It’s Killin’ Me

Just one little funny before I hit the sack…

Tonight, Andy informed my mother that Kindergarten was “easy peasy” but “first grade is killin’ [him].” That boy cracks me up! I love the things that come out of his little mouth.

Bless his little heart. The only thing that’s “killin’ him” is phonics. And he does quite well with it. It’s just that he has to put some effort into it this year and that’s a new concept for him. He wants to breeze right through, but we’re having to spend some time on each lesson. Poor baby. I sure hope he survives. Little does he know we’re just starting out on this great big adventure called education.

Oh, my mom also reported that Andy said I’m the “Queen of Phonics.” Who knew that reading above a first grade level could earn me such a title? :) What a gift my sweet boys are!


New Year. New Plan.

Andy with his aunts at his graduation party.

I am so proud to report that both of my little men finished their studies for what was supposed to be the 2011-2012 school year at the beginning of March. They absolutely love learning and they both soared right through their studies in just six months. (We didn’t begin school for the year until September.) While I don’t foresee this being a problem forever, (in middle and high school they can just take extra electives they are interested in, should they finish their studies early) I wasn’t sure how to handle the situation for pre-k and kindergarten. There’s not really all that much supplemental work that one can add, at least not one as creatively-challenged as me. So, we decided to have a big kindergarten graduation party for Andy and take the month of March off, in part to allow time to order new curriculum and in part because my schedule in March was so jammed packed that I could hardly breathe, let alone educate my sweet children. With that being the plan, we were slated to begin classes Monday, April 2.

All of the books arrived in plenty of time and the boys were thrilled to get working. They loved their books even more in person than they did one the internet. (I let the boys give input and suggestions regarding which books we use.) We cleaned out the school closet and got it all organized with our new materials. Everything was ready for Monday.

While it occurred to me as I was looking over suggested lesson plans, it became glaringly obvious Monday morning, that first grade is going to be much harder than kindergarten. Every day Andy is supposed to cover English, Math, Phonics, Reading, Religion, Spelling, and either History or Science (They alternate weeks, as they’re not considered core subjects for first grade.) We also got a Latin program, but I think we’re going to have to get into the swing of the year before we tackle that task. Each class is supposed to last less half an hour. (For those of you doing the math, yes that’s correct. Only 3.5 hours of actual work are required for first grade. What our sweet traditionally school children are doing for the remaining 4.5 hours is not related to actual learning, but rather classroom management, moving between locations, lunch time, busy work, etc. While I’m obviously biased, I’m very happy that I don’t have to miss out on 4.5 hours of my kids’ lives every day for that nonsense. But I digress…)

Andy "encouraging" Jack as they worked on various lessons last winter.

Anyway, Monday was a disaster. Well, not a disaster, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable. We got the work done, and in less than 3 hours, but it was chaotic and bumpy and mostly unenjoyable. Granted, it was the first day. There are always bumps the first day. But our big bump was that I was trying too hard to follow the directions in the suggested lesson plans. (I learned this lesson last year, but apparently I needed a refresher.) While the suggested lesson plans are a great resource, they don’t know my kids or our family, and one of the reasons we homeschool is to tailor their education to their needs, interests, and learning-styles.

Since I’m obviously a slow learner when it comes to lesson-planning, we decided to take one more week off. It’s Holy Week. We should be out of school anyway. At least that’s what I told myself. Truthfully, Holy Week didn’t have a lot to do with it, as I only planned to take Good Friday off completely. The remainder of our Holy Week activities weren’t going to be affected by school, so I saw no reason to cancel. But, as an act of mercy to my relentless morning sickness, and as an opportunity to get my ducks in a neater row, we’re taking Holy Week off.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do to resolve the probelm, but it finally dawned on me. (Thank you, Lord, for always lighting my path.) Pushing through seven (less than) 30 minute classes every day is just stupid. Even for Andy’s (and my) super short attention span, it was just too much. It was too quick, too choppy, and didn’t flow well at all. So (drum roll please…) we’re going to give block scheduling a try. When I was in 9th and 10th grade I went to a school that did block scheduling. It works a lot like college classes. The students take 8 classes over the course of the year, but only 4 at a time. They complete 4 classes first semester and the second set of 4 after Christmas. I think that setup is going to work much better for us. But I’m torn, because I think, for younger children especially, reading, math, and religion need to be taught year round. So, I guess that leaves me with a combination of block scheduling and traditional scheduling. We will work on some classes all year long, while others we will focus on intensely in order to complete them quickly before moving on to something new. I’m really excited about this prospect, and certainly looking forward to Monday to see how the school day flows!

Eclectic Unschooler?

2013-08-20 11.14.22I just took the “Which Homeschooling Approach is Right for You?” quiz on, which is a TLC site that is more entertaining than respectable. Every now and then I glean something useful, but most the time I visit, I’m just procrastinating. This quiz, however, has left me unnerved. Mostly because it’s on to something and the control freak in me just can’t handle it.

