Thursday, November 3, 2016

Scaling back.... or is it forward?

     Let me tell you a story.

     It's probably not a very interesting one but, it's part of my journey as a homeschooling parent (please notice that I used the word "parent", it's important).  I think, so often, we get caught up in the "importance" of sticking with the overall plan of things that staying on course can easily become being off course.  I believe that life circumstances and having a lot of children propelled me earlier on to be "ok" with veering off the path I thought would be the right one for our homeschooling. 

     I know I have spoken a little bit about my path from leaving the Classical Education Movement and settling into the Charlotte Mason/Eclectic side of the homeschooling pendulum but I would say that, these days, you might could also throw in a little "un-schooling" terms as well.  Why do we keep shifting?  Are my kids still learning?  Am I even schooling them really?  Yes, Yes, and most definitely YES!  It's just different, and it's good and, I feel like, as the primary homeschooling parent, (there's that word again) that I am waking up to the fact that all my children are learning in different ways.
Boring school from back-in-the-day.
I have shared this picture before.  Man, I was
so proud of all this "studious" school stuff.
They hated it.
That probably sounds silly saying that.  I mean, as homeschoolers, we know that part of the reason we homeschool is because we want them to learn in their own way.  But let's be honest, many times we go with what we were modeled (public school) and/or the one-hit-wonder style we want for our homeschooling.  Our family really muddled through things and I wish I had learned more from my oldest.  I really wanted her to conform to what I wanted her to like and the style I wanted for our homeschooling.  Little did I know, how wrong that ideal image was for us!  The play goes on...

     Now, in this story, there have been some key players that have brought me to where I am.  Namely, my daughter Mairyn 13.11, Adam 11.2, and Josiah 14.5.  Mairyn was the first kink in my train track,  She is the straw the broke the camels back with my hopes of returning back to the Classical model wayyyyy back in the day.  Mai-Mai hated it.  She just wanted to do her own thing, save the animals, and play.  When introduced to the Charlotte Mason stuff she literally sang and danced.  (Fair note: the older two girls at the time were not as impressed.  During our first lesson, a picture study, Faithlynn cried because she couldn't get it- it was too easy, and Hannah thought for sure I had gone bonkers and felt like surely she needed to do a full oral/written essay.... she was 7.5).  Anyway, it was Mairyn who led our group toward a love of learning and helped me to understand that I was never going to be "lesson plan mom".  We read books, found Queens (which we still use to this day), Mystery of History, and played.  Well they played, I had lots of babies!

     Next came Adam.  Adam was busy.  Adam was naughty.  Adam was impulsive.  Adam couldn't make a good decision to save his life.  Adam processed differently.  It took me years, and years, to finally figure out what was hindering my boy.  Part of it was maturity, but there was a large other part.  He has dyslexic tendencies and, what I call, left brain learning gaps. (For Adam's story, go here =)
things finally started turning around for Adam
when we started using The Thinking Tree books.
     Adam struggled, primarily, with reading.  This kinked the track once again.  How do I school this child when he can't read?  I started to take out the word "school" and replaced it with EDUCATE.   Mostly, I learned that not a whole lot needed to be altered for Adam with the exception of minimizing the reading frustrations and letting him show his work in different ways; like drawing, building, telling. etc.
      You see, there is a huge difference between straight up academics and education.  I removed the emphasis of academics and replaced it with rich education.  We stuck with the over- all idea of Charlotte Mason but the fantastic more un-schooling-esc  things started to pop up (for a glimps at some of the stuff from Sarah Janisse Brown-go here and look at the stuff under "Thinking Tree").

     The next cast member is my son Josiah.  His entry into the script was about the same time I was really trying to figure things out with Adam.  Their roles intertwine.  Josiah is actually my step-son.  We don't "do" steps in our home.  I am Mom and he is my son and vice versa.  The only reason I point this out is because it is part of the story.  He was still public schooled (per his bio-Mum's stance) up until recently.  In public school, he struggled to say the least.  He has some similar processing things to Adam when it comes to rote academics and I discovered he had minor dyslexia that had never been caught!  Anyway, long story short, he was failing public school 7th grade.  He hated it.  It was finally decided that he (and the other two bonus kids) would all be homeschooled.  That was almost 2 years ago now.

