It is back to school in the Northern Hemisphere… and this is good news for us, because it means that for them Summer is turning into Fall, and for us: Winter should be turning into Spring. Anyway the internet is packed with posts on How to Homeschool, What to Homeschool and even Why to Homeschool. If I was new to homeschooling and I was in my first couple weeks of school I would probably crawl under a blanket and hibernate for a couple of months.
Now we split our school year in two – half the year we unschool and the other half of the year we use a curriculum, throughout the year we read tons and spend heaps of time outdoors. It turns out we are a couple of weeks into our school year… and after homeschooling for twelve-ish years for the first time ever I feel confident enough to say that our schooling is going well. That is a lot of years of to cover before I stopped actually fretting about how our homeschooling is going and actually just enjoyed it for what it is. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t enjoyed homeschooling, I have loved every second of it, but I realise somewhere along the way I have lost that gritty worry that maybe our kids weren’t doing enough or weren’t up to speed. Our kids are our kids and learn at their own pace – that’s the point of homeschooling after all.
So I thought I would blog about things that have made the difference. It isn’t anything we have changed in our school… we still use the same curriculum, Sonlight and we love it, it is still the same kitchen table and the same kids, not to mention the same teacher. Turns out it isn’t about coping with the clutter that homeschooling creates or even worrying about what the homeschooling paparazzi are up to. Turns out it is about listening and heeding the needs of our family and our little school.
Se7en Things This Mother Just Can’t School Without:
- Actual Sleep: This is so huge, I could write a book on it. But being disciplined enough to get to bed timeously and sleep night after night. I get that many moms have little people, but long after my little people were in bed nights and sleeping through, I was staying up on the internet, looking for interesting resources for school and/or blogging. Turns out there are not enough resources available to beat a good night’s sleep and if I want to find things that will interest my kids then they have to actually look for them, themselves. So blogging is slower, sleep is moreish, bedtimes are better adhered to all-round and our school is so much better for it. Being awake enough and ready to face the day in the morning is huge, for all of us.
- A Jolly Good Morning for Everyone and a Positive Attitude: A bright and breezy good morning to folk who really don’t want to get up, can make the world of difference to everyone involved. Remember we live in the house of a couple teens and some of our gang really, really battle with mornings. Just saying a “Good morning, and hope you are ready for a fabulous day as they emerge from under the covers… sets the tone and is a great start to the day. I have banned the negative, from myself and between our kids, it has gone and it is never coming back. I just don’t want to hear moaning and groaning about anything or anyone. No more “I can’ts”, no more “impossible’s” If they need help with their work, then ask for it. If it really is too hard we can adjust it to fit better, but we won’t moan about it. Along with positives words we are banning the shouting out of “mam” everytime they think they might need me – this one is long overdue. But there will be no more, “he who shouts my name out loudest” gets attention.
- Lose those Mini-Interruptions: To state the obvious homeschooling happens at home and so it is full of the interruptions of life. And that is the joy of it, no two days are exactly the same and that is a good thing… interruptions happen – friends get ill, opportunities arise, folk want to stop by. Those interruptions are part of life and I ride the wave… but those little interruptions – the endless mam, mam, mam… from my kids all day can leave me feeling somewhat shattered long before lunchtime, not to mention that it is severely distracting for the child I am helping at the moment. The amount of times I turn and say yes, only to hear “I’ve forgotten what I was going to ask.” Enough was enough and we are conquering this. It is an important lesson to learn: you can’t just spill whatever words are in your head whenever you like… if your words are important enough then it is worth waiting a moment until someone is available to listen to them. We are mastering the art of “Excuse me” just once… no need to repeat yourself, “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” be gone. If the interrupter is desperate they may rest their hand on me and wait quietly. I won’t forget they are there and that moment to complete a thought or a sentence is just invaluable to the folk who are being interrupted.
- The Biggest Interrupter: Along the same lines of the previous point, I have a number of readers who are emerging writers in our school. They are just past the stage of writing with happy abandon and they have realised that in order for someone to read and appreciate what they have written they actually need to write correctly. The “How do I write…?” and “How do I spell…?” can go on and on and on… and the more they write the more they ask. I am all for it. I want them to ask and I know that by repetition they will get the words they use most often and build their “writing vocabulary.” The problem is with at least four children at this stage at the same time it was time to address this: Word books have been the answer… as soon as they asked: “How do I write…” they were issued with a tiny notebook that fits into their pocket – they love them and can use them any time and any place. I fold each page in two and when they ask for a word I write it down once… then they copy it into the second column. Slowly their lists are growing and they can look back at a word they have asked before, before they ask for the same word again.
- Lots of Little Mini-Breaks: Previously I sat in the same spot during school time for most of the day, and the kids would chop and change and take turns with me. This year I still have the same spot, I claim it – because it is sunny, but I get up and walk around when I change students… I check the post box, I go and take a look at the sea (there might be whales), I hang the laundry… previously I always tried to do all my moving around before school and I didn’t realise how stagnant I was feeling towards the end of the morning. Well mini-breaks really do give your brain a little refresh. try it, it works.
- Real Live Exercise: I while back we began taking an evening amble, it was hard to get into and I found so many excuses not to head out, but always felt refreshed afterwards. It has become a habit and without an evening amble I can hardly make it through dinner, let alone get folk to bed. I need that escape to the great outdoors and without it I suffer immensely, and so does everyone else.
- Let Some Things Go: Last year we focused on getting everyone’s reading up to speed… it was life changing. But other things were let go and math, besides mental math, boardgames and card games, was on a very slow burner. In the back of my mind I had to stop saying “What about the math?” and I am so glad we did that, everyone’s reading is so much better and that means independent work is so much easier. They can actually read the questions in their math books this year and understand them. This year we are focusing on math and everyone is literally flying through it. It is as if the break gave them the strength to press on. You simply cannot push every skill, every day and all day long… pick what you are focusing on and go with that… the other skills are not being neglected, it is almost as if, while a skill is on the back burner it is being mulled over and established, ready to be picked up and strengthened later on.
- The Great Outdoors: I know this is crazy, but I can no longer go weeks without a hike or spending time under the African sky… I have to get out and not a little bit out… it has to be away from the maddening crowd and the sound of traffic, it has to include the smell of fynbos and packing sandwiches and water bottles at the crack of dawn. It used to be enough for me to do our reading out doors in a sunny spot and to be honest we spend a huge part of our days outdoors… there just isn’t enough space indoors for everyone to be inside at all… but outdoors has become way outdoors and we are so spoilt with a beach and a mountain so close by, but even if we have to go into the city for some reason or other… we find a park, a natural space and linger longer. Somehow all the fresh air gets brains into gear and refreshes them for tackling school work again the next day.
And the se7en + 1: