How I plan to persevere this school year

How I plan to persevere this school year

let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faithWhat is the race set before me?  Well, at this season of my life, my chief “race” or calling is that of homeschooling the 5 children I have left at home.  I have other, secondary races: blogger, homemaker/wife, ebay reseller, women’s ministry leader, youth leader, Sparks (Awana) leader; however, God has called me, first and foremost, to be the primary educator of my children.  And I must run the school year with endurance!

The new school year has begun and, with it, the anticipation and excitement of the new year as well as the joy of a fresh start on things we may have failed at last year.  Old books have been put away or sold and new books are at the kids desks along with fresh notebooks, pencils, crayons among other school supplies.  The initial library trip has already been made where we picked out books to go with the era of history we are studying.  Homeschool co-op classes have been signed up for and our daily/weekly school schedule has been made.  We are ready!

Oh, did you hear me say, “fresh start on things we failed at last year”?  Ummm, yeah, failure is a big part of our homeschool.  {oh the horror!!!}  Not failure in grades, I make sure my kids have an understanding of a subject before they move on; no, our failure comes by way of stick-to-it’edness.  The ability to stick with, or persist, in the plans I have made for our homeschool.  The first several days or even weeks the kids are careful to get out of bed at the prescribed time in the morning and get themselves ready for school.  They eat, read their bibles, and are in their places by 8:30 ready to learn.  We bounce through our subjects in a timely manner and come to the end of the day having  done everything we were supposed to do.  But history tells me that that won’t last long.  Reality catches up with my ideal schedule and throws it for a loop – and I get caught in the whirlwind.  Fringe courses get dropped.  Schedules get loosened – maybe a little too much. And my kids follow suit.   It happens.  Every.  Year.

My oldest son (who is in college now) came home from his job and saw the new school schedule we had made.  His only response was to laugh and shake his head, I had high hopes and he knows all to well my shortcomings.  I told him this year would be different; he’s not holding his breath.

Let us run this race with endurance!

I am tired of ending the school year in survival mode.  Tired of scrambling to make sure the core classes get finished and leaving the others by the wayside.  This year I want to persevere through the school year and finish everything we set out to do!  But how???

Limit outside obligations

The biggest threat to our homeschool every year has been interruptions from the outside.  Errands, carpooling, appointments, not to mention the inevitable emergency of the day (or week if I’m lucky).  In past years I’ve had to take a kid to therapy at 9am several times a week or drive my son, who was sharing my car, to the local community college.  We’ve had dentist appointments, orthodontist appointments, ballet classes, you name it.  Then there is the necessary grocery shopping trip!  And while these things weren’t everyday, they were scattered in our schedule just often enough to make consistency impossible.  Knowing this is a problem is half the battle and I have determined not to let these things interfere with my schedule this year — to the best of my ability anyway (remember those emergencies?!?).  I made sure my son would be able to buy a car this summer to relieve me from carpooling duties, and we joined a ballet company that is down the street from us and has evening classes (the daytime “homeschool” classes just don’t work for us).  Because mornings are the time we do the majority of our school, I do my best to schedule all appointments and do my grocery shopping in the afternoon.

Our area has a decently large homeschool population, thus there are innumerable good opportunities for us each day.  Library homeschool programs, weekly PE programs, and classes at the local art museum just to name a few.  I could be part of several different homeschool groups and go on all kinds of field trips.  I was just talking to a friend last week and saying that even though I really wanted to do the weekly PE program, I was having a difficult time making it work with our schedule.  In the end I had to decide against the commitment to be somewhere every Tuesday morning.  Another friend talks up the local library program, but I have yet to go because I know that it would be just another thing.  I have had to learn to take the good, better, best approach to decision-making and have come to the conclusion that minimal obligations are best for us right now.  We have co-op classes we attend twice a month, throw that in with ballet, cross country, and church and we have a full schedule.

