Monday, June 23, 2014

Back Yard School

For us, who took off May and June from daily school, our summer is coming to a close and I'm putting a lot of thought and planning into the upcoming academic year. One of my goals is to be more mentally flexible about what worked for us yesterday, what works for us today, and what might work for us in the future. Mental flexibility is not one of my strengths!

I set out History, Spelling, Handwriting, and Grammar in the sun room:
we're trying to finish up a few books from last year.

I want to know what we're going to be doing and exactly when each day. I could achieve that pretty well as a single person, but I make bold to think that God knew that wasn't best for my soul, so here I am being stretched in every direction while homeschooling four children.

It is a puzzle that homeschooling a large family requires both tremendous planning and great flexibility. Too much of either trait and the household peace vanishes. Schooling just one seven-year-old or a whole room full of them would require knowing the range of what generally works with children that age and doing it. Voila! In contrast, using our family as an example, I have to know what works and doesn't work with children ages seven, five, three, and one (and the younger the children, the more rapidly what works changes--we're talking weeks or a couple of months before there is a big shift). I have to juggle the needs and tactics for all those different ages simultaneously in one room of the house under my supervision. I consider this work a symphony requiring master-level training . . . but for which I've had no training and am learning to play a little more each day.

I am strong at tremendous planning. My husband is strong at great flexibility. Isn't God good to us?

I can see the children playing from my couch.

Chris has long encouraged me to be more flexible. It usually takes me hearing something from someone else before my husband's words ring perfectly true (do you think that drives him bonkers?) and I was helped recently to learn more about this concept from a mother friend of mine. She has nine children and was describing how often she shifts around what is working for them right now. What worked for this kid or that kid last month doesn't work now, so she changes it up. Months or years go by and she'll remember a tactic she used to use and had forgotten, dusts it off, uses it again, and it works for a new particular child who has come down the pike. What works when one has one child is different than when one has three children or seven or twelve. What works in one home layout won't work in another layout. There are so many variables!

A blurry photo showing two girls climbing the dome, the baby ready to slide, and the big boy swinging wildly.

One of my pitfalls is refusing to change what I am doing because the idea that would work well this month won't work in the future. And why do something now that won't always work? Clearly, that is a bad idea. 'Sure, I could take my little children into the back yard to do school and that might help tremendously right now, but I can't do that with high-schoolers doing rigorous work for the whole day, so why start something now that will only have to change? Further, I can't do all my subjects out there, as some really work better in our classroom, like math with all its manipulatives: so, if I can't do all my subjects outside, why do any of them there?' It sounds ridiculous even typing it out, but this facing change actually paralyzes me.

I have to learn that it is okay to figure out what works for us right now and stick with it only as long as it works for us! Then change!

The girls made their own swing within the dome: a "sister swing."
One of my specific ideas regarding homeschooling this coming year--embracing change--is Back Yard School. We have a spacious screened-in sun room that looks out on the back yard. I can drag our school supplies in there, do school with one child at a time, and have the others running around within my supervision. What ever could keep me from pursuing this wonderful idea?

I think, 'Why should we start this when it will be too cold to continue December through March? It can't work year-round, so what are we supposed to do in those cold months, I ask you?!'

Yes, that's how crazy I am. I'd rather pick being cooped up and stir crazy with children who need much more physical activity year-round than do this solution much of the year and be stir-crazy only in the four coldest months.

Well, no more!

John writing his spelling on a mini white board

At these young years, I find the hardest part of homeschooling is occupying the preschooler and baby. They're too young to do much independent playing, they cause a lot of fighting and toy squabbling, and they're loud . . . so loud! And, while Mary (5-1/2) could sit still at a desk like a perfect little girl for a couple of hours straight, John (7-1/2) needs a lot more physical exertion than he's getting. I've heard of mothers who require their children (especially sons!) to exercise, such as run one or two miles, before coming to the school room each day, but John is too young for me to set him loose in the neighborhood like that, so playing in the back yard is the only solution I can think of right now.

Mary writing spelling words

Our first day of Back Yard School--as we do continue light academic work all summer--was a smashing success. I started by having all four children play while I set up some books. Then I'd call in one child at a time to do one lesson for me before dashing back out to run, climb, swing, and throw. So much fabulously needed vestibular stimulation and heavy work! Also, working with each child alone while the other three played gave us some desperately needed quiet focus.

Margaret learning her letters

I want my kids so physically tired that they appreciate sitting down to do some school work because it means a rest. Think of how many farm chores kids used to do in the wee hours of the morning before walking a mile or several to school. Sitting down was welcome to them! How can we imitate that effect in the modern day?

So happy to have copied her first word!

I am excited about this prospect of Back Yard School . . . whenever it works, in whatever season, however few or many days per week. The children enjoyed it very much too and, no surprise, John appreciated it the most. He did really good work for me precisely because he was running himself to panting in between each sit-down subject.

Joseph at 17 months climbs up and down the play structure by himself. Being a fourth child, I let him! He's happy as a clam  running around essentially independently but within my supervision for at least two hours: it is the healthiest way he can spend his morning.

If you have any ideas to embrace change in homeschooling, doing what works today, I'd love to hear about them!


  1. I love this! LOVE this! One of the things that is REALLY appealing to me about homeschooling is the ability to be flexible. If something isn't working, then I can change it up...I don't have to stay the course. And what will work for Emma, likely won't work for Jamie, so I'll have to try different things. But I too can be very rigid, so I'm hoping to work through that.

  2. Great idea! Your house is beautiful and big, you SHOULD be using it to its full potential!