The end of Bloke School?

When my friends decided to return their kids to school, my eldest boy was angry and upset. His (probably legitimate) complaint was that we would never see them again. This is not the first friend he has lost.

His great friend who he has known from birth went to school at the same time we started homeschooling, and just kind of disappeared. With his friend going to school during the week and doing extracurricular activity during the weekends, they hardly ever see each other any more.

His best friend who he always talks about, moved away a while ago. The boys parents, appalled at Australia’s politics, took their levels of disgust as far as packing up and leaving the country. In the relatively small circles we move in, three friends is a lot to lose.

tile mandala

The subject of friendships has been a recurrent conversation over the last couple of months. This is not something I feel capable of helping with very much. A memorable workplace appraisal in the not too distant past saw me described as ‘prickly,’ ‘intense,’ and ‘difficult to approach.’ Truth is that I have always struggled to enjoy being in other peoples company, and it shows that I have largely stopped trying. I just don’t have it in me to model good behaviour in this regard, and it is a major challenge even to set up conditions where the boys can work it out themselves.

At the same time this was happening, a cluster of interesting, well paid jobs came up at work which I was unable to apply for, due to homeschooling the boys.

I have spent a large section of my adult life trying to follow my dreams and not be boxed in by the system. While such behaviour brings a certain kind of reward, life is definitely far easier and more profitable when you just do what everyone expects you to.

I was brooding rather resentfully over all of this when I started searching the websites of schools in the local area. For the most part, they seemed worst than I remembered them, but there is a Steiner school within reach which held out some promise.

Despite having worked as both a homeopath and a biodynamic market gardener, I am not entirely sold on Steiner. Still, I know a few sets of parents from that school, and while they all do different things, they also all seem to do it with a purpose, which I found encouraging. I booked an appointment for a tour.

My wife and I, along with both the boys, spent a couple of hours being shown around. Although both the adults went with something of a negative eye, we all actually found ourselves loving the place. Physically, it is a beautifully built area of stone and timber on an amphitheatre like ground. The classes which we saw were all small, very relaxed and humanised. Of course there were no uniforms. Despite my boys being dressed in literally the first clothes I grabbed, which was then topped off by ugly crocks and daggy hats, what struck me is that they completely blended in with all the other kids there.

The Stiener school ampitheatre

I took a look at the curriculum, obviously. It always surprises me just how simple the expectations are with school kids, especially given how much time they devote to learning it. Still, what I would see as dead time elsewhere, here seems to be spent in a fairly open ended and artistic environment. I was frequently criticised for being a dreamer as a kid. It is an attribute I would like to encourage in my own children.

There is a lot of musical and artistic expression at this school which, I have to admit, is something of a foible for us. In a sense, I am not so concerned about English, Maths, Science and History. Whatever the boys don’t get at school, I know it will easily be covered at home.

After a biggish pile of paperwork, we enrolled both of them. My youngest boy starts next year, and my eldest begins in a few weeks. He is wildly excited by the prospect. The rationale for Bloke School disappeared instantly and, it seemed, almost by accident.

It has left me feeling strangely nostalgic. The hard times of the last year and a half don’t seem that hard, and the good times seem fantastic. For all the complaints that I had about never having any time to myself, I am already missing the time we spent together with just me and the boys.

I am very glad to know that our homeschooling adventure was something quite achievable. It was often messy, but in a relaxed manner. In many ways, the boys learned far more than they otherwise would have. I am confident that should circumstances change again, we could easily return to homeschooling.

My wife and I always maintained that we were homeschooling the kids, not for any abstract reasons of idealism, but because it seemed the best option available for them. Suddenly our options changed, and we need to acknowledge that.

How long things remain like this is anyone’s guess. One of the best and worst things in life is that nothing is certain.

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Space is big

We have been studying astronomy this semester. A lot of what we have been looking at has been inside the solar system. Brief descriptions of the planets, the nature of eclipses, seasons, moon phases, that style of thing. One thing the books are never able to adequately describe is the sense of scale involved.

Douglas Adams once had a go in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when he wrote this.

‘Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you might think it’s a long way down the street to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts compared to space.’

