On Finishing

For twelve years now, we have homeschooled. Most of it has been delight directed because I believe with all that I am that God created each of us with certain aptitudes and passions to be used for His glory. My oldest girl is one year away from graduating from this journey and moving onto the next phase. Of course it is not one day this and the next day that. It’s really a gradual process that has been happening for a while now. Several years ago, it was on my heart that I wanted her senior year to be a year of independent study. A year when she could dig deeply into her passions. That dream of mine slowly led me to more and more relaxed schooling with her and essentially allowing much of her junior and senior years to be independent study. It has been scary on one hand, but thrilling on the other.

We have talked regularly about what she wants to do with this next part of her life and then catered to what is necessary for those dreams. She could have spent the past year vegging out on Netflix or the internet, but she hasn’t. She knows she is working for her own goals. They matter to her a lot.

She spends countless hours researching types of fabric, methods for making various types of clothing, creating her own patterns, and making several dresses and costumes. She works jobs that she had to learn how to do in order to make the money she needs for her materials for those projects. She has even been able to make a few party appearances in one of her costumes.

She is taking several dance classes and works at home on her own to improve her skills. She is interning at her studio for some younger student classes and learning much about relating to the kids, keeping a balance between business and fun times, being consistently responsible in a job setting. Life skills.

She watches classical ballets. She draws using online tutorials. She takes photographs of nature all the time. She goes online to learn about color and shape and other art concepts. She reads a couple of large books a week. She writes fiction when she gets good ideas. She keeps a little blog. She watches documentaries about life in different parts of the world. She tinkers with foreign languages on the DuoLingo app. She studies math on Khan Academy in preparation for the ACT. She sings and plays guitar. She listens to lots of music. She looks up anatomy pictures and descriptions to understand her sore muscles and other ailments. She watches movies and analyzes every little part of them. She shops for groceries and babysits her sisters for me. She reads her Bible and thinks about the big questions in life. She helps her friends.

What will next year look like? A lot of the same with more independence. She will start driving herself places and will get a part time job. She has a few subjects of school work to finish. Most are of her own choosing. She doesn’t quite know what she will do with her life. Not many of us do at 17. But she is following her passions, gradually learning to be a young woman with good character and life skills.

There are two ways to measure high school success in this world in which we live. One is with a neatly organized transcript recording all of the courses she has taken, and the other is with a student who loves life, lives fully, and has worked me out of a job. As we approach our final year and the finish line is in sight, this is where I stand. Her transcript is partly normal and partly unique. It is full, but more full with her aptitudes than with extra math and science courses. She has scored well on her practice ACT, and we believe she will do the same on the real one next month. She has learned life skills that will bring her into the next stage of her life. She has passion and drive for good things.

And still, it is really scary. It has been a step of faith from the beginning to step off of the traditional route. This is where my faith has to stand strong. I’ve prayed over our methods and for God’s direction often. This has always been the heart that God has given to me, and I trust that in being obedient to His call, He will bring success. I can see the light. I am so glad I have followed my heart and my girl’s passions. She is so much more than another student. I cannot wait to see what this last year brings and where she goes from there.

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2013 Tentative High School Plans

High School plans are in the works. Living in Louisiana means that we don’t have a great deal of requirements, but that doesn’t mean that we are going to take lots of short cuts. I have three years left to teach what I think is important to my oldest daughter before she will be considered a young adult. Yikes!

Last year we unschooled most of ninth grade. We had decent success as far as academic growth, but I would like to see more in the areas of self discipline and knowing how to get undesirable jobs finished. I don’t consider our unschooling year to be a waste by any means, but at least for the first part of this year, I feel like she needs some more specific goals.

With that in mind, I am thinking that I am going to require these things:

  • Participate in Bible devotions with the family
  • Read through Apologia Physical Science book (and the lab experiments) and complete the end of chapter tests. One credit.
  • Read Story of the World  Volume 2 for an overview of the Middle Ages. Narrate in writing interesting points from each chapter. Also watch movies, and read stories that are set or were written in that time. This should be easy. It’s her favorite time period! One  credit.
  • Complete a Geometry course. We will try Teaching Textbooks first because I already have it. I may have to look at Math U See again for this. One credit.
  • Participate in another year of Dance classes. This is approximately 135 hours of classes and performance time. I will count it for one Fine arts or PE credit.
  • I do not plan to teach formal English as she is already doing the reading and writing on her own quite well. I do want to have her write some sample works of letter writing and various forms of essays. This along with the written narrations in history and her own fiction writing should be adequate for another English credit.

