Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Typlical Homeschool Day

I Just wrote a "week in the life" post a few days back, but I didn't really go into detail on how school itself has been working lately. Yesterday one of the mothers at dance class asked me how long I usually spend on school each day and my off-the-cuff answer was 90 minutes. I think that may be underestimating things a bit, actually, so I'm going to give a try at documenting what we actually do on our "normal" days.

School starts promptly at 9 am. In my dream world, that is. :)
Maybe I should start back a little earlier.
The alarm goes off at 7:45. I usually make it downstairs a couple of minutes after 8 where I quickly make a sandwich for David to take to work when he leaves at 8:15. The kids have usually already begun serving themselves breakfast by that time, but somehow actually eating seems to linger past 8:30 if not longer.  I serve myself something which I eat while simultaneously doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen (I work better in the morning, so usually about 1/2 the dinner work is left over.) We listen to the news, the kids disappear (without cleaning up their places 90% of the time), and I'm usually starting to think about my first cup of coffee when I notice it's after 9.  I decide it's time to get going, but there's always something - whether it's starting a load of laundry, chivying reluctant pre-schoolers into their clothes, or persuading an older child to do a chore - that intervenes, and in point of fact it's rarely before 9:30 - 9:45 when we start.

The first subject on our list is Bible. This is the only thing we do all together. We're making some, but not exhaustive, use of Danika Cooley's "Bible Roadtrip" curriculum and are set to finish up the Pentateuch this week.  Mostly we read a chapter or two out loud, or sometimes we let the narrator on my "YouVersion" software read it, and I give a little commentary and ask some leading questions. We also have been watching the "What's in the Bible" DVDs when we can get them, as well as the (much  more advanced) videos from "The Bible Project" available on YouTube. The kids will watch anything with eagerness and they're perfectly happy listening to the Bible straight out too, as long as they are allowed to color or do some other quiet activity. (James usually asks for "one more chapter" so he can finish whatever he's coloring!)
What we're not doing is craft projects, lap books, notebooks, or anything else that (a) takes prep and planning on my part, and (b) requires a lot of interaction and cooperation from the kids.
In my defense, this is a considered decision based in large part on knowing James will fight, with tooth and nail, anything that has writing involved. Grace often will too, depending on how its introduced. It's not worth the fuss to me, and I've mostly given up even feeling guilty about it.
As to the crafts, well, they do plenty of crafts at Sunday School and more - of their own choosing - at home. We don't need the extra fuss. Really. Just keep telling yourself that...

We do work on memorizing a Bible verse together each week. Sometimes we'll tackle a longer passage over a couple of weeks; other times we'll take a break with something short and simple. When possible they coordinate with what we're reading in Bible Roadtrip, but I'm not above picking out verses that relate to a current family struggle. (Proverbs 15:1 is this week's!)

Once Bible is complete (say, around 10:15) we usually go on to spelling. As mentioned in my previous post both James and Grace are doing Level B of Spelling-U-See; Grace is on week 9 and James is somewhere in the 20's. Right now neither of them like it, and I can usually expect a fight, most frequently from Gracie. The funny thing is that neither is actually struggling with it. It's not hard, it's just not exciting, James doesn't want to "chunk" (highlight various vowel and consonant combinations) the same passage each day, and Grace doesn't want to copy out her fragment and then have me correct her backwards "Bs" and "Gs" when she spells words from dictation. (note to self: stop doing this and add handwriting back in as a separate subject?)
The most reliable strategy I have to get us through is to promise that the entire ordeal will take no more than 10 minutes, and set a timer to back myself up. We almost always finish well before it sounds, but it seems to do the trick as often as not.

A side note on simultaneous schooling:
In an ideal world I would have James working on Math while Grace works on Spelling, and Grace work on Handwriting or whatever while James does Spelling, etc, etc. In real life it rarely works out. I try, but something always gets dropped. The copy-work is done and James disappeared before Grace writes her first spelling word. Grace needs help on her math before I can start with James on his spelling; Lucy is determined to "serve tea" or something else ridiculously distracting and needs to be re-directed before either can get started. Etc. The worst of it is, usually James gets my attention first up and Grace disappears. Then 50% of the time we don't get to her reading or math (neither, actually, today, come to think of it) at all because we get hungry and cranky and after lunch I'm not good for anything. Or we have places to go, or Something. It's a good thing that her age group doesn't actually Need a ton of instructional time, because she isn't always getting it.
There are some things I could be doing better in the planning department - for instance, having the James' entire set of assignments written out on the board so he can do the independent ones without referring to me, or having a less spur-of-the-moment plan for Lucy. Hopefully I'll improve in this area before it starts to really cause problems.

