For about the last six weeks something on my mind is the question of what homeschooled kids are to get out of an experience. There are many reasons this is on my mind which I'll not list out due to lack of time and the fear that the post will wind up way too long and rambling.
A couple of the issues are how shall we spend out time? How much time to put into homeschool field trips (one time visits) and how much time to a series of classes (six week poetry writing class)? Shall I only enroll my children in classes that jive exactly with our home studies at the moment or take advantage of unique opportunities as they arise (the kids did a Renaissance related half day field trip when we're not studying that time period at the moment).
Do you know that saying that you can test whether speghetti is done by thowing it onto the wall and seeing if it sticks? Lately I feel like we've been throwing a lot of speghetti. Do this thing, see if the kids like that topic. Go see that thing, maybe it will connect to something they learned in the past. Do that thing and see if it piques their curiosity and winds up starting a study of that topic, or maybe even grows into a passion.
I'm trying to strike a balance between meeting my homeschool goals for a general good home education and doing interesting experiences such as are not available to schooled kids. Yet I don't want to do so many outside classes and events that my kid's home education is a mish-mosh of extra-curriculars without a solid foundation in the basic Three R's.
How much should a child get out of an experience? I already know, and have blogged in the past (somewhere buried in this blog's archives) that I feel a homeschooling parent can start to kill the joy of learning by trying to extract as much as possible out of each experience. Reading Every. Single. Museum Plaque. By Discussing Everything. I've backed off from making a 'teachable moment' out of everything. I can be intense. I am trying not to be too intense with my kids. It takes deliberate effort for me to reign myself in and to not be too overbearing.
Shall I prep my kids on a topic before we go? Probably yes, but I don't always do it. Should I encourage my kids to raise their hands and answer a question? If I do so is that out of me wanting my kids to look good to the teacher or the other homeschooling parents who may be witnessing the class or because it would be good for all kids to learn to assert themselves and to actively participate in classes? Is it a waste of time and money if they wind up not interested in the topic? If we don't expose our kids to different experiences how would we know if they don't wind up making use of the information, finding a new passion and so forth? How can I know what the kids will wind up liking or making use of? If I decline doing something now to try to do it later when it correlates to our homeschool studies, will we ever really do it?
For now I will continue to take advantage of various opportunities that arise that other homeschooling parents organize and invite my children to participate in, so long as our schedule and budget allows, even when I'm not completely sure it's going to be an optimal experience or that we will have extraced some certain amount of something out of it to have made it worthwhile. I don't know the impact that some of these experiences will have on my children. There is now way I could know their reactions. How things affect us, what inspires us, what helps form our thoughts and opinions varies by person. Even though I know my children well I don't know enough of their mind to know those things.
Sometimes a good and worthwhile thing that a child gets ouf of an experience is not the stated objective for that event. I have some good examples.
Attending a college football game at my husband's alma mater where the main goal was to have fun at the football game, wound up making strong impressions on my older son about college attendance and college in general. He decided he is excited to go to college someday. He saw a bit of what independent living is like for college kids. If I told you the biggest impression was made upon him by attending the student cafeteria and eating the same food they do was what did it would you believe me? I don't care what gives a positive impression so long as something positive comes of it.
The second example is attending a weekend of classes at MIT last week showed my son a bit of what it is like to navigate on his own to classes on a college campus. Having teachers who are friendly and funny college students made an impression on him. He is no longer scared of the idea of moving about a college campus on his own surrounded by a sea of strangers. He also was inspired by the obvious displays of serious academics that the students study at MIT. He understands if he wants to be an engineer he will have to work hard at his homeschool studies in order to qualify for admissions for that degree. In other words the best lessons he learned that weekend were not information taught in the classes themselves and that's fine with me.
The views my older son (aged 12) has about college are good for him to have right now. They may be helpful when in his homeschool high school years he winds up taking community college courses for some of his studies. They may help him buckle down and be serious about doing his lessons at home in order to help him work toward educational goals rather than just opposing anything I ask him to do (partially fueled by puberty's hormone surges).
One other positive thing is sometimes the social aspect of doing a class, seeing friends for positive social experiences and the benefit of being with other kids in educational academic settings. It is different and good for my kids to see their friends in settings where they learn together not just are playing together. More than once my kids have commented to me that they were surprised their friends knew this fact or that thing, or that they already studied a certain topic. They say these things with admiration and sometimes seem to question why they have not yet studied that topic in depth. "Wow, they know that already!" is a common thing they say.
Another thing they've been talking to me about lately is the behavior of other kids. They are appalled at some rude behavior and bothered at how some kids don't know how to act in group learning situations. This winds up giving them internal motivation to exercise self-discipline and good behavior about how THEY act. They keep themselves in check not wanting to come across to the teacher or the other students like what they see other kids doing that annoys or disrupts the whole group's experience.
I'm feeling pretty laid back lately about setting low expectations for what I want my kids to get out of something, then if something good comes out of it, I'm happy. If what they learn is not necessarily about the academic content but something else is gleaned, that's fine.