To try and convey this to the boys however, I felt we needed something a little more graphic. We were going to build ourselves a scale model of the solar system.

Sun and planets to scale

Our first step was to draw the sun and all the planets to scale. The scale I chose was 1 mm : 10,000 km. This meant that the inner planets were drawn as little more than dots, but the importance of this scale would come into play later on.

We labelled the planets and then taped them onto garden stakes. The main part of the lesson took place down at the beach.

In a similar way to how we used the beach as a timeline, we needed a lot of space to get the scale right. I could have just drawn the planets to a different scale to the distances I was trying to convey, but that is just what I was trying to avoid. When it comes to scale models, I tend to be a real stickler for accuracy.

Down at the beach, we used the sign at the base of the headland as our starting point. We stuck our sun on the sign, and then measured out the distances of the inner planets.

At this scale, the moon would be four centimetres away from the earth. We ended up putting them on the same label. Altogether, the inner planets made a relatively compact group.

Inner planets of the solar system

Once we moved onto the gas giants, it became quite apparent just how far out the outer planets really are. By the time we made it to Neptune, we were 450 m away from our sun. If you look really carefully, you can see just see the sign we taped it to. In a sense, I am glad they downgraded Pluto from a planet, because we were only two thirds of the way there, and the boys were tired of walking up the beach.

Solar system model

At this scale, the Oort cloud would start at around 74 km away and extend to 1500 km, its outer edge marking the cosmographical boundary of the solar system. Proximal centauri, our nearest neighbouring star, would be at the very tip of Cape York peninsular, 3000 km distant.

Looking down the beach at our model, I was trying to ignore the scenery and focus only on the tiny specs we had drawn in these inconceivable amounts of emptiness. I don’t know just how much of this the boys were able to take in, but it certainly made an impression on me.

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Mathseeds

Just before the end of last year, I stumbled onto Mathseeds. I have found this to be a great program for young kids. This year it has formed the backbone of our maths curriculum.

I spent most of last year using Miquon maths as the basis for our maths program. Although cuisenaire rods are an extremely valuable tool, my boys passionate dislike of worksheets meant that regular practice was something of a challenge.

We tried exercises from the books, counting piles of money, checking shopping receipts, and playing various board games. It worked reasonably well for an introduction, but it was clearly time for something with a bit more structure. I found that Mathseeds really filled this need.

The content of Mathseeds starts at kindergarten level with very basic counting. There are 120 lessons at the moment with plans to take this up to 140. These lessons follow a fairly typical Australian maths curriculum, introducing concepts up to a year two level.

Although the boys started off with a tremendous flush of enthusiasm, they have slowed down a fair bit now. Still, I was surprised to realise that we are just a couple of lessons off finishing the whole thing.

Each lesson takes about half an hour. The whole thing is presented as something of a game, so there is also plenty of opportunity to wander off into different parts of the program.

Mathseeds cartoon animals

The lessons follow a theme and also revise concepts previously covered. They are all introduced by cartoon animals which makes the whole thing appealing to kids. They win acorns along the way and each lesson finishes with a funny little video of a cartoon animal breaking out of an acorn and doing something silly. This small prize at the end provides more incentive than I would have thought. A similar concept also worked well for my boys in other maths games we have played – Elements and Dragon box.

Each set of five lessons is drawn together in a theme such as ‘India’ or ‘The Great Barrier Reef.’ An avatar moves along a map showing your progress. At the end of each map of five lessons is a review quiz. These are always approached with a sense of achievement and curiosity at what the next map will contain.

Mathseeds map 22 - India

The acorns the kids win along the way can be used to dress their avatar, buy a house, and fill it with stuff. There are also different games to play which all apply different concepts covered, but do not directly link to any lesson. This aspect adds a lot of fun to it for the boys, and also gives a break from focussed learning all the time.

Pimp my acorn - Mathseeds

Due to the logistics of dealing with two boys at once, I only bought one subscription, and both boys play at the same time. They take turns being the one to control the keyboard.

