Friday, September 4, 2009

School time

We've had a lot of questions about Joseph and school this summer so I thought I'd let you all in on some of our plans for the year.

The short answer to, "Is Joseph going to school?" is no. We're homeschooling Joseph.

The long answer . . . We have always intended to homeschool all of our children unless we have a very good reason not to. Our reasons for homeschooling are many but one of the bigger considerations is that we believe our children will receive a much richer education when allowed to move at their own speed (be that fast or slow) and explore things that are of particular interest to them. I am very involved in homeschooling groups and have been researching this topic for about seven years (yes, since before I was married). There are about as many approaches to homeschooling as there are families who homeschool. A family can choose to do a very structured, pre-packaged curriculum from start to finish. There are companies that will even send you the paper and pencils required to complete assignments! This approach looks very similar to conventional schools except that it's done in the home. At the other end of the spectrum are families who believe that schooling kills a child's innate desire to learn. Radical "unschooling" families might allow their children to do anything they like all day long year after year.

There are serious scholars who argue for both of these extremes and everything in between and I have seen fantastic results (in teenagers and adults) from both ends of this spectrum. Most families mix up several approaches and change things to feet the need of each child.

If Joseph were going to school, most states would not put him in Kindergarten until next year. New Jersey is actually a very relaxed state with regard to school. We could probably get Joseph into a school this year if we wanted to and as homeschoolers we do not need to do anything at all. No registration is required, no notification, no testing. And, because many people have asked, there is no reason Joseph could not go to a regular school. Aside from a wheelchair accessible building he would not need any other special considerations. Learning disabilities are very common in kids with spina bifida but Joseph does not appear (yet) to have any.

For this year I decided to take a somewhat structured but very relaxed approach to school. I am not planning to use any curriculum this year and I am thinking of Joseph as being in preschool. If we opted to purchase some curriculm next year (as we probably will for math, at least) we will determine then if Joseph seems to be at a Kindergarten or first grade level. For now we do school in the morning, five days per week. Each day has a theme and I choose activities related to that theme. We get home from church each day a few minutes after 9:00 and school is over by 10:30 at the latest. Here is what this last week looked like for us:

Monday: Letter Writing Day. Joseph dictates a letter to me to work on story-telling and narration skills. I write down what he says pretty much verbatim and give him only very minor topic suggestions At some point he will graduate to writing the letter himself but for now I want to capitalize on his composition skills without the stress of penmanship. We write to a different person each week and Margaret usually includes a short (mostly original) note as well.

Tuesday: Science Day. We hope to be outdoors for this day as much as possible. This week we walked through the park looking for birds and consulting our bird book. We came home and drew pictures of what we'd seen.

Wednesday: Wild Card Day (Joseph loves this name!). Wednesday is our grocery store day but we only do that once each month. Other weeks we may take other kinds of trips. This week we went to a farmer's market in Jersey City. We walked to the train station, rode it for two stops and the market was at the train station on the other end. The kids loved it but I need to figure out how to get more vegetables home in a single visit.

Thursday: Music Day. This week we listened to a couple of pieces and drew pictures along to the music.

Friday: Art Day. This week we just painted.

The themes are subject to change as the year evolves but I think you get the idea. We hope Joseph will start violin again before too long. We are also learning about good cultural events in Manhattan which is very quick and easy to get to by train from our house. Each morning's school time ends with moving to the couch and reading alound together. I pick a story and the kids each pick a story. Then they are free to play the rest of the morning and they've mostly been gonig outside until lunch. After lunch and rest time they head back outside until dinner.

You might notice a conspicuous lack of reading lessons. We have done some lessons with Joseph over the last several months and he shuts down pretty quickly with formal lessons. Left on his own he seems to be learning at a steady pace. He can spell simple words on his own and can sound out words fairly well. We read constantly in this house so I'm not too worried about Joseph picking it up on his own. We are also not pushing writing this year though we are trying to include some fine motor work every day.

Any questions? We're excited for a good first year in New Jersey!