I do want to add that my strict limitations are not what is best for every family.  I currently have 3 high-schoolers, one middle-schooler, and one elementary student.  It takes everything I have to keep all those different needs afloat.  When I start dividing our attentions elsewhere, I sabotage our success.  My advice is this: know yourself, know your family, and know the time constraints of your chosen curriculum.  Then do what is best.

Realistic Schedule

First, I normally made the schedule mostly by myself.  There is a lot to consider: What subjects were we going to do when and how would we divide the two computers amongst the 5 students who needed them at various times throughout the day.  I have to coordinate independent work with group work and the best way to stretch my availability.  Scheduling all the in’s and out’s wrack my brain for all it’s worth.

Homeschool Schedule  This rime I brought in my my 12th, 10th, and 9th graders to help me schedule the day/week.  We sat down with the list of subjects we had to accomplish each week and a white board with time grids drawn on it. With their help I was able to put together a good schedule that considered everyone’s computer, individual and group needs.  This is something that, in the past, would have taken all my brain power and still would have come up short.

I am also doing things differently regarding my personal daily to-do’s.  Remeber that multi-faceted list of “hats” up there, my secondary races?  In the past I have scheduled my kids days and hoped to be able to accomplish those things in the midst of it all. I have fantasized sitting beside them with my computer open and all of us working independently side by side.  HA!  Rarely did it ever work out that way.  When I tried to focus on myself and my projects, I couldn’t focus on them.  And when I tried to focus on them, I couldn’t focus on my other projects.  And since I wasn’t focusing on any one thing at a time, I didn’t excel at any of it.  So this year I’ve divided the two.  My focus will be purely on school in the morning.  They will get my full attention.  Then I have designated 2 hours in the afternoon just for blogging and after that ebay, church, and other homemaking obligations.

I bought a good calendar for myself to keep my day organized in.  I get frustrated with calendars that are geared toward a specific thing (i.e. homeschool or blogging) because, while they excel at that, they leave no room for my other priorities.  I found this calendar by Ruth Soukup of Living Well Spending Less and it is a good fit for me.  I love it because it uses the time block system and it has space before each month for me to brainstorm the projects I want to tackle that month.

Putting all these standards in place doesn’t necessarily ensure success, but it does make it easier.  My constant prayer is that, this year, I will succeed in finishing strong!

 

How do you feel about your homeschool?  Do you have any measures in place to help you persevere through the inevitable rough patches?  I’d love to hear about them.

 

How I plan to persevere this school year

How I began my homeschooling journey

How I began my homeschooling journey

I have been homeschooling for just over a quarter of my life. Eleven years to be exact! In that time I have used many different curricula and tried (and failed) many different ways. I have found things I like and things I don’t like.  In that time, I have also struggled with whether to continue homeschooling — whether it was getting too hard! Every time, however, I decided to stay the course.

I didn’t start out my family expecting to homeschool. Both my husband and I went to public school and had full expectation of sending our children to school. That was just how it worked; it was what people did. I had only met two families that homeschooled at that point and I really hadn’t given it much thought.

But as the time grew closer for my son to go to school, I began having visions of putting my little boy on a school bus and sending him away for the whole day. That thought made me sad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. At four years old, he was a bright boy; He knew his abc’s and 123’s. He was ready for kindergarten. But he wouldn’t turn 5 until November which meant him having to wait another year to start. So I took it upon myself to teach him to read and do simple math that first year. I hadn’t decided to homeschool fully, just that year.

Well I guess I enjoyed it. Enjoyed teaching him to read and add, and I loved keeping him near me. I loved knowing exactly what he was learning. So my husband and I decided to homeschool for another year.  We went to a homeschool conference and learned the basics. The third year my second son, who wouldn’t turn 5 until October, began doing kindergarten work. It just became the thing we did.

The reasons my husband and I had for homeschooling became stronger and more defined as the years progressed. They had to.  At that time my oldest was in second grade and, in addition, I had a kindergartner, a four year old and a two year old.  Two more children would follow in the next couple of years.  Those were fun times as I created history unit studies and read living books to them providing insight into the time period.  Our kitchen and dining room became Education Central as maps of the world and the US, as well as a progressive illustrated time line, littered the walls.  Science and math projects were also a prevalent sight in multiple locations around the house.

