Friday, April 02, 2010

Still Learning How to Homeschool

I've been wrestling with thoughts of making big changes in our homeschooling for the next school year. No, we weren't thinking of sending our kids to school. In fact, we were thinking of eliminating some outside classes they've been taking for the past seven years. (Like I said, big changes!) My husband and I discuss whether or not we need to make changes nearly every year. As homeschooling parents, we are all too aware of our own deficiencies and those of our children. We know who needs to work on their grammar or penmanship or reading. But this year I felt more unease than usual and felt a stronger than usual desire to make radical changes to the way we've grown accustomed. That is, I wanted to bring my kids home and just do school without any outside distractions.

That's great when you have little kids or very docile children. Mine are neither little nor docile. The female teenagers, in particular, weren't at all happy with that solution.

I investigated starting a co-op, since there aren't any Catholic co-ops for high school kids in our area. But I'm not sure if I have the energy to start the type of co-op I'd like to join, while still homeschooling six kids, ages 8 to 16!

I needed to sit down with my husband and write out our educational philosophy and goals. In reality, I'd been keeping him up late at night for the past few weeks talking about it. For me, writing it out helps clarify my thinking. Plus, I like to be able to look at what I've written and refer to it later.

Here's what we came up with. This is the order with which we came up with the ideas and not necessarily in the order of importance:

--more challenging and broader studies (particularly for our teenagers);
--more classical education;
--challenge them without nagging or punitive grading (grades should be a way to test if the student has mastered the material, not punish them);
--give glory and honor to God using the talents He gave us and learning to use those talents;
--strive for mastery of material (see the note about punitive grading);
--don't waste time doing busy work;
--expand learning opportunities
--more experiential learning, i.e. gardening, camping, hiking, nature study, cooking with Mom, field trips, etc.
(this is more for the three youngest boys at home, but should also include the older kids from time to time);
--prepare for college-level work, (goes with the challenging and broader studies idea);
--more memorization, especially poetry, but also important names, dates, Latin roots, states and capitals, etc.
--grammar and handwriting (weaknesses of particular kids).

As you can see, these aren't anything profound, but they are especially meaningful for us because of some of the issues we've had to deal with this year. Also, these goals could be achieved at a brick-and-mortar school or at home, but for us, the best environment is home. In fact, two of the issues we have dealt with this year (punitive grading and busy work) are from classes taken outside the home. Our kids don't want to give up that time with friends and learning from another teacher, so we are going to try to arrange their outside classes so that they minimize the wasted time and maximize the learning. We also want to balance the amount of outside homework they have with the learning that we want to take place at home.

We included the teen girls in our discussion, since teen boy was off reading his Aeneid homework and the teen girls always like to be included. Once they understood we didn't want to take them away from their friends and put them in a convent (do all teen girls worry about this, or is it just Catholic homeschooled girls?) they were much more relaxed and willing to listen to what we had to say.

I'm particularly excited about one idea we brainstormed together (after teen boy sat down with us). We are going to have the two girls and boy study the same literature and history next year. On tap: Shakespeare, Canterbury Tales, Song of Roland and other Medievel European writings. We'll also have the three of them do the same era for history, in order to maximize our learning time at home. I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before. One of the great things about homeschooling is the flexibility it affords and kids of different ages can study the same things, but at different levels. High school (and junior high) kids have very similar reading abilities, so having them study the same thing for history and literature is no big deal. In fact, now it seems like a big DUH!

It just occurred to me that the 2010-2011 school year will mark our twentieth year of homeschooling! Yep, I must be a slow learner, if it's taken this long for me to figure out something so basic. Maybe by the time my youngest graduates (in 2021), I'll actually know a thing or two.


island breezes said...

Most of your new goals I addressed by using Seton curriculum. My experience getting my two eldest into University convinced me that a highschool diploma would be beneficial. I also had been using their materials for years already, and especially liked their highschool curriculum. With the younger kids I mix it up a bit more, and add things in, so I don't use the full program. As two more are heading off to Univ. in the fall, I'll be left with only 4.( What will I do with the extra time? )
I do find a set curriculum limiting in some areas, especially hands on stuff. Hopefully next year, I'll be able to pick up a few outside things, as the highschool stuff will be a little less intense for the next two years. Right now, we do school and sports. And Church, of course.

Good luck with your crew. And Happy Easter!

Cheryl in VA said...

Great thoughts, Debbie! Believe me, we're still learning and changing as we go. One curriculum I DON'T want to change is Tapestry of Grace, because it integrates literature and history studies for all grades, just as you are planning to do.

My oldest daughter definitely feels like the "guinea pig" -- we try things with her and then make adjustments for the rest of the family!

Blessings on the rest of this year and your coming year!

dhunt said...

Loved reading this!I am going to start HS my boys in Sept. and I am really looking forward to it!I am coming to this a little late in the game (they're twelve).

Amy said...

This sounds wonderful, and I wish you the best! Perhaps another reading-with-discussion group could be in the works - since A Tale of Two Cities didn't work out for your family this spring?