Inevitably, my four year old has found it has become a bit hard for him, and now guesses at about half of what he attempts. Given that he is doing problems designed for a seven year old, I am very impressed that he can get through half of it with no problems. My oldest boy rolls along though it quite comfortably. He has obviously learned a lot from this, and it has all been done with a sense of playfulness. At no time have they experienced any ‘maths dread.’

It comes with a two week free subscription to try it out, which is time enough to realise if your kids will like it or not. After that you buy an annual subscription. One year should be enough. I have enjoyed this program a lot, largely because the kids have enjoyed it a lot. It has been an excellent way to introduce primary school mathematics.

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When its time to stop homeschooling

I was a bit saddened and a bit disappointed to hear that after a year and a half of homeschooling, a friend of mine is sending her kids back to school.

Like the decision to start homeschooling, there are lots of ideas and complexities at play in the decision to stop. What it really comes down to, though, is that as a family, it is just no longer feasible for them to continue.

In a reasonably common scenario, they took control of their kids education when it became apparent that their oldest was being failed by the school system. Although clearly not coping, the school had not even identified that there was a problem. My friends took their oldest kid out of school. Their youngest, due to start kindergarten, never attended, and they both spent the next eighteen months homeschooling.

Over that time, they managed to identify their oldest kids learning problems, and work out how to rectify them. They also managed to catch their kid up from from being way behind average to what is expected for their age. There were huge improvements, not only in academic levels, but in social capabilities also.

While this was happening, their youngest kid was skipping through his work and thoroughly enjoying it. Like homeschooling everywhere, it came with its ups and downs, but overall, they were doing very well.

Of course, there are hidden costs to homeschooling.  This particular family runs a small business, and like many in that situation, both adults need to dedicate large amounts of time and effort to keeping that business running. They just can’t afford to have one of them staying at home with the kids any longer, regardless of the benefits.

My friend was really gripped by a sense of anxiety over how to prioritise things. If homeschooling is given top priority, there is a real chance that their business would collapse and possibly take their family with it. If they focus on the business, they lose all the benefits of homeschooling, and also run the risk of their kids being lost in the system again.

Regardless of which way this decision goes, on a bad day, they will be haunted by the thought that they should have picked differently.

Greater than that is an inescapable sense of failure. Having pushed so hard against the system, and achieved so much, it is a very hard thing to then have to say ‘We are better off with the children at school.’ There is a real sense of loss here. It is very much a broken dream of what could have been.

Despite all the worry and pain involved in this decision, I think that if our situations were reversed, I would probably do the same thing. Without the benefit of hindsight, there is no way of knowing which decision is ultimately the best one.

I think that what is more important is that this decision is a mindful one. Their kids are not going to school because that is what kids do. Their kids are going to school because after an exhaustive weighing up of pros and cons, it seemed the best option all round based on what they had to work with. What more can you ask of people?

As for the sense of failure, I think that will lessen over time. I certainly hope so. They have achieved so much in helping out their eldest kid especially. They have clearly identified what the problem was at school, and now have a bunch of tools in place to make things easier for everybody. There is also a great deal of interest and awareness in how their kids learn, which is a definite bonus in any scenario.

Whenever I think of failures in my own life, they are marked by making me cringe a bit inside and wish that I had never done them. I cannot see my friends ever experiencing that with their homeschooling. I think that both kids and adults will always look back on this period of their lives and remember how they were having an excellent time while it lasted.

That is surely a sign of success.

Posted in Life experiences, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Are monsters real?

We have been reading a lot of mythological stories from Ancient Greece lately. I have always found them to be great adventure stories, and have read countless translations and retellings over the years.

In all the magic, nobility and high ideals of these tales, it is easy to forget just how packed they are with bronze age savagery. After several centuries of oral tradition, they were finally written down to entertain and celebrate the leading citizens of a warrior society, and there is no mistaking that.

In a few short stories, we have read about opportunistic acts of piracy, family members betraying each other, battles, sackings of towns, entire families being killed off in brutal political coups, people being locked in a box and thrown into the sea, warriors arguing over the possession of a sex slave, babies being abandoned on the hillsides to die, or being thrown from city walls, people being dismembered, and enemy corpses being publicly humiliated.

They all must dieIts like reading a picture book version of the Game of Thrones. These are just the actions of the heroes. We haven’t even made it to the scary monsters yet.

