Thursday, March 08, 2012

Off To Work

Tomorrow I leave to work over the weekend at a homeschool show in Loveland, Colorado for Nancy Larson Science.  I am really looking forward to the chance to have some extended adult time, and to visit with a new friend I met last year who worked with me...a sweet homeschooling Mom who I instantly liked.  We should have a lot of fun together!

While I am gone, Dominick and the kids are on their own.  I was thinking today how very, very fortunate...and is that we have children who are so self-motivated.  Every week they have a check off sheet for all their assignments and subjects.  Some are workbook pages or things they do on their own, some are for subjects that I teach.  We have a very loosely organized schedule around here for school, although it is more structured than some are, and less than others.  As in everything, I think our family is very middle of the road, moderate, etc.  I teach the subjects I teach to them as a group, like history, writing, literature, science, current events and some other language arts work.  Then they work on the other subjects like spelling, phonics, math and grammar (Dominick corrects and works with them on that in the evenings) on their own at their own pace and in whatever order they like.  As long as it is all completed by the end of the week, we are good to go.  The amazing thing is that every single week, every single kid has every single thing done...and then some.

And I don't say a word or ever remind them.  Ever.

I know that sounds impossible, I know you won't believe me or will think I have to nag.  You would be wrong. And you know what?  I realized today I totally take that self-motivation for granted.  In my own effort to self-educate, I read homeschooling forums in various places online, and I have often gained some great perspective and good ideas there.  One repeated theme is "How do I get my kid to do their work?" or "My kid complains and drags their feet all the time, what can I do?"  Here I have five of the greatest little workers ever, and I never really give it a thought that every day is not a battle.  What a lucky, lucky mom I am! No wonder I enjoy every day!

I have had occasional questions in person and via email about what our homeschool looks like/operates like/feels like.  I thought, since homeschooling is my weekend work this week, that I would answer a few of those regular questions here, so here goes!:

1)  How many subjects do you teach?  Do you teach them all each day?  It seems like a lot as I think of them to jot down here, but it really isn't.  During the course of the week we have music, art class, PE, history, current events discussion, grammar, writing, literature, spelling, phonics,science, timeline work, and then whatever other oddball thing that gets thrown in.  Matt doesn't have a phonics, but he does have German and Civil Air Patrol curriculum to work on.  We do not do every subject every day, instead doing them in longer time blocks than they would in regular school or than many families do.  I tried to do a page a day in workbooks, etc. but it just didn't work for us as I know it does for others.  It was too shallow, too quick, too raced.  We found our natural rhythm by doing math almost every day, and then other subjects a couple times a week in 1.2-2.5 hour blocks.  Then we can really get into the subject and accomplish a lot, and staying on topic longer allows us time to discuss things at length, especially history where we often drift into comparisons or contrasts with current events.

2)  What is your schedule?  Are you strict?  Anyone who knows the LaJoy's knows that "flexible" is our middle name.  However, we DO keep a general schedule, trying to get to work no later than 9:00 a.m. and most often we start at 8:30 a.m.  We have a mid-morning break sometimes, sometimes not, I leave it up to them.  We break for an hour for lunch, then we have a mid-afternoon break of a half an hour or so.  We honestly work until about 4:30 or so most afternoons, and many times we are still at it until 5:30.  I will often tell them they can be done at 3:30 or so, and they will be in the middle of something and ask if they can keep at it.  We are not strict about it, and if we are up late one night, I will let them sleep in a little the next morning...not until 10:00 or anything, but I have been known to have a 9;00 a.m. wake up call on occasion if I feel they are run down or if we were out late the night before.  I don't freak out over anything, and because we are diligent when we are working, it allows freedom often at other times.  One thing I AM strict about is interruptions...I don't answer the phone during the day unless I am expecting an important call, as that can really eat into our time quickly on a regular basis.  I also realized early on that if I didn't respect our school time, others wouldn't either.  This is our job every day, and we work hard at it!

3)  How do you teach everything with 5 kids?  I could never do that!  Yea, I wondered about that too in the beginning!! HAHAHA!  We are fortunate to have "groupings" because of the ages and experiences of our kids, so I teach everyone but Matt a few subjects together, then Kenny and Angela group together and Olesya and Josh group together with Matt on his own.  Everyone always has a free reading book with them, and if they have to wait for me they must be reading while they wait, or working on something else.  Their workbooks they do alone without direct instruction are corrected by me after school hours, and if I see problems we work on it one on one.  Dominick handles math, and the kids have instructional DVD's that help teach lessons and work through every problem if necessary, as teaching every one of them at a different grade level would pretty much be impossible by myself.  Dominick does instruction and correcting in the evenings and on weekends, and he is a VERY good math teacher, far better than I would be.

