Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Learning from my past homeschooling mistakes

I've been thinking back on how we did school in our home these past few years and realized something: the reason it sometimes felt awkward, or even difficult at times, was all due to scheduling.

And the real crux of the matter is - I overscheduled my kids on activities and subjects.

In case it doesn't quite seem like it, I really am quite a structured gal. Possibly the big reason for burnout during our 1st grade year with NyGirl was attempting to create a rigid schedule (that seemed all too wonderful on paper), and attempting to bring it to reality-- when all along, we just wanted to be free to enjoy the path that learning took.

For example: let's say I scheduled for Day 1:
  • Mathematics (1 hour- which, by the way, sometimes took us 2 hours during 2nd grade when we used Saxon 3!!!)
  • Grammar (Shurley Grammar)- 30-45 minutes
  • Geography  & History lesson (Story of the World)- 1 hour
  • Bible - 1 hour (ideally)
  • Handwriting - 15 minutes
  • Spelling - another 15-20 minutes
  • French - 30 minutes
  • Piano- 30 minutes
  • Science--well...gotta wait til Day #2...day is crowded already
  • Ballet lessons - out for 2 hours in the evening (counts partly as P.E.)

Okay...this was a snippet of our school day back in 2008-2009.  I had a toddling 1 year old to keep up with and a massive cleaning and organizing rehaul to launch for our home since the re-carpeting (and EVERYTHING was out of place).  My hands were full.

By that April, I considered private school.

And you must know why already.  Our schedule was CROWDED.

Never again, never again, never again, I tell you.

Okay, and it's a nice looking "school day", I suppose...unless you are a free spirit like me  attempting to box your educational experiences into 5 hour school days, straight from the curriculum.

The worst part about this schedule-- it left absolutely NO ROOM for us to ENJOY learning.

From time to time, I would stumble upon a wonderful educational resource I really liked, but felt I could not "fit it in" to our already pressure packed schedule.

It was stifling, to the say the least.

Call it baby brain fog, or whatever it is...I just wasn't thinking clearly that year.  At least for our kindergarten year, I had enough sense to relax and let learning take its own beautiful shape in NyGirl's life.

So...I say all that to say this: don't make my mistakes!!! :-)  Save yourself the trouble, and just enjoy learning together.

What I do suggest:
  • Gather together your materials, your resources, curriculum, etc., and use them as TOOLS for learning.
  • Make out a sketch of your learning goals for the year, break it down into bit-size goals, and try to reach those goals in reasonably portions (like, don't even assume that you are going to tackle 8 different subjects in one semester - especially for a young child...UNLESS...you just really want to!)
  • Sketch out a semi schedule (rough draft) for how your school days will look one week in advance (I do that once a week, because each of our weeks look different)
  • Leave room -- LOTS of room- for explored learning.  Be adaptable.  If in the middle of showing your child about amphibians from a science text, you suddenly think of a website that might be of interest...go GET on the COMPUTER, and have fun!  (I'm telling you - I had some real issues, b/c I would have 2 years ago skipped any and all ideas that sounded fun in favor of sticking to the curriculum.  Not good for my fam.  Not good.)

Now...with all this said, I want to remain balanced here.

I am still a stickler for routine and some sort of schedule.  Don't get me wrong, our school days have a structure to some degree, though it's not set in stone.  But I always know what my kids are going to be learning about each day (and if we deviate from it a bit, I am perfectly open to that).  But it is still important to me that younger kids have a routine to follow so they know what to expect.  And somehow, in the middle of my routine, I still wish to be creative.

Does that make sense?

And if it doesn't get any more confusing...I am all about "cutting the twaddle", as Mary Pride  (author of The Complete Guide to getting Started in Homeschooling) would say.  You can't cut twaddle (or senseless activities /time waster, whatever you want to call them), if you don't know what your SPECIFIC educational goals for your child are in each subject. So...while I am open to creativity and freedom to explore topics, I don't necessarily want to repeat activities or try our hands at projects that I don't feel would help strengthen my child's learning about the topic.  That would be on her free time.

Example: if we are learning about science- say butterflies.

If Day 1, we read a few stories about butterflies, then that's great.

If Day 2, we watch a DVD on butterflies, even better.  (I might have her narrate what she learned in a notebook).

If Day 3, she wants to color a picture of a butterfly...fine.  It doesn't help reinforce her learning of butterflies, (except maybe if she is able to tell me what kind of butterfly she is coloring, or we look it up).  Just the act of coloring the butterfly MIGHT be considered twaddle in Mary Pride's book...not sure about that...but I would be open to a coloring page for a 3rd grader.

If Day 4, she wants to color yet another coloring page on butterflies, I would let her (OF COURSE!!)  But, is she learning anything of value at this point, or is she simply enjoying the art of coloring a beautiful butterfly?  So, at this point, I would say, we probably aren't still learning our topic or subject matter, but enjoying a nice art class :-)  And if she kept wanting to just color day after day for her butterfly topic, I would opt to say that we aren't really fulfilling our educational goals for her at this point.

This is where many public schools get stuck (and I am NOT bashing public schools, for all of my friends out there who have chosen public education!!!)  I'm just saying.

I remember doing coloring sheets in the 10th grade when our history teacher had nothing more to give us.  I am not talking about anything intricate (like color coding the different parts of the human body in science, for example). But I mean, like during the Christmas holidays, we colored Santa Clause.  In 10th grade.  I am serious.  Fun...but funny too.

So...I'm just saying.


That's my take on past learning mistakes and what I keep learning.


  1. Love it! Last year was just my first year but I can so relate. I remember looking at my schedule and having just about every single minute scheduled out. Seriously?! By the second semester, I had relaxed - alot - and we were all so much happier. I mean, didn't I start this journey wanting to make sure that my kids developed a life long love of learning? Who could do that when the teacher is just short of flipping out because we were all off schedule? Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I know exactly where you are coming from! Lessons learned!

    On a side note, what are your thoughts about Shurley Grammar? I am really interested!

  2. Glad to know I'm not the only one! :-) We live and learn. I am pretty confident we are going to have a happier school this year b/c of those hard-learned lessons. Then again, what works for one family might not work for another. As for Shurley Grammar, my daughter enjoyed the jingles (pretty cheezy, but cute!). She also liked the workbook and the whole approach. But it didn't quite work for me as I found it easier and quicker to teach the same concepts using the BJU English workbook series. We still use the SG CD for jingles (b/c its fun!)...but that's about it. I also don't like the way the SG concepts are laid out. (I opened the books and was immediately confused about where to start!). It seemed a bit much to accomplish each day for grammar for the early grades. First Language Lessons was very gentle and BJU covered the same material as SG. If we go back to SG, it will probably be 4th or 5th grade.

  3. Update, Elaine: although SG wasn't for Mama, it was for Ny...so we're at it again. Finishing up level 2, at NyGirl's request.

    I am planning to take it easy though and where I think it gets to be a bit much, I might figure out a way to simplify or modify the lesson.


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