So it was that while looking at a picture of a Gorgon, when my oldest boy asked me ‘Are monsters real?,’ the first answer that leaped to mind was ‘Only the human ones.’ I only just caught myself in time. Not an appropriate answer for a six year old.

It is a question with interesting ramifications, though, and it led to a discussion about what monsters really are. All our cultural fears and anxieties need to take a form of some kind. Monsters define a group of people by what they are not. We can all safely say ‘No matter what I do, at least I am not like that.’

They vary from place to place. This, for example, is what a group of average Americans look like in North Korea.MonstersObviously monsters.

It is the existence of monsters which make our heroes what they are. All the heroes in these stories achieve their heroic status by slaying monsters. Even where they fail, they are still heroic for having dared take on these otherworldly creatures.

The story of Odysseus and the Laestrygonians could easily be based on a raid gone wrong. After entering the enemy harbour and making a terrible strategic error, our hero loses eleven out of twelve ships and all their crews.

But really, it’s not his fault. The Greeks were not just fighting anyone. They were fighting against giants. Actually, they were cannibalistic giants. And they threw huge boulders at the ships. And entire trees. And there were thousands of them. In fact, they attacked us. What really happened is that our happy go lucky friends never stood a chance because they innocently stumbled into a nest of monsters.

Similarly, the tale of when the Argonauts meet the Sirens could be a rationalisation of one or a number of men leaving their ship mates to start a new life with a foreign woman in a distant land.

When the remaining crew of the Argo return home as heroes, they have to account for the missing Butes, who abandoned his quest and has no intention of returning to his family waiting at home. Admittedly, the woman he met was completely charming, and everyone was tempted at some stage to make a similar choice, but his decision to jump ship like that was just inconceivable. It could only be magic. Evil magic obviously. In fact, we know she was evil because she had claws. And wings. And was surrounded by the corpses of other sailors who had met a similar fate. Truth be told, entire ships had run aground here caught under the same spell. Butes was completely innocent and a great man. It is just a tragedy that he was lured to his death by a monster.

Of course monsters are real. They are all around us. It seems that people need monsters in their lives. Every culture has them. If there are no actual monsters nearby, we will look around us and make them up. It is an intriguing aspect of humanity that we should do this. An objective look at the news will rapidly identify which monsters you need to be afraid of in your part of the world.

Medusa

If monsters were not real, then we would all believe that the people around us live lives just as complex and challenging as our own. We would have to acknowledge that although having different skill sets and resources available to use, people everywhere struggle with similarly themed problems and anxieties in life, and are trying to cope with it all the best way they know how. We would be able to approach people with an open minded sense of kindness and compassion, safe in the knowledge that they too, would recognise their own traits in us.  Each person would treat others with the same gentle respect with which we could treat ourselves.

It’s just that it is easier to believe in a scaly, flesh eating woman with a head covered in writhing snakes whose gaze will turn you to stone.

Posted in History, Teaching and learning | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Building your own curriculum under strict guidelines

A large part of the reasons behind why we chose to homeschool was that it allowed for individualised teaching. Even working within the guidelines, there is still a good deal more flexibility to work around the rules than it initially seems.

Today I have a guest post over at Simple Homeschool about putting a curriculum together for the year at Bloke School. Read more about it at Building Your own Curriculum Under Strict Guidelines.

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The Minoan bulls

Our history lessons are shifting away from Egypt and the fertile crescent and into the Aegean Sea. We spent a morning looking at the ancient Minoans.

The morning began with a deal of time looking at maps. The island strewn Aegean is quite a contrast to the broad, flat, semi arid lands of Egypt and Mesopotamia. This was a good way to realise why the Aegean was filled with independent city states built on trade rather than sprawling empires built on conquest. It also showed how much the culture was dominated by the sea. We had noticed that lots of the pottery was decorated with things like fish, octopus and shells.

Bull jumpingThe boys have seen a movie of Jason and the Argonauts before, so they have at least a brief idea of the mythology which used to rule that part of the world.

One of the ideas I was explaining was the importance of bulls in Minoan civilisation. A big part of this was the sport of bull jumping.