Honestly though, the way I can actually teach all five so many different subjects is that they listen to me, they don't mess around, they take it seriously, and they are respectful of me and helpful with their siblings.  If they are stuck on something and a sibling is nearby who already knows the material, they assist each other if they can.  They give each other their spelling tests if I am unable to do so.

Another not to be overlooked point is that we have had amazing help offered when we need it.  Our church family has stepped forward in ways that are unheard of and offered classes, tutoring here and there, covering for me when I need to be gone for one reason or another, sharing expertise, etc.  Although, of course, the bulk of all the teaching is in my lap 95% of the time, this sort of support keeps me sane, gave me courage, and gives me respite.  Not having family around to step in, this help means the world to us.

4)  How do you know what to teach? Where do you find your materials?  Well, I spend far more time on the internet than I wish I had to in order to discover materials that work well for us.  Our needs are a bit different, as you can imagine, and with Kenny I need to think even more carefully about what we use.  I also spent a lot of time in a sort of discernment process early on, assessing on paper what was important to us that the kids learn, where we thought our own education was lacking years ago, what we valued, what we felt was not as necessary. etc.  I also thought long and hard about a basic approach, and realize after discussion that we thought that "drill and kill" was pointless, and we were far more concerned with our kids developing solid critical thinking skills, the ability to analyze, and we also wanted them to know HOW to learn so they could gain confidence and recognize they could pursue learning themselves on any subject they were interested in.  Then, after creating some solid framework in my own head, I started to research curriculum and through trial and error have found things that work quite well for us, most of which are not necessarily mainstream.  We do not use public school textbooks, but we might for a subject here or there. We use real books when possible.  We use a literature curriculum from a Jewish publisher, an independently created history curriculum, a homeschool mom developed language arts program, and a blended homeschool/public school science curriculum.  I comb the internet for current events stories to share and we use maps to locate where on the globe those events occurred.  I use YouTube all the time for illustrations, as well as Google Images.

I do NOT follow any sort of state or federally created scope and sequence, I have a general game plan laid out through the end of high school, and we are following it.  We use grade leveled workbooks, etc. so we aren't exactly missing anything, but because of our kids all being above or below grade level, we just work through things systematically and I let go of outside expectations.  We will graduate them when we have covered all the material they need to cover to function well in whatever path they plan to walk down.  I teach things as they arise organically as well, if an interest hits us, we make time to follow it even if it takes us off course a's always, always worth it.

5)  Do you or the kids miss public school?  Sure we do, sometimes!  We met some terrific people there, we felt we had good teachers for the kids, and we sometimes miss the group activities available in that setting.  But overall, with our unique family make up, this works 100% better, and we don't miss anything enough to ever want to go back, especially the kids.  They love learning independently, they actually prefer not only being around kids their ages but instead enjoy being around a mix of adults and kids of all ages, such as at homeschool activities we occasionally attend, and they all think they learn in a more interesting way.  Matt in particular likes that he has time to devote to science, free reading, and Civil Air Patrol, and he realized he would not be advancing in rank as quickly if he were in public school because he wouldn't have the time to pursue it as much.  The girls, coming from a much smaller orphanage school environment were very glad they weren't plunked in public school as it was too intimidating, too large...homeschooling is actually closer to their prior educational experiences.  Kenny...well...he will never learn well in a traditional setting and we accept that as very true now.  Joshua says he never ever wants to go back because homeschool is just more interesting.  You know, with any decision you make in life, you can't have it all and you give up something to gain something.  For me, I am now in an unplanned "career" and it still sometimes is an adjustment to have so little interaction with adults all day long, or to not bring home a paycheck, or to not have something outside the confines of the family.  It is not bad, and I am not fact I was more unhappy in years prior as I knew what I was missing out on being away from the kids so much with work and then scrambling to get it all done in the evenings.  But it can be difficult in different ways, and I have to work hard at finding opportunities to get out a little more and socialize.

6)  What do you like to teach the most?  The least? not like math...can teach it if I have to....but do not enjoy it at all, and of course, that is one subject that almost all the kids actually like!  You'll think I am crazy, but I truly like teaching every other subject!!! It's fun, it's great to watch their progress, every subject is interesting if you want it to be, I guess, and I am a person who always loved learning.

7)  Are you worried about homeschooling high school?  No, not at all.  I used to be at first, but now that I have more experience and know more resources, I am not at all intimidated by it and know we will do well with it.  I think we can guide the kids better towards careers and higher education that makes sense for them as individuals.  I know there will be a few things we might need to outsource, a math class or two and maybe a science class or two, but other than that I can teach the rest with good teachers materials at my disposal.  History and literature are a snap, I'll brush up a little more on essay writing but not worried about that at all either.  Will it be a lot of work on my part?  Yup.  Oh well, won't be the first time nor the last time.

