This is around our sixth year of homeschooling and it finally feels like we’re hitting our stride. Although only after lots of trial and error and tailoring. Fortunately, with each new nip and tuck everything fits a little better. I am starting to enjoy homeschooling more, I am more consistent, I worry less, and even stranger, I no longer feel guilty. I think it’s because I know that I am actually doing all I can do, somewhere within shouting range of my expectations. There is still room for improvement, but my mom conscience seems to be satisfied with the amount of blood so far. This is only a revelation for me, because I thought feeling like a half put together failure was part of the job description. And now that I don’t, it occurs to me that the sensation was simply my conscience working. In which case, maybe when we feel like a wreck we should just add our hearty AMEN, and then figure out what to do about it? Wait, that’s not how they write homeschool blogs, is it? My bad.
The point being is that this job takes time. It’s “long slow obedience in the same direction.” And I guess that’s okay. It is a life work that was kind of dropped on us like a bomb. Keep trying, tweaking, and learning until it starts to fit. Don’t give up and resist the urge to pad your failures with resigned truisms and excuses. In other words, don’t join the mom blogger pity party. That’s my advice. We are hard on ourselves because we know ourselves. And I want to be hard on myself, because I want more of myself. End of story.
Annual homeschool rant aside, there were a few practical/helpful things that really stood out to me this year. Modular drawers (yay!) and composition books (double yay!). I have seen/tried lots of different methods for organizing school, but the drawer system is so simple and streamlined. You don’t need a school room, a craft closet, or a filing cabinet of unit studies, just one set of drawers. They hold books/binders snugly, each kid has their own drawer, and you can inconspicuously squeeze a set almost anywhere. The kids put away each subject as they finish it and it’s such a relief to have everything securely in one spot.
However, I think the thing that has preserved my homeschooling sanity more than anything, is getting rid of loose paper. There will be no loose paper in this house. Ever. Binders and spiral notebooks, while not technically loose paper, will soon become so and thus will not be tolerated. Composition books, on the other hand, are all but impregnable. Each child has a journal for each subject. That way when someone needs their work, odds are it’s still in their English journal where they left it. And even in the right order. Not to mention, by the end of the year I still have everyone’s work, in chronological order, bound and intact. The same goes for art. Every year for Christmas I get the older children a new sketchbook for their drawing. They love being able to have their portfolios to admire and show their friends, instead of me recycling them. Because that is what I do with loose paper.
I have also zeroed in on our core curriculum. I don’t plan on it ever changing, short of them finishing it and moving on. Logos Spelling, Shurley English, and Saxon Math. I am not even tempted by curriculum catalogs or fairs. Because I am boring like that. I fill in the gaps with some other things, but these three are kind of our main course and really the only things I have to re-buy, although the Shurley Teacher’s Manuals pass down nicely. I think my curriculum costs are easily under $100 per kid, per year.
We really like Saxon math and supplement it with the online Facts Sheets as well our favorite Mad Minute math drills. No one escapes here without knowing their times as well as they know their own names. (Long live Saxon Math!)
I already wrote a previous post about our literature based science and history curriculum. Which is really just me picking out a lot of science and history books at the library every week for the kids to pick through and read. I was originally letting them pick their own books, but I have since discovered that I am much better at identifying books with a stronger story line than they are. However, I am sure after reading enough books themselves, they will start to know what to look for. Right now they spend an hour a day reading and another hour writing. This is something that I hope they can continue to do into high school, even if it’s only supplemental. It’s such a good habit and I love how my children are already becoming exuberant fonts of strange information. I look forward to them being able to hone in on their interests as they mature and begin to really own their journals.
To seal the deal on history and science, we have the children tell us about what they read during dinner. It helps steer the conversation away from the maddening and inane, which is where they otherwise gravitate. It also helps cement what they learned. On Fridays we film their oral book reports and work on their public speaking skills. Which have turned out to be much needed. Good. Luck. With. That.
These are the books for this week. I pull a second selection of books for Jael, who reads at a lower level. And when I get a chance I comb Memoria or Logos Press for their science/history recommendations as well, and put them on hold. Sometimes, if I’m really feeling ambitious, I’ll do interlibary loan requests for the more obscure church history or creationist books. I can pretty much find anything I want without having to actually buy it.
Since we school year round we usually finish our English books ahead of schedule and I’m able to take a couple months off to focus solely on writing. I really like the Institute for Excellence In Writing and will probably continue to dabble with it, even though it is kind of intense and requires a lot of parent involvement. But since we have finished English for the year I feel free to commit to it. The boys, on the other hand, are not fans of the heavy lifting and practically kiss their new Shurley English books when they finally come in the mail. Salvation is at hand!
Another thing I utilize in our homeschool is the Classical Conversations Foundations Guide and timeline. I really love how CC has collected and organized memory work into a comprehensive whole. I have my kids do a half hour of memory work in the morning and find it’s a small price to pay for being able to know the dates for the Boston Tea Party and the signing of the Magna Carta. And not only will they know them, but they will know them til they die.
After trying lots of memory methods for the last five years, I have decided that I like having everything up on the wall (besides the timeline which they work on separately), and then the children can move through the sections on three minute timers. Below you can see a picture of them staring at the wall and chanting. Each day I quiz them on one section and mark their improvement. Right now we are memorizing states and capitols/U.S. geography features, U.S. presidents, U.S. history questions, science/physiology questions, books of the Old and New Testaments, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Book of Galatians (although this is done as a family). Latin vocabulary is still waiting in the wings. They are also memorizing and re-memorizing a timeline of world history, which they do for half of our memory time before they switch to charts on the wall. Someday I hope to have my paper charts formatted into a single, large laminated poster, preferably before they disintegrate.
What I think I love most about Classical Conversations is that as the younger kids memorize something, the older kids get to re-memorize it. The memory work is divided into three units over three years. Which means, after they’ve finished Cycle 3 they’re ready to memorize Cycle 1 all over again. And even as Gideon eventually moves on, he will still not be able escape the sound of his little sisters chanting history sentences in the background. Like I said, they’re not going to forget it even if they wish they could. Which, to me, is what makes it worth the investment. Even if you don’t use CC, I would suggest sitting down with your husband and making a list of things you think would be important for your children to memorize. Once you start it’s hard to know when to stop.
However, as much as I like Classical Conversations, I still don’t find going to an actual homeschool co-op to be that efficient or productive. You really can do it at home, unless you are a hard core extrovert and really like the hand motions. In which case, you’d better run on over. (Or you can just stay home and cheat like me. It’s cheaper.) The Excellence in Writing curriculum I mentioned was also borrowed from the CC Essentials program. But I have really fallen behind on what they offer now as well as any other goodies I could be stealing from them. Do tell.
Another thing I’ve found to be an integral part of homeschooling is the dictionary. Shurley English is a glutton for dictionaries and you would be amazed at how zealous the kids can be over them. Wars have been waged over less. Make sure you have a few. I am actually in the process of coveting a revolving dictionary stand for the middle of my dining room table.
I have six children and homeschool four of them right now. I really love the presence of all ages and have never found the littles to be too much under foot. I don’t come up with crafts for them or construct “busy bags.” I don’t use videos to distract them and at the most I feed them a couple of hours of educational games on the iPad. But otherwise the baby and the little girls only add to the mix and they certainly don’t take away from it. We like them around.
Rahab turned five this year and we started her in “real school.” She has a sit down reading time with me, does some math facts on the laptop, practices her letters, and does some other fun worksheets and dot-to-dots when she’s more interested. I didn’t do any pre-school with her, but when she sat down to read her first BOB book with me she didn’t even need my help. The iPad does a great job drilling them on their letters, sounds, and numbers. I remember having to teach Gideon and Jehu that “A” says “aaaa,” and wanting to pull my hair out. Suffice to say, I love Starfall, Endless Alphabet, and Endless 123. They do the dirty work for me. This year we even found it worth it to upgrade to a Starfall membership. I think the trick to using the iPad as a strategic weapon is to not let it become over used and hence ineffective. The little girls are not allowed to play the iPad at all during the school week, except for two hours in the morning during English and math. And I do not hear a peep from them the minute they have it in their hands. The price of silence.
And finally, here is how it all comes together. I can’t tell you how much it helps to do the same thing every day on the same schedule. The children know what to expect and I know I can fit everything in a day that I need to, if I just do what I’m told. Of course, some people don’t like that. But apparently I thrive on monotony and fascism.
I remember when we were upside down in our remodel, the children became downright nostalgic for the old regime. We were cleaning up in the living room one day when Gideon picked up his Bible. He paused and asked, “Mother, when can we start reading our Bibles again?” I was like, whenever you want. But that’s not what he meant. He wanted to know when everything would be okay again. Because when I drag them out of bed at 7:00 to read their Bibles, they instinctively know that the day has officially begun and everything is right with the world.