Friday, December 18, 2015

Homeschooling: The First Semester

Our first semester of homeschooling came to an end this morning amongst the cries of the fifth-grader railing against the injustice of having more work to do than the second-grader and, "They had better not be allowed to go outside until I am finished!!!!!"

We have had quite a ride this semester. Our lives have flipped upside down since August. We've had missteps and successes and are slowly finding our way around our new normal. Honestly I still have weekends where I am flabbergasted I don't have to go to work on Monday.

What has gone well:

The girls love having checklists to work from. They know what is expected at the beginning of the week and they work down their lists everyday. If they know they want to have extra time one day, they can work ahead. If there is something they want to push to later in the week, they can switch it around and do something else first. The goal is to do the basics everyday and have the entire list finished by Friday. Checklists are winning.

I love the schedule. I also am struggling with the schedule. But mostly, I love not having to roll out of bed at o'dark thirty. You may think this has more to do with me not driving into work, but if Grace had to catch the bus, it comes by our house at 6am.

Olivia does her table work first thing in the morning. She is usually finished before I even have my first cup of coffee. I just have to check it. The only subject that suffers a bit for her promptness is the cursive practice.

The general camaraderie developing among the children. They still argue and fight like most siblings do, but they are also playing together and creating their own games and stories and inside jokes. I love this very much. 

What was a plain mistake:

I absolutely should not have started school before I could really start school. I was off of work for our first week of school and it went wonderfully. They were excited. They paid attention. THEY DID WHAT I ASKED THEM TO DO.

Then I went back to work for a month. I spent that month flapping my wings in their general direction imploring them to do some work while I was never home. Then I was home and decided not to immediately force the issue while we found our footing again. More ineffective flapping in their direction. Another month passed. Then we buckled down to get to work.

Their attitude had changed from diligence to reluctance. Reluctance, not necessarily in doing the work that looked the most like what they are accustomed to doing, workbooks and such, but reluctance in that they realized there was no outside authority figure enforcing a standard. There was just me, their mother, whom they are well practiced in ignoring when desired.

I knew we would have this battle eventually, but it was disheartening to have to wrestle with it right off the bat when that first week, two months prior, had gone so well. They learned immediately that they could goof off and the adults in charge would call it school. It is a well known discipline technique to start strict and then give some slack. We did the exact opposite, not that we have ever made it to level strict.

I know that I was afraid of them getting too far behind. Not really. That's not it. I was afraid that since everyone was in school, they would feel behind by not doing anything. And that the other adults in their life would worry we weren't starting school. And that I'd have to answer too many questions. It was easier to do "school." This was a mistake. I should have just baldly stated that we weren't starting school until mid-October. The End. Well, I didn't know.

The area where this reluctance shows itself the most is in writing. In August I could ask Grace to write something and she would write a full page or more. Now I am lucky to get four sentences out of her. It isn't that she is incapable. She just doesn't want to do it.

What we are working on:

We are still working on the schedule. I am still trying to figure out what to do when and how. Who gets my attention first? There is only one of me and two of them with another one being added next semester. They all want my attention first in order to be finished first. I can help one to the wails of the other one. Nobody likes going second, ever.

Another schedule issue is that while Olivia works fairly promptly, Grace can drag her work out all day long. Given that she objectively has more work to do than Olivia since she is in the fifth grade, it is frustrating indeed for me when she drags her feet. We experimented with a few different techniques, but I have found, sadly, the best way is to stand over her until she is finished which might be as late as 4pm. If I have other people or tasks pulling my attention away, she also wanders away. It drags on and on. By the time she's done, my enthusiasm for doing anything else is about gone too.

I think she gets a bit distracted by the other kids in the house and works better after two them go outside and Marian takes a nap. It is quiet then and she focuses, but then she is also angry because *she* is not outside. I am not sure how to get her to focus while the circus swirls around her and I am not sure how to improve her mood when she has to stay behind to finish her work.

I also want to expand our readalouds. The first problem we are running into with the readalouds is the other homeschooling families on the street. I want to get the written work done before settling down to read, but then it's lunch--how I am detesting lunch these days--and then we read. Inevitably by this point in the day, either my kids are busting to go play or other kids are out on the street.

Once the friends outside have been sighted, my kids are D-O-N-E. They half-heartedly listen as they listlessly stare out the window like caged animals. There isn't much joy in reading to children who are itching to leave. I've tried closing the curtains. If we do the readalouds first and the written work second, they aren't as sharp for their work and the same problem emerges of having to enforce while they wish they were anywhere else. I want them to enjoy learning, but it's hard when friends are frolicking nearby. Having so many homeschooling families here is a double-edged sword. Nobody thinks you are weird, but it isn't unusual to have a neighbor child knocking on your door at 11am.