The internet being what it is, we managed to find a youtube clip of some modern day bull jumpers from Spain. It was pretty fun to watch, the bulls don’t get hurt, and it certainly brought the ancient frescoes to life.

Although the penalties for error while somersaulting over a bull are fairly high, we noticed that the actual number of moves the athletes had to master seemed fairly small. They are all similar to moves the boys are working up to in their gymnastics classes. The boys figured that if we started training on small goats, it would only be a matter of time before they were able to build up to jumping bulls themselves.

When looking at Minoan culture and their bull cults, sooner or later, you are going to end up at the story of the minotaur. For those who don’t know the story, the bones of it run like this.

Minos, a Cretan king, cheats the god Poseidon out of a sacrifice by withholding a certain bull. Feeling slighted, Poseideon causes Minos’s wife, Pasiphaë to fall in love with the bull, have sex with it, and give birth to the minotaur. Unwilling to kill the creature, Minos keeps it in a labyrinth under his palace, and feeds it on human sacrifices from Athens. Theseus, the Athenian prince, volunteers to be sent to Crete for the minotaur to eat. On his arrival, he mets Ariadne, daughter to the king, and half sister to the minotaur. Ariadne is smitten by Theseus, and gives him a sword and a ball of string. He enters the labyrinth, using the sword to kill the minotaur, and the string to find his way back out again. Theseus and Ariadne sail back to Athens, but he dumps her during a stopover along the way. In all the excitement, he forgets to send a prearranged signal to his father, Aegeus, confirming his safety. Aegeus thinks Theseus is dead, and kills himself in his grief. Theseus becomes king of Athens.

Like many myths, there is a lot of weirdness, backstabbing and tragedy built into this story. It also probably has some basis in historical truth. Maybe Theseus was based on a real individual or group who broke up a sect of Minoan priests who took their devotions further than anyone was happy with. It is the kind of thing I like to speculate about.

Brass labyrinthAnyway, this led to us looking at labyrinths more generally. We spent some time looking at designs and construction styles of different labyrinths. They can be quite mesmerising things.  I was also able to show off a Chartres labyrinth I made out of brass some years ago.

The whole lesson culminated in a graphic retelling of Theseus’s harrowing journey into the labyrinth through the medium of Lego. Here, he sets off holding his sword, while Ariadne stands at the doorway, feeding out the ball of string. We didn’t have a minotaur exactly, but a large caveman fitted the role well enough. 

Theseus’s harrowing journey into the labyrinth

I have always enjoyed ancient Greek mythology. The way it is so intertwined with the history of the place means you can’t really study one without the other. This was a mornings work which I thoroughly enjoyed. I am quite looking forward to the next few weeks of playing around with more of this.

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ANZAC day – My grandad’s war stories.

Anzac day is a hugely important holiday in Australia. In many ways, it has become the de facto national day. Unlike Australia day, which is somewhat arbitrary and often divisive, Anzac day has a much deeper sense of purpose to it. Today, of course, marks its centennial anniversary.

Every Australian kid has the ANZAC story firmly imprinted on their minds. A story which is then reinforced every year: the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps setting out to capture the Gallipoli peninsular; the landing on the wrong beach; fierce Turkish resistance; a stalemated campaign dragging on for eight months; horrifying casualty rates and extreme hardship on both sides; and finally, a perfect evacuation.

ww1-war-victory-medal-pair

British war medal and Victory medal

A military defeat, it turned into a social victory for Australia, becoming a focal point for many national ideals. Mateship, sacrifice and pride are key elements to the day. Like many public holidays, Anzac day fills me with uncertainty.

At its most basic level, it is a day of remembrance for the sacrifices made by the countries service men and women during military operations. Their individual reasons for giving everything they had are infinitely varied. As a clear beneficiary of their struggles through no effort of my own, I certainly have no wish to demean their memory.

Over the course of my life, I have watched the original World War 1 diggers dwindle and die off. As this happened, the Anzac story has changed from living memory to historical mythology. In many ways, the meaning of the day has drifted, I think, to represent the ideals of what it is to ‘be Australian.’