I may have her complete the following if time permits:

  •  Complete 180 Foreign Language lessons using Duolingo, a free website similar to Rosetta Stone. One Credit.
  • Attain a typing speed of 45 words per minute using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. She may already have done this. Either way, she can earn one credit for doing so.

What Does Delight Directed Learning Look Like? (Part 1)

I’ve asked this question many a times. What does this idea look like in action? I have also been asked this question a time or two.   I certainly don’t consider myself to be a master, but I do feel like what we have done has been pretty effective. We don’t use standard curriculum, and no two days look alike, so I’m going to make an attempt to explain the big picture here over a series of posts.

I would say that we have 3 levels of education going on right now: high school (15 years old), middle school (10 and 12 year olds), and elementary (8 years old).  I’ll start with high school.

By the time a child has reached high school, some individual bend is definitely showing. For my daughter, literature, music, theater, and dance are her passions. Sometimes it is hard for her to get moving on an idea, so she spends days at a time taking in good books, music, Youtube videos, and the like. My job, as I see it, is to encourage her to find inspiration and then to help her gather resources to be able to pursue it.  I will share a few examples of delight directed learning that have taken place recently and some ways we work with the not so delightful stuff.

One day a few months ago, she told me she wanted to learn to play violin. She showed me a video of Lindsey Stirling, a violinist and dancer. I always wanted a violin in the house 😉  We bought her one. She loved it for about a week. Then she didn’t. Was it a waste? No, I don’t think so. She or one of the  3 other children might want to play someday and it will be here waiting for them. She had a guitar in her room for probably two or three years before she decided to learn, and now she loves it. One of my goals is to make things available to the kids. They should always have around the house good books, musical instruments (Dad is a musician), art supplies, animals to care for, a place to display their art or writing samples or list of books read or whatever, science experiment supplies like microscopes, slides, scales, dyes, etc.

A few nights ago, she wrote a one page intro to a fantasy story featuring a grown Alice of Wonderland and her daughter. It was a good piece, so her dad and I encouraged her to try her hand at developing it into a novella. Look for it in a bit, because I believe she will finish it. She has been reading books about writing good stories and about the 1880’s, the time in which her story will take place. She has set word count per day goals and has planned most of the story line. She is a talented writer. She may have inherited that from her dad. All I’ve done is help her develop a love for books.

This is not the first time she’s gone crazy over a set of literature. She is a huge fan of Jane Austen and all things Victorian era. She’s learned a great deal of social history from movies and novels set in this time period. Prior to that fascination, she was obsessed with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. King Arthur and Shakespeare were some of her favorites. We use these books and a lot of  movies for history, and then she joins the middle school history (Story of the World) reading times. Is it enough? I believe it is enough for exposure, and then I have to trust that she will dig into times and events that are important to her reading, writing, dancing, etcetera.

Math is something that she was always quick to learn, but not something she was passionate about by any means.  She uses math in everyday situations with great efficiency, and has proven that she knows how to look up how to figure something out if she needs it. However, higher maths (beyond Algebra 1) will be the one area we have to push learning. I don’t believe that higher maths are necessary if they don’t apply to one’s field of study, but I do believe that since there is a chance she will go to college, she needs enough math to do well on the ACT, the one critical measuring stick she will have to do well on in order to go to college. Algebra 1 was easy and fun for her. Geometry? Not so much. But I talked to her today about trying a new book I found called Girls Get Curves. This book takes teenage girl issues and relates them to geometry. Fun, huh?  First, we will wait a month or so until she finishes her writing project. She is driven and I am not going to get in the way of that.

