Monday, October 3, 2016

The Beginning of the Shift

Last week, I shared a bit about the transformation of our homeschool from a dysfunctional and miserable experience for all, to something a bit closer to joy.
To understand what has changed, I should probably explain a bit of what wasn't working in the first place. Here was the original plan for the year:

9th grade
Math: Teaching Textbooks
Science: Apologia Biology
English: Learning Literature through Language Arts (Gold, World Literature)
Spelling: Sequential Spelling
Handwriting: The Good and the Beautiful
History/Art: Diana Waring's History Revealed (Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries)
Typing: Typing Tutor
Literature: Ambleside Online
Foreign Language: ASL on
Music: schoolhouse

6th & 7th grades
Math: Teaching Textbooks
Science: Easy Peasy All-in-One (Astronomy and Anatomy), Nature Study
English: Daily Grammar from, Writer's Workshops from various resources, Winston Grammar
Spelling: Sequential Spelling
Handwriting: The Good and the Beautiful
History/Art: Diana Waring's History Revealed (Romans, Reformers, Revolutionaries)
Health: taken from
Typing: Typing Tutor
Literature: Ambleside Online
Foreign Language: ASL taken from

It doesn't seem like there is anything wrong with this plan.  In fact, it was a pretty good plan.  The problem was the motivation and method I was trying to use to accomplish it.  I switched from our usual My Father's World boxed curriculum to more of a hodgepodge this year because we weren't enjoying history any more.  We began using some workbook style curricula for Language Arts for the first time in a long time, and I discovered that several of my children really thrive with more of a fill-in-the-blank type text.  I made an attempt to move beyond my Charlotte Mason/Waldorf inspired ideals, and really focus on what my children would prefer.  Guess what made the plan not work?

 I didn't want to homeschool.  
I haven't in years.   
I haven't enjoyed it, and I was tired of making my children frustrated and upset.  I felt like all I did was fail them.  I thought because they struggled, they were failing, too.

Isn't that the homeschool mother's dilemma? We want to make sure our children have so much more than we perceive they could have from the public sector, and then we want them to be completely perfect at it.  That isn't practical or even fair to expect. 

We had picked up some terrible habits that made learning a struggle, and all of our attitudes didn't make it better.  The children were struggling with writing and study habits, and instead of researching (which is my passion, so clearly there was laziness kicking my rear) different ways to help them in those areas, I gave up.  I have tried so many ways to present grammar and writing, and it often felt like nothing was sticking.  I went with the default pattern for struggle that I have had my whole life.  If you can't do it perfectly, or be the best, don't do it at all... quit.  I'm sure you know how helpful that is, right?  My poor children had a mother who was pushing them to check off the boxes, to go through the motions, or to just get by.  

One of the most amazing aspects of homeschooling is that you can slow things down until your student has mastery.  I don't know why I felt as if we needed to match everything the public school was doing.  That isn't what our purpose in homeschooling has ever been.  I had lost sight of everything important.

Relationships are important.... 
with God
with each other
with our closest friends and family
with our church
with out community

When we just do what we have to do to get by, we miss all of the relationships.  We end up with a very shallow experience, and miss the opportunities to truly invest in these relationships.  If the children would rather spend extra time in the afternoon working on a project together, I shouldn't stop them and make sure that something extra like handwriting is done perfectly.  What lesson would they learn from that?  We shouldn't rush away from volunteer work to get our weekend reading time in.  We could have a great discussion with whomever we are volunteering with or for that would serve as a great way to enhance vocabulary, timing, and imagination in ways books can not.  I was teaching them to miss out and to be a slave to the schedule, rather than to use it as a valuable tool.  I had to really make the shift in my mind, and discipline myself to just make  a note of what still needs to be done, and allow them those relational moments.  So far, this has paid of with less fighting, deeper conversations, and some joy-filled moments I can't imagine missing out on. 

