Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fiona's Learning Plan, Grade Zero

Fiona, who really likes the idea of growing up, is thrilled that she'll have moved from "Grade Negative One" to "Grade Zero" effective next Tuesday. She'll also be officially and legally enrolled as a home-based learning with the SelfDesign program that my other kids have been part of for the past two or three years. And that means that unlike last year, this year's Learning Plan is for real. It will actually get typed up and submitted and will form part of her school record. Not that that's any big hairy deal. But still, she likes the idea that she's Official.

So we went out to a café today and talked about what she'd like to learn and how she'd like to learn it. She's in the thick of a lot of stuff already, so to be honest there weren't a lot of new ideas to talk about. But we had a nice time anyway. What follows is what I've typed up since as a distillation. You may notice that I'm very vague on her current capabilities. That's intentional. The SelfDesign staff and administration are on our side for sure, but the virtual paper trail we create is in large part for the government. The Ministry of Education inspects the school's records regularly. I figure that if Fiona's learning takes some unexpected new turn and she abandons all the various fast-tracks she's on, there's enough vagueness in this plan for me to say truthfully, at the end of the year "Fiona now reads capably at a second-to-third-grade level" and be telling the truth, yet I won't be giving away the fact that she hasn't made any tangible progress in reading in 9 months. Not that I expect that to happen, but I figure there's no point in giving more than is required away at the outset.

Biographical sketch / past learning successes and challenges / goals etc.
Fiona is 5 years old and the youngest of four siblings who live outside a rural village in the BC Interior. She loves math and music, and is very accomplished at both of these areas. She enjoys just about anything that anyone else expresses enthusiasm for. She finds success in most learning endeavours, but among her recent hard-won successes has been learning to sight-read music on the violin. This was something that came gradually and had up-and-down moments but she has realized lots of success over the long term.

Fiona doesn't really have many discrete learning goals at this point; what she really wants is to engage in lots of exciting learning processes. For instance she's looking forward to participating in a number of new activities this year and to continuing with the ongoing learning she's part of already. Any learning achievements she might make are really of secondary importance to her; she primarily enjoys "doing" learning.

She has a streak of perfectionism which occasionally rears its head, but she usually recovers her optimistic motivation quickly after a short break. She has already amassed a wealth of experience, thanks to her violin studies, at breaking complex learning down into manageable component steps and working diligently through them to mastery. There's no doubt that violin has presented many learning challenges, but Fiona copes with them with simple determination and matter-of-fact diligence, so they rarely seem like major hurdles. Learning tends to come quite easily to Fiona and due to her fairly obvious precocity in several areas, she has a strong self-image as a capable learner.


Fiona hopes to participate in the Aikido for Young Children class that she was part of last spring. She is always an active girl, both indoors and out and will continue to enjoy a wide range of physical recreational pursuits. She is a beginning swimmer and wants to develop more confidence and ability whenever she has occasion to visit a pool. She hopes to improve her ice skating on the family's backyard rink this winter. She will continue to lead an active life both indoors and out, with access to a variety of equipment at home as well as at the community gym.


Fiona recently acquired glasses for a high degree of far-sightedness and now finds reading much more enjoyable. She enjoys sharing reading aloud with her mother and will continue with that several times a week. She will read from a variety of materials at a range of levels in order to build her competence and confidence with printed text. As her fluency and comprehension improve she may begin to prefer independent silent reading because this offers her more flexibility and privacy, a fact she's recently discovered. She enjoys typing entries for a personal blog and has a new interest in spelling accuracy that is being aided by her use of a computer spell-checker. She wishes to improve her handwriting facility by working through an italic handwriting workbook. She enjoys listening to challenging novels from a variety of genres read aloud.


Fiona will be taking part in an extended journey across Canada, from the mountains to the shield, largely by rail, and will be exploring some of the history and lore of the building of Canada's railroad. She is curious about world geography and will use a globe, maps and Google Earth to explore the relationship between the visible world and the symbolic world of maps. She will watch documentaries about travel, other cultures and history as her interests dictate.

