As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homeschool Tweaks

We were facing some pretty significant problems at the end of the school year last June, not the least of which was one (or more) distracted students, a school day that dragged on well beyond the intended end time (and with no additions to the curriculum), and an overly busy schedule.  At the time I chalked it up to it being the end of the year, and the kids and I needing a break.  When September rolled around and we started with all of the same problems however, I knew something had to change.  I'd love to say that this happened without a major meltdown from me, but it's not true.  After my very first (first!) day of school this year I lamented to my husband, "I caaaaan't do this for another year!!!"  A couple of days later at a meeting of homeschool Moms I shared the same thoughts.  I prayed and cried and prayed some more, and eventually God helped me to see the areas I could improve upon.  I share them with you in the event that they may be helpful, knowing of course that every family, like every child, is different. 

#1 - Leftover Work from Last Year.  For starters, there was the pesky matter of school work that had not been completed over the summer.  Because I started my older children into new books in May when they had finished the entire year's book, I ended up with several children only partially through the beginning of a workbook in several subjects by the beginning of last year.  When they finished those books mid-year, I of course started their new books right away, which meant they ended the year almost, but not completely finished in a few subjects.  After the rocky start last Fall, I knew I didn't want to start a new school year in the middle of a book again, so I set out to finish the remainder of the material over the summer, which to be clear never, ever happens for me (and if in June of next year I mention anything silly about summer work plans for the kids, please remind me of that!)  So I started the school year with the old work still looming, but wanting anyway to just get into the new books on day one (which really is what they are designed for).  I tore out the old pages from last year's books and stapled them into the back of the new books.  Any child with leftover material from last year simply gets an extra page in that subject along with his current work, until the old stuff is done.  That way they still finish the material, but it doesn't slow their start for this year.  This has worked nicely, as the first couple of weeks in a new book tend to be easier anyway (because they account for summer break).  At press time only one child has leftover work to do, and only in one subject.  The rest have finished it all.  And we will never again rush to begin a new year's subject before that new school year has started, which means no more finishing the school year partway through anything, and no more catch-up.  Hurray!

#2 - Alternating Math Problems.  Last year I hit a major roadblock with my oldest son and Math.  He is incredibly smart, and I knew from working through his lessons that he understood the work.  But about midway through the year he just stopped caring.  He would either hand his work back with half of the answers wrong either because he had worked so quickly, or he would sit there all day, doodling and staring at his page, with no desire to finish at all.  Exasperated I shared my concerns with a friend, who suggested rewarding a good score on homework with the option of doing only half of the next day's questions.  There are typically 30 questions to do in my son's math lesson, so doing half is still a decent amount (in addition to the ten or so he does as part of his lesson).  She suggested he pick either odd or even, and since she is a school teacher by trade I figured she'd know what she was talking about.  It worked like a charm!  Since doing half of lesson consists of 15 questions, I stipulate that he must get at least 11 right in order to be able to do half the next day - any less than that means he needs a little more practice, and must do the whole thing.  He is motivated not only to finish because all of a sudden his work load is cut in half, but also to do a good job getting everything right so he has less to do tomorrow. It worked like a charm, and I've only had to assign the entire lesson once or twice since changing it around.  This also works for my third son, who is easily distracted.  Quite often I'll slap a math book with fifty questions on it, and he'll just sit and stare.  But when I circle all the odd ones or all the even ones, he gets to work right away.  Some kids are de-motivated when they are confronted with what seems to them an insurmountable task - getting them to look at it differently helps them to find the motivation they need to finish and be confident.

#3 - Marking as part of the Next Day's Lesson.  Marking is always something that sneaks up on me if I don't stay on top of it.  Most of the subjects right now are pretty easy to mark so I get them out of the way the same day they're done, but I always found myself stalling on the Math because it was more comprehensive and involved an answer key.  About midway through last year I started marking Math lessons with the child at the beginning of the next day's lesson.  That way we could see together where the problems were, and work on anything we needed to right away before moving on to the next lesson.  I give them a pen and call out the answers, but they mark it themselves, which helps them see how they're doing.  It's alleviated so much pressure on me when the school day is done, to know that I don't have to deal with the Math marking until the next day.

