Monday, February 29, 2016

Scoping Out the Sequence

Back here I gave a rough outline of my cost/benefit analysis of going without textbooks (at least in math).  Since I've gotten some questions about the the reason behind them, I'd like to do a brief post expanding on each of the items I mentioned as "pros" for us.

  • I'm not constrained to a particular scope and sequence (order of topics) and can order them based on learning opportunities, whole-family instruction and the developmental abilities of each child.

I want to stress (again) that there isn't anything wrong with purchasing curriculum with a scope and sequence or following one.  As mothers, our resources are limited.  It is not a cop-out to choose materials that take some of the work off of our plates!  However, at this point in the life of our family, the scope and sequence in our textbooks felt more like a restraint than a help.

As I looked through the children's textbooks (grades 6, 5, 3 and 1), I realized that there was a great deal of overlap in topics - at varying degrees of complexity, but related to the same general ideas.  However, these topics were not presented in the same order in each grade.  My first impulse was to tear all of the pages out of each of the (consumable) books, rearrange them by topic and use binder clips to clip together all of the pages that fell under the same general concept.  The problem with that idea was that since I'd be teaching the topics out of order (according to each individual textbook) and since an Abeka math page is about 25-40% work on the current topic and 60-75% review, the children would potentially be assigned "review" problems for concepts they had not yet learned.

Sure, I could create a system for keeping track of what each kid had already learned and then assign or skip over review problems accordingly.  But if I am going to keep track of those details and have that close of a handle on who needs to review what, the limited options offered on each math page actually become more of a restraint than a boon.  More on this when we talk about ...

  • I get to create the lessons and activities myself.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Three Things

This morning I was not looking forward to church.  It isn't that I don't like our church or that I don't want to hear God's word.  It's just all the getting there.  And the managing of people.  And, today, the taking food and eating there.  But it was worth it.  So worth it.  Came back far richer than I went in.  Here are three things that jumped out at me, that I needed to hear today.

  • The prayer of a grandfather.  One of the newest little members of our congregation was baptised this morning.  Her grandfather, an elder in another church from another town, led the congregation in prayer for her and her parents after the administration of the sacrament.  He prayed that her parents "would have the strength to call on you in prayer."  Isn't that just so true?  We even need to pray for the strength to pray!
  • The prayer of an elder.  Each Sunday, one of our elders leads the congregation in prayer.  This morning, the Elder who prayed thanked God "for leaving us in the world".  The longing for eternity?  I get that.  The being thankful for being left here to do the good work God has for us?  I've been forgetting that recently.  But it's true.  And it's worth dwelling on.
  • The encouragement of a pastor and session.  Our dear pastor preached to us from 2 Timothy 1:1-7 which ended with these words " ... for God gave us a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control."  He publically encouraged all of us.  And then, during the church lunch, he came over and repeated those same words quietly, near to the ear of my oldest, my 10-year old son, just before it was time for him to go and meet with the elders to give a testimony of his faith in order to join the church.  Each one of the elders in that room (including my father) showered my son with tender love and encouragement, speaking to him as a fellow-heir.  As Pauls to a Timothy.
I am so glad that God's faithfulness and goodness are unchangeable, objective realities completely independant of my feelings about them.  But I am also thankful that some days he also reaches through the fog, in mercy, and speaks even to and through my feelings.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Smile Doesn't Have to Mean You are Happy

Sometimes we smile as a demonstration of what we are feeling inside.  Sometimes we smile as a reflection of what we see outside of us.  Both are true, genuine and valid.

A smile can say ...

"Good morning.  I hope you have a lovely day."

"I am so glad to see your face."

"I am thankful to be your Mama."

"That outfit looks great on you."

"Don't worry.  You are going to be OK."

"I am so proud of what you accomplished."

"It is good to be in church today.  This is what my heart needs."

"I feel comfortable and safe in your company."

"I appreciate how you have served my family."

"Thank you for letting me cross the street in front of your car."

"What you said was witty and amusing."

"I love what you made/brought me."

"I'm not upset that you were standing in front of the celery I was reaching for."

"Thank you for your hospitality."

It is alright to smile even when you are not feeling peaceful, fulfilled and happy in every sense.  It's not being fake.  It's giving of yourself in a way that blesses others - even strangers.  In fact, sometimes the greatest acts of love are when we give from our lack, rather than our abundance (Mark 12:43-44).  When you have nothing else to offer, you can often still give a smile.

Of course, the flip side of this is to remember that we can't always read those we love by how many smiles they have to share.  A person who struggles with emotional highs and lows learns how to continue on with life, how to encourage and comfort those around her, even if she doesn't feel encouraged and comforted inside.  She knows that her feelings may or may not reflect the reality around her and she learns how to reflect in her face what she believes to be truth, rather than just simply how she feels about it.

She smiles at a toddler with a scraped knee to say, "Don't worry.  We'll get you all taken care of.  You don't need to be afraid" even when she would like to cry from sheer exhaustion.  She smiles at a child and says "I am so glad that you are my son and I am your mother.  I am living the life I always dreamed about" even if she can't figure out why her emotions haven't seemed to get the message.

So please, take time to ask good questions and be ready to listen.  She who smiles much gives much of herself.  And maybe, just maybe, she might be in need of some re-filling.  It's not necessary (or sometimes even possible) to "make her happy".  It is only necessary to ask, to listen and to affirm that what she is doing is good, beautiful and valuable.  And to reassure her that you are a safe place where she can talk, cry and be refreshed in order to go back into the world and smile one more time.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Looking for Answers

Things still feel rough around here.  I still feel like I'm searching for answers.  I've made some progress on the track of practical solutions.  But I also have to admit that practical solutions are, at best, a temporary relief.  But (I should know this by now!) the answers that are of eternal good, that help despite the circumstances are the ones that transcend the circumstances.

Through a series of (super encouraging, life-giving) conversations with my brother and my mom, the Lord led me to 2 Corinthians 4.  I was looking for that "jars of clay" passage and I found more than I bargained for to nourish my soul.  This is what I am thinking on and praying today.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.

[Having this ministry.  It's a mercy.  That's a new thought.  And it's a reason not to lose heart.  Interesting.  Help me not to lose heart, Lord.  And to think of this ministry to my family as a mercy.]

But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

[I'm here for the gospel.  It's not my job to train my children to perform academic parlor tricks that make me look like an expert.  It's not my job to convince others that I've found the right or best way to homeschool so that I can gain a following.  It's not even my job to arrange things so that I feel successful.  It's about the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  Help me, Lord!]

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

[I'm not here to seek my own kingdom.  I'm here to serve my children for the sake of Jesus.  Light of the Knowledge of the Glory of God ... in the face of Jesus Christ ... that sounds like it might be something important to keep in mind.  That sounds like the foundations of a purpose statement for our homeschool.]

