Time for another loop back to a previous post for an update. Today’s topic: homeschool! Or perhaps it should be the broader topic of education.
We didn’t move to Panama so the girls could get a world class curriculum. We came here so they could get a different kind of education. So seeking out the best schools was never our intention. We wanted to make sure the town where we chose to live was the right one for us and we figured the school would just have to fall into place somehow. Before we left I (Allison) loaded up on homeschool options. I came with an entire suitcase full of workbooks, school supplies and teaching materials. I’m glad I did because in the end, homeschooling works out best for us. At least for now.
When we arrived in Pedasi in November we enrolled the girls in the local school. The purpose of that is for their language learning, cultural learning and making friends. It was not for the education per se, although anything they happened to learn would be just fine. After the (relatively short) school day is done, we work on some homeschool. This works very well because it seems like at least once a week school is closed, the day is shortened or in general there’s just not any work being done. We did put them in the school at the very end of the year, after exams were all done, so it was not exactly a time of a lot of learning. But because the girls were not there to learn anything from a textbook, it didn’t bother me that they came home with stories of goofing off or teacher no-shows.
Pedasi school has been on “summer” break since early December. We have loaded up on the homeschool schedule since then. We start at 9:30 and work until at least 12:30pm, sometimes longer if we have no plans or if the subject warrants it. They have Spanish school three days a week at 2pm, so they are “done” with education every day by 3pm. And no homework! We took a little break for the holidays and a border run but since January we have been pretty consistent with our schedule and I think we are finally hitting a groove. We really just do the bare minumum. There are no pinterest-inspired lessons that span weeks and involve elaborate props and arts and crafts and field trips. Nope, not here. I admire my friends who do that, though.
I am not a teacher by trade (nor do I even play one on TV) but I am college educated. In my professional life I did a lot of training, but it was for adults and it was topic-specific. I’ve had no experience making lesson plans or teaching children day after day. Here’s my bottom line: It’s hard, but not as hard as I thought. Teacher friends, don’t take that to mean that I think teaching is easy. It is NOT easy. But teaching YOUR OWN CHILDREN has tremendous advantages. Honestly I do not know how teachers manage to teach 30 different children, who are not their own, whom they do not know, who all have different learning styles and levels. And who have to have relatively the same skills learned at the end of the year. I really don’t know how they do it.
But having a moderate amount of experience with my own kids at school (I was not super mom, I was not in their classrooms weekly. But I did read the weekly newsletters and I helped them with homework pretty much every night so I was somewhat familiar with their work) I have learned very intimately their learning styles. I know how they like to be taught, I can see in a moment’s notice when they are getting frustrated, I know the right environment for where they seem to focus the best (which is not the same for my two kids, unfortunately!). So my knowledge of my own children has really made homeschool a lot easier than I thought.
Before we left AZ I quizzed multiple teachers at both girls’ schools: “What do I really really need to make sure I don’t forget?” Thankfully the answer was pretty much the same from everyone: math and non fiction reading. OK! I brought Saxon math homeschool books for both of them (complete with tests, worksheets and answer books – yes!) and some non fiction reading workbooks, and their Kindles. I signed up for IXL for both girls (an online education program), which they both used in the states and enjoyed. We use IXL for additional practice on math, teaching English grammar and a few things that I notice they need (like metric conversion, which they both don’t like but is necessary here!). It works well and it helps them to have a variety of teaching methods. It doesn’t work so well when the power is out or the internet is down. Oh well!
I struggle a bit with lesson planning but I pretty much go in order of the math workbook and the order of their grade in IXL. I figured out pretty quickly that their ability to do the work was at a much faster pace than I expected. The other day Haley finished everything I had assigned her in 70 minutes. Zoe took over 4 hours but that was her own choice (she was grumpy). So I’ve started to load them up with a bit more, knowing that we’ll be taking a break in February for a visitor and then Pedasi school starts again in March.
It’s not all roses. Some days are better than others. Some days start poorly and end well or vice versa. But we muddle and we learn and we adjust. I’ve learned that their behavioral issues at home are repeated in homeschool. Traversing the line from mom to teacher has not always been easy (even with the special vest my dear friend, Katrina, made for me!). I decided I needed a 3rd party system to track behavior so I signed up for Class Dojo, which had been used in Haley’s classroom in AZ. Works great (although I had to add a negative point for “fishing for compliments”) and there’s a daily report that goes to Daniel so he can see how it went that day. As if he didn’t already know from witnessing it!
As I type this it’s homeschool time but we are doing it a little differently today. Haley saw what Zoe’s math lesson was today (multi-digit multiplication) and begged to teach it to her. OK! So Haley is working with Zoe and even has control over Class Dojo for this period of time. I’m learning that Zoe does well in this scenario. Her desire to impress Haley goes nicely with Haley’s desire to be bossy. Ha!
Another thing I love about homeschool is how we can work it into our lives. On Friday we try to keep it a little lighter so I have assigned them both research questions. I decided that the ability to RESEARCH, not know the answer, is a critical skill. And culling down vast amounts of information to find credible sources is a skill I want my girls to know. So last Friday they both got a research question. Haley had to tell me how potholes are formed (we know about them intimately from experience but she didn’t know how they are formed) and Zoe had to tell me about cat and dog paws and the pads on the underside, given the Smiths’ dog Corona’s unfortunate injury involving his paw pad and a very heavy horse. So that was a fun way to add in life and a skill at the same time. Although now I think the kids purposely do not wonder about things out loud because it’ll end up on their daily assignment card on Friday!
All the expat families here face the same issue: How will we educate our children? We don’t all answer the question the same way but we are all working out some system that we are hoping will produce well rounded children. I figure as adults if my kids misspell some English word, they’ll always have the excuse “Sorry, I can’t spell English very well. I grew up in Panama and mix up English with Spanish”. Works for me! If I had to choose, I’d rather them be fluent in Spanish than win a spelling bee in English.
I will wrap this up with a business opportunity: If you are a teacher looking for an international adventure, we could use you. We have 10 expat kids here in Pedasi who need educating. There are more kids on the way and there will be even more if we have some schooling option that would satisfy a lot of the expat families who are looking for a place to settle. If you would like to bring your teaching skills down here, you could open up a 1-room schoolhouse and educate all of our kids. We’d give you plenty of time for the fun things they do: learning Spanish, beach days and horseback riding and whatever adventure might crop up that day. You can even come to my house for dinners and taste Lucy’s amazing cooking. Call me, let’s chat!