Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our homeschooling evolution...Part II of V

Yesterday, I began writing about how our approach to homeschooling has evolved over time. I touched on starting out after a few years of public school, our first curriculum choices, and the first lessons I learned as a homeschooling mom.

Today, I'm going to write a bit more about curriculum, structuring our homeschooling days, and why we did (and still do!) most of our formal work at night.
We spent a lot of time walking our dog near the river. Spending time in nature is a great stress reliever and opens the door to curiosity about the world.

Homeschool lesson #4 - Selecting a curriculum doesn't mean you are locked in to using it
Buying curriculum can be scary! I decided early on that I wasn't going to force my son or myself to use any curriculum we hate, that we aren't learning from, or that requires a lot of work just to figure out how to use it. Learning should be enjoyable! If we enjoy learning we'll want to learn more, right? So, why in the world would we use something that doesn't add to that joy of learning?

We tried lots of curriculum, but I also talked to homeschooling friends, read reviews online, borrowed materials from others, and so on. We were lucky enough to know some homeschoolers already and met others fairly early in our homeschooling journey which made learning about curriculum fairly easy.

Before buying a curriculum, find out if you can return it if you don't like it. Borrow materials from friends of the library before buying them whenever possible. Don't sink a ton of money into anything that you aren't entirely sure of or can't return if it doesn't work out! We bought a huge history curriculum a couple of years ago - one that everyone I know seemed to love and one that looked great when I researched it online - and hated it. Thankfully I'd paid attention to the return policy and was able to send the whole thing back three weeks after we started it. Learn what you like and don't like in materials, and seek out or avoid those things as appropriate.

Homeschooling lesson #4a - Figure out where your child is at before selecting curriculum
When thinking about what type of curriculum and approach would work best for us, I considered where my son's knowledge level and interest levels were at.

I realized before we even began homeschooling that my son is a natural at writing, but the public school's curriculum was ruining his natural ability. The program had a "stoplight" structure designed to reinforce the idea of a topic sentence, detail/supporting sentence, and concluding sentence in every paragraph. Unfortunately, my son is very rules bound, and he became fixated on this simple, three sentence structure. Even after his teacher pulled my son aside and gave him permission to write beyond the structure, my son couldn't do it - not because he didn't know how, but because doing so would to be going outside the rules of the curriculum. Eventually my son just stopped writing for school assignments until he lost recess time as a result of not doing the work. That's how demoralizing he found the writing program. I knew he could write at a much higher level, but I had to break down the damage that had been done. For writing, we tried Writing Strands but it didn't fit our style. We tried just reading literature and writing a little bit every day, but my son still was hanging on to the previous "rules." I stumbled upon a series of workbooks called Just Write that were really a couple of years below my son's grade level, and many years below his true ability level, but I jumped on them when I saw them! The structure fit my son's needs perfectly and allowed me to undo the damage done by the public school's curriculum rules. By going backwards in grade level, I was able to basically have my son start over with writing - one of the BEST curriculum and homeschooling decisions I have ever made!

For math, my son was at grade level, but for science he was far ahead. For history, he was also far ahead. And, he had lots of interests that weren't part of the public school curriculum - music, computer programming, art history, German, and Russian.

When considering that in some areas my son was ahead and in other areas I purposely wanted to go below his actual grade level, I realized that a complete, prepared curriculum just wouldn't work for us. I know many people that have great success with prepackaged, whole curriculums, but that just wouldn't fit my son's widely varying comprehension and ability levels.
Golf is a great sport for kids who don't like team participation or aren't naturally athletic.
Homeschooling lesson #5 - Structure your lessons and time in a way that make sense for your family
When we first started homeschooling, I decided to scrap the typical school schedule. There was no way we were going to do "school" starting at 8am, having lunch and "recess" breaks, and finishing by 3pm. At the time, I worked night shift, and neither of us was a natural morning person anyhow. I already knew from my son's public school experience that the first subject of the day in public school was often his worst, even if it was something he normally excelled at, purely because it was so early in the day. I knew from just parenting my son and paying attention to when he was most happy and most engaged with the world, that he functioned best in the evening.

Taking into consideration my work hours and my need to sleep, my son's natural rhythms, and when we were both at our most alert and engaged, I decided that we wouldn't START our homeschool day until after 3pm, and often not until after 5pm! Early in our journey, we did use a lot of structure and curriculum with a schedule for everyday and a list of things to accomplish. We still do use a schedule, but are much looser about it now, but at the time, my job schedule combined with living with my mom who was a teacher and had her own expectations about homeschooling made me decide to be fairly strict on making sure things got done every day.

For the first three years or so of homeschooling, we often started our formal lessons with science since it was the topic that most engaged my son. We would then do history and maybe an art project, followed by JP's personal interests and a few skills I thought were important. He might work on his piano followed by practicing typing. Typically, we'd have dinner next, and for a long time we were in the habit of reading immediately after dinner, while still at the dinner table. Often we would read classics or poetry - Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, poetry by Cristina Rosetti or any number of other poets. After cleaning up after dinner, JP often helped make a dessert or helped make a snack for the following day - always easier to do it the day before thanks to my night shift schedule and having to sleep in the morning and early afternoon. Then, we would finish the evening with math.

Don't worry about following someone else's schedule. If lessons on the weekend or every other day or every other week or at night or first thing in the morning works for you, go with it! Doing something because someone else thinks you should doesn't work - do you what you need to do to get the best results for your situation!
Learning about computer technology at a science museum - right up JP's alley!

Tomorrow I'll be talking about what homeschooling looks like for us now, seven years after we started. I'll also be talking about video games as educational tools - and I don't mean games that are meant to be educational! Stay tuned!


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