Sunday, September 4, 2011

Homeschool questions and encouragement

Hi dear mommy friends-

A kindred mommy asked me several questions and I thought they might be encouraging to you as well.

Here is our back and forth:

Q: It is difficult to process through some of this because it is so contrary to popular culture, even within the homeschooling community but I KNOW
beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the best way for our family to go! I apologize in advance for the randomness of these questions.

A: I am so excited for you. You have such a wonderful spirit of godliness and excitement that I know your boys will be blessed and grow into a love for God just by being at your side.

Q: What are some of the most helpful techniques that you use to feel prepared and organized to instruct your boys on a daily basis?

A: This is a funny question to me because I feel so loosy goosy- but here is what do. Generally, I take a couple hours away to pray and consider what we will study for the next few months (or weeks or year, just depends on how ambitious I am feeling). I have a simple planning sheet that lists that main subjects that I desire to cover this year and days of the week. Right now, I use Story of the World(SOTW) as the backdrop of what we will be studying. This gives me a framework for choosing read alouds and some of the creative projects that we might be doing. For instance, the next section in our SOTW is about the greeks. So, we read a book about Ulysses, made pottery from Crayola air-dry clay, had the Olympics in our backyard (trampoline jumps, long jump, and javelin) and made Olympic medals out of clay. I used SOTW activity book as a jumping off place as ideas for read alouds and also for some of those activity ideas. Now, I might have had that mapped out as one week of work, but in reality it took two and we did nothing last week while we were traveling except read aloud in the car. I try to get to math (we’re using Singapore right now- I was bored with Saxon and I liked the look of Singapore) and handwriting (using handwriting without tears cursive because Josh hated writing and was exciting about cursive) most days. (3-4 days/week). Sometimes (like today) I don’t even look at my planning sheet and all we do is math and handwriting. Tomorrow, I will look at my sheet (I planned a few weeks ahead last month when I had some hours to myself) and see what else we want to do. We’ll probably start a new read aloud- I try to read after Bible time at breakfast, during lunch, before rest time and sometimes other times during the day. We might do a science lesson (using Apologia Astronomy because the boys are fascinated by astronomy right now)- this varies from once to 3x per week. I also try to have Josh read something to me every day. Today, his math happened to be simple word problems, so in my mind, that was his reading for today. (!!!!) Tomorrow we might do the next Rod and Staff reading lesson.

Q: Since I have had no formal training in teaching, I tend to feel overwhelmed by trying to "create" something for them to learn. I know this is not going to be as difficult as I have built it up to be, but I am just looking for some insight as to how to approach this task.

How do you choose what you are going to teach your boys on a weekly/ monthly/ yearly basis?

A: It changes a lot because really elementary school is about learning to love learning and to love books and to learn about things we all are interested in. not to complete someone else’s checklist of what my kid should now. If they know and love God more and appreciate the way he created the earth, the stars and the order of the universe, great.

All that said, this year, for the first time, I actually asked them what they wanted to learn about besides reading and math. They both said more art, Josh said woodworking and Jack said the planets. Hence, astronomy. Josh is doing woodworking with daddy every other monday (when I have mommy group, he focuses on one boy – he’s doing Mr. Wizard’s Science with Jack- simple kitchen science experiements)

So, after asking them, I spent about a week just pondering and praying and considering what was important for us this year. Decided on continuing with SOTW because we all love it, Astronomy, Handwriting, Art (I love Artistic Pursuits because it mixes in some real art appreciation and is super open-ended- allows for a lot of creativity), Singapore math, Rod and Staff Reading. I DO NOT do everything every day.

Q: Do you still use Classical Conversations to compliment what you are
instructing at home?

A: We are Taking a break this semester, but really did enjoy it and was good for learning to speak in front. (they each give 2 minutes presentation to class each week.) Likely will go back in the future.

