Monday, May 6, 2019

HMJ: If I Knew Then What I Know Now part 1

Our homeschool year is quickly approaching it's finish.  Yes, we break for summer (should I have bumper stickers made?).  In our early years of homeschooling we would pause because all the public schooled neighborhood kids were out and playing (back when kids played outside all summer) and my kids begged to join... then our added incentive came when realizing how much we all enjoyed a pause from the monotony of daily lessons and schedules.

I believe this year has been quite deserving of a break.  What with all the house problems and repairs on top of the unexpected juggling act Junior year has proven to be: friend woes, finding her way about 16, and now a job working almost 30 hours a week.... break time in-deed, and our last one at that.

The biggest loop for me this year came when Brooke began to talk about starting full-time college in the fall under the "Dual Enrollment" program many districts around the country have.  For those who are not familiar: you enroll in college class as a high schooler and enjoy earning credit for both your high school diploma AND college degree.  An added bonus is that most colleges will give high school students reduced tuition.  I have heard of many students who graduate high school while also collecting an Associates from college in the same month!

We wanted to be supportive and encouraging so, naturally, we led the march toward admissions and prep, all the while my heart was aching.  I had expected to enjoy one more year with her before sending her into the world and/or higher academia.  I looked forward to the lessons we would share and the time to savor those last morsels of teaching after well over 20 years.  Suddenly the scope of time seemed magnified before me: all the years, the lessons, the successes, the failures... knowing I would miss the great times while also lamenting the things I wish I had done differently/better.

Suddenly, this month's Homeschool Mother's Journal series was birthed!

Brooke has since changed her mind and decided to wait and think on the direction she wants to go post-grad.  As it is, she will be collecting her diploma a year sooner than her peers, I think she wants to be certain on where she goes from there.  The scope of homeschooling years past is still before me though and I pray this month's weekly reflections will encourage you as you homeschool (or consider it)....

If I Knew Then What I Know Now... About Curriculum

1. Respect the Basics.
I'm an outside-the-box, blaze my own path, why do twice what you can do just as well once, kind of gal!  If I am raw and honest here: I began homeschooling amidst some bitterness and resentment for the public school system.  Let me explain....

I taught my own kids during their preschool years, mostly, and then volunteered at the elementary school in and out of their classes so much that I was asked to stay and sub.  After a fashion that is just what I did as an interim art teacher for a year!

While studying for my degree in Early Childhood Education, Ashley (my second oldest, then in 4th grade) was officially diagnosed as ADHD, ranking rather high on the spectrum.  In the same testing series, Brenden (my second youngest, then 2nd grade) was found to be severely dyslexic and dysgraphic.  I've also since suspected him to have Audio Processing Delay (APD) which gives an added layer of challenges in hearing and processing information, a skill necessary for bustling classrooms.

One would assume the school was going to step up and accommodate their needs... but they didn't.  Instead, even after 4+ years of good behavior in the school system, Ashley was labeled as a "bad kid" and suddenly found herself being bullied... by the teachers and administrators, alongside a few classmates simply because she had trouble sitting still or behaving "normal".  Brenden's newly minted teacher showed her lack of accommodation and compassion when she would punish him for turning his book sideways so he could better read and for not being able to copy  from the board. Both the kids were held in from recess for their inability to conform.  I worked as closely with the teachers as I could but when I refused meds for Ashley, the school counselor YELLED at me and things went form bad to worse!  No exaggeration.  Something had to change.

God had been laying on my heart to begin homeschooling early on.  I didn't really head the call until my oldest was in 8th grade though.  Youngest (Brooke) was preschool age and, amidst the turmoil of the middle two, hubby and I agreed the decision was long over-due.  While my oldest was academically advanced (and the teachers refused to challenge him, another sore spot which added to my frustration with the system), he still desired to stay among friends, band and sports involvement so we allowed it... but the rest came home.

In this climate I began researching curriculum which would best benefit the younger three's learning styles but, what I hated, was sooooo much repetition and the memory of how the public school had been doing things.  Honestly, I fumbled for the first year or two.  As a matter of fact, all through elementary school I felt a bit rebellious against customary avenues and decided not to "force" my kids to be experts at math facts, spelling, or other, what I deemed, starched academics.

We did do some workbooks... sort of.  We had writing projects... kind of.  We did math facts... inconsistently.  Not only was I battling the bitterness against the system, but I was also trying desperately to meet my kids' individual special needs on a shoestring budget when my husband got laid off a month before we started homeschooling.

When I look back on those early years, I see a mixture of fun hands-on projects and depressing mommy moments when I felt like I was failing my kids.  But I know now, I wasn't.