Then on to math. It's usually left to last for both kids, but when I am hoping to cover a new concept with James we try to put it in front.
He is working through a "Spectrum" 3rd grade book. It is Common Core aligned, which I consider neutral-to-negative, but as a rule I use it to tell me what to teach, not how to teach it, which ameliorates the downsides of CC. In any case, I picked it up at the craft store of all places for probably less than $10 after my coupon, and it's doing the job.
I'm giving it a partial rest for a while, though, because it's come to my attention that despite his ability to work through the simple division problems in the current chapter, he really needs review and re-focus on the basics of showing his work. Because he Can do a lot of things in his head with decent accuracy it's been easy to let this slide, but he is Adamant that he ought never to have to write anything down, and it increasingly clear that he doesn't actually understand How to set up his problems using the appropriate symbols, alignment, etc. This manifests as anger and resistance which drains everyone's energy in no time at all.
Case in point: after reading a review of a disturbing study that found only 18% of American adults were able to do a problem in which they computed the cost of carpeting a rectangular room - using a calculator! - I decided to work through just such a problem with him today. It's well within his conceptual abilities. But writing on his paper "9 x 108" was enough to drive him to distraction.
We made it, but it took most of my instructional energy for the morning.

Meanwhile, a minor miracle was taking place on the other side of the table. Grace was teaching Lucy to write her name! Lucy knows how to spell and recognize it, and she's been writing the "L" accurately for some time, but has not been willing to work on the other letters. Not that I've exactly pushed: she's not yet 4! But this morning she was working away at tracing it by following the dots that Grace made for her, and both of them were enjoying themselves. When they tired of that activity, Grace asked for the alphabet flash cards and began teaching them to Lucy. Here I had to briefly intervene so as not to let her drive her pupil nuts, but they both played happily with some game or other they'd devised using the cards through the entire 30+ minutes I worked with James on his math.

Math for Grace has been a little more haphazard. At first I was happy to work through the 1st grade A Beka book with her, but it got to be downright tedious. She does not read well enough to follow the directions on her own, so I always have to be sitting with her while she works. And the problems are terribly repetitious. So we've abandoned it for the time being. Instead we're using "Comic Book Math" from Thinking Tree, which hides some good fundamental concepts inside pages filled with doodles you can color when you finish the problems. Right now she's working on "Magic Squares:" sets of four problems using the same three numbers, for instance {4,5,9} - so the kid fills out "4+5=9," "5+4=9," "9-5=4," "9-4=5"
Somehow this remains an elusive concept for Grace, but she's getting a little better at it.
And then there's Life of Fred. I have a love/hate relationship with these books. I want them to work, because they're great fun, completely lack "drill and kill," and introduce ridiculously advanced concepts (orthogonality, sets, and prime numbers, just for starters!) at the 1st grade level. But I've concluded that even for my advanced student, drill-and-kill has a necessary place in our lives. So we're using Fred for supplementation, mostly for Grace.

Finally, on to reading. James has little or no assigned reading at this time because he willingly and voraciously reads comics and easy chapter books, usually right before bed or in the car. I don't want to kill that by making it "work." I am starting to introduce book reports, or at least book Journals, to him. Mostly that happens during our true 1:1 time at McDonald's on the weekend.
Grace is not yet a fluent reader. She is making it through level 1 readers, mostly, but is easily overwhelmed even by a more complicated Dr. Seuss book. She's bored, however, by the little A Beka stories, and I can't really blame her as they're not much more than Dick and Jane in (slightly more) modern clothes. It's Hard to write something worth reading when restricting yourself to four and five letter words. Our real favorites right now are the "We Both Read" books at the library. The left hand page is for the parent; the right hand page is part of the story, but written at the child's level. It really works at getting the kid engaged in a non-idiotic (sort of!) story without overwhelming them.
We're also working through the A Beka phonics flashcards. These are able to engage her where the stories do not, and it's mostly because she is always permitted one word from each card to act out. When we actually pull these out, she has a lot of fun with them and will tear through 1/2 a dozen before running out of steam.
Usually this reading happens - if at all - informally and after the regular school day ends at lunchtime.

And that is the end of the formal school day.
Lunch is often a little late - 12 or 12:30 instead of 11:30 which is what our stomachs might prefer - but it does mark the end of the instructional time. So that makes it somewhere between 2 hours and 3 at worst case, which at least 50% of that time being "down" for any given student.

You'll notice: no formal science, history, econ, health, or etc. I assume some of that is going to come eventually.
For now I am happy to class the "Little House," "Great Brain," and "Rush Revere" books we read together in the evenings as our "history curriculum." We've done a few cool science lessons with our co-op, and hopefully we'll do more this spring and summer. Obviously we're always talking, discussing, and explaining things from current events to bits of theology to economics to important battles of WWII. (That would be David, not me!) The rest... there's plenty of time. I don't want to bury the kids or myself.

Things have gotten quite a bit easier this school year as I've successfully established expectations with James. But "easier" has not yet become anything like "easy" (see math and spelling discussions above!) And ironically things have become harder with Grace who uses such different techniques to avoid work or express her frustration that I haven't yet figured out how to successfully combat them.
I'm trying to (a) not push and (b) remain not guilty about not pushing, teaching Latin, and working on massive unit studies. And also to remember that the academics are Not the most important thing I'll be teaching them. We may not be able to do a unit study and a lap book on "diligence," "compassion," "kindness," "respect," "obedience," or etc. But we are teaching them, like it or not. The academics are just a framework.
Yikes.