The school year is winding down, and Hannah and I hashed out some end-of-the-year co-schooling thoughts over tea.
We keep bouncing around the idea of writing an article or, more likely, putting together a talk on co-schooling that we can shop around to the homeschooling conferences. We've been doing it for a few years together now and learned quite a lot, but it feels to me as if I need to talk to some other people who have tried co-schooling, with varying degrees of success, before I could possibly start to generalize about ways to make it successful. "We only know what works for us," I said, "I'm not sure I could tell other people how to make it work. Maybe you and I are just freakishly lucky that it's turned out so well."
Hannah said, "No, we have definitely learned some things that are universal." She went on to list things that we've figured out are important, like having a shared understanding of what you're trying to get out of the arrangement, and prioritizing the scheduled-together days, and having a plan of some sort for every child in the house, and each parent teaching the things they're enthusiastic about teaching.
I think she's probably right, but I would still rather find some other people who have attempted co-schooling. If only because then maybe I could understand better why it works so well for us and why so few other people make it work well for longer than a few weeks. I like data better than anecdotes.
Maybe few homeschoolers would really want to do anything similar to what we do. Hannah suggested that homeschoolers as a group are maybe very much "we do it my way because my way is the way that works for our family" people, and co-schooling inherently forces you to let go of some of the control you have over curriculum, teaching style, even child discipline, and hand it over to someone else for part of your teaching time. If we liked doing that sort of thing, we'd probably have our kids in school, right?
The discussion trailed off with us talking about how we've noticed that our 7- and 8-year-old boys, plus our friend's girl (Thirteen today! How the $^% did that happen?!?!) who joins us, are the three kids who could use a little more work added to their co-schooling day. We're already kind of maxed out on direct teaching time, especially since there's be a busy toddler to contend with now, but fortunately all three of them probably could use more high-level independent work. My 7-year-old, for example, now that he's reading fairly fluently on grade level, is ready to work on the skill of "read-and-answer-written-questions-about-the-reading."
We tossed around a few ideas, and decided to give them each a "study hall" period. For the teenage girl, we decided to ask her to bring a book to read, and to start her on a journal, and we'll give her a block of time for reading and writing in the journal on various little journal-starter assignments we can give her. As for the boys, we'll choose something workbook-y that the boys can probably do independently, not the same subject matter but the same kind of work, and have them sit together and do the work quietly for a time.
Should it be a set time period or a set amount of work? We don't want them either to sit idly waiting for the timer to ding, or to rush through a page to get it over with. In the end we decided to give them a particular daily assignment (say, two workbook pages) AND a twenty-minute minimum, so that if they happen to finish the assignment before the time's up they have to read or something until their study hall is over, but if they run out of time before they finish the assignment then they have to keep working until they're done. We'll try it out over the summer to see how it works when they don't have very much other work to do.
The "study hall" will be a major experiment for us, because one of the things we swore we weren't ever going to do again was to have kids working side-by-side on different work. Way back when our first kids were the same ages, we were trying to do co-schooling that way: each of us bringing our own curriculum and trying to teach our own child our own way, but in the same house. It was no fun at all, and that was what we threw out when we started our "new way" of bringing the kids together, giving up some of the control to each other. But maybe now that we've learned a few things, we'll be able to teach kids how to work on their own work while still enjoying each other's company.
I think it's funny that we often wind up borrowing terminology -- like "study hall" -- from the school-y environment that we have been trying to avoid. Clearly, in working together in a family-like environment, in a home, we're trying to assemble the best of both worlds. Home. School.
Meanwhile, we have other concerns, like trying to cram in the end of the history books by the end of June so we can actually have a "summer vacation" that means something...