It's a reflective time of year, is it not? It's Lent and we homeschooling moms are already making plans for next fall even though our summer activities are still up in the air. The view out the window, still white and gray and brown, still evokes contemplative mood. Extended daylight rejuvenates inner energies to tackle hurdles, old and new.
Following the STAA curriculum has been an important aid to a productive year. Having some outside accountability and advice has been a huge blessing as well as motivation to press on and develop self-discipline. We don't get to everything all of the time, but we get to most things most of the time, and that's good enough for me, for now.
Discerning options for high school continues.
Around the house we re-vamp things from time to time. Even if a system works, sometimes the kids just need a change for the sake of novelty!
Our homeschool journey is constantly evolving, but here are a few things that are helping now that I would like to share with you.
What's not working: Discussing history with a 13 year old who does not like the fact that her textbook is all black and white text without pictures. It's a great text (did you see that Fr. Flood is summarizing the very same text by installments in the FSSP newsletter?) but the reading level is stretching her.
What is working (if she cooperates): Encouraging a weekly plan for the 8th grader: read out loud to Mom and highlight the first day, re-read and take notes the second day, narrate from notes and discuss with mom the third day, take the quiz the fourth day.
What's not working: noise, chaos, and a highly distractable ten year old boy.
What is working: Noise cancelling headphones. My son's grade average in Saxon 5/4 is up one grade level since we bought these headphones and he's actually completing his assigned work each week for a change.
What's not working: Lack of repetition and reinforcement.
What is working: Using CCM and study cards. The study card idea is gleaned from STAA so I hope they don't mind me sharing this tip. Provide a stack of index cards, a single hole punch, and metal rings for each child. On the study cards they can write all the CCM material, grammar and spelling rules, math formulas, prayers, and whatever they want to remember. I try to give them time each day to study them and have regular contests with prizes.
Having Music and Stuff Handy
What's not working: Having twenty-two tabs open on my browser all the time. I have so many bookmarks I resist adding more.
What is working: Making YouTube playlists. I have them for Conversational French Class, Baroque music at 60 beats per minute, choir music I need to learn for the Triduum, and another for music we will hear at the next Young People's Concert at Orchestra Hall. There are so many more I want to make! I just turn on the wireless speaker at the school table and play away.
Rhythm & Routine
What's not working: The schedule. We literally run out of time by 4:00.
What is working: I made a blank table like this -
And made a color-coded table with everything we have to do, taking into account available computers, TVs, who does which subjects with whom, and music practice times. Then I cut it all up like this -
and asked the kids to paste the subjects on the blank table in a way that it all fit like this (so they own the schedule, not just me) -
And we've been trying with all our might to stick to it. Starting math at 8am and Together Time at 9am seems to help. That and using my iPhone timer all day long. It's kind of a drag, but it's working.
Rise & Shine
What's not working: Sleeping in, reading by my light box until 8am, expecting the kids to do all their chores without supervision. Duh. I must have been burnt out last year to have operated this way for so long.
What is working: The alarm set to Classical MPR at 6am, the lamp on a timer set to 6:15am, and Muffin Motivation. As in, "If you just get your feet on the floor and get up and in the shower there might be time to make muffins for breakfast!"
What's not working: Regularly running out of time for them.
What is working: When the big kids start their math at 8am I sit in the family room and read to them first thing. With my 6yo I play "My Turn Your Turn" with reading. I read a book, she reads a Bob Book, I read another book, she reads her Little Angel Reader assignment.
The other life saver? Our neighborhood babysitter graduated in December with a degree in education. Knowing she will land her first teaching job soon, I hired her to come over for two hours, twice a week. She reads to the little ones and does crafts and play dough while I supervise music practice and read Greek history aloud. I know this arrangement won't last forever, but I sure appreciate it while it lasts!
