Homeschooling Lessons, Part 1

Our first week of homeschooling, August 2009

I mentioned yesterday that in the years we have been homeschooling, I have learned a few lessons. Coming to grips with some of these things has smoothed our home education road. As I think back on our first year and how incredibly hard it was, I am thankful that lessons have been learned and I am a much better homeschooling mom now than I was then.

Before I share my thoughts a little bit more thoroughly, let me re-emphasize that these are my lessons. These are the thoughts and convictions that shape our home and our education. Underlying these thoughts are assumptions and beliefs about God, His plan for family, and His lavish grace and His new daily mercies. I believe that my own walk with the Lord affects my homeschooling path. I am hopeful that in years to come, my homeschooling will improve as I lean in closer to my Savior and discern more of what His plans are for our family.

That said, let me elaborate...

1. The best curriculum is the one that gets done.

I think that this is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. By nature I am a creative thinker. I am always excited to try new things, to get messy, and to push the boundaries. One of the most exciting parts of homeschooling for me (before I started) was the idea of getting to plan elaborate projects, amazing art lessons, intriguing unit studies, and exciting nature explorations. My own elementary education was highlighted with a few creative teachers who had us do fun things like build castles out of styrofoam and choose projects to do on China from a Chinese "menu" with the "prices" being the points we would receive for the project. My mind gets giddy thinking about can be done with an endless source of craft supplies.

In our first year, I tried to live out this fantasy. And when it worked, I loved it. I loved painting with leaves, wrapping mummies, "flying" around the world with our passports as we studied different countries. It was so, so fun. But, it was also a lot of work. A lot of planning. And when I made time for these activities (both their planning and their execution), it left no time for other important things. Like math. Like reading to my children. Like meals ready on time. Like having my evenings free to spend time with my husband. I would get so exhausted after a few weeks of heavy planning and prepping that I would then not do anything. Sometimes, for weeks. Not really the best approach to educating my kids.

I had to learn the hard way that as much as this approach to school excites me, it doesn't work for us. That isn't to say we don't ever do projects, because we do, but it isn't the focus of our curriculum. Instead, I have had to choose curriculum that requires less planning and prep work. We have moved to curriculum that actually gets done. There are so many curriculum choices for homeschoolers. I would love to try them all. But in the end, I have to choose what works for us. I have to choose curriculum that doesn't get discarded after week two because there is too much prep. I have to choose curriculum that doesn't work against the grain of our personalities. I have to choose curriculum that meets the needs of a family with six children age 10 and below. I have to choose curriculum that works with our overseas living. I have to choose curriculum that allows us a very flexible schedule, both daily and weekly. I have to choose curriculum that allows my kids to work at their own pace. And I have to choose curriculum that we will actually do. There is nothing worse than pretty and expensive curriculum that never makes it past page 10.

And so, in our fifth year, I am thankful that we have found curriculum that works for us. And not only does it work, but it also gets done and we love it. In fact, we love it so much that we didn't make any changes to our curriculum this year. My wallet is thankful. This isn't the entirety of what we do, but here are a few of my curriculum loves. For our family.

Math Mammoth — Can't say enough good things about this program. I love to sing its praises. This is our fourth year using it and I can't see us ever changing. I was great in math growing up and even I am learning a thing or two. I often tell people that Math Mammoth is a lot like Singapore Math (in that it teaches kids to think mathematically, not just know how to do the problems.) I also love that I can download and print, thus being able to use it for multiple children.

First Language Lessons — Love. Love. That's all there is to it. When I started homeschooling, I had no idea how to teach grammar. FLL makes it so easy. I love how much my kids are learning and retaining. Truth be told, I like how much I am learning and retaining.

Writing With Ease — Love this as well. I believe that before we ask kids to "be creative" when they write, they need to know what good writing looks like.

Handwriting Without Tears — A great systematic way to teach handwriting. I don't do all of the accompanying activities, but the simplicity of the program makes it easy for kids to learn.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons — Teaching children to read scares me. This book makes it so much easier.

Classical Conversations — We aren't in the States, so we aren't part of a CC group, but the memory work over the past year has been amazing. It has helped shaped my views of what I want for my kids and I have seen first hand how the classical approach makes sense. There is something really amazing about watching your children dance around the living room singing about the Western Roman Empire falling to Barbarians 🙂 We have all learned a lot and we have been able to start connecting the dots between history and our Bible lessons. Because we aren't part of a local CC group, we don't feel the pressure to do all of the memory work. We haven't done any Latin and I don't do the grammar (because we already memorize grammar rules as part of FLL). Regardless, it was a great addition to our schooling last year and I am excited to dive in deeper this year.

I am so glad that I have learned to be honest with myself about my personality, my time, my resources, and my desires. It took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I didn't look like other homeschooling moms. Our house isn't covered wall to wall (or floor to ceiling) in books. We don't have science experiments growing all over the house. We don't have a pottery wheel or a xylophone in the living room. But we have happy kids who enjoy school, who are learning a lot, who are enjoying being together, who spend a lot of time outside, who are learning about their own strengths and weaknesses, and who are appreciative of a mom who isn't too stressed with all her school planning that she has no energy to actually teach them anything.

P.S. Alaina informed me that I hadn't updated our kid section since I started this blog two years ago. I finally fixed that!

2 thoughts on “Homeschooling Lessons, Part 1

  1. Fiona

    This is maybe the best tip for a new homeschooler! I’ve been so overwhelmed by curriculum choices, but it’s so true that it’s no good unless it actually gets done. I can just imagine myself doing that….getting all pumped about a topic and putting heaps of effort in, then being exhausted for the next week or so! Ha! Thanks for shraing your family’s curriculum choices!


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