Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homeschooling--and NOT loving it?

There are days when we see more chaos than order in our home; days when things just don't go according to my vision...but in spite of days like that when I wonder what I'm doing, I love homeschooling.
And yet, I know there are many mothers out there homeschooling because it's right and not because they particularly love any aspect of it.  I have two suggestions that might be worth trying.  After all, what do you have to lose?

First, study something YOU are interested in.
Second, Simplify.
You've probably heard of unit studies.  A unit study is when you use a certain topic--could be the American Revolutionary War, or bugs, or Jane Austen, etc, etc, and you center your other studies around this central topic.  So for literature, your books are on this subject.  For writing, you write about this subject.  You do geography that is related, history that's related.  Get the picture?  Well, my suggestion is that you think of a topic you are fascinated by.  Maybe you already know a lot about it, or it may be something you've always wanted to know more about.  Now take a break from the textbooks and schedule that you've been using--those ones you just don't love--and center everything on this subject that you are interested it.  Yes, this will require a little creativity--perfect!  Just what you need.  Get into it.  Learn with the children and learn without them.  As your enthusiasm spreads half your work is done--the children become their own motivators.
So let's say your only real interest right now is scrapbooking, for example.  Well, start school scrapbooks.  Have your own personal "school" scrapbook, and add a page for everything you learn about.  Then have the children start theirs.  Or say you've always been interested in baking.  Get creative and get the kids involved.  Study the history of common breads, write about them, start a little neighborhood business (math!).  Learn about the different breads eaten in different parts of the world.  Just a few ideas, but hopefully you gett he picture.  You can often incorporate the subjects you feel are important to cover in your studies of one central topic.

And now for the second suggestion. We are trained to think that knowledge comes out of textbooks and is evidenced by worksheets, but that's not so.  Those are only tools teacher use--and not very effective ones.  If you're getting bogged down by all those piles of textbooks and three different sets of curriculum at three different grade levels, give it a break!
What's the reason you're homeschooling?  Now how can you accomplish those goals?  Would it be possible to simplify by basing everyone's history, science, geography, etc, off of one of the children's books, and studying it all together?  Would it be possible to use the textbooks only as a guide, and let the children explore the topics on their own from more interesting, "real",  library books?  Could you do away with some subjects completely?  (No matter how much information children learn, the fact is that they will forget most of the details within a few years, if not sooner.  The real purpose of schooling is not to stuff their minds with data, but to teach the skills students will need all their lives in order to continue learning.  So if you have to give up a certain subject for a while, don't worry!  Concentrate on developing learning skills!  The basics are the basics for a reason--they are the tools we all need to learn.)
For me, taking a step back-- not trying to run our little mother-taught-homeschool like a big public school, has made life so much simpler.  School time takes us about 3-4 hours a day--and some of that is time where I am sitting reading, waiting for someone to need my help (either with their school work, or in the case of my toddler, with cleaning up his most recent mess).  And yet, we cover many subjects, the children are getting a good grasp of basics, and they are interested in most of what they study.  Simple is so much better!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Creating Your Curriculum

For me, one of the most exciting things about homeschooling is that my husband and I get to choose what we teach our children!  We also get to watch their wonder as they discover and we get to learn right along with them.  It’s a blessing and a privilege--and a lot of work too, of course.  But anything worth anything takes work.
    If designing your own curriculum sounds neither exciting nor important, there are plenty of great curriculums already packaged up.  But if you’re like me and want to do it your own way--the best way you can find for your family‘s unique needs, talents and interests--but feel a little overwhelmed, read on and I’ll share my ideas and discoveries with you. 
    First of all, I have to say that it took years to accumulate all these ideas and resources, and it took years to implement them.  As you begin your homeschool, don’t try to do everything at once!  My husband builds houses, and having helped him remodel, design, and build several houses, it’s a familiar process.  Maybe that’s why designing a curriculum reminds me of the house building process. So humor me and bear with a little metaphor: When you look at another family’s finished “structure“, you see the beauty, symmetry, order that they’ve been working on for years. If you try to create all you see and admire in another family’s homeschool at once, you may feel despair when it just doesn’t happen!  But remember--no one begins building a new house by putting in the furnishings. Though paint and trim and decorations are all important in a beautiful home, we don’t begin there.  First comes a plan, then a good foundation.  Next comes the structure--walls, roof, floors, etc.  Finally we lay carpet, paint, and add the light fixtures.  Then, usually even after we’ve moved in and begun using the home, we hang curtains and pictures and flower swags.  No one would ever think of hanging curtains before painting, let alone before pouring the concrete. 
    At first as we began homeschooling I wanted to implement every good thing I saw or heard about in our home school, but it caused frustration!!  Finally I realized that I had to start at the beginning--with planning, preparing, scheduling, and a lot of studying.  Once I had invested some time, I had something to work with--material to build our “house” with.  I’ve learned to take it one step at a time, and always continue to beautify, make additions, decorate, and remodel--but not until the basic structure is there first!
    As in building a home, first we have to figure out what exactly it is we want and need.  Each family needs to
    *recognize what their purpose is in homeschooling
    *define priorities in order to accomplish the purpose
    *soak up many ideas on methods and decide which works best for their     life and learning styles. 
    *Then design your curriculum.  Once you know what you’re looking for     the task is much simpler.