What's not working: Thinking I actually have a whole hour from 8:00 - 9:00 am to teach my little girl to read, write and do math. My three year old need attention too. He needs this & that, a snack (even though we just had breakfast), to watch him go potty (he can do it all himself, he just wants someone to watch him), to have his book read too, and his words for speech class reviewed. I tend to want to pawn him off on the older kids or get my husband (who is supposed to be working) to help.
What is working: Dying to myself. Surrendering to it all. Teaching, disciplining, teaching them to wait and take turns, but also serving them and their needs. Seeing Christ in them too.
All the interruptions keep me frantically busy and distracted -
when I really just want to relax and have a peaceful learning atmosphere -
What's not working: Nags and threats.
What is working: With my 6yo we started a little sticker chart. So far she has earned "Sleeping on the Sofa" and "Sleeping in Mom & Dad's Bed". This week she is working towards "Pajama Day". I also keep prizes for the big kids like ballet and musical DVDs and Lego books on the top pantry shelf for getting weekly assignments completed.
Keeping it Clean
What's not working: Expecting all the chores to be done before school, before breakfast.
What is working: Starting school on time and doing chores throughout the day. If they finish a subject before the timer goes off they can do a job. The kids all have some chores specific to them, but the rest are just listed on a chart with a monetary value. If they do the job, they check it off. At the end of the week they add up the amounts and this is their allowance.
The jobs are first come, first serve. This motivates them to get to the challenging/higher paying jobs first! Some are earning more than when we gave each of them $3/week. Our overall payout is still around $10-$15 each week, just distributed differently.
What's not working: Eating the main meal at 3pm. If meal prep runs late, we run late getting to ballet and theater.
What is working: Meal prep sometime around 11:30 - 12:00 (while my 8th grader reads history to me out loud) and aiming to serve dinner around 1:00. You know what else works? Having Joe home for the midday meal to field my son's never ending questions. According to the Peabody test his General Knowledge is now equivalent to an average 11th grader.
What's not working: Skipping art altogether since we're so busy.
What is working: Instead of moving all the kids through one art curriculum, each has his/her own drawing book. At 4:00 each Wednesday (our only night free) I call them to the kitchen table to do art and listen to the Norton Anthology of Music CD set. Best team building activity ever. Unlike typical mealtime, their conversation is focused, intelligent, and complimentary. For one hour I have dream kids and they have artwork of which they can be proud.
What's not working: Spending all my free time on homeschool message boards and blogs, trying to figure everything out on my own.
What is working: Having a homeschool adviser. I love my STAA counselor and her sage advice. She has the best suggestions and her maxims worth their weight in gold.
"Don't kill the goose that lays the golden eggs."
"You can, but you might die trying." (I die trying a lot)
"Don't let the good become the enemy of the best."
She is simply amazing at advising me how to prioritize for each child.
What's not working: Nothing in particular, but after hanging with the Suzuki kids on the European Tour I came home aching to do more with foreign languages.
What is working: The Conversational French class now offered at our homeschool co-op and the Greek Alphabet Book from Memoria Press. My older kids can now converse in French and write notes to each other in Greek. Love this.
What's not working: Feeling mortified when walking into the social hall for coffee & donuts, wary of cliques and not wanting to barge in on conversations.
What is working: Just getting involved and sticking with it. Volunteering to serve or help clean up. Continuing the Friday morning classes when I'd rather stay home and catch up. Going to extra choir practices for Easter when I'd rather stay home by the fire. Offering up sacrifices and mortifications for the Lord. Attending the "ladies" events where there are fewer people and no kids to interrupt. Going out to lunch with veteran moms who can mentor me through my present trials.
The Tea Bar (remember that?)
What's not working: Honey sticks and lightweight teacups. Too many tears over spilt tea. This was almost a failed experiment.
What is working: Sturdier mugs and honey from the honey bear.
The Paleo + Bean Diet
What's not working: Cheating. I get too achy and moody if I have dairy,potatoes, or excess sugar.
What is working: Really committing to preparing food I can eat. This takes time and planning ahead. If I slip, then there's always Chipotle, but I am really trying to make this work.
Three quarters down, one more to go! What have you learned this year?