Monday, July 21, 2014

Big kids and little kids and worksheets...oh my!

A few days ago, Micaela  graciously allowed me to participate in her How I Homeschool series (the submissions have all been so interesting and diverse. You really should read them!) and our mutual reader Heather asked the following question in the comments: 

Hi, Dwija! Thanks for your insight into Borobia homeschooling! We pulled our school-age kids from Catholic school to homeschool at Christmas break this year, and, well, it was a hot mess. Our eldest (rising 6th grader) really craves structure and organization in her school day that I, with four younger kids (including 3-yo and 18-mo Destructo twins plus high-functioning autistic unschooled) cannot provide. Any ideas? Also also … how do you keep your leeetle people occupado? And how do I convince my husband that people are actually learning without tests, quizzes, and worksheets? Thank you, O wise one! God bless yer socks off.

Whew!  That's a lot.  That's like....all the things every homeschooling mom worries and wonders about all the time.   So you are not alone, Heather!  Not even close.  Before I start rambling, I'll warn you that I've only homeschooled for 3 years so far.  So I'll be referring you to lots of other places after I offer the little bit that I can.

(As is common, this picture has nothing to do with anything.  But isn't it so cute?)

First, let's break down this question (hammer time...)

Our eldest child really craves structure and organization during the school day that we can't provide.  Any ideas?

The good news here is that our eldest was the same way and we survived and have moved on to thrive.  The bad news is in the beginning it was REALLY difficult for her to adjust to a new way of living and learning.  The problem here is probably twofold.  1) Her temperament lends itself to preferring routine and 2) for many years she has been told that in order to learn, everyone has to do the same thing at the same time, and someone older has to tell you what that is and when you should do it. 

The first thing you can't do anything about, but the second thing you can, and once the second part is addressed, she can make her OWN routine and voila she will have the structure she craves.

What I do for my two girls in middle school is to make a schedule of sorts on Sunday evenings that includes the subjects and assignments to be completed the following week.  I list them under specific days of the week, but I leave it up to them to manage their time and complete the work by the end of the week.  One of them likes to take it really slow in the mornings and do most of her work in the afternoon while the other likes to get it all done as quickly as possible so she has the afternoons and evenings free.  Whatever works for her, man.  At their age, I'm really not needed for teaching as much as directing and facilitating and that is what a lot of students who have attended traditional school for many years before being homeschooled struggle with: believing that they can learn without being taught.

After three years of homeschooling, my eldest who is like your eldest, has created a schedule for herself based on her own preferences and energy level.  She does everything in the same order every day.  She not only includes exercise, her chores, school work, and "free time", she even likes to take her vitamins and brush her teeth, and every other little detail you can think of, in the same order.  Obviously she has to be flexible sometimes and she's gotten better about that merely with age (she is two years older than your eldest) but in general, she is happier and more peaceful now than I've ever seen her in her life, and that gives me so much joy.

How do you keep your leeetle people occupado?

Once I stopped trying to "teach" my older girls, this got easier.  My son has been in kindergarten and first grade as we've homeschooled, so that only requires 1 hour or so of actual instruction time per day.  He learns so much other stuff just by being around older kids learning and listening to our conversations that there's been no need to make him sit and "school" for longer than that.  I prefer to do his school work after lunch when the youngest one(s) are napping.  If they've given up napping but aren't old enough to do formal school work yet (I'm looking at you, Cecilia), I have them do something "school-ish" alongside us like color, "cuttingandgluing" (she says it like it's all one word), or playing with an older sibling who isn't doing school work at the moment.  Again, all I need is an hour for the one(s) who's young enough to actually need me to teach things (ie how to read, how to add...)

Here's where I tell you to go read Cari's How I Homeschool interview, though, because she has been homeschooling much longer than I have AND has more younger kids in school AND most of them are boys.  Bless her.

How do I convince my husband that people are actually learning without tests, quizzes, and worksheets?

One option here is to go ahead and give tests, quizzes and worksheets sometimes.  You could even use a curriculum that has them as a regular part of the lessons.  Homeschooling doesn't have to be as loosey goosey as we do it, honest!  School at your comfort level.

Now, if you're not interested in the test/quiz/worksheet model of schooling but your husband wants to see progress, look up the grade level standards for your state.  See what they should know by the end and work toward that.  At the end of the year, show him that they know or can do whatever is on those lists.  I'll bet you're both pleasantly surprised every time.

What I do is the mostly loosey-goosey method combined with some quizzing (math!) and then they take the CAT at the end of the year and that has been enough.  Some states require that you submit work samples at intervals throughout the year and/or test results, so check with your state's regulations.  You might find that what they require is sufficient for your husband as well.

BUT!  Before you do any of that, read Jessica's interview and what she has learned about testing in general.  She knows, girl.


Whoa.  That was a lot of words.  Hope you didn't pass out from boredom.  Also, I'd like to recommend a book that I reviewed a while ago up on this here blog.  It's by fellow blogger Rebecca Frech and is called Teaching in Your Tiara.  It is such a good, easy read and there are chapters that address all of these questions, including the dad one.  And seeing as she already has a daughter in college while still wrangling little ones at home, her advice is obvi gonna be way better than mine!  So. Git to it.

Everyone else who doesn't have these same questions: thanks for stickin' around.

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  1. Pictures--yes, adorable! Thank you!

  2. So good, and so timely, Dwija! I'll be adding this link to your interview, okey dokey?

  3. I am in awe of you, on so many levels. Your kids are beautiful and HAPPY and you get to spend time with them and teach them. Wow.

  4. You completely sum up the problems associated with moving from a traditional school setting to homeschool. I hope I get the chance to apply your advice someday.

  5. OK I just skimmed but am coming back to read later - thanks for this post! The questions you answer here are the things I'm wondering about. Today we are touring a preschool for our 4 year old; just a 3 day program. But we're still contemplating homeschooling so I'd love to implement a hybrid approach next year (that is, as a new baby allows, which is why I'm grateful for the possibility of a 3 day preschool) and see where that gets us for the following kindergarten year.

    PS Random - saw your family (specifically, Paul and your chickens) in the latest Tower issue!

  6. As I was reading this Dwija I had a flashback to my middle school years as the oldest child making my own schedules for the day and totally including blocks of "free time". Oh, what happened to that organized go-getter former me?!?

  7. Thank you so much for this post! Glad I'm not the only one with the "dad" problem!


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