For me, preparing to begin our 2nd year of homeschool means thinking back on the previous year- what worked well, what didn’t and how I’d like to move forward from here.
First, things that worked really well:
Routine. This one is so so critical for our family. Caleb does a great job of being internally driven if he knows what’s coming next and is put in charge of it. He gets frustrated when he doesn’t know the plan and is “interrupted”. Making a written schedule was one of the best things I did for our school year. It told Caleb what time homeschool would start, when he would get free play, when he had chores, when meals would be and when special time with mommy would be. Sounds great, right? Well, I don’t know about you, but we also needed…
Flexibility. Things don’t always happen by the clock. We had several long talks about how sometimes things need to start a little sooner or a little later than we planned. But I tried to keep to the schedule as much as possible. I also had to give myself flexibility. I was pregnant with Ember all 9 months of the school year, which meant I spent the first 3 months getting sick multiple times a day and feeling awful in between and the last 3 months feeling big, sore and tired. How did I complete an entire school year? Spoiler alert- we didn’t. We in no way schooled 180 days last year. Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in our state for any child (homeschooled or not), so this is not an issue. Not only that, but Caleb was a young kindergartner so if we needed to spend all or part of the next school year working on more K skills, I was totally fine with that. Realistic expectations for both of us made the school year a happy, rather than stressed, one. Amazingly, Caleb completed all his K milestones and has had no trouble moving into first grade this year. Which leads me to…
Unschooling. We are not unschoolers by any means. For those who follow educational philosophies- I’m pretty firmly on the classical/Charlotte Mason end of the spectrum when it comes to “school time”. Which means a big focus on mastering fundamentals and building good habits. However, the time that Caleb isn’t at the homeschool table, he naturally “unschools” himself- takes the building blocks he’s learned in “class” and applies them to high interest activities.
At the end of Kindergarten he was reading 3-5 letter words fairly fluently, doing copy work (but not spontaneously writing with invented spelling), and adding and subtracting numbers 0-20 when carrying/borrowing was not involved. After a summer of reading his lego phonics books to himself 100 times he can now tackle most level 1-2 readers with little help and is advancing quickly. After a summer of labeling his drawings with one-sentence descriptions, I can see him applying phonics rules to his own creative writing. After a summer of solving math problems from his dad periodically, he’s adding and subtracting 3 and 4 digit numbers as long as no borrowing/carrying is required. Speaking of the specifics of what Caleb is/isn’t able to do…
Patience/avoiding comparison. We all know every kid masters skills on their own time table. This can get hard when homeschooling though because whether or not your child can do xyz that most other kids his age are doing feels like a direct reflection on you and on homeschool being a right/wrong choice for your child. Which is funny, because if a child is a little behind in an area in public school we don’t usually assume it’s a flaw in the teacher or the choice to public school (at least, as a former teacher, I hope not!). We assume they need more time and more practice. And that is something I had to keep reminding myself of.
In the fall, we took a 2 month break from learning to read. Try as he might, Caleb could just not fluently blend many words. He was frustrated, I was concerned about killing his love of reading by making it a chore (not to mention nauseated- thanks first trimester!) so we just took a break. We kept going in other areas, I read aloud to him and we worked on blending sounds orally as we drove in the car or I folded laundry and when we came back to it…he flew through the rest of the curriculum and absolutely loves to read now.
Community. We were blessed to be part of a once/month co-op that met to do extracurriculars like art, music, PE and science experiments together. While it was wonderful to be able to do those things in community, for me, the co-op was worth it’s weight in gold because of the time I got to talk with other mom-teachers, get ideas, hear stories and share difficulties. If you’re considering homeschooling, I can not recommend finding a co-op enough.
What I’d like to do better this year:
Fun: If you know us well, “fun” is neither David or I’s middle name, but we’ve become convinced adding silliness and fun into the family life is essential for helping our kids feel connected and cared for. It can be easy for this to get brushed aside when you feel like you’ve already spent all morning together doing school. I try to make sure to set aside at least 15-20 minutes each day to just play a game, build legos or get outdoors with Caleb. This year, I’d like to add in a family ritual like Friday family fun night where we do something a little extra special together like staying up late to watch a movie or ordering pizza and playing a game. Especially as Caleb gets older, I want our home to be a place he *wants* to be and I know part of that is starting these things while it’s still cool to hang out with mom and dad.
Life Skills: Again, this is something critical that’s easy to lose sight of teaching as we strive to nurture Caleb academically and spiritually, yet having time to teach Caleb life skills is one of the reasons we chose to homeschool. Whether it’s talking about body safety rules, how to prepare a simple meal, how be responsible with money or how to do specific home maintenance skills we want to make sure we’re covering more than just academics each year.
Deeper Community: Last year, in addition to the once a month Co-Op, we attended library story time, went to the roller rink and gymnastics open play times and met up for play dates at the park. We’re fortunate to have kids his age in the neighborhood and at church, but I still didn’t feel like he was getting enough time with other kids his age. This year, we’re adding in a once/week Co-op and he’ll be playing soccer with classmates from the local school we’re zoned for. I’m trying to find that line between connected and over-commited. I’ll let you know how it goes!