The second problem with the readalouds is that I have no endurance for it. We read a chapter out of a novel at a time and I am dying by the end of it. I try to squeeze in another short story after the chapter, but then I am pretty much finished. My voice starts to hurt and I am ready to quit. I don't know why I have so much trouble reading out loud. It's not like I don't talk a lot regularly. I do. But regular talking doesn't seem to wear my voice out the way reading does. Obviously I am doing something wrong. Pentimento, I'm in need of a voice lesson. :)

I want to add more history and science and the easiest way is to add them to do more readalouds, but see voice problem above. The girls are also campaigning for more hands-on science learning which makes me a little twitchy. I keep putting them off by saying we will do more next semester, but now next semester is staring at me. I want to get the area where I keep these kinds of supplies organized before we started getting into science, but that hasn't happened yet. Digging through unorganized boxes of stuff with children clamoring about is not my idea of a good time.

Writing is also something that needs more attention from me. Like I said before, at the beginning of the semester, they would write extensively for me and now not so much. I am not intent on them writing reams, but I want them to produce something every week. Up to now, I have had an open-ended weekly deadline for them to write a bit about anything they have read or listened to over the past week. The open-ended nature of the assignment led them to pretty regularly blow it off.

What is challenging but exciting:

One of my main motivations in homeschooling, besides the schedule and the family time and the ability to shape the influences on my children, is to protect them from the spoon-feeding ways of the school system. They are accustomed to having everything thoroughly explained by a teacher before attempting to do any of the work. Because they catch-on quickly, they rarely experience frustration with having to figure something out on their own. It's all already been explained.

That's all well and good until you are in integral calculus at university, thought you understood the lecture, took sketchy notes, are trying to complete the homework, and, holy crap, you realize you have no idea what you are doing or even how to begin to figure it out. Isn't that a fine kick in the pants? Not that that ever happened for real. Cough.

Anyway, I want them to learn how to figure it out and struggle with concepts without being given explanations that others might need, but they do not. It isn't that I object to teaching and explanations. Not at all. It's just that if they can figure it out on their own, I want them to have that experience, but it is hard to come by in a school setting.

Over the past few weeks, Grace has declared more than once that she is bad at math. She is not bad at math. In fact, I gave her the Saxon placement test to see where she is and she is a year ahead of her grade level. Math is now the subject where they are most exposed to concepts before getting explanations from me. This is frustrating for Grace. She is accustomed to having the concept and explanation in hand and now she doesn't. This frustration is making Grace think she is doing poorly in math. She isn't doing poorly at all.

On one hand, it's great news she is frustrated. This is exactly what I wanted. Heh. On the other hand, I do not want her to get discouraged. I need to figure out how to allow her to struggle and also reinforce to her that she is doing just fine. I am wondering if I should start giving her math tests. We haven't done any testing because I know what they are doing and how well they are understanding and I adjust on the fly. But a function of testing I hadn't considered is that it lets the student know where she stands. While I am getting feedback on her progress, Grace is left floundering from one concept to the next. As soon as she understands, we move on, but I don't think that she *knows* that she understands. Does that make sense? Are occasional tests the answer?
What comes next?

Next semester we will add Sam to this mix. I don't even know. Letters and sounds and numbers and counting. Is that it?

We will add more science and history to the reading, but I'm not sure I can bear experiments yet.

I will be more consistent with writing deadlines so they actually write. I am not terribly concerned with quantity, but I do not want them to fall completely out of the habit of putting original thoughts on paper.

Hopefully the schedule will continue to normalize as we find a rhythm that works for us.

And there it is. We survived the semester. Hooray! I think we have all learned and grown from our experiences, but I am ready to take a few weeks off. All in all, I think we are doing well. 


bearing said...

Here are a few suggestions.

(1) Let go of the idea that you have to read a whole chapter at a time of anything. Figure out how long you want to read (15 minutes? 20?) or how long your voice will hold out, set a timer, and stop when it goes off.

(2) They aren't what I would call super super high quality, but they're good enough, and they are the MOST PAINLESS experiment kits I've ever seen. Everything's included. Each set is enough for a whole year of experiments (one per week) even if you skip some. Two students can use one kit (although I bought two kits when I did it because mine squabble terribly and I thought they'd do better each having their own).


(3) Go ahead and do the testing. And I think it's a pretty good step away from spoon-fed to go to "try it yourself first, then go ask for help from mom." I bet that once they learn they can trust that you WILL help them if they need it, they won't feel as panicked.

(4) I get that you need to have them finish early so they aren't distracted by friends outside, but don't feel bad if it lasts till 4. Mine sometimes take till 5:30!

(5) On being reluctant to write: Common. So common. Hard to deal with if you were a kid who loved to write stuff, but not that unusual. Check out this (I am pretty sure it is free) audio download. I attended this workshop last year and found it really, really helpful. Reaching the Reluctant Writer by Andrew Pudewa

Jenny said...

The kids are really into birds right now so that experiment set might fit the bill. I'll look at it again in January. I think they would be very excited.

The problem with school taking so long is mostly because she is in a bad mood when she can't go outside and the others are, but also because I can't get anything else done as I supervise her afternoon work. I know, go ahead and laugh. :)

I don't think it would stress me out as much if I didn't have all these huge household projects hanging over my head. If it were just regular cleaning and chores, I could deal, but I have multiple projects which will take multiple days apiece. And I thought I could tackle them in the afternoon while doing school in the morning. That isn't working out. I probably should schedule more days off to account for the projects.

I'll listen to the podcast for some ideas. Thanks!