Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some Questions Answered

Recently, one of my favorite cousins emailed me with some questions about how I handle this school thing and requested I post about it.  They were good questions, so here goes:
Q: What did you do personally to prepare for homeschooling?
A: I did (and still do) A LOT of praying.  Seriously.  I mean, we’re talking about the lives and intellectual growth of my kids here!  I need all the divine guidance I can get!  Beyond that, I attended conferences and “mother’s meetings” sponsored by the Deseret Homeschool Association (a local LDS homeschool support group.) and took copious notes. I found and hounded other homeschool parents about their methods and curriculum. I wrote out my goals to use as a reference. I did not attend any official “teacher training” courses.  I surveyed curricula. I read books on educational theory and I researched the teaching methods and models other people used. These are some of the books and websites I used: (I’m including links so you can see them, too.)
The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van Demille
The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
CHOIS (Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State)
Idaho State Department of Education (I found the state standards and each grade’s scope and sequence outlined here)
The Core Knowledge Foundation
I also checked out various homeschooling books and periodicals in my local library (most of which are out of print now, but still chock full of practical advice on every aspect of homeschooling you can imagine.)
After doing a lot of reading and asking a lot of questions, I started forming my own ideas about what an education should be and how to implement it.  Initially, I was very drawn to the philosophies and methods presented in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education. That book pretty much guided me through my first year as a homeschool teacher.  I returned to that book and the TJEd website and forums frequently for reassurance and guidance.
As I got more comfortable with my role as home educator, I turned to the book The Well Trained Mind, which offered a different philosophy and more rigorous practices than the Thomas Jefferson book.  It also offers curricula reviews and suggestions.  I’ve taken most of our curriculum from what was suggested in TWTM—namely our math, spelling, language arts, and history curricula.
Q: What has been the hardest part about teaching?
A: I’m tempted here to say, “Every part!” but the truth is, certain aspects of teaching have been harder at times than others. The hardest part initially was dealing with the crushing weight of responsibility for my kids’ entire education.  I was terrified of screwing up, so I modeled my teaching and “classroom management” after what I remembered from my own experiences in public school.  And it was a FLOP.  You cannot duplicate public school at home. It’s impossible.  But, impossible as it was, I couldn’t let go of my public school mindset and I was frustrated when things didn’t go according to plan (which was pretty much all the time.)  My kids were miserable, I was miserable.  It was only after the experiencing the WORST homeschool day ever, that I realized my expectations and my methods were WRONG. (I’ll post about it soon, I promise—it’s a great story, now that I can laugh about it.)
After that day, the hardest part about teaching became being consistent about having school at all.  (Okay, seriously, my next post will be about the WORST day ever, because it illustrates how drastically things changed.)
Right now, the hardest part about teaching is still being consistent and insisting all the work (mine and the kids’) be done in a timely and excellent manner.  I am not an organized or structured person by nature, so following lesson plans and staying on task are my biggest challenges.  I’m easily distracted, and there are a LOT of distractions in a homeschool.  There are screaming toddlers, laundry, phone calls, people coming to the door, chores, bickering kids, Facebook (yes, I am slightly addicted), and a slew of other things.  I have to work hard to keep to a schedule and eliminate (or ignore) the distractions.  Some days go better than others, but I’m proud to say the good days now consistently outnumber the bad.
Q: What have you learned along the way about your skills as a teacher?
A: I’ve learned:
  • I am really good at getting people excited about things.
  • I have a tendency to want to fizzle out after the initial enthusiasm wears off.
  • I’m the “wrong” kind of perfectionist and have had to learn to be the “right” kind. (We can debate whether perfectionism is okay in the first place, later.)
  • I vacillate from being rigid to flighty.
  • There’s a HUGE difference in knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach it. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post about math.)
  • Fear can be crippling if I let it be. 
  • To ask for help. (Again, look for the upcoming math post.)
  • Before I can teach anything, I have to have the students’ attention and respect.
  • Sounding upbeat and positive sets the tone for the day (so fake it ‘til you make it, baby!) 
  • I’m drawn to the rigors of drills and memorization but don’t always like to implement them. (The kids feel the same way.) 
  • My students are more interested in learning when I treat them like individuals rather than a herd.
  • How to correct the kids without getting upset ( overcoming the perfectionism thing, and a “these kids and their actions are a reflection of ME!” thing) 
  • The value and timing of using incentives and the importance of being clear, concise, and consistent.
  • I am surprisingly tenacious and resourceful.
  • Practice makes permanent.
  • I have a lot to learn! (Some days this is exciting, other’s it’s daunting!)
I hope this answers your questions, Cuz.  Thanks for suggesting I tackle these in a post. If you or any of my readers have more questions you’d like to see addressed, let me know and I’ll get going on them!

Monday, January 3, 2011

School Inservice Day—January 2011

On the first Monday of each month, the kids and I have a school inservice day—basically, we spend the morning going over the past month’s school goals and projects, and plan everything for the new month.  Then, we clean the house.  I LOVE inservice days.  I got the idea from another mother who homeschools her nine (NINE!) kids.
For one thing, inservice days are great for keeping me semi-organized.  When God was handing out the genes for organizational ability and interest, I was standing in the buffet line.  Inservice days help me make up for that.  For another thing, inservice days allow me  to chart our progress and evaluate the methods and programs I’m using.  I can also assess the kids’ success and interest in what we’re doing.
Inservice days are a great guard against burn-out.  These are when I switch up the chore assignments, the class schedule, implement new teaching tools/methods, and discard ones that aren’t going so well.  We plan field trips and I introduce new themes—giving the kids a heads up for what to expect for the next month.  I dole out the rewards (I’m not above bribery!) the kids have earned, like the Book It! program from Pizza Hut, or local library incentives, or awards/privileges of my own design.
Here’s how today’s inservice shaped up:
I started the official meeting at breakfast—when all the kids are at the table and their mouths are full, so they are more inclined to listen.  Today is our second anniversary of homeschooling, so we planned a party for tonight (basically just an excuse to have some cake and ice cream and reminisce about the last couple of years—complete with a foray into our photos and memories of all the crazy stuff we’ve done.)
Next, we talked about some “social issues.”  Calvin, my second oldest, has gotten rather fidgety (I’m blaming it on cold weather and being cooped up in the house too much) and has started rolling his head constantly, claiming he has a crick in his neck.  Now, doing this OCCASIONALLY is one thing—but doing this too frequently just looks weird and is incredibly annoying to witness. We talked about how to present ourselves in public (there’s no excuse for tic-like/nervous habit behavior without a medical reason!) and how to deal with real cricks in the neck, so there’s no need for persistent head rolling. 
After that, we moved onto the kids’ daily/weekly schedule.  A few months ago, I realized we all needed some more structure, and I was tired of nagging the kids to get every little thing done.  I discovered this daily checklist on and began posting a copy for each kid in the family room to fill out, or at least to refer to.
After going over the nitty gritties on the daily checklist (chronicled in my next post) we talked about field trips (Guatemala for a week!) and how to celebrate Daddy’s birthday!
Finally, it was time for lunch, a break, and then some housecleaning and errand running.  All in all, it was a good day, and we’re officially ready to take on January 2011!