Mateship and struggling together against the odds, self sacrifice for the greater good, and national pride are all ideas which can be so easily subverted. They are such small steps from nepotism, mob mentality, nationalistic jingoism and racial hatred.

Australians everywhere today will be sincerely saying ‘Lest We Forget.’ Recent times have seen the nation cut the welfare payment for orphans of soldiers killed in service, abolish the Vietnam Veterans Education Centre Advisory Panel, subject incapacitated veterans to yearly disability reviewsdefeat an attempt at the UN to highlight the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war, cut the wages of Australian troops deployed overseas, condone torture by foreign governments, and so much more. There is currently a strong push to sign trade deals which would give away many of the rights that our people have died trying to protect. Also, cashing in the branding of Anzac day, we have also been assured that we can honour those sacrifices by buying things such as fresh groceries and cold beers.

I cannot help but feel that Australia as a political unit has forgotten, and what we are left with is so much lip service. Such conflicting views leave me feeling very nervous about Anzac day. I just don’t know what to make of it anymore.

Adelaide comes to a standstill for a minutes silence. Remembrance day, 1955. Picture: Bill Krischock.

Adelaide comes to a standstill for a minutes silence. Remembrance day, 1955. Picture: Bill Krischock.

Working as a nurse, I get to talk to huge numbers of people I would otherwise barely glance at. The demographics of age and health means that I have met a lot of veterans over the years. They have no real commonality except a clear demarcation in their life of before and after service. I have heard many stories from them. These stories can be funny, poignant, technical, and traumatising. I leave the final story to my granddad.

As a young man, he found himself quite out of his depth as a field engineer on the battlefields of France and Belgium at the tail end of World War 1. Details of what he did and why are very sketchy. I suspect he enlisted due to social pressure at home rather than any real desire to go.

My granddad

My granddad

When I was boy, he lived in a small unit at the back of our house. I knew him as an kindly old man who pottered around with a walking stick, chain smoking cigarettes and quietly sluicing his way through crates of whiskey.

Shortly before he died, I was playing over at his place one day when I stumbled on a small box of wartime memorabilia. There was not much – a pair of shoulder titles, a portrait, and a couple of service medals.

I was absolutely dumbfounded. I had always known he was a veteran, but I couldn’t take in what I was seeing. I was simply unable to correlate the quiet old man I knew to the powerful young soldier in the photograph. That he had medals as well made the whole situation just inconceivable to me.

With all the enthusiasm that a death mad ten year old boy can muster, I nearly shouted at him, ‘What did you do to get those, granddad?’

What I wanted to hear was a boys own adventure story of how he took out a German machine gun nest using nothing but an entrenching tool, or some such thing like that. His real answer, of course, was very different.

I was very disappointed by what he said at the time. I have never forgotten it, though, and in later years, have had a few black humoured laughs at what he meant by it. It was the kind of story which says a lot through omission.

In his typically succinct and understated style, he used a single sentence to tell me all the war stories I ever heard him speak.

‘They gave me those for not getting shot.’

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Return of the assessor

As part of the requirements for homeschooling where I live, we are visited by a government assessor every year or two. This is frequently the cause of a great deal of angst for people.

I have heard frequent complaints from people on different forums that there is a real lack of consistency between different assessors, and also different visits by the same assessor. These forums often advise people to have a second experienced homeschooler at an assessment to prevent any bullying or harassment.

I have only ever met our local assessor, so I really don’t know how he compares to any others. Certainly I quite like him. The general consensus around here is that is very supportive, and that has definitely been my experience. He came around yesterday to see how our first year and a bit has been going.

I was a little unsure what to show him. I have been making a real effort this year to keep actual exercise books which have been subject specific. This is not something we have been able to manage as well as I would have liked. For all the effort and learning which has happened over the last year, our representative pile of work was kind of small. Not much of our work makes it onto paper.

This assessor really stresses English as being the most important subject to get a handle on. His rationale is that an understanding of any subject flows from understanding the language used to describe it. I tend to agree with him on this.

