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Archive for the ‘homeschool’ Category

Entire books have been written for beginning homeschoolers.  Obviously, what follows is my ideas on a few major questions, not an exhaustive treatment of the subject (which is impossible, anyways, see #1).  But here goes:

1.  If you homeschool, you are not bound by the constraints of how school is “supposed” to be.  This can be the scariest and most liberating aspect of the entire homeschool journey.  What does a homeschool look like?  That’s like asking what a family looks like: it depends on the family!  You need to determine how you want this to look.  Do not let anybody else intimidate or badger you into thinking you have to look like a public school or like that homeschooling mom with the cute blog and the ten kids all running their own businesses already.  Find your normal, but be open to changing it as your children grow.

2.  You really do not need to have a daily planner for every day of the school year; I know some moms do it, but I think it is inadvisable.  When kids are sick, you aren’t going to finish all the planned subjects; you have to be willing to adjust, and I know I wouldn’t be if I had a box that said I must get such-and-such done on March 8th or else!  On unseasonably gorgeous days, we’re likely to be outside studying clouds, or bugs, or taking an impromptu field trip to the botanical gardens or the zoo.  Personally, we generally start school the first Monday of August.  It’s twenty weeks to Christmas, give or take a week, then twenty weeks after Christmas, which has us finishing about when the weather is really getting nice around here.  In between, I just break up the lessons in the books so that we know how much we have to accomplish each week.  English is looser (one spelling unit, one vocabulary unit, some general English), math is stricter (three lessons per week for Diva, three or four for Crash).  History can be even looser.  We are studying the Age of Exploration this year, so we have started an overview book, and checked out a pile of books from the library on pre-Age-of-Exploration explorers (Vikings, Marco Polo, etc.) and early Portuguese figures (Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, etc.).  We have an overarching plan, but we will stay on specific people or periods as they interest the kids.  Be organized enough to stay on track, but not so much that you constantly feel like you’ve failed because you didn’t dot the very last i.  (See #1: this is also a very personal decision, best tackled with your husband, who might be able to help you find that happy medium between OCD and slacking off.)

3.  Curriculum.  Ugh.  I know some people swear by the idea that there is a perfect curriculum out there for everyone.  Personally, I go more on the, “This is what I picked, and we’re going to make it work.”  I don’t have infinite amounts of money to switch math curricula in the middle of the year for each child; they’re all using Saxon.  I tailor the amount of repetition to each child’s needs, but I don’t buy all new courses for each child.  We have a thorough phonics course that all three children have used.  Once I find a book I trust and feel comfortable with, we stick with it.  (And we borrow most of our history and science books from the library.  DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE LIBRARY!)  Figuring it’s going to have to last through at least four kids, I usually buy new; for most books, fill-in-the-blanks can be done outloud or on separate paper.  For Saxon math, the consumable parts come separately for the early grades.  All that said, buy used whenever possible.  Our area is blessed with a wonderful homeschool bookstore, and homeschool conferences frequently have used book sections.  Ask around your homeschooling groups for people who have outgrown levels (or switched mid-year) and are willing to pass them on or sell them to you.  Which brings us to…

4.  Find a homeschooler play group.  The kids get to hang out with other homeschoolers, and you get to talk to other moms.  If you want to, you can even discuss homeschooling.  Do not underestimate the relief of being able to just be normal and not have to even think about explaining yourself to others.  If one group doesn’t work, try another.  We joined a Catholic co-op; it was a really bad fit, simultaneously rigid and disorganized.  We joined a “Christian” play group; better, until the group leader decided to impose a faith statement… designed specifically to exclude certain denominations that aren’t quite Christian (including Mormons), and, apparently, Catholics.  We finally found a Catholic group that meets for children’s adoration (i.e. NOT silent, kids crawling everywhere, rosaries being chewed on, etc.) and play time at the parish playground.

5.  Know how to pick yourself up and try again tomorrow.  Not every day will be perfect.  In fact, not many days will be perfect!  Most will be tiring, many will be frustrating: the child who just doesn’t get math, the trashed house while you were trying to explain math, explaining to your mother for the millionth time that public school would not be better thank you very much, convincing yourself for the millionth time that there are reasons you’re doing this and public school would not be better…  Put them in bed, take a deep breath, straighten up, pray, sleep, and wake up and try again.

I won’t say it’s easy, I won’t claim boundless joy at the thought of teaching grumpy children math in the middle of winter, and I can’t tell you you’re going to love it.

But it IS worth it.

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(yes, I’m still here.  🙂  Thanks for waiting.  And it’s not Lent anymore, so I’m done with the “giving up staying up past midnight” thing… even if I shouldn’t be.)

