Friday, August 5, 2011

Schoolish Stuff: Plans for the New Year

For weeks now, I've been meaning to post some sort of look back at our school year, such as it is.

A word on our "school year." One of my children used to engage me in frequent discussions over whether we would follow the public school calendar for breaks, including a very long summer break. The conversation usually went like this:

Child: Are we gonna take a spring break next week? And can we take the whole summer off [from his OH SO GRUELING ACADEMIC LOAD, mind you?!]
Me: Oh, you would like to follow the public school schedule? Well, sure! Be dressed, fed, and ready to pick up your pencil at 7:45 tomorrow morning. We will study until 2:45 p.m. You may take two short breaks. And of course, going fishing with friends this Friday is out of the question.
Child: Mo-om!

Tomorrow: Same conversation.
Then, my smart friend Jenny, listening to me vent over the phone about the repetitive nature of this charming repartée, proposed a plan. Since Texas, in all its loosey-goosey glory, simply requires that we do 180 days of something that could pass as academic learning, why not let my child choose the 180 days? We got out a calendar. We marked off every day that could have been reasonably construed as a school day.  This was in March. Simple math showed the student in question, who has a healthy respect for the law, that our school year would probably extend well into July.

That little discussion that had become our near-daily bread? Never came up again. And we finished the last drop of academia at 8:30 p.m. the night before we left for Colorado, to great hoopla.

I am going to send Jenny a present.

So, digression aside, I thought I'd make a short list of what worked well for us last year. Then, hopping on the bandwagon that's rippling across the homeschooling blogosphere (e.g. the Heart of the Matter blog hop), I'll share a few thoughts/plans for the coming year.

Our Major Successes: 

This Week in History - Nearly every  morning at the breakfast table, we came across some fodder for discussion using this terrific resource. We're taking a hiatus from it right now, but doing the full year gave us plenty of springboards for learning.

Writing with Ease - Okay, not something my kids would turn cartwheels about, but I found that we all responded well to having something very consistent, bite-sized, and daily to complete. We really enjoyed  most of the reading selections, and sometimes sought out the books from which they derived for further reading. This was what the older two finished on that fateful pre-Colorado evening. And I think we'll continue next year, Eliza with Level Two and Ian with Level Four. Note #1: We only use the workbooks, not the textbook. Note #2: Ian (age 11) always preferred to do his copywork in cursive. I hear this from other mothers of boys too.

Geography Club: Yes, some months we were pulling food and presentations together at the helter-skelter last minute, but the momentum of the group was the push we needed to explore beyond our own boundaries. The kids also got some practice with public speaking and with thinking about how to prepare something that would interest an audience. We'll continue that this year.

Reading Aloud: At the beginning of the year, I tried to keep our read-alouds tied to our Middle Ages history theme, but by springtime -- as is often the case -- we relaxed into just choosing whatever I thought would interest my listeners. Favorites included The MoffatsHatchetIsland of the Blue DolphinsThe Fledgling, and The Saturdays.

Poetry Memorization: Ian memorized Jabberwocky, The Swing, and Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Why do such an old-fashioned thing as require/inspire a child to memorize poetry? For encouragement, see this terrific post from my friend Stefani.

Looking Ahead

I plan to continue with all that's working for us in the coming year. Here's what will change or be added:

Classical Conversations. Last year, for the first time, we did not participate in any weekly co-ops (don't freak out; my kids had plenty of social life). For the most part, we enjoyed having more freedom in our weekly schedule, using our Fridays to finish up loose ends, play games, do a monthly class at the Nature Center, or get together with friends. This year, some good friends of ours have talked us into joining their Classical Conversations group. I won't go into the multiple reasons why I felt it was the right time to try this out, even though it's so different from anything we've done so far. And I'm a bit nervous about how my child with learning differences will fare. However, I think this child is ready for more of an academic challenge, and will respond better to it coming from a party other than me. :-) And the girls are totally excited about their new lunchboxes, and I get to buy new pencils and whatnot like a Real American Mom, so it's all good.

Math - Oh gosh, y'all. Our approach to math has been ... relaxed. As in, no formal math for the younger two, which actually is a conscious choice. Eliza (8) seems to have a natural facility for math, and this year we'll probably start something slightly more structured with her, and see if she maintains the joy. Ian takes his math lessons from Dad, which means they happen at bedtime, which means ... maybe we need a little more consistency. He's been doing Singapore Math, but I think I'll start both him and Eliza off with Khan Academy (free!) during the day, where they can see the videos and set up accounts for doing practice problems. We may transition to Teaching Textbooks, since Ian gravitates toward visual information, especially on the computer, and I've read psalms of praise on behalf of this program.

