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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Year’s Homeschool Fizzles and Successes

The three younger children have finished and the oldest will be finishing up next week.  It seems a bit anti-climactic to talk about the end of the year since we had our homeschool portfolio reviews way back in March, but we did it. 

Yes, we had a successful year in our homeschool!

End of year recap at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsBut it did have its ups and downs.  To be totally honest, at times I wanted to get off this roller coaster. Winking smile

I could easily just tell you all about what went right this year, but I want to share with you the whole picture.

Why?  For two main reasons: 

  • I don’t want you to compare your everyday to my highlight reel.
  • I need a personal record.  It’s helpful for me to go back over my original plans for the year and figure out what worked well and what fizzled so I can (hopefully?) avoid the same pitfalls in the future and capitalize on the successes.  Maybe, hopefully?

Today I’m just going to talk a bit about what worked and what didn’t work for the three younger children.

They’ve been finished for a bit and I’ve had some time to digest our successes and failures.  I’ll probably post about my high schooler’s year in a week or so when he’s done for the school year---I want some time to mull things over.

So let’s take a little journey back several months…to the beginning of our 2015-2016 school year.

Mary was entering 6th, Peter 4th, and Emma 1st grade.  I had planned out the year and I was pretty happy with my plan.

Unfortunately, a mere 3 weeks into the fall semester I had to make major (MAJOR) changes in the plan.  Meaning dumping the main part of it.

You see, I had planned the perfect year.  Except I forgot (as usual) that neither I nor my children are perfect. 

The “perfect” curriculum will sit there on the shelf and jeer at you all year long as one child has meltdown after meltdown over math. The perfect curriculum will use up all your printer ink and reams of paper only to have your children sigh (or groan) and say “again” over yet another professional little notebook page to fill out.

The “perfect” curriculum will have you flip flopping back and forth and pulling your hair out if it doesn’t fit you and your kids. 

The truly perfect curriculum isn’t the one that encompasses every single thing you want your homeschool to embody. 

It’s the one that gets done and gets done consistently without anyone (including you, mom) losing his/her mind on a daily basis.  That’s right, we aim to not have daily crying in our homeschool.  Occasional lost minds or head banging we can deal with, but not constant pain if we can possibly avoid it.

So, what went wrong?

I started the year using Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration with Mary and Peter. Emma was a tag-a-long.  We added in additional science for everyone and Five in a Row as an extra for Emma. 

Trail Guide is  essentially an “all-in-one” type of thing, covering history, geography, language arts, literature, and art in a cohesive whole (you just add math).  There are 6 units in the year and each is like a free-standing unit study (though they do refer to each other somewhat).

I am thankful that I bought Trail Guide and most of the books used, because it would have been a lot harder to let go of it otherwise.  Three weeks into the fall, we all knew that there was no way Trail Guide was going to get done all year.  It was sapping us.  Instead of looking forward to doing it each day, we were happy to be done with it each day. 

I still think Trail Guide is a wonderful program, but it was exactly the wrong program for my crew at the time I tried to use it.

Part of the reason I chose TG was because I really wanted something that didn’t require a lot of daily planning on my part.  I wanted something that I could pick up and use with all my younger children.  I wanted it to cover all the basics (aside from math), to be enjoyable, to not be too textbookish, to allow us to use some of the parts of Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy that work well for us, to get DONE, and to make some connections between science, history, art, and geography.  I wanted their spelling and vocab to be relevant to their other studies. 

I also wanted to spend a few hours a day together and be done for the day so they could have plenty of free time for other pursuits, and I would (hopefully) still have energy to work with my high schooler.

Language Arts with Trail Guide to Learning at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThis is not meant to be a detailed review of Trail Guide, so I’ll just briefly state why we didn’t stick with it.  It seemed to fit exactly what I wanted for my kids’ education, but in use it just didn’t fit what they needed.  They did not enjoy the assigned readings.  The language arts needed to be tweaked a whole lot to fit them.  There was too much busy work and it took me too much time/planning to decide what busy work to cut out.  It seemed like they only had two subjects each day: Trail Guide and math.  And Trail Guide just seemed to go on and on.  They needed their days to be more broken up. 

