We're well into our 4th year of homeschooling, and while it isn't all sparkly around here every day (kids are always going to fight or complain about school work sometimes and make me want to pull my hair out), things are much more peaceful this year and I thank God for leading us to this more relaxed lifestyle!
I know some of you would say I'm nuts for calling homeschooling a more relaxed way of life, when the kids are always underfoot, but it really IS better.
No nagging them out of bed, hurrying them through breakfast, rushing them off to school, blink my eyes and they're home and I don't know where the day went, then prod and threaten them through hours of homework or those awful projects we hated, stress about deadlines from all the different teachers, then hustle them into bed to do it all again the next day. I always felt Mom guilt, and like something wasn't right about that whole program, but homeschooling never entered my mind, I thought that's just how it was. Plus I was always involved in their classrooms, their teachers were friends, and we liked their schools. (Read the story about how THAT surprising life change came about and what led us to homeschooling: If You Thought I Was Crazy Before, Wait ’til You Hear This One. Or click here to scroll through all my homeschooling posts and see what grabs you.)
Granted, some kids hop out of bed with no stress in the morning, homework is a breeze, and/or parents may have full time jobs outside the home, so I get it that homeschooling may not be for everyone, but it just didn't feel right anymore (for us) to send the kids away for 8 hours every day. (Not to mention how screwed up the school system has become, that's another story — almost every teacher I know has retired or plans to as soon as possible because that can't stand the way things have changed for the worse.) At the time, it wasn't long 'til our oldest was graduating from college, so it was clear in my heart just how short their years at home with us really are.
The first few years homeschooling were good enough that I knew we were on the right track (most days I knew this anyway), but there were some struggles for sure — getting them on a good schedule, figuring out the best homeschool materials, dealing with discipline, etc. These days it's more and more obvious that our kids are thriving learning at their own pace, the stress around here is greatly reduced, and we have more free time. Here's why:
- There's less running around to and from school, for school events, etc.
- The time we work with the kids on school stuff is the same or less than the time we spent on homework before…
- And because it's up to US when the work gets done and we can push it off if something comes up. Yesterday our youngest wanted to run an errand with me, but he didn't do his math yet. “Do you want to just do two lessons tomorrow so you can come along?” He said, “Yes!”
Here's a quick example of why I'm thankful…
This morning when I woke the kids for our read-aloud time, our youngest was already up. He was reading his chapter book out by the Christmas tree with the fireplace going and some Christmas music on. I said, “You've got the life, don't you?!” He laughed and said, “Yep!” (However, just to prove to you that it's not always that lovely, before I even finished typing this paragraph, two of the kids were already fighting about something, ha!)
So I think we've finally found our groove and there are 3 major factors I attribute this to:
1. Scheduling – this first one has more to do with ME, but when I'm not stressed, everything goes better! I have finally, FINALLY, gotten some healthy perspective in my life when it comes to exercise, sleep, and the time I work on this blog business gig that I've got going here. (I thank God for helping me get this more and more. Read more about that in this post: Benefits of Walking vs Running — How to Find the Time and Get Peace in Your Life.)
I sleep 7-9 hours every night. To pull that off I go to bed early, usually around 9:00 pm with Kent. (For real! Now and then it stretches 'til later, but not like before when getting 4-5 hours of sleep or less was normal; or if I DO stay up late to work once in a while, I just sleep in the next morning.) Then I get up early to work when I'm fresh and I get SO much more accomplished then, which is about 2-3 hours before it's time to wake the kids. We have breakfast and do together work (more on that below), then our 16 year old heads off for his aviation vocational class. The other two do their independent work and I do more business stuff if needed, or go for a walk (that has been a great new habit), run errands, laundry, start supper, etc. I don't kill myself anymore to stay up late and get the next post up. I even watch a TV show sometimes, I haven't done that in YEARS! Yes, it's not easy watching my stats drop when I'm not posting as often, or not being able to get to ALL the projects I should be knocking off the blog to-do list, but I've learned to say, “Oh well” and it feels really good. I can't tell you how huge this is for me — I'm SO type A and harder on myself than any boss would ever be — once in a while I've got a true deadline, but usually it just doesn't matter if something isn't done until the next day. I remind myself often that someday when the kids are grown I can put more time into all of it. I've always been pretty good about choosing Mom things first before work stuff, but these days I'm choosing to be a healthier Mom, too.
