Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding Balance in Homeschooling

I am, by nature, a person to craves structure, order and schedule. Now, I don't mean every minute of the day is accounted for. Naturally, living with a 5 year old, 3 year old, 2 year old and (almost) 5 month old, I've learned I can't mandate everything or have anything on an exact time clock. It just doesn't work and won't happen. But if I don't have some guidelines and goals, it is very easy for me to slack off what I should be doing as well as get muddled enough to not be sure what I should do. It becomes a balancing act between flexibility and structure.

When I sat down to plan our homeschool year, true to myself, I planned which books for which subjects taking into account the subjects I wanted to teach as well as the expectations of the state/county. I likewise took into account Cecilia. She needs learning to be colorful, fun, interesting and interactive. If I try to lecture anything, she asks me if there is a maze or picture she can color or something. Could she learn with Saxon Math? Probably but it would be miserable for both of us. We tried it once. The sheer bland format and constant repetition was enough to bore her until she actually didn't want to do math anymore. Whereas if I use a colorful, varied text with math in games, pictures, etc. she will actually ask to keep going and do more than I scheduled. For example, I had scheduled, for today, 3 pages of Phonics and 1 page of Math. She did 4 of each. One of the awesome aspects of homeschooling is that I can alter what materials we are using to make learning easier and much more fun for my student.

This also means though, that scheduling 15 minutes for Phonics simply doesn't work. Cecilia might be dragging her feet for the first 10 minutes and then really get into it. It is simply ridiculous to tell a child excited about learning that they must suspend their excitement until the next scheduled time. It is counterproductive to learning and very frustrating for all involved. So I learned a while ago that I simply could not structure homeschool by time unless I take a "at least 15 minutes" approach.

Some subjects, understandably, are just more enjoyable for Cecilia. She loves phonics, reading, math, art, social studies, science/health and religion.* She likes poetry. She struggles with handwriting and music. Handwriting, on the one hand, I realize is not the end all be all of education and will come naturally with practice through any writing, on the other hand though it is important she does practice and make her writing legible to more than just herself. I tried using Mother of Divine Grace's as well as Seton's books on handwriting and both made her hate it. I had to beg or nag just to get her to do 1 page and then she only wanted to do 1 line. Writing lines, circles or even random words didn't mean anything to her. There were basically no pictures, no games, etc. So I've branched off. Now I take a simply writing pad and I write the name of a ride at Disney World or a character name (book or cartoon) that she knows. She gets all excited to see what I'll write and is excited to practice writing hers below mine. I haven't gotten her to practice many lines or pages yet, but at least now she is excited to do it! She will even try to write letters that she thought she couldn't do before and had refused to do. Music, I confess, I'm still working on. I tried to get her to listen to some hymns. I got the "are we done yet?" before we even started. Really she wants to play instruments. I do try to adjust my game plan for her to be interested in what we are learning but to play any instrument, you have to learn to read music don't you? Well, regardless, I'm working on that one.

I had also sought out a class on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I had found one too and signed up both Felicity and Cecilia for it as well as Music Together (thinking maybe I'd escaped my current music problem) but was informed today that they may shift the class from Wednesdays to Mondays. This is horrible for me for a number of reasons. It is laundry day. The girls will be more horrible on Tuesday coming off a weekend AND a Monday out. It would mean trying to take all 4 girls with me to daily Mass the day after Sunday Mass rather than in the middle of the week. Monday is also my strongest day coming off 3 days without school and my "day off" (Sunday). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will happen now. I've looked into taking the courses myself to try to teach it to my girls but the course costs between $300-$1000 and I'd either have to drive to D.C. in the evening or wait until next year to drive to Baltimore.

While we did start school August 1, there has definitely been some tweaking over the last 3 weeks. I've adjusted some rules, dropped some books, and reduced how many subjects we cover each day so that, if we get into any one subject, we aren't falling behind so much on any others and I don't get worried about getting to the other subjects.

For my sanity, I need some plan, some schedule, some guidelines to follow. But, by the same token, there is no bell needed to call everyone from the living room to the dining room or force anyone to stop learning one subject to jump to another. There are no penalties for missing a day and no prizes for working ahead. For me it is all about finding the balance between making progress and enjoying learning. As long as we can do that, it will be a successful homeschooling year.

*I actually wasn't going to worry about doing any science, health, or social studies for Kindergarten but they are, I believe, required by the state of Maryland. Fortunately the requirements are fairly simple, but hence we are covering them by some degree.


  1. You and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of our homeschooling styles and so I almost hesitate to offer any commentary becasue your entire approach is so unlike mine though I'm sure it works for you and of course you need to do what is best for your family. I'm very laid back and unstructured and really letting Bella take things at her own pace, which is turning out to be reading and writing much later.

    That said, I'm not surprised Cecilia is balking at handwriting practice. I do think 5 is a rather young to be pushing her to do more than write a word now and then. Bella is only a few months younger and my goals for her this fall are for her to learn to write all of the letters. We're going to focus on one letter a week. So the fact that Cecilia even knows how to read and write at all puts her way ahead of the game. Although I know you crave structure and order, I'd think about sticking to doing what she finds fun because handwriting is a skill that many kids don't master until much later and like you say pushing her may make her hate it.

    I'm very wary of introducing things before Bella is ready for them because she is so sensitive. I don't want her to become discouraged and give up because she has tried do master a skill before she is developmentally ready. So though I always thought she'd be an early reader, I'm not going to try to teach her reading at all this year. If she starts to learn on her own, I'll be happy. If not, then I'll just keep reading her books secure in the knowledge that by giving her a love for literature, I'm laying the best foundation for future reading that I can.

  2. I know I mentioned it on your blog, but I am trying to make it a little less structured. Cecilia likes her structure, like I do, but she doesn't have 3 other little ones begging for her attention so the practicality of structure has its limits. It isn't easy getting her to understand that though. Yesterday I was actually quite thrilled she only wanted to do 2 pages of Phonics and 1 of math and then draw. But she craves structure. I think her mind functions similar to mind in that sense. She needs to know which days are school days and which are "game" days and she needs to see some rhyme and reason to what she can, should or will do which days or she can get very frustrated and upset. If someone tells her she will get to do X on a particular day, she will ask to do X almost from the moment she gets up until she gets to do it. If my dad tells her she can help walk the dog at 3:30, she will ask me every 10 minutes for over 2 hours if it is 3:30 yet.

    So, I guess the difficulty in our balance is having the structure she needs but maintaining the flexibility four young children demand. I think the practice of simply working through it and living with it will help over time though.

    It sounds like Bella and Cecilia in a classroom together though are the perfect argument for the same classroom, neither one's needs would really be met but at home each can learn in a setting and circumstance much more suited toward their personality and learning style.