Spelling - For Ian, the natural approach to learning spelling worked just fine. Simply by reading lots of books and doing periodic spelling bees for fun, he spells well. For Eliza, it's just not coming together. (Here's where I insert: Bless Her Heart.) I think she needs a more systematic approach and for that, we're going to go with the well-reviewed All About Spelling.

Bible - Last year, as in previous years, we worked our way through Egermeier's Bible Story Book. No complaints there. We just need a little something new, know what I mean? This year, perhaps next week, we'll start each morning with a devotional from Our 24 Family Ways, along with practicing their church and AWANA memory verses. Yes. We. Will.

Science - We had fun with REAL Science Odyssey from Pandia Press last year, although we sort of lost momentum midway through the year. I haven't decided, but I think this year we'll return to Apologia Science and do Exploring Creation With Zoology 2: Swimming Creatures of the 5th Day, just reading aloud together once or twice a week and doing a hands-on activity as time and energy permit. Will supplement with Nature Center classes and library books and magazine subscriptions and just finding answers to questions about why the sky is blue and so forth.

I haven't really decided what we're going to do for History, Art, Music, etc., but I think a fair amount of that will be covered in Classical Conversations, and I want to hold off and see how much we need to do, or have the capacity to do, as a supplement at home. Rather than having all the plans laid and jumping into every single subject on some magical day three weeks from now, we'll probably ramp up gradually to what feels like a good rhythm for us.

And you may be thinking, "Hey, I thought you had THREE kids!" And I do. But Caroline is five. And remarkably self-directed. My plan for her is to include her in the older kids' activity as much as possible, to make sure we have special read-aloud time on the couch every day, to help her progress in her own reading skills, and to set aside time every week to do a craft with her, since that is what causes her soul to flourish. We may also do Five in a Row, in a more consistent manner than we have thus far -- poor, neglected third child.

In all this, of course, I'm reading, reflecting, and planning, but also, first of all, praying. Praying along the lines of, "Lord, I have no idea what I'm doing!!" and "Lord, direct our paths this year," and "Lord, show me what each child needs and how you and I can meet that need together."

Did you make it this far? I know it's a long post, even for Her Royal Verbosity. If you survived, may you get a lollipop. If you leave me some encouragement in the comments, you may get two.

But no promises.


Ellie said...

Oh, I love reading bloggers' homeschooling "plans for the coming year posts" (I've been writing them too) -- thanks for sharing with us! It sounds like you got a lovely year sorted out, lots to do and explore :-)

Raji P. said...

I'm off sugar, thanks :) I am curious about the spelling curriculum. I may return my kids to the shop if they don't learn how to spell. Montessori kids are usually lacking in the spelling arena, I have been told, and that frightens me. Would love to hear what your homeschooling friends do for spelling practice. Been meaning to ask Camille too.

oh, and ps: if there's any room in your homeschool this year, let me know, I want to join!

cjoy said...

Oh my goodness....I have so many thoughts about this post I need an entire blog post of my own to respond - not a comment section!

But, in ultra-brief run-on style:
I'm going to try that calendar trick; Dad is helping with math; we're about to try Life of Fred then Teaching Textbooks if necessary; starting our own Geography Club (thank you!); wanted to do CC but couldn't this year; really MUST practice Awanas. . . .

I'll stop there, but the thoughts go on and on! Thanks for the verbose posting! ;D

Danica Newton said...

I agree with the 'natural' approach to teaching spelling. In my ed classes in college, I even had a professor say that in this day and age, teaching spelling isn't as important as it used to be, because of spell check. I'm not sure I'd go *that* far, lol

julronimo said...

As far as spelling goes, I found it helps to do a little of word origin, as in from Latin, from French etc. helps to place those tricky vowels. And going through the dictionary to get spelling lists also works great, especailly if the kids get to make one for you too. Not ahomeschooler full time, but had one "gifted" and one "learning different". Seems to work on both ends of the spectrum.

Eclectic Mama said...

Just so's you know ... Friday Co-op will be at Trinity this semester (Speedway and 40thish), just in case Classical Conversations doesn't work out. Just sayin'.

Jenny said...

Glad the school year calendar idea worked! Looking forward to my present. I like jewelry. ;)

Ticia said...

Looks like a great year. I need to start writing down what days my kids are in school since my boys are actually in 1st grade now. I didn't know Texas had a minimum number of days.

Julie said...

My prayers too!... Thank you for posting all that you do!! Classical Conversations is amazing! We'll probably go back to it later...long story for comment section...but really a wonderful program...

Sarah Wayne said...

I've been perusing your blog. Wonderful! How did you find the book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity? The reviews sound tantalising. What effect did it have on you? Finish undone projects, start new exciting ones.

Sarah Wayne said...

Sorry. That comment was meant for the Four Chairs. Oops.