Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Travel is the best education: 'home'-schooling in Vilcabamba

In early September it was 'back-to-school' for many children at many schools around the world. Homeschool started for us too at the only 'home' we currently know, bit funny not having a proper place to call home. I mean, I have come to terms with it for myself having been on the road most of my adult life but now with two children 6 and 7 2/3 this concept of home looms anew. The boys have enough difficulty when asked where they are from.....born in Malaysia, carrying French (mother) and Canadian (father also British) passports and never having lived in any of those countries. They have lived their earliest years in Malaysia and then the last 3 in Lebanon. They identify with where exactly? Its challenging. Like a growing number of kids they are truly global in orientation, world's children...but I digress.

I had thought long and hard about school for the boys before we moved to our new reality here in the campo of southern Ecuador and the lower Andes. Their fledgling knowledge of Spanish language precluded sending them to a local school. I researched and had skype's and emails and discussions with qualified Montessori teachers, Ph.Ds' in education, practicing teachers (thanks Catherine, Garene, Shelley!)....not forgetting either that my Dad was a top-notch professor in comparative education systems, I felt I had covered the ground. Considerations regarding the fairly short duration of this period of homeschooling (4months or perhaps 1year), their grade levels (only in Grades 1 and 2) and that they are pretty on top of things when it comes to the 3R's; reading, writing and 'rithmatic led to a general consensus that they simply needed to keep up, be stimulated and achieve the milestones for their grade levels. All else is gravy to lubricate their already fluid capacities to absorb, learn and reflect on their worlds. What seems also to be agreed is the need to properly document the process and create portfolios of projects and activities to show to their next formal school when that time comes.

We have created a learning space for them in the loft that includes a charging station for their iPads and their tutor's laptop, a white board and places to hang art. I made desks that they can sit at on the newly carpeted floor and they have a crash pad reading corner. The dedicated physical space makes it all the more conducive to focusing on their scholastic tasks. Discipline however isn't achieved so easily and getting the boys to focus on the lesson at hand is proving the most challenging part of homeschooling. We had one tutor for September then she had to move on, now we have two splitting the week. I haven't had to be fussy finding tutors;.....I put it out there into the ether and lo and behold, nice well-spoken and educated young 'teacher-types' appear.....and even with child-friendly experience! Our current tutors are gals from Belgium and New Zealand, each with complementary subject area interests and skills.

Lets be clear.....you can sign up (and pay big bucks) for stringent homeschooling systems that provide materials, workbooks, text books and teacher's guides. The French system has the CNED which is a virtual home implementation of their curriculum that comes with deadlines and weekly submissions of work. Or you can register to have an online teacher or tutor and submit work to be graded from one of many methods available. I can see the point of this for the sake of continuity and quality content but see its use primarily for older kids with a more complicated need-set so decided not to go that route for our experience.

Fact is that online one finds a multitude of resources for early years homeschoolers, apps and websites abound.....clearly a segment of the .com boom that didn't get overlooked by developers.....so many however that confusion is all to easy and you risk getting lost in the murky myriad of apps and urls. I waded through many but one of the best was closest to home in the Alberta Education website which outlines, subject by subject the rationale and specific outcomes (and sometimes providing resources) for each Grade level. There is also a chart laying out generally what needs to be ticked off when during the school year. Easy peasey? Well not so fast. It might be easy to source resources.... I mean try googling Grade One Math and you'll see what I mean but finding what is right for the needs of your children is another thing.....filtering the quagmire, distilling the disparate many...is quite a task.

I persisted and even found that a school district in Manitoba has done some of the work for me putting together their own grade by grade web-learning sites. Following the notion of the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate system we settled on two themes for these 4 months.  ecology, stewardship and environment will culminate in a visit to the Galapagos Islands at the end of  October. Planet earth, the solar system and the universe will dovetail into the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December.....there isn't much the boys won't know about that! What we try to do is ensure that in each subject there is a connection to the theme at hand. And together with the tutors we try to incorporate participatory/play methodology which we need to work on a bit more given their preference to do it all on the iPad! Madam Montessori must be rolling in her grave with this educational 'innovation'!

For now we have settled on a website for Math (ixl.com), I have workbooks for English (Language Arts) and various apps, we follow conceptually the guidance Alberta gives for Social Studies, Art is co-figured out weekly by another homeschooling Mum and our tutor.  Music is more free-flow depending on the druthers of the tutor and the instruments at hand. A homeschooling Dad has been doing Science at his place, thus far the boys have explored gravity and last week was air pressure. They do sports with a guy from Quebec who lives here (and they ride their mountain bikes almost daily and horses at least once/month). There is a great app for French that uses the system they were using at their French school in Beirut and they have a class in Spanish. Our September tutor was brought up in a biodynamic household and so their Health class was hands on in the garden planting seeds, learning about plants, making pestos and smoothies. And then there is a dog (named Chaupi Tuta) on the property, the boys have a pet goat (named Cheetah), I am constantly about building various things like shelves, ongoing process of putting in an irrigation system, we are renovating a cabana, etc and they play in the natural environment of an expansive garden with wood, bricks, water, etc....it was Mark Twain who said 'don't let your schooling get in the way of your education'....and we are not!

I look at the week ahead and the day thats coming and try to ensure the boys and the tutors are all on track with achieving the prescribed (by the Alberta site) milestones and that any materials or resources are available, iPads charged up, etc. I remain flexible as to how things go happy in the knowledge that with every passing day they are learning, absorbing and improving in so many different ways. Just have to nail down the discipline part.....something that will come with time and I hope doesn't derail the whole process but rest secure in the knowledge that Travel is the best education!

and in case you were wondering....goat care link....

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