Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In Which Our Third Year of Home Education Begins!

It's that time of year again... the beginning of the our school year!

What was that? You say that most kids are just getting out of school? Yes, indeed - and that's one of the beauties of home education - not having to follow the traditional calendar! My plan, which I am loving, is to do school during all the hot months and take most of our breaks during the cooler months - specifically December, for Christmas, and April for "summer."

In all honesty, I did not feel ready to start school. A four-week summer was not really long enough to feel refreshed, especially as I had overloaded myself with an impossibly-long to-do list and was absolutely exhausted from trying to work through it.

However, now that we have started, I'm glad to be back! Additionally, it's been a rather smooth start, due to (1) the fact that the habits of our school days were forged last year, so we are simply continuing the pattern this year rather than having to start back at the beginning, and (2) I took some steps to make the beginning of school more pleasant (see below).

With that in mind, here are a few notes about various school topics. Feel free to chime in, my friends!

Last year: Mistakes to Avoid Repeating (i.e. Lessons learned the hard way)

My biggest mistake over the past two years has been trying to force skills before the readiness was there. With our growing American penchant for hardcore academic preschools (starting at younger and younger ages), this is a natural and extremely common mistake, and I fell into it.

Children are, of course, ready for academics at extremely different ages. I have a friend whose daughter was reading, writing, and completing full-blown unit studies at the tender age of three - and thriving on it. However, with our eldest child, he was not at all ready for academics (especially writing) until quite recently.

With our future children:

- I will not attempt to do any formal preschool... unless there is clear readiness and desire.

- I will wait to do kindergarten until age six... unless there is clear readiness and desire.

- Kindergarten will consist only of reading lessons and non-writing animal cracker math - again, unless there is clear readiness and desire for more.

In other words, I am done with undergoing and enforcing the kind of torture involved in trying to force skills for which a child is not yet ready.

Last Year: Things to Keep Doing

Here are some things I plan to continue:

- Our Family Time that opens our day (I will write about that soon!).

- A simple and minimalist approach to home education. In other words, I am not a "bells and whistles" type o' gal. I like things to be simple, uncluttered, and not take up our entire day. I place great value on the learning that comes through play, through unstructured free time, and through independent reading of real books. I do not want book work to violate the time that should be spent on those pursuits. In other words, get it done - and then move on to the real learning that comes through play, creative time, and reading.

- Mornings for lessons, afternoons for free time and read-alouds.

- Scheduling my computer time and using a timer for it. This has been a big blessing, as I, like many people, can easily become lost in the computer.

- Lots of field trips!

- Participation in local homeschooling support groups - these are GREAT and are such a blessing and a helpful resource for our family!

Making the First Day Fun

Our son was not particularly enthused to hear that it was time to get back to lessons, so I took a few steps to try to make the first day of school fun (ideas from this article). Some of these included:

- A special card and bag of candy for each student

- Special signs put up on the walls

- Donuts for breakfast - We have never done this before, so it was a huge hit - getting to go out with Daddy to get donuts! We plan to make this our annual first day of school tradition.

And... it worked! Our 7yo became very enthusiastic about starting school, and he loved the signs and the cards (and the candy and the donuts!). A little effort really went a long way to get off to a good start.

Goals for the Coming Year 

I have so many goals for the coming year! You'll notice that these are mixed up with parenting and family goals, but that's how it is with home education - it is more organically intertwined with life, since all areas of family life are combined rather than existing in separate spheres.

(1) Working on rhythms - on doing our day in a predictable sequence at roughly predictable time. Examples: Getting ready routines, lessons, bed time routines, bedtimes and waketimes, meals and meal clean-up routines, etc. We're a bit too random right now.

(2) Working on character - honesty, diligence, kindness to siblings, etc. Last year we heard Heidi St. John say repeatedly, "Character before curriculum," and it is so true. Academics are important... but character is so much more important. If there is no basis of good character, then brilliant academics are pointless (or can turn into incredible evil... think Kermit Gosnell).

(3) Working on (my) patience - There is one thing that I am learning, and that is that children cannot be hurried - and doing so will cause me to tear my hair out. Trying to say, "Hurray up, HURRY UP, we've got to GO" does nothing more than cause blank stares and even slower work. I need to allow enough time and realize that it takes as long as it takes. Dawdling is not okay, of course, but trying to hurry a child through lessons is pointless - and more importantly, can seriously harm parent-child relationships. It's not worth it.

(4) Planning snacks and snack times - Otherwise, the snack issue is going to drive me mad. Working on this as we speak.

(5) Planning, planning, planning - I am learning that planning (and more planning and more planning) is absolutely essential to success - success in education, success in meals, success in having meaningful summer breaks, success in trips and outings and vacations - and the more children we have, the more planning has to be done. In fact, if I don't plan, I can pretty much plan on disaster.

(6) Scheduling computer time - As mentioned above, computer time can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it is conducted. Two things that have helped me are (1) staying off the computer till lunch time, and (2) using a timer for my computer time. Right now I'm trying to limit myself to the following: 15 minutes per day of email, 15 minutes per day of desk work (all the little things that I need to order, look up, etc.), and 15 minutes per day of education planning or blogging. Now I just have to trim off all of those little "quick email checks" that inevitably morph into big huge time-wasters.

(7) Continuous deep-cleaning and decluttering - I am now recovering from a huge decluttering spell (the uncontrollable type that strikes once a year or so and has me scrubbing the floors with bleach at 2:00 a.m.). Thankfully it struck during summer break! But I find that life is easier when I do a little every day - so I have also added 15 minutes per day of deep cleaning or decluttering.

(8) Focusing on Real Books - Though we are taking more of a "basics" approach to formal lessons, my emphasis will always be on reading masses of real books (real books = non-textbooks). This is where the real and memorable life-lessons are, and I want lots of them in our life and in our non-formal curriculum. One challenge now is remembering to read to the older child and to the babies - it is easier to focus on the eldest and neglect reading baby books - but I'm making strides with our daily preschool time, and also with our bedtime books.

I'm sure there's more, but chores and bedtime call!

What are YOUR goals for the coming school year? I'd love to hear about them!

DH and the no-longer-a-baby on our first day of the 2013-2014 school year!

Hey, at least I remembered to take a picture, even if it's not formal and dressy!

Coming soon.... Our curriculum round-up! I would post that now, but we have not yet selected a Language Arts program (to be accomplished at the home education convention, God willing!). As soon as I do, I'll post here!


* Note that I am still on a FB and blog-reader break! So don't take my silence personally, dear friends!

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