2. My perspective on teaching has shifted so that I'm more relaxed these days. This MAY mean I'm an “unschooler”, or at least partially, but whatever it's called, it just feels like common sense to Kent and I. I'll explain more and you can tell me what you think…
One day I texted Kent this about our 16 year old: “He hasn't done his geometry in a couple days, but he's been building COOL remote control planes from scratch, testing them outside to see what works so they fly well, repairing, tweaking, then retesting, etc. — basically learning firsthand more about science & physics than I could EVER teach him, and this stuff he'll actually *remember*, so I think I'm okay with less math this week! You agree?” He agreed. 🙂 A friend said, “I agree that it's cool and that he's definitely learning, but I always wonder about college…?” I explained that it's not forever, it's just for a few days while he works on his projects, but this is what he wants to do for his career, something aviation related, so it felt so right! We got back to geometry the next week and it was no big deal. I've had many teachers and other homeschooling Moms remind me that it's normal not to get everything done in one school year that you planned to, whether it's a whole book or an entire year of curriculum, so I don't stress if they skip a week or if they only get through four math lessons a week instead of five. If our daughter didn't finish her school list, but she's happily cooking dinner with me in the kitchen, I love it! And she's talking about going to culinary school now. Our youngest hates writing, so one day when he was making out his Christmas list, or another time making a list of all his favorite football teams, you can bet that I didn't push him through his “assigned” writing that day.
I try to use common sense in other areas, too. Instead of doing everything the way regular schools do, like read a chapter in a textbook, do a quiz, repeat, then take a unit test, I'll just have them memorize parts I think are important, or we'll read it together and discuss it, or do an open-book quiz, or maybe just watch a video on the topic! I keep thinking to myself, “The world is so different now with the internet, our kids will have every single piece of knowledge at their fingertips, so how important is it to cram them through boring material that they'll never remember?” Yes, the process of learning is what it's all about, but who says that has to be dry and boring?
Flexibility is the very BEST part of homeschooling!
Whether it's flexibility with our time or with their school work, WE decide what we need to push through and what we can let slide. And believe me, sometimes we don't let it slide and have to use threats, rewards, whatever, to get them to finish what we know they really need to, but if they don't need to, or they don't need to do it that day, it's all good.
3. What I'm teaching and how is much easier now and takes less time.
- For many of the subjects I went back to teaching the kids as a group instead of separately by grade. (Then tailor assignments to the age.)
- We focus on the basics of reading, writing, and math daily, but for the other subjects, we only do them once or twice a week. (I'll explain more below.)
- I've found materials that we love (thanks to a lot of YOU who have given me ideas through the years).
I'll explain each of these more in detail for those who are interested…
First, here's an email I received from a new-ish homeschooling mom:
I'm really struggling this year trying to find the time to devote to both kids. I am in need of literature advice for my high schooler — purchased Lightening Literature, which requires reading some classics like Uncle Tom's Cabin. Unfortunately, I never read the book and do not have the time to read it with my one child, because I'm busy teaching the other. Both struggle with reading and writing. I've gone back to the basics with both. I am teaching spelling and grammar (diagramming sentences again).
I also wish I had kids who enjoyed reading everything and who, while they may not LOVE the classics, would sit down and read them anyway and get at least something out of it, but I just don't have those kids, not when it comes to the classics for sure. So I may not win ‘teacher of the year' with this concept, but I just don't force it. I was forced to read a few of these in high school, hated it, and don't remember a bit of it. So anything I want my kids to read like that HAS to be done as a read-aloud around here, and if I pick well, they end up loving it. Usually it's me reading with them (that's actually my favorite part of the day!) and other times it's Kent in the evenings. The way I have time for this is by NOT doing other things with them every day. We really focus on the basics around here and have gone back to mostly GROUP learning so I'm not stressed trying to teach 3 different curriculums to 3 different kids. They all do math on their own (and that still takes help from me some days), but we do read aloud together, and they all read on their own too, just whatever they enjoy. For one it's flight magazines, for our daughter she LOVED this story and she also enjoys romance mysteries by my favorite author, and for our youngest right now it's these chapter books. As adults we only have to read what we want to read, so I've quit forcing them to read stuff they hate (I was never successful when I tried that anyway), we want them to love reading like Kent and I do. 🙂
I'll break it down more for anyone who is wondering, and tell you how we found the best homeschool materials for us!
So as I said, some things are daily:
- We start out with prayers & read aloud together (often a book that goes with our history study, but this week we read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) — it's a nice way for the kids to wake up slowly, and they'll wrap up in their blankets and listen. ***I always want more ideas for read alouds so if you have ones your family loved, please share! Here are a few of our favorites: The Bronze Bow and the Golden Goblet by the same author, also Cheaper by the Dozen (the original one — I laughed so hard I cried), Mara Daughter of the Nile (okay, mostly it was ME who loved that one, it has SUCH a powerful ending!), Running for my Life, and the Hiding Place.
