It’s crazy how fast time passes by, especially when you’re busy, not that being busy is anything outside of the norm for us. We’ve hit 2016 running, and (as usual) have had one activity after another. I am honestly looking forward already to our break, which is planned for mid-February. After a month with no school responsibilities, getting back to the daily grind has been rough! Don’t get me wrong; it’s been fun, and nice to have the routine again, but still… I think I’m just a lazybones at heart.
One thing I can say that’s been absolutely perfect is the weather! You may have heard the jokes about Texas weather or seen memes that allude to the insane unpredictability: ‘don’t like it? Give it an hour and it will change’; ‘the four seasons of Texas: Summer, Summerer, SummererER, Christmas Day’; etc…. While those aren’t far off, January is always fairly mild, and this year exemplifies that perfectly. Mornings range from 40’s to 50’s, and the highs are in the 60’s and 70’s – this is what I imagine other parts of the US enjoy for Spring or Fall weather. February and March might be cold, but for now, we’re outside as much as possible, soaking up the cool(er) weather.
Our homeschool group went out to the Big Thicket National Preserve for a hike last week. Their Visitor’s Center is really nice; it’s one of our favorite stops when we’re in Kountze. We hiked the Sundew Trail, which is famous for its carnivorous plants (sundews and pitcher plants). I think it was a little early in the season though; mostly we saw pines and yaupon underbrush. Last year (or maybe two years ago), we went out there right after they had a prescribed burn. It was really interesting to see the burns on the pines, and to see how quickly the forest bounced back. Most of the new growth was as high as I am tall (5’4ish). It was cool to see how the trees recovered as well.
January is the beginning of our group’s art classes. We’re working from Discovering Great Artists, and our first lesson is on Pablo Picasso. The kids were instructed to paint a self-portrait for use in the project for the class. I wish I’d noticed that the boys were both using such similar colors, but it probably won’t matter in the end since the pictures will be cut up and reassembled, and added to with other supplies to make a collage.
Here’s the obligatory group shot, and our ‘after’ pictures, Picasso-style!
This was such a fun project – the kids did a great job on their original portraits, and their after creations ran the gamut from basic cubism to truly eclectic creations. I love art, and as a homeschooling teacher, that’s probably one of the things I regret most – that we don’t spend as much time on actually ‘making’ art as I’d like. It’s been on my mind for a while; I got the kids a ‘wreck it’ style journal, and one for myself for us to go through this year. I did Keri Smith’s ‘Wreck this Journal’ a couple of years ago and found it to be a lot of fun; hopefully the boys will find some inspiration in this journal, too. Rip It, Write It, Draw It is on sale at B&N right now for $3.99 – a great buy if you’ve been wanting to try WTJ but not wanting to spend the dough for a book you’re just going to tear up! (Disclosure – I am not affiliated with B&N nor do I receive kickbacks from them or anyone else – I just have this book and appreciate a good deal.) I’ve already re-covered mine with a quote from this little gem of a book, which I’ve found helpful for everything from personal reminders to boosting notes to the kids and friends.
We’re wrapping up this week with some advice from the Homeschool Snark Shark… and calling it a half-day today.
Hope you have a great weekend!
We follow a non-traditional school year. When I originally withdrew my boys from public school, it was just after the winter break. They were mid-semester, so we finished out that 6-week grading period, and then started homeschooling. Ever since then, we’ve started our ‘year’ in January.
Way back when I was a newbie homeschooler, I was anxious to get started. I knew what I wanted, and I was ready to go after it. We jumped in, both feet first and never looked back. The older, wiser, more experienced homeschooling mom in me now looks back on that eager, idealistic mom and thinks, ‘Aww… you sweet, summer child.’ As with so many, many things, I wish I’d known then even half of what I know now. All in all, I don’t think we had that bad of a start. There are things I’d do differently; de-schooling for a while, for one thing, but we didn’t hit the books hard and heavy right off the bat; we got started soon, but we did take it easy, so I don’t have too many regrets. But the pressure I put on myself was enormous. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed or started treatment for anxiety disorder, and looking back I know that my internal stress-o-rama was partially due to that. Even so, I had no direction, no real clue as to what I really needed to do, so I did all the things. I’d never planned for homeschooling before, so I was making it up as I went along, and like many newbies, got way to ambitious and idealistic. Luckily, I had some really kind and caring guides along the way who helped me reign in my tendencies. Even though some of them no longer blog, Jana, Julie, SmrtMama, Farrar, and many other helped me find my way.
