Friday, August 31, 2012

Quick Takes: Homeschooling Edition

I promised you guys a few weeks ago that I'd write up a "Things I Learned During Our First Year of Homeschooling" post, and have been putting it off since then.   I've started it multiple times, but just never completed it or published it before now.  Why?  I don't really have a good answer for that.  Maybe it was a touch of writer's block.  Maybe it was a direct result of the stress I've felt since we decided to move across the country again.   Maybe it was laziness on my part.   I don't really know....all I know is that today's quick takes are presenting me with an easy way to format what could be a rambling, incoherent post into something that might actually make sense to you guys!  

So, here we go - I present to you:

Quick Takes:  What I learned while homeschooling


Item number one on this list has to go along with that opening paragraph for this post:  I learned that I am a procrastinator.   I knew this once before, of course, when I was in school myself and left everything until the last minute.   I suppose this is something that you don't necessarily grow out of.....or at least I didn't, it seemed.  Once a procrastinator...always a procrastinator.   

What did this mean for us while homeschooling?   Well, I learned that I had to be aware of my procrastinating tendencies.   If given a choice of whether to start schooling at 8 am or an hour or so before Mike got home, my natural inclination was to wait until that last hour.   Obviously, this didn't work very well, so I realized that a schedule was a must for all of us.   We implemented a pretty rigid schedule (up at a certain time, school starting at a certain time, lunch at a certain time, etc), and our days   ran smoothly.


The second thing that I learned this year while homeschooling?   To relax.   I know, I know, this might seem to be totally and completely contradictory to quick take #1, but it really isn't.   We functioned best with a schedule, but I learned to relax within that schedule.   I quickly realized that I had to prioritize things around the house if I was going to keep my sanity.  There was no way that I was going to be able to make every meal from scratch, get in a good workout (and a shower!!), be involved in social activities, give the boys a quality education, be a wife who was present to her husband, AND keep a perfectly well-kept house.......and only trying to do all of those things was going to end up in a one-way ticket to the looney bin.

So I learned to relax.    School took a priority on most days, and we fell into a "weekends are for cleaning" kind of routine that worked well for us.   Relaxing about how many items were on my "to-do" list throughout the week allowed me to really focus on providing a quality education for my rascals.


Along those same lines, I learned a third little tidbit of information:   Education doesn't always have to come from textbooks.    Now, while I'm not cut out to be an unschooling kind of mom (see Quick Take #1 for a really good reason why), I have come to the conclusion that a good homeschooling curriculum will allow for lesson plans with a few blank days.   The boys learned just as much - if not more - by being fully involved in our day-to-day activities in our house.   They practiced their math while helping me cook or bake.   They saw science in action when we would take a day to play and explore at the park or the zoo.   Their language skills were reinforced when we'd spend the day doing nothing but writing our own books and illustrating them.   

We followed a "boxed curriculum" (Mother of Divine Grace), filled with lesson plans and goals, textbooks, and plenty of worksheets.....but my favourite thing about this program was that it was only a four day work week.  I was able to fill up the fifth weekday with field trips, playdates, or "snow days" where we did nothing but play and have fun together.    These "life skills" days really allowed my boys learn more about what it meant to be a compassionate, active member of society than any book from their reading list.


Homeschooling taught me about mothering.    Now, I'm not a perfect mother, by any means, but I definitely thought I was a pretty good one at the beginning of this past school year.   I was a good mom then....but I've become a better mom now, due to homeschooling.   Why?

Because homeschooling allowed me to get to know my kids on an even deeper level.   Watching them learn, seeing what made them happy or sad or frustrated or excited on a 24/7 basis made me realize that I was making some mistakes in my mothering career.   I'm still not perfect, but homeschooling taught me so much more about what each of my boys needs, as an individual personality.    Working with them to master concepts forced me to really bond with them on a deeper level, and I think we're all better for it.


Along that train of thought, homeschooling taught us, as a group, about what it means to live in a family.    There's no getting away from each other right now - no 8 hour break from siblings and parents and children like there was when they were in a traditional school.    Now, we work together, we play together, we laugh together, we cry name it, and we probably do it together.  

Homeschooling taught us how to interact with each other - how to communicate with each other.   We still have skirmishes (it's a house full of boys, what do you expect?!?!), but the friendships between the boys and the level of relationship/bonding between all five of us has been taken to another level.   Homeschooling is not something done BY the family, a wise friend told me at the beginning of the year, but instead is something done FOR the family.  

This was 100% true in our case.  Our homeschool isn't some entity that we serve - it's a way that we serve the other members of our family, a way that we foster love and compassion and learning amongst our family members.


I learned that "socialization" doesn't mean what I thought it meant.   When deciding whether or not to bring the boys home last year, I heard this question over and over again:   "How are you going to make sure they get enough socialization?"   After about the hundredth time of being faced with this question, I vowed to myself that MY kids weren't going to be those weird, socially awkward homeschooled kids that everyone's scare stories were based on.  My kids were going to be well-rounded, confidant boys, ready to take on the world.

And so I signed them up for activity after activity.   Play groups, PE classes, gymnastics classes, religious ed classes at church -- we were going to take on the world.

.......and we didn't get very far.

About mid-year, I realized that it wasn't working.    Instead of taking on the world, we were grumpy, tired, and no longer excited about our days.  

So I downsized.   I didn't re-enroll for the playgroups.   We pulled out of PE classes and instead focused on gymnastics (which the boys liked better, anyway).   We kept the religious ed classes through the end of the school year, but I didn't re-register them for this upcoming year.    

Socialization, I realized, was not about knowing as many people as possible and keeping an active social calendar.   Socialization was really about being an active member of your community and having quality interactions with those around you.    Instead of a full calendar and being a member of many things, I started to focus on being truly present and integrated into our community.    We started to take spread out our school days, making room for day trips or volunteer activities.   During Advent and Lent, we spread our 4 day work weeks over two weeks, leaving us extra days to participate in church events and activities.   

The boys learned so much more about interacting with others and forming good working relationships when I gave them the time to do so.    Over this past year, I learned that my children will be successful in society (and therefore, "socialized") not because they were involved in a ton of extracurricular activities, but because I taught them how to (and gave them quality time to practice) interact with our community-at-large.......not just groups of children their exact same age.


The last thing I learned from our year of homeschooling sort of encompasses all of the above:   I learned that homeschooling is flexible.    

If you need a routine.......that is okay.  
If you need to relax that routine for a little while to add in "life skills days".....that is okay.   
If you need a boxed curriculum....that is okay.   
If you want to take day trips with Daddy.....that is okay.   
If you want to add in lessons about your religion or the Church calendar....that is okay.   
If you start something and it's not working and you get rid of it.....that is okay.    
If you want to change the order of things in your curriculum.......that is okay.
If you want to take a week off to accommodate out-of-town visitors.........that is okay.
If you want to do school at the park one day......that is okay.
If you want to do school on the road one day.......that is okay.
If you want to do school in your pajamas.........that is okay.
If the kids want to do school together.......that is okay.
If they don't want to be in the same room anymore........that is okay.
If someone is sick and needs a day off.........that is okay, no one gets behind.

Homeschooling biggest blessing, I've come to learn, is that it is flexible.   What works for our family, may not work for our friends down the street.......and......... that is okay.   

Homeschooling has helped me recognize - through its flexibility - that what matters first and foremost is getting my family to Heaven.    All the day-to-day details can be adjusted so that our goal (Heaven) is always first on the list.   Homeschooling's flexibility allows us to focus on what is truly important.


As an added bonus, I thought I'd throw in some fun pictures from this past year of schooling.   Some are repeats, some are new....but all of them are a little piece of the life we've come to know and love!

A quiet moment on a family hike - drawing what we saw

One of our favourite art activities:  dry erase markers on the sliding glass door

Science experiments on the back patio

A government lesson - and a quiet moment with our priest

Field trip to the Grand Canyon with Nanny and Poppy

Field trip to Biosphere II

Just a fun math activity

Who says homeschoolers don't see the world?   How about this re-creation of the Eiffel Tower?

Or the Golden Gate Bridge?

Or the Coliseum?

Or Big Ben?

Or the Globe Theatre?


Don't forget to visit Jen for more Quick Takes!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Quick Takes - in one month....

Thanks again to Jen for hosting!  Once again....a picture heavy quick takes.   Sorry.  
You'll understand by the end. 


Once upon a time, there was a cute little house.....


...owned by a cute little family....


...with three adorable little boys....


The family loved this little house, and put a lot of time into making it their very own home.


But the time came when the cute little family had to leave their beloved home and travel 3000 miles across the country to a new home.   They packed up their belongings and headed out for the next adventure.


And they fell in love with their new home - the natural beauty, the community, the vibrancy.  They truly enjoyed their new home, creating friendships that will last a lifetime.    


But something began to stir within the heart of this cute little family, and they began to feel that they weren't quite finished with their journey just yet.    In time, it became very clear to our little family:  God was calling them to take what they had learned from the amazing community in their new home and share it.   He was calling them to witness to His love in a new place...........or a new familiar place.

....and with that, the little family knew.   They were being called home.  

And so they'll head a month.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another year begins...

And what better way to start a new school year than with a family field trip!  

Mike had the ability to join us, so we packed everyone up for a special day of playing tourist in our own town.  

First stop was lunch at Rainforest Cafe.  Now, the boys have been to one of these before, but they apparently didn't remember their last meal there.   The big boys enjoyed it, but Rascal #3 was a bit overwhelmed.  He warmed up by the end of the meal, but, well, the first half of the meal looked like this:

After awhile, they started to enjoy it a bit more.  Faces started to look like this:

Of course, that was what they looked like the few moments that I could actually SEE the front of their head.  Most of the meal, I spent looking at this:

Rainforest Cafe = not so great for family bonding time, it seems!

After that we headed off to SeaLife Arizona.  It's just a tiny, tiny aquarium in a shopping mall (of all places), but it is well done, and great for the kiddos, and best of all...we had coupons.   I don't think I'd pay full price for it (it just isn't worth it), but the coupons made it just right.   The boys had a BLAST! 

(Beware the picture dump!!) 

I have to run  right now to get the boys to gymnastics practice, but I'll be back later to discuss our first day of school for all of the rascals, including #3's first day of preschool!