Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Homeschool Chronicles {What Has + Hasn't Worked}

Homeschool  ChroniclesLook at that, it's almost March already.  Wow, we only have a few more months of school!  Summer vacation means more playing, more sewing and more kid-bickering (it's true, but let's focus on the positives).  Yaaaaay! 

Actually, I'm really anticipating our next school year this fall. We've formed a teaching co-op with two other homeschool families to start then.  We'll be meeting once per week and each teaching a subject we're passionate about.  I'm teaching writing!

Ok friends, I haven't written a Homeschool Chronicles since early December.  Want to know why?  I've felt shy about how much I change what we're doing.   I know most folks believe in the scientific accuracy of schooling by state standards.  And here I am schooling "ad hoc" and flaunting it.  Even though I'm using my tiny voice right now, I actually believe flexibility is a great strength of homeschooling.  So, today I've put on my big girl panties and resolved to air my dirty laundry bullet point style.  In the last few years, this is what's worked and.... what hasn't.

What Hasn't Worked
yes, best start with that

  • Exploratory Handwriting.  When Aria started copying letters (and soon books) at a very young age, I adhered to a "better late than early" philosophy and allowed her to discover handwriting organically.  Turns out, incorrect patterns of letter formation and improper pencil grip are really hard to stamp outI've found it's best to teach the correct way to form the letters, making strokes from the top down, from the very first.  Insist on a proper pencil grip or buy grippers to enforce one.
  • Dictation.  Central to the Bravewriter language arts programs is practicing regular dictation.  Sure it's beneficial, but Aria detests it.  I decided it wasn't worth so much stress, when there are other ways to teach writing. 
  • Spelling Tests.  Passing spelling tests does not a good speller make.  All that stress!  I've seen my children pass the test but magically lose that information a few days later.
  • Project Hour.   I outlined in my Bucket System post that each child was to have one hour of project time following morning school bucket work.  2 months in, I discerned that Liam's project time was not very fruitful.  Since he doesn't yet read fluently and he's not really a self-motivator, he benefits more from parent-directed teaching.  Aria is seriously motivated and independent, so she wasn't restraining her project time to that hour anyways.  In fact, she preferred to do her projects during wind-down time in her bedroom at night (and at random times throughout the day). 
  • Assigned Fiction Reading for Language Arts.  I have always loved to read, and yet I often chaffed under assigned fiction in school.  Fiction is all about enjoyment!  Although I was drawn to the way Bravewriter programs integrate great books into language arts, requiring certain books and using them for assignments takes a lot of fun out of reading.  I'm still working in historical fiction as part of our history program, but for language arts she can read whatever she darn well pleases.  Aria reads fiction often during reading bucket and on her own time.  Bravewriter just didn't fit for us this year.  Maybe in older years we'll return to assigned fiction for language arts.
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What Has Worked
here's what I know

  • Choice.  So key!  Allowing Liam to choose books for reading practice made all the difference.  When I gave Aria the choice of when/how much of her math book to do (with the understanding that she was to complete it by next school year) her passion for math flared up BIG TIME.  My Bucket system (students choosing what work to do within a particular theme, such as writing) has created so much peace and positive learning in our home.  Give them several good options to choose from.  Then, let them choose!
  • Variety.   Honestly, the kids and I don't get bored with school.  We keep things moving along, with studies to suit our interests.  Sometimes we've worked in blocks on monthly rotations, focusing for a time on history/math and next month on language arts/science.  Right now with Liam, I am alternating his main lesson time between language arts and math on a weekly basis.  This reduces his language arts stress (though he is doing great, he still gets fatigued).  Besides shifting our focus, we also use multiple resources to cover most subjects.  Usually, the point is not to "get this done" by the end of the year, but rather to keep going at a healthy, engaged pace.
  • Favorite Curriculum.  Any curriculum recommendation reflects the education philosophies of the teacher and the temperment/strengths of the child.  Keep that in mind!
    • Apologia Sciences.  These books go deep on a narrow topic and include fun experiments.  Aria discovered her passion for science through the Astronomy book in 2nd grade.  She's now eagerly working through the series.  The student journals encourage note-taking and illustrating, plus review through answering questions.  Note:  This is a faith-based series.
    • Enki 1st Grade Math.  I love how this curriculum introduces pivotal math concepts and all four math processes through story, while also providing worksheets and games for traditional math practice.  Both of my children do well with math, to which I partially credit this excellent foundation in story learning.
    • Singapore Math.  This rigorous program asks a lot more of kids than other math programs I've seen on the market.  It goes beyond simple word programs to complex ones that require kids to make new connections.  Mental math is also prioritized.  Aria can generally learn this math from the textbook without my help, so it is convenient yet rigorous.
    • Sequential Spelling.  We've been happy with this non-phonics spelling program.  Here, spelling is taught through pattern/word association and lessons include some long, interesting words.  No tests, just practice!
    • Explode the Code.  Any phonics work we do is through these playfully illustrated workbooks.  Kids can do them independently.  I like a mix of phonics and context (whole word) reading, so this is a nice element for us.
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  • Read/Discuss History.   We enjoy history!  We've worked through various books over the years, including historical fiction and non-fiction designed for FUN reading, not textbooks.  I think the key has been to read interesting books aloud and discuss as we go.  The kids learn lots of vocabulary this way too!  The value of history lies not so much in dates and names as in ideas, patterns and connections.  No tests required because they've just told me what they know.  What's not to like?
  • Field Trips.  But you knew that.