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

[Oh, Lord!  Oh, Lord!  That thought both humbles me ... and raises me up.  I am a jar of clay, Lord.  Weak and broken.  And yet ... that isn't an accident?  The fact that you've entrusted these children, this task of proclaiming life-giving truth to real human beings, to someone who is so lowly, so insignificant and so, so frail herself ... that was a part of the plan?  I know what that means - as much as I don't like to admit it.  It means that I should stop holding my breath, stop longing for that day when I'm independent of your mercy, strong enough to cope without grace, too savvy to need to cry out to you in prayer.  I really do want the world to know that the surpassing power belongs to you.  And honestly, Lord, right now, the way you've got it set up, I don't think anyone would mistake me for the source!]

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

[How much suffering can I handle?  How long can I last?  How hard is too hard?  It seems like there must be this delicate balance, Lord.  This tiny margin between "afflicted" and "crushed", between "perplexed" and "despairing".  How could I find that small space?  How would I know how to measure out my own suffering?  How would I know how much my body could handle to have Jesus manifest in it today?  If I am afflicted, Lord, let it be from your hand.  Let no one else strike me down, Lord, but you, whom I trust to work death in me, and yet hold me back from being destroyed.]

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, "I believed, and so I spoke," we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

[This is the big picture, this eternal, kingdom goal - more grace to more people, more thanksgiving, more glory to God.  That is a big, big thing to be a part of.  That gives purpose and hope beyond what I can accomplish in a day, even in a lifetime.]

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison ....

[Is it overly dramatic, Lord, at age 37 to say that my outer self is wasting away?  Because it does feel like a wasting away.  And yet, if the counterpart to that is my inner self being renewed day by day, then no time is too soon to embrace that pattern.  Momentary.  Light.  Affliction.  Eternal.  Weight.  Glory.  I believe, Lord, but help my unbelief.  Keep me, here, from being crushed.  And then, in eternity, crush me with that eternal weight.  Smother me with your glory. I'll be ready for it.  I'll be desperate for it.]

... as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

[See, that's just where my struggle is, Lord.  The "seen" is so much easier to "see" than the unseen.  But I suppose you're trying to remind me that how easy something is to see has a lot to do with where I am looking.]

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Very Simple Schedule

At the beginning of the week, I felt a moment of crisis because I knew that I needed to spend more one-on-one time with my new reader and my struggling reader.  The schedule already felt packed and scary and the thought of adding one more thing was daunting (to put it mildly).  Monday evening, I attended Part 2 of the Focus and Align class at the Read Aloud Revival and the beginnings of some ideas began to percolate.  We had two hard, rough days, followed by two good, smooth encouraging days, followed by one more hard, low, rough day (as viewed from my internal perspective, only).  And here, in retrospect, is what I think has settled out to be our new schedule*:
  • Breakfast (sometimes while listening to a recorded book or story)
  • Morning Chores, Joseph (1) to nap
  • Read the Bible
  • Talk about Math
  • Talk about Language
  • Meet one-on-one with Luke (10) and Robyn (6) to practice reading skills
    Emma (9) and Ruth (8) take turns doing things with Henry (4) and Hazel (3)
  • Lunch
  • Quick Straightening, Hazel (3) and Joseph (1) to naps
  • Quiet Work Time (Math 5-A-Days, Latin and some silent reading)
    On Tuesdays this is replaced by "Latin Class" with another family
  • Play Outside
  • Final Clean-up
  • History (on-line course the kids do as a group) while Mama fixes dinner
That's it.  That is all we can do in a day.  And some days we don't accomplish all of that.  If you look closely, you'll probably notice things that aren't included.  I bet your list wouldn't be even a third of the things that are on my mind.  But I'm setting that aside for right now.  Let tomorrow worry about itself.  This is what we can do right now.

* We do school Monday-Thursday.  Fridays are for laundry, housework and maybe projects.

The Next Thing

One of the things that I have recently found to be a crushing burden of homeschool (for me, for now) is the feeling of needing to "finish" something in a given time.  I fear that if I don't finish it, my kids will be "behind".  I fear that if I don't finish it, I will have wasted the money I invested in it.  I fear that if I don't finish it, I'll miss out on that break I was hoping to take when it is all done.

For some (and even for me, in other phases of life) the structure is helpful.  It's nice to have someone else plan out what a year's worth of work includes, how much to review when and what should be included in a day of work or practice.  It feels very tidy to have five days worth of activity and begin again on Monday.  When we are able to get it done, it brings a sense of completion and closure.  But those days are getting much fewer and farther between.

Perhaps I'm less able to accomplish something that would be good to accomplish.  Perhaps the new pressures and constraints of life at this moment are revealing "shoulds" that never should have been "shoulds" and I am now releasing myself from them.  But whatever the case (and in some ways, it really doesn't matter) there is only this: what can we - at this stage, with this present grouping of children and this present, tired mama - accomplish in one day?  That is it.  What has God given us to do on this day?  Let's do it.  Let tomorrow worry about itself.

And what if we get to the end of the day and it wasn't all done?  Then not all of those things were things God meant for us to do today.  Yes, maybe there was time wasted.  Maybe we could have been more efficient.  But on this day, at this moment, whatever the causes, the task is still the same - trust to the Lord what wasn't accomplished and wake up tomorrow to start on the next thing.

As much as possible, I have moved away from organizing our subjects such that they must be done on a daily or weekly schedule in order to "work".  I've tried to avoid setting up things such that if we miss a day we are "behind" and have to try to cram two days worth of work into one (or three into two).  Instead it has worked much better for us if Mama has a general sense of the next thing(s) she'd like to teach or work on with the children.  When we come to school time, we do the next thing.  And if we don't get to it, it is tomorrow's next thing.

Didn't read a chapter of our read aloud book?  It will still be there tomorrow.  Talked about place value but they didn't fully "get" the concept?  Talk about it some more tomorrow; try another approach.  Time to start school but not all the morning chores aren't complete? They can wait until the next slot of time for getting a little work done.  (Or, do a little more housework and some school things can wait until later.)

The only way to make this system a reality has been, as much as possible, to unchain activities from each other so that each piece can move forward (or not!) independently.  Since our math discussion and written practice are no longer directly linked, we can do one without the other, if needed, on any given day.  Since the children's Five-A-Days are all things that we have already covered and they are just reviewing, we can take more time than I expected to work on our current concept without interfering with the Five-A-Day work I picked for them.  Or, conversely, if we didn't get a chance to complete the Five-A-Days, they can wait for the next day and our morning math conversations can keep happening.

This week, my oldest was only able to finish three out of the five problems on his Five-A-Day one afternoon.  Rather than requiring him to "catch up" on those two and do five new ones the next day, I simply took those two problems, added three more and they were his Five-A-Day for the next day.  If we've determined that five problems in a day is what we can manage, then why plan to do seven?  There will always be more good things to discuss and practice.  What do we gain by "doubling up"?  What are we racing against?  More and more, for us, the answer is: nothing!

