Homeschool Update

Another homeschool year is winding down, and though I’m not ready to report on the entire year (because there’s more than a month left yet), I do want to inform myself of where I’m at right now.

Math: This may be the first year my kids don’t finish their Math-U-See lessons. No big deal. It just means we start with the old books next year. I attribute this to a slower, more deliberate pace and not doing math on Fridays. As far as progress goes, they’ve made huge strides!

Reading: Going well! Keep doing what I’m doing, and try not to get upset when the second child refuses to read while one of the others is on the couch with her. (She will eventually get over that!)

Phonics: The oldest is a few pages from finishing the entire Explode the Code series! He deserves a treat. The other two are plugging away at it. No complaints here.

Spelling: SpellWell is wonderful. Anyone who studies Charlotte Mason, listen up: my kids don’t learn how to spell through reading good literature. They really needed a workbook. It’s okay to admit that CM was wrong.

Bible: I like the devotional we’re doing by Max Lucado called Grace for the Moment. It explains biblical thought in an appropriate way for my kids’ ages. I think my kids (especially the girls) could benefit from more lessons that are similar to Sunday School lessons. We played Bible trivia tonight and one of them didn’t realize Solomon was David’s son. Hmm. I wonder what I can do about that?

Science: The Sassafras Twins Zoology book is a big hit! We love it, probably more for the exciting adventure story than for the science learned. I think it is pounding into their brains which animals are herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores. Plus, it teaches a lot of geography on the side.

Geography: Other than the geography that gets taught through other subjects, this subject in itself has become a non-subject. The oldest is almost finished with his big geography workbook, but he’s struggling with accuracy when it comes to latitude and longitude lines and time zones.

Literature: Well, this is off and on (other than the Five in a Row curriculum we do). But I’m not stressed out because we do literature year round, and sometimes we read intensely!

Writing: I’ve been doing weekly writing projects (things like free writes, writing a poem, making some dialogue, etc.). This is a good idea. They struggle with it somewhat, but that’s good. As long as I can keep myself from getting down about their attitudes, we can get through it. I’d like to do more fun writing projects, maybe a week or two that are writing intensive.

Grammar: They hate grammar. But I see a need for knowing the basics. So we do it together once a week, like it or not.

Five in a Row: Still awesome! We are now two-thirds finished with Volume 1 (we didn’t do them in order, and that has been fine). These books are more familiar to us, but we have found a few new ones to love. (Night of the Moonjellies by Mark Shasha!) I love how low-key this is, and yet we are learning new things.

History: Almost finished with our very long Revolutionary War unit study. My kids know tons about the Revolutionary War. Way more than I did as a student. The key was not in the unit study material itself. I bought them a series of Liberty’s Kids DVDs, and the animated shows made history alive for them. We have learned so much about history, and this is the last of the unit studies I bought at the beginning of the school year. I think I might poke around in Ambleside Online and find a couple good history read alouds to finish up the year.

Art: Well, nothing specific to say. Complete cooperation between all three children is almost non-existent these days, so usually the girls do art projects on a whim, and the boy just mopes around and acts bored. But he can draw! I’d like to do something more consistent with art… maybe during the summer, when we have lots of time!

Music: Nothing. They are so opinionated about music, and how am I supposed to get them to listen to music when putting in a CD causes loud arguments? The oldest has been motivated to learn from my old piano lesson books, so I try to be available to teach him sometimes. The youngest could benefit from real lessons by a real teacher, but they are so expensive! The free online lessons have been too intimidating for her. The other girl doesn’t like music much, and that’s fine.

Phy Ed: I don’t care about Phy Ed. They learn stuff at homeschool co-op, and that’s good enough for me. The middle girl takes gymnastics classes because she is obsessed with gymnastics. Good for her. I guess I don’t mind sitting in the bleachers for an hour and a half and reading a book.

I think that’s all. Sometimes I wish for more structure, but I know I wouldn’t like a boxed curriculum. I’ll be researching some language arts and history curriculum over summer break. I’m looking forward to the break, but also remembering how awful the beginning of last summer was… the girls can keep themselves occupied, but the oldest has to go through a whole system of teasing people, bugging me to play computer games, and acting really bored before he gets down to being creative and self-sufficient. I honestly wished last summer that I was brave enough to school year round. I doubt that I ever will be. Seems like it would be hard to stop schooling year round if we ever started it.

