Saturday, September 21, 2013

Backpacking Hamill Creek Trail

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Homeschooling just one, v2.0

What a difference this year! A new violin teacher has arrived in the area and I have relinquished all my private lesson teaching to her. This means that Fiona is not dragged to a furniture- and electronics-barren teaching studio for hours each week to sit and wait for me to finish working. It's the second year that Sophie and Noah have both been full-time students, so our house doesn't feel suddenly much emptier than usual. And last spring, for whatever reason, Fiona made her peace with homeschooling not just as a necessary accommodation but as a gift, an opportunity.

I feel relaxed and present in both my own life and in hers. We are finding a good balance between intentionality and serendipity. In the past we've defaulted to a style of serendipity that felt more like "we're too busy to really think about what we'd like to do," a tidal wave of chauffeuring, scheduled activities, volunteer and work commitments that left our discretionary time entirely spent in recovery mode.

Last spring Fiona joined the Grade 7/8/9 class for an introductory Spanish course, where she excelled both academically and socially. At the end of the year she wrote the Math 8 final exam (at home, under no pressure) and completely aced it. These two accomplishments were sufficient to allow her to be easily welcomed into the Grade 9 math course at the local school this year, where she is spending two or three hours a week. The format of those hours is rather in flux. For now some of the time is spent on group projects spanning several grade- and ability-levels from basic Grade 7 to advanced Grade 9, and most of the time is spent working independently through the course syllabus and workbook in a classroom with a range of grades and a teacher and aid circulating to support and assist as needed. She ended up somewhat accidentally seated at the slightly raucous Grade 7 table (I think she had forgotten that while nominally a 7th grader, she was there to do Grade 9 math -- perhaps she'll get moved), but nevertheless she's enjoying working on her own in the midst of a group of similarly engaged math students. She likes the course and is moving quickly through it.

So that's and hour, two or three mornings a week. Her other scheduled once-a-week programming is a violin lesson (yes, with a real teacher!), violin group class, gymnastics and homeschool art class. She still has three days a week completely free, and every morning is empty until 11 am. For her, for now, this is exactly the right balance.

And here's what she's busy with in her unschooled time, in addition to the usual eating, housework, playing, hanging out, being active outdoors, etc.:
  • KhanAcademy math, totally for fun
  • violin practicing -- which is daily, independent, and enthusiastic at this point, thanks to the novelty of having a 'real' teacher
  • exploring human evolution, human genomics and pre-history
  • learning a bit of ASL
  • reading for pleasure
  • historical fiction readalouds (me to her)
  • science textbook reading / browsing
and she's also busy with two "projects," in the style of Project-Based Homeschooling. For now she's chosen backcountry survival skills and meal preparation. The main difference between the autonomous interests she's developed and pursued in the past and what she's doing with these interests is that she and I are intentionally devoting regular energy and time to these projects.

I think the most important thing that results from this approach is a change in me: she and I are clear that these projects get some regular priority in our lives. This keeps the momentum going, at least so far. We've enjoyed several amazing Fiona-dinners, and have a backpacking trip planned together later this month. The weather is still mighty fine, we are luxuriating in the additional time and energy we have at our disposal, and we are feeling optimistic and full of energy. It's a wonderful time of year.

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

End-of-summer road trip

We flew Erin out of Kelowna to go back to school. Kelowna is less expensive from a flight standpoint -- and much more reliable in the winter, when the Cancelgar airport earns its unendearing nickname -- but it involves eight or nine hours of driving instead of three and unless one is masochistic the necessity of an overnight in a motel. So we've tended to fly her out of Castlegar in the summer, and Kelowna in the winter.

But this time, with a significant shopping list and two growing girls needing new clothes, we decided to drive to Kelowna and make a bit of a road trip out of it. The Delica makes road trips quite lovely with its bright and airy interior, flexible seating and iPod compatible stereo system. So we got up early the night after a spectacular thunderstorm and headed out. We dropped Erin off at the airport and headed into the land of big box stores and malls.