My eldest boy (the only one being assessed) can read and spell reasonably well. He has good comprehension skills and quite neat writing. The only catch is that he doesn’t like writing, and very rarely does any of it. The only example of handwriting I was able to find was a page we managed to put together from playing ‘Silly sentences’ a while ago.

Most writing we do is fairly incidental, such as labelling maps. A strangely tricky area, he will often very neatly colour in the map, and then label it using ‘elf language.’

The new kingdom of Egypt marked in elf language.

The assessor thought this was pretty funny. He described it as a ‘classic delaying technique.’ As a friend of mine later said to me, if it that easily recognised and named then it is normal enough not to worry about. That seems a fairly reasonable comment. Most of our formal English lessons are done online through Reading Eggs. The fact that we are getting through the lessons shows that he is making progress.

We worked our way through each subject area. I use a spreadsheet to record what we do, and how it correlates to the requirements I have to fulfil. For all the time that I have spent filling it out, he only looked at it long enough to make sure he understood the layout. I think the fact that I had filled it out in the first place was enough to show that I had a clear idea of what we had achieved.

Year one competencies

Really what it seemed to come down to was that I was able to show that I had a plan, was acting within the state guidelines, and that I was able to identify strengths and weaknesses. He also wanted to see that I was able to capitalise on the strengths and support the weakness that I saw.

He wasn’t even too fussed on trying to assign a grade level. He was quite open about the whole thing being designed to get the greatest number of kids through the system in the most efficient manner. They vary so much in their abilities from subject to subject, especially in the early years, it is a completely false measurement.

I will not get to see this assessor again, which is something of a shame, because I liked his style. He is retiring in the next few months. The next assessor review I get will be late next year when my youngest boy turns six.

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The cost of homeschooling

The most recent figures I could find show that where I live, the state spends just over $14,000 p.a. educating a primary school child. This idea of ‘How much does education cost?’ comes up often enough in homeschooling forums. The numbers change a bit depending on where the data comes from, but the comments all have  a sameness to them. Whenever I have seen discussions on the cost of state schooling a child, the comments will be like this.

‘I only ever spend a few hundred dollars each year. How can the state waste all this money?’

Relief map

These comments always kind of grate against me, because they fail to take a number of things into account. From my own perspective, the state spends a little more than I do, but it is a fairly comparable figure. Like many people, I spend a few hundred dollars a year on supplies and various classes and events. There is a lot more than just that, though, to the true cost of homeschooling.

For every option that we choose in life, there is a whole collection which we pass over. When we chose to homeschool the boys, my days as an above average income earner came to an abrupt halt.

Being unable to be in two places at once, I had to cut down my work hours fairly drastically, because I was busy teaching the kids. It certainly means I earn a lot less. I just told myself that the boys were attending a very exclusive private school, and that was the cost of homeschooling. In a sense it is, but there is a bit more going on.

I have flexible hours at work, which is great, but now I am just a place filler. I am not trusted with any of the important, challenging or especially well paid jobs any more because I just dont turn up often enough or at the right times. Work is certainly no longer stressful for me, but nor it is particularly interesting. My career hangs in limbo.

At the same time that I notice this, I also see people that I trained at work overtake me, and move into leadership or specialist positions. I certainly cant begrudge them the rewards of their efforts, but it is still an oddly humbling experience to watch. When the day comes that I want to fire my career up again, there is going to be an uncomfortable gap in my CV. It seems unlikely that anybody relevant is going to be impressed by the fact that I spent so much time educating my own children, regardless of what they might achieve. That is another part of the cost of homeschooling.

I am sure I am not the first to have found that homeschooling is very expensive in terms of lost income and career opportunities. Suddenly a very relevant question becomes What is a great education worth?

Dinosaur garden

The boys certainly are getting a great education. Although they are stronger in some areas than others, overall, they are definitely ahead of what would normally be expected of them. On top of that, they take a genuine interest in learning, are socially aware, and have a far better relationship with me than they otherwise would.

Still, I wonder sometimes if we would be better off as a collective group if they just had a good education at a school instead of a great one at home, and I made more money to cover the difference. There doesnt seem to be any definite right answer here. It all depends on the circumstances at the time.

For all the effort and energy involved in teaching the boys, I see it as a luxury not everyone can afford.

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