Thursday, March 8, 2018

Angst in the Homeschooling Season

I am starting this post in the most cliched month of February, but it probably won't be published until March. Who knows? Everyone knows that February is the month that homeschoolers shake their collective fists at the universe and yell, "WHY?" But this isn't really about the February blues. Or maybe it is? We spent most of February sick. We lost most of the month, especially since I was horizontal with two separate illnesses for nearly two weeks. Now we begin again.

So how's the homeschooling these days? Angsty. I feel pulled in about five different directions. And I have five children! Coincidence?

The major source of my angst is the inability for the group of my children to complete the work I intend for them to complete. I see my primary jobs in regards to school as follows: I decide the curriculum, I set out a daily checklist of tasks, I work directly with the subliterate child to complete his work, I do readalouds, I offer assistance as necessary to the older ones, I check to make sure the independent work is complete and correct.

What actually happens is that I decide the curriculum except there is always some piece I never get around to implementing. I intend to start slow and add pieces through a series of weeks. I actually start slow, add a thing, and then get bogged down without adding the rest. I feel like they have gaps in what they should be doing, but I rarely get the headspace to figure out how to get the other parts in. Music Theory, Art, Latin, and French all fall in this hole.

I spend two or three hours making the weekly checklists on the weekend. Usually. Except when I have to pay bills or am not home or some other obligation gets in the way. Carving out weekly planning time is hard. When I make the checklists, they are lost, disregarded, and used occasionally and also ignored. Multiple times a day the checklists have to be relocated. When I don't make them, no one knows what to do, even if the math column would be just the next five lessons. Without the piece of paper giving the directions, my verbal instructions fall on deaf ears. With the piece of paper giving directions, I have to make them read it.

I do work with Sam almost every day. We need to work on his cheerful response to my direction, cough cough, but I feel really good about where he and I are in his school work and where we are going. I think he has an appropriate amount of work and makes good progress. Because it is my job to directly do his work with him, it actually gets done. This leads to the backwards scenario where the child with the most time and leeway to lag behind is actually the one right where he belongs. Sam is a win for me.

The readalouds are going okay. Because of outside commitments, we generally only get three days a week, sometimes only two. The main problem here is that I have more that I want to cover than we actually have time for. My materials lend themselves to a four day schedule instead of a three day schedule. Aside from that little issue, the readalouds themselves usually go fine, even though they hates the botany/tree identification.

My assistance with the older girls is fraught. They don't want assistance. They already know how to do it all even when all the answers are wrong. I call them downstairs over and over again. I nag. I nag. I nag. Is this done? Is this done? Is this done? What are you doing? You said you were starting math an hour ago. Come back. What are you doing? Answer me. COME. BACK. DOWN. STAIRS. I make corrections to their work. They cry. I try to show a better way. They don't want to hear it. The moment my attention is diverted from them, they disappear. My attention gets diverted a thousand times a day. I set a start time in the morning. Getting them to start is nigh impossible. They are never dressed. They forgot to eat breakfast. "I know, but..." Sighs. Crying. Grumbling.

In spite of assigning them a reasonable amount of work in any given week, they usually only do about half of it. We have a 'Come to Jesus' meeting. I get a day or two of improvement then it's right back to the old habits. If I give them something they don't want to do, they just don't. Refuse. Sullen staring into the middle distance. That can will be kicked down the road until it is obsolete. What should have been a year's worth of history reading has been stretched into its fourth semester with no guarantees it will even be finished this year either. The semester long science book is going to last the whole year.

In the middle of all this, I have a baby who, while usually a very good and happy baby, is still a young baby with demands that must be met by me. Then there is Marian. Marian is a vivacious child who Does. Not. Ever. Stop. Talking. I tell her to stop talking a thousand times a day. She interrupts every lesson with every child. She extroverts all over me all day long. When she isn't talking, she is touching me, draped on me, using me as a security blanket. It isn't unusual for me to have Ella in my arms, Marian across my shoulders, and Sam next to me in the chair while I holler up the stairs desperately trying to get a big girl to respond. Marian really is delightful, but managing her energy has been a struggle for me from the beginning.

It is obvious the big girls need a lot more handholding and structure than I have been able to give them recently. Perhaps my expectations for independent work are unreasonable? Or if not unreasonable, not working for my particular children. I suppose the answer is to insist they stay downstairs to work. I am not thrilled with this answer. We don't have a lot of room to spread out. This is the public space downstairs:

The younger ones are legitimately distracting. The depth of the above picture is only 11 feet from the camera to the table. (Yes, I measured because the picture makes the room look big.) I can't send M upstairs by herself because of destruction and also Dave is usually working up there. I cannot trust them to work out of my sight because they have proven they generally don't. Enforcing a required work area will be loud and ugly and probably involve mutiny. Other solutions include putting Sam's work on hold until I can establish acceptable work habits in the girls. I could also put the hammer down on activities. I don't really like any of these solutions. How 'bout they just do their work without me sitting on their heads.

I feel pretty unhappy about this whole mess. I feel like I have failed in my duty to establish my authority and to walk them through their work. Grace wants to go to high school, which makes me panicky about these horrible work habits. I don't want to send her back to school with 'homeschool disaster' stamped on her forehead. I know she is capable of so much, but I am afraid my inability to overcome her resistance to instruction from me, her mother, has handicapped her.

I wonder if I just bit off more than I could chew. My homemaker skills are still woeful and the pregnancy set me back almost to zero. Maybe it was foolhardy to expect so much independence almost immediately because *I* needed her to be independent. We needed to work on basic obedience because of reasons, and I tried to skip ahead. I feel fairly confident that as the younger ones age, I will grow into their needs, but I have felt like I have been in crisis mode with G for so long. I feel the urgency. She definitely does not.

In more positive news, Grace has really become enthusiastic about her flute. She practices it every day. She works hard at it, wants to improve, and strives to be the best she can be. I am proud of her effort. She also is adept at Minecraft. Ha! And can also give long, in-depth talks about Harry Potter. It's not all bad, by any stretch. I know, intellectually, this is a season that will pass, especially as the baby gets older. I am just angsty and frustrated by the level of resistance I encounter on a daily basis and am afraid of the long term consequences of my distracted attention.

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