We worked with it, revamped, switched things around, tried to work out a predictable routine, but ultimately it felt like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Could we have ultimately made it work for us?  Probably.  But I was trying so hard to fit my kids into the curriculum and it seemed too unwieldy to fit the curriculum to my kids.  It was easier to just pick individual pieces that fit my kids better.

So I threw in the towel. 

I am saving TG for when youngest is old enough to do it on her own and maybe it will be the perfect fit for her at that time (or not, who knows?). 

So we dumped Trail Guide to Learning after 3 weeks.  Kind of pathetic, I know.

I felt like such a quitter.  In retrospect, though, it wasn’t worth the frustration.  I’m so glad I gave it up.

For history we switched to a middle school level spine called Makers of the Americas and gathered all the fiction and nonfiction books I could find in the house on American history into a book basket (a couple dozen at least, including many of the books I had purchased for Trail Guide).  Mary and Peter would each choose a book from the book basket to read as their “assigned” reading and choose a new book whenever they finished that book.  For output, I had them create their own notebook pages on what they were learning, about one a week.  They could choose from whatever topics we had learned about that week or write a report on the book they had just finished. 

About halfway through the year, we had to make a further adjustment to history.  We switched to the Complete Book of US History for our spine.  Peter was getting bogged down in the overabundance of detail in Makers. And, in spite of the fact that many would say that Complete Book is below Mary’s level (it’s labeled grades 3-5), I found that bumping down the level of our spine led to much better retention for both middle kids.

You know what?  I don’t care if it’s “below her level.”  What matters to me is that she learned a heck of a lot about American history this year, remembers it, and wrote some wonderful pages about it.  If she got that much out of it, it was definitely the right book for her at the time.

In addition to their “assigned” reading and free reading, they have also been doing daily copywork for spelling and grammar practice.

When we dumped Trail Guide and its related science/nature studies, we picked up Mystery Science to fill that gap.

Mystery Science at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsWe were able to use this for free during their “beta” year.  Mystery Science was a near perfect fit for us for this particular year.  My only regret---that they don’t have more units done or units at a middle school level, because I would definitely pay to use it a second year if I felt it would be enough for my rising 7th grader.  I think it probably isn’t, so we’ll be doing something different next year.

Doing art at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsFor the Arts, we’ve been doing art projects as they occur to us.  Emma has been doing Kinderbach when the mood strikes for music.  Mary and Peter have been using Hoffman Academy’s free piano lessons.  Peter's Scooby-Doo drawing at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Math has had its upsets also.

Math U See Blocks at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsPeter continued with Math U See (he’s currently in Delta) and that’s still a keeper. 

Mary started the year in Modern Curriculum Press’ grade 6 book.  For various reasons, we found this one to be a poor fit.  She ended up testing out of several chapters and using Math Mammoth topical workbooks plus other worksheets to work on week areas.

Emma started the year with Miquon and Math Mammoth grade 1, plus math games.  At first she really grooved on Miquon, but then got bored with it.  She’s moved on to Mathematical Reasoning 1st grade. The variety in the Mathematical Reasoning book keeps her interested and she loves the logic puzzles.

I’m pretty pleased with where we are at with math at this point.  All three kids are learning and improving their skills.  Peter will continue with Math U See (which causes him some frustration sometimes, but he sticks with it and is becoming confident and competent in math), finishing Delta and moving onto Epsilon.  Emma will continue with Mathematical Reasoning, though I may add in some Math U See.  Mary will be moving to Teaching Textbooks in the fall, which she’s really excited about.

In the end, we took a year that looked disastrous 3 weeks in and made it a success. 

Picking the wrong program is not the end of the world.  Over the past year I have watched these children grow so much.  Sometime soon I’ll be writing about their academic and personal goals for the next year as we think about what we are doing next.  Stay tuned.

Are you finishing up your academic year in your homeschool?  How did it go? 

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