We are currently at toward the end of Year 4 using AmblesideOnline for our home school curriculum. As we school year-round we do not run a traditional August through May school schedule. Instead we keep going, taking breaks as needed or as other parts of life come up. Actually we began Year 4 last summer, took time off for a few various day camps, took more time to find a new routine for this harder academic year, joined in the creation of an informal co-op, and finally found our groove. We are now about 1 week from the end of the year.
A year and a half ago we joined in with a group of families, many who use AO or other Charlotte Mason education resources, to go on a nature hike to the same spot each month for a year. The goal was to see how the spot changed through the seasons. Due to some family issues with the original organizer of nature group we ended our meeting together before we had met for a full year.
Some of the families who had attended were ones we have met from various other activities in our larger surrounding area. Some were new to us. Others we had met previously but not gotten to know really well. Though none of us were officially in a formal group we were beginning to know each other from here and there, connecting through similar education style and personalities.
When the nature group disbanded, more like fizzled out, one of these mom’s wanted to keep a similar group going but perhaps for various topics. She contacted me to see what I thought. She had previously taught various subjects and had kids of similar ages as mine. As it turned out we were also in a very similar place in our schooling. Over the summer she put together an informal group reading through a Shakespeare play as well as a few other topics. I had never been part of a group where the kids cover a topic in a group setting but found they did much better reading this way than with only the three of us here at home. The discussions were also richer and the understanding firmer.
The group did not immediately take off. Between family vacations, summer camps, and other things, it was a hit or miss as to who was showing up and it was doubtful the group would continue. After some discussions it was decided to try again in the fall to see if there really was interest. I am so glad we stuck with it.
When fall began this mom tried again, rearranging some of the times, days, topics, etc. She also let me know about an art class being taught during the day at a local library. It turned out to work very well for us on a certain day and filled a need I had – teaching art history and technique. One of my kids loved it, the other one tolerates it. While I could have taught this subject myself, having the group peer pressure to do a project and compare them went much further than I had anticipated. It also showed me a few areas I needed to work on with my kids at home so their projects “in public” did not look like they were still Kindergartners. Oops.
During the summer, before art began, the same mom who had suggested a group Shakespeare reading mentioned that another mom was willing to host a small nature group. This group would be a bit different than the one we previously participated in as it would be weekly, meet before art class, and be held at a park adjacent to the library. The ages in this group were also, on average, older than the previous group of which we had been a part. More in the preteen/early teenage range than in the early years. This was great as I was beginning to feel like we were too old for the other group. Where were all the preteens hiding?
This group led to us participating in their German language lessons as well. I had been looking for a foreign language to teach as me learning and teaching them Afrikaans was not going so well. German was a language I knew enough of to teach but was not sure what resource to use. It was also hard to consistently add this topic to our school day. Something kept coming up or the kids would drag their feet. By joining with these families my kids again had positive peer pressure to learn.
By the end of last semester the class was split into two groups as it became very apparent some of the students who had been studying the language much longer were ready to move on while a few others wanted to join but were absolute beginners. Even with the chaos of the past few weeks I am thankful for the outside accountability for both my kids and I. Even if it is only being asked, “did you complete the lessons this week? I have not seen you make much progress on Duolingo.” We are actually keeping up and getting a bit ahead of the group. Jack is liking the challenge of knowing the translation and George likes the social aspect of it and using the words with his friends.
One of the things about this informal group which has really worked for us at this time and with these particular people is that none of us are in the same place, using the exact same curriculum, in the same way. We meet together for what we need, taking it as it comes, and making adjustments along the way. We all have a generally similar goal and teaching style but do not require everyone else to do things exactly the way we do.
Currently this informal group contains the following topics – German, French, Shakespeare play, one of the lives of Plutarch, Age of Fable (Greek/Roman Mythology), astronomy/nature study, poetry, picture study, knitting, math club, and social time (Lego club, Star Wars club, board game days, etc.). In the past month all of this has transitioned to online forums which has been a bit odd but we have all gone with the flow and getting into a groove that works. Within the next few weeks these topics will be changing to meet the needs and desires of those in the group as certain books are completed and new schedules formed with summer in mind.
Not everyone participates in every subject nor is expected to do so. What is expected, though, is if you do participate in a particular subject it is asked that you actually prepare, attend, and contribute. One of the aspects of this group I appreciate is the no-fee setup. Everything is a free resource, can be borrowed, or something we are asked to purchase on our own (such as the foreign language workbook, if there is one, or picture prints if we prefer a paper version though an e-version is acceptable). There is no semester or yearly fee or tuition.
This is also not a drop off and pick up group, a parent is expected to stay as that was the rule of the library where we were meeting. While it began with one parent being in charge of all subjects it slowly has morphed into each of us helping with one or more topic. This gives each parent a chance to talk, relax a bit, and hand-off some of the teaching to someone else. Our kids really do respond to others differently than they do to us. Even more so when you are also the main teacher for most of their schooling. It is great to see them take it more seriously from another adult, step up to the challenge of impressing their friends by answering a question first, and then to show manners by helping set up/clean up/rearrange without complaint. Again, positive peer pressure – it is cool to help out.
We have been a part of informal group before for various topics. When we lived in small town the options were more limited. While I wish I had taken better charge and started a group, I did not as it intimidated me. Instead we joined with a group from our area for nature study and play times. I tried to make it work. Looking back though the biggest difference were the attitudes. The families in that group had an attitude of “we do it the right way, you should do it this way, too. If you don’t, let us tell you how you are wrong.” Now we are in a group of “this is the way that works for us, let us tell you about it so you may learn something that will work for you. However, you do not need to do it exactly our way as you are not us.” There was also a lot of judging from both the parents and kids in that former group. The kids formed cliques and would not welcome in new kids or ones they deemed not a part of their group. That is not the way I raise our kids. Again, another aspect I like about our current informal academic group – they are welcoming and so are the kids.