Note: The two subjects that still "need" to fall into a weekly pattern are History and Latin.  And for now, I'm going to let them stay that way.  I'm not at all convinced that Latin is something all homeschoolers must do, but I have a degree in Latin and, quite frankly, it's something I love to teach.  Plus, our pastor's wife and her two youngest come over on Tuesday afternoons to do Latin with us, which is a big plus in the be-with-people category (perhaps even more for Mama than for the kids!).  We began three years ago with Song School Latin and are now working through the Latin for Children series.  We are on Primer B out of C, so after next year we'll reevaluate what to do next.

Though it is not absolutely essential, our history program works best done in five-lesson-a-week rotations because every five lessons covers one topic.  I absolutely love the Veritas Press History for many reasons.  Content-wise, it covers history, including Church History, map skills and lots of historical context.  Each era of history has its own song which helps the children to have a mental framework for the order and relationship of historical events, as well as some key dates.  Another plus is that it is on-line, very interactive, and the kids can do it on their own (mostly) while I watch and listen from the kitchen as I make dinner.

Do the Next Thing

I just love this poem.  Some sites credit it to Elizabeth Elliot.  Others mention that she shared it as from an anonymous author.  I haven't been able to find out for sure who wrote it, so I'll leave it unattributed for now.  I have had a copy of this poem for quite some time and think of it often.  But recently it seems to have risen to the surface of my soul as a kind of "theme song" of our homeschool (or at least the theme song of my own processing of thoughts about our homeschool).

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage,
Down by the sea,
There came in the twilight,
A message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend,
Deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me,
Teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours
The quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment,
Let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity,
Guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows,
Child of the King, 
Trust them with Jesus,

Do it immediately;
Do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence,
Tracing His Hand,
Who placed it before thee with 
Earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence,
Safe 'neath His wing,
Leave all resultings,

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering)
Be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence,
The rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance
Be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness,
Praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee,
-Author unknown

Just a random picture that makes me smile.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Snuggle Number

Snugglenumber pic

So.  This has been a challenging week.  At some point I need to write a follow-up post to the very somber-toned ones I put up on Monday.  But right now I feel more like keeping it light and sharing something fun!

A couple of days ago on Instagram a friend shared a picture of her kids playing a game called Snuggle Number.  I asked her for the scoop and she sent me to this blog post (I am in love with the blog title, too!).  I had been thinking about making and laminating some hundreds charts to use with the kids as another thing they could write on with their dry erase markers and this took up just enough room to fill up the blank space at the bottom, so, on it went.

All you need is a chart like this (which you could easily create by hand on scratch paper in moments) and a 10-sided die or a deck of playing cards, minus the face cards and jokers (count the Aces as 1 and the 10's as 0).  Roll the die or draw a card, then record that digit somewhere in the eleven slots on your game board (the original above is two-sided to allow for two games before the paper has to be tossed; my board below is simplified for little learners and since it is dry-erase is already reusable).  The goal is to get as close to the "target" number as you can in each row.  My board includes spaces for the kids to write the difference between their number and the target number and to add the total because I felt like they might need a little more structure to understand the gameplay.  More thorough discussion of the rules is on the blog above.

Want a copy?

Here is a copy of Snuggle Number only (half-page sized, so you could print two on a page)
Here is a copy of the whole thing I printed for my kiddos: addition chart, multiplication chart, hundreds chart and Snuggle Number (Note: For the number charts I used a special handwriting font which I don't think will show up via a Google Drive share, so the formatting will be a little different.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beginnings of a Beginning

These ideas still need time to percolate, but before I headed to bed I wanted to jot down some of the helpful bits of wisdom I've gleaned at tonight's class that I think will move us in the right direction.

  1. Make a schedule "for now" not "for forever".  The schedule can be revisited again later.  Not including it in the schedule now doesn't mean not including it in the schedule ever.  Still hard to see some things sit out.  But it's time to face reality.
  2. You don't need to study all subjects every day.  You don't need to study all subjects all year.  Sarah breaks her year into "terms" (six weeks of school followed by a one-week break).  She only plans for one "term" at a time because it takes the pressure off.  I like that idea a lot.
  3. 30-45 minutes one-on-one time with each school-aged kid.  Sarah has a neat way of scheduling this ... but she also has three bigger kids (the youngest of whom is as old as my oldest child) and only three who are school-aged and need to meet with her.  Worth looking into, though.
  4. Looping.  This isn't something Sarah spent a lot of time talking about tonight, but she covers it in her book.  I've been meaning to write a whole post on it at some point.  The basic idea is that instead of scheduling things on a particular day of the week, you schedule them in a loop.  When you come to that slot of the day, you just do the next one in your loop.
  5. The Six-Minute Journal.  The last page of the handout from the Focus & Align class was a journal page to give time for reflection each day.  It includes these prompts:

    Each Morning Before School:

    1. Three things I am grateful for ...

    2. One way we'll live our Rule of Six today ...

    3. One way I'll practice my Words to Live By [words that describe how you'd like your children to look back and remember their homeschool childhoods] today  ...

    Each Night Before Bed:

    1. A win from today:

    2. Noticing each of my children [lots of white space after this one]:

    3. Tomorrow I will ...

    Looking forward to using these prompts to reflect on some in the days to come.  And even now, thinking about a "win" from today reminds me that on the ugliest days, all is not lost.

This was a hard, rough day.  I won't burden you with a long play-by-play, but let's just say that Daddy came downstairs (thankfully he was working from home due to snow) at lunchtime and found me crying on the sofa, where I had been tucked in by a three year old who was telling me (her own, spontaneously created) Curious George stories and letting me hold her stuffed cat.  And yet, even on a day when I look back and see a landscape littered with the gray, twisted mess of emotional train-wreckage, even on this day, I see things that can fit into the category of "a win from today".  Starting with the Curious George stories and the stuffed cat.

The Good, The Hard and The Ugly

I said early on in this blog journey that I wasn't here to share "answers" but to share the journey, the questions.  Well, today is one of those days where the answers seem very far and outnumbered by the questions.  While Math is in the process of being re-worked and other things are fair game, a new card was tossed onto the table last night.  I was on the Read Aloud Revival forum reading a post from another homeschool mom.  It was titled "Late Reader or something more ..."  In it, the author shared how she discovered her son's dyslexia.  I replied to the thread.