Story Time

Everyone likes to hear a story!
Maybe that's why story time is one of the best parts of our day.
Every day, (currently this happens right after lunch, but we occasionally rearrange our schedule for variety and simplicity) we put aside personal school work and gather everyone together. The children often bring clip boards and paper so they can draw, or yarn for crafts.  I bring a big file box.  We get cozy and story time begins. 

Story time is when we learn together.  It's when we enjoy great literature together.  It's also when the children narrate. 

First we recite the memory scripture or poem that we are all learning together.  Right now we are memorizing The Living Christ, so we recite the new part--and on Mondays we recite the whole thing before adding another new part.

Next we spend a little while reading from a variety of books, and right now, it's grammar on Monday, music history and poetry on Tues, geography on Wed, etc.

Then we read our science books.  The children do alot of science research on their own and then on Fridays they share and we experiment, but daily we read a little on the science topic to engender enthusiasm and give them a broad understanding in preparation for their own more in-depth studies.

Lastly we read history.  This is the part that can go on and on--because we love it.  We usually have an overview of the era- type-book that we are reading, a couple of picture books for the little children to enjoy, and then our historical novel.  The little ones sometimes wander away by then, but if the book is good most everyone wants to be there.  The children take turns narrating back what we've read after everything but our novel--that's supposed to be pure fun, though we're actually learning lots there, too.

Sharing these books together unifies us.  Though the children are also reading history books on their own, we feel like we are all learning together because we're on the same topic and sharing some of the same books.

One more thing we are adding now to our story time is a few minutes for the children to share what they've written that day.

I don't think anyone's too old to be read to. When my husband happens to be around for story time he has a hard time leaving and getting back to work! Story time could happen anytime of day, and you could read about any topic.  But don't miss the opportunity of sharing books together, no matter how old your children are.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


His Story
God’s hand in the affairs of men;  His plan carried out on earth

To recognize God’s hand in the affairs of men and to see His plan carried out.
To understand and gain a love of the eternal principles upon which happiness depends.
To gain a better understanding of our own identity and purpose.
To have greater compassion and understanding of our fellow man.

A three year rotation of (1) Preparation for His First Coming (Ancient History), (2) Preparation for the Restoration (Fall of Rome to Constitution), (3) Preparation for His Second Coming (Modern History).  Each year is divided into about 6 subtopics, with about 5 weeks to study each one.

    Read from living history books…Read stories!  Read biographies, original documents, books about specific people and events of the time period. As Charlotte Mason says, no twaddle!
    Daily “story time”, reading from a variety of history books from the sub-topic--including a fun novel about the period!.
    Children daily do much of their reading time in books about the period. (all of our history books, novels, literature, etc are color coded to tell which of the three years they cover, and then numbered to tell which period.  For example, right now we are learning about the colonization of America.  Hence, a red sticker (year 2) with a number 4 on it. Sounds complicated, but ohhhh, it makes life simpler!!)
    Children narrate aloud, taking turns, to tell back what they learn in story time. Then they also make notebook pages daily about what their learning in their own reading. 
    Okay, here's our favorite part: at the end of each 5 week period, we have our Prominent Person Party!!!  This is a much anticipated event at our house.  Through the 5 weeks each child chooses and prominent person from the period to learn about.  They also choose a project to complete.  Then at the party all those prominent people come and tell us about themselves.  And we eat good food.  Well, sometimes the food is a little interesting, but more about Prominent Person Parties in another post!
  We hope, especially the older children, can ask and answer these questions as we go along: 
        What evidence did you see of God’s hand in the events or lives portrayed in this book?
        How did God further His purposes in the events of this book?
        What principles were demonstrated in this book, and how do they apply to you?
        What thoughts did you have about your own identity and purpose?
   At the conclusion of each subtopic, we update a time-line--a visual reminder of sequence and chronology, since learning of events will come from separate stories and books.  The timeline isn't something to memorize, just something to use as a frame of reference.
  By the way, obviously the whole family is studying the same topics, but on their own levels.  This includes me too, and I'm getting such a great education--better everytime we go around.  When I'm learning too, I have lots more enthusiasm to share!  No, I don't have tons of spare time.  I make it.
This site is a work in progress. Check back soon, as we post things that we've learned in our homeschooling adventure!