Okay. So your hands are strapped and you are going about bat-crazy. You vacillate among laughter, yelling, and tears. On the one hand, you realize you’re ridiculous for taking this all so seriously. I mean, come on! It’s just homeschooling! It’s just kids! It’s just a messy house. So you chill and smile. “Oh, they’re so dog-gone awesome. They’re growing up so fast. I need to savor these moments.” Then–nothing gets done. You panic. Why aren’t they doing their school? You yell. One bristles. One cries. You cry. Then you laugh; it’ll be okay. And it starts all over again.
(This post is continued from part 1.)
Here is the dilemma I found myself in last year. I had three kids at three levels in school and a toddler. The toddler bombed the school, no matter what we all tried. The older two kids are old enough that it’s time for school work to move into real. As far as their abilities and personalities will allow, I’d like this homeschool to provide my children an exceptional science and math education aimed at completing calculus and physics, fluency in one foreign language, and solid composition skills. I keep the pressure light on my kids, but the need to move along is there.
I read all the homeschooling sites for advice on managing a homeschool with kids from toddlers to tweens. Their answers just didn’t satisfy me based on my homeschool goals. I could not “give up” my math curriculum for the three years it would take my toddler to grow up. My kids, although responsible and helpful, didn’t enter this world to be their siblings’ babysitters. Cleaning toilets and folding laundry does not come before school. I had to find a way to keep all of my kids engaged, learning, and content again; provide real food for meals; and find a path through the laundry.
The Attempted Solutions
1. Get help. Any help will help!
When I found someone to come babysit in the mornings, I seized them. (They often told me to let go of their neck so they could breathe.) Then, the older girls and I could at least get some good, solid math instruction in. Even if this was only a couple of mornings a week, it helped immensely. My older girls appreciated it so much when I could help them “like a teacher” with school! (And that’s why I homeschooled!)
This ended up being my best solution, and I therefore found a very good friend who keeps the toddler every morning this year and is just helpful and gracious in every way imaginable. This was what we needed.
2. Remember Abe Lincoln would not have had math every day.
Abe had hunting and log splitting to do before reading and math. His education would have come in spurts. I’ve got the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-most idea of school in my head, and sometimes I just need to spit it out. Learning doesn’t make it school. And school does not make it learning. Learning is learning, and it is everywhere!
This attitude is still helpful, but luckily, we’re getting some good, solid school in each morning now! This attitude was easier for me to adopt for my younger elementary kids, but I’m not so flexible with my older ones. Perhaps I should be, but I am not.
3. Make like a real teacher and do lesson plans.
I didn’t lesson plan. I have good books in each school subject, and we had heretofore progressed through them nicely. If I had good vibes from the kids, I made them do 20 pages of grammar a day; if a brick wall had more vibes than their little pinkie, I knew to skip it entirely. Same with math. How much were they capable of that day? That’s how much we did!
But, this required a very close teacher-student relationship daily. I wasn’t close to anything except losing my temper hourly last year. Ha! So I finally broke down, did what legitimate teachers do, and wrote up a rigid, daily assignment sheet. Bummer. I couldn’t trick them into doing more work or give them the luxury of skipping math anymore.
This helped a lot. We’ve kept it, but it is a little more fluid.
4. Home 101: Remember that I choose to raise real citizens here.
Laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, diapers, getting along, being independent–that’s the real deal, people! Every society on earth has needed these skills, so of course I know it’s wise to call that a part of the educational process, Home 101. I’m considering making it an e-book, with lessons like “The Best Way to Load the Dishwasher” and “The Best Way to Put the Toddler in Time-Out” and “How Moms Get Through the Day on Not Enough Sleep.” Yes, my kids did learn a lot about managing kids and a house. A lot. They really learned to pick up the slack. I’m glad. But I’m also glad now that it isn’t at the expense of learning how to do math and write a report anymore.
5. Give up the curriculum.
Latin verb declension, Dickinson and Yeats poetry recitation, Shakespeare play-acting, Spanish, German, French, debate, music theory, philosophy, religion, and, and, and. . . Oh, my homeschooling ideas were glorious! Well, reality check. I had to accept that this was and is not all going to happen. I let go of my disappointment about it.
However, being a science-minded and science-trained woman, I can’t completely give up my curriculum. I can give it up in some areas, sure! But not in the core areas. I have a feeling that my kids would make up for it later, but I refuse to take that chance. But I have defined my top, necessary priorities for our homeschool curriculum and will keep those in focus. For my youngest student, yes, curriculum is kept to bare minimum.
6. What about a substitute teacher? Enter The Computer.
True to form, our substitute teacher (a.k.a. “The Computer”) stint was a fiasco. The WiFi was down. The computer was updating. The website was not connecting. The printer wouldn’t connect. The laptop had a virus. The CD wouldn’t load. We couldn’t find the charger. If I wanted to depend on a computer to teach our homeschooling, I was going to have to find a full-time computer support specialist.
Needless to say, the computer didn’t work for us. Too many technical glitches, and the lesson planning required that I be on the computer too much. I’m personally on the computer too much already, my family says.
So, this year, I scrapped the internet, except for my oldest, who uses it for an on-line, live, interactive Latin class, which has gone very well. I think that when I do use the internet for school classes, it will be as they get older and enrolled in live classes that I can’t teach.
7. Anyone? Anyone? Emotional sharing.
Has anyone else noticed a paucity of homeschooling moms with high school kids in their local homeschooling groups? I think they’re like, “Whoa. Made it through the toddler days and elementary stages, I’m outta’ here. Kid can drive himself.” That means I look around, and it’s me and other moms just like me. We shrug our shoulders, give each other high fives and coffee, and hope for the best. Their encouragement and support is a tremendous help. I highly suggest opening up and sharing with your comrades in boot camp. You’ll learn you’re not alone! Which may not help math and grammar, but it will help your smile.
8. Don’t get attached to a schedule.
Always, once it starts feeling right, something is guaranteed to change. In general, I learned that no two days are the same. Ever. Even now with help with the toddler.
9. Meet with your students several times a week.
I used to sit with my kids during school. During the toughest part of the toddler period, there was no-way, no-how that was possible, but I did try to meet with each of them one-on-one for a little block of time. I liked to do it when I “graded” their papers, then I’d just point out suggestions and errors on the spot right.
Well, that’s how we muddled through last year and have worked to make this year better and more gracefully productive! I don’t think it’s fair to be flippant about it and say that it will all work out. Maybe it will. But I have talked to grown homeschoolers who were disappointed in their parents and their home education, particularly in the math and science realms. I’d say it took us all last year to find our groove and decide what we really needed to get school rolling again this year. However, I don’t think it would have been fair to my middle school kids to wait two more years for the toddler to quit pestering and hollering!
Wishing you the best! No two homeschools are the same! Good luck!