They were also hard times as the daily necessity of math and reading lessons were constantly interrupted by little people and their unceasing needs.  I would constantly have to explain to my sons why the preschoolers got to watch Sesame Street while they had to sit in front of a workbook.  There were days of my not feeling well due to pregnancies or issues with my thyroid which meant that sometimes school would be conducted from the comfort of my bed.

My convictions to educate my children at home had to be strong enough to carry me through those rough times: the days that I just wanted to quit; the seasons that seemed so hard that I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore; the child who just wanted to sit and stare at his worksheet all day because he hated the physical act of writing and couldn’t focus.

As my family has grown and matured over the years, so has my feeling of purpose.  I didn’t start this journey with any expectations of doing it through high school.  But as those years approached, and I considered the options, I knew that continuing to homeschool was best for our family.  Homeschool looks different for us than it did in the beginning.  Yes, I have a first and third grader.  However, I also have two middle-schoolers and two high-schoolers.  The needs and requirements for their education are more strenuous.  Today, instead of figuring out how to entertain toddlers while teaching my child to read, I’m trying to make time to teach my youngest to read in the middle of discussing the complexities of Dante’s Inferno and Algebra.  School is no longer conducted on my bed, rather it takes place all over the house with children in every corner pouring over their math and science books.  It is no longer interrupted by the incessant cries of babies and toddlers, but rather by the teenager who decides to take a break from his or her studies to irritate a sibling.

Our house is a busy place during the day, with no end to the work to be done.  But when I step back and look around, I am full of joy.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Moving, starting school and getting organized

Moving, starting school and getting organized

Moving into a new house; still dealing with the old house; starting a new year of school and trying to be more organized than before.  It’s been all I can do to keep up.  I haven’t taken the time to keep my interests and this blog up to date.  But I want to do better.  I actually wrote this post two months ago, but the stress of the moment kept me from finishing it.

Moving was a long process for me. The first two weeks in our new house was spent driving to storage or the old house everyday to pack up another load of stuff and/or clean another room. I never had time to unpack any boxes or make any extra room, I just kept piling them in. I managed to unpack my kitchen — a grand necessity — but that was it. I was going crazy! I was exhausted and going mental. Everything was chaos! Plus, I felt out of the loop. I hadn’t been to my ministries or church and hadn’t spoken with friends in what seemed like forever!

As the third week began all I saw was an ocean of boxes.

day 1 Collage

Day one of our third week in this house. Time to take action!

I took it one box at a time and by day two I had made some order out of the chaos.

Day two: I took it one box at a time and by the end I had made some order out of the chaos.

By the 3rd day, I was able to unpack or relocate all of the boxes! What was left was all these stacks of curriculum! This is what happens when you have been homeschooling eclectic style for over a decade! Now to make sense out of them!

By the 3rd day, I was able to unpack or relocate all of the boxes! What was left was all these stacks of curriculum! This is what happens when you have been homeschooling eclectic style for over a decade! Now to make sense out of them!

Letting go of perfection

I had an ideal situation in my head. I wanted to get all moved in, and completely unpacked. I was going to plan my entire school year. I was going to do all this before starting school. Of course, I also wanted to move in a month before I actually did! As God planned it, we closed on our house the same day public schools started. I found myself at Labor Day weekend with a half unpacked house and barely having started planning school. I didn’t even have the weekend to work because life doesn’t stop for unpacking!
But I knew I couldn’t make my children wait another 2-3 weeks to start school. If we wanted to have a summer vacation we would have to start soon.
So … I decided to let go of “perfection”. That picture of the ideal that clashes with reality. It’s ok.

