Our Homeschooling Journey ~ The Final Chapter

Spring Fling 2011 ~ The annual homeschooling prom (a very, very big deal in our home!)
Our day begins early, by 7:30 everyone is busily scribbling away with a freshly sharpened pencil and their own pile of schoolbooks. This is in vast contrast to many homeschoolers we know. Many stay up until the wee hours of the morning and sleep half of the daylight hours away. I’ve read way too much regrading the circadian rhythm of the body to be okay with that. ;) As I said, 7:30 finds us each in a comfortable spot of our choosing, quietly working. Lately I prefer the couch, wrapped up in a warm blanket. J

What is it that I’m working on? Exactly what the girls are. I’ve found that by doing the same work that they are I’m much better prepared to answer questions, go over workbooks or start discussions. I could just assign the work and correct it against an answer sheet, but my approach keeps me involved and interested. And I find when I’m excited about a subject, their interest is often higher. I do not use curriculums and have felt no need to look into them. They cost a ton of money and I much prefer to plan our week, day, month or year on my own. Many people do choose curriculums and love them, but as usual I just choose to do things my own way. ;)

Hanging out with Honest Abe Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This is after an entire day of touring the battlefield,  still smiling. :)
We all begin by doing ‘together work’. This is the work that each and every one of us is required to do (by me) daily, no matter what the age or level. History, Ancient History, Science, Review cards, Spanish. It takes us about two hours to get through all of this work, which often includes a lot of reading and understanding. Then we meet up together and review it all. This is where I find workbooks to be invaluable. They assist me in immediately pointing out to me who understood, who didn’t and what we need to go over in more depth. We spend time translating and speaking Spanish, and conjugating verbs. Recently we dedicated time to converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and vice versa until we were able to do it with ease. Each week brings something different to focus on.

I do the actual homeschooling in our family. In the beginning I tried incorporating Scott, but he'd rather be out chopping wood... ;) He's great moral support though.
Each day we go through a ‘review bag’ together. I started these way back in the early days of homeschooling. For each subject that we cover I make up a bag of questions. I found that otherwise things are easily forgotten which really is a shame. Most of our bags cover really cool subjects in depth like honeybees, dinosaurs, mammals, knights, whales, flowers, the solar system, while others are a bit less riveting. I really, really disliked learning about simple machines for some reason. ;) Reviewing them every so often keeps them fresh and we are able to draw on the facts as we study a bee sucking nectar on a warm spring afternoon. We watch as she uncurls her proboscis to find the sweet treat buried in the flower’s depths (and we can name all of those various flower parts!). We know she’ll bring this back and regurgitate into the hive as honey. We watch as her legs grow heavy with yellow pollen balls. We know she is a female and may go back to the hive and perform a dance to show other worker bees where a great stash of nectar is to be found. It makes our world so much more interesting and vibrant. So while the review bag may not be our favorite part of the morning we all appreciate what it brings to our understanding of the worlds around us.

We like to play and laugh... a lot
Each day we discuss a chapter in the current classic book we are all reading, including me. Right now we’re making our way trough The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and it usually has us in stitches. We are able to see why it has been around for so many years, what an amazing writer Mark Twain was. Rascal (recommended by their Grampa) was another favorite, and I personally loved the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. This was a tougher read, but an amazing, real and raw look at what it meant to be a slave.

Once we’re through with together stuff the girls each move on to individual work. For Taylor and Jordan (and myself) this includes Algebra, while Riley is tackling percents right now. I’ve discovered a love of math, especially Algebra, that was undiscovered in high school. Each problem is a little individual puzzle that appears to be only a random spattering of letters and numbers. Gobbledegook. I feel a great sense of accomplishment with each one that I solve, and each correct answer is usually marked by a self congratulatory arm pump and satisfied grin. In frustration the girls have thrown the age-old complaint at me “But when will we ever need this stuff?” Legitimate? Nope. I can’t stand this particular phrase despite the many times I probably uttered it as a teen. I’m hoping to show them that that sense of pride, accomplishment and yes, even fun, is all the motivation and reason they need. So what if you never need it again, it’s giving those synapses in the brain a nice, healthy workout. Recently, I helped a friend prep for a college placement exam and was amazed at all that I knew and was able to solve in the math section. It’s a pretty awesome feeling having that store of knowledge just hanging out up there, waiting for a chance to show its stuff.