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A List of Things That Went Well

Because it’s good to remember that things do go well…

  • My Sunday afternoon walk with my son. It’s not often we do something just the two of us, and the girls were both willing to be left at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. On our walk we talked about lots of things, from toads to rivers to Tolkien.
  • Calico Captive. A new chapter book is always a bit of a risk, especially if I haven’t read it before. This one is exciting! We are enjoying it. Excellent way to learn about the French and Indian War.
  • Dinner. Sometimes I really stress out about how to please everyone. We don’t like the same foods. Today Dean had a bowl of leftover casserole and a sandwich-spread sandwich (not sure what else to call that). Eddie had a whole pile of leftover mashed potatoes doused in applesauce. The girls and I ate cheesy bread (bread, butter and parmesan cheese toasted under the broiler), reheated roast beef, carrot sticks, and apple slices. Sounds like a lot, looks like a lot on the table, but it was really just right. No leftovers except a little beef and carrots.
  • The Sassafras Twins Zoology book. A new science curriculum I bought a few weeks ago. Very fun! A storybook of zoology with workbooks to fill in as we go. The writing gets to be stressful for the youngest one, so then I go ahead and write what she dictates.
  • Spelling for the middle girl. All of a sudden she’s spelling words correctly. How did that happen?
  • Long division for my son. He hated it until he got to the pages of word problems. Go figure. He likes word problems.
  • Reading improvement on all levels. Very noticeable improvement in out-loud reading for all three children. Now if I could only get the middle one to read to anyone except myself…
  • Not drinking Mt. Dew. I’m doing well on that one. I crave it, but not to the extent that I’m making excuses to go grocery shopping. I do eat more, though. Pretzels just disappear.
  • My devotion book which involves reading from four different places in the Bible each day, a short devotional, and a prayer in which I can insert names of family members. That’s going well. The prayers are especially valuable as I don’t normally think the same things that are written. It’s nice to pray a different, challenging sort of prayer.
  • Homeschool co-op. It has only just begun, but so far, so good.
  • Ideas for myself. I’m not going to say my own stability has gone well, but I do occasionally have ideas that seem like winners. This post, for example. I may start that painting that I promised myself this year; I went so far as to clean off the painting table. Now that I have WiFi in the house, I can more easily use my Kindle ereader, which may just inspire me to exercise (and read) on the treadmill more often. I notice if I’m alone and not stressed out by people talking loudly and arguing and talking nonsense and requiring correction, I can coax myself into doing something positive. I can’t avoid the above problems in my family, though. So I wonder how to best deal with that. It’s good that I notice these things now. I will not notice them later.

The conclusion: most of the things that went well are about school. Yay! School is going well. In fact, the only part of school that does not seem to be going well is geography for the girls. I’m not crazy about the book I bought last summer, but my son does use it and enjoys it. With the girls I have resorted to sneaking geography into their Five in a Row curriculum.

The other conclusion: There are big black areas in my life that have to do with relationships and home life. I’m tempted to ignore them right now. They’ll be there, though. Here’s hoping I can cope better than I have been.

Escape in the Homeschool

Escape… from everyday life, from drudgery, from normal days of school, from people we spend too much time with, from our own minds… This sounds a little on the scandalous side, as if I might be talking about drugs or some other addictive habit. But really, I’m talking about stories, imagination, and art.

Life can feel constricting sometimes. Long division problems creep up to get you. Copywork stretches endlessly down the page, no matter how much you write. Your mother keeps turning the pages while you’re reading out loud, and you don’t think it’ll ever end. And then there are the boring moments when nothing you could play with seems interesting. For homeschool mothers, there are those loud confrontations you wish you could run away from (except you can’t, because you’re supposed to stop them, train your kids not to argue without being argumentative yourself).

Escape is necessary for sanity. Some days require more of it than others. Lately, our read-alouds have been excellent for escapism. We’ve enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. We escaped into colonial times, into a yummy fantasy, and into the underground world of super-intelligent rats. Much better than staring out the window at melting snow!

Sometimes I wonder if escape is somehow unchristian. You know, we’re supposed to live in this world though we are set apart by God. But isn’t death the ultimate escape? And aren’t we called to fix our eyes on the goal of eternal life? We are not to fix our eyes on the things of this world. True, the above books I listed are things of this world, just not things of our particular household. I don’t think any of this makes escapism bad. As in all things, we need to keep our motives in check. I think it’s a good idea for me to balance out my fiction escapism with Bible reading and devotional-type reading.

I learned that some books are the opposite of escape: books that cause me to examine my life closely. I really have to balance those out with escapism, or I get too upset with my failures. I wonder if that’s a key to healthy homeschooling: balance out the close examination of schoolwork with plenty of leaps into imaginative work. Sounds good to me.

The Unhurried Homeschooler

Sometimes you just need a book about homeschooling that you already completely agree with! The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson (2016) is a book I can back up. Listen to this:

Keep in mind that a child’s attention comes and goes. Sometimes kids become energized from our excitement about starting school, and they dive in and surprise us with how much they learn and how quickly. Then their enthusiasm wanes… but that’s okay… As parents, we have to remember to remain calm in this process. Resist the urge to freak out!

— from page 27

I think I spend my life resisting the urge to freak out. I also like this book because the author talks about how simple and uncomplicated her homeschool is. As the kids grew, she slowly added more work, facilitating their interests, but always getting the basics covered. This is encouraging for me. I usually plan more than I do, and that could lead to a guilty, freaking-out feeling, but usually it doesn’t. I know when we’ve covered the basics. I know the kids are always learning, no matter how much school we do.

I’m glad I found this low-key homeschooling book. It’s like a nice big breath of encouragement.

