It’s been a while since I posted anything about our bahaySKUL activities. Not that there wasn’t much going on, but the opposite. There has been too much going on in our household, and my plate is brimming full with daily routine as well as the random and unexpected.
It has been an exciting bahaySKULyear indeed. We finished Uri’s first grade and Ari’s second grade at about the same time this August. We have submitted our grades, project outputs and the rest of the boys’ portfolio to our homeschool provider. And now, they’re registered as 2nd and 3rd graders for this new school year! Our household has been filled with nothing but the air of triumph for about a week now. Neither the boys, nor I could get over it just yet. This is a family achievement, after all. And yes, we’ve had pizza and Coke way too many times this week!
What did our bahaySKUL look like this past year?
I would say we let it all hang loose. We didn’t really slack off, but our bahaySKUL days were calm and relaxed. For the most part I let the boys make the call. If they want to play first, or read first, or watch a little TV, or have more than one snack break before doing their school work is really up to them. So long as they finish their assigned lesson for that day, which usually just one section/lesson on one subject per day.
As homeschoolers we need to keep record of the boys’ modules, and tests and worksheets, to prove that our children are actually being ‘educated’. But I should say that the “school work” part of our day is mostly for compliance’ sake. Because, as I have observed, real learning happens even when their LifePACS and textbooks are closed. The reason why we keep a bahaySKUL schedule is so that the kids learn to follow some form of structure in their school days. But really, the most education-filled parts of their day are those times that I let them be FREE.
When they choose which books to read, which topics to read about. When they choose to go outside and follow butterfly trails, or try to catch dragonflies. When they play with LEGOs and action figures for hours. When they create their own worlds in Minecraft. When they draw comic strips and create their own story characters. When lunch is extended because of incessant questions about God and creation. When they look after their baby brother while I take a shower. When they say they want to help out with the gardening, or cleaning the house, or grilling barbecue. When they make their own breakfast because I wake up late from working the previous night. When they strike decent conversations with the neighbors, or some of our friends.
Sometimes it sounds overly cliché when homeschoolers say learning happens everywhere. But it’s true. Learning happens beyond books and test scores. Which is why for this new bahaySKULyear, FREE time is still a non-negotiable. Free play, free reading, free everything will continue to play a big part in our bahaSKULday. Free time is so important for us that when the kids are totally engaged in whatever it is they’re doing (like building a soap box car from the box of the newly-delivered washing machine), I am happy to postpone ‘school work’ for that day in order to maximize such a creative diversion. And this happens a lot of times, hence, it took us a full year (instead of the prescribed 10 months) to complete grade-level requirements. But as I’ve said, this year we really took things slow and steady.
Takeways from this bahaySKULyear…
I still consider us to be newbie homeschoolers, but our experience from these last 2 years of bahaySKUL have taught us a lot of things, which I think are well worth sharing.
Quarterly planning. Our homeschool provider breaks down required modules to be completed by quarter. At the end of each quarter is a Mastery Evaluation Test (MET) that the kids take supervised by the homeschool coordinator. What has worked for us this year is to make lesson plans (and make adjustments) by quarter. I draw up a checklist of lessons that each child should work on for that particular quarter. So (almost) every bahaySKUL day, they get to tick something off this list. If you don’t know, ticking something off a list is a reward and motivation in itself. By the time everything in the checklist has been ticked off, we start a quarterly review of all lessons. This is done by oral narration, with me asking questions, and with the child answering the questions in the way that he understood his lessons. The oral review is extremely helpful for me to identify which topics a child is having difficulty with. If needed, we go back to specific lessons that are challenging for each child. Otherwise, I give them mock written tests in preparation for taking the MET.
Using a boxed curriculum. As I’ve mentioned before, we are using LifePACS by Alpha Omega Publications, as our curriculum for Language Arts, Math, Science, History & Geography and Bible. We use local textbooks by C&E Publishing for Filipino and Philippine studies. It is only this year that I began to appreciate the advantages of using a boxed curriculum. I used to think that using a boxed curriculum can be limiting in terms of scope and depth of study. The previous year, I had a difficult time supplementing our modules. Many times I found myself creating an entirely different lesson plan and activities to replace what is in the module. This was really frustrating and time-consuming, and made me hate LifePACS altogether. But this year, I finally understood how a boxed curriculum is supposed to work. I stuck to the lessons in LifePACS and the C&E textbooks, and let them do their thing. And then I supplement. I look up YouTube videos, use excerpts from classical literature, we go on field trips, whenever we can, we do and learn everything hands-on. But. There will always be times when I am busy as hell, be it project deadlines, or family commitments or having sick people in the household. And that’s when I let the boxed curriculum do its job, which it does, no complaints. So even when we’re stripped down to the bare essentials, we can still carry on with homeschooling, and continue ticking off the boxes that need to be ticked.
Focus on attitude. Raising children with good values and positive outlook is one of the primary reasons we homeschool. We try to give them plenty of opportunities to work as part of a team, whether at home or in sports or with people they’ve just met. We teach them about being accountable to God if they don’t behave well. And we try to model good behavior as best we can. At any given time, I would be happy to postpone finishing ‘school work’ if there is a ‘behavior issue’ that I would like to talk about with my kids. Not being mindful of others, and unintentionally hurting other people in the process. Being disrespectful. Taking things that somebody else is using without asking permission. These are some of the common behavior issues we encounter at this stage of their childhood. When these happen I just have to talk to them about it right there and then.
While a lot of these ‘behavior issues’ often have to deal with relating with other people, we also give equal focus on independence and self-regulation. We are trying to foster a level of independence where our kids will not ask us unless they really cannot do it on their own. In fact, somebody asking for help when we know they are able to do it or figure it out for themselves is likely to get reprimanded. In this age of technology when everything is a mouse click away, we take pains in teaching children the value of good effort and hard work. We want to raise children who are passionate with everything they do and not doing work ‘for the sake of’. Sloppy school work, or worse, sloppy attitude while doing school work is not acceptable around here. Little by little, they are becoming self-motivated and they are slowly appreciating the new stuff they could learn if they are focused, if they ask questions, and if they turn to other resources (i.e. finding good books on topics they are interested in). Of course, the goal is still to tick off the box so they could do the things they want to do (read: PLAY) the remainder of the time. I mean who doesn’t. I would easily take a productive and enjoyable couple of hours of bahaySKUL over an agonizingly long school day. And besides, almost all of the time outside of ‘school work’ are still learning opportunities around here.
As a whole, I would say we had a great homeschool year. The boys are happy. They recognize the many new stuff they have learned from bahaySKUL. They have a better attitude towards work. And they have so many plans for what to do next bahaySKULyear. They look forward to advancing to the next level and they are extremely proud of what they have accomplished this year. So now, we are taking a much-needed and well-deserved two-week bahaySKUL break. We start fresh in September, but for now, anything goes for these two.