One of many, many adored pets
I’m available until about 10:30 to answers questions, help figure out an algebra problem, convert a percent to a decimal or… whatever. I correct anything that needs my attention, and then I’m off to start lunch. The girls finish up their work on their own, and then they’re… free!!! By lunchtime we’ve all moved on. We move through tons of subjects and work in a very short amount of time. We skip the recesses, wasted time between classes, free periods and just get to work and cover tons of ground. The rest of the day is dedicated to other types of growth. Maybe a good book is calling to Taylor or she wants to work on her current novel. Riley and Jordan can often be found snuggling one of numerous pets. Anyone up for a game? They’re free to pursue whatever interests them.

Since they are still kids, behavior is an unofficial subject in my school. There is no yelling, snapping, disrespect or unkindness tolerated. When it does sneak out we have Behavior Bucks (or lack of) as consequences. I developed Behavior Bucks years ago and although the rules are always changing, they’ve hung on throughout the passing years. Right now the girls start each day with 3 bucks, not a lot of room for error anymore. Any unkindness means that they hand over one buck to me. At the end of the day if they have enough left, they may purchase rewards ~ 1 buck for computer, 1 buck if we have shows we watch as a family that night, and the rest are collected and used to ‘purchase’ Teen Group every other week- a total of 10 is required. It’s simple and may seem too young for the older girls, but it reflects one of the most basic secrets of life. There are consequences for behavior, good or bad, until the day you die. Behavior Bucks are a simplified and shortened version of that process. Plus, they work beautifully. ;)

We love to camp and do so at least once every year. Long  summer days spent reading, walking and relaxing
Each state is different in regards to their homeschooling requirements. Thankfully Connecticut requires next to nothing. I do notify the school each year by letter that the girls will be homeschooled for the upcoming school year and that’s it. And I’m so grateful. Some may see this lack of rules and regulations as a negative, but I see it as a great blessing. One of the most alluring aspects of teaching at home is the delicious freedom of it all. Freedom to explore whatever subjects pop up and interest us. I can’t predict what that will be from year to year or week to week. We often go off on interesting tangents, right now the Bermuda Triangle is pretty cool . Gladiators were pretty awesome too. Freedom to do school. Freedom to skip school. I would really resist someone telling me how to raise my own children, and am thankful I live in the state that I do when it comes to teaching at home.

Some homeschool pals
Yesterday I read an article in Newsweek about Homeschooling. I’m always interested in these articles to see whether or not I’ve been pegged as a freak who is irreparably damaging her children, and or phariah, saving the world one child at a time. ;D This article was pretty good until I got to a sentence that showed me yet another misconception. For about five minutes the author contemplated homeschooling her son, but ultimately decided not to based on this reasoning “My husband and I are loyal to what we call “detachment parenting”: we figure we are doing a good job if Milo is just as confident and comfortable without us as he is with us.” Hmmmm, sounds like another stereotype to me. Let me be clear here, I’m not trying to create children who can’t function outside of this home, who are needy and dependent. My ultimate goal is for independent and confident girls who can step into any situation and handle it with grace. I do not coddle my girls, and never have, and would feel as though I had failed if I sent them out into the world unequipped to handle life. And I have no idea what detachment parenting is…

We enjoy lots of lazy days, doing whatever pleases us most

I have yet to meet another family that approaches things as we do, one of the great things about homeschooling, everyone is free to do their own thing. I pick and probe every new mom that I meet, always on the lookout for fresh ideas and approaches. It's a diverse and interesting group.

And so, that is our life. Each day is different and I’m always trying new directions. Right now we do school 4 days a week. I’ve created Experiment Day on Friday so that the girls get something light and fun while I have time to prepare next week’s work. It works for now and that’s really all that I care about. We take frequent vacations, when we need a break from all the book learning. We figure things out as we go, don't spend time worrying about the future or what comes next. We live each day as happily as we can. We laugh, we play, we learn, we bicker, we grow. I don't think you'd be able to pick my homeschooled girls out of a crowd... on second thought, you probably could. They'd be the only ones without a cell phone. ;)

Thanks to all of you who hung on until the end of this post. I had a lot to share and I appreciate you taking the time to read about the mystery of homeschooling. ;) And so, our journey continues...

Peace & blessings ~ Melinda