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And So THIS is Progress

As a new school year begins for my children I am contemplating what their academic year would look like if I sent them to public school.  I have home schooled my children from the get go so the threat of catching COVID hasn’t influenced my decision to educate them at home and I find that I really enjoy being able to use moments in our everyday life as an opportunity to teach.  And to be honest, I feel a bit of pity for those children who ARE going to school outside of the home.  I’m not saying my lesson plans are better than what children are receiving in school but I am saying with only two learners, I have time to give them one-on-one daily interaction with their learning.  And we aren’t constricted to such a rigid schedule with lessons taught strictly between 9am – 3:30pm, supplemented with homework assignments.  I like being able to educate my children ‘after hours’, which includes family nights where we play games, bake, cook, talk about things that are on their mind and just interact with one another.  We enjoy field trips, that sometimes last three or four days, going to the zoo and researching animal habitats once we get home.  There is always something new to discover and we take every opportunity to learn and supplement the curriculum with practical activities such as making dinner, learning about rainbows, earthworms or dragonflies and everything interesting we discover along the way.  It’s like school, but without the structure of rows of desks, specific time limits for teaching certain subjects and the instructor remains the same, every day.  

I do have help teaching the children and keeping them actively involved in their learning.  We read books daily.  Right now we are rotating through Robert Munch stories and all four children will reach for a book and crawl into my lap for story time.  When all four of them gather to hear a story while we cuddle in bed, there is quite a ruckus as they scream, elbow and jostle for prime book viewing space.  Usually the six year old is able to snag the area in front of me, between my arms.  But then one of the twins will come and flop on top of him, digging in his heels and squirming until the six year old creates a space, with much bellowing and protest.  The other fourteen month old rests his chin on my shoulder, hanging onto my arm and pinching my skin, afraid he will lose his spot to his sister.  She’s content to hang out behind her littlest brother because she knows he won’t stay for the whole story and soon, she will have the best spot, reading the story over my shoulder and seeing every illustration without someone’s head blocking her view.  My favourite part of reading the stories is when they join in and chorus their favourite parts of the book.  And then I start to think of how fortunate I am that I do have the privilege of homeschooling my children.  Despite the best efforts of educators, including buying their own school supplies out of pocket, budget cuts mean a little bit of instruction is lost.

About five or six years ago, a young lady was testifying in a trial and she was given a hand written letter to read.  She cried.  The lawyer asked her a second time to read the letter and was about to ask the judge to assist him in having his request met when the young lady revealed she was unable to read the letter because she couldn’t read cursive handwriting.  She isn’t illiterate, she can read… printing.  Do you still know how to cursive handwrite?  And do you send ‘real’ letters to people using Canada Post rather than email or text messages?  I remember when my nephew had to send a hard copy of his income taxes to Revenue Canada and he was unable to do so since he had never learned how to send a letter in the mail.  It was beyond his scope of imagination that people would send something that would take days rather than second with an email and an attachment with all the required information.  So, as much as I admire progress, I’m teaching my children cursive handwriting.

I have help teaching my children in our ‘classroom’.  One of the programs I use is called Mavis Beacon, which is a typing course that instructs users how to sit and type properly, using the home keys as a point of reference so they are able to type proficiently.  Once learners understand where the keys are, they learn to hit the proper key - without making a mistake - through repetition.  Finally, they play games that include typing words and number sequences with accuracy and speed.  When they feel competent enough to challenge an exam, learners take a typing test that measures accuracy and typing speed.  At the end of each unit, a certificate can be printed and placed in the student portfolio.  I appreciate being able to use this program because I then have the opportunity to challenge my children to use Microsoft Word in a more creative way, rather than just setting up a standard format and typing.  So my children will know how to accurately type… it’s how I learned to type with speed and accuracy and as I write this column, the lights are off in the house and it’s about 1:30am.  Everyone is asleep and I’m not disturbing anyone, which is nice because I need the quiet time!

It’s sad to see programs diminish due to budget cuts… one of my favourite classes when I went to school was band.  It’s how I learned to play the recorder, alto recorder, clarinet and bass clarinet.  Reading music helps me even now when I’m learning the tune to a new song or want to check if I’m in tune.  My children know how to play spoons and on pots and pans!  It’s something I plan to change this year as my intent is to introduce piano lessons once it feels okay to do so.  I know I could take them to one of the music schools here in PA but COVID does have me hesitating a little bit.  I’d rather have someone healthy come to our home, where I know things are sanitized and social distancing has taken place… I’m sure all health measures are in place at the music schools but this is more about my own peace of mind.  Maybe we will hold off on music lessons for now.  Or perhaps we can find something on YouTube to help us out.  I use this to supplement learning all the time and I really appreciate all the people who post dance, song, music, research and documentary videos for people like me to use to help myself and others learn.  

A budget cut also means loss of jobs for really incredible teachers who sometimes have to find work in another field.  I think we are so fortunate in Canada because our educators require a degree to teach in the classroom.  Most teachers are accredited, which means they are able to give the final exams to learners rather than have them a departmental final exam issued through the province or territory’s department of education.  A few years back, when I was taking my Master’s Degree, Rick Sawa showed us a video of teachers who spent the day drinking coffee and reading the newspaper.  They were employed but weren’t qualified to teach however, they had a contract so they were paid to do nothing.  He asked us how we felt about this situation and one of my colleagues pointed out this was an American problem Canada didn’t suffer from because it is a requirement to have a degree here.  I am continuously in awe of the people we instruct who become doctors, lawyers, health care workers, miners, oil riggers and so on… yet teachers aren’t considered essential workers and they are one of the lowest paid occupations despite having a degree. 

A lot of incredible strides have been achieved through technology.  In hot and humid countries like Peru, bill boards have been created to absorb the droplets from the atmosphere to provide clean drinking water to communities that struggle with water shortages.  Bill Gates has funded a project that turns excrement into water whose by-product is ‘compost’ bricks that can be burned and the whole process creates electricity.  He went on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to plug this revolutionary idea (YouTube search: Billy Gates Water Made From Poo to watch) and share the method of how water is made from waste.  Despite this progress, we have lost some of the elemental basics of what makes learning fun… things like dancing, playing music, learning to cook, bead and bake, writing in cursive handwriting and even getting out of the classroom to experience real, hands on learning that includes field trips and going to the public library.  Progress has made us faster yet I still miss going to my mailbox and pulling out an envelope with a real letter inside.  On the occasion where I do receive a letter, I save it and open it when I can drink in every word as the paper bends between my fingers and the ink smudges where I spill my tea.  Then I fold the letter up and place it back in the envelope.  I may read it three or four more times before I respond.  Which reminds me… I owe someone a letter.  I’m going to read her letter again before I respond.  I guess I’ll go turn the kettle on for a cup of tea.  Maybe not all progress is a detriment… hot tea in less than ten minutes instead of having to light a fire, pump the water from an outdoor water well and then boil a kettle on the stove top is a comfort I enjoy immensely!

Have a great week, everyone.

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