Monday, May 2, 2011

First Year of Homeschooling Wrap Up: I have learned...(Part 2 of 4)

When A was born, my mom brought a notebook to the hospital to record her every bowel movement and wet diaper, when she slept and for how long, when I nursed her, which side I nursed her on and for how long.  I remember quirking an eyebrow and thinking, "Seriously?  You expect me to do this?"

I told my mom she could write it all down if she wanted, but that I was going to change A's diapers when she pooped or was wet, feed her when she was hungry and let her sleep when she was tired.  When A didn't understand that we sleep at night, I brought her in bed with me, much to my mother's shock and horror, and A slept like...well, a baby.

I didn't put P in a crib or bassinet until she was over 6 months old.

I saw myself as being someone that didn't live by schedules, someone that was loose and laid back and that didn't do what everyone else was doing just because it was the thing to do.

When we made the decision to homeschool, I read The Well Trained Mind and was turned off by the author's marketing of her own curriculum.  I liked the idea of Waldorf, but my girls were already older and while I could see some of it working, I didn't think it was something we could really adopt.  I saw some interesting things in Charlotte Mason, like keeping work in a binder and living books.  It's not so discussed among homeschoolers because it really is more based on group education, but I have always loved Maria Montessori's methods of teaching.  I favor focusing more on where a child is and reaching him there than at making him come to the level you want him to be.  I thought at most I would be eclectic, and at the least, we would unschool.

I bought a math curriculum.  I bought Writing Strands, I know it gets mixed reviews, but I LOVED it.  I put holds on books about our state at the library and figured I would do my own thing with that.

Over the course of the year, however, I have realized that I am not as laid back and relaxed and un-scheduled as I had thought.  My goals for my girls are for them to one day attend some form of higher education and find a career.  There are skills that they are going to need to have, things they will have to know.  Although I totally love and embrace the idea of children learning what they need to know, I am just not relaxed enough for that.  I need to know that we have a math curriculum that will cover integers and isosceles triangles; I need to know that we have a science curriculum that will cover electrons and the periodic table.  I completely see how all that comes up in life and I get that it's best to teach when a student is interested or has a reason to learn something, but I personally need a check list like photosynthesis needs light.  But I am looking at these next few curriculum-free weeks as an experiment in unschooling; I am eager to see just where the girls curiosities take them.

I have learned that homeschool curriculum is pretty different than curriculum that is used in a traditional classroom.  Homeschool curriculum allows for a lot of off shoots, homeschool curriculum encourages children to open their mind and let their thoughts soar.  This can not happen in a classroom of 25, because you could have 25 different directions of soaring and it would be impossible to give each child what they need.  But you can do this with a few children and the results will, quite literally, blow your mind.

I have learned that, for me, my children's education is a GINORMOUS responsibility and I trust Susan Wise Bauer to help me.  I don't have to do everything she says, but she has a ton of experience that I don't have and her methods seem perfect for my kids and their style of learning.  Giving children a foundation of information BEFORE expecting them to think critically just makes sense.  Having children read something and then asking questions that help them to summarize the passage, explaining to them that is the goal of the questions and then asking them to summarize the passage, just makes sense.  I love the ideas of a grammar stage and a logic stage and then a rhetoric stage.  I now look at The Well Trained Mind not as a marketing tool for her philosophy, but as an explanation of the what, when, how, where and why of my children's learning.

I have learned about my children's learning style.  A is a kinesthetic learner, she needs to keep moving while she learns; keeping her hands busy with manipulatives has made all the difference in the world to her.  She is also very auditory, I sometimes find her vocally explaining things to herself out loud as she works her way through things.  P is what Cathy Duffy would describe as a Polly Perfect, she wants everything to be perfect and expects to understand everything, she is what my education professors would term "easy to teach", she nods along at explanations and looks interested.

I have learned that the first year of homeschooling is all about trial and error.  I am only now starting to figure out what works for our family.  The joke among many homeschool families is that what works this month may not work next month...

I have learned that lesson plans do not work for me.  They are a waste of my time.  I don't follow them. We want to dig our teeth into something and we take longer with it; or my girls get subject-verb agreement and why bother doing 5 pages of exercises?   With two kids, you don't have to take the time for everyone to catch up that you would take in a classroom.

I have learned to trust God. The last lesson plan I made had us finishing in June, but here it is early May and we are done.  I could not have planned this, yet it works out better than what I ever would have planned.  We can take a few weeks off, relax and then start a summer term, Science and Latin.

I have learned that what does work for me is to look ahead in our books and see what supplies I may need and to put books on hold or purchase supplies.

I have learned that I can not cover Reading, Writing, Grammar, Arithmetic, History, Science, Latin, Spanish, Art and Music all the time.  I am thinking that if this summer Latin & Science term works out, we may then have a term of History, Writing & Spanish or something like that.

I have learned that homeschooling becomes a natural extension of family life.  It has enhanced our family life.  I think of weekends as vacations now.  We go to museums and planetariums and plays on weekends because we like to include Daddy-o.  Since we do so much together, these topics find their way into our everyday family conversations around the dinner table or wherever we may be.

If you are new to homeschooling or just considering homeschooling, I recommend what was recommended to me, just relax.  It is easier said than done because you want to prove to yourself and everyone else that you CAN do this and it is a GOOD idea and your kids will LEARN and still have FRIENDS.  But, seriously, just relax a little bit, know you can do this and take some time for yourself.  Say yes to a play date or a field trip and don't worry that math and grammar and history may not happen that day, know that they will happen the next and it will be fine.  Had I done that we would not be finishing the first week of May, we would be finishing maybe in mid-June, which would have been fine too.  Story of the World took us 5 months, doing anywhere from 1 lesson (and then spending subsequent days really digging in to it) to 3 lessons a week.