#4 - Sticking to a Strict Time Schedule.  At the end of last year and the beginning of this year, our kids were pretty distracted.  I got so tired of watching them look at their books not doing anything, all the while watching the school time creep later and later into whatever we had to do for the rest of the day. It all hit a peak the second week of school this year, when I had plans to go out in the afternoon that I had to cancel, because for the third day in a row none of the boys had completed any of their work by the time the afternoon came around.  The problem in this case was that I was the one losing out on the things I wanted to do because of their poor choices, and that wasn't okay.  So the very next day I got strict about the timing of our school day.  I set a timer that goes off at the end of a twenty minute period (just like in real school) and then, done or not, you move onto the next subject.  The rule is that work not completed during school time is to be done on your own time, not mine. So if I've planned something I want (or need) to do,  we do it.  The time to finish incomplete school work does not come from my activities but theirs, meaning that if they have anything else planned for the day (extra curriculars, time with friends) they cannot participate if their work has not be completed.  What I've found is that even if one of them has a rough start, once the book is changed it kind of helps them change gears.  They're less likely to just sit there staring at their book if it gets changed every twenty minutes. And I leave the unfinished work beside them so that if they finish a subject early, they can go back to it and keep working. It's been pretty good so far, if for no other reason than I can depend on the fact that school will always be between 9 and 11:30, lunch will always be at noon, and that if they choose not to be good workers, the monkey is on their back and not mine.

#5 - Thinking Outside the Classroom.  I've shared a few times now about my crazy Wednesday schedule.  We've planned our school year to include an outing day once a week, which initially had been Fridays.   Last year however, Wednesdays (being piano and ballet day) ended up being too difficult, so I started swapping our outing day for Wednesday and planning for school on Friday.  The problem with this is not only did we trade a free day for two busy ones, but we often still ended up doing outings on Fridays anyway, meaning we just shifted the crazy from Wednesday to Friday, with no break. This year I started to panic when I realized how much longer our Wednesdays were going to be, until I realized that I could take advantage of an hour-long break in town between piano and ballet to do school at the library, instead of in the morning before we left.  We are one month in, and I have to say this has made all the difference.  The long Wednesdays are so much easier now that I have a few hours in the morning to prepare my house and make sure things are in order before we go out (and that supper is made), but also knowing that we once again have our Fridays free for outings is such a blessing. We also have a half hour of van time (when my daughter is in her piano lesson, and it really doesn't make any sense for us to go anywhere and come back) which has become a scheduled reading time for the older boys, who each have a novel to work through during that time.  And I've been known to pack read-alouds to read to the kids on the ferry (which I have to take to get to town).  That's the beauty of homeschooling, your classroom can be anywhere, and can adapt to your life where you are. 

#6 - Double-Duty Cooking.  This has been such a Godsend to me this year, and really only happened by accident (meaning that I did it unintentionally enough times to realize that maybe I should actually plan on doing things this way!)  You may wonder what meals have to do with homeschooling, but the answer is a lot!  Because it's harder to focus on teaching when you have looming meals in your head, especially when kids start needing extra attention.  Just knowing my week and being realistic about what I can and can't do makes a world of difference.  For starters, Wednesday and Friday I am out all afternoon - so I plan to make supper before I go out so that I can just pop it in the oven when I get home. Casseroles and Pizzas are my go-to meals for these days.  On Monday I am home all day, so whatever I cook for supper I make sure to have enough (at least of the protein) that I can put it in the fridge to be used for supper later in the week (typically pork or beef braised in tomatoes, that can then be shredded and mixed with pasta and sauce, but I could also do ground beef for a shepherd's pie and save half for pasta later in the get the idea!)  Tuesday is my baking day, and also Beavers and Cubs night, meaning Jeff and the older kids need to eat supper a little earlier to get out the door in time. So I've added Quiche crust to my regular baking list, which seems daunting to make when it's on its own, but completely easy to whip up when I've already got everything out.  Since I also mix up bread dough as part of my baking day, I mix one extra to be used for pizza dough (which I can get two large pizzas out of).  I use 1/4 of a pizza pack (peperoni, salami and ham) to put in the Quiche, and save the rest for pizza the next day.  Because Quiche takes so long to cook, I put it in the oven early and have time to clean the kitchen and be prepared for the mad rush that is Tuesday supper.  By Wednesday (my crazy day!) I have enough dough for two pizzas, which I roll out and prepare in the morning (now that I don't have school work to do) - both get cooked on Wednesday, but one will be saved for Friday lunch when we're in town for our outing, so we don't have to buy lunch.  Thursday's supper will be something made with Monday's leftovers, and Friday's supper is usually an easy meatless casserole that I can make and put in the fridge until we get home.  I've never been much of a meal planner, and I wish I could be better at knowing what's on sale and planning around that.  But for now, this seems to be working great, and relieving a lot of my kitchen stress.

Life for me is a constant balancing act, and I told my husband it feels like at any one point in time I have a million balls in the air.  Sometimes they are floating beautifully and artfully, and other times they come crashing down.  I'm four years into this homeschooling gig and only feel like I've barely just started understanding how to keep up with the current of my life, and I'm sure that I will continue to unearth many new problems that require the altering of schedule and mindset.  If you have any helpful tips on how you manage a busy homeschooling household, I'd love to hear them!  Please pray for me as I continue this journey - for all the work it requires, there is no place I'd rather be.

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