Thursday, May 26, 2011

Doing it our way....

Homeschooling looks different for every person who homeschools.  Unlike public school where teachers have 180 days to teach a set curriculum to a classroom of 25 children, our situation is a bit different.  Some states require homeschoolers to prove they “educated” their children 180 days out of the year.  Here in CT we don’t have that regulation.  Even if we did, it would be easy to meet for some part of every day we are learning!  
I have my curriculum for the year.  I know what I want to “finish” before we take a summer break.  For example, at this moment, I know we have four chapters of Story of the World left.  We are working at an accelerated pace to finish that by the end of next week, although I would really like to finish it this week.  So last night during dinner I read them the story of Ceasar and Cleopatra.  We learned about Pompey and his unfortunate demise.  We also learned about one of my favorite quotes, “I came.  I saw.  I conquered.” ~ Julius Ceasar.  I love this quote because of the confidence and strength it conveys.  I feel that way about homeschooling sometimes.  “We tried.  We grew.  We learned.” ~ me.  Only sometimes I am not as confident as Ceasar was!

There was a time when I did lesson plans, kept detailed records and calculated days spent “learning”.  I drove myself and my child crazy.  It is very easy to keep to a lesson plan when you are a classroom teacher.  Every day you move a bit forward.  Because you have so many children you stay on the path that is set for you by the district.  If you are fortunate, you have some wiggle room to infuse your passions into the lessons.  Perhaps you can find the time to give the children a really cool project.  I used to love to assign academic choice - a catch phrase for "here is the topic, you can show me how much you learned any way you want".  
Homeschooling is the epitome of academic choice.  I don’t test my girls.  I rely on the feedback I get from them in our daily  interactions.  When we are planting the garden, I ask them about photosynthesis.  They know this is their “pop quiz”.  From there answers, I know that both girls have a firm understanding of this subject.  Recently we were somewhere and the subject of volume came up.  I asked Grace for the formula.  She wavered.  I knew that we had to go back and choose some review questions for this topic.  
So how do I move the girls from point A to point B?  It is not totally random.  I don’t wake up each day and see where the day will take us, although I do allow for some of that every week.  I have a weekly plan in mind.  Like I said, I have tried lesson plans and quickly abandoned them.  There was no room for flexibility. What if we found the perfect movie about the Great Wall of China and that cut into Language Arts? What if during reading we discovered a poem we loved and had to add it to our poetry anthology.  Then we had to illustrate it.  Then we had to add the poet to our Book of Centuries?  Could I say no - we will do that tomorrow during language arts block because we have not done science yet?   Ugh, no way!  I did not want to homeschool like that.  
What works best for us (right now) is a flexible calendar which I manage.  After much searching I found a date book at Staples that doubles as my lesson guide.  Every night I look to  see the upcoming day looks like.  If it is a Monday the only thing we usually have is our dog walking job.  I try to plan for a full morning of lessons.  If it is Tuesday, then we usually have our town study or botany, immediately followed by pottery lessons, then piano lessons, then tennis lessons.  There is very little time for anything else.  During our days at home, I know that I want to do math, history, poetry/cursive, botany reading, reading, writing, artist/composer studies, time for bike riding, dog walking, piano practicing and baking!

Each girl works at their own pace.  We do science and history together.  Math, reading, and writing is done separately.  There are days when Grace is sitting at the breakfast bar working away on Aleks and her sister is sound asleep upstairs.  That day, while Grace is enjoying her afternoon, Lilah gets her one on one time with me working on math!  We do our best to do math every day that we are home.  The other subjects we piece in.  
I plan for a chapter of history and science per week.  When we have time at home we read.  It may be at breakfast (one of our most productive times of the day), lunch, dinner or anytime in between.  There are days like yesterday, when I tell the girls my plan is to move a bit quicker so we can finish something, so would they mind if I read a bit while they were both together.  

We never leave the house without their bags.  I need to come up with a bag management system.  Here are the bags we use almost on a daily basis:  my camera bag which can double as a handbag when necessary, my computer bag, Grace’s messenger bag, Lilah’s tote bag, our insulated lunch tote bag and my knitting bag!  I wish I still had the coat-tree I scored at a tag sale.  It would be perfect to hold all my bags in one place!  We load up our bags when we go out for doctor appointments, dentist appointments, eye appointments, hair cuts, etc.  We always take the following: math workbooks, journals, and our reading book.  You would be amazed at how much work gets done in waiting rooms!
In the car we rarely listen to the radio.  We live for audiobooks.  I choose them very carefully.  I try hard to pick books that tie into something we are studying in our curriculum.  This has been sidetracked by Grace’s book club but this summer we will be back to books that enhance our learning.  We have listened to some great books......

