Friday, November 01, 2013

Learning On A Blanket

Doing schoolwork at the beach with our friends, the Docters
We're about 2 months into our second year of homeschooling.  We've gone through some changes in the last year of how we go about doing school.  As a result, we've (mainly I) have gone through some changes as well.
Last year, I had no idea what I was doing.  People had told me to be flexible with schooling and so I started the year flexible to a fault.  Our first day was horrible and ended with Noah and myself in tears.  I went back to the drawing board and found a great website,, and I was so inspired by her schooling approach that I tried to copy hers. 
It worked for a short amount of time...kind of.  So I went back to the drawing board again.  This time I tried to copy the "regular" school approach.  I incorporated unit studies and made it try to seem like a school day Noah was used to from the public schools.
It worked for another short amount of time.
Somewhere around November/December, we hit a groove, but it never really felt comfortable.  I was constantly doubting myself and what I was teaching, what I may be missing, and I felt clueless in many ways. It seemed like the year before he had enjoyed writing assignments at school.  However, at home, it always turned into a huge battle with me frustrated and him in tears.
Actually, there were many days that ended in tears for him. Many times the phrase, "I hate homeschooling.  I just want to go back to real school" was expressed.  It hurt.  Thankfully, my sister-in-law who also homeschools was a huge encouragement. 
Despite the fact that our first year did not go as I had anticipated, we ended the year on a pretty good note and Tim and I felt even more confident that this is the journey our family is meant to walk.  I was very excited as a couple of my close friends decided to also homeschool their children going into this year.  There is something very refreshing about community!
Going into this year, I had my planner filled out up to Christmas.  I had my Science, Math, Geography, Copywork, History, and Reading Comprehension curriculum ready to go.  We signed up for a new co-op that was starting in our area.  They offer music, art, and gym for the kids.  We were so excited about everything that we started school a week earlier than we had planned!
Zeke at co-op...tired out

So where are we 2 months into it?
I haven't opened my planner since the second week of school.  Every time Noah saw the Reading Comprehension book, he was practically in tears before we started.  I tried two different approaches to it and still he stressed out every time.  I realized I was slipping into a pattern of trying to copy the public school...again. 
A woman from co-op hosted a Homeschool Support Group night where a speaker - a wonderful woman who has been a teacher herself, sent her oldest two kids through the public school system and homeschooled her younger two children - shared her story with us.  She also talked about Common Core, and the majority of the time was spent doing Question and Answer.
Such a weight was lifted off my shoulders!  As she talked, I realized that the way I desired to do school was more than ok!  However, it's a different approach and so I'd always been nervous to do it.  There is formal homeschooling, using curriculum and schedule and tests and workbooks and manipulatives, that looks more like a traditional school layout.  Many families thrive in this set up and it works for them.  It is what I was trying to copy doing, but it just wasn't working for me or my kids.
Then there is informal homeschooling, and that's where we fall.  We don't stick to a strict schedule.  We try to start school at 9:00, but if it's 9:15 or 9:30 or 10:00 before we crack open a book, we don't let that throw us off. 
But wait, you may be thinking.  Don't you care about teaching your kids the importance of being on time?
I do!  That is why, when we go to church, an appointment or an event, or we're meeting someone for a playdate or whatever else, they learn the importance of being on time.  I tell them what time we need to leave and when they will need to start getting their shoes and coats on.  Sometimes we run late, but I think that's typical of many families with kids.  We certainly try not to make a habit of it.

Anyways, what next?  Oh, yes.  Curriculum.  We use Saxon Math, Mystery of History, and God's Design for Life (Science.)  Every other book has been put back on the shelf for now.  Maybe we'll pull them out again sometime, but I don't really know.  Actually, Noah also does copywork from a site called Write Through The Bible. 
How in the world are we teaching our kids other important things?
Our family LOVES books.  We love to read - together, individually, however we can.  Noah reads to his younger siblings, Tim reads to them before bed, I read with Noah and Ellie during the afternoon, they all look at books throughout the day.  I am finding this is one of the best ways for our family to learn.