Native America Unit Study

We finished our Native America Unit Study which I bought from Homeschool Legacy. I am really impressed! It is a six-week study, but I stretched it out to eight weeks. It covered Native America in geographical units: Southwest, Northeast, Great Plains, etc. The unit study included suggested reading, a devotional, interesting facts, website suggestions, some games, some recipes, and more. It claims to be no prep, but that’s not true, at least in my case. I had to prepare ahead of time by ordering the books from the library and making sure I had everything in time.

The best thing about the study? Reading Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell. It really opened up the life of the Navajos to us. Second best? A matching game about the different parts of a buffalo and what the Great Plains people used them for. (No one wanted to get the buffalo chip match. Eww.)

I’m not getting paid to write this review; I just think it’s worth sharing with you. If you’re looking for a different sort of history unit, go over to Homeschool Legacy and check it out!

The Conflict

You could say I’m fairly well tuned to the beat of homeschooling and motherhood, at least for kids still in the elementary age. I am homeschooling and mothering every day. I read blogs by honest mothers trying to do the same things I do. I attend a homeschool co-op and listen to other moms chat in the breakroom. I even read books written by homeschool moms and dads. Well, in all the information and advice I’ve gleaned through these different sources, I sense a conflict. If you’re a homeschooling mom, you probably feel this conflict, too, even if you haven’t tried describing it. I’m just beginning to put it in words.

The conflict is one between taking care of yourself and giving of yourself.

Self-care. It’s important, right? I’ve recently added “Quiet Time for Mom” to the top of my homeschool daily schedule. My kids are old enough now that I can safely leave them with their breakfast and puzzles and Barbies in the downstairs while I take a few minutes upstairs to be alone, read the Bible, a devotional, pray, write in a prayer journal. Then I come downstairs to be Teacher-Mom. But what about at 10:30 am when Teacher-Mom is on her second can of Mt. Dew (because it has been a two-can day already), the grand scheme of the schedule has not been played out yet, and it seems easier to just let everyone play while I plan dinner and switch loads of laundry, which is more relaxing, and besides, Homemaker-Mom is feeling guilty for being non-existent all morning? Or worse, what about the times Grumpy-Mom shows up and refuses to go away? What then? Is it okay to go take care of these other sides of Mom?

Or must I keep going, self-sacrificing, refuse to notice that I’m grumpy, or tell myself that an education is more important than a load of laundry? Give of myself more and more. That’s really a Biblical concept, and that’s what I should be striving after, right? Forget about those selfish yearnings to make money of my own so I don’t have to feel bad about asking my husband for more when my wallet runs out. Forget about wanting some time to do art alone without a thousand interruptions (after all, we moms live in phases, and the phase for being left alone will eventually come). Forget about that walk the kids used to love but now don’t. Forget about trying to be rested on a Sunday afternoon (because that hasn’t happened in forever). My job right now is to Be There. To Live Here with Children. To Be Dependent on my Husband. To Be the One my Children are Dependent On. To Be in the Middle of All These Conflicts.

That’s my conclusion. Being part of this conflict means I’m where I’m supposed to be. It’s a tough job we moms have. It’s confusing. There are no books or blogs written to truly solve this problem. God is a solution, I guess, but God makes it pretty clear that following Him isn’t supposed to be an easy thing. He knows the answers, but I will never understand what I want to understand.

Day Away Home

Once upon a clear fall day a homeschool mom decided enough was enough. She was going on vacation. So she donned her favorite red and black plaid shirt, comfy jeans, put her hair up, and told her children to be good; she’d be right back. She went outside to feed the cats, got a good breath of cool air, and then she came back in. However, she did not come back home! She came to the Day Away Home (which is totally imaginary, but it just goes to show she spends much time around her daughters who play imaginary all the time).

Day Away Home itinerary:
Item 1. School. Even away from normality, one must be educated. Today happened to be science video day, which brought the class into the transition forests of the Great Lakes region. We looked up into the treetops and were thankful for the way God renews His earth.

Item 2. Streams to the River, River to the Sea by Scott O’Dell. Oh, we are enthralled with this story of Sacagawea. It is definitely a trip out west. An exploration. We were really horrified that the icky Frenchman won the Hand Game and so won Sacagawea as his wife, but we’re glad she could go with Lewis and Clark.

Item 3. Dinner. We ate food this mom enjoys but doesn’t often make: fried slices of ring bologna and mashed potatoes with pineapple on the side.

Item 4. Apple Orchard. A yearly trip to the orchard playground and store. A giant pumpkin stood in the front (was it real? was it a Cinderella coach?) A new castle structure added intrigue to the playground, and a certain nine-year-old boy who is usually bored with anything his sisters enjoy managed to entertain himself quite nicely.

Item 5. Leaf Maze. Aforementioned nine-year-old boy went to much effort to create an elaborate leaf maze in the Day Away Home backyard, complete with checkpoints and an entry sign-in sheet. Mother and sisters completed the maze and amazingly mother made it out without asking for directions!

Item 6. Games on the floor. Uno and Spot It! were the games of choice.

The day wound down, and I suppose I am no longer on my day away. But that’s okay. I have a good grown-up book waiting for me upstairs. 🙂