Saturday, May 9, 2015

Collective Learning: in Retrospect

This morning while making breakfast, starting laundry, cleaning up breakfast, kissing boo-boos, chasing rogue baseballs, and breaking up fights, I drafted and edited a blog about our homeschooling year. Then it promptly disappeared, never to be seen again.

Sometimes this is what homeschooling feels like.

Dissecting flowers
We get to the end of the morning, and I've gotten check marks on everything that needed check marks even while mass confusion abounded, but did anything really sink in? In all honesty, I think it did. We won't be rewriting the entire book next year. And this is good.

Some of this year I've felt like I was shooting the educational arrow and then drawing the proverbial target around it. To a certain extent this may be true, but when I stop to really think about what my goals were for the Little Man this year and whether or not we've met them, I can say yes without hesitation.

A dear friend and her sister (both of whom are teachers) came and gave a special
botany lesson to Littles. It ranked as one of my favourite homeschooling moments of the year.

This year I was hoping to 1. teach Littles how to read and 2. instill in him a love of learning. Everything else was deemed icing on the cake. It's May now, and our school year is drawing to a close, and Littles is reading, slowly and haltingly, but reading, and while he may not always love school, he does love to learn. I did a little interview with him on the first blog post (that disappeared) and he told you a few lovely things that he learned about whales and dolphins and his garden (science was a favorite for him). He also informed me that Sarah, Plain and Tall was his favorite chapter book this year (though he wasn't sure why), and that he was disappointed he didn't get to learn more about great white sharks.

I think within the next few months he's really going to take off in the reading department, and I'm pretty excited about that. While I've enjoyed reading out loud to him, I know how much I love the solitude of reading, and I'm excited for that for him. Plus then I can stop reading the twenty gazillion science books to him that he brought home from the library. Although, let's be honest, I like those too.

Littles loved it too.

Side note: did you know there's really no such thing as a black panther? There are black leopards, black jaguars, and--supposedly--black cougars, and "black panther" is our generic term for all of those.

And on that line of thought, I'd like to share a few things that I learned this year. Because, let's be honest, what's the fun of homeschooling if we don't all learn a few things together?

  • School does not have to look pretty. Let me explain. When we started last fall, I had a whole peaceful routine to get us into the educational experience that included, prayer, lots of cuddles, and some semblance of order. By the end of the year, Alex had better be able to yell his phonics lesson loud enough for me to hear him as the twins climb on top of me, yelling ecstatically about something. Everything gets done (more or less), it just might get done while the laundry is getting folded, the dishes are getting washed, or one of the other siblings is getting unceremoniously hauled into "the principle's office".
  • For us, for right now, less planning was more sanity. Our first month of school, I'd drawn out simple lesson plans that I felt were completely reasonable. It stressed everyone out. The clincher was when Littles told the Man he needed to "finish school" one night right before bed. After that I took to just writing down what we were doing during the day and ensuring it was relatively well-rounded. Next year, things will be a little more scheduled (we're trying out Classical Conversations), which is necessary since it will be legit kindergarten (laughing about those two words being put together). But this year, less was more.
  • If you teach your boys about how celtic warriors painted their faces blue, put the markers under lock and key. They wouldn't let me take pictures, but FREEDOM!!!
Some items are more twin friendly than others...

  • Tying into that, it is amazing what Tiny picks up just from listening in on what Alex is learning. Kid may still be sleeping in diapers, but he can tell you where the Red Sea is and do simple subtraction. Although that last one may have been a fluke... But I'm still counting it!
  • Everything is a field trip. Got to go to Home Depot? Totally a learning experience--shop class for pre-K! Need to knock out the grocery store? A math lesson on the fly (with a little health class thrown in). Running errands downtown and forgot to do science? Pop on into the Aquarium and give yourself a check mark for the day!
The toys get moved around at random.
Some days it looks better than this. Other days worse.

  • Maps are the best. I wish I had bought maps earlier in the year. We were using a dinky plastic placemat map until last month when the Man and I finally scored some on eBay. Our homeschool room is beautiful now and the kids and I have so much fun looking for different places as well as talking about various topographical features. The Man has had a lot of fun teasing me about my lack of US geographical sense. 
  • It's amazing the amount of school work Littles can do unsupervised. I like to pretend that this is only going to increase as he learns to read. I can clean up after meals, get laundry done, cook dinner, and a multitude of other things while Littles does copy work or art or any number of other little things we qualify as "school".
  • Last thing, I had fun. I really wasn't sure I was going to. I thought homeschooling Littles was just going to be one more thing when I was already feeling overwhelmed and run down, but it was so fun to see how the Little Man's mind worked. It was exciting to be able to share with him my love of books and learning and creativity. It was pretty neat getting to see the Man step in on days I was busy and teach too. Part of me really anticipated dragging my way to Christmas and collapsing exhausted at the end of the first semester, feeling like a failure and saying, "Well! That was a mistake! Let's enroll him in a real school." And instead I find myself still plugging away mid-way through May and planning to continue with this craziness next year--most significantly, with Littles' full support.
Now we can learn music and memorize capital cities at the same time.

At any rate, this year of schooling is almost knocked out. We're taking June and July off to concentrate our efforts elsewhere before we buckle down and try something "similar but different". And while yes, there are still days when I think we must be crazy, more and more I think we're actually onto something here: a way to draw close as a family, raise well-educated and well-rounded kids, and provide a little bit of stability as the Air Force continues trucking us from one end of the country to the other.


  1. Congratulations on starting homeschool and doing a great job! I'm a proud mom and Neni.

  2. Homeschooling with you looks like fun! Though I do wish that you would have ignored your children's wishes and taken photos of them Bravehearting it anyway.