Q: What are some of the most important topics that you would recommend I start with? There are very few requirements in the state of TX, (no days, hours, etc.) to educate at home and Isaiah just turned 6 so this
was going to be "kindergarten". I have since realized how foolish it
is to even attempt to give him a grade but when I considered using the Weaver curriculum, I had to use a skills evaluation test to figure out what grade level to teach him in each subject and it put him between 1st and 2nd grade. I know grade level doesn't mean a whole lot, I only mention it because it added to the anxiety that I felt as I came into this thinking it would be super easy to teach kindergarten level subjects and then realized that he is much smarter than I have given
him credit for, which made me feel inadequate to educate him. All lies, I know now, but that is the basis for this question. (Sorry to
be so long-winded!)

A: This is a funny question for me because I did exactly the same thing! What I realized is that my philosophy is that kids don’t need to start anything even remotely formal until they are 6 and you can call that whatever. I should have called it first grade and just skipped kinder. As it was, we spent about two months calling Josh a second grader and then jumped him to third. It was more about the age he was when starting and less about the material he started with. You are exactly adequate- you will be learning so much alongside them. I have having a BLAST learning to love history- we read a book recently about the Oregon trail (because it goes right by our new house, not because it went along with SOTW) and then when we were driving home from San Diego, we went right by the place where this boy in our book had stayed in a cabin and got to go stand in the exact place where he was stranded for a winter. SO MUCH FUN!! So, try to let go of the inadequacies- just because you don’t have much college education does not mean you are not more than capable. You are an incredible smart and talented woman. Believe it! (and beautiful, but that’s another topic for another time)

Q: Also, Levi is 3 1/2 - I loved using Five-in-a-Row with Isaiah last year and was thinking about getting Before Five-in-a-Row for Levi.
Any thoughts? Last year he usually just played nearby while Isaiah and I did schoolwork but has recently fallen in love with books since I purchased about 50 wonderful children's books recommended from
Sarah's book (Read For the Heart) and trashed all of our "See Spot Run" type of garbage.
Should we just keep reading together or should I encourage a Five-in-a-Row type of program for him? Any other things he could/should be working on during this year? He will be 4 in February and he is very
interested in art and music but does not care to even play with ABC magnet letters or anything near that yet. Is this something I should insist we work on in a fun way or just let him continue to draw/paint/dance and sing for another year?

A: I’d say your gut is right- let him do the things he loves! Forget curriculum and just keep reading those wonderful books to him. He will pick up things as you teach Isaiah and will surprise you what he picks up accidentally. No rush. You deliberately didn’t rush Isaiah, do the same with Levi. One thing I learned is that anytime I did any kind of activity with Josh, I had to have the same supplies, a similar worksheet, access to the same art supplies, etc for Jack. Sometimes Jack wanted to do it, sometimes he didn’t, but if I planned for two then he was never left out.

Q: How do you train your boys in discipleship through education? I know much of discipleship is taught through life experience as we journey together, but is there a "classroom" element that I should also focus on?

A: If you want a classroom element, get “our 24 family ways” from Sally Clarkson and either you or Your husband lead your family through the devotions. We have never been good about curriculum type stuff in this area- we have 24 family ways and haven’t used it yet. It’s on my short list of things to add soon. But really, it’s more about teaching them to love God and love each other. You can start using biblical language for things (obedience, forgiveness, sin, etc) and look at every situation through the eyes of scripture. This is so hard to do- I was reminded at the Sally conference of how important this is.

Q: For their outdoor time, my boys have a trampoline, swing set, and sand box but still said they are bored when I sent them out to play before lunch time last year. I know a huge part of this issue was that I allowed them to watch too much TV (literally 1 hr in the morning and 1 hr after naps/quiet time each day) and they were not used to playing
creatively. Since we cut off TV time all together in July, the boys
have been playing and using their imaginations a lot more but I would love some more tips on how to regain what has been lost through wasted time the past few years. Are there some things I can do to really encourage outdoor play for them?

