Home Education Magazine
November-December 2004 - Articles and Columns
"I Couldn't Believe All the Bones..." - Janine Calsbeek
"I couldn't believe all the bones..."
That's one kid talking about dissecting owl pellets. Actually it was Micah, age eight, writing a newspaper article for the Once-in-a-Lifetime Paper. All of the writers were homeschoolers from three towns in northwest Iowa, and both the owl pellets and the newspaper were part of a six-week learning co-op.
A couple of us called our friends and homeschool acquaintances and got together for one (only one!) brainstorming meeting. Our idea? To offer a series of classes, taught by us. We figured our non-classroom-oriented kids might benefit from a stint with a larger group. They might learn things that work better when there are more kids around. Might inspire each other? Collaborate? Socialize? Part of the thought behind this co-op, too, was to offer choices, at least for the kids who cared the most.
So we offered a story discussion class and mostly the older kids signed up, six of them. Becky, the mom/teacher, chose some American classics like The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The group read, they talked. It was something new for at least 75 percent of the class, and it was a hit.
Speech was another highlight, especially when Kristin, the teacher, donned outfits to not wear when interviewing for a job... and then there was the day she demonstrated uncool telephone manners.
The natural speech-givers and the reluctant ones alike gave speeches every week to each other--beginning with introductions, proceeding to demonstrations. The rest of us begged to hear them speak on The Last Day, and we parents were appropriately proud.
Back to our planning process. In December, we figured out approximately how many kids we would have in each of the three age groups, and who would teach what. We set a deadline for co-op wanna-bes. We had to convince at least one parent that she had a skill to share with the kids.
And we ended up with seven families, which meant we had seven parents willing to teach a class, and seven classes to offer to the kids. After coming up with a schedule and class descriptions, we circulated them via e-mail. Certain classes were recommended for certain ages, with flexibility, and the kids got a week or so to sign up.
Yes, one class had only four students--quilting--and a dozen signed up for wildlife rehabilitation. The speech class had some kids who were younger than Kristin had planned, but it worked.
We alternated the meeting site each week between the library in Orange City and a church in Sioux Center. That worked too.
We began January 9--the slowest time of the year in the North. From 2:30 to 3:20, middle-school-age and older kids met for speech or wildlife rehab class. The little ones, ages two to seven, attended A Day at the Pond. Then at 3:20 there were new classes and more choices. The young ones again got an animal theme, this time the farm variety, Green Acres. Those age eight and up chose between story discussion, putting together a newspaper and quilting.
We usually gathered for a few minutes after the classes for a game or to eat cookies and talk. And some kids just perused the library until Mom or Dad said it was time to go home to make supper.
The wildlife class included not only teacher Terry's stories about her love of nature and her personal experiences with wildlife rehab, but also a visit from a local naturalist, who helped the kids dissect owl pellets. The kids also took a field trip to a taxidermist's shop.
The quilting class learned to use sewing machines and worked on their own quilted pillows with the teacher's two-year-old assisting once in awhile. The little kids' classes included lots of stories, art projects and music.
And the newspaper class--taught by yours truly--wrote about all of it. When Sunday, the naturalist, visited the wildlife class, the newspaper reporters invited her to come to their room too, so they could practice interviewing techniques. Then Ann and Erica wrote a feature about Sunday entitled, "She was NEVER mean to animals!"
The 10 newspaper reporters, ages eight to 13, did stories on each of the co-op classes. They took turns manning my digital camera, photographing each other and the rest of the kids. They visited a newspaper office, checking out everything from the darkroom to the Heidelberg press, and even tried out the paper-bundling machine. And, since Friday afternoon is a slow time at the office, they spent some time "laying out" a few of their pages on the light tables.
They came up with some interesting stuff to add to their paper. Naturally they conducted a survey: "What's something you like about homeschooling? What do you DISLIKE?" They wrote book and movie reviews about Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Nemo, and of course, Lord of the Rings. Ian's idea was Mr. Nobody's advice column.
Dear Mr. Nobody, I accidentally died my hair green! How do I change it back to blond?
Dear Mr. Nobody, If you drop a nuclear bomb on a cockroach, will it survive?
Dear Mr. Nobody, Who are you anyway?
They added a joke page and a recipe page. They interviewed each other and wrote little blurbs. And they asked a guest author--the 16-year-old sister of some of the reporters--to write about her experience taking college classes. With much discussion and lobbying, they came up with the paper's name.
It was amazing to see those kids do so much writing.
Two students and I did most of the layout and design on home computers since no one wanted to haul their Macs to the classrooms. And the fat little paper came off the "presses" in time for the kids to collate and staple on day 6 of the co-op, passing around copies after the other classes gave their final show-and-tells.
The co-op hasn't been without its challenges. At least one parent would rather not do any teaching, and instead hire the teachers. She has six kids and is busy enough, she said. For most of us, the challenge of adding one more thing to the schedule--the co-op--was worth it. But we have options, like hiring a college student to teach instead.
It's also not easy to find a time slot that works, especially with teenagers' schedules. A couple of kids wanted to take two classes that were offered in the same period. We just couldn't rearrange the schedule to accommodate everyone. And the youngest ones seemed to need a little more "recess" than had been originally scheduled. No nursery was needed this time, but that's another problem that's easily solved.
The benefits dominated. I loved working with the kids on projects, hearing their multitudes of ideas and seeing them follow through. And I loved reading their writing, looking at their photos and listening to their speeches, being part of their debate and their laughter.
Will we do it again? Definitely. We already have a list for next winter of at least three families so far who are definitely on.
© 2004 Janine Calsbeek
November-December 2004 - Articles and Columns
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