March 27, 2006

Homeschool heresy

I've decided something akin to heresy in my local home school support group circle -- we won't be attending the provincial homeschool conference and trade show (i.e. shopping binge) next month.

For the first two years of our homeschooling, the big provincial conference and trade show definitely provided something I couldn't find elsewhere, particularly when it came to companionship and curriculum, because I was so new to homeschooling and living in the boonies to boot. But now with a few years of experience and confidence under my belt, not to mention ever-more bulging bookshelves, and a better grasp of what's available online (for both companionship and curriculum), Tom and I can save our money and wear and tear on the truck tires.

The first year we had a grand time. I got to ogle and fondle books and programs I had only read about in catalogues. There were a few speakers and subjects we were interested in, such as Donna Ward on Canadian history, and a few we didn't even know we'd be interested in, like Steve Demme of Math-U-See, who made a big impression on Tom and left him marvelling, "I wish I had been taught algebra this way." This from my husband the math whiz, so I figured there must be something to it, which is why we supplement Singapore from time to time with MUS.

Last year I signed us up mainly so I could follow Jim Weiss around for two days and listen to him speak; I'm sure he must have thought the crazy woman who kept showing up in the back of the room was a stalker, but he was very gracious when I bought one of his CDs and asked him to autograph the kids' favorite, which I had brought from home. I particularly enjoyed his talk on how to teach history with stories, and the importance of narrative. He repeated some bits from Merle Miller's oral biography of Harry Truman -- "When I was in politics, there would be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and nine times out of ten I'd be able to find a parallel in there. ... It was the same with those old birds in Greece and Rome as it is now. I told you. The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know" -- and I was in heaven.

But this year's slate -- "How NOT to Be the ULTIMATE Homeschooling Mom", "World View and Home Education", "Maintaining Hope Amidst Tears", "How Does Dad Fit into Your Homeschooling?", among other things -- doesn't hold much appeal, and I think we're pretty well set for books and curriculum for the next year or so. Laura will be starting fourth grade, and that will be mostly a continuation of whatever books we're using now; plus we're stretching out SOTW3 into two years, and quite honestly we've done more unschooling science than chemistry with Living Learning Books. Next year, Davy will be my third child in about as many years to head through first grade, so I'm more than ready for him. Plus I still have several gift cards for Chapters as a result of trading in some miles in our Air Canada Aeroplan accounts, which should come in quite handy.

I also have to admit that I don't really seem to have all that much in common with many of the other homeschooling parents I meet at the conference beyond the obvious fact that, yes, we are all homeschoolers. The first year, it was a tremendous kick (and a huge relief for Tom) to see an entire hall full of home educating parents and think, yes, there are others out there. But on closer inspection, of and by us, it seems that as classical secular types, few homeschoolers in this neck of the woods know what to do with us. The more urban secular types tend toward unschooling and think we're tormenting and traumatizing our kids with Latin and history and poetry memorization, plus they seem to avoid this large, fairly sectarian gathering in favor of smaller, more nonsectarian ones in Edmonton and Calgary. The more rural types are, well, considerably more conservative politically and less secular than we are, and I feel a bit out of my element when public prayers and such are offered up at the conference and other get-togethers, or that I'm expected to nod in agreement as I pass the creation display where a large toy plush gorilla sits with a sign, "I'm not your grandfather!" Thank goodness for the internet, where through yahoo groups and blogs I've been able to assemble my own community, where I can get information and inspiration, fun and friendship, tea and sympathy (well, comfort really), at any time. And this seems like a very good time to say a very heartfelt thank you to all who stop by here, especially the regulars, and to those whose blogs have become my own stopping places.

The other favorite part -- the two of us spending a whole weekend together, staying in a hotel, going out to eat, doing a bit of shopping, having long talks in the truck on the long drives there and back -- well, we had a chance to do that twice last year, at the homeschooling conference and the organic farming conference, and who knows, there may be a bed and breakfast in our immediate future....

Besides, this year it would be wonderful to be able to take some longer trips with the kids, who are turning into some wonderful and enjoyable companions, maybe to Calgary to see the Glenbow Museum (Laura has been the only one of our kids to go, but she was three months old at the time and snoozed the visit away in the Baby Bjorn), or Drumheller, Alberta, to see the dinosaurs and the Badlands and the Hoodoos. In a weak moment, Tom even mentioned going to Vancouver, to visit some island friends of ours who are transferring to the Four Seasons Hotel there. And we're thinking of surprising Daniel with a trip to the waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, and possibly even an overnight stay in the Wild West room at the Fantasyland Hotel, for his birthday next month. It's not the Four Seasons, but it could be a swell birthday bash.

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