We went to a homeschool day at the local nature center. 10 yo did not want to go, had to be practically convinced and dragged over there. The formal programs there leave much to be desired. They are run by a former public school teacher with years and years of experience. All that I see are crowd control techniques: rotate through stations, listen to instructions, do not interrupt.
So why do we keep going back?
8 yo decided to participate in indoor scavenger hunt, looking for images of ten song birds. He had to find them and write them down on a clipboard, then to turn the list in. He worked with a friend, looking and searching, persisting at a task for close to an hour. He also wrote them all down. Was that cheating? Collaboration? Was this writing practice? Sticking to a task? Not giving up in the face of difficulties?
5 yo made a new friend, whom she played with and followed around.
10 yo traded in his fossilized fish bone.
1 yo spent a lot of time looking at a mole snake, watching it slither. Then, just as he was losing interest, one of the employees came with a spray bottle. She opened the exhibit, pulled out the case, lifted the lid, and misted the habitat. I told 1 yo that the snake was getting a shower. He sat in my lap, fascinated. Then she offered to take it out, as long as he wouldn't touch it. He really got a close look at that snake! I asked about the heavy rocks on the lid, and was told that these snakes are very strong and can lift up the lid of the enclosure and escape. We got this close and personal look, totally unplanned.
One thing that I learned from the past three years of homeschooling is that a lot of learning happens in unstructured, "unproductive" moments. Homeschooling is not about advancing through grades, or filling out worksheets, or passing tests. Learning is not quantifiable, but it happens when there is an opportunity for it to happen. If one passively sits and waits for someone to tell them what to learn and what to know, they are guaranteed to fail. They will not remember anything beyond the point of required recall. The point of learning is to "own it", have a stake in it, be interested for its own sake.
Which brings me to my "next year" dilemma. Now I am leaning to sending out the two youngest kids: 5 yo and 1 yo. 5 yo wants to go to school, "to see what it's like", and 1 yo manages to disrupt and destroy faster than I can blink. I know that many homeschool families choose to send kids to preschool until kindergarten age, precisely to be able to focus on the older kids. I also know that 5 yo would be ridiculously easy to homeschool. Today we davened together, and then we did the first lesson from "Derech Bina". I was planning on focusing exclusively on reading, not being sure how much writing she can do (the primer is meant for Hebrew school kids who are in 2nd grade). This girl insisted on doing the writing page, too. And she managed just fine, with some direction. Then, in the afternoon, we doled out allowance. We start at 5, a quarter for each year of age, so she gets a dollar and a quarter. Then we give tzedakah, which is ten percent, so that's 12 cents in her case. I point out the coins for her, let her figure out their value, show her how to make change from the quarter that she gets into dimes and pennies so she can give tzedakah. Then she counts up her dollar bills and we use a hundreds chart to calculate cents. "Can this be my math?" Of course, dear, this is your math, only it is meaningful and useful math. 1 yo gets a penny to put into tzedakah box.
I look at her day, so full, and then I wonder what is the school going to give her that she is not already getting at home. She might end up with a morah who is calmer than a sleep-deprived mommy, yelling at her older brothers. She will get to do more projects, more worksheets. She might get exposed to ways of counting and reading that I am not familiar with. But is all this academic material worth more than having freedom to play for hours, to choose what to learn, and to be with her family?