Thursday, June 19, 2008

School Year's End

The sun is stronger, the flowers are up, the asparagus is gone...must be the end of the school year!

Of course, our school doesn't really stop, it just morphs into a more relaxed, more eclectic learning experience. The schoolbooks sit on the shelf, ready for reading up in the treehouse, while the games and puzzles are easily available, and the science equipment ends up out on the picnic table satisfying the curiosity of young minds.

Inside, I'm sorting through piles of worksheets and computer photo albums for material to put into our end-of-the-year portfolios. Our state requires that a bit of our children's work be examined by a certified teacher, or some sort of standardized testing, so I usually opt for making the thick folders of papers and having a friend look them over and sign for us. Jim has eight children, all of whom were or are homeschooled for at least part of their education, so he knows the ropes quite well.

I look for samples of work that show practice in several of the areas that we covered during the year, and the kids pick out their favorites. Sometimes I use World Book's Typical Course of Study to help me figure out what to include, but, since every child is unique, I don't stick too closely to it. I try to put in the best of the best, but not to overload poor Jim with stacks of papers that really belong in the recyclable bin!

When I have the papers from my stacks, I separate each child's pile into subjects and use pieces of colored paper to separate them. The kids like to decorate these, and I write a short paragraph about each child's achievements and difficulties of that year. Then I put the pages into portfolios with pockets, along with sports certificates, photos of field trips and art projects, and even cds of computer projects and graphic design examples.

During the search for the perfect papers, I'll also make notes about possible ideas and challenges for next year. It always amazes me how a child can seem to have no grasp at all of a complex procedure like long division in the spring, but by fall it seem to come into focus with almost no effort. A bit of maturity can make a huge difference!

When the folders are finally complete, I copy the necessary paperwork from my state, and take it all to Jim, who'll check it and sign the forms. Then we are finally free to call it a school year. It's time to sign up for the library's book club, get out the bathing suits and squirt guns, and enjoy the hikes and stargazing.

Sometime I think that we all learn nearly as much in the three months of summer than we do in the whole academic year, though the learning is of a bit of a different sort. I do try to plan an activity for every day, if only to break the apparent monotony (also known as "I'm bored!") and stealthily fill their mind with brain food. Even the older teens will paint on the sidewalk, go to the zoo or check out the water bears under the microscope. And everyone will watch water start a fire or spike a bonfire with chemicals for color!

By next fall, I'll be happy to get some type of routine going again and the kids will be secretly glad too, though they may not admit it!
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