Note: This year I had a 10th grader (15yo), 8th grader (12/13yo), 5th grader (10/11yo), 3rd grader (8/9yo) and K-1 (5/6yo).
Before planning next year, it’s best to step back and evaluate the past year. Often I’d rather just move on to the next thing, but if I want to make good decisions, I have to consciously choose to learn from my experience so far – and that means not only thinking about what I want to fix from this last year, but noticing what did work as well as what didn’t.
It’s easy to begin by noting what went wrong and what I want to fix for next year. Analyzing and troubleshooting is my tendency and preference. However, it’s true: It’s better to begin by remembering what went right.
5 things we did well this school year
Lots did happen this year, after all.
1. We made a lot of math progress.
This year we had a student finish Primer and finish PreCalculus. I found this funny because when we started that PreCalculus student back 10 years when he was 5, I started in Alpha, thinking the kindergarten program was a waste of time. Every other student of mine has done Primer – not because kindergarten math is essential or important, but because every one of my 5-year-olds has wanted to do math, and I both didn’t want to start them in math where they’d need help nor did I want to waste their enthusiasm. Math-U-See Primer is the perfect workbook for the enthusiastic 5-year-old: it’s “real” math just like everyone else, and it’s also just the right skill practice to prepare them for Alpha.
When my oldest started and I was big on plotting out complete scopes and sequences, I also never imaged we’d get through PreCalculus. Completing Algebra 2 was all I was aiming for. Indeed, if I had remained in charge of math, completing even Algebra 2 would have been difficult. However, my husband took over math when I was in over my head halfway through Algebra 1 (I never understood the plotting of points stuff and skipped it when I was in charge of my own math education at 15). He wasn’t insistent that Hans finish PreCalculus, but he was insistent that Hans be challenged and continue to progress in math, and that got him through PreCalculus before he finished his 10th grade year.
And my oldest is not the only one to make more progress than I expected this year. Each and every student is farther than I thought they’d be when I planned the school year last summer. They’re all farther than I thought they’d be as I helped them mid-year.
I do help with morning math tutoring for the younger three students and sometimes our Algebra 1 student (sometimes he has to wait for dad), but I get no credit for the amount of math progress everyone made this year.
My husband took over math grading three years ago and has been faithful at it ever since. His faithfulness guarantees ours because he is grabbing everyone’s work to correct every evening and pulling out their next day’s work. He’s on top of it. Consequences for not having work turned in are clear. Consequences for incomplete work are the same as not doing it at all. Consequences for sloppy work are consistent.
Allowing my husband to be in charge of that subject even when I disagreed with his method of relentless progress (not without mastery – he just worked harder to get them to mastery sooner) made me realize how often I let my own comfort and convenience dictate a slower pace – not because it’s better for them, but because it’s better for me. That was convicting.
So, math has been prioritized because it’s being checked and followed up on daily. Funny how that works. We don’t really choose what we prioritize by scheduling it into the day. To prioritize is to faithfully follow up on, every day.
2. We stayed on schedule and finished our books on time.
Chalk one up to realistic planning and also a year with very little sickness.
I tend to be an over planner and overestimate what we can get done. So I’m very grateful we do much of our school alongside my friend Kirsti, who gives my visionary plans a dose of reality.
3. Geneva can read!
Here is another thing I really can’t hardly take credit for. I was super inconsistent with her phonics lessons – on average we maybe did reading and phonics once a week all year. Yet, she was ready and she was a natural.
I’m not even sure exactly when it happened or how, but she started reading not just by carefully sounding out words (which she was doing at the start of the year), but simply reading.
I, for one, am overjoyed to shelve the phonics notebook and not have to go over “a, ay, aw” again. Everyone in our house can read, and everyone in our house does choose to read on their own.
That’s a huge win.
4. Hans owned his work and passed the dual enrollment assessment test with flying colors.
The other huge win for the year was “graduating” our first student. He’s not really graduated, but we are delegating the rest of his high school education to the local community college.
Our plan from the beginning was to send our kids to the community college for their junior and senior year, just like my husband and I did, not only so they can graduate high school with a “free” AA (it is a state dual enrollment program), but so that they have a challenge that is not overseen by or provided by their mother as they prepare for adulthood. I, for one, am glad to be able to move into a support role instead of the standard-enforcement role.