Well, that feels better.  Like I've said before, our homeschool is a work-in-progress.  So is life, right?  When I think about how my kids are doing overall, I am always grateful we've walked this path.  I know it's not for everyone, but I like to spread the word that it can be a good option should the need or desire arise. 

If you're considering homeschool, I wonder if you'd be interested in a redo of Homeschool Handmade?  It's a two-week online course designed to acquaint you with your options, while helping you discern the unique path that's all your own.  Homeschool Handmade is for anyone just thinking about homeschooling, wanting to understand it better and visualize how it works.  It's even more ideal if you've decided to homeschool and are kind of starting or Not Starting Yet or turning around in circles, not quite sure if you're starting... or not.  And let me know what timing would be good!  April?  May?

xo,

Rachel

24 comments:

  1. I would definitely be interested participating in Homeschool Handmade. We are planning on homeschool and will probably start, very informally, sometime next year. I feel like this would be a good push in the right direction as I begin to think about the what's and how's. Late April would be best for me.

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  2. This is such a helpful post to read! We're still struggling just with consistency, and with getting the children to see the value in, say, learning to read. Argh. It's good to know that as they get older, my instincts that they should lead in some areas and I should lead in others are what seems to work for others. And we already have the Explode the Code books--looking forward to getting moving on those with the littlest ones!

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  3. We are using the same "Explore creation through Astronomy" books and my children LOVE it! Since I have 5 students, I took the spiral binding out and copied the journals (I bought the junior journal notebook as well), giving each child a Science binder. Then the master copy is kept for later children. They all have told me that next year, we should study the "Exploring creation through anatomy" book. I really like these books!

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  4. FWIW, I think I got a lot out of the Homeschool Handmade course last time. It's been huge for me to know that there are tons of different ways to homeschool and that I can freely mix and match to find what works for my family. Maybe I'm just slow.

    We are sort of using Bravewriter, in that I have The Writer's Jungle ('though I've only read through Chapter 3) and Partnership Writing from them but I'm not using The Arrow. I'm finding The Jungle is helpful with ideas and reframing, so that we talk a lot about the difference between the mechanics of writing and the art of writing. The Partnership Writing idea has been useful - basically allowing my daughter to dictate to me when she's composing original thoughts, so she can focus on getting the ideas out of her head without getting bogged down in the mechanics.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Christina! I take down stories for my kids too. That is a great tool for new writers. It can really help them find the fun of writing if they can just share their ideas while you type and organize them. Liam has the biggest grin when I read back his story to him!

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  5. Thanks for this post. It's always interesting to see what programs/books you are using. What did Aria not like about Bravewriter? I'd like to get my kids into a writing program to supplement their schoolwork but Bravewriter seemed a bit daunting to me.

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    1. Aria did not like having assignments come out of a book and doing the dictation. She got so stressed out about the dictation, as if she was going to be in trouble or a failure if she had any mistakes. It's not Bravewriter's fault. I think it's a well-written program that would work well for another child. It just was not a nice match for her. She's becoming increasingly independent and wanting her own space. This was not the year to increase her assigned reading list. Just not worth it when she'll happily read good books on her own.

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  6. I am getting ready to start homeschooling my 4 year old officially come September, we have been doing it informally to this point. I would be interested in participating and April/May would be perfect for me.

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    1. Thanks for your feedback! We may do late April then =)

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  7. My husband and I are readers. Our daughter never left the house without a book once she learned to read. ("We have to go to the grocery store." "Wait a minute I have to get a book to read on the way." 5 minute car ride) We read books out loud as a family activity. Our son WOULD NOT READ for pleasure. Bummer. Fast forward to high school. Madatory summer reading. For me it was mandatory punishment. 3 books each summer before the start of school with reports UGH! They gave a list of about 30 books each year from different genres. The whole point? Our son discovered Sci-Fi, which I hate! Now he READS. He owns dozens of books, sci-fi, history, horror, fiction. Some are late bloomers and you never know what is going to flip the switch. There are times I wish I had home schooled. Throw out what doesn't work and don't be afraid to try something new. The kids will be fine.