8)  Would you ever put the kids back in public school if they wanted to go?  Sure!  Probably not Kenny, for obvious reasons that he would not learn in that environment, but if the others had a burning desire to go to school, we'd let isn't prison or anything :-)  However, I have a funny feeling that even already, they might be ruined for that.  They like how they learn, not just what they learn, and that makes a difference.  Would I want them in public school?  Well, quite honestly, no...I think we feel homeschooling is healthier for them on many fronts...but we still wouldn't say no if they wanted to go back.  Remember, we don't exactly have the "norm" here in our home, that makes a big difference.  We are a team and we work together for the good of everyone, and we take their concerns into account as we make decisions.

9)  Be honest, what bugs you the most about homeschooling?  There are a few things that are bothersome to me.  One is the superiority that many homeschoolers project as well as the race to prove whose kid is the biggest genius, as if there are no "average" kids who homeschool.  Another is the exclusive nature of some groups, that disturbs me to no end.  I also dislike being lumped together in someone's mind with other homeschoolers who are reclusive, world rejecting, and very, very different from me...but somehow simply because we have chosen a different educational path there are assumptions made about our beliefs, be they religious or otherwise.   There are as many different homeschoolers out there as there are  public schoolers.  I hate feeling defensive about our decision, and am sometimes put in the position to defend our choice.  Maybe this one gets on my nerves more than it otherwise might, because Dominick and I have already spent an entire decade having to explain and defend our decision to adopt/adopt internationally/adopt special needs/adopt even more.  Maybe I am flat out sick of simply being a family walking around in Walmart, and being called into question for 10 years over things no one would dare ask a family that looked like they matched and weren't out with kids during the middle of the school day.

10)  Do you think everyone else should homeschool?  No way, absolutely not.  Do I think many could and should? Yes, I think there are a lot of kids who could benefit from one on one education.  Most would, really, when we think about it, and many kids DO fall through the cracks.  BUT BUT BUT...not every family is suited for this, not every kid is suited for this, not every parent is suited for this.  Many, many kids do quite well in public education, I did, Dominick did.  I will say I would have loved to have homeschooled, and my mom has said that if it were common she might have considered it back then.  Surprisingly, after the initial shock of hearing we were making such a big decision just as we were also preparing to travel for the girls, she was very pleased and is quite supportive of it.  I think we need much stronger public schools so all kids get a good education.  I think we need more alternatives, more ways to personalize curriculum, more recognition that what works for one kid does not always work for another...our kids are not cookie cutters.  But we will succeed or fail as a nation as our schools succeed or fail.  It is in NO ONE'S interest to see public education disappear, despite the staunch opinions of those on the way far right of the homeschooling spectrum.

Well, it is time for sleep as I have a big weekend ahead.  Off to Loveland tomorrow!!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insights, Cindy!
May your time in Loveland be wonderful and worthwhile.
Peace and blessings!

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is: what did your mother teach you that you are now (1) organized, (2) energetic and sharp enough to use that energy to find resources, (3) curious without having that dampened, (4) despite your thinking to the contrary, having (both of you adults) things running as smoothly as any household with even smaller challenges can run, (5) could your mother take on an aging student who never got it together. (However, this week I can find my computer under the pile of papers on my desk.)

Your children are wonderful, but you have nurtured all their fine qualities when you might have dampened and extinguished some. Raising children is not easy, and for some it is not even rewarding or fun or enriching. One of the things I love about reading and knowing Team LaJoy is that more often than not and probably more often than most you are enjoying each other, loving through the painful places, eyes on faith, hope, compassion, and love.

Hope your time in Loveland has been joyous and nourishing,

Writer200 said...

"One is the superiority that many homeschoolers project as well as the race to prove whose kid is the biggest genius, as if there are no "average" kids who homeschool."

It's true that some homeschoolers are snooty - though that isn't exactly the right term - about their progression through subjects.

Here I am , a 23 yr old homeschool alumni who is most definitely an "Average Jane". HAH!

I barely passed math, was started in Kindergarten at 6 & had to take a 5th year of high school because my math was not up to snuff. Now, I work in the fast food industry & have to use at least basic math skills daily. I am so thankful that memorizing the prices is fairly easy, so if someone asks what something costs, generally, I can recall it.

I sit in a tiny bedroom that has at LEAST 300 books in it (less the angel who came up with paperbacks!) & can honestly say that I am content to be where I am. Having chosen to skip college at this point - I do NOT want to get into debt to go to school - I've definitely been battling the stream.

Whatever your kiddos do, they will succeed, for it's not necessarily how book smart you may be, though that helps! - It is how much determination you have to reach the goal.
Writer200 aka Leah