Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Homeschooling: The First Four Months

I've been meaning to post on this for ages, so here goes! Veggie Tales in the background, folks, so no guarantees on logical thought processes or even basic grammar. You have been warned.

Okay - two things to start off:

First thing - Homeschooling was not plan A for me. Though DH has always wanted to homeschool, I had decided very firmly against it and had even picked out a (really great!) school for our children. The only problem - despite firm personal resolution, I simply could not feel at peace about any decision other than homeschooling. I prayed about it for at least a year, and finally concluded that God's plan for us right now is homeschooling. Though I can't say I'm overly excited about it (I'm not someone who's been waiting and wanting to homeschool), I do believe that this is God's will for the present. Now I'm just praying for the enthusiasm to go with it!

(Note: I am seeing many reasons why homeschooling was a good decision for us - both having to do with me and with our son. So I'm in agreement with this decision, however reluctantly it came about!)

Secondly, even though we did decide to homeschool, we had not planned on starting this year. We had wanted to wait until next year, when our son will be six, mainly because our son has absolutely no academic instincts, and also because every teacher I have ever talked to says that later starts are better for (most) boys. However, as I have mentioned, our son was not going to be allowed to move up with his AWANA class unless he was "in kindergarten," so we reluctantly decided to start a year early.

We started "school" in October - the plan was for September, but I was just too sick to start at that point. Normally, I think I'll either school year round (and take breaks whenever) or start the school year in June, as I absolutely loathe our Phoenix summers and would rather take time off during our livable cooler months.

With that being said, we've been homeschooling for four months! How's it going? Well.....

(1) For phonics (reading), we chose the classic "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons". It has been great! No complaints. Does our son like it? No, but he doesn't like anything academic, so that's okay. We're doing half a lesson per day, and are almost halfway through the book. I've heard that some kids get lost in the latter parts of the book, so it that's the case then we'll switch to something else. For now, it's been good!

(2) Because I did not want to be starting kindergarten at all this year, we have skipped math and writing. For the rest of our curriculum, I used Sonlight Core A - their kindergarten program - which covers Bible, poetry, and history/culture/geography in a "real books" format - that is, one learns from read-aloud books (as opposed to textbooks).

From this, I have now officially joined the "spend a whole bunch of money on something you don't end up using" club. I was sure it wouldn't happen to me, considering the HOURS of research I put into this purchase, but the sad truth is there - we're going to have to switch to something else.

Before proceeding, I should say that I really do love Sonlight, and I'm willing to look at it again later - though this review is going to show why we're not using Sonlight right now, I think it's a great program and would whole-heartedly recommend it to others. Also, the book lists that they use are simply phenomenal - great literature, all of them.

We got through one third of the program - hurray! While we were doing the curriculum, I did my best to ignore that a huge percentage of the material was completely going over my 5yo's head. I just plowed ahead. But then I read this blog post in which the mother mentioned using Sonlight Core A for her eight year old daughter. And I'm trying to use this for a five-year-old boy! No wonder it was going over his head!

Our son is currently still into picture books (Clifford the Big Red Dog, etc.), and short chapter books that have lots and lots of pictures (Mr. Putter & Tabby, Henry & Mudge, etc.). The books used in Sonlight's Core A are books that I remember reading in third and fourth grade - "The Boxcar Children," "The Family Under the Bridge," etc. They even included "The Hundred Dresses" - which is a long, action-free book that consists almost entirely of a girl describing her feelings. For a five-year-old boy? Are you kidding me?

Additionally, many of the readings were entirely too long. It was not uncommon to have daily reading assignments that were 20-30 pages long in the chapter books, which were exhausting for me and mind-numbingly boring for our son (especially considering that he wasn't getting the material). This also had the unexpected side-effect of killing my love of reading aloud. Our story times together pretty much ceased around the time we started using the Core, because I was so sick of reading aloud that I just wasn't up to doing regular book time.

