Homeschooling has been more of a gamechanger for me this year than I thought it would be. I think you can loosely compare starting up homeschooling to being a first-time mom. You can read all the right books, talk to all of your friends, research the best methods, and pray all you want about it, but it’s something you have to ultimately just figure out, and the figuring out part is going to involve lots of trial and error. I learned quickly this year that what is technically possible, what is recommended, and what is realistic for me and my family are all very different things.
Homeschooling has gone well this year for us, overall. Not perfectly, or at all as I thought it would. Not all of my homeschooling hopes and dreams came true. I feel like I haven’t done enough. But the year went well. We’re homeschooling next year again, at least.
This school year, I honestly did next to nothing with little Gianna, who was three for most of the year, but somehow she knows all of her colors, most of her shapes, many of her letters and numbers, and lots of other odds and ends I didn’t know she was picking up along the way. I did try to have some fun little manipulatives and toys to occupy her while I worked with her big brother and sister, and Starfall on the iPad, and good read-alouds from the library, but that’s about it. She’s more than ready to start gentle PreK work in the fall, and I’ve done about five lessons already with her from 100 Easy Lessons. I will use Handwriting Without Tears’ “My First Schoolbook” workbook for her in the fall, and will choose a few games and exercises from HWT’s great teachers’ guides to do with her every week. I used the same program a couple of years ago for Faith’s PreK year, and she was more than prepared for Kindergarten.
I very loosely used the recommended materials from Mother of Divine Grace for Kindergarten and First Grade this year. I bought the syllabi for both grades, but quickly fell off following the recommended daily work for a handful of reasons. I’ve enjoyed Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but as of today we’re only on Lesson 72. My oldest, Gabe, did not leave Kindergarten at his traditional school with a lot of confidence or reading skill, so I decided to start both he and his sister at the same reading level, doing the lessons together. Both kids started reading easy sentences as early as Thanksgiving. As much as I’ve liked 100 Easy Lessons, after hashing out my curriculum plans for next year with my new academic counselor (see below), I am planning to switch over to the Little Angel Readers two-year program over the summer.
I’m very excited about using St. Thomas Aquinas Academy (STAA) for next school year. I heard about the school through a close friend who raved about how helpful it was for her. STAA provides each family with a personal counselor to walk you through annual testing for each student, choosing the best books and materials for each student, and figuring out practical ways to make homeschooling work for your particular family and current season of life. It’s like having a trustworthy big sister who’s an educational expert and veteran homeschool mom to walk with you on this journey that can be so very frustrating and full of doubt, as every homeschooling mom knows. I’ve already finished working with my counselor, Debbie, to test the kids to see where they are academically and to plan out next year for each of them. I can call her up to once a month with any questions or problems all during the year. Working with somebody with her educational and practical homeschooling experience has given me so much peace. She had many practical tips for me, calmed several of my fears, helped me start to better pinpoint how my kids learn, and gave me some great new tools to try.
One of the best moments in talking to Debbie was her response to a question I’ve had a lot of anxiety about: “How do I know when to be done with school this year? I’m so worried I didn’t do enough!” I cobbled together a lot of the kids’ schoolwork this spring, and we aren’t “done” with some of the workbooks, let alone some of the scary-looking online lists of Things Kids Have to Master by the End of ___ Grade.
Here’s what Debbie told me: “After talking to you and reviewing your students’ testing results, I want you to pick a last day of school at the end of May and email the date to me. Call Gabe a second-grader and Faith a first-grader after that date. And make sure to tell me how you’re going to celebrate the end of school with the kids. Take a month or so off, then start some low-key work sometime in July to get ahead for when you have your sweet baby in the fall, and we’ll connect then to see where you guys are.”
Peace. Affirmation. Confidence. Answer to prayer. Check. And our last day of school is May 29th, by the way. We’re having a pizza party and going to the zoo that week to celebrate.:)
Homeschooling this year has gone well. I somehow survived the fall semester with a newborn in tow. My academic counselor and my husband have assured me that I haven’t messed up my kids so far.:)
The one slightly sad side-effect of homeschooling this year has been a slow, natural distancing from some of my friends who either don’t homeschool or who don’t have older children. I had to finally stop attending a weekly moms-and-tots playgroup with a great group of girls because I was showing up with a few much-older children than the toddlers and babies everyone else had. And my dear friends whose older children were in traditional school only had their little ones at home, of course, so we didn’t end up getting together for playdates and activities like we used to. Not to mention I realized very quickly that doctor’s appointments, illness, travel, laundry, errands, my newborn, and the various pop-up needs of family life made it a lot more difficult than I had thought to get in solid days of schoolwork during the week. I rarely schooled even four days a week this year, believe it or not. Especially with very young students who needed lots of me-sitting-right-beside-them presence for their schoolwork, I couldn’t get a lot of other things done during dedicated school time on a given day. And I had a newborn who naturally took at least five or six months to get on a consistent nap schedule.
When people ask me “how I did it” with homeschooling and having a three-year-old and a newborn at the same time I was trying to homeschool older children, I tell them that it was as day-to-day busy and sometimes impossible-feeling as they might imagine. There’s not magic method for Making it Work. You just get through it day by day, and try not to worry too much.
I remember one moment when I just had to laugh at the craziness. I was nursing a tiny, fussy baby while trying to get through one of the lessons with Gabe and Faith in 100 Easy Lessons while hollering at my three-year-old who had just spilled my coffee all over my teacher’s planner. And of course the house was a disaster area that day. I’m pretty sure I asked Michael not to come home without takeout that night. 🙂
Despite how difficult homeschooling has been at times this year, I haven’t at all missed packing up all the kids for carpool by 7:10am five days a week. Or waking up sleeping babies for afternoon carpool. Or surviving crushing post-carpool afternoons cramming in all the kids’ after-school activities, dinner, homework, family prayer, showers, and bedtime. And it was really, really nice when I was dog-sick with morning sickness for weeks this spring to turn on Magic Schoolbus for the big kids and slip back into bed until the baby woke up around 7:30am. And Gabe, especially, seems almost like a different kid this year. He got lots of outside time to just be a little boy. And he has fallen in love with books through audiobooks (we do a daily two-hour rest/reading time after lunch and I load old iPods with books from the library). Homeschooling definitely has its perks.:)
Michael and I wouldn’t have considered homeschooling seriously if we hadn’t needed to for several reasons, but sometimes the needing to look at things outside of your experience and comfort zone is how He gets you to try something that ends up being really, really good for you.