First semester is finally in the bag

As I type this, my kids are wrapping up the absolute last of the very last semester finals for online school.

Me? I’ve made an appointment to go see the local Chinese doctor.

The two may very well be related. Decide for yourself.

We decided at the end of last academic year that, upon moving to Abu Dhabi, we would do something drastically different this year. Neither of us has homeschooling experience, so we opted for as much hand-holding as possible, and I researched a few online school options. I ended up choosing K12 International Academy.

A few things came into play in my decision-making. My kids were coming off a not-very-rigorous academic year, and I liked the idea of mastery-based progress. I knew we had remediation ahead, and while I felt prepared to face it, I also felt like I needed a system built to support (or at least tolerate) us in it. I liked the focus on math and literacy, and the choices of foreign languages. The school was happy to customize our learning plans to ensure both kids are adequately challenged while able to achieve some success.

One semester in, I am happy with both students’ progress in math. The programming, texts and video lessons seem to jibe well with both kids’ learning styles. Noah rarely needs my help to understand the concepts or work through exercises. He likes the text, so much that he actually said just today, “I really like my reference book.” Do eleven-year-olds say that about textbooks?

Grammar has been an area of growth for both kids, too. Granted, this is a strength for me, but Noah was in the dark at the start of the year. He has made great strides since the start of the year, when he had trouble distinguishing the most basic parts of speech.

Both kids have been enjoying history, and they seem to be paying a lot of attention to the coursework. Noah’s doing US History, and Meryem’s studying world history around the Renaissance. We do a lot with our maps, putting history into geographical context, and we appreciate that we’re not focused solely on European or Western history, but other parts of the world, too.

Science seems to be hit-and-miss in Grade 3, very general and oddly sequenced, but Noah’s doing an Advanced Earth Science course. It is definitely advanced, and he has to work hard in it, as he does in Composition.

Both kids are busting hump in French.

And that already sounds like enough, doesn’t it? But that’s not all. There is spelling for Meryem, vocabulary for both kids, literature, art, and a few other things going on–besides our daily exercise (PE is not a requirement), and the Arabic language classes we take with a tutor.

It is, in no uncertain terms, a lot of material. We could easily drop a subject and still be busy enough. I’m learning when to require them to do all the exercises (in math or grammar, usually) and when it crosses into busywork. I’m also learning to ignore things that pop up on the schedule (which is online and dynamic) if they conflict with current work. For example, Noah has a Composition research paper he’s working on, and his History schedule shows a research paper assignment. I’m letting him put off history until the first paper is done. Besides the obvious (overwhelming the kid with work), I’d like him to get more comfortable with method on the first paper, which will make the second go a lot more smoothly. If I were homeschooling, like, for real, I would probably have him do one research paper this year, and take a little more time on one subject. Even so, just yesterday he “got” note-taking and note cards. Next week, we’ll work on the detailed outline, and with his improvements in grammar, writing should be a lot smoother than it would have been five months ago.

There is the short and the long of how all this is working for us. For the most part, I am happy with their learning, their progress, their growing competence and developing study skills. But as I said, it is a lot of material. That means it is a lot of work. For me, too. Of course, I want them to succeed, so I might put more into some of the study support than I really need to. And then there’s that perfectionist thing, which might be encoded in my DNA, and on which I swear I am trying to loosen my grip. I promise, I am.

So, I am putting together some goals for second semester, based on our experiences these past few months:

– Let both kids continue to plow through math. The ease and success are a bolster for them.

– Instruct more actively in French and engage more closely in Arabic. I can use the practice in both.

– Remember that they are 9 and 11, and expect appropriate work–not perfect work.

– Balance the “basics” of school with all the unique opportunities we have for learning. This weekend, it’s a cool kayaking-and-art workshop. Next month, it’s a two-week visit from my parents.

I think those are enough goals. All things considered, I would say this first semester is a success. There have been a few bumps in the road as we all learn to handle a different way of “doing school,” but so many of the concerns people have are non-issues. We’ve found friends, we socialize, we get exercise, and we’re certainly covering the material.

Now, that’s not to say I think it’s a perfect match. And I am already looking at changes we could make in the future to get the best out of homeschooling time. But those are thoughts for another post, on an afternoon that doesn’t follow a morning of semester exams. Or precede my first visit to an acupuncturist. I’ll let you know how that goes, too.




2 responses to “First semester is finally in the bag

  • Terri Russell

    I really enjoyed reading your experience. I have always gotten very excited about home schooling but had nervous reservations about how to be sure they learn all they need to and don’t suffer for my short-comings. Since I don’t have children, it is a non-issue except for my passion for both children and education. I believe the opportunity for home schooling someone else’s children could still be on the horizon in my older age. Maybe it’s just a hope. I’m happy for you and appreciate your sharing, as always!


    On Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 6:10 AM, Off the Farm

  • Barbara Castleton

    Jo, I loved reading about the homeschooling and how it went this semester. I know you can trust yourself to both challenge the kids and to find the necessary down time for them to relax. With regard to math. I don’t know what level Noah is at, but it is never to early to turn him on to a splendid site for so many elements of learning.

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