I had planned today to write about “5 things I learned in our first month of homeschooling.” Yes, a month already!
Then, I saw a writing prompt for this week about “What curriculum or resource just didn’t work for your family?” And I thought… why not look at what I’ve learned by way of what NOT to do when you start homeschooling?!
Again, these are all just what’s not working for us. You might have a wonderful son or daughter who LOVES schedules, workbooks, getting up early, lesson plans and days “off” – and that’s OK. In fact, it’s so OK that I’ll be at your house tomorrow to hang out for a while. 🙂
For us, here are the top five cautionary rules.
1. Don’t overplan or overschedule. I’m a list-maker. I love to make lists of what I “have to do” each day. I’m almost sick in my enjoyment of crossing things off. (Yes, I write things down I’ve already done… just to cross them off.) But our new “learning lifestyle” works best when there’s unstructured time for whatever catches Ashar’s interest. As I looked back over our best days so far, they were completely wrapped up in a particular activity or topic that we took the time to really explore and enjoy – NASCAR racing, rainbow rice, a 1920s geography book, the Titanic. Not surprisingly, these were days when we had the least on our family calendar and the most time to just explore.
2. Don’t overorganize. We tend to keep a pretty neat house – everything nicely put away as often as possible – but some of the best chances to get Ashar interested in learning have been the times when we’ve had stuff strewn about. I didn’t even know strewing was an official “thing” until this month, but imagine that – it’s the conscious choice to put things that encourage discovery in the path of your child. We find that some well-placed books and papers and art supplies masquerading as clutter have made a big difference for us – and, yes, Mom just has to get over the piles of stuff that seem to multiply on her piano. (Minor grumble on my part.)
3. Workbooks are work. Ashar is funny: When we go to bookstores, she will OFTEN purposely pick out workbooks or worktexts and really want them. She’ll read from the worktext-style books often, and she’ll occasionally get on a kick where she’ll do a couple math pages or a geography puzzle or a vocabulary word search on her own. But our plan to supplement our day-to-day “living math” with a page a day from a workbook that Ashar chose has turned into a lot of work. She’ll do it, and mostly without complaint, but it’s clearly “here’s a thing I have to get through” and not “whoa, check out this cool thing I learned!” That said, she picked up the family bathroom crossword puzzle book this week (oh, don’t laugh, you know you have one too) and filled in a significant number of answers to clues I wouldn’t have thought she’d know, and she enjoys doing occasional puzzle pages that I print out for her. She just doesn’t like the idea of a book of work. When you think about it that way, I guess I can’t blame her; my plan moving forward is to “strew” some pages, but not use the overwhelming book o’ work concept.
4. We’re not morning learners. I don’t just mean we’re not early risers. (Though, in varying degrees, we’re mostly not. Chris gets a lot done in the mornings; my mom is usually up by about 9, even on days she doesn’t work; but Ashar and I alternate between rare days of 8 a.m. wakeups and lots of days of “goodness, is it really 11:30??”) Today was a good example. Ashar and I were both up by 9 a.m.; I went to our newspaper office for my at-work day, and she basically sat around – in her pajamas – until I got home around 5 p.m. After my mom got home from work, Ashar did spend most of their lunchtime together telling “Mommom” all about the Titanic, but in general, it was mostly a “pet the cat, watch the hamster, play on the iPad” kind of day. After about 7 p.m., it was like a switch flipped. Ashar drew a picture, told me a detailed story about her new picture and some older pictures she found in the same sketchbook, made a cartoon about people playing laser tag, made up a new game to play with the cat and, when I said it was “bedtime,” sat with me on her bed and read all about insects from a textbook for at least an hour, even answering the review questions as we got to them. Know your family. If you’ve got an evening learner, it might be a tough adjustment, but I can highly vouch for making it work! (Read more on this here in a GREAT post from Rachel at Clean.)
5. Days “off” make it harder to have days “on.” Probably the only negative reaction we’ve gotten – at least openly – to our system of learning so far is that a few people have said, “Man, you’re not really giving her any days off.” The reverse of that is that it might look to some people that we’re not “doing any work.” I figure if you’ve got critiques on both sides, you must be walking the middle pretty well. We don’t have days off because our days on are just… regular days. We’re truly trying to embrace everyday learning, and that doesn’t stop on Saturdays and Sundays. I articulated this in our first week, and I feel pretty strongly about it. I’ll also add that, because of Ashar’s personality, days where we truly are off our game, where we’re not engaged as a family in anything that stimulates us to learn or experience new things, are really hard for her. She’s kind of adrift, and she doesn’t react well to that. And, the next day, it’s really hard to get her engaged again. I think of it like a gear system – once the motor is turning, if all the gears are meshed, it’ll keep running. But when the gears are out of alignment, or when the motor stops, you just can’t get everything moving again without some work. So, for us, we’ll stick to everyday life and everyday learning and try to limit our time “off.”
Two bonus points I thought of as I was writing:
6. Don’t bring “school” home. Pennsylvania law requires your home school district to provide a copy of all the textbooks and other curricula for your child’s grade level, at your request. Well, to be on the safe side, we figured, “Let’s get a copy, just in case.” They’ve since sat in Ashar’s backpack, almost untouched. It wasn’t too big of a shocker to us, and we didn’t even plan to work out of them – just to have them for reference – but I have not found a single one even half as useful as the books on our family bookshelf. I will add, in a rare “negative review” from me, that I wholeheartedly do not recommend the “Everyday Math” and “College Preparatory Math” programs that so many schools in York County are using. Talk about overcomplicating things. Our biggest challenge is that these programs are nonlinear, and for Ashar, that’s a recipe for confusion. Interestingly, I don’t know of any homeschooler who picked up this curriculum to use after removing their child from public school, and for me, that says a lot.
7. Beware of curriculum overload. Funny, for the lady who has no curriculum right now outside her family’s own bookshelf, right? But you know how it goes. All the shiny catalogs look wonderful… and that curriculum fair will be an excellent chance to check out the latest and greatest… and the used stuff, that’s SO cheap, it can’t hurt to buy… all of it… right?
Don’t overcomplicate. Books are great. Plans are great. But you can’t follow ALL the plans, or read ALL the books. Pick what works, and let the rest go. Don’t worry. Much like those kittens my friend Rose posts on Facebook, that cute little curriculum will find a good home. 🙂
So what are some other lessons I still need to learn? Save me some heartache… comment and tell me!