One final complaint was that the Core A introduced themes and subjects that I felt were highly unnecessary and sometimes inappropriate for five-year-olds. Kids really don't need to know all of the evil of the world. Themes from the books sometimes involved: poverty, terminal illness, death, cruelty, racism, bullying, murder, religious persecution, etc. etc. etc. For such young children, I think I'd rather stick with "Hi, I'm Emily Elizabeth, and this is my dog Clifford."

After reading that rather illuminating blog post, I spent a couple of weeks in quandary and then decided to ditch Sonlight for now, leaving the possibilities for the future open. I'm guessing that we will either return to Sonlight in the future or use their book lists, which, as I mentioned, are excellent.

So for now, we're doing Bible as a family, phonics, crafts and coloring from AWANA lessons and from on-the-fly ideas, and waiting while I research writing and math curricula to put into place after our postpartum time off. If anyone has any ideas, PLEASE leave a comment to let me know what you like! I am especially looking for curricula that are good for wiggly-willie type of boys who just aren't into school for school's sake. 

One thing I loved about Sonlight was simply that the days are perfectly laid out for lessons. I do not enjoy creating my own lesson plans or putting together curricula off of the internet (I know a lot of mums really enjoy that). That was definitely a plus, and I will miss that.

Homeschooling has been a challenge in many ways. It is difficult not to have any time by myself. It is difficult to enforce learning with a child who has absolutely no interest in it. It is also difficult to work across learning styles - my own style is nice, neat bookwork, with lots of checking boxes off of a to-do list and perfectly organized papers, while avoiding all hands-on activities (which I have always disliked). Our son, on the other hand, has no interest in worksheets or book work, and is entirely the hands-on mechanical type. Yikes!

I think I am about to prove another rule of homeschooling - that it takes a couple of years to get worked into feeling comfortable with it. Yup, I can see that one coming.

So that's how it's going, everyone! I'll check in later in the year to let you know what kind of progress we've made.

Oh yes, and today is..... 40w0d!!! Hurray!! This babe has now more than won the record for longest-uterine-residency in our family. Hoping s/he will keep it up at least a few more days!! And if I have time, I'll do another pregnancy/life update before s/he makes an appearance. 


  1. I've not used their HS Curriculum, but I never cared for their church curriculum for a lot of the same reasons. They were always radically off base with age-appropriateness. Sometimes they were WAY too young, and other times, they were way too old. It was always too large of a gap to close. Sorry you experienced the same thing with C's curriculum. Hope you find something else that works better for you guys.

  2. Wow, I didn't even know that Sonlight had a church curriculum! That's fascinating to know. I'm sure glad to know that I'm not the only one experiencing these problems. :)

  3. Diana,
    My older son hates to sit and do school. It's a fight everyday and I am starting to realize that school for him is not just teaching his mind, but also teaching his body and learning self control. He really needs to learn self control! At 5 years old he is certainly able to sit at the table for an hour, and as he gets older I expect him to sit and do more work.
    On the other hand, he learns so fast! At 5 years and 1 month he is reading at almost a 2nd grade level (I used TYCTR in 100 lessons).

    I know it's going to be hard with the new baby anyday now, but as a mom who has been and still is going through it, I would encourage you that it is okay to make your son sit and do some school. It doesn't have to be much - maybe just 10 minutes for a couple of weeks then increase it to 20 minutes, etc. I am so thankful I have been doing this and I know that my effort is not fruitless.

    I would suggest you look into Alpha Omega Horizons Kindergarten (http://www.aophomeschooling.com/horizons/grade-k/). I wish I would have used this K for my daughter. The Horizons Pre-school is actually made by Answers in Genesis and it is fantastic as well. I did that last year with son. It was filled with a lot of fun projects!

    I hope this helps a little and I look forward to hearing the news that baby has arrived!

  4. I'm curious, do you have to have a set curriculum and mimic the school classroom? Your son is young, couldn't you just continue to teach him things by example and just reading books he likes? I doubt sitting about really suits any boy his age. Could you take a more alternative approach? Are you sure that doing things around the house and little outings couldn't be recorded to show an education is taking place? Here in the UK forest schools and Steiner/ Montesori (not sure of spelling) are very different from mainstream schools and I'd be tempted to follow their example if I home schooled.