Now, I know better, but still browse homeschooling blogs to make sure I’m not missing out on anything I haven’t seen before. I do still plan the year, and I do still usually start in January. We take the month of December off – at least we try to. There’s almost always something that interferes with the plan (this year, it was illness) that forces us to play catch-up, but that’s okay – that’s partly why I plan that break. The time off gives me a couple of weeks to catch up anything we were lagging behind on, consider what’s working, what needs to change and come up with a new plan or figure out new material to replace it. I know that we’ll complete this ‘grade’ in the spring/summer and start the next ‘grade’ in the fall, so I plan to do another planning session in the fall, to refine and add new materials I come across during the course of the next six months. There are always new materials coming out, which makes planning difficult sometimes. Throughout the year, I keep notes and use Pinterest to keep track of things I want to look into later in the year. If you use it that way, don’t forget to go back through it and pull resources from your boards when you’re planning!
I usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for the year before I start, but I’ve also learned to value flexibility. If something isn’t working, I don’t waste time trying to force it. There are always other materials out there.
This year, we’re starting the One Year Adventure Novel for grammar. We’re doing other things as well, but that’s a new addition. Most of our plans from the fall remain the same, which is nice. Back when we started, I had grand ideas that didn’t work in our life, so things got switched up a lot. I don’t regret it, exactly; it was a huge learning curve and part of the journey that I think helped make this part run more smoothly. It also let me accept that flexibility is okay, and normal, and probably for the best, considering the many options and changes that happen during the year.
When I start planning, I look at several things. Take history, for example. This year, we need to work through the last half of Story of the World IV. We’re on schedule; my plan was to finish that in May-ish, and we’ll make that target. After that, we’ll be either between books, or can start with SOTW I again immediately. At this point, I think I want to take a couple of months and focus on geography, but I know that will play more of a role in our overall journey through the SOTW books this go-round, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes. In addition to the regular curriculum, we keep track of a timeline, we have our homeschool group’s social studies club each month, and will hopefully be adding actual travel to the kids’ experiences this coming year. Even though I can’t put those things on the books in exact dates, I know that’s what I want to accomplish this coming year.
I treat the other subjects similarly; I know if we’ve started, where we’re at and what needs to be done. If it’s new, and we’re starting in January, then we have the year to divide the lessons up. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum is designed to be completed in 9 months, so by the time we break for the year at the end of November, we should be done. That’s about right, counting the various breaks we take through the year.
That brings me to another point – planning the actual school dates. I usually plan for 6 weeks of school, then a one-week break. That’s what we did originally, when we started, but it didn’t work. The kids were too young, I think, and I was too new and stressed. We amended it to 4 weeks of school and one week off, and that worked a lot better. As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone longer and had fewer breaks (or took 2 instead of one week)… depending on what we needed at the time. Regardless of how the actual breakdown of the year happens, I still always plan for a block of school, followed by a mini-break. This year, we’re on a 6-week on, one week off schedule. I also planned for a 2-week break in July, and for school to ‘end’ December 2, 2016. That’s roughly 190 days of school, not accounting for birthdays (which are holidays) or sick days (which we rarely have). That’s comparable to our local ISD’s school calendar, just spread a little differently.
The last part of my planning regimen is my planner, itself. You might say that’s the first part, even. I usually start working on designing my new planning ion November and try to have it completed and printed by mid-December at the latest. Because I also plan events for our homeschool group, I need to be able to see what’s going on months ahead of time. I also get the luxury of planning my kids’ lessons around whatever we have scheduled for the group, if I want to. For comparison sake, I took a couple of pictures of 2015’s planner (end of year) and 2016’s planner (brand new and *so* crisp!!):
I’ve made changes to my planner every year; last year, I discovered Passion Planner and so I added a page to every week. My weekly layout is 4 pages and I love it! I also added a pocket folder and tabs for the months so I can quickly and easily find my current week. I use both the monthly layout and the weekly/daily formats; this really is the center of my world. Whereas I used to keep my personal planner and my lesson planner separate, I’ve since learned the value in integrating them – everything is in one place and it’s lovely. I have blank, printable versions of my current planner, and every previous version of it, available for free, here. There are also a few other printable pages, including a student planner I designed, but the kids don’t use right now. Every year, I find little tweaks and things that work better, and that’s pretty neat to see. I keep all of my old planners, and it’s fun to look back through them.
