Most of you know that our school year is a mix of thirty-six weeks of Sonlight curriculum, a heap of following your own passions and dozens and masses of books thrown in for good measure. Suddenly I noticed that we have hit week thirty in our wander through a year of school… which means we have about six weeks to go with our scheduled schooling… That is six weeks left to pick up any lose ends and pack away the work that has been done… Six weeks to start or abandon projects that we intended to do for school this year and never got too. For some of my students there is a little scramble for the finish line and for others they are just sliding into the finish.
To write a “What’s Working vs What’s Not…” kind of post one really has to know what your goal for the year and don’t knock it, but hindsight is often the best way to determine a goal. As a novice homeschooler my goals were often task focused: “teach a child to read” and “develop another child’s math skills”. Not to mention, everything I am reading about homeschooling lately cries out for independent learning, my kids know all about independent learning, otherwise they would never get any school done – one mother and eight kids… they have to do their own thing!!! So we have worked through task focused schooling and independent learning and this year there has been a new atmosphere towards school in our home.
I have high-schoolers, the end of schooling for some of them is in sight… and this was the first year that I felt that “homeschooling isn’t forever”… the first year that I wasn’t so much focused on getting us through it and on to the next year and the year after. We are running out of years – it is no longer a question wether my kids will ever learn to read, if they will read enough… but rather about placing opportunities in their paths and leaving my students to grab them – or not!!!
My focus the whole year was on spending time together and having plenty of time for my kids to follow their passions and master their lessons, making memories and learning along the way. I am so aware, that especially for my older kids, they will run out of childhood. And while my kids are dashing to grow up I wanted them to be able to be kids to take the time. Turns out while I was focusing on maximising our time together… weeks and weeks of school slipped away, books were read, history journals filled and science notebooks created. The tasks happened: A couple of our kids are in the throws of learning to read and independent learning was pursued… some kids continue to discover that I have already done school and now it is their turn.
Se7en + 1 Things That Worked For School This Year…
- Schedules Worked For Us, Slightly:
- Art Worked For Us:
- Writing Worked For Us:
- Getting OutDoors Worked For Us:
- Reading Aloud Worked For Us: Instead of scheduling reading aloud, instead of working through a prescribed reading list… We just always had a book on hand and we read and read and read. We did more family reading together than ever before… Living on the edge of our seats through meal after meal… and long after meals were over… we read on and on… This was the year that I shared heaps of books with my kids from my childhood… not just schoolbooks… heaps of books, funny books, classic books, old books and new books. We laughed, we cried and we made a collective memory and built a family cultural literacy like never before!!!
- Extra-Murals Worked For Us:
- Local Learning Worked for us:
- Life Skills Worked For Us:
We have been working on schedules for the last few years… improving, revising and honing them. The to-do list in their school files wasn’t enough… my kids need details and they need colours and highlighters and markers!!! They need to know what I will help them with and what I won’t… they need to know that the lion share of the work is theirs but there are tasks that I really want to do with them. But I have had to learn that different kids need different schedules and some kids work better in chunks… a subject a day and others work better with a little bit of each subject every day. They all need to know what we are starting the day with, what fun project we are doing and when we are having lunch. Lunch is big… because that is the signal for the end of “formal school” for the day. The problem I have with schedules is that one or two of my kids are very focused on ticking things off, I keep their schedules vague, because ticking off tasks can lead to a lot of “bare minimum work” and following a topic that interests them can get lost in the rush to “get through the list.”
Remember the focus is all about slowing down and not rushing… drawing a picture until you were happy with it, working it until it was finished rather than than popping a rough sketch on the page and moving onto the next thing on the agenda. So no fancy program, no special materials. Just drawing week by week with regular 4B pencils; soft chalky pastels; oil pastels; water-colours and acrylics. Listening to classics, or audio books while we drew, and me sitting at the table and drawing with them really helped – no one wanted to dash off ever!!! Did our drawing improve, did our concentration improve and a couple of students who thought that they couldn’t draw at all discovered that with practice they could actually do quite well.
My kids will tell you that grammar work books never arrived on the school table this year, and they are right. The writing assignments that we have always battled through in their Language Arts, became a breeze. I left those assignments to them and a couple of lines in a journal became good enough for me. Turns out they did tons of writing, real writing… we lost the focus on assignments and started doing the real thing. Writing that they really enjoyed doing… tons of it. Turns out in the month before we started formal school I sat with each of my kids and worked through there grammar workbooks with them – just settling back into the idea of school and conquering all sorts of skills that would help them with their writing during the school year. One on one time and the work flew by and the skills were learnt – no need to slog over workbooks throughout the year if the work is done.