Oh. My. Thank you for sharing this.  My 9, 8 and 6 year old daughters all love to read.  They will curl up and read in a corner just for fun.  They beg to read aloud to the younger kids.  My 10 year old son, not so much.  I have been telling myself all the things you mentioned above.  “Well, he’s a boy.  Let him learn at his own pace.  Some day it will ‘click’ and he will love to read, etc.”  The more I read from your post and the more I read on the website you mentioned (thank you!!) the more I wondered if this wasn’t exactly what we were dealing with.
He was sitting here in the room with me, so I asked him about some of the things I was reading.  This is what he said, “You know how in Chinese, there is one character for each word?  Well, that’s how I read.  I know the shape of each word.  And if I don’t know the shape, I don’t know the word.  Or maybe I try to think of another shape I know of that looks like the shape of that word.”  He also said “When I am reading, the letters seem to fall out of order.  I will read the first part and then when I read the second part, I forget what the first part says.”  When asked if he found reading exhausting, he said “YES!” – not with a tone of complaint, but with a tone of relief that someone finally asked!
On one hand, I am thrilled (impressed, actually!) that he is so clearly able to articulate what he experiences when reading and to help me to understand it.  I feel like it gives me a new direction to consider and that brings a sense of relief and hope. BUT I am also fearful!  I started out this school year SOOO overwhelmed and reading Teaching from Rest (and the Focus and Align class) have been so helpful.  We’ve experienced SUCH a positive change and a relief.  Now, I must admit, I’m fearful about discovering that I have a child who is going to need some mommy-time-intensive help!
But thank you for sharing!  Now I’ve got something new to research and think about. :-/
I have to be honest, this feels very heavy right now.  Very hard.  The work I've been doing to change how we do math, to streamline the process?  Yea, that was an effort to make this job feasible ... not to make margins, not to get free time, just to make it all fit.  I keep telling myself that as the older kids get older they will transition to more independent work, that as new little ones come on to the official homeschooling stage, the older ones will have more ability to work on their own.  I want to do right by Luke.  I want to invest the time needed to help him to read comfortably.  But I also have a 6 year old who is learning to read, and so far I've averaged about 2-3 times a month of actually getting to sit down with her and read one-on-one.

I am tempted to stew right here in this blog post and list for you all of the things that I want to have in our schedule, that I wish were in our schedule that aren't even waiting in the wings right now.  They are downstairs in prop storage somewhere gathering dust.  But I am going to hold off on that for the moment.  In another half an hour Part 2 of the Focus and Align Master Class on the Read Aloud Revival is starting.  Last week (even in the midst of flu) it was such a balm.  Such a welcome relief.  So, trying not to despair as help might be right around the corner.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why No Textbooks?

(Note: What follows is a discussion of why I am experimenting with not using textbooks, not an argument for why anyone should not use textbooks.  See here also.)

I once read an article in Reader's Digest about how to decide whether to do a task yourself or pay someone to do it.  For example, is it a more economical use of your time to mow the lawn yourself, or to hire someone else to do it?  Part of the calculation had to do with your own income level and/or hourly wage.  If you divide your annual salary by the number of hours you work per year and that figure is larger than the cost per hour to hire someone to mow your lawn, hire out the job because your time is more valuably spent elsewhere.

But, thankfully, that was only a part of the equation.  Another part (I wish I could find the article, because I'm sure there was more) was to consider what you enjoy.  In other words, the personal "perk" you get from performing a task yourself is also a factor in the "value" equation.  If mowing the lawn is something you really enjoy, or you prefer doing it yourself because you are particular about how it is done, or the satisfaction you get from doing it yourself and saving the money is a "plus" in your energy category, then this may outweigh the basic dollars per hour calculation above.

The same is true with mom-energy, even if we don't have an actual paycheck calculation.  Matt has a degree in economics and he is always reminding me of "implicit cost".  In other words, I may be able to find kids' jeans cheaper at a thrift store ... if I don't mind making several trips, if I don't mind weeding through rows of clothes, if can find the sizes I need and if I check them thoroughly for stains.  But if I walk into Kohl's and grab the pairs I need in the sizes I need and walk out ten minutes later, that may be worth the extra (and it might not be that much extra) cost, because time is money.  And stress is costly!

This applies to hundreds of areas of life.  Why do you choose to ... breastfeed or not, use cloth diapers or not, make your own bread or not, paint rooms yourself or not, even (yes, I'm saying it) homeschool or not?  At the end of the day, it isn't a simple right/wrong decision.  And it isn't only a money decision.  It's a broader cost-benefit analysis.  You may not think of it that way consciously, but it is.

One person uses cloth diapers because the things on the "plus" side (whichever things those might be fore her) outweigh the things on the "minus" side.  Reusing something for multiple children gives such a feeling of satisfaction that it outweighs the not-so-bad (to her) job of rinsing dirty diapers.  For another, the the cost of disposables is small (with relation to her household income) and is well worth it compared to the fact that cloth diapers make mommy the only person in the household who is qualified to change and dispose of diapers.

So when I consider going without textbooks, it isn't really a consideration of "right" and "wrong".  It's not even about "good", "better" and "best" (more about that in another post).  It's really about the cost-benefit analysis for our family and, more specifically, for me personally.

Here's a sketch of the "cost" of going without textbooks ...
  • No ready-made material on hand (more time and brainpower needed to make things by hand)
  • Missing out on the colorful, professional layouts
  • More responsibility rests on me to choose (i.e. research and decide on) the scope and sequence (not just within the year, but from one year to another)
But here are (on my balance sheet) are the benefits of dropping textbooks ...
As I read over these, I realize that each one could use some explaining.  Actually, each one could probably use its own blog post.  So for now I'll leave it as it is and come back and retro-link each one as I have a chance to write on it elsewhere. [done!]  As you read over this list, you may realize that some things in the "cost" category would be huge costs for you.  And maybe some of the things in the "benefits" category don't seem like much of a benefit (or would even qualify as a "cost" for you).  This would be one of those areas where knowing yourself and making decisions accordingly will be of great benefit to you and to your family!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Snag a Deal?

If you've been thinking about reading Teaching from Rest, may I kindly suggest the audio files?  No shipping charges and they are read by Sarah Mackenzie herself.  (Yes, she is cheerful and perky, but in a fun, friendly, chatting-at-the-kitchen-table kind of way.)  Also, Classical Academic Press is currently offering a 20% off discount (on all of their materials, actually, including this one).  It's only $8 to begin with.  Calculate in the savings and you could be listening to some really encouraging stuff in moments for less than six and a half bucks.

(Use code CAPTY20 when you check out.  It's only valid through March 31, 2016.)

The Teaching from Rest Companion Files are also no-shipping/downloadable files and also eligible for the 20% discount.

I'm not an affiliate.  I don't get any kickbacks.  CAP didn't ask me to say this.

Textbooks and Training Wheels

I wrote the very first post for this blog (with the same graphic) early one Monday morning before the kids were up.  I had a crazy plan.  I had been talking to my dad and my brother some about it.  And I wanted to start documenting it from the beginning.  So I started the blog.  I meant to talk about the training wheels analogy at some point.  And I meant to talk about why I would think about going without textbooks.  And then life kinda happened.  And this whole journey churned up a lot of other thoughts to process that ended up as blog posts.  So, here I am again, back to the start to finish what I began.  What does this blog have to do with training wheels?