  5. Oh, don't ge me wrong....I'm not making my boy sit and do school all the time! He does a lot with me in the house (helps me with the dishwasher, make cookies together, we plant a huge garden in the summer and the kids learn a lot from it, go to the grocery store together, etc). He also spends many hours playing, being outside and even has some movie time - I didn't know a child could love curoius george so much!. For me homeschool is not just 'time in the books' it's a way of life. I was homeschool from the 2-12th grade and I loved it.
    I am only having him do this book work because I now he is able and tends to be lazy when faced with something a little harder. I want him to learn that we keep doing something even when it is hard and not to just give up.
    For example, he wants me to teach him to play the piano. That is something that will not come fast. It will take years of lessons and hundrends of hours practicing before he can play like me. But doing the work will give him a great reward in the end.

    For both of my older children I only started some formal schooling when they showed signs of being ready. And it was a different age for each of them - younger for my daughter and my son.

    I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I was a slave driver - that is far from the truth. I have to be careful to make sure my daughter does enough work!
    I just wanted to encourage Diana that the way her son was acting could be somewhat normal and it was okay to have him do a little work if she wanted him to.

    Please forgive me if I offened you, Diana. It was not my intention.

  6. No no, didn't think you were cracking the whip. It's just something I'm interested in. I don't know anyone who has been home schooled and I am interested in the prospect of home schooling but veer between thinking Tiger Mum wasn't so bad and thinking it's got to be all hippified and freedom. That's why I am interested in your response to Diana's post and my question, all ideas being digested.

  7. For curriculum I am doing these 4 books - http://www.aophomeschooling.com/product/kp001/ It's 1 lesson a day.

    We have already finished the TYCTR in 100 Lessons and he will doing a little reading on his own.
    I do NOT have a school schedule. I am not a scheduled person. My kids do not sleep in as a rule, but I let them wake up own their own. Our mornings are calm and relaxed. Sometimes we start book work at 8:30 other days it's not until 11. I know how much work needs to be done, espeically for my daughter in the 2nd grade, to get through all the work by the end of the school year. She is doing this for math - http://www.aophomeschooling.com/horizons/grade-2/math/
    and this for the other 4 subjects

    Being that we live in a northern climate, I do not hesitate to send my kids out to play if it's a nice sunny day. My kids enjoy taking a break and working on a craft or cooking with me, doing laundry, learning to make their beds. Everything....they love learning about life!

    So no, I am not sticking to a hard and fast schedule.

  8. Hi, you two! No worries, I love the input from both sides! Trying to find a balance between "life learning" - i.e. learning through play, read alouds, cooking, shopping etc. - and formal learning, i.e. bookwork - has been one of my main goals from the start. I love the Montessori approach, having visited one of their schools out here, and I also appreciate the value of waiting for academic readiness. For example, just over these past few weeks, our son has awakened to something like enthusiasm for coloring, which has blown me away - before, there were nothing less than death threats that would force him to pick up a crayon. As a homeschooling-veteran friend of mine said, it's easier to wait for readiness than to force it too early and create a life-long hatred. At the same time, I know that our son does need the discipline of learning to sit and pay attention (the phonics lessons have helped with that) especially as he does tend to be a pain to teachers/leaders in group situations (he does not naturally fall into group-activity conformity). I also don't want him to fall too far behind his peers, though I have heard that children who are started later are able to make it up quite quickly. Anyhow, it's all about balance - a balance that I am trying to find! I want to get him started with the basics, while leaving lots and lots of room for life-based learning and playtime. Thank you for the curriculum suggestion - I am going to check it out!!!

    Okay, baby is up - back to real life! Love you guys!!!

  9. p.s. And by "Baby" I mean our 2yo - no baby yet!! :)

  10. Janet - On your first link, I'm seeing only one book, but you mentioned four. Can you clarify for me? Trying to look through the AO stuff. :) You can email me so the rest of the poor people on the thread don't have to deal with my questions - thejohnstons3@cox.net. :)


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