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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our 2013-2014 Plans---Step 2: Finding Where We’re At

A little while back I talked about our philosophy of education, or why we homeschool and how that affects how we homeschool.  Later this week, I’m going to share with this year’s plans specific for learning, but before I do that, there’s another step that sometimes gets forgotten.

Maybe you step into that vendor hall full of all those shiny new books and resources, and you find your head being twisted by this new idea and that new idea and pretty soon you’ve lost your way.  For me it’s reading about things online, on someone’s blog or on a homeschool forum---I like finding new stuff!  But there’s oh so much new stuff!

Having a philosophy of education is a good tool to keep you on your path so that you can see the big picture and can visualize where you are going (makes it so much easier to pick a path to get there), but sometimes you might find yourself so wrapped up in the ultimate goal that you lose sight of the real here and now.

At least I do.

That’s why I try to reevaluate where each of the kids is at.  Frequently.  It really is valuable to pull out some work from September right around January and compare, because, honestly, January/February is generally my banging my head against the wall time of year.

Maybe it’s the weather.  Maybe it’s the fact that our oil heat is not so very efficient. 

But really a big part of it is that I’m with my kids most every day and the changes they are making can be so very gradual that  it looks like they aren’t gaining any ground.

And so I compare.  Not to their siblings or to other kids, but to where they were a month ago, a year ago, or even longer ago.

Knowing where your kids are at academically, emotionally, developmentally, and spiritually can have a profound impact on what you need to do next as a parent and as a educator.Before you plot this year's path, find where you're at!  Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

It might seem simple.  Last year was 3rd grade.  Now we do 4th grade.

But maybe the 3rd grade material didn’t sink in?  Or maybe it was too easy?  Or maybe a new approach is needed?

Maybe your child developed a keen interest in salamanders and other living things over the summer and there’s just no way he’s going to sit still for a year-long astronomy program.

So, before I plan the next year, I need to think not only about where we are going, but where we are right now.

Right now:

plan path-004David is 13 and entering 8th grade.  He has only a year until he will be a high schooler.  What’s important for him right now is to continue to shore up his math skills, work on developing good study habits, work on managing his schedule independently, practice paper writing skills (creative writing comes easy for him), improve his work habits, and to find his inner motivation…

Actually, I think the inner motivation part is probably the most important piece to his future academic career.

We are also evaluating whether we will homeschool him through high school.  At this point he wants to, but every year we reevaluate what is best for our kids---what do they really need.

I’ve learned a lot about David in the past year.  In particular, his approach to learning is not “the way I was taught in school.”  Interestingly, my way of learning isn’t either, so you would think I wouldn’t have a problem embracing that…but the world is so full of shoulds---and I know that I got caught up in what his education “should” look like.

If your way of learning is different from the “excepted paradigm” that’s been thrust at you all your life, it’s very easy to become convinced that your way is somehow defective.

Well, it’s not.  It’s actually very effective.  But it’s different. 

Having a different way of looking at the world is easier if you have a lot of internal motivation---and this is an area he struggles in.  He becomes easily discouraged.

One way I’m going to help him in this area is to simply be more available to him.  As he matures, there’s so much more he can do on his own and yet, on a very deep level, he needs me more now than ever.  This is a difficult age.

So, making sure he has all the support he needs is number 1.

Academically, he needs more intellectual challenge in some areas.  This is difficult, because he remembers information he reads very well, but he’s not good at “regurgitating” it.  Instead, it comes up in random conversation.  Or when he tries to invent a steam engine out of a tin can.  Or draws new and improved schematics of a steam-powered bicycle that he saw pictured in a book about historical inventions.

Yes, he really does do those things.  I think the kid’s a genius, he thinks he’s a dummy.  We need to sort that out.

plan path-005Mary is 9 and entering 4th grade.  She is a very traditional learner and pretty much on grade level in everything, but way above in reading and comprehension.  Very bright. 

Her interests are not really in academics, though.  She’s a “let’s get it done” type and would much rather be creating a new needlepoint project or reading Peter and the Starcatchers.


To her, “school” is workbooks, textbooks, and math equations. 

One of my goals for her is to get her to see that she’s always learning, even when it’s not “school.”  But I also want to encourage her handiwork talents.

The thing Mary hates most is sharing her schoolwork.  She doesn’t like it, for instance, that she and her younger brother, Peter, do mostly the same things for science and history since they are so close in age (20  months apart).  So another thing I’m looking at is finding a way to combine them in certain things and yet letting her retain ownership.