Field trip to Potter Park Zoo with the Docters and Bakers


Last Friday we were meeting some other homeschool families at a local farm for a tour.  On the way there, I was reflecting on some things I had learned the night before - which was the second Homeschool Support Group meeting - on development and if we should be concerned about our kids knowing certain things by certain ages.  I thought again about how Noah most likely could not diagram a sentence; I'm not even sure he could tell you what a noun, adjective, or verb is, although I did teach it to him last year. 
From the back of the van I hear him ask me, "Hey, Mom!  Did you know that the first letter of the Greek alphabet is called Alpha and the second is beta, and that's where the word alphabet came from?  And did you know that the Greeks had everyone around them learn to speak their language so that they could all understand each other?"
"Well, no, buddy," I answered him.  "I don't know if I did know that.  How do you know it?"
"I read it in my Magic Tree House book," he said.
Huh.  Now, I know - and we have been teaching him - that not everything you read in a book (outside of the Bible) is true.  But he sure does learn a lot of things about history in these Magic Tree House Books.  I would really recommend them.  And, yes, some mention Egyptian gods and Roman gods, and those are books that have been great springboards for our family to talk about our faith, how it differs, and reiterate why we believe what we do.

Another example is what a woman at the meeting the night before had shared.  She said she has a son who does NOT like school.  He does, however, LOVE forensic science.  She uses what he is interested in to help him learn - math, science, can all stem from forensic science.  They visit the library and they found an FBI, Jr. website.

While crocheting a baby blanket for our friend, Christina, 
we used the blanket to talk about patterns and addition/subtraction (Ellie), 
multiplication (Noah), and colors (Caleb.) 
THIS is the kind of learning and teaching I love!  This is how our family is thriving this year.  A helpful thing I heard recently was (summed up) "A person's weakness is always going to be their weakness.  We need to stop wasting time trying to make a child's weakness his strength and instead focus on, still encouraging them to learn in the area of the weakness, building up their strengths."  I want to take the things my kids are interested in and have their learning come from that.  It keeps them engaged, and is a great way to show the practical application of the subjects they're learning.

Whew.  Sorry, I probably got a bit intense there.

While learning about the Ice Age, they tried to see how long 
they could hold an ice cube in their hand.

So how has this approach changed us?
*I'm enjoying my kids more.  Yes, in some ways I have to think and plan a little more since I'm not relying on a laid-out curriculum. It is so neat to learn alongside them many things I didn't know!

Ellie drew this picture of the two of us and it makes my heart smile.
Homeschooling has actually been good in nurturing our mother/daughter relationship.
*It teaches me flexibility.  I can have as many plans in place as I want, but the Lord may be leading our family in a different direction that day.  He may want us to learn something else!  It helps me be open to His leading.  Proverbs 19:21 says,

"Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand."

*It helps my kids see practical application.  I remember asking a high school math teacher, "When am I ever going to use this?" The answer: "Someday when you're an adult."  I never have, though. 

I love what the speaker said was her desire, and that of her husband: that their children love the Lord, love reading, and love learning.  That would determine "success" in their home.  Those are things that have always resonated with Tim and I so it felt natural to look at our schooling in the same light.

"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." -Deuteronomy 6:5

"And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him." -Luke 2:40

Does this mean our home is perfect and always peaceful?  No way.  In fact, I just told my two oldest to get their feet out of each other's faces and stop touching each other.  My preschooler still drives me crazy.  Yet I wouldn't trade these days for the quiet emptiness of an empty nest...yet.  :)

 P.S. This post is in no way meant to cause anyone to feel guilt for the decisions they make in the education of their children.  I believe each family is called to prayerfully consider what is best for their individual family.  If that is public school, private school, formal homeschool, informal homeschool, or "un-schooling"...each family needs to reach that decision without the judgment of others.  This writing was mainly for me to share how we have made a shift within our teaching/learning and how it has been better for our family.

1 comment:

Lisa Nelson said...

I'm glad it's going well. I like the quote you used about the time we waste trying to turn a weakness into strength, that makes sense. It goes along with the verse to train up a child in the way he should go, or as I was taught, the "bend or design of the child". Nice post.