The End of Another Year

My kids are finally nearing the end of another year.  It’s no surprise to say that it will go down as a strange and difficult year considering the virus, but honestly I don’t really want to write anything more about the virus right now.  We still have about a week or so left of Science.  We found it was a difficult subject to fit into the day.  I’m drawn toward teaching, but I have many weaknesses in my personality that are a real challenge to overcome:  I’m not very organized, and I often don’t think and plan ahead.  Really good teachers possess both these qualities along with a desire to teach.  That’s not to say I can’t have them because they aren’t natural to me, but that I just have to work a little harder at them than some.  I guess I should say I only organize when I absolutely have to, and I like to live in the moment.

This is where my wife, Leslie, has been a huge help when it comes to homeschooling.  She usually has the curriculum planned for next year before I’ve finished teaching the previous one.  Leslie is gifted at organization and planning.  She keeps me organized, whether by doing it herself or constantly reminding me of all the stuff I should have had organized last week.  It’s fine.  It’s love.  She needs me to help lead her through the teaching aspect, when to push and when to back down, and when to just take a day off for a field-trip hike.  I’m glad we complete each other’s weaknesses that way.  It’s what marriage should be about.

But then I get to the end of a day of homeschooling, and there’s still Science to do.  Science!  With it’s readings, and experiments, and beakers of colored water, and the mess, and the cleanup, and oh, by the way, you need some obscure ingredient or tool for this experiment and since you don’t have it, you have to create an alternative on the fly…  It just absolutely drains me.  It’s why I could never have a full career as a preschool or even primary teaching gig.  Pencil, paper, book.  That’s all you really need.  No glitter.  No play dough.  No pipe cleaners and millions of beads I have to sweep up.  Just keep it simple and clean.  And yet, there, but for the grace of God, go I — into the land of play dough and paints with my four year olds, not to mention cut outs and glue with the rest of them.

We finished.  I think I learned just about as much from teaching Language Arts this year as Edric and Caedmon.  You don’t think about things like the fact that the “c” is soft before “e,” “i,” or “y,” but hard before any other vowel or consonant unless you’re formally taught that rule.  I’m sure by thinking deeply enough, I might have come to that conclusion, but honestly who has the time?  I don’t remember as a seven-year-old being taught half the things I am teaching my seven-year-old.  

One thing I’ve resisted is telling you how we do homeschool.  Mainly, because I never felt very confident in my teaching abilities to talk about it as though it was something as structured as a “how to do.”  Maybe I’m feeling more confident tonight.  

This past year, I taught a fifth grader, a second grader, and a first grader roughly at the same time.  All three had a journal that we would do more or less daily.  I often gave them a prompt.  It could be “What sort of superpower do you wish you had,” or something more down to earth like “What was your favorite part of the hike we went on last week?”  

All three also have handwriting pages that they fill out.  My fifth grader has been practicing cursive, and he’s getting quite good.  This is the more formal kind of cursive that our parents learned to write when they were kids, not the blend of cursive and block lettering that is sometimes taught today.  I don’t mind if none of his peers can read his handwriting – its much easier to return to writing in block lettering than it is to learn cursive at a later time.  I just want him to recognize the difference and to write well however he chooses to write.

Same for the younger two, although they’re still working on straightening their block lettering before moving to cursive.

After that, their paths diverge:  Caedmon and Edric work on phonics in a workbook called “Explode the Code.”  Usually, I’ll have one of them start this block of work independently while I do Language Arts with the other; and then we switch.

Language Arts combines reading with phonics, syntax, and vocabulary.  It’s a good program that I’ve written about here before called “All About Reading.”

Then we do Math, which was new this year.  Last year, Caedmon had been doing Singapore math, which is a good program, but it progresses very quickly and doesn’t allow a lot of time to review (at least they don’t provide helpful worksheets for lots of review – if you need review, you have to invent it yourself).  Leighton did well with that program until they were asking him to do complex problems in long division that also asked for the averages of the square roots and whatnot.  I’m not really very keen on Math, but we could clearly see when the book had progressed farther than his cognitive ability to comprehend the material owing simply to his age.  It was too much.  Too many different things to hold in his mind.  No problem.  We switched to Saxon math which feels a lot more like the kind of Math curriculums I grew up learning.  Lots and lots of review and simple scaffolding of new concepts.  We like the pace better, and that’s what Leighton worked on this year.

