This is not a homeschool blog, but some of our readers have been asking how homeschooling is going. After posting about my plans for this year back in August, I thought I’d give you a peek into how things are going now, rather than saving it for the end of the school year, when we’re all burned out and sick of everything!
This year, my third child started Kindergarten, and I’ve noticed a huge shift in both my responsibilities and our family dynamics. Last year, I was able to have the two little girls entertain each other while I knocked out school with the big kids. This year, the three year old is left without a playmate. For the first couple months of school, I felt like I’d jumped from homeschooling two to four. J wanted to sit at the table with us and “do school” with us all morning, too. Her presence was an added distraction to the big kids and just made everything take longer. I’ve played around with a few different solutions, from having the big kids take turns doing their schoolwork while the other plays with the toddler, to plugging the toddler (and the kindergartner, when she’s done) into Sesame Street for a couple of hours, to doing all the fun history/science/read aloud stuff all morning and then keeping the big kids at the table all afternoon to do their math/grammar/spelling while the little girls play. Each option has had its pros and cons, but in general, I’ve been encouraged to note that J has learned to be more self-sufficient in her play this fall/winter. There have been several days recently where I’m halfway through a heavy morning of schoolwork with the big kids, only to realize that I haven’t seen J since breakfast since she’s making a blanket fort or playing with duplos downstairs or sitting under the table quietly cutting up little pieces of paper for confetti. Also, I ordered an Ivy Kids subscription for my kindergartner, and whenever we get those boxes in the mail, all three of my girls will happily spend hours and hours doing all the math/early literacy/crafty activities with little or no direction from me. I got my son caught up in spelling at long last because the girls were busy with the Ivy Kids kit centered around Jan Brett’s The Hat the last week before Christmas break. I’ll probably continue to use a combination of those strategies with my little one until we get a foster child this spring, at which point I have no idea what will happen!
With my oldest in fourth grade, I’ve felt the shift from finishing school in the morning to having to do schoolwork into the afternoon. For me, this really has made me adjust my mindset from homemaker-who-happens-to-teach-my-kids to full-time-homeschool-teacher who has to use the same tricks working moms do to get grocery shopping, cooking, and housecleaning done. My shopping has streamlined to Amazon Prime for all household items and the grocery store for fresh foods. It’s not necessarily the most cost effective, but I don’t have the time to go to Target anymore (and haven’t been there in months). I’m using the crockpot a lot, and my cooking is mostly limited to tried-and-true recipes I can do in my sleep rather than fiddling around trying something new. My house is not very clean on a given day.
I mentioned this summer that I wanted to do more reading aloud with my kids. That has worked with moderate success when I write it down in my lesson plans. We’ve read three big novels together this fall, and the kids really enjoyed them. But we’re nowhere near the hour+ a day of reading aloud that I aspire to. When I’ve tried to start our morning with read alouds, the kids love it, but we get very little other schoolwork done. My kids are at their best between 8-11 am, and everything after that is really a struggle. Some days it’s worth it to read–we read The Door in the Wall in about three mornings–but some days I really feel like math and grammar and spelling matter more. I could talk a lot more about why it’s not happening in the afternoons and evenings, but basically, I have prioritized other things (housework, my own reading/internet time/etc) over reading aloud, and I’m readjusting my priorities in the new year to enable us to read aloud more.
One other thing I’m learning about is how much my kids can do on their own. After our car accident over Thanksgiving weekend that sent my husband and me to the ER in a helicopter, I was nearly bedridden for almost two weeks. Just as my sore muscles and bruises healed, I got bulldozed by a horrible cold and spent an entire day unable to talk or swallow without pain. During that time, we actually managed to get a decent amount of schoolwork done. I mentioned that my son’s math, writing, and Latin books require minimal parent teaching–I just grade and answer questions–and we did a bit of grammar and let the spelling and French slide. They watched David Macauley’s excellent Cathedral documentary for history and some deep-sea documentaries for science. My 2nd grader did all of her copywork and handwriting work, I did grammar (orally) with her from bed, she practiced math flashcards, and we used a marker board to do spelling once or twice. My kindergartner practiced handwriting and did some math activity sheets. They listened to a lot of audiobooks and played legos. We were in crisis mode, and I don’t think they’re in a position to educate themselves completely, but it was encouraging to know that this past month was not a total wash academically. And when you walk away with no broken bones from an accident that should have killed you and your spouse, you’re just inclined to snuggle and read and play together, anyway.
As far as curriculum reviews go, my son HATED Sentence Composition for Elementary School. This was super disappointing, because I love, love, loved the concept and raved about it to everyone I knew this summer. We set it aside once his Writing and Rhetoric: Fable book came in. He enjoys that (though the creative writing assignments take him HOURS to complete), so we’re just sticking with that for writing now. He and I both love First Language Lessons 4. We both find sentence diagramming fun and fascinating, and the poetry memorization assignments have been great. We both continue to enjoy Saxon 6/5 and Beast Academy 4, and I think it helps him to have two different math books–Saxon Mon-Wed and Beast Thurs/Fri–to keep things interesting. My failure this year was French (he hated it), so I found a local Frenchwoman who teaches beginning French classes out of her home. The level is more geared to preschool/lower elementary, but I have all four of my kids in a private class once a week. Their accents are lovely, they’re singing songs and learning all sorts of fun vocab, and they love French again. My girls are using the tried-and-true curriculum I already had on hand, and Writing With Ease, First Language Lessons, and Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading just work well for us, as do Saxon math and All About Spelling.
I might have mentioned in the past that we’re homeschooling through a charter school that gives us $2600 per child each year to spend on their education. To homeschool purists, we are not homeschooling, we are legally enrolled in a public charter school. Practically, however, I select and order all of their curriculum and do 100% of the teaching, meeting once a month with a wonderful, likeminded veteran homeschool mom who works with our charter; I give her a work sample (a math quiz or a geography map or a handwriting page) and discuss our progress, and she signs off on my spending requests, making sure I’m using my funds for education, not something else (though at my kids’ ages, practically everything is educational). Usually she just encourages me and shares wisdom from her 18 years of experience. My son has to waste two mornings a year taking the state (common core alligned) testing in the spring, but last year he got “above grade level” in all areas, he now has experience taking standardized tests, and it literally affected nothing else in how I choose to educate. I still use some Christian curriculum (Bible, some history, and Latin), I just have to pay for that myself. They pay for the rest of our curriculum and supplies as well as French, art, and ballet classes, museum memberships, educational subscription boxes (Little Passports, Raddish Kids, Ivy Kids), and educational field trips (we’re going to Legoland next month). This is an option only in California and a couple other states, and we will enthusiastically continue to homeschool this way unless something radically changes in how the government oversees our charter. We have homeschooled on our own before (in California, you do that by legally declaring yourself a private school) and it worked fine. Some of you were telling me it sounded too good to be true (and I thought so, too!), but three semesters in, I have yet to find a catch.
Today I hung out with a homeschool friend who is expecting another baby, and we both agreed that while sending our big kids off to school sometimes sounds like it would give us a break, the fact of the matter is that it’s just easier for us at this stage to not have to worry about getting kids dressed and out the door at 7:30, packing lunches, getting homework done while making dinner, etc, etc. Life is full and crazy in our homes, but it’s the kind of full and crazy that we like.
So there it is–a mid-year report card on our homeschool progress! If you’re a homeschooler, I’d loved to hear what is working and not working for you this year. If you’re considering homeschooling and/or have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).