Earlier this week I made final plans for a major change to my grade 7 son's homeschooling plans.
Perhaps you recall a post earlier this year in which my son proclaimed his loneliness after last year's move and the only-at-home homeschooling experience last year? My son begged to go to school. The only option open to us due to the family budget is public school. I do not feel the local public school's junior high has an education plan which is anywhere close to being aligned with our educational ideals.
I was left trying to figure out how I could have more social time for my son as well as rigorous academics if we chose to not use public school primarily for social reasons. The social life at the junior high is cut-throat and nasty, according to moms I know whose kids attend that school. Not only are the kids super mean and angry and there is a negative social stigma for the smart kids who actually want to learn. Since all the kids are in the same one level classes except for some kids being put to a high level in math, it is apparent who is smart vs. average vs. below average. I did not want my son associating doing academic learning as being negative. He wants to be normal and cool and apparently being smart and getting good grades is not cool here. I don't think being mean or angry are things that constitute a healthy social life with friends either.
In the public schools in this town, there are drugs in the junior high (as well as in the grade 5 and 6 schools according to one principle I spoke with). According to the police in town, there is a lot of pill popping and dealing in the school, including stealing random prescription medications stolen from family and friends which is sold as painkillers (Oxy) and other things they are actually not. Taking a medication for heart disease or epilepsy may be more dangerous than a painkiller! I hope my son would resist drugs but who knows.
Back to academics...a second challenge to me providing rigorous academics at home is in the last year, a year in which my son turned 12, was the dynamic shift in our relationship. My son has changed which is developmentally typical. He wants to be independent and not tied to Mommy's apron strings. This combined with his personality has resulted in these challenges:
He works harder and better for people other than his mother. He likes to impress a coach or teacher but he doesn't so much care to impress me.
He wants to be with peers more often. He wants to know how he fits in with others, how he compares.
My son accuses me of expecting too much and having too high expectations regarding academics. The truth is that he has no clue what kids in school do and how easy or difficult it is. There is not stick to measure himself against.
My son is one who is motivated by deadlines, assignments, lists, and getting that stuff done. Yet if I give him these lists he either does them without enthusiasm or he challenges me.
My son wants to be graded and ranked on his assignments by a standard measure being applied to a group of kids, not just something I make up myself or based on hard programs I select. My son wants to feel normal and that he is doing what others his age are doing. My son does not want to feel like he is doing well at some hard homeschool plan that his mother made up.
A challenge for me is that it is hard to deal with all this push-back, day in and day out. It is emotionally draining and unfulfilling. I also expend a large amount of energy on homeschooling my high schooler who had brain injury from Lyme Disease which adds a layer of challenge to his learning last year. After dealing with my older son, I have little left for my younger son especially with his push-back. As a result I backed off and last year provided a weaker homeschool program than what I thought is ideal.
So for 2012 - 2013...
The first thing I did was to find two online classes which will provide what I thought would be decent academics where he would be held accountable to other adults. I also found one homeschool co-op class. The other day I found an online Spanish class with a native Spanish speaker which I thought I'd add on to be a fourth class. However this was not going to be enough social time with other kids, I thought. I figured it would have to suffice.
The second thing in general that we did was enroll our son into the competitive rowing team. The junior high program can only competete in open events at regattas. The practice is at least four times a week for three hours each time and it is a year-round sport without much of a break between the four calendar seasons. The practice is for kids in grades 7-12 and it is co-ed. It is a social opportunity as well as good exercise. The coach is changing the program to be more rigorous with mandatory weight training and nutritional counseling and for the first time they plan to row on the water all winter long (there is no risk of hypothermia in our region). This will be great for my son's physical fitness and health.
Despite what I wrote above I felt the academic and homeschool situation was not ideal and then something new came into our lives. I discussed this program with one mother who has a child in the program and whose husband teaches in the program. I discussed this with the headmaster. I attended a few hours of parent meetings with details of the program. I also spoke to a family I've known for a year who had two kids in the program. Then, I enrolled my son into the program the other day.
The program my younger son will participate with is a classical education model group learning experience. Legally it is not a private school. The student is still considered homeschooled which in the state of Texas legally means each family is its own private school.
The organization organizes the curriculum, makes a schedule, and clearly communicates the homework. The student is to do the homework before class and comes to class ready for full participation. In some classes all they do as a group is Socratic Discussion (not lectures). In other classes they are taught to write and taught Latin and other subjects. My son attends classes once a week and one other day they meet with a small study group in someone's home to do group learning or help with memorization and to have social time. More group social events are done evenings and weekends throughout the year such as informal and formal dances and field trips.
This program is more intense and rigorous than anything I have ever expected my son to do. He will learn logic and Latin, two subject he has resisted me on learning and that I had no energy to force him to do. He will have a lot of writing assignments which is fantastic, and the group uses the same curriculum I used already, Institute for Excellence in Writing.
I feel this endeavor will help my son by providing the rigorous academics that he is fully capable of doing but was resistant to doing with me as the parent-teacher. The group is strict about deadlines and assignments so there is no wiggle room for nonsense or a bad attitude. My son wanted to do lists and now he has them. I am frankly, relieved that I don't have to create and design all this. What I have created seems so far to not be as difficult as this. It is hard to give up full control but I am letting go.
So this year he will have: Logic, Latin, English with grammar, spelling and writing composition, General Science, History with art and religion and music (chronological with the four year sweep a la The Well Trained Mind) and presentations.
At home I will provide math via Khan Academy (pre-algebra) and if he makes it to Algebra I this year we'll use Thinkwell.
I am undecided if he will do Spanish via online class as planned.
We are already committed to the online classes and the one co-op class so I will keep him in those (writing composition, literature analysis and reading comprehension close reading skills teaching).
He will also continue participation in Boy Scouts and he currently holds two elected positions (this was his choice and he ran for them without even telling me he was planning to do that).
And as I said earlier he how has at least 12 hours of a sport, basically non-stop year-round.