Caedmon also started Saxon, and apart from the worksheets, which he has a general and understandable disdain about, he didn’t mind it too much.  Edric had been doing a very hands on Math program called Math-You-See, but we began to feel that it was too rudimentary, and he needed some challenge, so this year he worked through the Kindergarten textbook.  He learned how to read a calendar and tell time, to sort by shapes, colors, and sizes, and to build a matrix in order to organize his thinking, and we are very proud of his efforts.

And then there’s my favorite subject: History.  We followed the SonLight curriculum.  They pair novels with the time period or topics in question.  There are also in-depth readings of the Bible.  I love reading the novels and Bible stories to the kids.

Leighton progressed through an Eastern Hemisphere program that focused on these continents – including geography, literature, and history.  It was great, and I think we all learned a little more about the world.  

Leighton also has Language Arts through the Sunlight program.  He doesn’t like the formal writing and essay prompts, but it did give him a solid mechanics lesson along with writing.  His typing skills have improved, and, though I’m sure he wouldn’t admit it aloud, so has his creativity thanks to those writing prompts.

Beyond this, we had homework from our homeschool enrichment program, and Spelling and Science.  Neither of which I could find time or energy to teach each day.  We fit them in wherever we could, but now, having finished everything else, we’re still trying to wrap up Science.  Spelling was part of the “All About Reading” curriculum, and Science was a regular-old textbook earth science program that was actually perfect for our family in terms of the content (even if we couldn’t keep up with teaching it each day).  

I hope this didn’t bore anyone.  I hesitated to write about it for that reason, too.  On the other hand, there are so many different ways and opinions about how homeschooling should be done, I think it’s probably good that in a blog that’s partly about homeschooling, I should include what we actually do each day.  It’s a heavy load.  I’m dog-tired by noon when we are just about wrapped up with the day’s assignments (if we’re lucky and working hard).  There have been days where I’ve done so much reading aloud that my vocal chords are just as sore as they used to be when I sang in a men’s choir on tour. 

Still, it was a good year, and though I often feel differently in the moment, in hindsight I wouldn’t have traded the time for anything else.

This is where my wife, Leslie, has been a huge help when it comes to homeschooling.  She usually has the curriculum planned for next year before I’ve finished teaching the previous one.  Leslie is gifted at organization and planning.  She keeps me organized, whether by doing it herself or constantly reminding me of all the stuff I should have had organized last week.  It’s fine.  It’s love.  She needs me to help lead her through the teaching aspect, when to push and when to back down, and when to just take a day off for a field-trip hike.  I’m glad we complete each other’s weaknesses that way.  It’s what marriage should be about.

But then I get to the end of a day of homeschooling, and there’s still Science to do.  Science!  With it’s readings, and experiments, and beakers of colored water, and the mess, and the cleanup, and oh, by the way, you need some obscure ingredient or tool for this experiment and since you don’t have it, you have to create an alternative on the fly…  It just absolutely drains me.  It’s why I could never have a full career as a preschool or even primary teaching gig.  Pencil, paper, book.  That’s all you really need.  No glitter.  No play dough.  No pipe cleaners and millions of beads I have to sweep up.  Just keep it simple and clean.  And yet, there, but for the grace of God, go I — into the land of play dough and paints with my four year olds, not to mention cut outs and glue with the rest of them.

But we finished.  I think I learned just about as much from teaching Language Arts this year as Edric and Caedmon.  You don’t think about things like the fact that the “c” is soft before “e,” “i,” or “y,” but hard before any other vowel or consonant unless you’re formally taught that rule.  I’m sure by thinking deeply enough, I might have come to that conclusion, but honestly who has the time?  I don’t remember as a seven-year-old being taught half the things I am teaching my seven-year-old.  