Sophie is wealthy from her summer of restaurant work, and even Fiona has accumulated a nest egg from her various bits of paid work in the community and her allowance. So they were happy to meander the mall with their debit cards in hand, sometimes with me, sometimes together, sometimes on their own. Sophie has a self-described addiction to frugality and such a conservative intuition about her finances that budgeting is sort of beside the point: she'll never spend too much. We first tried releasing Sophie into the wild a couple of years ago on a similar trip and the results were successful beyond my wildest dreams. She spent so little, and bought so much, and what she chose was really neat stuff: appropriate, slightly funky, stylish, and well-balanced to her needs.

With Fiona it's hard to say how she'll do managing all her own purchases; right now she's so limited in choices by her tiny size (girls 8) and relatively sophisticated sense of style that there's a completely justifiable tendency to snap up whatever works. (In our area, the only store selling clothing in girls' 6-14 sizes is the Walmart 90 minutes away. The consignment and thrift stores there rarely seem to have much either, as I suppose there are scores of girls facing exactly the same dilemma who live nearby and can snap up things as they come in, while we can only check every few weeks.)

We spent the night at a nice motel with a pool and waterslide. The next day we meandered around the city, shopping for the various household items on our list. And we checked out the most amazing hole-in-the-wall-of-and-industrial-area diner-type restaurant.
Then we headed north, taking the long way home. Our first stop was in Enderby where we snagged a cheap motel and then went to the drive-in. I had last been to a drive-in in about 1990 with Chuck in our cranky VW Westfalia. We'd found a spot in the back row, popped the top, and watched Dick Tracy from the upper-level mattress, propped up by pillows and frosty beverages from the fridge below. Even then it was a sort of retro experience that we felt lucky to be able experience.

Now, 23 years later, that theatre is closed and the Starlight is one of few remaining drive-ins in Canada, one of only three in BC, and the closest to us by far. It seemed like something the kids should experience at least once. We parked backwards near the back of the theatre, opened the hatch and laid the back seats out flat. We made a trip to the Snack Bar for all the standard fixings. The rear bumper of the Delica made a lovely shelf for drinks, and the popcorn bags fit nicely in nooks to the side of "bed."
It was a pretty awesome experience. The weather was lovely: we were warm with just regular clothes. The audio channel broadcast 1950s and 60s tunes about cars and car culture. The van was comfy as heck. The girls' favourite part of the showing was the 1950s cartoons beforehand, complete with little animated chocolate bars doing tight-rope dances, and reminders every sixty seconds that "the show starts in ____ minutes." We watched Pacific Rim, which was fine. The content of the movie wasn't why we were there, of course. We were super tired, so we didn't stay for the second show.

The last day we drove north again to pick up the TransCanada highway before heading east and then south again to get back home. This brought us alongside the CPR at the site of the completion of the trans-continental railway in 1885, the famous Last Spike locale in Craigellachie, BC. Fiona and I have been reading our way through pieces of Canadian history over the past year or two, and it seemed only right that living so (relatively) close to this site we should stop and visit.

After that we went on to visit the Revelstoke Railway Museum to complete the day. We had driven by it many, many times on our trips to and from Calgary getting Erin to her lessons there, but we'd always been focused on just getting the trip over with and the kids had never wanted to stop and explore. So this time we did and while it wasn't exactly the most mind-blowing museum we'd ever been to, Fiona did get her model-building ambitions extremely excited upon viewing the huge model railway on display, as well as some of the other diorama exhibits.

Then it was a familiar hop-and-skip across the ferry to home. Noah had finished his last couple of shifts in Sandon. Sophie has a weekend of restaurant and baby-sitting work but has Labour Day off. And then the big kids are back to school and the rhythm of life will change and it will truly be fall. It felt lovely to grab a last few footloose days of summer.