I answered the multiple choice questions posed in terms of my ideal home school. I answered them based on the reasons I chose to home school. I did not necessarily answer them in light of what we are actually doing. After all, that seems to be the whole point of the quiz.

So, according to the scientific genius of the aforementioned quiz, I appear to be an “eclectic unschooler” at heart. I’m fine with eclectic. That’s a word I would use to describe many areas of my life. Unschooler on the other hand… Well it’s like I said, the control freak in me just can’t handle that.

It’s funny because in my mind’s eye there is a lot of unschooling. I like the idea of following the kids lead and learning what interests them. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this approach, as it must foster a genuine love of learning. HOWEVER, unschooled children do not test a well as their public schooled counter parts. I certainly don’t want to be playing a mad game of catch up in 2023 trying to teach Andy math skills or anything else he’s lacking just prior to taking the SAT.

So I started this post about a month ago. I guess I never got around to finishing it. I like it though, so I’m going to round it out and go ahead and push “publish.” After reflecting on the quiz, talking with Josh and gleaning some wisdom from homeschooling veterans, I’ve come to peace with my title of eclectic unschooler…for now. We will all enjoy homeschooling much more if we’re doing what comes naturally instead of forcing something that doesn’t. That being said, we’re going to take somewhat of an eclectic unschooling approach for the time being, that is until about 5th grade.

Math and phonics are non-negotiables. They will be the structured albeit eclectic exceptions to this rule. Those subjects will have clear learning objectives keeping the boys at or above the standards expected of their traditionally schooled peers. Everything else is up to the kiddos. They can lead the way, choosing what they want to learn in terms of science, history, geography, etc, etc, etc. For me, this seems to be the best plan to match my personal objective of having my kiddos at home with me and the personal standards I hold in terms of what I want them to accomplish. It’s not unschooling per se, but it will capture the parts of unschooling I like, while avoiding the parts I don’t.

I guess in reality I’m just an eclectic homeschooler. Maybe if there were a few more questions on that little quiz they could have put me in a more concise nutshell. Either way, I’m happy with what we’re doing and I’ve learned a lot about myself, our school, and my teaching style since taking this quiz. This will save us all lots of frustration from attempting to master hours of boring workbook pages.

Moving at His Own Pace

One of the many things that appealed to me about homeschooling was the ability to progress at my kids’ own pace. Their studies will never have to move so quickly that they are left behind, and they won’t be forced to do busy work despite having already mastered a concept. I spent most of my academic career on either side of that fence. Mostly, I was bored to tears because we spent way to much time on concepts that I grasped quickly. This lead to complete apathy on my part. I never did any homework, always planning to complete it the class period prior to it being due, since I viewed my being in class a complete waste of my time. However, when I was younger, from about 5th – 7th grades, I was beyond lost in math. Ironically, this also lead to apathy, as it appeared, regardless of the effort I put in, I would never grasp those concepts. Thankfully, my mother got an incredible math tutor for me and she turned my math woes around. Knowing that neither position is one that ignites a love of learning, I am more than pleased to never have to put my children in either situation.

But there’s one little problem…

In our recent phonics studies, I’ve found that the pace at which I would like to move is much different from the pace at which Andy is prepared to move. This has led to more than a few tense moments of me pleading “sound it out” as he guesses through a string of words that we covered that day. It makes me crazy. But I just keep pushing. And then he gets frustrated. And wants to quit. Which also makes me crazy. I quickly developed a hatred for phonics, very seriously considered switching phonics programs, and then had the epiphany that neither phonics nor our curriculum was the problem. It’s me.

I have an agenda. I want to move through this a quickly as possible. I want him to be ahead of the pack. I want all our family and friends who are critical of our decision to homeschool to have to eat crow when they see him reading at a 6th grade reading level in 1st grade. (Ok…I’m not quite that crazy…but I’m not far off either.) I’m pushing him into one of the situations I hate most about a traditional classroom. But I’m even worse. I’m not pushing him forward or holding him back for the good of 20 other students, I’m doing for my own pride. My own sinful, selfish pride.

I wholeheartedly believe that we made the right decision when we chose to homeschool this year. I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. But if I keep up like this I’m essentially self-sabotaging: He’s going to hate learning and I’m going to hate teaching. I’m just grateful I came to this realization early on. Now, knowing the issues I have with my pride, we’ll just have to see how many times I have to fight this battle with myself over the next 17+ years.

Say it with me: I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace. I will teach my children at their own pace…

I mean so what if he’s in 4th grade and is just finally learning to write his own name? This is about them, not me, right? (And for all my critics reading this: don’t worry, he already knows how to write his name. I’m just making a point.)