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Using school to fit our needs

Compared to what the kids’ educations looked like several years ago, things are much more varied and piecemeal these days. I used to have four kids hanging out and playing at home and in the community, pursuing learning entirely outside of the sphere of influence of school. Now very much fall within the sphere of influence of the school and its community.

I’ve always liked our local school. A lot. And not just for its community-mindedness. It’s staffed by good people who do good teaching. Not necessarily in a format that was more appropriate for my kids than our unschooled home-based learning, but good stuff nonetheless. And therefore when Erin, and then Sophie, and then Noah, decided that they wanted a change of format and were welcomed with such positivity and open-mindedness, I was thrilled for them.

It’s semester’s end this week, and I’m thinking about how school has become such a part of our lives in unique flexible ways that suit our family.

Sophie is going through her first slate of exams. Two yesterday, and two today. She entered with more trepidation than the endeavour deserved, she’s realized. Her experience thus far has showed her that diligence during the term combined with a bit of preparatory review makes the exam-writing itself un-stressful and leads to excellent results. No big deal! She’d been hearing warnings and negative things about exams from other students but has found the experience simple and gratifying. She’ll have tomorrow off school and we’ll probably head to the ski hill.

Academically Sophie is a grade level ahead in a couple of courses and “on grade level” in the rest. Overall she’s not particularly challenged, and her teachers do recognize this, but she is enjoying the experience and the fact that top marks are easily within her grasp. I’m not sure whether she’ll continue to be happy toeing the standard school line, but I suspect she will. If not I know that the school will work with her to give her what she wants.

Noah is also having his first exams. He’s harder to read, and hasn’t received any results yet, but he seems to be coming through things with a can-do attitude and no undue worries. This was the guy who used to break down in tears when his piano teacher suggested playing a game that involved scoring his note-naming ability each week. He seems to have grown into the maturity necessary to deal with having his learning performance judged and graded. He’s in school part-time, and despite a heavy schedule this semester his school schedule will drop back to mornings only after next week.

Both kids benefit from the innovation and flexibility of the school in pursuing their interests. Tuesday afternoons they take a block out of school to get to Corazon rehearsals. Next week they’ll be doing a week-long photography workshop, using film cameras, making pinhole cameras, getting into a darkroom for some vinegar-scented experience there as their elective week. They’re always welcome to miss school days to pursue music trips or whatever. And next semester Noah will be earning credit for PE, Digital Media and Science for his home-based learning, making use of school facilities as he wishes.

Erin’s program with the school was a part-time one the past three years, similar to what Noah is doing now. She has proven herself to be highly capable and driven to achieve, with a healthy attitude to any necessary hoop-jumping. This year she’s not present at all in the school but she’s doing four or five courses electronically through the school and hasn’t done much on any of them. First she had 6 weeks of internet access issues. Then she headed into preparation for auditions in January and February and the tour to China in December-January. So she’s only put a small dent in her course-work. And her teachers are fine with this. They know that when she says she’ll get around to working seriously on the courses after the McGill audition in late February, she’ll do it, and move ahead really quickly. She’s earned their trust.

Fiona is currently enjoying just the right balance of home and out-of-home experiences, several of which involve the school or people from the school. On Monday she attends the Summit Strings rehearsal with her siblings and another teen. On Tuesday she travels to Nelson with four to six teenagers from the school and stops along the way for Corazon rehearsal. Wednesdays have been ski days this month, putting her at the ski hill with the entire K-7 student body from the school, plus a handful of homeschoolers, for lessons and fun skiing with friends and family. Alternate Wednesday afternoons mean Suzuki group class held at the school. Thursdays are home-based, and Fridays often are as well, but she’s often ready for a bit of time at home by that point in the week. Noah is home more on those days, so there’s company. And some weeks include Friday homeschool activities hosted at the school: either meetings with our liaison teacher or day-long art workshops with the other local homeschoolers.

The amount of structure created by our out-of-home commitments helps to structure Fiona’s at-home time as well, since we have to be intentional about those things or they won’t fit. Recently we’ve been starting the day with some snowshoeing around the property, violin practicing, and then some math bookwork and hands-on chemistry. World geography is an interest these days, fuelled by our read-alouds and by the large flat-screen TV Chuck bought in the after-Christmas sales. BBC’s “Human Planet” and Discovery’s “Atlas” series are being much enjoyed.

Most days I drive to and from the school at least twice, often three or more times what with various drop-off and pick-up times and extra activities. While I don’t relish the driving, I do like the way the school can serve different functions and roles for my different kids at different times, so that it works like a buffet of possibilities.



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