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    1. So true - you never know! I love being able to try and try and try again. Life is like that, if we give ourselves the grace to keep trying.

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  8. I think it's wonderful that you are homeschooling you're children. A while back I watched a movie called "Front of the Class" and while it is not about home schooling it is about a public school teacher who loved to teach and the journey he took to become a wonderful teacher. Not sure if it is you're kind of movie or not (or if you have time to watch) but am including a link just in case. It is based on a true story. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0aCTwTflCs

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  9. As a homeschooled child (now married and pregnant with my first living abroad in my late twenties) I think the approach you are taking is great. I have five sisters and we have all turned out (in my mind at least haha) to be great successes in our careers and personal life. I loved my homeschool experience. At one point I was having a hard time focusing but was obsessed with the Romanov family history. My mother was flexible and allowed me to have 3 months to study to my hearts content in place of my normal history if I completed a binder on internet research. It was very smart of her, I still love history with a passion and the experience helped me to choose my career (tech related) and earn a full ride college scholarship.

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  10. Yes! This is just what I needed to see today - for me and for a friend : ) I am definitely interested and will check back for more updates.

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    1. I'm glad to hear that you and a friend are interested! I have heard the same from several, so we will run the course late April, with registration early April. Stay tuned on the blog =)

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  11. My children are grown now and the two of the three that were home schooled the longest are now both men in their early thirties and we started at a time when there was not a lot out there to help us along, your approach is perfect!! the greatest testament is that all three of them think that if there is something they want to learn they can, they do not have to have someone TEACH them, and most likely it is in a book somewhere. or as now, technology has made it possible to learn almost anything one can want to know!!! So you are doing fabulously! congratulations on your wisdom!

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    1. It's a treat to hear all these stories for moms who have gone before. Thank-you!

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  12. Rachel, I enjoyed reading this so much and value your insight on what has worked for your family. It's also so interesting to see how each child is different. That's key, isn't it? Hugs, friend!

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  13. Being able to change what we are doing or how we are doing it is one of the reason I like homeschooling so much (and we change often too). I love that we have that flexibility. To learn what they/we are interested in at the moment the curiosity is happening and not waiting to finish a list of requirements.

    I think what doesn't work is just as helpful as what does work so thank you for sharing both. I'm relieved actually because spelling tests, diction, and assigned reading doesn't work for us either :)

    Thank you Rachel!

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  14. Hi Rachael, first I just want to say thank you for being such a public homeschool advocate. I think it's so important for people to hear that we have a choice when it comes to educating our children. I homeschooled my children 15-20 years ago when it was considered a "weird" choice. I'm happy it is far more acceptable today, largely in part to the success stories of these children and the courage of parents like yourself who dare to think differently.
    I never really wanted to homeschool when we started but I was talked into it by my husband. We were having a problem with my daughter's teacher and pulled her out of school in the middle of her fourth grade year. We assumed she would return to school to start fifth grade. Long story short, she never went back.
    Homeschooling turned out to be the single best decision we ever made for our family. It changed everything.
    So Rachael, it's not so important what you do in your homeschooling...it's most important that you just continue to do it. If I think back really hard, I do remember being stressed out regarding the curriculum choices, my daughter's terrible spelling and wondering if I was making a mistake by taking such a non-traditional path. But now I count it as the greatest blessing of my life.
    So, keep up the good work. You will never regret it! God Bless :)
    P.S. If I had to pick one thing we did in our homeschooling that was the most successful, productive and memorable, it would be reading aloud. We read aloud all the way through high school and have fantastic memories of family time spent together reading hundreds of great books. We never grew tired of it. So, continue on and create your family's own unique set of memories.

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  15. I HS'ed my son for 10 years then he transferred to community college at age 14, via an early college charter school (basically they paid for CC). He's now turning 16 this week and will go to a university full time this fall, starting with 55 credits (but as a freshman - better scholarships!) It's all about the journey and he's a prime example of it working - even all our curricula trials and mis-steps. We loved the flexibility and ability to match his learning style (global, thankfully!) and strengths and weaknesses.

    Some things didn't come naturally to him - spelling and writing. So while we did do phonics and spelling work, like math facts, they came along without much drill work. He loved dictating stories, but coming up with them on his own was a nightmare. So for several years I dropped formal writing and then in middle school picked it back up with an online instructor and he did so well! I had more hair, too! He's now up for full-tuition scholarships based on his essays. ;-)

    Enjoy the journey and don't stress! Co-ops are great, too! We did in-person ones (100+ families) and online ones.

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  16. I used all the code books with my daughter Esther (get ready for the code on up) and she lived doing them and can read! My oldest daughter went to public school and it took her until second grade to develop a love of reading. It was anguish I tell ya! I wasn't sure she would ever want to, but I bought her every Kathleen Duey book I could find and finally she's turned around. I wish I knew about the code books when she was 5.

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