Hard work is important

 I wasn't holding them to high standards and expecting them to succeed.  I wasn't holding myself to high standards either.  It wasn't like we were NOT doing school.  We just didn't do it well.  Their state testing scores were great, but the weekly grades weren't as awesome.  Learning by doing the bare minimum.  I suppose it is a common thing.  Not everyone is internally motivated to push like crazy to be the best.  Not everyone will work hard to just get a good grade, or to enjoy the process of learning.  Perhaps my children aren't as much like myself as I thought, and by not correcting the issue, I had reinforced the habit.  We had to cut out distractions.  I realized we are all addicted to screens.  It's device time before school, during lunch, and after school.  What alter were we worshiping at?  How does one learn without time, and quiet to do so?  Weekdays have become filled with meaningful conversations.  Creativity is thriving in this home, again.  There is definitely a few moments every day that each person, myself included, toes the line of pushing the rules, but new habits take time.  There is grace in this home.  We will get there.

Enjoying learning is important

Here's a big one for me.  I love learning.  I try to learn as many useful skills as I can from books and YouTube.  The process of researching and learning thrills me.  I don't think I have been very effectively instilling a passion for learning in my children.  They have been trained to check boxes and the habit of doing just enough to pass has been reinforced for so long, I don't know if they have any idea how fun it could be.  
Here is where we meet the first homeschooling mentors I have chosen to focus on this year.  I began my school year by reading Diana Waring's Beyond Survival: A Guide to Abundant-Life Homeschooling.  It really made me stop and think about how to foster a love of learning in my home.    
When I was researching history programs, I watched video reviews, read reviews, and was thrilled by things I found on internet searches about Diana Waring's History Revealed program.  I could even give partial credit to her for getting the whole change started in our school this year, it is THAT good!  Her method is completely different than the usual mom read, kids narrate method we have been stuck in.  History is divided into sections.  Each section has four weeks of study.  In that time, the children read in their textbook, we listen to audio stories about unique things that have happened during that time (as well as what was going on in the church, and some great biographical stories), we have some great discussion days, and the children pick one area we studied and grab library books to read through.  The second week, they do a research project on a topic from week one that they want to know more about.  They have turned in written and typed reports, but also done oral presentations with amazing props, for this week.  They have learned to research together and work together on reports, or have been content to do it on their own.  Freedom.  They choose!  We learn vocabulary and work on time lines the second week as well.  The third week we I do fictional read-aloud stories from that time period.  We try to do one award winner, and one considered a classic.  We study art and architecture from the time period, and create a work of art based on what we learn.  We make something related to what we have studied as well.  For example, we will be making elderberry syrup this Thursday and learning about the history of homeopathic medicine from the early middle ages until modern times.  The fourth week is our creative week.  Each child picks a creative project to present everything they have learned.  We are only on our second month, so have only done this week once, but it was awesome.  Children can choose to make a presentation with charts and pictures, as I remember presentation day from my childhood, but they have a lot more options as well.  Last week, we had a puppet show telling of important battles, a full 3 course time period appropriate meal with an explanation of why the ingredients were chosen in the middle ages, and limerick poetry telling of the lives of several key figures.  They choose a creative project from the book, or they can create their own.  Freedom. They choose!  We get together to share a meal and enjoy the presentations as a family, and I can see this becoming my favorite new school tradition.  It is wonderful.  In this cycle every learning style is addressed.  Children who dislike art are given freedom to explore art in new ways, and given the opportunity to do things their own way, rather than to copy a model I have given them.  The learning is happening, the children are thriving because they get the choice in how they work it, study it, and present it.  The information is finally sticking, because they are more invested in what they are learning.  I'm so grateful we found History Revealed.  I'm going to read Beyond Survival again on my winter break, and see what resonates with our family as we move forward with the rest of our redemption year.

Making changes, big changes, isn't an easy process.  I have found that changing my thought processes, and perspective have really made this year better.  I can see that spark of excitement in my children again.  I have hope that we will truly thrive again.  

I'll discuss more changes we have made and how it has affected us in the next few blog posts.  

For now, I'm going to have some great coffee and wait for the sun to rise and a new school week to begin.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Reality Check

Can I be completely honest with you? 

  I may have to whisper it to you, because I feel like it isn't something I should admit, but

I have not enjoyed homeschooling in years.

  You know, it's almost a relief to be able to admit that on a semi-public platform.  I have felt so much anger and shame when it comes to my frustration with homeschooling, that I completely lost sight of the goals and ideas that initially drew us to it in the first place.  

