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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Getting Past Our Mid-Year Hump

February is such a tough time of the year. This is the time when we take a close look at how our plans for this year are going, decide if we need to make changes, look forward to next year, and start making curriculum decisions.

Between dealing with sick kiddos, winter blahs, and the mid-year hump, I’m having a hard time getting my head screwed on right. And I realized I should share some of the struggles I’m having because I’ve no doubt that many of you are going through the same process and having some struggles of your own. And if you’ve got it all planned out and in hand, please share…I love to hear inspiring stories.

Today I want to talk about what’s not working for us and how that will influence next year’s plans.

Things I’m out of love with:

RightStart Math. OK, don’t hate me. I still think RS is a solid program, just not the program for us. This one just about kills me because it was a major financial investment. Hubby and I decided together to try it. No blame here. After about 3 months of using this curriculum for both Mary and David we came to the conclusion it was not a good fit for either of them. Or for me.

Some of the reasons: Mary hates manipulatives. Who’d a thunk it? Really. She hated the little games and hated the songs most of all. And after 3 months of using RightStart she was not any closer to mastering her addition facts and was still reviewing material she already knows. She does know the days of the week and can tell time, now, but these were things we were already working on and she would have learned them anyway.

Having to go so far back was really holding David back and keeping him from making real progress in his problem areas. After 3 months we saw no improvement of his retention of multiplication facts (his real stumbling point). And he was plain bored.

I think RS is much more valuable to someone who starts with it from the beginning and continues with the sequence. Nearly everything Mary was doing was review, and yet it was impossible for me to start her later in the book or even in the next book due to the unique way the material is covered and the order in which it is covered. She would need to go through the entire book just to get the “RightStart” way. I understood this going in. Hubby and I had agreed that having a strong foundation in Mathematics was important enough to let her go through it (and we were progressing through the book at a fast rate), but eventually we realized we really weren’t getting anywhere.

Ditto for David, it wasn’t possible to just pick up the topics he was struggling with so about 90% of what he was doing was just reviewing things already knew in a different way.

As the teacher, I didn’t like having to go through each lesson the night before to see what copies of what appendices needed to be made. And cut apart. Hey, I don’t like fiddly bits of paper to keep straight. They have a habit of disappearing.

And I was burning out spending so much time with each child teaching them things that they really already knew. How’s that for banging your head against a wall?

That said, RS might be a good fit for 5-year-old Peter. At this point I’m trying to decide whether to just sell the whole lot or hold onto it for a bit and try it with him. I don’t like to give up, you see.

So, what are we doing for math?

We are refocusing on arithmetic. When you think about it, this is what the essential parts of elementary math are, arithmetic (basic operations) plus some life skills (like telling time, for instance). We are using some older books we already have and doing a lot of oral and mental work. David is thriving on this method, by the way. And while it does require a fair amount of one-on-one time, it’s of the type that I don’t need to have a bunch of manipulatives or fancy things handy and there’s absolutely no advanced prep. We can do it wherever we happen to be.

How does that translate to the plan for next year?

I’m going to look it over and consider RS for Peter (we would actually start it in the next couple of weeks). Otherwise, I’m going to sell it (email me if you are looking for RightStartS B or C!) and possibly do Math on the Level with him and Mary (I already have it). Or we’ll do something like First Arithmetic or Ray’s Arithmetic (have those in ebook form).

Once David has his multiplication facts under his belt and can do long division, I’m thinking about having him do Life of Fred Fractions. I anticipate he’ll be ready before May.

What else am I out of love with?

Unit studies! Ok, ok, don’t throw your coffee mug at me! I still think unit studies can be good for young ones, I love the idea of including all the subjects together and getting kiddos of different levels working together, but they seem inadequate as my children get older. With every unit study I’ve used, the core subject (be it history, literature, or even science) is done really well, but the other areas tend to be peripheral and sometimes just plain forced. You can overcome this somewhat by alternating different types of studies (do a history, then a science, etc.). And keeping math separate (which we do).

The kiddos don’t want to spend a week or a month or whatever on a topic. They get sick of it. And the overall feel is somewhat disjointed.