- Then we do ONE other subject together, which varies, see below.
- Math is on their own (usually they'll need help 1-2x/week) — we've gone back to using Teaching Textbooks because after using Saxon for a couple of years, I realized they need a teacher who isn't me!
- They do independent/free choice reading and their own devotion/bible reading time.
- Language arts is mostly on their own, see below.
- Chores — this helps me so much! The kids are totally in charge of the dishwasher, watering plants, folding their own clothes, trashes, sweeping, picking up their rooms, cleaning bathrooms (I have to give these a once-over if company is coming), and they help clean other stuff too. Two of the kids also love to help me cook. I may be forgetting some, but you get the idea.
- The younger two go over the latest poem they're memorizing for 5 minutes a day.
- Once a week I quiz them on the previous week's words and introduce new Latin words for them to study — they work on these 5 minutes a day. (I love how this builds their vocabulary and will help them throughout life.)
And some things we do only weekly:
- Religion: Once a week we'll work on memorizing Scripture verses, read from various apologetics books (I love this one right now!) or Saint books (this is the one we're reading currently), and most of their other curriculum has Catholic/Christian principles woven throughout.
- Science: This year we're doing chemistry because our 11th grader needed it, but these Chemistry DVDs are SO well done, that the younger two found it interesting too — often the guy will demonstrate an experiment and the kids will be so excited to try it out that they'll run into the kitchen to get the stuff, all before I've said a word! I'm sure the 5th and 8th graders aren't catching as much as the 11th grader, but I also bet they'll remember more about chemistry this way than anything I remember from my class in high school.
- History: I've also found these great videos that we all love — we usually pop them in while we're eating breakfast, and they're funny. Thankfully I'm enjoying learning with them (same with the chemistry DVD) because if I just put the video on and go try to get something done, the kids will horse around or daydream, but if I'm right there, everyone gets into it and they stay interested. Along with that, every couple of weeks or so I'll introduce a new unit from this curriculum that I have really ended up liking a lot: Connecting with History. Right now we're studying the Middle Ages, because that's what our oldest needed. I love that it includes stories of Saints to go along with the timing and part of the world that we're studying, and it has enough info and ideas that I can pick and choose what activities are best for the different ages, using more challenging stuff for our oldest.
- Language Arts: We do a few different things — some is independent daily work, but the part we do together is weekly. They each write in their thankful journal weekly and sometimes I'll have them write me a Saint report or they'll have writing for history (above). Our oldest still does some of what I told you about here in this post. Our youngest does Catholic Heritage Curriculum spelling each week and an essay with his words, which I love because there's good Catholic Christian teaching woven in which spurs nice conversations between us. Our daughter does separate vocab/spelling/essay writing. Now and then we'll still do The Great Editing Adventure together on the white board because they love it and it's a fun way to teach grammar (each kid has a different colored marker and they take turn catching the errors). Just recently I decided they did need a little more formal writing training though, so we started IEW. For years I was afraid of that course — it just looked too intense for us and I knew there was no way I would take a weekend-long training class to be able to teach it! Plus it looked expensive. But I finally dug in more and asked questions. I found out that the parent training isn't required, and ALL the materials weren't necessary either. They suggested the middle level, because it's in between all our kids' ages. (I did get extra binders so each kid has their own and I didn't have to mess with making copies.) So we work on that once or twice each week.
- Once in a while we'll finish a read aloud and instead of starting another one right away, we'll cover miscellaneous topics like human health/nutrition (okay, we actually talk about that one a lot everyday!), logic, or public speaking.
- For geography they'll do games on the iPad (Stack the States or Stack the Countries is an awesome app).
- For P.E. they're outside with their friends a lot plus our youngest has gym at his homeschool enrichment building (along with a history class and drama class — he's also doing Odyssey of the Mind this year). Our daughter takes tennis lessons and sometimes horse lessons.
- Once a week the younger two do an art page or project of some sort while listening to classical music, just because it's good for their brains.
If you wonder how I keep everything straight, well it takes a LOT of my time each summer to get it all figured out and reorganized for fall. I use iCal on my computer and have different colored calendars for each of the kids with a daily check list. I'm kind of a geek about attempting to be organized, so this is fun for me. (If I had more time to devote to it, it would be even better!)
That's it for the latest on our homeschooling adventure.
If you have any questions or thoughts to share PLEASE do, because I learn so much from all of you!