Home education diary, July-August 1999

The boys and I spent most of July at a conference in the Troodos mountains, at the Rocky Point campsite. It was great to get away from the heat and humidity of Larnaka. They continued reading and doing a lot of music, and enjoyed (mostly!) spending time with other people, but we didn't do any formal learning. 

Nothing much happens in August, although we went to the beach once or twice a week to swim for an hour in the early evenings.  The boys found themselves so much at a loose end that - slightly to my surprise - they asked if we could get back to more academic home education in the final week. 

So we worked on:  Greek - revising and working on the online free course, lessons 2-5. Maths - Dan (soon to be 13) did some Logo programming, Tim (nearly 11) worked through his Steps text-book. Geography - Tim talked and researched about cities; Daniel revised and learned more about the water cycle. Biology - we went through three sections in the Letts KS3 book. RE - looked at the background to the story of Joseph, and they watched the first half of 'Farmer to Pharaoh', which Richard filmed some years ago. Chemistry - talked about equations, did some bleaching using the kit. English - worked a bit more from their text-books. Also they wrote letters, worked on music (piano, clarinet and guitar) and did some programming. 

A colleague of Richard's asked if the boys would like to do some 'work experience' in her office - basically sorting out a vast number of photos in her database, and other computer things. They both said enthusiastically that they would, so they spent the last day of August doing that, and planned to continue for the first few days of September.

It was encouraging that they both actually chose to do some academic work even though it was August, although equally they jumped at the chance to do something different. I still worry about home educating at times.  For instance, neither of them is writing essays yet. Mostly they're answering questions verbally, and doing some research online/in books. Which is OK, but I feel they ought to be writing essays (or at least Daniel ought to) and I've not much idea how to go about it for history.

There are also moments when I wonder if I'm doing totally the wrong thing.  For instance, at one point during our discussion about cities, Tim asked what 5000 times 50 is and wanted to get a calculator (to calculate how many immigrants arrive in Cairo each year). I said he should be able to do that without a calculator and he frowned, and then announced it was five million... 

Daniel, whose arithmetic is also not good, said almost at once that it was 250,000 but Tim didn't believe him! I asked Tim how he reached his five million answer, and he said 'Well 5000 times ten would be 5000 with another zero on the end, and I'm doing five lots of ten so it's an extra five zeroes.. that must be about a million!' Aughhhh!!!!!

I frequently despair over Tim and his arithmetic - he grasps concepts very quickly but then forgets them equally quickly. I suppose I should be glad he's remembered how to multiply by ten since a year ago he claimed to have forgotten that. Yet he understands simple algebra and geometry and picks up new ideas with no effort at all. At school he was in the top maths group and nearly always got everything right in tests.. and yet he forgot all he had learned as soon as the tests were over.

It's a little scary to think we're about to embark on our third academic year of home education, when we were only planning to do it as a stop-gap measure for less than a year.  Tim is still eager to go to secondary school in September 2000, so we’ll have a look round in the Spring. There isn’t the formal round of school viewing as happens in the UK and he’ll have to take some kind of entrance exam, but I don’t think it’s too difficult.

There are two private English-speaking secondary schools local to us, and also the Army school which is further away (and a lot more expensive). There are also some quite good English-speaking schools in Nicosia, which is about an hour’s drive from here. There are buses, and some children from Larnaka go to school in Nicosia, though it seems a lot of travelling, particularly combined with the amount of homework they seem to get.

Daniel is very much enjoying the freedom of learning at home in his own way, freed from the distraction of other people and the limitations of the bell ringing! He’s taught himself a lot of computer programming and graphics as well as doing regular curriculum work. We find that in about three hours we can cover at least as much as he would have done in school. We’re going to investigate correspondence GCSE courses during this year; apparently in the UK lots of home educated children take GCSEs and A-levels so we’ll have to see if it’s possible from here.

The boys are still enjoying music: a colleague of Richard's gives them piano lessons, and they want to continue although neither does a lot of practise! Daniel is loving his clarinet, having lessons with the town band leader still. He’s apparently at about Grade 5 standard, although he said he didn’t want to take an exam in the summer. He plays every week in church too, six or seven hymns and choruses, so he’s getting a variety of playing.

Tim took up guitar, since none of the band instruments really seemed to suit him. He has a Greek friend teaching him, who’s quite a perfectionist and teaches classical style; however Tim has taught himself all kinds of other techniques and is hoping to join the church music group too. It’s ideal for him as he loves to sing so much.

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