The tricky thing about delight directed learning for the parents is that we have to be involved and aware and at the same time trust that it is happening. I will be honest and tell you that I have doubted many a times the relaxed way that we have schooled, but it was what our hearts drove us to do. I always remember the conversation my husband and I had when we decided to bring our 6 year old daughter home midway through kindergarten. We wanted to educate her by bringing her to the zoo, getting her hands on big maps, doing art projects, building solar systems, playing games, reading great books. There have been small chunks of time when I have lost my confidence and reverted back to textbook driven education, but we’ve never enjoyed nor stayed there.  When my daughter finished what would be her 9th grade year, we had her take a practice ACT test to see what she needed to work on and where she was doing well. She would have scored a 29 in English, a 31 in reading comprehension, a 25 in science reasoning, and a 9 in math. Math needs work, but it looks to me like the rest of the subjects are going just fine by letting her go with what delights her.  The rest of her day can be spent hanging out with the family, cooking, decorating her room, playing her guitar, practicing hairstyles and makeup. It’s natural, and it’s pleasant. It works for us.

Delight Directed High School

Curiousity is easy to find in younger children. All too often though in older students it seems to have disappeared. This has been the case for my 14 year old daughter. Since about 6th grade she has been asking me to just give her some assignments so that she could get them finished. That was the extent of her schooling during that time. Just finish. Sure, she took in some information during that time, but she also became less and less satisfied with the idea of learning. Sadly, this is happening to kids in schools everywhere. Kids are physically there, but meaningful learning and retention is limited by a lack of interest in topics.

I want better for my kids. I want them to love to learn. I don’t want school to be a bad word in their minds. This is why I believe in letting them lead in choosing the topic of study.

I have had a major problem with this concept this year though. My oldest was starting highschool (We started a few classes during her 8th grade year).  I have struggled desperately over doing high school like the public schools. Not that we have done anything like the public schools yet, but I felt like as we approached the years when transcripts were really required, I would have to suck it up and ‘play their game’ so to speak if college was in her future.

There are some areas that I think I will still have to do just that. But I have seen the light in some other areas as to how we can still be delight directed.

This week I am focusing on the Geography class. We started out with a textbook format, but after only 2 weeks she was bored to death with it. Face it. Textbooks are less than interesting when they only present small chunks of information. Now I am all for exposure of a wide variety of material, but if we can make the learning more meaningful, then why not?

So the plan is this. She is going to work through each continent over the summer. We went to the library yesterday and I helped her choose and check out books on 5 European countries: France, Russia, Italy, Spain, and Germany.  (This is just the start).  The books came from the older children’s section. They have lots of pictures and still lots of information.They are not overwhelming… or dull. They cover all of the important details as far as landmarks, government, flags, people, foods, clothes, language, culture, holidays, and more. This summer she will focus on several of these books from our great library, but she will add to it continually for the next few years. She will add to each country accordingly as she encounters it in the setting of a novel she reads or a movie she sees. She can also add things like art and music that she finds. By the end of high school, I believe she will have a proper education in this way.

Last week we began working on her English I course.  She is an avid reader, so that part was easy. I had her write down the books she could remember reading this year.  Hunger Games, Harry Potter series, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, Seeking the Heavens, and Pride and Prejudice. I still have to do some work to put together this entire course, but can you see how the subjects are beginning to intertwine? Some of these books (along with the short stories, poetry, dramas, and nonfiction readings) have real life settings, and from them she has, or will have, a better understanding of life in that place.

How does this relate to delight directed learning? I am not choosing her books or her topics. Guiding her? Definitely. Letting her follow her interest? Yep. And it is working. For a kid that just wanted her assignments so that she could hurry up and finish. A few months back, she picked up and read a book called Prada and Prejudice. It is a play on Pride and Prejudice, which I mentioned to her, and she proceeded to get that one and read it too. It was not enough. She had to watch the movie and then read all about the author, Jane Austin. Being the fashion guru that she is, she researched the clothing of Jane Austin’s time period. All of this was on her own. Not a school assignment at all.

Do other kids do this? You bet they do. If we give them the time, space, and fuel to do it. I am looking forward to finding all of the classes that I can to teach, no, to to gently guide her through, because it works. It is how passions are developed and how preschoolers and adults learn. Why change that in the middle?