Homeschooling Ups and Downs: the First Five Weeks

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Many people have asked, “How’s homeschooling going?”  And my usual response is, “It’s had its ups and downs.”  I’m not one to sugar-coat or complain a lot but I’ll admit my urge is to respond, “Well, we haven’t killed each other yet.”  My boys would certainly like to, but instead, they get to write essays about why they trash talk and fight during school.  The silver lining?  More writing practice.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated and show it.   I’d be lying if I said my daughter didn’t have her moments as well.  But overall, I truly believe bringing our kids’ education into our converted playroom has been the right move.  Our kids are getting the personalized academic attention they need (whether they want it or not), and in the process I get to learn and review lots of cool stuff (the anatomy of cells! simple present tense!) and most importantly:

I’m learning first hand how my kids respond to learning, and what they like and dislike about their education.  No more of the following:

Me:  So how was school today?

Kiddo:  Fine.

Me:  What did you do today?

Kiddo:  Nothing.

Now, when my husband asks my son what he did at school, he says:

Stuff.

I consider that a step in the right direction.

There have been some surprises, and some tunnel vision on my part, in this short month’s journey.  But after writing how I won’t homeschool, I am sold (mostly) for now on keeping the learning at home.  Some of the high (and low) lights:

My younger son learns more than he lets on.  He wears his apathy toward learning on his sleeve, speeds through assignments just to get them done,  and isn’t afraid to tell me how much he hates writing science outlines.  But he floored me the other day when he spouted off “Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species” ten minutes after learning about it.  So he isn’t shutting science out completely.  He picks up some things really fast, and has more grammar and math skills (mental long division?!) than I thought.

His twin brother doesn’t do didactic.  At all.  He curls up in his seat, messes with anything he can get his hands on (I have confiscated a nice collection of legos, folded up bits of Post-It, and paper clip-speared pencil erasers) and simply cannot listen.  I write assignments on the board and he still can’t figure out what he is supposed to be working on.  He is completely checked out.  As frustrating as it is for me, it’s obvious the whole school thing is torture for him and I now understand how much he disliked going.  I wish I were 100 percent sympathetic every homeschool day, but I’m not.  I lose it more than I like to admit.  He is a hands-on, visual learner who loves science experiments and making sand-and-glue “Egyptian” pyramids in history.  My challenge is finding ways to engage him in subjects that don’t obviously lend themselves to his learning style.  Like grammar.  (more on that later).

Math.  The main reason we decided to homeschool, this subject is going surprisingly well.  I’m proud we are teaching it instead of turning it over to a computer program, although there are some great online curricula.  My I can’t do math son is actually doing it, my daughter has caught on to long division, and my other son is proving to be rather mathematically-minded.  Plus math is a subject I love.  And revisiting it from the perspective of my kids has challenged me to bend my mind around the details in new ways.  Think popsicle sticks to cover up parts of division problems and a mnemonic to remember the order of operations (the kids came up with this one):

Dumb Mirrors Show Butts

(That’s Division, Multiplication, Subtraction, Bring Down)

Grammar.  The breakout bomb in our school day.  I didn’t expect the kids to find grammar fascinating; however, it took no time flat to realize my kids hate it.  Really, really hate it.  (As in one of our workbooks ended up in toilet hate it)  We study subjects, predicates and concrete nouns and the kids look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language.  Which is really ironic given it’s English.  In retrospect we shouldn’t have started them on grade-level grammar; it’s too advanced.  Schools don’t dedicate much time to grammar anymore, at least where we live, anyway.  We should have backed ‘way up and started at the beginning with a level 1 or 2 curriculum.  Well, live and learn, right?  We’ve decided to take the concepts slow, with lots of review and short quizzes and Mad Libs, and if we only get through half a text this year, so be it.

History.  The breakout winner in our school day.  I’ll be honest, I dreaded the idea of teaching history (booorrrrring!); it was the subject I liked the least when I was in school; our teachers basically stood up in front of class and read the text to us.  Yuck.  Regurgitating dates and events seemed a waste of time.  But for our kids my husband found a great curriculum, The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer, and we all just love it.  It’s written like a narrative, easy and accessible.  Plus, and this is the best part, there’s lots of hands-on opportunities with each short chapter.  For my older son, this is a necessary part of his school day.  And mine.  We have made “Egyptian” pyramids out of sand and glue and our own codex of rules (inspired by the Code of Hammurabi).  Pretty cool, and a great way to drive home what we learn in history.

A technicolor dreamcoat for my son's ocelot...even Joseph himself would be jealous...

