I learned some important lessons this year as I waded through my first year of homeschooling the children. Here they are:
Admittedly things changed with our homeschooling during the 2 months of my first trimester, which were especially difficult for me physically and emotionally. Those 2 months also happened to be November and December. Enough said?
To compensate for my drastic increase in sleep time, I dropped a few things requiring significant time on my part. For example, typing out every poem and scripture and finding corresponding pictures for key words. We drastically reduced our "hands on" activities. No more paper mache and clay projects everyday. I moved our literature reading into the evenings before bedtime. With being limited to 3 hours everyday these changes were critical to allow school to continue to work for us. The changes have actually been lasting. We all enjoy not being rushed through Math and Literacy.
While there certainly is a place for fun crafts and hands on activities, my children don't require them as much as I initially thought. Field trip Friday also vanished. We had many excursions but every week was too much for me.
Keep a Foot in the Public Door
Because I was uncertain of the results of this homeschooling experience I tried to stay highly involved with the school. I accomplished this several ways. First, Ellery completed the assigned homework each night from her teacher (math worksheet, spelling, programed readers etc.) It is amazing the difference in dynamics doing this homework as opposed to our chosen curricula. There was far more resistance for this homework/busywork. Ellery's teacher consistently monitored her progress, sending home complete report cards. (I have no idea how she had the time to do this?)
I acted as the elected (I ran unopposed) president of our School Community Council. SCC is made up of the principal and elected parents and teachers. This opportunity allowed me to develop a positive relationship with our principal and closely observe his methodology, leadership style, and vision for the school. I became acquainted with our local school board member. I was kept intimately aware of the funding issues facing our school and the implications of complying No Child Left Behind. SCC also allowed me to be involved in the hiring process of teachers, evaluating teacher progress and compensation, and the allocation of state funds in our school.
SCC gave me an inside scoop of our school. What I found is a principal working hard, within the monetary (looming budget crises statewide) and philosophical framework of which he bound, for excellence. I found a good number of teachers working hard and loving the students (unfortunately this doesn't always correlate to effectively meeting the educational and emotional needs of the students). My frustration mounted through the school year as I realized everything was crisis mode. How will we meet the needs of 35 children in our classrooms? Can we hire enough aids to reduce the adult child ratios? My heart started to go out to those children in the classrooms. And their teachers! I have been there, teaching classes of 33 students. I did my best with 50 minutes each day, just as they do. It was clear to me, where I wanted my children. With me. In my home. One on one attention.
By keeping a foot in the door, I knew what Ellery was studying, the issues facing the school, and the individual teachers (and a taste of their effectiveness). If it becomes necessary to enroll my children, I feel I will now be able to do so to maximize the results allowed within this system.
Half Day...Does it Work?
Yes and no. I think this will be highly dependent on each of my individual children. Ellery has easily slipped in and out of the classroom curriculum. She does have distinct disadvantages however. She usually receives half the math, writing and spelling instruction but is graded the same as the other children. If she misses a spelling test given in the morning, her teacher will randomly give her the test weeks later. We will be making some changes next year to alleviate some of these issues.
Socially, Ellery has adjusted well. She feels neither isolated nor awkward. However, I realize with the differing personalities this may not always be the case. We have learned several strategies to make the transition to and from school most comfortable for her. She doesn't like to be "seen" by her peers. We walk the "long way" to school, skirting the playground, while she runs full-steam ahead between mailboxes to hide conspicuously behind them. It is quite hilarious to watch.
Some days Ellery begs me to stay home and just do "momschool" (what we call homeschooling with the children). She says school is "boring," she isn't allowed to talk, and children are unkind. This tugs at my heartstrings. But we talk about the commitment we made with her teacher and principal and the importance of following through. Then every once in a while she begs to go the entire day. Usually this is the result of an assembly or some special party or activity. We thought Ellery would eat lunch at school once or twice a week, but she has expressed no desire to do that. Ellery wants to attend next year for half day.
Meshing curriculums has been difficult and this will lead to changes we make next year. To be continued...
One Curriculum Does Not Fit All
I spent quite a bit of time ordering a Literature and Math program for our use this year. I choose SonLight and ShillerMath. I felt Sonlight program was weak in writing, reading and history. It was disjointed. I did not order their Science program, so I felt we missed out on Science. What I loved was the literature. We relished all the books we received, which made up the bulk of the cost of the program.
The Math program was excellent. The children loved it and I will continue to use it into the future. However, it lacked in several areas. The main areas being repetition and memorization. I bought several Math workbooks from Costco to supplement and add a different feel and meet different objectives 2 days a week.
Next year we will make some changes to better fit my personal style and the children's learning styles. But that is the beautiful thing. I can taper the learning to fit my children's needs exactly. I know that doesn't happen in the public schools. Teaching my children, consistently and daily has allowed me an insight into their learning styles and personalities I didn't have before. I feel I have gained crucial information as we move forward with their education. And they are still so young!
Choose a Philosophy
I encountered this idea last year, of choosing a long term philosophy, as I contemplated pursuing homeschooling. I didn't feel equipped to make a choice at that point. With no experience under my belt I just wasn't sure. However, I now feel I have a clear purpose and direction to our education. I do all the research and soul searching, and then Brent and I discuss family goals.
What skills and attributes do we ultimately want our children to leave the home with?
What do we both feel we individually took away from our public school educations?
What did we take away from the education given to us through our parents?
What didn't we learn, that we wish we did?
Answering all these questions have given us the tools we need to find a strategy which most closely fits our intentions. Will it change? Possibly. Is it daunting? Certainly. Am I excited about it? Thrilled. I know, I am not trying to recreate a public school in my home. So homeschooling is not just about spending time with my children. It is also a distinct difference in philosophy on how children learn and what subjects and curricula should be emphasized. More on all this later...
This is an Investment
Homeschooling is an investment of money and time. I think one could be more economical if all books were borrowed from the library. However, part of our philosophy as parents is having a home brimming with quality literature. I spend a lot of money on books and supplies. Because one curriculum doesn't fit it all Time is at a premium. However, I feel I have enough. Mornings are school. We clean up as we go. I try to recover the house by lunch. Afternoons are preparing meals and playing with Emmett and Callista. Sometimes, we write journals and have spelling lessons while I am in the shower. Some mornings are just like that.
It works. There are challenges. Emmett usually pulls off every single book within his reach from the shelves. A new baby? We will see!
Still to Come...
Part Three: Homeschool Changes for Next Year
Scripture Verse Lists
Part Three: Homeschool Changes for Next Year
Scripture Verse Lists
Thank you for posting this! You've reiterated all the things we talked about on the phone. I love the idea of tailoring lessons to my kids' learning styles and interests. If only David were as intrigued by the idea... We'll see! I'm still curious about how you handle teaching both Ellery and Callista at the same time. Same material, different requirements? I'm looking forward to reading your part 3!
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