Another issue---unit studies are a lot of prep work for Mom, whether it’s a study I wrote myself or purchased. Between the running to the library looking for more books (and incurring astronomical fines when the kiddos lose those books), previewing links and videos on the internet, finding new resources because the ones in the study are outdated or unavailable, and putting together hands-on activities (some of which are a real stretch in terms of seeing how they actually add anything to the study other than just being something to do)…well, yeah, I’ve had it.

Add to this the notebooking pages, or lapbooking or whatever method I’m using to “record” the study…the kiddos are sick of coloring, cutting and pasting…and really we haven’t been enjoying our unit studies lately. It’s become a question of just getting them done. Not a good thing.

So what am I doing about it?

I’m still working on this one. One of the studies we are doing is just. plain. dull. And too hard for Mary. I would just dump it and move on, but I’m feeling interior pressure to finish it first. What to do? I’ve cut back on the activities we are doing from it to the bare bones, added some DVDs from the library and we’ll get through it and move onto something else.

For the rest of the year, I think I’m still going to do the unit studies we had planned to use for this year but gut them---keep the core subject and dump most of the rest. And I’ll cut back on the lapbooky stuff and do more narration with me acting as recorder for the younger kiddos and David recording his own narration.

For next year, we’ll be taking a different approach. I like some of the aspects of a classical education. I also like Charlotte Mason’s approach. I’m even considering Sonlight. For now I’m doing lots and lots of praying, research and reading.

One of the challenges I am facing is that David is is on the cusp of being in the dialectic stage of intellectual development and he needs something different from what his siblings need. Trying to include them altogether in their studies is not working so well, anymore. He needs more of a challenge. He’s just hit a different stage of development. And it’s easy to forget how big the gap is between him and his sister (her reading level is at about a 5th grade level and she’s very articulate). She’s feeling pressed to keep up with what he is doing when they are studying the same things. He’s bored and she’s harried. Part of this is my fault, I knew this point was coming but I’ve been teaching everyone together for so long, just making minor adjustments as necessary, that, well, I just wasn’t fully prepared.

So, David will have his own studies. And Mary and Peter will study together, for the most part. I think, regardless of what approach we take. We are still up in the air on this. And on what we will be using.

The important thing is that we are learning and making the changes that need to be made.

Are your plans going the way you planned? Smile

Or are you finding yourself making some changes? Winking smile


  1. We started Right Start last year, (that was my first year homeschooling) We did transitions to level D, and even then I called the helpline after two days . I had to tell the woman my 9 year old boys just are NOT going to take much of this. She was very understanding and said if their skills were up to it, to quickly buzz through the general ideas of the abacus and a few other things. (we didn't sing any songs or the other stuff) They only like some of the games - which surprised me, but they surprise me often. So, anyway, that was a lot of words to tell you that I completely understand about RS, and why it wouldn't work for you. I think you're right. It has to be started from the beginning to appreciate the foundation parts.

    I also get the unit study thing. My guys love them for two days. That's our limit. It's a nice break from textbooks, but Aspie kids love structure. They actually WANT textbooks back after the second day. They love the Curiosity Files, but we pick and choose which pages we do, and have never completed an entire unit study, ever. They really benefit the most from having free time to read books, watch educational videos or look up information about the stuff they love.

    We use St Thomas Aquinas homeschool. They give me the basics so my IHIP meets NY State minimums. With my input, and the results of assessment tests, we discuss what the boys like, don't like, learning styles, etc. and come up with things the boys really enjoy. (although in typical Catholic school fashion, they do like their penmanship.. an area where we'll always fall short)

    I know I have it so much easier teaching only one grade level. I admire all of you who have different ages and stages.

  2. My kiddos would always rather be reading or doing their own things than listening to me teach at them, hee hee.

    Yes, yes, we went through Transitions with David and I kept telling him it would get better (no I didn't do the songs with him, argh). He liked the games. Mary just wanted me to give her a worksheet.

    I probably won't look at St. Thomas simply because I've got sooo many other options already floating around in my head. Our state requirements are very general (teach these subjects and maintain the portfolio, have a yearly meeting), but will keep them in mind for high school---that's not far off, eek!


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