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.