My Creed
Its ok if I start school while the house is still in chaos. I wanted to have the house completely done so I could put all my concentration on school and not be split. But I can ignore it in the morning and unpack one or two boxes in the afternoon and it will be ok. And, honestly, if the unpacked boxes weren’t attempting to steal my attention, something else would be! That’s life. But school comes first!
It’s ok if I take my time to get the house “just right.” I have nothing on the walls. I don’t even know what I want there. What I do know is that I don’t want why I had in my old house. I decorated with Boyd’s bears and lighthouses for 15 years and I’m ready for a change. I just don’t know what yet. But I’m taking my time to figure that out.

 

Our study area now: My 9th graders desk, middle school daughters desk and my elementary students workboxes. My 11th grader works at his desk in his room.

Our study area now: My 9th graders desk, middle school daughters desk and my elementary students workboxes. My 11th grader works at his desk in his room.

 

It is now two weeks into November.  We’ve been “doing” school for seven weeks now.  I’m planning a month at a time, instead of doing the entire year in one fell swoop — but at least I’m planning!  The school area(s) are mostly put together, but still waiting on another bookshelf and a bit more organizing.  But we are able to function.  Life is happening!

That Moment When I Realized My Distractable Son Learned to Focus

That Moment When I Realized My Distractable Son Learned to Focus

 

This was a scene of encouragement today — even though, at the time, it was a scene of chaos!  The “littles” and I don’t have a specific place we do school every day; our location changes according to the need of the day.  Today we are working in the living room — the same place my oldest does his computer work.   Faith is doing a letter puzzle and Elijah is doing his reading comprehension as well as practicing skip counting.  I am taking turns giving instructions to each of them.

My son focusing in the midst of chaos

A school day moment. Please excuse the existence of “real life” in these photos.

But the boy in the background is where my focus of encouragement lies.  He is taking an Algebra II quiz requiring  a page of work for each problem and is concentrating heavily.  He is not distracted by all the events in the foreground!

This would not have been the case five years ago!

Back then he was distracted by a slight breeze!  Any activity in the house caused him great distress, and if there was no activity in the house then thoughts flying around his brain took precedence over his school work.  As you can imagine, in a small house with several small children there was rarely a lack of activity!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a photo of Zechariah, but the expression on his face was perfect! I apparently never captured that exasperated look on Nic’s face on camera.

schoolday collage

A typical school day in 2007 with my then 7, 5, 4, and 2 year old.

I made him a “focus board” — a tri-fold project board that you buy in the school supply section for science fair displays.  We would put it up in front of him to block out all activity around him.  It worked … most times.  However, sometimes his own brain was the distraction!  I set timers for him, and gave him small goals.  I gave him gum to chew.  I allowed music.  I tried many methods to help him learn to block out the activity around him — telling him that as the oldest of this large family the noise would never go away.  He had to learn to cope.

comparing nic 07 vs 15

Left: Nic would spend hours in this position, on this same page, doing the same problem. Right: Nic is now able to focus on the task at hand and get his work done.

And learn to cope he has!  It has been a gradual improvement over the years.  So slight that I hadn’t really noticed or thought of it until today.  In the middle of our noisy lessons, I looked over and realized that he was taking a quiz, I asked him if we were bothering him, to  which he replied,

“No.  I’ve trained myself to focus.”

Gasp! Suddenly the struggles of the past contrasted with this very instant came rushing back, filling me with joy.  This boy, whom I had contended with so often, was concentrating on his work so heavily he didn’t even notice the silly antics of the five year old less than six feet away.  I was in awe!

Having five siblings has helped.  So has the fact that his schoolwork didn’t go away when he did get distracted.  There were a few late “homework” nights that taught him that he needed to work harder during the day.  But he also listens to music.  During this quiz he has Pandora playing on the computer in the background.  Somehow music blocks out the external and internal stimuli going on and he is able to focus on the task at hand.  In fact, now that I think about it, he really has a hard time focusing if he is not allowed to listen to music.

So what does this mean for some of you other mothers who are still in the midst of the struggle?  It means there is hope.  The child who is so distractable and restless you’d swear he has ADHD is not hopeless.  Given the tools, he can learn.  Try different methods, find what works, and give him time to grow.

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