Thursday, February 1, 2007

Homeschooling by Ferry

The most important thing I have learned in homeschooling my children is to try and make it as enjoyable as possible - for everyone. This doesn't mean I don't encourage my kids to finish a project they started or to try out something new. It simply means I look for ways for them to learn things via less obtrusive, boring, dry ways. It is a total hoax that learning must be a struggle, a fight, and something that makes us want to get away from as fast as possible. It is like those people at work who always pretend that they are busy and have something "really, really important to do" so that others will leave them alone - always trying to get out of work, get out of one more task. What they are really doing is making their lives very stressful and are limiting themselves from truly enjoying their work.

My goal is to help my children respect learning by the very fact that they see the power of it and the sheer joy it can bring. To learn something new gives us courage and strength and widens a world which before may have seemed small, limiting and frightening. I hope my children will see learning as an avenue for having fun and making life worth living. But, as usual, I digress...

What I really wanted to write about was our homeschooling day today, which you'd have a hard time separating from just being a really wonderful day. Of course, I chose not to take my camera so I don't have photos to include...HERE are some that I quickly found via a google search.

Basically today we used all kinds of skills: math, vocabulary, social studies, history, physics, and much more while having a wonderful time.

First we rode the bus downtown, really just for the heck of it. We headed out at around 11:00 AM. Homeschool Topic #1: Among other things, we read all of the bus numbers as they came along, we read the price of my bus ticket ($1.25 off peak) and we discussed the different colors or cars as they drove by - all while we waited for our bus.

We started by making our way to Pike Place Market. A visit to the market is always a joy. The unique shops and wacky people just bring us all down to earth and remind us of our humanity! We purchased some mini donuts at the market but since I didn't have any cash (only checks and a credit card) the lady said, "Listen, this costs $2 and rather than writing out a check, the next time you are at the grocery store, donate $2 to the local homeless shelter. They really need that money this time of year and haven't been getting many donations." What??

Ok, let me share something that I have noticed my whole life: those who have very little and who are just making ends meet are often the most generous people around. Is that not just totally ironic? Why does it take living near the edge of poverty to make us more compassionate, more sympathetic, more humble? Homeschool Topic #2: My kids and I talked a lot about money and homelessness and shelters and how we will donate much more than $2 to a homeless shelter the next time we go shopping - and why. And why we are going to purchase a Real Change the next time we see someone selling one (I haven't purchased one for a while). We talked about what it is like to live without a home and without money to buy food and why we are so thankful that we have such a comfortable life. We talked about THINGS and why we want to learn to live with less of them and how they can make a person focus more on the things and less on humanity. Ok, we used different vocabulary since we are talking about a 5, 3 and 1 year old, but that was the gist of it.

We then walked to the end of Pike Market (where I used to work before AOL purchased our company and we moved to Lake Union) and looked out at the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distant. Homeschool Topic #3: We discussed how mountains are formed and why the Olympic still had snow on them even though Seattle didn't. We talked about what was on the other side of the mountains and how the waterways were formed between us and the Olympics. We also talked about sound (since highway 99 was right below us and was very loud) and why when we walked back from the railing, it was much more quiet.

We then walked down to the waterfront and purchased hotdogs and then soft serve ice cream cones. Not much of a healthy lunch. I think the kids would probably have received something healthier in school... but well, that is the whole fun of homeschooling - I know what they are eating and can add more veggies to dinner. ;-) Homeschool Topic #4: We discussed why there were so many boats and why it smelled so funny (the oil on the wood). We talked about the remodel of the Aquarium and why they might have decided to remodel it. We talked about the finances involved to do such a remodel and the support of the local businesses and communities. We also talked about why ice cream drips and how turning it every few licks really helps keep it from falling on your hand.

The highlight of the day was when we decided to take a ferry ride from the waterfront to Bainbridge Island. It cost a little over $6 for me to ride (the kids were free) but that included the ride back as well. We rode along with mainly commuters who where heading home early after work. We got to see the beautiful Seattle skyline and the kids called out, "The Space Needle, the Space Needle" when they spotted it. Homeschool Topic #5: We talked a lot about water and why the ferry made uniform waves and why the ferry rocked from side to side sometimes. We talked about the wind and why it was so strong when we walked on the sides of the ferry and not so much in the middle behind the walls. We talked about why the wind could knock us over if it was strong enough and why it was sometimes hard to breath when the wind was so strong against our faces. We watched the seagulls keep up with us as they flew along and talked about why it seemed that they flew in place. The ferry ride took around 30 minutes so we had a lot to talk about.

When we arrived on Bainbridge Island, P saw a DHL truck and said, "Oh, they have those in Germany. Mama, do the people here on this island speak English or German?" After an internal chuckle, I said, "We are still in the United States, in fact, we are still in the Seattle area. To get to Germany we'd have to fly in a plane. Most people here on this island speak English." C heard the part about flying in a plane (but seemed to have missed the rest) and so for the rest of the day he kept asking when we'd get to fly in a plane and that I said we'd be flying in a plane. Needless to say, he is fascinated with the seaplanes which you can find everywhere in Seattle.

On Bainbridge Island we walked along the footpath to the little downtown. Homeschool Topic #6: Along the way was a memorial and we learned about why the island was named Bainbridge. P talked about this history again later after dinner (which delighted me since it made me realize just how much he retained!) and the boys were filled with images of great battle ships and being captured during wartime. We talked about history in general and how long ago Bainbridge was alive and how American Indians were probably living on the island long before Europeans arrived.

M fell asleep in the stroller and the boys played in the playground across from the post office until it was time to catch the ferry back. Homeschool Topic #7: Having fun without talking about anything. Doing recess! When the kids slid down the extra tall slide, it was all about just sliding.

