Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve gotten this far. At other times, it’s not. Recently we reached a milestone: 100 days of homeschooling. We fastened our seatbelts back in August and ready or not, we took our newfound motivation for a spin. Map in hand, we had a pretty good idea where we wanted to go but no idea where we’d end up. Sometimes the ride was smooth, sometimes the dips and turns were expected (math) and sometimes they were not (grammar). But here we are. 100 days and not yet out of gas.
Last fall I wrote an update about our homeschool adventures and received some wonderful feedback from you…thank you all so much. I’ve made it no secret I’m not an educator and need all the support I can garner in this amazing, challenging experience. I meant to post regular updates on our progress, a journal of sorts, and have fallen woefully behind. But here’s where we are today:
The curriculum to end all curriculums (or is it “curricula”?). Ok, it just took me five minutes to write that sentence. The word curriculum is the bane of my writing existence, second only to choose and chose, which my son has to regularly correct me on. Anyway, I’m off topic. After ditching our dry, didactic grammar books we have stuck with the rest of our original course of study (curricula…) and are on track to complete every text cover to cover by the end of the school year. This makes me happy. Not only can we start afresh with new glossy volumes next school year but we get to find out before summer what happens in ancient Rome and also how the intestinal tract works (my kids are especially interested in farts, of course). In other words, no cliffhangers.
Math. The Hermione Granger of subjects. A major goal for homeschooling has been to get our boys caught up to their grade level in math and keep our daughter challenged at the same time. I can’t believe it, but we just finished a year’s worth of math (according to Singapore Math, anyway) and have moved ahead to the first topics of the next level. Which means we are set to finish a year-and-a-half of “figuring” this school year. Not that there haven’t been some struggles, like calculating area and perimeter and making conversions (like how many pints in three gallons). But I’ve learned that beating the hard stuff over the head boggles my kids brains. So we move on to something new. We’ll review at a later time.
More reading. Not only is regular reading of great benefit to kids, I confess this move is not entirely altruistic. This late bloomer is absorbed in the addictive Harry Potter series. As I’m sure I’m the last to find out, a few of these volumes are as large as bricks. I’ll never finish if I don’t read every day. So for many reasons, we read as part of our school day. And even older kids like mine enjoy being read to, so we are also reading aloud the Little House series. What a great way this has been to learn about a bit of Americana (What is a yoke? How is wheat threshed?) and enjoy the antics of the Ingalls’ girls.
Television viewing. A comedian once did a bit on why teachers put in videos for their students. The reason? Too much partying the night before. So ever since watching this routine, it’s been a little joke between my husband and me when we show the kids an occasional video during school. (disclaimer: we are not implying that teachers are hardy-partiers. No. It’s kinda funny, though…). But we have increased the screen time and the role of “visuals.” While a good life science video has been a weekly part of school, we’ve added in a history documentary that relates to the chapter we are reading. There are some fantastic kid-friendly videos on Youtube about both ancient and modern culture. And there are some that are…not (BTW, the Phoenicians were hardy-partiers…Animal House got nothin’ on those guys…). So it takes a little searching but totally worth it in the end to bring history to life.
Science. If only we could hire Bill Nye. I can’t decide if our kids really don’t like science or if they are rebelling against their scientifically-minded parents. But science, even though we do a hands-on experiment every week, is the subject the kids have the least patience for. They really hate the rote information and also the tediousness of recording experiment materials, method and conclusion-writing. So enter the brief videos we can incorporate into every day…like how birds fly. And Dad and I are challenged to provide some daily hands-on as well. This is harder because he and I didn’t learn science this way. But, for example, Dad pulled out our seashell collection when we studied clams and snails. The kids and I tossed around empty toilet paper rolls (simulating hollow bones of birds) and then stuffed the rolls with doll clothes (simulating denser bone structure) and did the same to compare their loftiness. Ironically, even though Dad and I are best with science, it’s a challenge to make it fun and cool.
Do Know Some About History. Showing videos has brought history to life. Our writing assignments needed a makeover as well…penning summaries is dull, dull, dull. And the kids hated that I corrected their spelling and punctuation. We needed something less perfunctory, and more inspired and meaningful. So instead of write-me-three-facts-about-life-in-Athens, we compared and contrasted life in Sparta with that in Athens and then wrote about which society we’d rather live in and why. It got the kids thinking (and me, too, as I wrote as well) . And it produced some tears. Theirs, because this was a whole new kind of writing exercise, but mine as well. When writing why she wanted to live in Sparta, my daughter explained she would prefer to live there because she wouldn’t have to go to school and get to be home with Mom all day. Her lack of enthusiasm for the assignment aside, she still thinks Mom is ok even though she’s making her write this miserable essay…
Grammar. Improv at work. I wrote last fall how our grammar curriculum went down the toilet (figuratively AND literally). So on that note we decided to table grammar and gradually add it back into our schedule. Now, instead of daily grammar lessons we dedicate about 15 minutes twice a week to limit frustration. We’ve incorporated a game suggested by a teacher friend as well as a color-coded system of identifying parts of sentence, also courtesy of a teacher friend (thank you both!). So far, this approach seems to be working. For topic ideas, I try to pay attention to the common mistakes we make in speech: “good” versus “well,” and “who” versus “whom” and find worksheets online to use in class. I’ve noticed with my kids writing that their use of verb tenses is consistent and appropriate, so talking about the “present participle” is absolute torture, for them and for me. I mean, honestly, how often does anyone think, “Gee, I need to use the past perfect tense more often?”
Learning how to look it up, it’s just what the doctor ordered. I took a genetics class from an amazing instructor, Dr. Garry Duncan. I’ve never forgotten how he de-emphasized rote memorization of anything that can be looked up in an appropriate reference book (yes, I am a child of hard copy). That novel concept has stuck with me after a couple decades but for some reason my memory failed me when we started homeschooling. Because kids have to memorize, right? No, they don’t. Concepts and thought processes are where it’s at. Sure, we could have our kids memorize the major classes of phylum chordata, but isn’t it more important they know what what makes mammals mammals, and so on? And while math facts are certainly important, as is a solid number sense to perform the mental math we take for granted everyday, we are going to give our kids calculators. We decided to relieve their brains from the struggle of recalling the math facts so they are free to learn the process of problem-solving. I’ve seen the benefits of this first hand with my older son…rote memorization of facts is simply not his bag; his math performance has already improved when he uses a calculator. And with all three of my kids, the frustration is intense when they struggle to recall how many pints are in a quart and how many inches in a yard. They can look up conversions very quickly on an iPad and move on to the more important concept of problem-solving.
Everyone’s favorite subject: recess. We take breaks. But we have incorporated a longer, 20- to 30 minute recess into our school day. Whether it’s taking a walk around the neighborhood or playing a game or with legos, we need some serious time to let go. Plus I want my kids to treat regular exercise and fun as an important part of every day.
Ditching the formality. I look back on our first weeks of school and recall how I jumped into the role of lecturer. Wow, did that not go over well. I think it really weirded-out my kids. I looked like Mom, stocking’ed feet and sweats, with her oversized mug of coffee but acted like a totally different person. Honestly, it felt all wrong to me, too. These are my kids, for godssake. So now we often sit on the floor in a “circle of knowledge” (cheesy, right?) or on the couches for history and other reading activities. We are all more receptive to learning when it feels cozy.
What we still need to learn. Lots. Like how to inspire our kids. And how to switch tacks when something just isn’t sinking in. Patience. And more patience. And still more.
But we are getting there. And still believe the move to homeschool this year has been the right move at this time. Here’s to 100 days and counting.