     Well, now I had a new challenge.  And this gets a little.... dicey.  See, I have to work very hard at making sure I love and understand Josiah well.  We are the complete opposite from each other.  If you are up on the MBTI stuff, I am an ENTP and he is an ISTP.  For those that have no idea what those letters means.  The short story is this:  I am a big picture, out-side-of-the-box thinker, and super extrovert.  He is a face value super introvert.  (If you want to take a good personality test, I like this one).  But why is any of this important?  I'll tell you.  Because I am a HOMESCHOOLING PARENT!  (that word again!).
     You see, deep within all this homeschooling, teaching, teachery, stuff.  At the end of the day.  I am a parent.  I am their Mom.  At the end of the school day, or the end of the school year, they don't get to say "bye-bye to teacher I don't like", and I don't get to say "Glad I am done with that one!".  THAT ONE IS MY KID!!!
      Before all this schooling stuff.  I am first their parent; their mom!  I need to make sure that at the end of each day and each year that we all still have a relationship.  If I am at risk of faltering in any of my relationships with my kids, I am MOM enough to say that I run the greatest risk with THAT ONE.  Which makes me strive even harder to understand him well, so that I can love him well.  And that also means I need to figure out the best way to teach him and instill in him a love for learning.  But I did have a problem, he had not been taught to love education and independently learn.  Also, our homeschooled kids had much more knowledge in history and science than did the public schooled kids.  I needed to bridge the gap, get the new homeschoolies up to speed and, specifically, help my Siah.

Reading before lunch from our History Focus: Ancient Egypt
     So what do we do?  How do we go about this?  I started by changing some of what the rest of us did in order to give the new homeschooling kids time to de-frag from public school.  Also, I needed to reshape Josiah's perspective on education.  He wasn't very interested in academics and was really down on himself, but he was excited to homeschool!  We just needed to change his outlook on learning.  I needed to help him discover education!  I needed him to find a love for learning.  I needed to be his homeschooling PARENT and not his teacher.

     Our first semester (Spring) was mostly small projects, getting into the swing of schooling, getting on track with math and learning a new way of education.  Since they came in mid year and everyone else in my crew was settled into our curriculum choices for the year, I didn't change a whole lot.  I took away most writing assignments, did more group and creative projects, and found everyones speed with Math (Josiah had catching up to do).

     The second year (and first full year), we ditched Mystery of History and instead did Brimwood Press for history.  This was awesome!  Very RIGHT BRAIN but still engaged plenty of left!   We kept up with Queens for Science and LA, and for math, it was either Teaching Textbooks or Khan (later in the year, Khan was switched out for CTC math.)    Oh, and we did a lot of journals.  Lot's and lot's of homeschool journals!
The start of the Homeschool Journal Craze!

     At the end of this past school year (2014/15) I realized that  my homeschool train took a huge swing in the direction of parent-led un-schooling.   The journals helped my kids and I find the
platform we needed to allow them to learn about their interest in a more concrete way but still as part of their homeschooling.  Brimwood gave us all the confidence to move away from a history curriculum and just do our own.  Taking what we LOVED about brimwood and recreating that for our home, on our own.  We still use our QUEENS stuff, that is still good, just the way it is =)  We just..... relaxed.

Me... not looking forward to fall.
     That brings us to now, fall 2016.  I actually spent a lot of time stressing out over this school year;   primarily about Josiah.  I knew I was going to be over extended in the fall.  Aside from our normal, crazy crew.  My almost 17 year old niece and 12 year old nephew both came to live with us.  I was doing curriculum reviews for the Old School House magazine, I run a homeschool enrichment group and Olympic Cotillion, my parents were moving up, we are looking for a bigger home to move into, my oldest started college, the next older two girls got jobs and are attending drivers ed, and then there is canning season, and, and, and, and.  I was not looking forward to fall!

