This is our final week of homeschool lessons, then we’ll take half a week to complete our standardized testing and joyfully embark on our 7 week summer break, which will include a family wedding, swim lessons, and tennis camp.
3 things that worked this year
Learning with friends. Sharing life and learning with likeminded friends is, by far, my favorite part of our homeschool year and a key in our consistency and much of our success. Other kids show up – on time. I have to step it up and show up, too. More than the consistency push, though, the lessons with friends ensures that my kids know they are not alone. They have people who understand a Shakespeare quote or joke, because they were reading it together. They don’t fight the homework, because they want to show up prepared like their friends will – with a paragraph or a paper or a poem they will read aloud to everyone. Instead of solo narrations, my middle kids only know narrations that seem more like conversation – excited (extroverted) chatter about what we just heard. Not all co-ops are worth the effort, yet there really is no substitute for learning alongside friends.
Video teachers. We haven’t sprung for outside or online classes, but the DVD lessons we have used have been a lifesaver. Math-U-See, Latin for Children, Intermediate Logic, Grammar of Poetry, and Art of Argument – plus xtramath and Khan Academy as needed – have all made it possible for us to accomplish a full load and a broad education with each level currently happening in our house. I couldn’t stretch that far all on my own, but I can oversee and tutor if the lessons are prepared and taught and ready to go when the student hits play. My favorite bonus is that video teachers never get frustrated when they are asked (commanded, even) to repeat themselves.
Chores. When I redid our chore routines last summer, I thought about what needed to be done to get our school days off to an early, smooth start, especially on days where people would be showing up at our house at 9:30am (3 days a week). So instead of starting with possible chores each child was capable of doing and picking the sweet spot chore (not too easy, not too hard), I made a list of all the things that needed to happen in the morning to be ready for school and then assigned from that list based on ability. So, between the 5 kids, breakfast is entirely cleaned up and put away (one takes care of the kitchen, including unloading the dishwasher and loading, and another the dining room, including setting it with the Morning Time binders when he’s done), laundry is started, the entry way is cleared and tidy, and the main level bathroom is wiped down.
Having these chores be daily and automatic and mostly done by 8-8:30 (we definitely had creep over the year) has been a huge blessing.
3 things that didn’t work this year
Analytical Grammar. I wanted to do some grammar practice with my 12-year-old just to keep up his skills. Instead of coming up with it myself (which would end up not happening), I decided to go with prepared practice pages – Analytical Grammar. We gave up on it about halfway through the year because I thought it was overkill – too many sentences per page, too long sentences, too fine detail. I am a grammar person, and too much of this program seemed like grammar busy work – just because we can, we should.
But I have a goal for grammar: I want to be able to talk about writing in the technical terms and edit knowing what I’m doing and why. To do that I do not need to know every possible esoteric, abstract grammar concept. I need to know the working parts of everyday English, and I need to keep up my skills by diagramming a sentence or three a week. Parsing and diagramming 20 sentences per worksheet is insane and fatiguing, and many seemed to be complex for the sake of being complex, not for the sake of being good sentences. So I said, “Nevermind. We’ll do diagramming with writing instruction next year.”
Middle kids reading to the youngest. I assigned my 10yo & 8yo to read to the 5yo daily. This was not only to ensure the 5yo got a better variety and quantity of picture books read to her, but also ensured my middle kids got some more reading practice that seemed more like a responsibility than a drudge. It worked fine for the first half of the year (when they were 9, 7, and 4 respectively), but then my 5yo went through a stubborn phase and didn’t want to be read to. On top of that, the middle kids managed to argue over who was going to read what when.
So I shrugged and removed the provocation from their clipboards. I still do plan on trying again next year, but with some modifications based on this experience (they will alternate days and I will assign books).
Trello. So, in the middle of our second term, my husband helped me come to the conclusion that we needed to give up the Trello checklists. Yes, ever since October 2017 we’ve been using weekly checklists on paper and haven’t really looked back. At first the kids were disappointed, because using an app is fun, but after the first 2-3 weeks, they have been completely on board. Turns out it’s easier to focus when moving from a paper checklist than from a screen. The screen was increasing dawdling, procrastination, and zoning. Remove the screen, increase the focus. Period. Worth it, even though Trello was fun, nifty, and effective-but-for-being-on-a-screen.
Thinking through what did and didn’t work – and why! – is a better place to start planning from than a blank slate approach to a new year.
Iterate on this year, don’t scrap everything and start from scratch.
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