A: I love that you are “rebuilding what the locusts have eaten” (I love that verse). It might help for you to engage with them outside some of the time- I try to go out for 15 minutes or so, and then back inside to get some chores done while they play. I think simple things can sometimes get them going- like a $1 bug catcher from the dollar bin at target- or a $1 trowel and a place where they are allowed to dig and play with tractor toys, (not just the sand box, that gets boring), real dirt is much more fun. Bucket, water in a bucket, a place to make mud. Kitchen tools used outside for variety, some wood and nails for Isaiah to attempt his own creations after some help from Kyle. One day, you can surprise them after naptime by drawing a simple parking lot with chalk and parking some of their matchbox cars in parking spaces and letting them discover it. Or taking some plastic animals out and putting them in small boxes to make a zoo…. They don’t need more toys, but using the ones they have in new ways sometimes works. Serving snack on a blanket outside or on the trampoline. My kids sometimes say they are bored too, but after giving them a couple suggestions, I often just let them figure it out. You can’t have active imaginations if you never have time to be bored. Let them be bored. The hard part about this is that they might get into things that you think are gross or dirty. Do you best to let them do those things!

Q: How do you set up your day to encourage learning throughout? How do you spend afternoons? Can you give me an idea of what your "typical" day looks like? Any other advice or ideas that would be helpful for a momma making a clean break from mainstream norms?

A: I have been deliberate about having books accessible all over the place and encouraging them to be read. Sometimes it’s a pile at naptime, sometimes it’s “quiet book time” during school. 30 minutes of quiet where everyone has to read or look at books. Also, I have gradually added more art supplies that are high quality and accessible to them. They are stored where they can get them and they know the groundrules for using them. (i.e. painting and markers on the craft desk only, not random places in the house). I make every attempt to answer all their questions or get a book to show them, I am working currently on cutting off my own media usage during the day and being interruptible. I never give them an assignment (especially a worksheet) and leave them to do it. If they have to do worksheets or workbooks (which I try to avoid, but are necessary for math), I am right there by their side to answer questions. If they are confident, I work on my own – journaling, planning the next week, reading ahead in SOTW to make a library list- but in the same room as they are in. I try to mix it up and read aloud in different parts of the house- often doing read alouds while they are doing legos. When we had a mini trampoline, I let them do that while I read. We take school outside sometimes. I just try to mix it up- if I am bored, then they will be too.

Afternoons are generally totally free time. Sometimes we do a craft project but generally I let them play. I have tried to weed out the silly toys that only have one function and have instead legos and wood blocks and train tracks and puppets- stuff that encourages them to play with it in their own and new ways.

Q: On a more personal note, I spent some quiet time in prayer this weekend and I was finally able to see that I have been struggling with a spirit of control for quite some time. It shows itself through anxiety, over-reacting, and getting angry about ridiculous things that I shouldn't care about. I never realized before how much it has
impacted my life as a wife and mother but I can see now that it is a major issue and I'm sure, part of the problem with all of my anxiety about homeschooling. Do you have any words of advice for me both for my personal benefit and also as a momma that longs to give her boys the best education possible without being a hinderance?

A: For me, I have a lot of fears. I constantly have to give those to the Lord, read and re-read scriptures that are meaningful to me. I am realizing more and more my need for quiet time with the Lord in the morning before the kids get up. It’s hard to do but everything is just better- I give God a chance to speak to me before I launch into my day. If I don’t do it in the morning, I try to take 15 minutes when the kids are playing well together and do it. I need to be fed with truth and beauty and God’s word for me in order to give it out to my family all day long. The more I let go and trust God to be in control, the more things run smoothly in my spirit and I can choose to deny myself and let stuff go.

Resources: all that you really need to homeschool young ones are:

Educating the Wholehearted Child by Sally and Clay Clarkson

Read for the Heart by Sarah Clarkson

A library card

Your Bible

Many blessings to you all! Keep on keeping on!


Shauna said...

This is great! Thank you for sharing. My favorite part: "elementary school is about learning to love learning and to love books and to learn about things we all are interested in. not to complete someone else’s checklist of what my kid should now. If they know and love God more and appreciate the way he created the earth, the stars and the order of the universe, great." I strongly agree!

Jennie Nelson said...

Thanks Shauna!! Miss you!