Tricky, but I think I’ve figured that part out.

plan path-003Peter will be 8 at the end of September and is entering 3rd grade.  Sort of.  If he were in public school, he would be after the cut-off and would be entering 2nd grade.  He also has special needs and in terms of social development is perhaps more like a 6 year old.

The truth is that he is straddling 2nd and 3rd.  It just about killed me (really, I had sleepless nights about it, how stupid is that?), but I came to realize that developmentally 2nd grade math will be perfect for him this year. 

But the interesting thing about this kid is his language abilities.   He uses no punctuation at all (I keep trying!).  And yet he writes very complex sentences completely grammatically---he just hasn’t mastered the conventions of punctuation (occasionally he throws in a semi-colon when he thinks of it). 

I suspect that the issue here is that what he is trying to express goes far beyond the reaches of the punctuation typically taught in early elementary and that grammar “rules” don’t make much sense to him.  His spelling suffers in the same way. Here’s an example:

“once a hermit was walking throue a cave when he dropd his lantern and the birning oel made him trip into some nearby lava…”

Notice that he correctly spelled “once,” “when,” and “nearby,” all words that a typical 7-year-old might have difficulty with.  He only misspelled the really hard ones. 

His spelling has improved by leaps and bounds since last year.  And so has his handwriting.  In fact, that passage that I typed there was written by hand nearly all in lower case letter on unlined paper…a year ago it would have been all in caps and all over the paper.  This is a big deal.

So, primarily I want to help Peter catch up to his intellectual output in things like grammar, spelling, and mechanics.  That’s going to be a long road…this kid is a genius, so catching those skills up is liable to be a 3 steps forward, 2 steps back type of process. 

But these things are important to him.  It frustrates him terribly when people cannot read what he’s written because of misspellings or missing punctuation and so he’s motivated to work on this.

In addition, I want to support him in his social development.  He’s really made big strides in this area.  He’s a different kid than he was a year ago

I want to work with him physically.  He’s still developmentally young in terms of coordination and he has a lot of sensory issues going on.

plan path-002Emma is 4 and the resident explorer of things not be explored. Winking smile

I think I’m officially teaching “preschool” this year (something I’ve never really done, all my kids have just been “tagalongs”), because I don’t see any other way to keep this kid out of mischief.

Later this week…or maybe next week, because that’s the way I am…I’ll share with you what resources we’ll be using this year and our plan for learning.

Where are your kids at and how does that affect this part of your learning journey?


  1. I love that you did this post about where your children are. It makes so much more sense to me now about my grandson who is 6 in years but in many areas is still 4 or 5, loves cartoons and super heroes, does 2nd and 3rd grade level math, sort of straddling, does 7th grade reading but would rather I read to him. He is ADHD and has some sensory issues, he is also gifted. He hates to write anything, something I have to figure out. Some days just simply refuses to do school work at all. Changing things up for him this year a bit. Some more physical activity with our studies, if I can get my imagination in gear.

    Thanks for your post, you really got my mind to moving.

  2. Thank you for commenting, Pam, I'm so glad this was helpful to you!

    My oldest child hated writing at this age (he's much better about it now at 13) and I found that separating out handwriting from other skills was beneficial to him. So, he would do copywork or handwriting practice, but when it came time to do assignments in science, history, or even writing (composition), I would discuss it with him, have him narrate orally, or let him practice his keyboarding skills. This removed the stress of using a physical skill (physically writing) that he was having difficulty with and allowed him to concentrate his mental energy on the lesson itself. Some kids benefit from "drawing" narrations as well.

    For math, you may find that he enjoys writing things big on a personal white board instead of paper, or using blank or gridded paper instead of lined paper.

  3. What a great post and terrific insight. I think I do this intuitively.

  4. I like your insight. I know lots of homeschool moms struggle in January/February. We take all of December off to do Christmas Around the World and attend concerts, etc, so January is welcomed as it means routine and structure again! Best wishes to you this year!

  5. I think you probably do, too, Lioness. ;)

    Yes, Mrs., I'm feeling a little bit of the "not enough structure" blues this summer. I am looking forward to our plans this year. ;)

  6. It is so true that we constantly have to evaluate where our kids are and adapt our homeschooling to fit them. Good post!

  7. it was helpful to watch/listen to you analyze the needs of your children. Really enjoyed that. :)

    annette @ a net in time

  8. This is perfect, and a great reminder of something I don't do nearly enough when getting caught up in school planning, lol! You are a great listener to what your kiddos are trying to tell you!


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