Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Homework update

Since my previous post, my son has started getting daily homework, and we are gradually settling into it. He did lose his temper with me today when I told him it was homework time... 5pm is our routine time for doing it--the children have had plenty of time to play together, and I'm pottering about the kitchen, tidying up and starting to get dinner ready. By this time, the novelty's worn off, so even though I gave him plenty of warning that 5pm was coming, he did not want to do it.

At one point, I told him that it was my job to make sure he did his homework, and he told me it was his. I think he was just negating what I said without really thinking about it, but it did give me a moment's pause. After all, I do want to get him into good, *independent* habits. Yet at the same time, we've only just started this, so it's not a habit yet. And it's as important that he have a time to do it that suits all of us as it is for him to take initiative. e.g., he can't decide to do his homework five minutes before dinner, or when I'm doing something with his sister.

Fortunately, once we actually start doing the homework, there's no problem. So far, it only takes him about ten minutes to do homework (sometimes getting him to clear his work off the kitchen table so we can serve dinner takes longer than the actual homework), and it's worked out quite well. I was concerned about my daughter being a distraction, but she has been fine playing or reading by herself, and doesn't seem one whit bothered that her brother's doing something she can't do. This could all change, but for now, all is going well.

One week down, thirteen years to go! 

Monday, 15 September 2014

Family Geek Out

We went to Barnes and Noble yesterday in an ultimately unsuccessful quest to buy my son a dictionary. (It's almost as if all the parents in the area recently had cause to buy the same item at once!) As we always do, we browsed the picture books in case anything caught our eye, and this did. Quest, by Aaron Becker, the sequel to Journey. 

Journey is a wordless picture book about a girl with a magic crayon that leads her on an adventure through a magical world. Most of the pictures are large detailed landscapes, letting your eye do the exploring. Thanks to the wordless part, both my children (five and three) love to 'read' it, and I've enjoyed talking through the story with them as well, because the artwork is ruddy gorgeous. Below is the book trailer to give you an idea.

When I recognised the characters from Journey on the cover of Quest, I immediately pulled it off the shelf and showed it to the kids. Their eyes went huge, and they squeaked: "Journey!" I may have squeaked as well.

At that point, buying it was a foregone conclusion, and after some argument, we agreed that nobody should have it in the car on the way home; we would all read it together.

And that was exactly what we did, page by page, guessing what it was the children were drawing next, and finding out the details of the story together. Once we finished, we immediately re-read.

My husband and I are geeks, and there are plenty of times that we've been mutually excited over something. But this is the first time I've been able to really geek out with the kids--for all three of us to be genuine fans of a fantasy world, and it warmed my nerdy little heart.

The good news is that we should get the chance to do this again. Apparently, Journey and Quest are destined to be a trilogy. I can't wait. (And, so he tells me, neither can my son.)

Sunday, 7 September 2014

School just got Real

In between my travel write ups (we did too much traveling this summer--I've got New York and Washington DC to add now!), I should catch up with actual goings on. Such as my son's graduation from Children's House to the Elementary Class.

We've kept him in his Montessori School, so he's in a mixed age six-nine classroom, but it's the equivalent to first grade. I.e. moving from pre-school to honest-to-goodness school.

The significance of this transition hadn't occurred to me until August when we got the class supply list, featuring binders and notebooks instead of paints and kitchen roll. It really hit me when we had the parent orientation evening, and we were talked through expectations such as... homework.

In many ways, up until this point, I've considered the children to be at school to learn practical skills and socialisation. Any academic advancements have been a bonus. Yes, I stressed about his reading, but there was always the feeling that it didn't really matter. And now it feels like it does.

It's still Montessori, it's still child-led, so my son will still go at his own pace, and there isn't really a specific standard in each subject that they have to achieve in the three years of elementary. But there is an expectation now that they will stay in line with the rest of the country--and there's an element of preparing them for a non-Montessori academic future, with work-sheets and tests and such like.

And the aforementioned homework. Homework is not really Montessori, which is designed around using materials that are in the classroom and not the home. His teacher's solution to this is to get the children to work at home on the stuff they need to burn into their memories for the long term.

For now, my son's homework is one or two worksheets a week to practice his 'math facts' (multiplication tables, 0-9 sums, etc.) In a few more weeks, spelling will be added to the mix--two nights of studying the words, and two nights of choosing his own activity out of a range from 'write your words from shortest to longest' to 'write a poem using your words.') This will mean something to do every night of the week.

He is taking this development with all due cheer and enthusiasm. I am all anxiety (well, outwardly, I strive for a mask of cool confidence, but inwardly I'm first-world-probleming 24/7). My own homework practices at school were atrocious and thus I am resolved for my children to do better. I want to have a routine time where he sits at the table and does homework, and I am available to help him, discuss it with him or otherwise show interest--but equally, I've got to find something to keep my daughter engaged without distracting him at the same time.

So far it's been very easy because he doesn't seem to have a problem with maths. (That in itself is interesting because up until now, he's always done maths with concrete materials: unit beads, ten bars, hundred squares and thousand cubes, etc. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time he's sat down with a piece of paper and done it in his head--and he can. My husband and I were both mathematically inclined, so this might just be genetic luck easing the transition, but it was fun to listen him read the questions dramatically as if it was the most insane thing he'd ever been asked before declaring: "Well, it has to be [answer].")

I am more worried about how the spelling will go down, but then again, this is just the tip of a fifteen-year long iceberg. It's going to get tough eventually... I should enjoy staying afloat while I can.

The other thing that's starting to concern me is keeping up with his British peers. Technically, he's skipped a year in the US system (it's really a little more blurred thanks to the Montessori system and his early start in that), but in the UK, he'd be starting 'proper' school this year too. The BBC recently ran this article on the new national curriculum, which made me realize I should be keeping an eye on what he's expected to know there.

From my own experience (educated in the US from the age of nine to eleven, before returning to the UK for high school), the US is perhaps more academic than the UK at the primary level... but that was twenty five years ago. To use the examples cited in this article, I know my son will be learning fractions, though computer coding was not mentioned in the elementary class overview! Handily, my husband's a computer guy and I'm sure there are all kinds of apps for that, but what else lurks in the pages of the National Curriculum?

My first thought was to panic, download a PDF of Key Stage One expectations, make extensive notes and start googling downloadable worksheets, to keep my son abreast of the UK standards...

And then there was the second thought which is that I have better things to do with my time, so does my son, and my whole thing about Montessori is that I don't like forcing children to a standard anyway.

So I probably will try to keep aware of what's going on in the equivalent British class. But I'll also acknowledge that there will always be gaps he'll have to bridge when he starts school there. And that's OK. He's going to have huge blind spots in his history and geography, but let's seize the opportunity we have to learn about American history and geography.

Right now, the most important thing is his enthusiasm for learning. That's what I want to celebrate and sustain for as long as possible. Besides, almost six years on from his birth, there are still few things more enjoyable than watching him learn and discover the world around him.