If you’re at a loss, even a calendar from the dollar store can be effective; I found a video that a woman with small kiddos did on how she plans – not for homeschooling, but the idea was the same. With only a few supplies, she created a color-coded layout that worked for her family. Whatever you use, even a plain spiral notebook, can work! I know a few homeschooling families who don’t pre-plan; instead they write down what they accomplished at the end of the day or week.
Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d share a progress picture – this was our first day of homeschooling way back in 2010, and a shot from this week:
How do you plan?
If you’re new to homeschooling, you may not realize just how diverse the concept of ‘homeschooling’ can be. This graphic has been popping up on homeschooling boards fairly often lately, and I wanted to share it and talk a bit about it, because I think it is a relatively decent simple breakdown of what homeschooling might look like for individual families.
No two homeschooling families will look exactly alike, even if they’re using the same materials. That whole concept is kind of weird, because schools do look very similar, no matter where you’re at geographically, or what age your kids are, or what materials they’re using. In fact, even with completely different materials, ‘school’ in a brick-and-mortar school often looks practically identical to another B&M school. This generalization excludes ‘alternative’ schools like Montessori, Waldorf and others, which are based in different educational philosophies (in fact, many homeschooling families base their methods on similar concepts), but overall, ‘public’ schools look very, very similar.
I’ve been wanting to talk about the difference between homeschooling and ‘school at home’, which is the Red section on the chart, and encompasses things like ‘virtual academies’ that are hosted by states or local ISDs. I may rustle some feathers for saying this, but if you’re Red, then you’re not really ‘homeschooling’. Hear me out – what I mean by that is that you’re missing out on the entire point of being outside the B&M structure of/and traditional education model. Yes, you might be at home, but you’re still dealing with much of the same stress and hassle of B&M schooling, and getting none of the freedom and enjoyment of ‘real’ homeschooling. Not to mention that in some ways, you’re still buying into the ideas that traditional education have drilled into our culture (like testing and grades and grade-levels, rather than focusing on mastery before progressing).
Having said that, Red isn’t all bad. Red has its place in the homeschooling spectrum, and isn’t without advantages. Red can be a necessary stepping stone towards ideas that more fully encompass what homeschooling can really be like. Red is safe, and provides a lot of structure and reassurance for newbie homeschoolers who are hesitant to take the leap into full-on homeschooling. Red is awesome for kids who need to be outside of the classroom but have parents who genuinely don’t want to homeschool, and for kids who just need a lot of structure. Red is a good option for families who live in areas where there is a lack of support for homeschooling in general. Red is also great for families who encounter a lot of opposition from extended family or friends, or for those who know their own strengths and weaknesses, and despite a genuine desire to be otherwise, know that without such a strict outside structure they would end up ‘not schooling’. And then there are some families who choose Red because that’s what they’re comfortable with, and that’s cool, too.
Orange is pretty similar to Red; I don’t see a lot of difference between the two, really. Maybe the difference is more a mental shift than a visible one. That’s actually a pretty big deal. That’s the first step towards stepping outside the box. Even if it doesn’t show in your day-to-day schooling interactions with your kids, that switch in thinking is key if you want to move into a different color. It can be as simple as switching to a 4 day school week, or starting at 10AM instead of 8. Small steps, but important ones!
Yellow is pretty much the middle. Yellow is still parent-led, which is great for young children who are coming out of B&M schools who are used to a lot of direction, or for children who started out in Indigo or Purple and Mom feels like it’s time to add some structure. Yellow is great for socially active homeschool group participation, and for control-freak parents (like me). We started out in Yellow, and it was a really good place for us when we were there. Yellow requires a bit more parental prep, because you’re not necessarily using a boxed curriculum – you may be researching different resources to use for different subjects, and it takes time to plan. But overall, Yellow is a nice ‘middle of the road’ option.
Green and blue kind of go together in my mind, probably because that’s where we are now. We do a lot of field trips, some project-based learning, a lot of note/lap-booking, and still use some structured curriculum. But we also have more child-led learning (interest-based) than we used to because since my kids are older now, we’re tailoring to career paths and personal interests. We have a lot of flexibility with scheduling, and I trust my kids to do what they need to. For us, this was a system of more parental control, lessened as their responsibility grows. It might look much different for another family.