But one thing I’ve resisted is telling you how we do homeschool.  Mainly, because I never felt very confident in my teaching abilities to talk about it as though it was something as structured as a “how to do.”  Maybe I’m feeling more confident tonight.  

This past year, I taught a fifth grader, a second grader, and a first grader roughly at the same time.  All three had a journal that we would do more or less daily.  I often gave them a prompt.  It could be “What sort of superpower do you wish you had,” or something more down to earth like “What was your favorite part of the hike we went on last week?”  

All three also have handwriting pages that they fill out.  My fifth grader has been practicing cursive, and he’s getting quite good.  This is the more formal kind of cursive that our parents learned to write when they were kids, not the blend of cursive and block lettering that is sometimes taught today.  I don’t mind if none of his peers can read his handwriting – its much easier to return to writing in block lettering than it is to learn cursive at a later time.  I just want him to recognize the difference and to write well however he chooses to write.

Same for the younger two, although they’re still working on straightening their block lettering before moving to cursive.

After that, their paths diverge:  Caedmon and Edric work on phonics in a workbook called “Explode the Code.”  Usually, I’ll have one of them start this block of work independently while I do Language Arts with the other; and then we switch.

Language Arts combines reading with phonics, syntax, and vocabulary.  It’s a good program that I’ve written about here before called “All About Reading.”

Then we do Math, which was new this year.  Last year, Caedmon had been doing Singapore math, which is a good program, but it progresses very quickly and doesn’t allow a lot of time to review (at least they don’t provide helpful worksheets for lots of review – if you need review, you have to invent it yourself).  Leighton did well with that program until they were asking him to do complex problems in long division that also asked for the averages of the square roots and whatnot.  I’m not really very keen on Math, but we could clearly see when the book had progressed farther than his cognitive ability to comprehend the material owing simply to his age.  It was too much.  Too many different things to hold in his mind.  No problem.  We switched to Saxon math which feels a lot more like the kind of Math curriculums I grew up learning.  Lots and lots of review and simple scaffolding of new concepts.  We like the pace better, and that’s what Leighton worked on this year.

Caedmon also started Saxon, and apart from the worksheets, which he has a general and understandable disdain about, he didn’t mind it too much.  Edric had been doing a very hands on Math program called Math-You-See, but we began to feel that it was too rudimentary, and he needed some challenge, so this year he worked through the Kindergarten textbook.  He learned how to read a calendar and tell time, to sort by shapes, colors, and sizes, and to build a matrix in order to organize his thinking, and we are very proud of his efforts.

And then there’s my favorite subject: History.  We followed the SonLight curriculum.  They pair novels with the time period or topics in question.  There are also in-depth readings of the Bible.  I love reading the novels and Bible stories to the kids.

Leighton progressed through an Eastern Hemisphere program that focused on these continents – including geography, literature, and history.  It was great, and I think we all learned a little more about the world.  

Leighton also has Language Arts through the Sunlight program.  He doesn’t like the formal writing and essay prompts, but it did give him a solid mechanics lesson along with writing.  His typing skills have improved, and, though I’m sure he wouldn’t admit it aloud, so has his creativity thanks to those writing prompts.

Beyond this, we had homework from our homeschool enrichment program, and Spelling and Science.  Neither of which I could find time or energy to teach each day.  We fit them in wherever we could, but now, having finished everything else, we’re still trying to wrap up Science.  Spelling was part of the “All About Reading” curriculum, and Science was a regular-old textbook earth science program that was actually perfect for our family in terms of the content (even if we couldn’t keep up with teaching it each day).  

I hope this didn’t bore anyone.  I hesitated to write about it for that reason, too.  On the other hand, there are so many different ways and opinions about how homeschooling should be done, I think it’s probably good that in a blog that’s partly about homeschooling, I should include what we actually do each day.  It’s a heavy load.  I’m dog-tired by noon when we are just about wrapped up with the day’s assignments (if we’re lucky and working hard).  There have been days where I’ve done so much reading aloud that my vocal chords are just as sore as they used to be when I sang in a men’s choir on tour. 

Still, it was a good year, and though I often feel differently in the moment, in hindsight I wouldn’t have traded the time for anything else.

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