Well friends, this has been a very busy couple of weeks around the ‘ole Ridenhour household. In addition to a family vacation to Disney and Harry Potter World a week ago (thanks Mom and Dad!), we’ve each been up to our eyeballs in projects that are gaining momentum and garnering various degrees of success. We’ve also been trying to fit in what “normal” subjects we can, such as math and science. And a little bit of sleep. But mainly projects.
Eva Project #1 (English/Public Speaking/Business Class)
First off, you know about Eva’s big NDEA event last week, and how she spent two days talking to North Dakota teachers about her books and writing video lectures. This week, she’s moving ahead to the next big thing: the Bright Ideas Showcase, which is a state-wide entrepreneurial contest for kids. Ian was one of the winners of this contest last year for his game Animal Attack, and was invited to do an in-station news interview a couple of weeks ago to encourage other kids to participate (we built our day around the interview and called it “public speaking class”).
But this year, it’s all about Eva, at least for us. She will be taking her booth to Bright Ideas this weekend and will give a formal five minute presentation to a panel of judges. This will be a first for her, and presenting in front of a panel of judges can feel quite different than interacting with teachers one-on-one as they pass by.
For “English class” today, we worked on her speech. We found, however, that she’s given the spiel so many times it came pretty easily. And it only took one reminder from me for her to lift the volume of her voice. After that, she presented like a champ. Of course practicing at home and the real deal will feel very different, and I am looking forward to watching her add this experience to her belt. During the remainder of the week, we’ll be allotting at least an hour per day for speech practice and tweaking her display, ordering new flyers, etc.
Eva Project #2 (English/Creative Writing/Grammar/Spelling Class)
She’s also busy drafting her outline for her next book, which she will be writing in November as a part of National Novel Writing Month. This book will be a compilation of short stories about her favorite stuffed koala named Kinzy. I will give her about an hour each day for that activity as well. She will have to finish her outlines this week, because when November 1 comes, she’ll be doing her marathon writing for 30 days.
Ian Project #1 (Science/Business/Computer Design Class)
Ian has three big projects going on right now, and we are devoting most of his school days to them. The first project is the production of prototype #2 of his invented game Animal Attack. He’s preparing to enter it in the Young Inventors Challenge of the Chicago Toy and and Game Fair at the end of November. If he wins, it means fame and glory and a face-to-face meeting with Hasbro so that he can pitch his idea. But even if he doesn’t win, he’ll be in a room with hundreds of game developers. We hope very much to make solid contacts there that will eventually lead to a licensing deal.
He’s been revising the game over the last four months, and is now doing the final tweaking. This week Ian is scanning in artwork for his newly designed cards. He worked on that today, and will pick up the rest of the artwork tomorrow evening (provided by the seriously amazing artist Ali LaRock). He called the local print shop today to make the arrangements and double check turn around time. I will take him to the print shop on Wednesday to place the order for five of the new prototype decks.
Ian Project #2 (Music Theory/Math Class)
Ok, so I’ve been pretty quiet about this up until now, but since early summer, Ian has been composing his very first piece for a full band. He’s written songs for his 4-piece rock band Blind Mice in the past, but never something as big as this. The piece is called “What is Funk,” and he’s writing it for a jazz band. He thinks he’ll finish it this week. And I will tell you that by the end of the piece, you’ll know the answer to the title, because funk is something it has plenty of. I’m not sure how we’ll share his song with the general public. For now, the computer software program he’s using plays it back using tinny-sounding computer generated instruments – just enough to let you get the idea. He hopes to have an actual band perform it in the spring. He works on his song for anywhere between 1 and 2 hours each day, depending on availability. He’d work on it more if he had time!
Ian Project #3 (Call it what it is: Teaching to the Test)
Yes, that’s right. I’m also preparing Ian for an upcoming standardized test. As a home educator, I have to provide a standardized test score to the district once every two years. This is the only thing the state asks of me, so I’m not complaining. But I don’t like the typical state assessment tests, which Ian finds uninteresting. Year before last, I had him work through the Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) to take the Explore test, which is used as an above grade-level assessment tool for kids who are generally high testers. He was 9 then, and the Explore test is given in normal situations to 8th graders. This year he will work with NUMATS again and take the SAT.
The SAT is a bit denser than what he’s done before, so I printed out a practice guide and test, and we’re working through it together, to review (or learn) testable topics, determine which types of questions just need to be skipped, and become familiar with the general format of the testing tool. It’s an odd exercise, especially coming from me who regularly complains about teaching to the test. However, the SAT is in 2 weeks, so we won’t be spending a ton of time on it. Again, about an hour each day for the next two weeks. We call it “SAT class.”
Fitting in the Rest
This is how home education works, at least for us. Some months will be very “normal,” with separate, more traditional topics. But then there are months like this, when we haven’t done actual sit-down math for 2 weeks, and Eva begs me not to leave out science (she’s just opened up her Lego Robotics kit – can you blame her?). We’re trying to squeeze in about 30 minutes of Spanish every other day, and English for Ian (outside of the books he reads on his own) will have to wait for a couple more weeks.
During my first year of home education, I worried when our schedule got out of whack, even though I had made the decision to home educate partly so we wouldn’t have to adhere to a fixed schedule! Now in year 3, I am finally relaxed about it. Learning shouldn’t start and stop with class bells, nor should it be divided into separate subjects. If kids love learning, it won’t feel compulsory; they’ll do it because they want to. I’m here to make sure all the bases are covered, but mostly to simply help them find new ways to educate themselves (and to make sure they go to bed on time).
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