We had our first homebirth with the birth of our fourth baby.  While part of me thought "I wish I had done it this way all along!" another part of me wondered if I really would have been up for that.  Perhaps, in God's providence, it was the right thing for me to have a few babies in the hospital before coming across the idea of homebirth.  I feel the same way about going without textbooks.  I haven't even finally decided if this will work for us.  But I feel pretty sure that it wouldn't have worked for me from the beginning (though I am sure that there are plenty of moms out there who take off sans-textbook from the word go).  I needed time to get my balance, so to speak, and, honestly, to mature a little bit.  That is why I use the analogy of training wheels.  I'm glad I learned to homeschool with textbooks.  Now I'd like to try without and see if we can enjoy and manage the freedom (and risk!).

However, I want to be very clear that I didn't choose that analogy because I wanted to set no-textbooks as superior to or more sophisticated than using textbooks.  I don't even see it as something that all homeschooling moms are or should be working towards.  It was just that on that Monday morning, our new experiment felt to me like taking the training wheels of my bike for the first time.  Exhilarating ... yet terrifying!

So many times as I read through Teaching from Rest, I felt like Sarah Mackenzie had reached into my own brain, scooped out my half-formed thoughts and composed them into eloquent, coherent sentences.  Here's one example that applies to this discussion:
Whether or not you purchase open-and-go curriculum doesn't really matter.  You can pretty much forget all the heated discussions about whether you are caving in to school-at-home if you use traditional workbooks or a straight-from-the-box curriculum.  I know successful homeschooling families who use textbooks and successful homeschooling families who eschew them.  I don't think that's a relevant debate to be having if you want to teach from rest and become happy, content, peaceful and effective homeschooling moms.
If I have one point to argue about using textbooks, it isn't that you should or shouldn't.  It's just that you don't have to.  I don't yet  know which camp I will land in.  As this point, I think it likely we'll use textbooks for some subjects and not for others.  But either way, this experiment has been worth it, because I now know that I can decide based on what works best for us!

DIY Math on the Level

As much as I have raved about Math on the Level (and I DO love what I know of it and WOULD recommend it if anyone was considering it) I haven't actually purchased a copy of the material.  I have looked over a friend's copy of the material, read everything there is to read on the website and taken a few webinars with the author.  But at the moment, part of our "experiment" is testing out a kind of a home-grown version of a Math-on-the-Level-like system.

From what I know (and chime in if you know better than I do) here are the essential things Math on the Level offers:

  1. What to Teach - Math on the Level clearly outlines and describes what your children need to understand and what skills they need to master in order to be ready for Algebra.
  2. How to Teach - Math on the Level books are full of very detailed explanations of each topic and lots and lots of good ideas about how to teach math and specific suggestions about how to help your children encounter individual topics, especially in "living math" ways.
  3. How to Assess - The primary means of assessment is in face-to-face interaction with your student as you teach the lesson.  The material also includes many, many practice problems (and answers) for each topic so that you will have plenty of options for making up their Five-A-Days.  Also, the record keeping system (either by spreadsheet or paper/pencil) enables you to know what has been mastered and what needs review.
At this point, my working theory is that I have resources available to accomplish all three of these these things.
  1. What to Teach - Using a combination of the table of contents to the math textbooks my kids have used in the past (because I still have the answer keys), the Mathematics Common Core lists and the Math on the Level list, I've put together my own list of topics.  (It's basically the same as the Math on the Level list, with a few additions/modifications.)
  2. How to Teach - This is the part I love best and that I most appreciate having the freedom to do on my own.  However (ironically?) it's also the part where I feel the most insecurity.  If I purchase my own copy of Math on the Level, it will be mostly for this reason - because I want to make sure that I teach each concept completely and thoroughly.  We've also been making use of Math Antics and  Kahn Academy to help us out with the how-to-explain-this aspect.
  3. How to Assess - I love the Math on the Level method.  I've basically adopted that method by use of a free spreadsheet I found on-line (which saved some time, but could be easily made from scratch by someone who had some basic knowledge of spreadsheets).  I already believe strongly in assessment by conversation (even in math) and am liking the new method of only five practice problems a day just to ensure that skills stay sharp.  Also, since I have teacher answer keys from all of the children's past Abeka textbooks, I have an enormous supply of practice problems (and answers).  And, of course, the Internet (including  Math Antics and  Kahn Academy) contains abundant resources for practice.  Of course, the benefit of the Math on the Level practice problems is that they are arranged and indexed by topic making it much easier to grab just what you need.
So, will this DIY method work?  Or will I end up purchasing a (used?) copy of Math on the Level?  Or, will I throw my hands in the air and just order everyone an Abeka textbooks for next year?  Stay tuned to find out.  Or, watch paint dry.  Either way, should keep you on the edge of your seat and provide great family entertainment. ;-)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Flu and Freedom

After Hazel's surgery, Matt got the flu.  And then he kindly shared it with each of us in turn.  I thought I had the worst of it Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  I was wrong.  Tuesday was so bad I had to ask Matt to stay home from work.  Yesterday I was just barely well enough to be the grown-up in charge.  And it was a wonderful day.  Not in every way.  But in some ways of good, long-term importance.

Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching from Rest also has a blog and a podcast.  (See ... that's why I didn't want to read her book.  What kind of normal mother of six children can do those things?  Plus in her blog pictures, she looks perky.  And showered.  Clearly she is in super-woman territory and I don't fit in that category.  But I digress ...).  The same friend who finally convinced me to read Teaching from Rest has also been "pestering" (and I use that term in the nicest possible way) me to check out Sarah's podcast.  There is a members-only side of the site that includes author events, extra resources and what she calls "Master Classes".

So, because I was stuck in bed and needed encouragement even more than I needed physical healing (which is saying a lot) I decided to take the plunge.  After all, I am forever grateful that I finally gave in and read Teaching from Rest.  So the chances were good this friend knows me well enough to know what will bless my soul.  I took a Master Class she recommended (and was also taking) called "Focus and Align" and it was UH-mazing.

Sarah led us through several steps in considering our particular family, our gifts, what works for us and what is important to us.  For example, in one of the exercises, Sarah asked us to imagine that our children were sitting down to a meal with friends some 20 years from now and someone asks "So, you were homeschooled. What was that like?"  What words do I hope will come to mind?  What are the things that I most want my children to remember as their experience of childhood and homeschool?

These activities helped to take me beyond the ground-level focus on "math" and "handwriting" and more towards the goals, practices and atmosphere of my home.  We then used this thinking and exploration to create our family "Rule of Six" - six things that are foundational to our family and which we hope to do every day.  Here is how ours turned out.  (And below it are two other prettier versions from my Sarah Mackenzie-pushing friend that she fancied up for me!)