We were all a little worn out from our long day and spent much of the ferry and bus rides back just spacing out. Those quiet times together after a full day of conversation and learning are simply delicious. Homeschool Topic #8: Providing time for just doing nothing. Since we are homeschooling, it means we can help work this into our schedule. We don't have any school bells and there are not prescribed times to focus on specific topics. So, when we are all just mellow, it is time to sit back and just let the day pass. No need to talk, no need to do anything other than just be.

All in all, since we arrived home at around 5:30, we were out and about for 6 and a half hours. Not bad for a homeschooling day!

Later, after we were all settled in for the night, I realized just how much learning we had actually done throughout the day. And me? Often people ask how I can handle homeschooling. Well, I felt completely refreshed from the wonderful ferry rides and could only think of how much I truly love homeschooling.

Homeschooling Topic #9:
Taking time to pat ourselves on the back. Whether we are homeschooling or not, we need to remind ourselves just how much our children ARE learning from us and that we can always fill in what appear to be gaps along the way. And it IS ok to be having a wonderful time homeschooling!! Let yourself bask in the joy and elation that it brings. It doesn't have to be drudgery to be working.


Beloved said...

I absolutely love your approach to homeschooling. Your children would never be exposed to that extensive of a curriculum all in the same day in a traditional classroom.

Thanks for the "tour" of Seattle. I'll be visiting for the first time to attend the TESOL convention in March so this gave me an idea of what I can see when I go. I don't know how much time I'll really have for sightseeing but I'm hoping I won't have to spend all of my time in workshops and can get a little hands-on experience of my own! :o)

Alice in Austria said...

FASCINATING!! Thank you so much for sharing, I learned a lot simply by reading this. First of all, you corrected my vision of homeschooling. I thought, as the word seems to imply, that it all takes place at "home" - within your 4 walls, with kids sitting around your dining room table working through a workbook or other! And that you'd had to work yourselves through a pile of workbooks or something like that.
But this - you are so right! They will learn and retain so much more by seeing, touching, feeling, and by experiencing it all themselves.
And you must be so good at explaining things to them, too! This kind of teaching requires one to see the world through a child's eye (I'm sad to admit that this is difficult for me). And to keep talking to your children about everything that you see ... This makes me realize that probably I do too little of that with my kids myself. Out into nature and hands on! Thanks for this inspiration.

Corey said...

Beloved: Thank you so much for your encouragement! Email me if you have any time and want to meet up for a coffee or whatnot. If you don't have time to get together, you will definitely want to check out Pike's Place Market (make sure to discover ALL levels of the place, which is many!) and the waterfront and maybe a trip to Bainbridge and back just for the fun ferry ride. The museums are also great as well as the little coffee shops and bookstores in Pioneer Square. And a wonderfully funny and interesting tour is the Underground Tour. We always take our guests on that or point them to it.

Alice: Thank you so much for your comment! Yes, you are right, we spend a lot of time "on the go" learning about things "hands on." We definitely do our share of book reading and learning but the ironic part is that the kids LOVE to "do homeschooling" which means their workbooks or writing out words or learning to read. My hope is that we will cover a lot of different fields and topics and later when the kids are older and we cover things in a more abstract way, they will already have the familiarity of the things we are covering.

And YES! I think whether we homeschool or not, getting down on our childrens' level and really discussing things is beneficial no matter what, especially for us multilingual famlies! I think the worst thing we can do as parents is to separate learning from life - that the teacher is the only one who can teach in the school environment. But I also know how hard it can to interact on a deeper level with our kids when we are tired out with just getting through everyday issues. It is a very, very difficult balance for us as well.

Dana said...

Thanks for sharing your day! Those are my favorite days, when everything just flows naturally. Although we do a bit of "structured" learning every day, I do prefer it when what we are doing just extends naturally.

Corey said...

Dana: Thank you for your comment! I checked out your homeschooling blog, very nice. Yes, I agree about structure. Always looking for that balance. Thank you for stopping by.

Lilian said...

This is a fascinating look into a day of a homeschooling field trip.

That reminds me that we can be learning all the time, and that's why traditional schooling is so restrictive!

I don't have any problems with homeschooling younger children, I'm sure I could do it fine. I just think it does get much harder later, from middle school on when there is a lot of content that has to be learned. We would have most of our bases covered here at home, with a dad in physics and a mom in literature and language (and who loves history and geography, and a bit o chemistry -- that daddy dislikes). Biology is our weaker area, but nothing that we couldn't get help with.

Anyway... The harder thing is finding a flexible job and the energy to do all of it. I think you're truly amazing to be able to work and still homeschool!

Corey said...

Lilian: You are so right about learning all of the time! It really bugs me that so many parents end up feeling that the school is the only place for learning. Often this isn't our fault for feeling this way... society, school, teachers, other parents can all influence this. This has been a MAJOR eye-opening realization and experience for me. I can't imagine doing anything else at this point. As for the subjects later on (like the ones you mention), there are many outside resources which sound great. Aside from the local homeschool group (with over 200 families) there is a "Homeschool Resource Center" which is part of the local public school district and which provides classes in subjects for homeschooled kids. The catch is that you need to register your child as a public school student and have to make sure to meet with an "evaluator" of sorts to help put together a plan, but everyone who does this has said it is no problem and that they often appreciate the input from the evaluator. So, we are keeping that as an option for the future if we need more support for any specific subjects. We are also just taking it day by day, year by year. It just dawned on me today that right now parents are doing school tours and we are not! It feels kind of strange, like we have taken some big step. I'm sure in the Fall it will feel even moreso since P won't be going into Kindergarten. Wow!