Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reevaluating our Homeschool

Before Secora was born, our homeschooling days were pretty relaxed. Sierra loves worksheets, so we have workbooks for each subject and I would copy worksheets she needed a few days ahead of time. I decided what she was going to do each day based on how far along she was in each book and on her requests. So, if she was through week 12 of spelling, but only week 10 of science, I'd pull out some science sheets. If she was all gung-ho for a geography lesson, I'd get one of those out. This plan worked fine for the first few months.

When we made it back to Montana and got all of the school things out for our first day back (we had packed up what we needed and taken it to Texas with us), it didn't go quite so well though. I was trying to nurse Secora while I copied pages and Sedona was throwing a fit because she wanted to trace letters and Sierra was putting in requests for a certain subject. It was all too much input for my brain and I very quickly got frustrated and irritated, which are not quite conducive to teaching young children. I decided it was time for a little soul searching and a new plan of action.

I can't quite embrace what's typically described as unschooling (nor do I think Sierra could...she thrives on being evaluated). But I do want them to have some freedom to explore topics that are interesting to them and I don't want to have a rigid curriculum we're tied to for the year. When I thought about my goals, I decided that I'm not willing to do away with actual sit-down school time completely. I think at this age, there are some basic subjects that just need to be taught. To be clear, they WANT and actually beg to do these things. By "need to be taught" I mean that I think they will pick up these topics easier and with less frustration if they have some guided instruction. Sierra will continue doing her spelling, geography, science and grammar workbooks on a regular basis and we will continue following the math program we've started. I've decided to drop Spanish for now because I'm not sure I'm happy with the program (I think she'd like the online version from the same company much better). I also want to get a little more serious with history, which has fallen by the wayside, but I want to make it more hands on so more of it "sticks" for her. I'm also going to stop giving all the other stuff we do short-shrift and recognize that it's part of the school day...things like baking, sewing, and writing my grocery list for me are going on the school calendar just like math and history.

The biggest difference is going to have to be in how I organize all of this though. I can't just grab a worksheet here or there because I end up feeling overwhelmed with everyone's demands and just not doing any of it. So my new plan is to map out a week at a time. If we take a week off for a trip, no problem. If Sierra's having a really bad math day, we can put off the lesson until the next day. As far as organization goes though, I will have every worksheet, book and activity I need for the week prepared by Sunday night (and ideally put into a color coded folder, so all I need on Monday is the blue folder, for instance, and we're good to go). We'll still be flexible, we'll still go off on tangents and look up topics Sierra specifically asks about, but I won't be scrambling for materials everyday. I'm also going to plan activities for Sedona. These will all be craft/creativity/imagination type things and she can choose whether she wants to do them or would rather just draw or play with play dough, but I'll be prepared if she needs something to keep her occupied. She now knows her colors, shapes, and phonics and I don't plan to do any other formal things with her unless she asks or she's older. Just looking back over the last few months, I have a feeling she'll pick up reading and writing at her own pace within the next year and I'm not going to push it. Just like Sierra, we'll answer her questions as they come up throughout the day, explain things as we're doing them in daily life, but she won't have a more formal set-up until first grade.

Curriculum-wise, as I mentioned, we will be going more hands-on with history. We are moving on to the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World this week and it is an internet linked book (you can go to the Usborne site, put in a page number for the book and they give you links to kid appropriate websites to learn more about that topic). I'm taking the time to look through the links ahead of time and pick one or two that would appeal to Sierra. For instance, later this week she is going to explore what a house in one of the earliest cities would have looked like and do an activity with one of her postcards to think about how archeologist interpret and reconstruct wall paintings. A little later on when we talk about early writing, I think I'm going to get a little clay to let her make her own little pictogram story.

I'm also going to change up how we're doing reading. I have some reading assessments I do with her periodically and she is WAY (way...extremely far...it's really a little scary) ahead on reading ability, but her comprehension hasn't caught up. So, we're going to put away the short stories and associated worksheets for a while and try something different. I'm going to have her start doing some creative writing (this week I'm having her write some sort of story involving Christmas, and then draw pictures that go along with her story) and also writing some letters to family members describing things she's been doing. I'm hoping that will get her thinking more about the meaning behind the words instead of just focusing on reading. I'm also going to have her pick a chapter book to read and I will also read the book and come up with some activities to reinforce thinking about the story as she goes along. I think things like drawing a picture of the main character, putting major events in the story in chronological order, answering basic questions, and/or writing a short summary of one chapter will be doable for her.

All in all, it works out to quite a bit of "homework" for mom (though, easier days) and about 2 hours of seat work a day for Sierra. The rest of her time is spent doing whatever happens to pop into her head (that can be good or bad....). Lately, she loves to watch Mythbusters...with my luck, she'll be asking to do physics next year!

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