I don’t schedule our reading. We are very unschoolery this way.  My girls read.  Grace reads every night before bed.  I love to climb in with her.  She used to enjoy reading her book aloud to me.  Now she prefers that we each read our own book, together, silently.  She is reading The Magic Half by Annie Barrows, along with her book club buddy.  Lilah reads throughout the day.  I can think she is still sleeping and she is tucked in bed reading!  Lilah is working on Soul Surfer right now, as am I!
We are also a bit unschoolery with writing.  I have allowed both girls to write whatever they want this year.  Lilah has a talent for creative writing that I wanted to nurture.  I did instruct Grace how to write a 5 paragraph essay but left plenty of time for creative writing as well.  We read Ralph Fletcher’s Writer’s Notebook and did some journaling.  My goals are to increase journaling and find a writing program that is a more structured but does not restrict the creative process.  Not too  long ago I was talking about writing with Grace, discussing what she has worked on and what she is planning next.  I shared with her my own anxiety about writing.  I sometimes think of the kids down the street plugging away at their stories day after day after day and realize that is not how we are learning.  She laughed away my concerns.  She told me that they hardly ever finished a story in school.  Before they were able to they had to move on to something next.  She said this was true in third and fourth grade, not so much in the younger grades.  I had to agree.  I remember the process the children would go through in the younger grades from finding a small moment to write about, putting their words on paper, drawing a picture and hanging the completed story in the hallways.  I also remember being furious when Grace finished third and fourth grade with the amount of incomplete work (including stories) that came home on the last day of school.  They had already checked out, clearly on summer vacation.  There was not way I could get them to go back and finish those unfinished thoughts.....  
No two homeschooling families have the same routine, schedule, philosophy and structure, even if they are using the same method.  Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Monetssori, Eclectic, Unschooler.  No matter what we call ourselves, how we educate our children is a deeply personal choice.  Finding what works best for you and your children is a process.  It changes.  It is fluid and flexible.  It is a beautiful way to learn.  


Theresa said...

Although I realize we all do things our own way, I found this post so helpful. When I first read your blog this time last year, you were so structured and I knew what that looked like. And then, over time, you evolved so much...and I was curious as to what your days look like.

Since you were the person who really encouraged me along this journey, I really find it interesting to see how things have changed for you and your family.

Our days look more similar than I would've thought. ha! I need to work on more balance...saying it's ok to a playdate or field trip and if math doesn't happen, it will be fine.

you are ending next week & after 3 weeks off...we are starting again! But more low-key and laidback, with hopes of being more relaxed ALL YEAR and just making learning ( with math, science & history curriculum) a normal part of life.

How does Lilah like Soul Surfer?

Joy said...

I really enjoyed reading your post. There are many ways that a family can homeschool. You just have to do what works the best for you. I know I have become a lot more relaxed as the years have passed. I need to start writing more about my homeschooling adventure! :)

Ritsumei said...

What a great post! Would you be interested in submitting this to the Classical Homeschooling Carnival?

Jessica said...

I have not submitted a post in a few months. Thanks for the suggestion! I just entered it!!

Jessica said...

@ theresa, she is enjoying Soul Surfer and just added Bethany to her Book of Centuries!

SmallWorld at Home said...

What a great post! About Knoxville: I do have a post on my blog about things to do in the area:

If you'd like specific hiking suggestions, shoot me an email at shc (dot) small at gmail and I'll give you some ideas!

Karen said...

Great post Jess! I love how your days have evolved since the beginning. Our days looks very much the same. When I do lesson plans, all I get is frustrated when they don't work out.

We are loving The Graveyard Book on audio..I love how we all get ideas off of each other.

Also we did Julius Caesar and Cleopatra yesterday! I love that we are at the same place in History. I LOVE your "Town Study" and looked for something similar for us to no avail.

I just want you to know how much I have loved being on this journey with you. I am SO glad to have found you and your family!

QuotesAboutLifes said...

it is very true that you have shared that each person is different and needs to be treated with different appraoch.

Linda said...

I love this post. You have reminded me what is important, and why we homeschool. As we near the end of 5th grade, I am pushing harder and ovescheduling coursework. My daughter is digging in her heels. Thanks for reminding me that park days, or adventure days are as important now, as they were in September. Homeschooling, with its flexibility, and customization is indeed a beautiful way to learn.
You mentioned that you might be looking for a different writing curriculum. I thought I would mention one we are looking into, Time4Writing
. My daughter is a very reluctant writer, and I love writing, so I am not a very patient teacher. I was thinking that having someone else teach her writing might ease the tension on both of us. Thanks again for a great post, and a great reminder.
Homeschooling 1 child for 4 years, and counting!

H-Mama said...

great post. it's always nice to read what and how others are 'doing school'. ;) i'm not a lesson planner either. for the same reasons. i'm in search of better audio books... do you get yours at the library?

Joyful Learner said...

You wrote so eloquently and a lot of what you said resonated with me. I was always torn by school schedules and mandates. There is so much freedom in homeschooling and I love it! Your post has helped me to see how our homeschooling may look in the near future. So far, we don't have a whole lot of subjects to cover because our daughter is only 5 but I am sure as she grows older, it will be possible to do more than one activity a day.

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