Where was the girl who almost begged her husband to allow her to homeschool?  She was filling out public school enrollment forms and dreaming of yellow busses.

  I created this fantasy world in my head where the children would go to public school, where they wouldn't struggle with math, grammar, or writing.  They would make all kinds of friends and not be bullied.  Their teachers would be able to give them plenty of one-on-one instruction, and they would come home telling me how inspired they are by what they learned.  While some of that is likely to happen in the public school setting, it isn't completely realistic.  I had to realize that whether they were home or elsewhere for their schooling, they would struggle.  No matter where they were educated, they would have frustrations, lack focus from time to time, and have rough days.   The areas they were weak in may not change in a different setting.  Pulling a child out of school, or putting them back in isn't a magic solution.  There are never instant results when people are involved, and convincing myself that every option but what we were doing was the answer wasn't helping anyone.  The real problem with our homeschool lay with the person in charge of it.  Ouch!  

This is a trip we took to Mt. Saint Helens.  This is supposed to be the most amazing place to see the volcano.... if you go on a day where there isn't complete cloud cover at 2,000 feet.  We saw nothing, and most of it didn't go the way that we planned, but we had a lot of fun!  I thought this was a good picture to represent the last few years of homeschooling.  BUT... See those faces?  See the children laughing about how ridiculous it is to stand in front of a volcano no-one can see in the freezing rain?  That is hope, and the reason we will be okay.  They are the reason I can't give up.

  This year, I have been working on changing how I think.  This has affected my marriage, parenting, my spiritual life, friendships, and finally has started to trickle down into my homeschooling life.  I love research, and have spent at least 12 years researching homeschooling methods, curricula, and following some of the leaders of the homeschooling movement.  For the 2016-2017 school year, I decided to focus on learning from only a couple of homeschooling mentors, taking the time to find people who really seem to be heading in the same direction (only way more successfully), and learn from their experiences and wisdom.  I'm not saying one has to do what others do and say.  That's part of the amazing freedom in homeschooling.  I am just one of those people who need to see a method modeled before I can take whatever bits would be useful, and customize it to be my own.

  We have broken away from a lot of the methods we have used for the last 10 years, and have embraced a new plan.  In the past, I have embraced Charlotte Mason ideals, been inspired by the beauty and methodology of Waldorf education, and occasionally focused on classical elements.  I always tried to make all of that work while using a curriculum that didn't quite mesh with my children's learning styles or my teaching style.  We were all so frustrated by heading in a direction that none of us enjoyed.  I have no idea why I felt so compelled to continue pushing everyone to continue doing something that made us fairly miserable.  I wasn't fostering a love of learning, and my bad attitude was mirrored in their attitudes.  It was bad.   It wasn't necessary.  We needed to change everything.  6 weeks into our 11th year of homeschooling, I think I finally figured out what we have been missing all along.  I realized that all of the things that I consider curriculum, are just tools.  They have no power to bully me, or make me feel guilty for not sticking to the schedule.  There is no reason to feel like a failure if a hands-on project is ignored because it wouldn't really make an impact, requires too many items we don't have, or is more messy than I'm willing to deal with.  Here's the big one.. all of my children don't have to do the same activities to learn the same things!  What?  One of my children will do artwork, one will hand-write a report, one will create a model out of Legos, and the other will do an oral presentation, and all of them will cover the same subject thoroughly.  If I have brought them home so they can have an education that caters to their individual needs, why am I not treating them as individuals.  FREEDOM.  That is what I have found.  I'm getting to know my children better by the methods they are choosing to express themselves.  As I learned in my class with Julie Bogart (the amazing woman behind the Bravewriter lifestyle movement), I am working in a partnership with my children.  Yes, I am their teacher, but I am also their partner in this process.  They need to know that this is a safe place to make mistakes, and to figure things out, and I am the one to walk alongside encouraging them.  It is really a completely different way of thinking, and even though I am just starting to implement things, I have really seen positive results.  We might actually get through this year and all be better students.

  Homeschooling is not an easy thing.  We are so emotionally invested that each success and failure feels deeply personal.  The stakes are so very high, but the grace is deep.