      I started making statements like, "Can't I just let the little boys play and color and call it good?" and "We can just do our own thing for history right?".  I knew I needed to scale back but a lot of the things on my plate were things I could not get rid of.  So the answer was to figure out how to better organize and manage it all while still inspiring my less academic kids to want more education and allowing my super academic kids to still be able to fly!

      I prayed.  I ditched.  And I streamlined.  I am no longer apart of the TOS review crew.  I staggered the start-ups for the programs I run for a smoother fall.  I put together (very easily) my own history for the year using the same theory of learning that we have learned from our routine with Brimwood and The Thinking Tree.  I'm really trying to keep the education fun and applicable so that I can love and parent them well while homeschooling.  I am their homeschooling parent, not their teacher, not like that anyway.

Nature walk
     What I now can see is that in my scaling back, we have actually been moving forward.  I see them more engaged, more excited, and more interested than ever before.  I've been thinking even further outside the box.  I gave all my older kids blogs to write on.  Even my non-writers have found this to be fun and look forward to posting and reading what the other kids have posted.  We have been having art contests, we drink more tea, we are more relaxed, they are more engaged, and I am like "what????".  I literally gave them the tools, a few parameters and said "GO!" and what I am getting back is knocking my socks off.

working in our homeschool journals
     When not doing our one room school house learning, I spend my time hanging out with the little boys coloring, helping them with their reading and math, playing games and drinking tea (while reading everyones blogs and doing older kid consulting- lol).  Actually, that is only about 90 minutes of my day (aside from reading all their blogs and discussing with them), I am still crazy busy, though- lol.
      I am enjoying the insights into each of my kids as I read their blogs.  I am seeing their creativity come through in the ways they choose to show their work.  We have continued with our history book reading and tea drinking as a group.  I have stuck with the "write or draw" your notes (regardless of age).  We have all just scaled back, in general, and found that it wasn't as scary as we all thought it would be. I guess, in short, I realized that I didn't really need so much curriculum.  I just needed my kids to love learning- and we are nailing it!

recent trip to ART OF THE BRICK at the
Seattle Science Center
   It's like I, finally, really, for sure and for certain, got over myself.  Life getting busier (because that is what happens with young adults/teens) forced upon us another twist in the plot, another turn in the road.  And while I whined and complained for a while (I was pretty sure I was going to ruin my kids if we started to look more un-schooly than not), what I found out is that the more I made our lives full of rich education, the more I focused on being a homeschool PARENT, the more I strived to understand each child and play off their strengths, the more we actually learned, the more we actually accomplished, and the more we enjoyed!  What a path THAT has been!

     My encouragement to you is this:  If you feeling like you can't breath in your homeschooling, maybe what you need to do is to scale back and in that state of rest, you will probably be able to see where your story is unfolding... and it may just surprise you!


Having FUN with EDUCATION!

*I'd like to note that we are not doing nothing but instead it is how we use our educational material that has changed.
Our Curric pics this year:

K-1st the complete book of math 1/2 and Math Mysteries

2nd-highschoolTeaching Textbooks 

middle school-highschool CTC MATH or TT or Khan

Language Arts:
K-3rd: Reading EggsHomeschool Journals , in general writing practice stuff and reading

4th-6th: Reading EggsHomeschool Journals Queens LAQueens cursive, reading novels

7th-highschool:  Homeschool Journals Queens LACover Story, Blog writing, LA classes on Coursera, and Future Learn. (Last two highschool only for the most part).

*ditched coverstory- just wasn't for us.

All grades:  Queens Science

Middle School: United States DIY journal
Junior High/highschool:  Travel dreams DIY journal

ARTArt Hub for Kids on YouTube

All kids: Historical novels for engaging thinkers 4 book set  Each book represents a time period.  Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, Modern.  We cover 2 books/time periods a semester.  We use that as our read-a-loud.  Kids take notes in their history journal (spiral bound line paper notebook).  We watch movies, read additional books, do art, and independent studies on this time period for the duration of the novel.  Then at the end of each time period, each child does an oral/visual presentation to show their knowledge.