This morning I took my two teen boys out for a gourmet breakfast of Eggs Benedict and Huevos Rancheros so we could talk about our home-school plans. I’d already done the same thing for my 13-year-old daughter last week, but she chose waffles with strawberries and whipped cream. I have always solicited my kids’ input before making any home-school plans, but I got the going-out-for-breakfast idea from A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille.
The idea is to lend legitimacy and weight to our kids’ plans for their own education. It’s like a business meeting, not just random thoughts around the kitchen table. We bring planners and take notes. We brainstorm. We make a list of all the things the kids want to do or learn over the next four months (keeping in mind long-range plans), even if it doesn’t sound like a school subject. In fact, the list is usually full of topics/projects like: “How eyes work” or “Learn about Islam” or “Sew a quilt;” rather than subjects a school board would recognize. We’ll worry about turning it into a transcript later.
Sometimes it’s tough to get the list started, because my kids can’t think of anything. But if I start writing down the things they are already doing and learning, that usually gets the list flowing. One topic leads to the next and so on. I try to keep my input to a minimum, but I usually end up reminding them of some interest or activity they forgot to mention. Me: “You like lifting weights, we should put that on the list.” Jesse: “Oh yeah! And I’m reading that book about weight training. And I’m doing my blog about martial arts . . .”
Once my kids were middle-school-aged we started looking more at college prep because they all knew they wanted to go to college someday. We looked at college web sites to see what kind of high school work is expected of incoming freshmen, so my kids knew what subjects they needed to satisfy admissions officers. Thus, subjects such as Geometry and Algebra II, which hold absolutely no interest for them, end up on the list too.
We haven’t done it yet for this year, but the next step is for the kids to pull out their calendars and plan out how they will tackle the brainstormed list. How much time will each topic take? When will it get done? By this time, we have a pretty good idea what sports, jobs, classes and other outside commitments are on the agenda, so we know how much time each has left in the day. This is when reality sets in. “When will I have time for video games?” Ah, good question. But they always seem to make time for video games somehow.
I really like to use the “Homeschool Tracker” software for recording their plans, because it makes it easier to assemble an end-of-year record or transcript. It’s also nice for the kids to be able to mark off their accomplishments, giving them ownership of their own learning. But my son Aengus and I are in the process of creating a new program better suited for unconventional learning (and compatible with Mac). It’s a huge task, but really interesting. If anyone has ideas for what their perfect home-school recordkeeping software would look like – let me know!