I completed this activity Tuesday evening.  By Wednesday, when I was on my own again with all the kiddos, somehow, "homeschool" seemed more manageable.  If these were the six most important things to do every day, in big, broad brush strokes, then I could adapt them to something I could do from the bed as well.  In fact, we opened our homeschool day by talking about our new "Rule of Six".  The kids were excited.  Tonight at dinner we talked about what we did yesterday and today that involved each item on the list.  It may seem like a small thing, but it reminded this Mama that good, important and grace-infused things are happening right here, every day.  Even on flu days.

P.S. Our assignment was to make up our own Rule of Six and share it on social media, tagged #RARruleof6.  If you want to see what other folks have come up with, check out that hashtag.  What is so beautiful is that they are all different!  There is not one "expert version".  We are each the experts on our own homes and our own children!

Monday, February 8, 2016

All You Need to Know

While Teaching from Rest (and the companion material) has been inspiring my soul and driving my contemplation of why I am doing what I am doing, Math on the Level has inspired contemplation into the how of our homeschooling.  But then it got more interesting.  There has been a fascinating interplay between the two sources.  And it has been this convergence of ideas that has kept me searching and experimenting!

A long time ago I recognized in myself a propensity to create frustration for myself by stewing over what my children should be able to do.  "She is [x] years old!  She should be able to go upstairs and straighten her room without constant supervision!"  "He is in [x] grade!  He should be able to read at a higher level!"  "She should be able to focus on her work for more than [x] minutes at a time!"  "It should not take a [x]-year-old this long to [complete a given task]!"

But where do all these "shoulds" come from?  If I'm honest with myself, they come from the fact that I decide how well I am doing as a mother by comparing myself to other mothers and their children.  Not only is this a shaky and inaccurate way to determine if I'm doing my job well, it fosters an attitude of competition rather than cooperation.  If your kid does worse, my kid looks better, right?  It's hard not to take satisfaction in your failures if they make me look like I have a leg up. And, as destructive as it can be to friendships to compare myself and my children with others, it is far more destructive to my children.

But what if you aren't comparing your children to other real-life children, just to "theoretical" children or "the average child"?  Isn't there some value, you might ask, in knowing what a "fourth grader" should be able to read or in having clear expectations for a "three year old"?  Well, yes and no.

When I taught in a public school setting, it was necessary for someone (in our case the Virginia Department of Education via the Standards of Learning) to organize material by grade level simply to facilitate the division of labor.  If the third grade teachers and the fourth grade teachers both taught Virginia history and nobody covered Ancient Rome, there would be a problem.  It was also useful to have math and language topics arranged by relative complexity to give teachers a general understanding of what concepts were reasonable to teach to a Kindergartener as compared to a fifth grader.

But what if you remove the division-of-labor factor?  What if you are a homeschool mom?  Or, what if you are a parent teaching your child a skill like putting away the silverware, sitting quietly in church or keeping her attention on a job?  Yes, it is still helpful to know what is reasonable to expect at a given age or stage.  But in another sense, it is somewhat irrelevant.

Let's say, for whatever reason, based on whatever statistical or anecdotal evidence, I'm convinced that my child should be further along in math or reading or should be able to sit still in church better than she does.  How much of an impact should that have on what I do today or tomorrow?  Regardless of where you start out this morning, what you should expect from your child today is one day's worth of progress.

In his conversation with Sarah Mackenzie, Andrew Kern said, "To what level has my child mastered this skill?  And what is next?  Nothing else matters."  I tend to agree.  I need to know where my child is.  And I need to know what the next step is in helping him grow.  And that's it.  Yes, it's OK to have a general concept of what you're aiming for.  And it's OK to observe how your child compares to "the average child" as a part of understanding his strengths and weaknesses.  But when it comes down to today, the task is still the same: make one day's worth of progress on the journey.

Math on the Level has shown me a practical way to do both of those things - know where my child is and decide where to go from here - and with less of a focus on the "should" of other children.  I love it when ideas from different venues harmonize!

Anxiety - the Noble Sin

Sarah Mackenzie says that "rest is the virtue between negligence and anxiety".  In the companion journal to Teaching from Rest she asks the reader to consider whether she tends more towards negligence or anxiety.  Mentally I answered quickly "I tend more towards anxiety!"

On the face of it, who would ever wish to be anxiety-prone?  Who wants to be thought of (or to think of themselves as) stressed out?  However (now be honest with me, or at least with yourself) if given the choice, would you rather be thought of as anxious ... or as negligent?

We live in a society that values productivity and efficiency.  Being stressed is a sign of drive and industry.  Being negligent is just plain unattractive.

When we first moved into our current home and people would come over to visit, I would give them a tour.  Matt came to refer to it as the "apology tour".  I didn't want anyone to think that I lacked vision or purpose, so my comments about every room involved making definite statements about what I didn't like about the room and how I planned to change it.  If I couldn't show off what I had actually done, at least I could let everybody know that I was constantly thinking about what I should be doing.  What was missing was a simple contentment with and gratitude for what the Lord had provided.

I've carried over the same attitude to my mothering.  If my kids aren't where I think they should be, if I haven't included everything in our schedule that I feel we should, if other people are accomplishing things that I'm not, at least I can communicate to people that I am constantly tied up in knots about what I'm not doing.  Doesn't that seem more noble than falling short and being OK with it?  Or, put another way, if I criticize myself first, I preempt any chance for someone else to do it for me.

Of course, I wouldn't describe myself (out loud, at least) as anxiety-prone.  I have much more attractive ways of framing my condition.  I care deeply about my children's upbringing.  I take this job very seriously.  I accept my personal responsibility for these decisions and practices.  After all, who could fault me for caring too much?

So, not only did I have to honestly admit that I am more prone to anxiety, I am actually willing to believe that anxiety is the anecdote to negligence.  Let me rephrase that: I am convinced that describing myself as anxious is the anecdote to being perceived as negligent.  After all, if you aren't stressing over something, you must not care too much about it, right?  Truth be told, I think I somehow manage to be both negligent and anxious at the same time!

Another time I'd like to do a follow-up post to share some insights on anxiety from Sarah Mackenzie's interview with Andrew Kern (another one of the items in the Teaching from Rest Companion files).

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Letting Go

My mother has always been a master of illustrations and analogies.  I can still vividly recall dozens of picture images she used to explain spiritual and intangible concepts to us as children and even now that we are adults.  Once a few years ago at a gathering of young moms, she used the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish as an analogy for our job as mothers.  There is no possible way we can accomplish feeding 5,000 hungry people (raising our children to godly adulthood) in our own strength.  Instead we must allow him to use our bread and fish (our gifts and resources) to accomplish his purposes.

