading journey.

Added to the mix was a toddler who loved to climb and well, the days were just too busy and too filled with busywork. As we progressed through the year, however, I picked up a few lessons of my own.
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The good, the bad, the Internet (2012 curriculum fair)

Written by contributor Amida of Journey into Unschooling.
Ages of my children: 13, 10, 5, 1
Educational philosophies I pull from: eclectic, unschooling

We’ve gone through a lot of curriculum in our house.

There are a few favorites that I’ve offered for all my children (the Good) and then there are the duds that I wouldn’t dream of putting another child through (the Bad).

These days though, our go to source for all subjects is the Internet. 

The Good:

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Finding a Happy Medium

Contributor Amida writes for Journey into Unschooling

My friends and I were recently lamenting the end of our carefree days. It used to be that the group of us met up at the zoo or park every single week to play. This was when all our oldest were 7-years-old.

Seven years later, they are swamped with extracurricular activities and more rigorous curriculum, making it almost impossible to schedule a regular, weekly get-together just for fun.

The saddest part is that the younger kids in the group end up with the short end of the stick and never really get to experience that playtime that their older brothers and sisters did. In most cases, they end up tagging along to classes or worst, are left to fend for themselves as we work with the older ones on their algebra or science.

With high school looming ahead, the days of weekly play dates slip away from us even more. Even for those of us striving to attain a more free range education, it’s not always easy to ignore the pursuit of academics so ingrained within us.

We want the best of both worlds — one without institutionalized schooling and standards shoved down our throats and still be considered as “educated” as the next traditionally schooled grad. We want to be accepted into the best colleges. We want our kids to succeed in real life and somehow, in our minds, the two are directly related to each other.

I think as homeschoolers, and especially homeschooling parents, we are often left with a sense of guilt, no matter what we do. Whichever end of the spectrum we fall on, we’re either not doing enough for our kids or over-committing them.

If we follow a rigorous curriculum, we are depriving them of a carefree childhood and ruining their lives. If we don’t, we are not preparing them properly for the “real world” and ruining their lives. In my own experience, I often feel a need for my children to get more done and be up to standards, or I have ultimately failed.

Photo by scui3asteveo

Coincidentally, this feeling of pressure usually manifests itself around testing or reporting time.  Does this need to constantly prove ourselves mean that, as our older children climb up the academic ranks, we instantly have to give up on fun as more time is needed for serious study? I don’t know about you, but, even with a teenager in tow, I am unwilling to put away the finger paints just yet.

Lately, as I chauffeur the kids back and forth between their extra curricular activities, I find myself fantasizing about a different sort of routine. One without commitments. No attendance sheets to turn in. No classes to hurry off to. No assignments to complete. No tests to study for. No accountability.

But I can’t let it go. At least not all of it. I’ve come to realize that while the idea of an academia-free childhood fascinates me, it doesn’t really suit our family, at least not all of the time. We strive more towards a happy medium.

My children are still in this great experiment known as homeschool, so I don’t have all the answers. We may not get to play everyday nor are we always able to figure out at what time two trains leaving opposite stations at varying speeds will cross paths.

We don’t know what a hydrostatic skeleton is, or how to conjugate Latin verbs. But luckily, Google does. And if we really needed to know, we will figure it out.

As our family evolves from one child to four, so does our homeschool. I can rest assured knowing that one day (or week or month) does not determine our success as homeschoolers.

I am confident that, whether we spend any given day playing with LEGOs or cranking out 500 word essays, it will most probably all turn out ok in the end. I may forget often but hopefully, I can come to savor the days, as varied and imperfect as they be, and remind myself that it’s not all or nothing.

Today may just find us at home and frantically trying to cram for the algebra exam, but come tomorrow, we are going to the zoo.

Have you found your happy medium?