The oldest three kids spent November immersed in NANOWRIMO for kids… And for kids that have never embraced a massive writing project they totally loved it. They slept, ate and thought of nothing else for the month and each produced a novel beyond anything I ever thought that they could do. Throughout the year they took on writing projects on their own, and newspapers were the flavour of the year, but that is a whole ‘nother post!!! My younger students were inspired to write their own books… one lad has spent hours drawing convoluted comic books and you all know who has spent hours writing out recipes… and very quickly learnt “that in his own words” was the way to go – because let’s face it, people that write cook books can get a bit wordy!!! So writing they have done, maybe not in the traditional – “Tell me what you did over the weekend” way… but done!!!
No agenda, just outdoor fun… not about enforced fresh air or nature journals just… getting to the beach a whole lot more often and going for walks in the great outdoors – just because it is fun. Totally jumped off the whole nature journal bandwagon – do I hear a collective gasp!!! My kids did do a whole lot of nature walking and visiting natural factual spots… and quite by accident they did a whole lot of looking up and learning and gathering of artefacts while they were at it. Yes, they drew things they had collected while they were out in the wilds… but we never did a special… lets look at the life-cycle of the water-skater and document it kind of lesson… turns out kids and their mom are naturally curious and we looked things up when we wanted too and used photography to document our travels… Photo walks came into their own this year.
We joined the gym a year or three back and for the longest time it was fabulous, the kids loved it, they learnt new things and they were exercising. But time has marched on and the couches that were once energetic now laze around chatting and while the kids can “do whatever they like”… not exactly what I had in mind!!! However we have become a lot more intentional with going for walks and games on the beach. Our weekly ambles have progressed to hikes, they do grow up!!! And while my students may never show any prowess at a particular sport they are going to grow up with a lifestyle of exercising.
I know I have blogged that we don’t do extra-murals though I always feel “I must sign them up.” In general my kids don’t do extra-murals, I really believe free time to play and create is far more important than anything they can learn at an extra-mural. That being said, my older kids have become really good at finding things that they really want to do outside of the home. Free lectures here and there, sponsored courses that require them to apply and submit their own proposals, all good training for the real world. I have found for my high-schoolers leap at the opportunity to learn and are a little non-plussed by kids that join their language class, for instance, that just don’t seem to want to be there!!! Meanwhile, my kids are gaining the pressure of class tests and the commitment to do things by and for a set date. I have to say that they have yet to study for an exam, they seem to breeze through them with no work whatsoever, that being said they do not consider a class complete until they have understood everything and done the assignment for the next lesson. Long may that last and they are proving that consistency is the key. It does kill me ever so slightly, knowing how I crammed my way through exams – but I can’t argue with their test results and have to leave them to it!!! My oldest did a couple of college courses and loved them – loved them. He learnt how to write assignments, schedule his preparation for them and get them in timeously. So they are mastering the skills they will need for attending college one day, if they want to but are totally unfazed by the build up to the “School Leaving Certificate.”
It is so easy to get caught up in a curriculum and forget that we need to know more about where we live ourselves… well for the first time ever we learnt local history, and natural history well – just by using the library and seizing every opportunity to go on an outing, visit a museum or meet up with interesting people, join community projects. Building a library, with our readers, for a rural school was a great way to learn about our country… We read a lot of locally written books from the library – in every section… literature, art, biology, geography… and of course stories… we learnt a lot with a map on the wall and meeting all sorts of people, from all walks of life.
I didn’t schedule lessons in laundry folding or how to peel an onion. I never scheduled who would wash the dishes when… but this was the year that my kids really started playing the game of “life in as part of a family” with a certain level of commitment. There has been a natural supportiveness, especially in our older kids that see dinner is getting late and they will start cooking, or they see the laundry needs to be brought indoors and they do it… Turns out my kids have mastered and conquered loads of laundry, mountains of dishes, cooking dinner for a family of ten and their guests… caring for younger siblings, baking, sweeping, cleaning… the list goes on, and all without a textbook!!!
And now that I have written this, in the next six weeks we need to focus on getting our science experiments done and some math intensive… But all in all a good year, a busy year and a year packed with memories…