From instant messaging last night: “Rob, we finally committed to planning homeschool next year. I have my son’s math curriculum down to Teaching Textbooks and Abeka Math. What do you recommend?”
“Neither. I responded. “Let’s get some work done first!”
COVID-related distance learning failed because because schools tried to convert classrooms into video products. However, one is not the other. Don’t worry, though, your homeschool will look nothing like that. If you’re just getting started, you recognize this and understand my friend’s excitement.
Scratch that, if you’re any kind of homeschooler, you recognize this feeling — the lure of fresh books and the desire to get started. And why not? You’ve followed your state’s mandatory withdrawal procedures. You’ve committed to homeschool with conviction, and you’re not looking back … the doors of the brick-and-mortar are literally hitting you in the behind. Get on Amazon, stat … right?
The good news is that planning homeschool actually means learning how to slow down to a crawl, gracefully. If you’re in the initial process of de-schooling, this is particularly important. Let me explain.
In a previous post, I mentioned the importance of tempering the desire to purchase curriculum until you’ve accomplished several things first. I know this is a difficult step. Opinions about curriculum pack every, single homeschool Facebook group. Everyone has a favorite, and every family is more than willing to sell the benefits of what they’ve chosen. It makes sense, after all. We’ve all committed and sacrificed to be in this position, and we all desire the satisfaction of believing we have made the best choice. Our family has experimented with several different styles and methods, but I always follow this procedure before we finally hit our stride for the year. Here’s how it works.
Before I make my curriculum selections, I map out my important high level goals for the year. To do this, I brainstorm one, big list on a white board. My list contains everything I want to achieve daily for the year. Remember, this includes everything that builds character as well — chores, prayers, deeds, whatever you feel is important.
The takeaway: plan first, purchase later
On the list, I separate learning products like literature curriculum and personal reading. The reason I do this is because they’re sort of different pursuits. We have a more traditional homeschooling style; however, and it’s difficult for my children to gain traction by just jumping into the daily grind of traditional curriculum. So, I have them choose living books relative to their upcoming year in subjects like history. Before my son starts American History this year, he chose to read Everyday Life in Early America by David Hawke. I want them reading.
More than anything … I want them reading.
I should mention that I make a distinction between number sense and math curriculum. For example, in the beginning, I’m absolutely fine watching my boys play chess, black jack, or poker. There is a tremendous amount of math going on in the background. Relax … 99% of being an effective homeschool parent is understanding that this is a long, long walk. It’s not a race. With the exception of a few states, nobody is counting butt-in-the-seat hours. It’s your home … your school. The shiny textbook can wait a few weeks.
Once I’ve completed my master list, I map three phases. In the beginning, we don’t do much, and each subsequent phase is filled with more pursuits. This drives my type-A wife out of her mind, but it pays off in the Fall when they’re quietly working in an angst-free house.
Following some sort of fun school-year kick-off, I keep things extremely simple. Ironically, I learned this as a teacher from Harry K. Wong who teaches the principle of slowly adding meaningful procedures. The idea here is that children need some sort of consistency and mutual expectation. Now, is there anything special about what we’re doing in Phase 1? Of course not. However, I’m utilizing more structure to the how and when that they’re doing those tasks. Predictability is key. It also signals that a new school year is beginning. We focus on chores, outdoor play, personal reading time, devotionals, number sense (math games) and peaceful time alone.
In addition to Phase 1 activities, I begin spoon-feeding more academic pursuits. When Phase 2 begins is really up to you. You’ll know when the tasks in Phase 1 are completed without consternation and angst. One week or four weeks, it really doesn’t matter. I add things like history-reading, art appreciation, handwriting and gift pursuits (piano, gymnastics).
Finally, I complete the transition to academic curriculum. Until this phase, I haven’t cracked a textbook of any kind. At this point, more formalized history, math, literature, spelling and field trips are on the table.
By the end of Phase 3, my school year will be purring along. Everyone will know what’s expected of them, and my job should be ridiculously easy. Since my older kids are independent learners, I’m left with the joy of working with the younger ones — watching them explore and learn.
A word of caution — if you have children who are easily distracted by electronics and gaming, I urge you to trim this time down substantially. You will lose this battle. With my gamer children, there is no competition between XBOX and school pursuits, so those times have to remain separate while occurring at predictable times separate from school.
That’s it! In my next post, I’ll talk about curriculum selection and how to make sure your curriculum matches your learning style and methods!