What we did well: We kept moving forward.  Some days it may have been through PBS or Magic School Bus or reading piles of library books together.  Others, we played educational games, built with Kinex, conducted simple science experiments or just went for long explorative walks.  I put together a healthy stash of hands-on activities to help address Brenden and Ashley's needs in the learning process... Brooke loved following behind.  We read A LOT.  We displayed everything: terms, their work, nature walk finds, and other educational materials. We had a system and a schedule, we didn't always stick to it, but we always came back to it. We searched out information whenever we were curious. Simply put, we lived in learning mode.  We were truly eclectic homeschoolers.

What we could have done better: If I knew then how helpful being whizzes at math facts and having a firm understanding of the writing process would make them more readily successful now... I would have prioritized it better.  As it was, with my insecurities and resentment towards institution at the time, we weren't as consistent as we should have been... in a lot of things... and I underestimated the power of these basics.

I also wouldn't have caved to their complaining when they didn't 'feel like' school and pushing through in these often monotonous core tasks.  Yes, elementary years are easy years to make up lost time in... but that time goes fast and, before you know it, there is more make-up needed and not enough time to catch-up in.  Does that make sense?

I feel, ideally, kids should start the Middle School years with the various basics well in place: steady on math facts, effective in spelling deduction, reading as well as they are able and comfortable writing. 

Don't get me wrong, now that they are older my kids are capable in academics and know all the basics, but I feel they would be better rooted in them, more confident and also comfortable sticking to their lessons now if I had held them to the process then... even when it seemed repetitive or like the last thing any of us felt like doing that day!

2. Be consistent
I'm not here to tell you what curriculum is best... that is an individual choice... but I can say, whatever you pick, try to be consistent.  There will be distractions from time to time.  However, there needs to be a spring-back point and a push to keep-at-it.  It was easy to give up on curriculum or be inconsistent when it got hard or boring or they didn't 'feel like it'.  Yet, asking them to follow through and modeling the need to keep-at-it goes beyond curriculum.  It creates a useful habit for all of life!

What we did well: We had a good come-back point.  We weren't so great at it those first two years, but we did improve with time.  I began keeping their lessons in a list format vs. a day-to-day format.  The day-to-day seemed to get thrown off if we missed one subject or one day.  Before we knew it, we couldn't seem to find our place in the hodge-podge of offness and would often digress or give up.  With a list format of each lesson set out for each subject, we could pick up where we left off the last time... even if one subject got done when another subject didn't.  (I keep a binder with separated lesson plan sheets for Math, History, Grammar and so on.  Think of it like having individual shopping lists for grocery, hardware and the craft store.  You don't shop all the items at once in one place, rather, as you get to each place you shop the items on that list.)

What we could have done better: Even with the lists, I was often with the kids on not wanting to push-through.  I should have led the march on consistency in getting the work done... and on sticking with curriculum that was working even when it seemed boring!!

3. What Curriculum to Buy 
I know I said I wasn't going to recommend specifics, and I am not!  As mentioned, we were on a shoestring budget for many of our homeschooling years.  I couldn't afford Teaching Textbooks or the latest greatest microscope.  I became the master of hodge-podge curriculum which was often gifted to me or found in free bins.  Anything I did buy, I was very particular about since money was tight and materials had to meet the eclectic needs of my varied students.  As a result, whatever curriculum you choose, here is my much reflected upon list of dos and don'ts:

  • use any math curriculum that works for your family; new, used, etc.  Mathematics is timeless and older curriculum will not affect your student's learning curve.
  • find curriculum or an outline for Language Arts that fits your family; new, used, etc; and follow it (even when it gets boring!) Like math, L.A. is timeless and also lays critical groundwork for later on.  Brand New material is not necessary but consistency in following it will be more academically profitable.
  • make good use of YouTube for ALL subjects!  You can learn a new language, study cell biology, get math tutoring tips and so much more... and it is FREE!
  • use quality free resources whenever it suits your family because....

  • think money = good education.  Studies have shown that the amount of money you spend on curriculum really doesn't make your kid(s) smarter!  In that same note....
  • feel like you have to have the latest greatest science (or any other subject) equipment.  Any instruments will do, see the YouTube recommendation above!
  • buy used or older than the last 5 years history/geography curriculum.  Archeology is constantly adding deepened value to the historical narrative, not to mention, regular change in modern policy shifts borders and governments quite often.  The big-name players of today are often old news within 5 years when new leaders and policies rise.  We are currently using 1998 BJU Geography and it has made me realize I need to update for next year as I KNOW so much has changed in the last 20 years and, sadly, our dated curriculum on this subject is falling short.
  • buy science curriculum that is too dated either.  Like History, even creation science is advancing and revealing so much more depth to our understanding of the world around us at break-neck speed. You can usually get by a little longer on old science books but do keep an eye on their dating and relevance to current scientific topics and advances.


There is so much more I could draw out from the depth of past years homeschooling eclectically, but here I will pause and plan to return and share more next week... so tune back in!

How has your school week/year been?  Are you taking a summer break? What tips do you have from your experiences in homeschooling (even if you haven't been at it very long!)


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