Sarah Mackenzie uses this same analogy in Teaching from Rest in Part One: Whose "Well Done" Are You Working For? (Please note: Even if you aren't a homeschool mom, please keep reading.  This has nothing to do with homeschooling - really - and everything to do with being a finite human tasked with kingdom work!)
Just like the disciples, I see this huge throng of people to feed - this seeming impossibility.  The shaping of souls and raising of children, the mopping of floors, washing of dishes, bandaging of scraped knees and hearts and worries, the teaching and admonishing and doling out myself.  It's all too much ... I fall to my knees and I cry out to God.  We're a throng of hungry people in the desert, and I'm supposed to feed them. On an ordinary Monday, I am in need of a miracle of biblical proportions.  
It isn't that I have nothing, exactly.  I have my little basket.  I can read aloud pretty well.  I'm good at organizing things on paper.  I can make a decent pot of chili and I know how to push a vacuum.  I love my children with all of my being and I have a real desire to watch them grow to love and serve Him.  I don't really have any idea how I'm supposed to tackle everything ahead of me in this day, this year, this decade when that's all I've got.  It's just a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish. 
Apparently that's all He needs.
As I have contemplated this recently, one thought that came to mind was that the little boy who brought the loaves and the fish had to do something really hard.  Offering his food to the Lord meant letting go of the only thing he had.  He was a hungry person in the desert, too, after all.  He didn't get to hold back on a loaf or two, giving the rest to the Lord for miracle-working.  He had to give it all up.

I don't want to try to read things into this Biblical account that aren't intended to be there.  God doesn't tell us (and if he doesn't, he must have his reasons) how the boy was feeling, if he had much time to contemplate the request or if his parents were there to help him process it all.  The only thing we know is that he gave all his food away, that he (like everyone else) was fed until he had enough and that his letting go was one small part of the unfolding of God's plan.

So what does it look like to "let go"?  Does that mean sitting on the sofa and waiting around for God to work?  Does it mean making no plans or refraining from giving my children any structure or direction?  Does it mean that planning, activity and effort are signs of resistance and rebellion?

I'm still chewing on this thought, still working through what it looks like to trust the Lord with my gifts and resources, to use them to seek first his kingdom and trust that "all these things" will be added unto me.  But one place I have been convicted is my lack of prayer.  (What follows are my own reflections on me.  Apply only as applicable.)

If I'm honest, I have to admit that when I'm up in the morning before the children, I find far more comfort in using a 15 or 20 minute chunk of time to get some laundry started, pay some bills or do something else that gives me a feeling of productivity and a foothold on the day, than I do taking that time to pray.  I don't think that Scripture requires us to pray for 20 minutes every morning or to pray every morning or to pray instead of paying bills or anything specific like that.  However, I do know that my heart usually runs first to "doing" rather than to "trusting".

Sarah Mackenzie writes,
An indispensable part of bringing our basket, prayer puts aside "doing" in favor of "being" and "becoming": being in his presence and becoming more like Him.
It's not that prayer is a twisting of God's arm to enforce the meeting of our desires.  Rather, prayer - handing over my basket to God - is a way for me to acknowledge that it was never mine to begin with and that I'm OK with him using it however he sees fit.  I'll leave you with two more gems from Teaching from Rest ...
Before we attempt to live a day well, teach our children, or tackle our to-dos, first we put the whole thing at his feet.  We beg God to use us to fulfill His purpose, and then we see that every frustration in the day ahead is an answer to that very prayer. [emphasis mine]
We are weary because we forget about grace.  We act as though God showing up is the miracle.  But guess what?  God's showing up is a given.  Grace is a fact.
Why would I not want to start my day by soaking in that truth for a while?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Details on Demand - Part 2

In my first Details on Demand post I talked about how a friend suggested Math on the Level and what an amazing discovery that was.  However, the post was getting long, time was getting short and, to be honest, my spreadsheet wasn't finished yet.  Now that I've got a completed spreadsheet under my belt (that's an odd mental image, isn't it?) and a little more time, here's the rest of the summary overview of our new system.

In the last post, I shared an image of the main/first page of our spreadsheet:

This worksheet lists all the concepts to be tacked before Algebra.  The X's on the right simply indicate mastery - concepts that are ready for review.  However, I also have separate worksheets for each child.

Each child's individual worksheet enables me to track not only what concepts they need to review, but how often they need to review them, when they have recently reviewed that topic and how they fared with it.  Here's a sample of Luke's worksheet.

"Max intended" lists how frequently I'd like Luke to practice this concept.  Because I'm just getting my feet wet (and because Luke has a ton to review ... this is only about half of his list) I've put most everything at 21 days (once every three weeks).  However, he had a little difficulty with #76 Converting Between Customary Units, so I upgraded that to a once-a-week (7 days) review.  The blue column shows how many days have passed since the last practice and the column to the right of that displays *** if the topic is up for review.

As I assign new problems, I put in the date to the right.  The gray column tracks the most recent time that topic was covered.  I took this screen snip after assigning Luke 5-A-Days for 2/3/16 but before updating the spreadsheet to show how well he did so that you could see the ones assigned for a particular day.  Even though he only does five problems per day, one problem can review multiple concepts.  For example, I was able to ask one question that addressed both #10 and #11 and another question that addressed both #7 and #129 (Comparing Fractions).

Problems given on previous days and already checked have been color coded.  Green means he got it correct.  Yellow indicates a problem he missed, but was able to correct without any help.  Red (not shown here) indicates he had trouble and needed help.  More than one red and I'll reassess whether this is really a concept that belongs in the "mastered, ready for review" group.

For comparison, here's Robyn's personal worksheet.

While the screen snip from Luke's page showed only a portion of his review concepts, this is everything for Robyn.  A much smaller list.  And so a much more frequent rotation.

Another day I'll go into more detail about why this system is so great for us.  And I know I've just dropped a blizzard of new blog posts on folks, so feel free to take a few days to sift through it all.  It may be that long before I get back to adding anything new because my next project is to get the Language spreadsheet up and running.  Enjoy your weekend!

P.S. There is a Youtube Video giving more detail about how to use this spreadsheet narrated by the person who created it (a Math on the Level homeschool mom).  It won't be of much use/interest to you, unless you are thinking of personally adopting this kind of system.  Otherwise the summary above is sufficient.

Day 8: No Five-A-Days

We did morning school time as usual.  But I chose to forego the Five-A-Days because we were so behind in Latin.  We used the afternoon time to help the older children catch up on that work.  It reminded me of why I am so excited about the idea of not having textbooks, because it eliminates the concept of being "behind" and needing to cram many days worth of work into one or two days.  It reminds me of the need to make resources work for me ... and not the other way around!

Day 7: Failure or Flexibility?

Because I stayed up (too) late the night before working on the math spreadsheet ... and because the person I was sleeping next to spent the night dealing with fever and chills, I was a tired, tired girl in the morning.  I hadn't made any Five-A-Days for the kids. So, here was the true test.  Our experiment met its first big trial-by-fire.

