Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Same Direction / New Path

As this last summer came to a close, my kids and I went through a few weeks of deliberate and intense scrutinizing of our plans for the upcoming "school year." We're all happy with our free flowing and flexible homeschooling lifestyle, and none of wanted to change that. We've been homeschooling independently through our own private school for the last few years, and we have loved, loved, LOVED that freedom. I love being in charge, and letting my kids follow their passions. They love being able to go at their own paces, and they certainly seem to be thriving. But,this year we decided to try a little change.

As we were making our big list of things the kids were interested in and wanted to do this year, we noticed something. There were a couple of potential activities that my kids wanted very much that just were not in the budget. Mainly, my Girl Child wanted to take more dance classes. She is an amazing tap dancer, and has been wanting to try more styles of dance. I love her dance studio and think that in an industry that can easily damage the self esteem of young girls, her teachers are wonderful role models as well as great dancers.

But dance classes are not free, nor are the costumes and shows that accompany them. As a thrifty mama who avoids debt like a disease, I had to think about how many extra hours I wanted to try to work to pay for this experience. I love my work, but I also very much value my free time, and love the fact that my job is very part time so I am able to fully enjoy life learning with my kids, do my own thing etc. Besides, in the current economy, extra hours at work are not always easy to come by. So, we thought about what we were willing to give up. Um, we're not big splurgers so there wasn't a lot to look at there. The one thing we do is take road trips, but none of us thought giving that up was an acceptable change.

That led us to looking at homeschooling through a charter this year. It took me a while to warm up to the idea because I really have no desire to follow someone elses path for my family. I think we're doing a pretty good job on our own, and my educational philosophy does not really put any weight into standardized tests or graded curriculum that most schools rely on. While I do like getting ideas and input from other people, I am not at all a big fan of being told what to do. We're a life learning family, not a school-at-home family, and so I had to find a charter that could mesh with our style.

My first choice was a charter that a good friend works at, but unfortunately, they do not work with the dance studio we want. Since dance was the whole reason behind this, we kept looking. We finally found what we wanted- a charter that allowed us to flexibly go about educational goals while offering us some benefits. We debated and hashed over the pros and cons for a couple of weeks. The kids decided they were OK with taking the twice annual standardized test  and meeting with the facilitator in exchange for the fun classes they wanted to take. I met with a facilitator who was also a homeschool mom, and understood my style. The required learning logs and samples didn't look too difficult- the hardest part being translating what we do every day into educator lingo.It seemed like a doable option where what we received would be worth what we had to give.

The kids were sold on the idea much sooner than I was though. Of course they are young and optimistic, and while I try to be positive myself, I occasionally have bitter and jaded views. I've also been known to be a bit of a rebel. I really struggled with the decision and felt a bit like a cheater, first going against my own free flying nature, and then not choosing my friends school, but in the end I had to accept that it wasn't just about me. It was about my kids, and they weren't the  ones with the philosophical objection to tests and grades. I was. They were willing to do their jobs to get what they wanted, and my part wasn't really that hard. So, in the interest of my kids, I decided to give the charter a try. We're wading in to the waters optimistically hoping for the best.

While we don't know exactly how this change in direction will go for us, I am firm on a couple of things- mainly that using the charter does not interfere with their love of learning. I don't want them to stop self directed learning or for them to start thinking that they should only do educational activities that count for school. I don't want them to think they need to separate and compartmentalize everything into subjects rather than just living life and enjoying learning about fun things that interest them. Mostly, I just don't want it to change what we do and who they are. If it looks like it is, we'll have to find another path because all the dance lessons in the world aren't worth that.

So far, it's been pretty good, and we're happy with our choice. I feel less like a cheater and more like a mom who is giving her kids some new opportunities. The first set of required paperwork came together pretty smoothly, and I've enjoyed chatting with our facilitator. She even put together a box of fun stuff she thought we might like- it was kind of like Christmas. We've also been thrilled with access to another cool library and have already borrowed a bunch of books, videos, CDs and science kits.

Sadly though, the beginning of the year math tests caused some serious bad moods, stress and tears around here. Even though I thought were all prepped with the"just do your best, it's just to see if you've done these kind of problems before, don't worry, the results don't matter, even kids who do math worksheets every day aren't going to know some of this stuff, yadee yaah yaaah" bit, it was not a fun experience. There were a few "Who cares?" and "What a silly question, why would anyone ever need to know that?" type of comments. It gave us plenty to talk about afterward, that's for sure. I had worked to make sure not to pass my bad attitude on to them, but they seem to have found their own frustrations with the process. I reminded them that that test was part of the deal, and overall the time spent was small- that the only thing it reflected was whether you had been using that curriculum and that there are other tests that simply measure what you've memorized, not what you've actually learned. I think they realize all of those things, but nevertheless, the test itself was not fun. Eventually, when they go on to college, the test taking skills will come in handy, but they were right about some of the questions being silly and pointless.

Of course anyone who has ever had a job probably realizes that sometimes you have to do things at work that you think are silly and pointless. And, sometimes, you just have to roll with the things you don't like so you can spend the rest of your time enjoying the things you do like. As long as the balance is in favor of the things you enjoy, then it's probably worth it. If the bad outweighs the good on a regular basis, it's probably not worth it, and it's time to re-evaluate the options. Despite that horrible and dreaded test though, our balance still favors the good things about the charter. And, even though we're on a slightly different path with our homeschooling, our direction is still the same. I'm sticking with my long term goals of happy, competent, well rounded young people, and am happy to find the best course to get them there.