Saturday, 5 December 2015

Sonlight: Week 12 in our new home

We started to use Sonlight 12 weeks ago, just after moving to east Africa. It was a time of much change in our lives - moving to a new culture, new climate, adapting to urban life here, new forms of transport, new languages heard, new foods, new friends, almost everything different. The thing that has remained stable has been our home life. Working in medical research and medical education, we are able to both work part-time and have flexibility regarding some tasks which can be done from home (indeed, often done better from home in a quiet evening with no interruptions). One of us is always home with the children, much as when we were in the UK. This provides stability, and using the curriculum provides structure. I wrote previously about how we had found the transition, and it seemed a good time for an update.

The first thing to say is that we aren't ending term! We've all enjoyed it so much that we see no need to stop for a holiday. Charlotte Mason, an educationalist whose philosophy has certainly influenced the Sonlight team (although purists would argue it does not strictly adhere to her principles!) said, 'Education is an atmosphere, education is a discipline, education is a life'. That being reflected in our family, we are not going to take a break from the atmosphere of our home, from consistent Biblical discipline and from the continual dialogue and experience that develops as we live our lives! Also, the boys love the books, the activities and the routine. By proposing a 'Christmas holiday', it would almost imply that there was something we needed to take a break or a rest from.

However, the routine will change a little. Our regular home school sports is being replaced by a daily two hour swimming lesson in the middle of the day, in a place 10 Km from here (requiring two minibuses or quite a lot of walking). This is a great opportunity, but might well mean we take slightly longer over the curriculum. That is just fine! I think it is important to remember that any curriculum is simply a tool we use to enhance our home education experience, rather than a master to whom we must slavishly submit. Flexibility is key.

Highlights so far have been:

1) I think the best thing of all has been my middle son (recently turned six) suddenly realising that he could read, and that this was exciting! Previously he had objected, often with tears and great angst, and yet suddenly, perhaps with the start of something new, perhaps with the beautifully designed, 'I can read it' series which enables a simple story to be told with very few words, perhaps simply as a matter of developing maturity, he just embraced the concept. He is now half way through the second book, and also takes time to read (or try to read) just about anything he can get his hands on.

2) Similarly, although perhaps slightly less dramatically and with fewer whoops of delight, my eldest son (also aged six) has been progressing rapidly through the 'Grade 1' readers (the aim is to start him on the Grade 2 ones after Christmas). He has also been reading more and more independently and is starting to read stories out loud to our three year old. The progress seems rapid - its a bit like when they learn to speak, when they go from a few words to sentences, paragraphs and perfect use of grammar.

3) Both of the older two are enjoying writing and spend time trying to write their own sentences (for example, writing captions on drawings). The younger one is making a gentle start with Handwriting Without Tears - not following any real structure, just learning little by little and following his own desire to learn.

4) The science forms a nice foundation. We had covered many of the principles and have a range of other books that complement the Sonlight resources. They are all starting to think a bit more scientifically, forming a 'hypothesis' and learning to develop experiments to test this. I find this exciting because at that age (and indeed even through secondary school), I didn't really understand the concept of hypothesis-driven research; I simply memorised the facts. Things were as they were. I had not learned to question and to test. They seem to have grasped this well, and as a scientist, this excites me!

5) They also love maths. My second son in particular asks for extra maths, and sometimes wants to start the day with maths. We are using Singapore Maths, and mainly what we are doing at the moment is addition and subtraction. We build on this using various manipulatives - for example, we collect the bottle lids from the sodas we occasionally drink and invent addition and subtraction games we can play, as well as categorisation tasks. Also, in the market, the bartering we do here helps with some of the concepts - 'If she is selling one pile of tomatoes for 2000 shillings, and we get two piles for 3000 shillings, how much have we saved?' And from that also, some economics. 'We have 500 shillings. You can choose to spend it on the minibus fee, or we can walk home and spend it on a chapati.' You can guess what the choice invariably is there! I think with maths, quite a few home schooling parents have a bit of a mental block towards it, and we need to take great care not to let our own attitude influence the children. For example, if we often say it is 'hard', or unpleasant or leave it until last every day, then they will be influenced by that. I have been delighted by the way they enjoy it, and particularly that moment of revelation when a concept makes sense.

6) Plenty of time for electives, which can vary to suit our setting. Some things will be the same as in the UK. Cooking (although with some different ingredients and different challenges), drawing, music and singing (again this has the added flavour of learning local songs and learning how to dance!), exploring the nature that surrounds us, swimming and climbing trees, walking and talking about all we see and so forth.

7) That that books have been chosen. The Sonlight team apply stringent criteria to select the books used in their materials. We have really enjoyed the quality of the stories, and that they teach many other things as well as literature. We are using Ergermeier's Bible Story book which we had not come across previously. I am slightly surprised I had not heard of it, given the quality. It tells the stories beautifully, the illustrations are helpful and not distracting, and there a some nice questions at the back to test their comprehension. Similarly, 'I heard good news today' tells great stories of missionaries throughout the ages (I must comment there are a few grammatical/ typographical errors in this, about which I have written to the Sonlight team, but notwithstanding these, it is a very encouraging and inspiring book). I could go on... I think we always need to remember not to restrict ourselves to these books only, but to continue to enjoy other materials.

8) The other books that we continue to draw on frequently are the biographies by Little Lights and Lightkeepers. I continue to receive encouragement as I read these stories, and my prayer is that the children grow with the worldview that being a Christian is not always easy, and might even lead to ultimate sacrifice, but that it is the most important way to live. By exposing them to a wide range of examples and stories I believe they are developing that mindset too.

So, as we reach the end of our third month in our new environment, I feel encouraged. Yes, there  are still challenges - as any family will attest to. There are days when discipline is a challenge, and it can seem to take us many hours to get through the materials because of continual interruptions to deal with an issue in one or other child. I feel tempted to frustration at these times, but need to remember that this is also an intrinsic part of education, and perhaps even the more important part. It would be better to deal with all the heart issues as they arise than to complete all the scheduled activities swiftly! (I need to remind myself of that).

No comments:

Post a Comment