Saturday, August 20, 2016

Checking In: First Five Weeks of School 2016-2017

Fair warning: This is probably mostly a "grandparent's post," meaning that close relatives will care most about how we're doing.

We have finished our first five weeks of school now, so I'm looking at how our 2016-2017 year is going. We are accomplishing a lot, but I am definitely still getting my sea legs.

1. Mondays are really hard.

I wish I could avoid talking to anybody on Mondays. I try hard on Sunday night to calm my heart for Monday, and I'm still blowing up on Mondays. Every other day of the week, I can see rationally that we are doing well, the children are learning, and the house is neat enough to function, but on Mondays, the "demons prowling about the world seeking the ruin of souls" run riot over me.

2. Thinking in terms of blocks of time helps.

I vacillate between trying to schedule every 15 minutes of each child's time, and my own, and trying to keep things loose and breezy. Something in between seems to work best. As long as we have toddlers and babies, we aren't going to be able to follow a strict schedule. I need to have the flexibility to respond to life flying at me fast.

When I think of all our duties divided into blocks of time, our days go best:
  1. Desk Work
  2. Computer Work
  3. Mama Teaching
  4. Music Practice

3. Waiting to POUNCE

I'm realizing that flexibility and willingness to compromise my ideals is a must in order to teach with my extremely active three-year-old (NOT a child to sit quietly and complete a puzzle for an hour, like some I hear about) and climbing whiz one-year-old (who can now push a piece of furniture to where he wants to climb the kitchen counters, piano, tables, desks, and so forth).

Why not just lock up the baby? Well, he is already incarcerated in his highchair from 7:00 when I wake him up while I cook, serve, and eat breakfast, and while cleaning it up, and then through Morning Basket time. So, come 8:30 or so, this baby needs to be allowed to run off some energy!

And the baby still spends all the time I do use a pack-and-play wailing so loud that it is difficult to teach.

Wailing baby

The three-year-old does get sent outside to play a lot, but sending him out alone has its own risks (thankfully, he is not a wanderer).

While a color-coded, chart schedule is what I desire, I've discovered greater success during this season of life in my WAITING TO POUNCE method.

As soon as the baby goes down for nap (currently, around 10:00 on the dot), I POUNCE! I put the three-year-old in front of an "educational" television show and rush the other three kids up to the school room for about 90 minutes of direct mama teaching. The subjects that require direct teaching from me are daily History, and then rotating throughout the week Composition (Mondays), Grammar (Wednesdays), and Geography (Thursdays)./  .

Five weeks into the school year, our strict schedule is morphing into a fairly strict rhythm that looks like this:

  • Morning Basket Time at the table (allowing stragglers to finish breakfast)

  • Mama teaches Kindergarten
  • The fourth and second graders are alternating desk work with music practice
  • Mama simultaneously supervises fourth and second graders (answering questions about desk work, correcting their tempo on music)
  • The three-year-old mostly gets sent outside to play.
  • The one-year-old climbs everything.
  • Mama tries not to cry.

10:00-11:30 (while the baby naps for 60-90 minutes):
  • The three-year-old watches television.
  • Mama teaches subjects to the other three children.

  • Second and fourth graders are finishing up anything they can finish up in a half-hour gap.
  • The three-year-old gets his television turned off, and probably goes outside to play.

  • Lunch, then recess (outdoors).

1:00-2:00 or 3:00
  • The three-year-old (who has accumulated about three hours of outdoor play by now) is in Quiet Time from 1:00-2:00 (with a timer, strictly required to be in his bedroom). He rarely naps.
  • Mama is supervising the second and fourth graders finishing up any desk work, computer work, or music practice not yet done.

3. Planning

You can't be ready to pounce during available teaching time if you don't know what you're going to teach. I am a firm believer in planning my days now. Plan, plan, plan.

4. Timers are so useful!

Purchasing two of these little digital timers has been such a boon to my homeschooling life! I use them many times during my school morning, assigning a child to do a task for X minutes, whether it be running flash cards or taking recess in the back yard. I use them for time outs, music practice, chores, and cooking.

The beep is SO VERY LOUD that I can hear it throughout the house or from the back yard. These little guys can clip onto something, or stand upright on a surface. Honestly, I'd like to buy about four more of them so I have one for at least every person in the house.

5. We like so much about learning.

We really do love the subjects that I am teaching and the children are learning, and for this I am grateful.