Second Language

Fiona is very interested in learning more Japanese. She has learned some through her Aikido studies but would like to explore this further. Resources available include language CD's, introductory Rosetta Stone, manga kanji and kana handbooks and a Buddha Board for Japanese calligraphy practice. She is also curious about French and thinks she might learn a bit about the French language alongside her older sister Sophie.

Mathematics / Logic

Fiona is passionate about mathematics. To her, math is a delightful playground of logical ideas and puzzles. She will continue to enjoy exploring mathematical patterns, concepts and terminology through conversation and games. She also likes the systematic study of arithmetic and will make use of workbooks and guided discovery using manipulatives appropriate to her level. She would like to explore beginning algebra concepts using Borenson's Hands-On Equations.


Fiona enjoys time outside, which at her home means time amongst the forest and wildlife. She helps care for the family laying hens, rabbits and cat and grows her own small garden each spring. She will continue to watch documentaries and particularly enjoys those such as the Planet Earth series that are about the natural world. She naturally encounters scientific principles throughout her daily life and enjoys conversations that spring from those encounters, helping her further explore ideas about how the physical and biological worlds work.


Fiona will continue her Suzuki violin studies. She will have weekly lessons and a biweekly violin group class, and will practice at home daily. She'll be using her growing sight-reading skills in a seasonal string ensemble in the late fall and by participating in the simpler repertoire in the local community orchestra beginning in January. She will take part in a workshop in November designed to help young string players learn to work with an accompanist and will participate in a variety of performances of a solo and ensemble nature. She plans to begin studying piano formally in October. She enjoys a wide range of arts and crafts. She is particularly looking forward to doing more painting, origami and fibre arts.


  1. its interesting to see what 'educational philosophy' is in other countries. here in the uk we do not have to notify out local authority that we are home educating. if we do, or they 'find' us, they are only legally allowed to make the most basic enquiries, and so many of us have an 'educational philosophy' up our sleeves for that moment.
    mind you, many LA's have far more ambitious plans, and so try and insist on home visits, seeing work, evidence of improvement etc, so like you, i have no intention of revealing actual skill levels before required!
    we are still unknown to our LA, but i have our provisional ed phils as mission statements on my blog.
    thankyou for sharing

  2. "I figure there's no point in giving more than is required away at the outset."

    That is a very good point! I love reading your plans. You inspire me to think about doing it just for me.

  3. Helen, the program we're enrolled with is entirely voluntary. We are part of it mostly so that we can get access to the not-insignificant funding that the government provides to those who choose to be part of a DL program. A full-time home-learning student is allotted $1000 for educational expenses. When you have four children, that really adds up.

    There is always the option here to simply register your children as homeschoolers, rather than enrolling them in a program like this. Registration involves giving your child's identifying data (name, age, gender), ticking a box that says "homeschool" and signing your name.

  4. Hi! I am a regular reader although I haven't yet commented. I also happen to live in BC, and I was thrilled to read about the self design program--we don't have kids yet, but I have filed that link away. I wanted to say that I'm glad that, in addition to following your family's interesting stories, I'll be able to get a glimpse at starting from the beginning in that program.

  5. ahh, thankyou. certainly the $1000 sounds like a blessing. registration sounds very simple as well

  6. Anonymous4:42 pm

    As a Hungarian myself, I came across this math program (translated and used in UK), and wanted to bring it into your attention:

    Many Happy Math Hours!

  7. Thanks Anon. The program looks pretty good, though I couldn't see it all without a password. Fiona looks to be at about a Year 3-4 level, whatever that means. But we're really happy with our current program, which is working very well for her, so we'll stay with that. Every program does things a little differently in terms of terminology, symbols and procedures, and unless things are not working well, I prefer to stay with what the child is familiar with, building on that base.


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