A technicolor dreamcoat for my son’s ocelot…even Joseph himself would be jealous…

Breaking up the day.  There is the illusion of flexibility when homeschooling, by everyone, including us.   As in:  well, we are homeschooling, so we can do music lessons and doctor’s appointments smack-dab in the middle of the day.  It throws a monkey wrench into your schedule, we were told (by someone who tried it), and it’s stressful to be pressed to finish up math in order to get out the door.  But long story short, we had one, and only one, option for violin lessons and that was at 10:45 am.  So we took it.  Not the ideal time, but music education is important, too, so we are working it into the school day.  I bring along some puzzles and artsy activities related to what we are learning in history, and we review while listening to the muted notes of “French Folk Tune.”  Our portable classroom seems to be working.  Plus, by Thursday (when music is scheduled), we are ready for a shake up in the week…so we go out for lunch, too, and perhaps schedule a field trip.

That said and done, music is an exception.  We still schedule doctors’ appointments and other activities for the traditional after school hours.

All in all, we are happy with our decision to homeschool.  It is so. not. easy.  But the important parts of life never are.  Like parenting.  It’s impacted my day-to-day in a huge way (but that’s another post for another time), going from super-flexible weekdays to working Monday through Friday with prep work in the off-school hours.  But it’s a higher purpose that makes this undertaking absolutely worth it:  wanting a good education for our nontraditional learners that brings out the best in them, and helping them learn to love learning.  I know I’m learning a lot, and not just the simple present tense and how nomads farm.  I’m learning how to reach my kids when they struggle in school and how I need to change my approach.  For example, some things I’m working on:

  1.  Boys need activity first thing in the morning.  It’s well documented.  So why are we jumping into math and grammar first thing at 7:30 in the morning?  We need to incorporate an early bike ride or stretching session into the first part of the school day, one that still keeps us on the academic schedule.
  2. Make learning consistently fun.  Hands-on Grammar?  Grammar:  the air-dry clay project?  All the other subjects seem to lend themselves to some kind of fun but grammar is the hold out stick-in-the-mud.  I need ideas.  (Pinterest?)  Plus I’m trying to act like a teacher, writing on the white board, asking questions and calling on my kids.  From my kids “wow, this sucks” attitude, I think I need a new approach.  I am Mom, after all, and blurring my most important family role must be weird for them.  I need ideas.  (Pinterest?)
The "Nile." We "flood" it, and clover grows!

The “Nile.” We “flood” it, and clover grows!

2 Comments

  • Heidi,
    Get the right brain involved in grammar and it will stick better and be more fun. Example: Have cards with verb, noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb and article on them. The kids have to come up with a noun if they have that card, then verb and keep going. Writing the sentence on the board as they come up with the word helps to reinforce what they are doing. dog; what does the dog do? dog runs: how does the dog run? dog runs fast. How fast does the dog run etc, etc, It breaks down grammar into more manageable concepts for kids. There is an old program but excellent, that really helps learners. It’s call DOL (Daily Oral Language), I used to spend 10 minutes a day on grammar and this program will work. Short and sweet and kids seem to like it. You might also write something wrong on the board with your other lessons and “let them catch you making a mistake.” Grammar is and can be fun it you approach it as a game. The old grammar books should be buried!!

    I would also do journals with the kids, 10 minutes to write what ever is on your mind. This is FREE WRITING, SPELLING AND GRAMMAR DO NOT MATTER, JUST GETTING YOUR THOUGHTS DOWN ON PAPER. The trick to journals is to allow kids to write about anything they want to write about and then you respond to what they say. NEVER correct and NO RED PENS ALLOWED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Once a month, they should pick out their favorite entry and put it on the computer, check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, does it make sense, do they need to combine sentences etc. If you can, put these writings up on the wall or can they go somewhere? AND TO REALLY IMPRESS THE VALUE OF WRITING, YOU ALSO SHOULD WRITE AT THE SAME TIME AS THEY DO!! It is a nice way to really get to know your kids. Example: I don’t like today. You: Sorry, maybe tomorrow will be better.

    The other thing I would really stress is DEAR: Drop everything and read!! Starting your school day with 15 minutes of everyone (you and the kids) reading whatever books they want to read and then journals is my favorite way to start the school day. Makes for a relaxing way to start the day.

    Sorry this is so long, but writing and reading are very dear to my heart. In my 30+ years of teaching, my students have always improve in these important skills. Remember, even for trained professional teachers, that first year is always difficult and it gets easier the second year. Oh by the way, if you are looking for a good book to read, try “A Man Called OVE” by Fredrik Backman Good Luck!!

    • Dianne,
      Firstly, Happy Holidays!!! We hope you enjoyed the season with your amazing family!

      And I apologize for the lateness of my response but know I have been thinking about your advice since I read this. Thank you so very much for your input and voice of experience. We have done the sentence exercise and this is a much better way to reinforce sentence structure. I was becoming a one hit wonder with “Mad Libs.” And we plan to renew our routine of journal writing in January…the kids wrote fairy tales during the fall so that was our writing time for awhile.

      Again, thank you for your words of wisdom, and we look forward to a winter term full of learning and keeping it fun!

      Heidi

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