Homeschool is out for the summer! We did it. We really, really did it. 175 full days. Sometimes we hummed along without a hitch, and some days drug on. And on. And on. In other words, our school year was much like a traditional one, with ups and downs. And here are some of them:
I got to spend lots of time with my kids. Every day. We haven’t spent this much time together since before the kids started all-day Kindergarten. I feel like I know them so much better in their “tween” stage; I’ve had more time to learn how to reach them and parent them, simply because I am with them more.
We accomplished a ton of math. We finished almost two full years of a math curriculum. Two. Years. Even though honing math skills was a top reason we decided to homeschool, I never thought we could get through this much math. I mean, it’s math. A tough skill for many, a despised subject of most. The take-home (wait, we already are home…), I’ve decided, from the kids’ progress is this: flexibility and accountability. I’m a math traditionalist, as in, You must memorize the math facts! But a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t jive with my older son. He can’t burn those facts into his brain. So we allowed our kids to use calculators for their math exercises but emphasized they show their work. As long as they got the concepts, they could drive their work with calculators if they needed to. And we held our kids to correcting their mistakes; and for as fast as they’ve recognized them, we discovered they really do understand, for example, fractions. Our mantra has been take the time to do it right, or you’ll have to take the time to redo it. I got that from a fortune cookie. Spot on, no?
We read together out loud. My younger son hates to read books; he’s a great reader, but he has no patience for the written word. His comprehension is weak; he reads very quickly and we suspect he just isn’t the imaginative type to visualize a story in his head. But he loves to read aloud (probably because he can be in control of the process and get it done) and he seems to retain more from doing it. So we read our history chapters to each other, as well as several books from the Little House on the Prairie series. We could discuss the stories as we went, and when someone wondered how large a bushel was or exactly how a cow yoke works, we could Google it. Our learning experience about another time and culture was further enriched by reading aloud.
We could alter our schedule to meet our needs. Ok, and our wants, too. This flexibility was really, really great. We could (and did) have school on typical inservice days and holidays like Presidents’ Day, taking the time off on our own schedule for family visits or long weekends away. My husband couldn’t get vacation time during the highly-sought-after spring break, but no matter…we took our break at a later time. And what’s more? Older kids need more sleep; it’s been argued that adolescents need later start times for school. So if one of my kids needed to sleep in, we could alter our school schedule accordingly. They were much more ready to learn if we didn’t have to drag them out of bed.
Extracurriculars were more manageable. Music lessons and theatre and boy scouts were a real trial when my kids didn’t get home until 3:30 in the afternoon. A seven-hour school day wiped them out and homework, scheduled activities and the practice that went with them were a terrible struggle. They needed down time, time to just be kids, and it was hard to get everything in before bedtime. Now, being done with school by 2:00, my kids’ attitude toward their activities has nearly about-faced. They practice their music everyday, and for longer periods of time. I think this is because they have more time to do those things, with more “down time” to play with friends and do as they wish in between. What a difference a couple hours makes.
I learned more about my kids’ academic weaknesses and strengths. And mine as well. My older son struggles with math facts. My younger has trouble retaining the written word and likes to rush through his work, all of it. My daughter’s spelling skills fall apart when she’s writing an essay. As for me, I have a habit of forgetting that my last academic experiences were of the lecture-and-note-taking variety and that style doesn’t reach 10- and 12-year-olds (duh, Mom). It’s been a steep learning curve for all of us this past year. And my older son really does learn differently, as we suspected; how he solves problems is truly nontraditional. I’m glad to see that firsthand. My younger son…is it ok to say this? He’s really very bright. His grades have never reflected that; he’s too busy to do academics. But he remembers things the first time he is exposed to them, and his math skills are quick and spot-on. Now, how to reach and channel that…? My daughter would learn in any setting, which opens up many options for her education.
Now for the “downs” (downers?):
I got to spend lots of time with my kids. Now it’s confession time. I love being with my kids. But school isn’t the quality time I want to have with them. And after we’ve put in our four hours a day learning, we are ready for a break. From school. From one another. Which is fine but after all is said and done, it’s suppertime, shower time, and time for bed. Another day gone in a flash and we haven’t spent real time together. That’s gotta change.
Writing was a struggle. Both my husband and I love to write. But we learned quickly that our passion does not translate into inspiring our kids to take pencil to paper. Or fingers to the “Notes” app on their iPads. The writing curriculum early on was an epic fail; and journal writing deteriorated into simple list making, no matter how often I asked Full sentences, please. So much for progress with writing skills this year. (The one bright spot? Writing a fairy tale. The kids loved that.) The challenge this fall will be finding a way to inspire all of us to engage in writing together.
Grammar was flat-out no fun. A grammar text ended up in the toilet, a pretty good sign that the kids felt grammar sucked. So we did end up trashing the curriculum we bought (not by swirly, but by donation) and piecing together something from internet sources (of which, thankfully, there are many) and from teacher friends who were so kind to send us suggestions and materials (thank you, thank you, thank you!) Still, my kids are pretty soured on grammar, given that we started off on the wrong foot. So back to the whiteboard.
Homeschooling is an isolating venture. Homeschooling is lonely. We left our school community, a social source for both the kids and I. The kids see their friends a whole lot less, I have less time to meet up with my own. Loss of that connection has been tough. It takes more effort to maintain and make friendships and while that is easier for two of my kids, it’s a challenge for both my older son and for me, two introverts. Social interaction takes some practice for the two of us and we get rusty. I worry how my son doesn’t want to leave the house now. Ever. He wants to be homeschooled every year from now on, which is totally fine. But my husband and I will insist he take up an extracurricular activity outside the home, so he can be around kids with whom he has things in common. He’s resistant, but that’s a condition he will have to accept.
Which brings us to next school year. What do we do? We will homeschool our older son; my daughter accepts the same for her fifth grade year, given her brothers’ experience during theirs. My younger son wants to be with his friends and play basketball. Read: he wants to attend middle school. My husband and I are willing to consider it, with the condition he keep his grades up. But we are far from making that decision and will take the summer to decide if a traditional school setting is right for him. And it might be. He has shown he can do academics and will need to do his best. A friend who homeschools warned me how tough it is to juggle a homeschool schedule with that of traditional school. You will hate it, she says. I hear what she’s saying. But on the other hand, another friend who also has homeschooled, tells me this:
Just do what’s best at the time for your kids.
Maybe we will homeschool all three of our kids again. Maybe we won’t.
We’ll see when the time comes.