In love with Penelope Trunk

Wow I have FINALLY found someone out there who supports me on video games…
Penelope Trunk is an outrageous and hilarious homeschooler in the US. She lets her kids play as much video games as they want and is determined that they are a valuable source of education.

I have been a bit afraid to stand up and be counted on this issue, but I AM WITH YOU PENELOPE!!! I believe that keeping kids as Luddites does not help them one bit.

Take a look at her blog!!!


Homeschooling, Warts and All – 4 Months Later

Hoo Boy! Who’da thought it would be more than 4 months until I managed to post a follow up to my homeschooling kick-off blog.

Well life has really changed.

A year ago I was on the road for more than 2 hours a day, running constantly from school to home as well as maintaining a job, a husband, three kids, a home, guests etc etc. I always felt rushed, I hardly ever had time to sit with my kids, and generally felt like life was on fast forward.

All of a sudden with the start of homeschooling, everything seems to have screeched to a halt. Previously my days were fueled by a whole set of nagging guilts which nearly all revolved around school like; why was I subjecting my kids to the pressure to perform in exams, deal with horrible children, travel so long each day, waste so much time thanks to ineffectual teaching, carry such heavy bags, get up so early blah blah blah. Now all of that has suddenly been lifted and we have all the time in the world together, so where are we at?

When we started homeschooling, I was really freaked out about how I would develop a curriculum. I read so many testimonials saying that every family has their own program and we would find our own equilibrium. I didnt really buy that in the beginning, and basically started by replicating school at home. We used the text books, we did subject periods and we followed a schedule. Needless to say, that didnt last long!

I have evolved radically in my expectations, from initially thinking that we should keep up with the school rate of progress, to something so relaxed that some days it hardly feels like school. We have abandoned almost all of the text books and our days go something like this;

1. We start at about 9am with me reading…(on the days when we are not horseriding). First we read The Alchemist because I wanted to introduce the idea of philosophy. Now we are reading Muhammad by Martin Lings. Just 15 – 30 minutes of that each day and we are already learning more than they do in Islamiyat in a whole week and the kids really love it.

2. I discovered a great science site called EarthSky and every morning we read the top science news stories. Last week we read a brilliant article about eels (so cute!), about how sponges are taking over the Mediterranean (but they are really beautiful even if they are bad), about the top 9 deadly foods (never eating fugu fish), about how seals have their babies within a body length of the place where they were born (amazing) and lots more. I love this approach to science for a few reasons, most of all that it is a totally different approach to thinking of science as this static thing that we need to break down into little pieces and label boring diagrams of. Plus it’s topical so it is much more fun to discuss.

3. We talk about what to do for school that day. There are a few main things we do… one is maths using Khan Academy for the girls and Adapted Mind for Shams (Shams loves his so much that he wrote a love letter to the creators last week). Another is that we are learning to write Quranic Arabic (to go with their reading of Quran in the afternoons) so we do sheets of writing. For english sometimes we write stories, do comprehension, and Shams practices reading.

4. One of our favourite things is projects… I learned really early on in our homeschooling adventure that if I give each child a topic or let them choose one to research, they came up with some incredible things. We do one or two of these projects a week and they have done everything from energy sources to horses, and trees to countries. All of my kids are passionate about their computers, and they do their projects in MS Word with graphics, formatting, etc. Some of them are masterpieces, and not only are they learning about their topic, but they are learning extremely advanced computer skills (I now come to them for advice, and I am no computer dummy).

And that brings me to my new set of nagging guilts…. (I wouldnt be a mother without them!)

After school the kids are allowed to play on their computers from 3pm. Computer games are their great love, and this is one of my biggest dilemmas. There are so many people out there who say computers are terrible for kids and rot their brains. That may even be true. But my kids don’t have friends to play with, activities to do or even a big garden to play in. Playing games gives them something to discuss with each other. It expands their creativity. It makes them autonomous (I dont monitor their activity at all, but they have some simple rules, and they follow them meticulously). I actually think it helps them to be better problem solvers. The other day I was doing some lateral thinking mind games with my middle daughter on the computer, and I was SHOCKED at how well she did. Clearly the games she plays had taught her a lot.

So how bad are computer games REALLY? I tend to think that the widespread hatred of kids on computers is a bit of an overreaction. Too much is no doubt bad. But you know what? In the times that are coming where everything will be computerised, too little could be bad as well. Basic computer skills and basic typing skills are a complete prerequisite for life I think. I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this.

So homeschooling rolls on, and I have plenty of new nagging guilts and challenges to deal with. How to manage kids who whinge every day about doing school (when no amount of reminding them how bad school was in comparison will help). How to avoid my own sense of malaise when I just dont feel like teaching school that day. Whether I am putting enough effort it and the kids are learning enough…. and so it goes.

But you know what? I feel like I am doing what parents are fundamentally and divinely DESIGNED to do and there is something liberating about having no one to blame for how your kids are doing at school but yourself!

In fact, it’s┬áthe best thing I have ever done.

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