Indigo and Purple also merge together for me, but that’s very likely because I don’t have a lot of experience with them and have a hard time differentiating between the two. I’ve seen Indigo and Purple very well done, and I’ve seen it as an excuse for no schooling at all. I’m sure that colors my perception of child-led learning (or delight-led) and unschooling (which is what those colors represent) in practice, but I know that it can be a very good option for some kids/families. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I can Write is a blog that I’ve been following for years, and she’s a great example (and advocate) of unschooling as a successful model of education. I also have a couple of friends who successfully employed unschooling, and have seen it work (for both young children and teens/young adults).
I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that the chart is a ladder of sorts that people work their way from Red to Violet – it’s not about that at all. But stepping outside of the Red zone, even into Orange or Yellow, is so liberating! I’m sure people who are in the indigo/violet area would say the same thing to someone like me; it’s all about perspective!
Like I said, we started out in yellow, and have moved into the green/blue area. I am deeply attracted to indigo & violet, but feel equally like I know that they just won’t work for us and am afraid/lack faith or trust in the process. I generally need more structure than that, and I feel like my kids need more direction than those areas provide. I fully reserve the right to change my mind about that, but that’s how I feel right now. The truth is, green/blue is comfortable to me. I don’t feel the need to change it, because it works for us. We still get a ‘backbone’ for things to hinge on, but we also have a lot of freedom. And with my unpredictable work schedule, green/blue lets me work without feeling like I am sacrificing school in the process.
Ultimately, it’s up to each family to figure out where they fall in the spectrum (or, for that matter, if they want to let something like ‘the spectrum’ define them). Many families start out in one color and move to another, either gradually or by circumstance or by deliberate choice. Some families move down the spectrum, while others move up it. Homeschooling is such an individual thing – some families use one method with one kid and another method with their other child(ren).
However you choose to homeschool, make the most of it! Spend time with your kids, stop and see the sights in your town that you have never had time for… make the most out of the time you have with them. It goes by *so* fast! Enjoy it.
Handwriting is one of those things that I’ve gone round and round with my kids over, for basically the entire time we’ve been homeschooling. It’s not that they aren’t capable of writing neatly; more that they get in a hurry and rush through it. I’m a stickler for legibility, and we focus pretty heavily on writing, especially now that they’re in middle school, so I really do need it to be a skill they master.
Over the years, we’ve tried various methods for improving penmanship, none being particularly helpful (other than the old standard of ‘practice, practice’ practice’). We’ve gone through 2 workbooks of Handwriting Without Tears, tried pre-writing hand warm-up exercises, ‘ZOOM‘ technique, and used tons of practice worksheets, used grid paper and Mead’s Redi-Space notebooks, tried note-taking in various forms – I think we’ve done fairly well at ferreting out all of the tricks of the trade, and to give credit where credit is due, all of these things have helped. I have definitely seen improvements – vast improvements over when we first started – but nothing that is an ‘a-ha! moment’ where it just ‘clicks’ for them. But homeschooling is nothing if not try, try, try again, and so the search continues. I found something new that I will be implementing with the boys when we start again in January and I thought I’d share.
It is actually an idea that I found in a video, from a Pinterest pin on writing and hand-lettering for art journal purposes. The video used Photoshop and a purchased font to create what is essentially a worksheet for the author to print and trace in order to learn a new style of hand-lettering. But I thought the same technique would work well for improving handwriting (only simplified quite a bit). For example, you can create a new MSWord.docx or other word processing program and use a very light font color. That would be the easiest way to achieve the same effect.
What you end up with is a page they can trace over. This picture is a sample of what that can look like; for ‘real’ use, I’d probably either type it or have them type it first, then trace. The font in this sample page is called Architect’s Daughter, and I downloaded it from DaFont.com (free for personal use). I also like a script font called Gruenewald VA – it is visually similar to what my boys are used to from HWT.
The reason I an sharing this is because I wanted to reassure other moms with older homeschooled kids (especially boys) out there that you’re not the only ones that struggle with legible handwriting! It’s something I am constantly harping on. If you’ve read here before, I often refer to myself as a ‘mean’ homeschooling mom, because I do make my kids erase and re-write thing that are hard to read. Our rule is, ‘If I can’t read it, I can’t assess your progress; ergo, you must re-write it’. Also, “Mom’s not going to go blind trying to decode these marks into words. Just NO.” And, “Are these words?!? In English??” and “Are you kidding me??? O_o” Sometimes, I change the wording.
In any case, I have dreams of one day having beautifully hand-written notebooks from my kids, but for now, I will settle for ‘legible’ and call it progress well-done!
Care to share your tips for handwriting help?