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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The BIG Picture Behind Our Homeschool for 2014-2015

This year my youngest will be in Kindy and my oldest will be entering the high school years…Whew!  I admit it, it’s a little overwhelming! 

The Big Picture Behind Our Homeschool this Year at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsEach of my children has very different needs academically, emotionally, and socially.  One of my BIG goals over the next 10 months is to tailor each of their educational programs as closely as I can (without losing my sanity) to fit those needs.

Many homeschool families with multiple kids will group their students together for the content subjects, because the reality is that with only one instructor and a finite number of hours each day, there are limits to how much time and energy can be devoted to the preparation and fulfillment of lessons.

There really is only so much of me to go around.

There’s also this charming, idyllic mirage image of the family all snuggled up on the couch and learning together that’s so enticing…

And this probably works quite well for many, but for us, that cozy couch thing is a phantom

While my kids can and do enjoy spending time together, some of us are more prickly than others and need some space, not just physically, but also emotionally and intellectually. 

We work better as a group when we are not consistently on top of each other.

The sharing of lessons can happen, but it needs to happen sparingly.  Things go much more smoothly when those who are capable of being independent have lots of independence.  It prevents the older children from feeling they are being held back and the younger children from feeling they are being dragged behind (something that’s happened too much in this house the past couple of years).

And I know that even if homeschool families do work with their kids individually in the content subjects, they will often try to keep them on the same page.  While having the whole family study the same period in history or the same arm of science at the same time may help to inspire interesting conversations, it can also inspire unnecessary competition.  Especially if any of the kids are show offs.

If you’ve got one or two of them in your household, you know just what I’m talking about.

The fact is that those interesting conversations can still happen and do.  And if your kids are good at investigating things independently that interest them (outside of whatever is planned by you), those conversations will happen, because they like to share their findings.  You don’t need to create opportunities for them.

So this year I will be splitting everybody up for most things. 

Here and there these two kids or those three kids will still be doing this science project or that nature walk together or a particular literature selection as a read aloud, but these will be more like intersection points where their paths happen to converge, rather than having one main path they all follow with some places where they wander off a bit on their own. 

The K-er will still be mostly a follower of the others, because what 5-year-old doesn’t want to do what her older siblings are doing?  But I’m also planning a fun, gentle Kindergarten year for her…this is the 3rd time I’m homeschooling a K-er, but the first time I’ve actually planned Kindergarten (outside of just teaching K level skills). 

My K-ers have always just tagged along on content subjects, which was ok, and easy for me, but maybe not ideal for them.  It has also created some unrealistic expectations of them from their older siblings.

My head is swimming with how to fit this all into a routine, but I believe in the long run that it will be better for everyone. 

I’ll be talking about what each of my kids will be doing in future posts---each “program” is born out of my goals for that child, that child’s personal goals, and their individual strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to splitting everyone up on the content subjects, I’m not serially repeating the same skill materials with each kid as they grow up. 

While it sounds great to be able to use the same math book over and over again (especially for my budget, ahem), the reality is that some kids require completely different approaches to the skill subjects.  A math program that is the perfect fit for my rising 4th grader would have been despised by my rising 5th grader when she was that age.   

I believe that it’s right and natural to have every single one of my kids using a different math program---

Part of the reason I homeschool is so that they can each use resources that suit them well, rather than the curriculum that the local school happens to be using.  Why should they have to use the one math program I happened to pick when I started homeschooling?

Pedagogy may matter more than the actual materials being used, but the advantage to getting materials that are a good fit is that it cuts down on the amount of teacher prep and the need to reinvent things.  If this child learns well with one method, this other child learns much better with a different method, and yet another child totally absorbs materials and will teach it to herself with the right environment, life is going to be much easier on everyone if I can meet their needs with the right materials. 

Teaching is important, but it is only one piece of the learning puzzle.  A mind needs to be receptive to learn.  It needs to be supported where there are weaknesses.  It needs to be encouraged when it runs into difficulties. 

Kids are not buckets to be filled up, but beings to be engaged.

So here’s where I’m at---I’m teaching each of my children as if that child is my one student, and yet having an open environment in which they can collaborate and learn from one another and with one another. 

I am a tutor, but also a mentor and a maker of their environment.

That environment should be rich.  We’ve always had a literature rich environment, with weekly trips to the library, lots of reading aloud and lots of reading for pleasure.  We’ve had some open-ended activity type things available and the outdoors is just past our back door.  But there’s always room for improvement.

To that end I am working on:

  • keeping formal lessons of any kind short and focused on their intended goals---lessons don’t need to fill up the day
  • doing things for their own sake, rather than to have something to put in a portfolio
  • having more free time for pursuit of personal interests
  • providing plenty of materials to discover and create with
  • providing more opportunities for varied activities outside the home
  • embracing an out-of-the-box approach to learning

Not that I’ve ever been inside of a box, but with so many kids at different levels, it’s very easy to get caught up in meeting this or that educational milestone.  I want to find a better balance between going with the flow and planning everything out. 

I want my children to have a more organic education that grows out of itself, rather than one that checks off a bunch of boxes.

Even into high school. 

That doesn’t mean we won’t be working on those educational milestones, but maybe we’ll be a little less consumed by them.

This is the drive behind how we’ll be learning this year.  I’m still working out the logistics of it all, but I’ll be posting soon about what we’ll be using and, more importantly, how we’ll be using it to meet our goals.

What does the big picture look like for your homeschool this year?

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