The entrance test to get into the program is no joke, though. It is not uncommon for kids to qualify for the program without qualifying to take college-level math (those students are supposed to continue with math at the local high school). Hans, however, got into Precalculus II – skipping a level of college math – and got a near-perfect English score.
Again, this is the fruit of his own decision to own his education this year and not necessarily of my work. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel, as it were, and knew his work would pay off in a tangible way soon, so he applied himself and earned this victory himself.
5. Everyone’s skill in speaking in front of a crowd improved.
Even mine! Turns out, practice works. Funny thing.
We did NCFCA Speech club this last year with our two teens and though it took a toll and was a bigger time and energy drain than we expected, still we did see growth and fruit from our participation in it.
Public speaking is a personal weakness of mine, and something I always succeeded in avoiding until – surprisingly – adulthood. I figured as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother I would not need speaking skills and so patted myself on the back for the clever ways I escaped any necessity of practice through high school and college.
And, I was wrong. My hand has been forced and it turns out that my own shutting off an avenue of growth was not healthy or right.
Therefore, I know I need to go out of my way to help my own children have the experience of speaking in front of strangers while they are yet young and the stakes low.
NCFCA it is. My 15-year-old oldest placed 6th overall in his informative speech at our local tournament, where they were told first-year participants rarely make it to semi-finals. Although an introvert and not a performer, he found a topic he could communicate about with passion and purpose and did so. And my 13-year-old son who is extra reserved also has a competitive side that sparked him into action. His ability grew, though not without familial pressure being applied, and by the end of the year he was lobbying to continue and planning speeches for the next year.
I have no fear for my middle children being microphone-avoidant, but still, practice is helpful for all. They also received audience practice in the two small, informal, student-directed Shakespeare “festivals” we did with a few other families this year. Even from the fall to the spring show their volume and clarity and poise increased.
When we began homeschooling, I identified where I was weak and made it a priority to find ways to shore up those areas with outside help. Math and public speaking were two needs I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide on my own. But this year I saw significant progress and achievement on both fronts, which have brought me great relief and gratitude.
5 things to improve for next year
1. Morning Time was a struggle.
The relentless math progress did come at a price, though I admit it was more of a scape-goat than a real culprit. Because two students needed math tutoring (or, really, math counseling), math pushed out morning time more often than I’d care to admit. The kids always wanted to get started and get it done early, though I tried to postpone their start until after Morning Time. In the end, I was hindering them, not helping them, by blocking their desire to get started, so we just went with it.
We also had to deal with teenage angst over Morning Time and how it got in the way of getting work done. However, I learned not only through moments of clarity mid-year but also in my student survey that the grousing was not what it appeared to be on the surface. Thus, I learned another good lesson.
Really, the start-up difficulties, the complaining, the eye-rolling, the grousing, were not – as it appeared and even as they stated – because they didn’t want to do Morning Time and didn’t understand why it was valuable. Instead, it was like exhaust smoke from starting an engine: Just what’s coming out as they get started against internal resistance. Starting is the hardest part, always. Starting is even harder when you no longer have the enthusiastic energy of childhood, but rather a real workload and a body in constant hormone flux.
Another roadblock we experienced was a format change that never got off the ground. After years of using our binder as the momentum to keep us going: just turn the page, move the flag, and do the next thing, we switched to everyone using a hymnal and Bible, primarily because our church (with the denomination) changed hymnals. The change in hymnals brought some word changes not only to some of our standard hymns but also to our catechism memory. Because our guiding principle for hymn selection has been to aid and prepare for congregational worship, to our chagrin we decided we needed to adapt and adopt the new standard. I wasn’t going to make all new copies of our over-50 hymns in each of 6 binders. Instead, we just bought everyone a hymnal, which also contains the catechism. However, we never got a new rhythm off the ground with them. I tried several iterations and learned from each one, but never got to the point of figuring out the new normal. So that was another factor that strengthened resistance on all sides.
The real reason we were inconsistent with Morning Time: I let my own excuses build with everyone else’s and let resistance win and grow stronger. Consistency kills resistance, and I never made the effort of will to make it happen, despite my principles and despite knowing better.
I think this will always be top on my list of regrets about our homeschool, because this was Hans’ last year with us at home. I allowed the opportunity for strengthening family culture and ties to languish in favor of individuals each getting on with their own thing.
2. Poetry was skimpy.
Every time we did do morning time, I felt the lack of poetry. It was a conscious decision I made at the beginning of the year in order to shorten up morning time to appease those with harder work loads. However, as the year went on I regretted it and missed it, tried a few times to fill it back in, but it didn’t stick.
Poetry is so easy to skip and undervalue, but it adds a depth and richness that we don’t even know we’re missing until we’ve had it and then don’t.
Don’t study poetry. Read it. Add it to your day as something to enjoy like any other read aloud. Do so for several years at least. Memorize it for its beauty and its language patterns. Memorize it for delight.
We will be next year, because we need it. We love it. We miss it.
3. Latin was skimpy.
Oh, Latin. I try; I do try. I just don’t try hard enough.
We are done with Latin for Children Primer A – in both senses of the word. In 2 1/2 years my middle two have (mostly) completed it and still don’t understand that the endings on Latin words communicate meaning – just like my older two students didn’t get until halfway through Primer B and a lot of repetition on my part. LFC is a program that works with a classroom teacher mindset, I believe; it’s not built for the homeschool and it’s hard to work it consistently in a homeschool setting with a non-teacher mom, even with the DVDs.
We enjoyed our time in Lingua Latina, just listening and following along and doing some copy work out of it, but by chapter 6 we were totally lost and although I thought we should just go back to the beginning and repeat, my students revolted at going back to the beginning. So, we turned to Getting Started with Latin and with that, even though it started way below where they “ought” to have been, I saw the most comprehension and therefore progress.
So, I admit, by the last term I had them “finish up” LFC just as work pages to complete.
And I am finally taking Brandy’s advice and moving to Visual Latin next year.
4. I didn’t keep up my end.
Story of my life and my homeschool, just ask my teens.
In all honesty, I did better this year, really. I did much more of the readings to keep up with my oldest than I had before, even though I usually read them several weeks later.
But still my checking of work done started strong and petered out by winter, revived a little, then trickled down to cursory glances by the end.
So I have to remind myself – and I have had occasion to remind myself from experience – that it’s simply true: The more mom sees the work being done and cares enough to give feedback and have conversation, the better the work and the attention and the caring the student gives his work. Across the board. Without exception. It’s true of the motivated student and it’s triply true of middle school students.
If it’s been three weeks since you’ve looked at the work being done and interacted with your student about it, 10-1 the work is not really being done.
We just need this little PSA on repeat all school year, don’t we?
5. Our school year was full of appointments.
Oh my. Driver’s ed. Orthodontist appointments. Speech club. Piano lessons. Add in needed grocery trips and it turns out we almost never had an entirely at-home day (except for the days in February we were snowed in!).
Even though I was usually able to guard our school hours and we did get our work done before any of our outings, I didn’t count on the “wear and tear” affect – on my own energy levels and also on the housekeeping as well as parenting consistency. It’s only possible to have consistent parenting if you’re actually in the same room as your young children for most hours, and that has not been the experience of my youngest children. I can leave them at home with their siblings while I go grocery shopping. I can leave them at home while I take people to appointments. They are with siblings, but not me, most of the day.
It’s not all bad, and we aren’t having serious problems, but it’s just been a strange change that I’m only aware of after the fact.
You know those things older moms say that are “not encouraging” or “so cliché”? Like how it goes by so fast or you must be so tired? They actually say it because it’s true. Whether you like it or not or find it encouraging or not, it’s true and so you probably need to hear it. Turns out when they said “by the time they’re 15 1/2 you’ll want them to drive” and “I feel like the chauffeur” they are also right. Just a heads-up for you if you aren’t there yet. Life with big kids is crazy in a different way from how life with small kids is crazy.
Life changes. God doesn’t. No matter what, our weaknesses will be exposed and that’s good for us. Keep on truckin.
Assess your own school year with an audit and a class
One overarching theme I noticed when thinking about this last year is how much our current life situation needs to factor into the overall plan. School doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
The methods of education my middle/youngest children need is different from those my older two needed not only because they are different people, but also because our family life and dynamic is also different.
The whole picture needs to factor into our assessment and also our planning. My own homeschool audit guide is one quick way to focus in on that, but I’m excited this year to participate in a new assessment tool from my good friend Brandy Vencel.
Over the course of two live classes, with worksheets, her Flourish seminars will lead us through the process of noticing our current needs and then making principle-based decisions about how best to move forward.
And you know that means not planning to do all the things. Brandy will help us figure out what to prioritize and what to stop trying to cram in.
That kind of process and perspective is always helpful.