I do have a tendency to procrastinate.  Sometimes I choose not to work because the work seems overwhelming.  But sometimes I choose "fun" work (like getting a spreadsheet up and running) over less fun work (like writing out Five-A-Day questions).  The night before I was telling myself I'd get up early and do them before the children woke up (which I have done several times over the course of this experiment).  When that didn't happen, I told myself I'd find a time somewhere to fit them in during the morning, since the kids didn't have to do them until the afternoon.

The result was that everybody had Math 5-A-Days, but nobody had any language.  So, was this a failure of the system (or a proof that I don't have the character qualities for a system like this)?  In hindsight, I truly think not.

First, the night before, what I had spent about three hours doing was setting up the review-topics section of the spreadsheet for each individual kid.  Yes, this was fun (for me).  But just because I'm enjoying my work doesn't necessarily prove I'm being lazy, selfish, weak or [insert other pejorative character trait].  This was good work that needed to be done.  And it was one-time kinda work.  Maintaining the spreadsheet on a daily basis will take moments, compared to the hours the initial set-up process took.  (Good thing I enjoy that kinda work, right?)

Secondly, because the math spreadsheet was fully up and running, and the language one wasn't (still isn't) it gave me a great chance to compare the process of making 5-A-Days with and without a fully functional spreadsheet!  Getting math set up was fun and easy - look down the list of topics that need review, pick a few and make questions to fit.  Language, on the other hand, was daunting (and so never got done) because it was more of a mental effort.  Not as much of the planning was laid out for me.

So, in the end, I think Day 7 was a great success.  We did morning school smoothly.  And I had a chance to see what a great resource and tool the spreadsheet is!  Gives me even more motivation to get another (others?) up and functional!!

Day 6: Sub Plans

My mother and father came over to stay with the children while we took Hazel to the hospital for her procedure.  I was able to leave them with some Five-A-Day's to give the children and  a few other activities, mostly just so that the children would have some structure and routine and not suffer from running-wild-because-I-have-no-structure-or-routine syndrome.  For the most part it went smoothly.  One kid had more trouble that I would have expected with math and another more trouble than I would have expected with language.  But in my mind, it was still a success because ...

1. I was able to leave them work to practice which was productive and yet was review so (theoretically) didn't require individual instruction to prepare them to complete it.

2. Because each of their questions was aimed at a specific objective, the work that didn't go as well as planned wasn't a waste of time.  It was data gathering towards a clearer understanding of what has been mastered and has clearly move into "review" territory ... and what hasn't!

That evening, Matt was exhausted and went to bed earlier (because, as we found out in the nigh, he was coming down with the flu!) so I used the evening to go over the kids' Five-A-Days with them.  I also stayed up until midnight finishing the foundation-laying work on the spreadsheet - not because I felt I had to, but because I'm a dork and that's something I find fun.

I know I still haven't finished explaining how I've gone about selecting those Five-A-Day questions.  Hopefully I'll be able to cover that today.

Staff Development Day

I'll be honest; this has been a tough week.

Monday: Toddler breaks arm at 10 am, day spent visiting doctors, night spent comforting a hurting child.
Tuesday: Spent in a hospital, including handing over my weeping toddler to strangers for my first ever experience of one of my children under general anesthesia.

Wednesday - Thursday: Husband has the flu and is out of commission entirely.
Friday: I'm toast.  And I'm an emotional basket case.  And today is my baby's first birthday.  Cause for thanksgiving and celebration, but also cause for reflecting on the past year which has, without a doubt, been the hardest. year. yet.

So, we did some light chores (regular stuff for a Friday) and now I'm giving myself a day to reflect and process, which I do best through writing.  I've actually been processing through writing for years, but in the form of documents on my computer.  I never felt comfortable blogging because I never felt like I had any "answers".  Now I've realized that what I have to share isn't answers, but questions - the journey, not the endpoint.  And it is such a relief to share.  So maybe I'll get caught up on the blog?

Side note: I don't know how anyone ever managed to homeschool (and stay sane) before Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Day 5: When Plans Change

(Note: We homeschool Monday through Thursday.  So today was Day 5 of the experiment.)

This morning we were on a good track.  Breakfast was done, chores were happening and we were moments from sitting down for "morning time".  And then Hazel fell off my bed and broke both of the bones in her right forearm.  Daddy came home and watched everyone while Mama and Luke took Hazel from one doctor to another.  Poor little lady.

But, though there was no direct instruction today, the children were still able to complete the 5-A-Day work I had already prepared.  And this evening, I went over it with them and they made some corrections.  Tomorrow I should be able to leave them with another set to complete.  This experiment is far from over, but this method sure has proven to flex as well as a circus contortionist!

Details on Demand

I'm determined to get in a post on some of the details of our experiment because my family has been asking about it.  It's a big question to answer, and there is a lot of "Teaching from Rest" intertwined in the process towards this plan.  But explaining Math on the Level will go a long way towards explaining what it is we are trying out.  As I said at the end of the last post, a friend recommended Math on the Level.  I had a chance to explore the idea on the website, on the Yahoo support group and by looking through her copy of the curriculum.

Math on the Level (MotL) is a complete pre-K through pre-algebra math program developed by a homeschool mom.  Instead of thinking of math in grade levels, she lists all of the topics that a student would need to cover through eighth grade (or in order to be ready for algebra).  The topics are organized into four categories - Operations, Geometry & Measurement, Fractions and Money & Decimals.  Within a category, the topics are organized approximately by complexity.  You, as the mom, can choose which topic you'd like to teach next.  There is no set minimum or maximum to cover each year.  You teach what your child is developmentally ready to explore.  She recommends that you cover topics from each of the four core books each year.

The MotL curriculum packs come with a book called "Math Resources" which demonstrates use of graphs and other visuals and a book called "Math Adventures" which is loaded with ideas for learning math through everyday activities like cooking, shopping and (of course!!) board gaming. :-)  The MotL Record Keeping book explains the (genius) record-keeping method that helps moms/teachers keep track of what has been mastered and needs to be reviewed.  And finally, there is a teacher guide for each of the categories which includes detailed, thoroughly illustrated and very helpful explanations of each topic.  In the back of each category book are oodles of practice problems for each of the topics.

Mastery of a topic is assessed through personal interaction and discussion.  The paper-pencil work is saved for review.  That's where the genius record keeping method comes in handy.  Moms/teachers keep a paper copy or spreadsheet copy of the topics to be covered and mark those mastered by students.  Mastered topics are then copied to another list which is used for selecting five problems a day for students to complete to review previously mastered topics.

What makes this system particularly brilliant is that the author has detailed which more-complex topics replace earlier less-complex topics so that students do not need to continue to review more basic skills when those skills are incorporated into the more complex processes.  Here is a little snippet of the spreadsheet I'm developing for our family.

See the column labeled Rep/Drop?  That lets teachers know when they can drop review of this topic because it is replace by another or if can simply be dropped from the review rotation once mastered.  In the next post, I'll take time to explain the lists of topics for review and how I've been developing the 5-A-Day problems for our experiment!