As you all know (or should), I homeschool my boys here in Ecuador. We follow a September – May school year with June through August providing a respite for both the boys and I. That’s not to say we stop learning, we simply stop doing so in a structured school environment.
But since we’ve been out of school for almost two months now it’s probably time for me to update everyone on how the year went. Homeschooling in Ecuador is a little more challenging than back in the U.S. There are no homeschool resources here because it’s simply not done by Ecuadorians; the public libraries are few and far between and leave a lot to be desired, and getting books and other products down here from the states is EXPENSIVE. So we’re still learning the ropes here and fine-tuning as we go. I’ve outlined some of the things that have worked well for us and a few others that were misses down below.
BBC’s Dance Mat Typing. This typing course worked really well for my boys and kept them moving along. It was engaging and something they could do without supervision from me. For the most part now Justin types with his fingers in the correct positions and is hitting the correct keys with each finger. Jesse still needs to work on this, so he’ll be doing this program again next year. Luckily it’s free to use!
Kindles. Back in the U.S. we took full advantage of our local library. Every week we checked out our limit of items and we were able to use some great homeschooling resources from kid’s magazines, to resource books, to educational videos. As with all things in life we didn’t fully appreciate what we had until it was gone.
We have nothing of that nature here, but with the new Kindles that Justin and Jesse received for Christmas we were able to download books from a U.S. library which, while not having the same large selection of physical books, has a decent selection of resource and fiction books for kids.
Music. People ask me all the time how my kids will get a well-rounded education in a developing country. I’ll be honest – they don’t have some of the options that they might have in the U.S., but they still have a pretty wide selection of choices here.
Justin learned to play guitar when we were still in Idaho and has continued learning new songs on his own since we moved down here. For quite some time he was also taking music theory courses from an expat here who is a professional keyboardist. He’s taking a break right now as he was starting to burn out on playing guitar and I really didn’t want him to get frustrated and give up, but when he’s ready he can go back to lessons.
A former elementary school music teacher also lives in Cotacachi and has been giving Jesse drum lessons for the last several months. Jesse pays him with food that he makes each week – mostly breads and cookies. So not only is Jesse learning to bang on some drums in a controlled musical manner, but he is also learning to bake which brings me to….
Cooking. I’ve mentioned before that I won’t have my sons turn into helpless adults. They need to know how to clean, wash their laundry, and make themselves something to eat. They don’t have to like any of it, but they need to know it. Cooking lessons throughout the school year were pretty successful and now both boys can make simple things like grilled cheeses, French toast, scrambled eggs, and the like. Justin is blasé about the whole thing, but will do it when needed.
Jesse, however, has taken to cooking like a sweat on a hog (sorry about that but I’ve been watching a lot of Friday Night Lights lately and I just couldn’t help throwing in a Texas euphemism). Anyhow, the kid has started making and selling sourdough and focaccia bread and during Thanksgiving he offered pumpkin pies from scratch (I made the crust, he did the rest). He even made eggplant parmesan for David’s and my anniversary. I showed him how to coat the slices of eggplant with egg and flour and then fry them up. Once he was comfortable with that he sent me to the living room to relax and finished dinner, even garnishing our servings with basil from our garden. I think I might get used to having another good cook in the house!
DuoLingo. This online language learning program is well developed and again free. As with learning any language it helps to have other people to practice with, but even without you’ll learn a lot from this program as my kids did.
Even though the boys had picked up Spanish here in Ecuador they used the Spanish program in DuoLingo to become more advanced. The great thing about this program is that it will allow you to take a placement test so those who already know some of the language don’t have to start at the beginning and repeat what they’ve already learned. Oh, and it’s free! Now that my kids are done with Spanish they’ve been playing around with the French lessons and we’ll get more serious about it in the fall.
Travel. Done properly I can’t imagine not learning from a travel experience. I suppose if we went to an all-inclusive resort, never left the property, and laid on the beach all day our on-the-road education might be lacking, but that’s not our style. This year our travels have taught us about new exotic birds, insects, pirate history, coral reef ecosystems, and of course we’ve made a whole lot of new friends.
I hope my sons never stop moving and never stop learning. As a parent I often worry that I’m doing what’s best for my kids, but I think in this respect David and I will be successful. This is something I’m proud of and think that we’ve done right.
Math. At the beginning of the year I was going to order Singapore Math workbooks to use since we’ve used them before and they’ve worked well. But, as I said, it’s not cheap getting that stuff down here and David was certain that he could take care of their math needs for the year. So we winged it.
Yeah, not a good idea. Turns out David bit off more than he could chew and really didn’t have the time to do their math with them. Which left it up to me. I’m decent at math and I can certainly handle elementary-level arithmetic, but the time involved in not only teaching, but developing a curriculum to use each day, then helping the children with their problems, and finally grading the math is astronomical! And honestly coming up with math problems for my kids to solve each day is not a lot of fun.
We muddled our way through for several months and then I found the ALEKS online math program. They had a free two-month trial so we signed up and used their lessons, but when our trial ended I didn’t bother with a paid subscription. Why not? Well I didn’t find it worth the money to be honest. It was comprehensive in that it covered everything they should know at their grade level. However, it would only give them 6-8 practice problems on each lesson. It just wasn’t enough to help them retain what they were learning.
So, come fall – we’ll be back to using Singapore Math. Having my kids learn something, and freeing up my time by using an established curriculum will be well worth the money!
Blogs. I had each child set up a blog at the beginning of the school year so they could document things they learned, photos they took, and share their thoughts from our travels. They started out excited about them, but that has tapered off and they haven’t done much with them in several months. Maybe they’re too young or maybe it’s just not their thing, but either way the blogs will be there if/when they want to use them again.
So now I’m coming up with a plan for the following year. We’ll obviously be keeping the successes as a part of our schooling regimen and modifying the failures. As we get closer to school-time I’ll fill you in on our new and improved homeschooling in Ecuador plan!