I asked the children what they are liking about school so far. Each child cited as a favorite Math Facts Pro, Keyboarding without Tears, and Teaching Textbooks mathematics. They like IEW Geography-Based Writing and Beautiful Feet Geography. Mary cited also liking Seton Science and Seton Religion. Margaret likes that she has graduated to doing math, now that she is in Kindergarten. Basically, they listed much of what they do each day, which made me glad.

Nobody spoke up and said, "I hate such-and-such."

6. It is okay not to love all the subjects.

That said, five years into homeschooling and I've learned that it is really okay that some of the core subjects simply require drill and hard work. I don't even think it's useful to accommodate to each child's learning style or desires (and Mama's teaching style), because certainly no employer or college professor is going to do that.

7. Memorization is meritorious.

When I began my homeschooling career, I considered being "a flash card mom" an insult. Now, I am a convert! I am seeing the fruits born of memorizing many facts during these elementary school years, as those facts become the material with which young minds work during their middle- and high-school years when they have much more reasoning skills.

Math is coming so much faster and easier now that I have my kids drill their math facts (addition, subtraction, and multiplication) once or twice daily. They are flying!

Now that we've spent one year memorizing History facts in CCE, I have seen our History studies blossom. When I am reading a living history book or a textbook, the children (whom I might think are not even listening) will hear mention of a name, place, or date, and interrupt, "Hey! I know that!" They will then burst forth in the memorized ditty about the historical fact. They're piecing together in their minds so much of history, which is going to create a tapestry of the past for them.

Using World Geography Games has helped them learn all the fifty states before our year of U.S. History even began (when my goal was for them to learn the states by the end of this upcoming year).

8. Reading covers over a lot of gaps.

If we did nothing in a particular day except our reading routine, I should feel pretty good about that. This helps me feel better about sick days and such.
  • We read aloud Scripture at a meal (usually breakfast).
  • I start Kindergarten by reading aloud one Bible story and one picture book to the five- and three-year olds.
  • I read aloud a holy reading at lunch ("Under Angel Wings" for the last few months, almost done).
  • I read aloud living history books (and a textbook) for History daily (see Connecting with History).
  • Our bedtime routine includes lengthy reading aloud by Mama, accomplished most nights of the week:
    • A chapter of a pleasure book for the older children (this week, "Swallows and Amazons")
    • I read a chapter of a pleasure book for the five-year-old (this week, "Farmer Boy")
    • One or two picture books for the three-year-old
  • The children get tucked in bed . . . 
    • . . . where the second and fourth graders read one chapter of their assigned literature (John just finished "Call of the Wild" by Jack London and Mary is reading "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson).
    • The three- and five-year-olds listen to an audio book of their choosing on a CD player in their rooms (currently, they are each obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder).
  • Often, after finishing their lit chapters, the little bookworms insist on reading one chapter each from their pleasure books (John is currently reading again the entire "Treasure Box" series and Mary is reading "Caddie Woodlawn.") It is pretty normal that we have to go in and tell them to STOP READING and take away flashlights. They have each adopted Mama's "sleep association" of needing to read something in bed before being able to fall asleep, even if we come back from a late Mass or something and we're exhausted.
A crate for each child, full of his or her books

9. Homeschooling requires discipline.

The longer I homeschool, the more children there are, the more I see that a pretty solid level of discipline is required to make this work. Around here, there are five children whose souls and characters are being formed, day in and day out, moment by moment, and Mama (as the primary teacher present) has to call upon a tremendous amount of energy to keep disciplining (discipline = to teach, to disciple). (Neither Chris nor I don't pretend to be perfect at this.)

Obedience is one of the highest of the cardinal virtues, a habit which children, as well as adults, must learn if they hope to achieve heaven. (Click here for a nice article on obedience.)

It is the rare child or the rare moment when a child will be obedient without the adult requiring it of them--which requires us to exert a lot more effort than we desire. But it pays off in the long run!

I was recently encouraged by and I highly recommend spending the $3 to buy Ginny Seuffert's talk, "Overcoming the Hurdles of Homeschooling," from the 2016 national homeschooling conference (click here).

10. Dads!

The invisible heroes of homeschooling are dads, without whom none of this would be possible (for most mothers, anyway)!

Homeschooling around here requires a husband that financially supports us, freeing me up to teach, and who doesn't mind that all our walls are plastered with school posters, that meals are decidedly simple, and that our house does not look like Better Homes and Garden.

Thank you, Chris!

1 comment:

  1. You do not make it look easy because it isn't. But I cannot imagine the children receiving a finer education and home life. They learn their ABC's but more importantly in the long run, they learn how to be civilized, literate, and loving Christians.
    Great job, Mom. And Dad for alllllll his support, practical and spiritual, and husbandly.