Since we homeschool, we’re done with our school year, as much as we’re ever “done” with schoolwork.  We started at the beginning of August, and we’ve run through the end of April.  We’ll read books, watch science shows, talk about biology in the garden, and do the first forty or so math lessons in the next book up over the summer, so we’re never exactly completely “done” with school… which was the plan, since you should never say, “I’m not learning anything today because that’s a school thing!”

The problem with the end of the year?  Testing.  Ick.  Major ick.

Now, I have to say, testing was very nice to me.  I excelled at it.  I did very well in school, and my standardized test scores reflected that.  As a result, scholarship opportunities were opened to me and schools sent me piles of glossy catalogs, begging me to come to their university.  So, I have every reason to love testing and encourage my children to do well at it.

As a homeschooling mom, however, I have come to hate testing.

At first, I thought the tests would be good practice.  They’d prove progress.  And, hey, we’re homeschoolers; with all this individual attention, the tests should be a breeze, right?  (No, no, and no, because teachers teach to the test for a reason: so that one or two odd vocabulary questions don’t sink your score.  My daughter has a great vocabulary, but struggled with the weird (and rather significant) “words with two totally unrelated meanings” section.)

Unless your state requires it, I would highly discourage using the batteries of nationally normed, end-of-year testing, especially at the younger grades.  (And as the “Familyman” on the Old Schoolhouse e-newsletter put it, if your state requires testing, then move.  A few years ago, I would have taken that as a bit over-the-top.  Now, I wish it was an option.)  So what’s wrong with end-of-year testing?

1.  It does not give you a helpful picture of the student’s progress.  First off, you’re with your child every single day; you have a very good picture of where his strengths and weaknesses are!  Unlike a teacher with thirty students in a classroom, you don’t need a test to tell you this.  Secondly, tests tell you who is good at taking tests; they do not necessarily reflect a student’s actual understanding of the material.  I tested very well.  My children have had on and off years for testing; one year, they get top marks and the next year they barely pass.  And I don’t think that forcing them into end-of-year testing in first grade will improve their SAT scores a decade from now.  Most of us learned how to fill in the stupid bubbles on the test sheet later in life, and we survived.

2.  Testing is very stressful.  In my state, end-of-year tests are required to “show progress.”  If your child fails to score above the 25th percentile, you will be required to submit to further scrutiny of your academic plans.  If you fail to score above the 25th percentile for two years running, your child can be involuntarily placed in public schools.  (So what do they do with the bottom quarter of public school kids?  And why would that environment be better than one-on-one instruction at home for remediating weak scholastic performance?)  The whole trying-not-to-look-stressed, “Oh, don’t worry; it’s a chance to show off how much you know!” only worked for a year or so.  Then my kids started getting stressed about the tests and flubbing things I know they’d known solidly for months.

3.  There aren’t a whole lot of options out there for testing.  We used the CAT (California Acheivement Tests) for two reasons: they’re cheap and they’re available to homeschoolers.  Many of the available nationally-normed tests are very expensive and/or have written their testing requirements so as to exclude homeschoolers.  Which is not to say I’m particularly happy with the CAT.  My daughter got six wrong out of 120 questions this year… for an 88 percentile score.  Only four mistakes in the math section put her in the average category.  She’s had perfect scores on some sections in previous years, only to get a 7th of 9 stanine score.  (So what did one or two wrong get you?  Failing?)  My DH sighs every year, “But if you aren’t happy with it, just pick another test.”  I’m not happy with it, and there aren’t other good options, as far as I can tell.  I don’t want a longer test (the relatively short CAT is enough of a pain), but the shorter test just doesn’t allow enough room for mistakes and lapses in attention.  Which circles us right back to problem #1.

A large part of the point of homeschooling is that our children are individuals, created by God, to know, love and serve Him in this world, so that they can be happy with Him forever in the next.*  As individuals, they will have better and worse subjects.  They will progress well one year and not so quickly the next.  It happens.  As long as it isn’t a long-term pattern, it’s okay.  In a homeschool, they don’t have to be shoehorned into the bell curve, they can grow at what we, their parents, judge to be their proper pace.  Isn’t that what we wanted for them?

You are the parent.  You have to honestly assess your child’s progress, but end-of-year testing batteries aren’t really going to help, especially in the lower grades.

* (This got too long for parenthetical insertion above…)  We had a Lenten mission priest one year, Fr. Larry, who asked the packed church, “Why did God make you?”  Nobody answered.  “Oh, come on, people, it’s one of the first questions in your catechism!  Anybody? … *sigh*  All right, where are the homeschoolers?  You!”  And the randomly indicated homeschooler dutifully recited what our touchy-feely CCD program failed to teach anybody: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world so that I can be happy with Him forever in the next.”

Which is why we also homeschool for religious education, rather than cart the kids off to CCD every Tuesday night.  I wish our program was better, but it isn’t.  In fact, it’s a lot like the CCD program I grew up with, half-way across the country.  Truly inadequate on theology… but with crafts and colorful books.

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