Home Education diary: December 1997

For the first couple of months of home educating, we sat at the kitchen table and did an hour or two of fairly formal work each morning of the week. Here's the outline of how it panned out:

Maths: Tim covered a chapter of Scott Foresman 4th grade every 2-3 days for the first week or so, and found it mostly very easy, albeit dull with far too much 'drill'. He struggled a bit with long division (something not taught till Year 6 or even secondary level in the UK now) but understood the concept. We were amazed to find such a focus on arithmetic, in today's calculator era, yet almost nothing about data handling, geometry, algebra, Venn diagrams and so on - not even function machines. Daniel did some of the 6th grade book which seemed barely any different - repeating similar (albeit a little more complex) arithmetic rather than anything more interesting. We had also brought some 'maths challenge' books out with us, and both boys spent some time working through those, which were considerably more enjoyable than Scott Foresman!

English: I'd bought a text-book used in their school in Birmingham - Haydn Richards English 3, for Tim to use. It covers basic grammar and spelling rules with some exercises, as well as things like synonyms and commonly used phrases.  After the first week, we went rapidly through the earlier sections, then he started working on 1-2 per day. He doesn't have any difficulty with spelling, grammar or punctuation, since they seem to come naturally to him, so I'm not sure if there's much point to this - but he wants to do 'schoolish' things and this seems as useful as any. He's also started writing a story, based on Enid Blyton characters.

Daniel has spent several hours immersed in the novel he's writing. What I've read looks excellent so far, though eventually he ran out of steam somewhat. Still, he keeps going back to it. For something more formal, we managed to buy the Heinemann English programme I (Year 7/secondary level) at the local school bookshop. This seems like an excellent text-book - each chapter based on a piece of literature or poetry, with questions, inspiring ideas, creative writing, and so on. I worked through the first chapter with him, then he decided to work on a chapter which involved a story called the 'Crystal of the Seven dimensions'. I'm most impressed with what he's writing.

In addition both boys are reading a lot - though I think they're going to run out of books to read soon - and either writing or typing letters to family and friends, perhaps one or two each week. I know I don't have to worry about their reading, as their school staff assured me! The only thing that concerns me somewhat is Daniel's spelling, which is erratic and well below his other English skills. So I'm trying to institute a weekly spelling test, including words that he's actually misspelled in his writing. This is not popular! He seems able to learn them for a test but then spells them wrongly again a few days later. Spelling tests for Tim, on the other hand, are a bit pointless since he is apparently a natural speller.

Greek: I wrote out the alphabet, and the boys practised writing the letters; then they experimented with what they called 'decoding' the Greek that we read around us. After the first week, we bought a Greek dictionary that was extremely helpful, and a 'teach yourself modern Greek grammar book. We also borrowed a book called 'Modern Greek for foreigh learners' which seems quite good, although a bit lacking in explanation in places. We've managed to get as far as chapter 7 between us, with some reading, some translating, and some writing.

Geography/History: We've borrowed a book about Cyprus, and read about some of its history, as well as looked at the geography in general. The school staff back home did assure us that just living in a new culture was far better as 'geography' than any text-book, so I'm not really concerned too much about this. We also have a book on ancient Egyptians, a Pearson workbook, which Tim is finding interesting, so I'm working through this with him.

Science: We've borrowed an Abeka 'Science 4' text-book, supposedly for 4th grade (Tim's age). I've been reading it to him and discussing the issues - Daniel joins in sometimes as it's quite interesting despite being fairly basic.

IT: Both the boys are highly computer literate, so this is another area where I don't really need to worry at all. They're using Word for Windows for some of their letters and stories - particularly Tim, who finds hand-writing rather a chore. Both play games and use the flight simulator package, and also write email and browse the Internet. Daniel is even starting to write programs. The games and programming are in afternoons, not part of our 'school-time'.

Technology: Again this isn't part of the morning school-time, but they're spending a lot of time building with lego and meccano, and especially some k'nex dinosaurs that Daniel was given for his birthday. Daniel's also been building some Airfix models, helped by Richard.

Cooking: We made mincemeat together, also Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, and peppermint creams!

Music: a colleague is giving them piano lessons (at no charge) which is wonderful! Daniel took a while to adjust to someone new, but they seem to be doing well now. Daniel has played clarinet in church a couple of times and has been practising by himself, but has said he really does want to find a teacher. Unfortunately there don't seem to be very many locally - the music schools locally offer piano and guitar, mainly, or so it seems. In addition they joined an inter-church choir for carol-singing in the Town Hall mid-December, and Tim was asked to sing a solo, which went very well.

Art: Daniel draws, as ever, and I've tried to get them to look at art books, but this is not very successful. I'm so uninspired by art myself that it's difficult to interest someone else!

Conclusion after 2 months: both boys have decided to continue with homeschooling until next Summer. Daniel was unimpressed with the local American school, and we don't really want them travelling half an hour (or even an hour) each way every day to go to the Army school, or one of the Nicosia 'English' schools. Quite apart from the expense, of course! Tim has acknowledged that he's learning a lot, and as he's made friends with some colleagues' children he's not so lonely as he expected. He also appreciates the flexibility to spend as little or long as he wants on anything, and to miss out 'too easy' sections of maths.

However I'm pretty sure I couldn't teach secondary-level things (particularly science!) and the American secondary school does seem better than the primary one. Tim says that if Daniel goes to school in September, he'd like to as well. Starting at the beginning of the year would probably work out better anyway.

Since we've decided to continue (one option was for them to go to school after Christmas) I've ordered some more text-books from the Internet Bookshop, and am planning a better schedule for January, after we've had a couple of weeks' break.

Previous: November 1997 - Next: January 1998

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