Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My recent epiphany

"I've just had an apostrophe."

"I think you mean epiphany."

I'm probably quoting that wrong, but bonus points if you can tell me what that is from....

In any case, I had a homeschooling epiphany recently. Not a huge one, but a significant one nonetheless. It was something I had thought about before, but it really sunk in and I realized how to use the concept to make a difference in our homeschool - for the better.

Curriculum is a tool. It isn't the goal.

Simple, right? I read something along those lines from Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things (such a wonderful and inspiring homeschooling blog) a while back (and I'm not sure which blog post it was, otherwise I would link to it directly, but seriously, read her stuff). She talked about not letting curriculum rule you, but using curriculum as a tool to achieve a goal. At the time, I nodded along as I read it, thinking I agreed. And I did. But the reality of what that really meant, for ME, here in OUR home, is now becoming apparent. And it is relieving a lot of stress.

I'll explain with an example. This year we are studying US history and geography. I have a very nice US geography curriculum. I looked at how many lessons there are, to give myself an idea of how often we should try to do geography each week. It really stressed me out. After all, there are 50 states, and each state has a number of things to cover. If I thought of the curriculum as the goal, I'd be trying to cram it all in, whether we really have that much time to devote to it or not, because somehow finishing the curriculum in a school year = I did enough geography.

But what if I looked at it differently? What if we have a goal that isn't the curriculum? What if our goal is: learn about the states and capitals. What if I cast off the strictures of the school year and realize we don't have to do this all in one year. We can, and we very well might. But if we don't, is that going to ruin them? Do I have no further chances to teach them about the states and the capitals?

If our goal is "learn about the states and capitals," and the curriculum is our tool for doing so, suddenly my planning (and stressing) is a lot different. I don't have to figure out how to jam learning about 50 states into roughly 36 weeks of school (that would mean more than one state per week - yikes!). I can let it flow as it will. Sometimes we will go through a bunch of states in a week, or even a day, if the kids are into it. Other times we might not cover a new state for a while, if we are busy with other projects. We're flexible like that, and I want to be, but it is hard to maintain flexibility without stress and guilt if the curriculum is the end goal.

So I'm keeping that in mind as we settle into another school year. I'm writing down some goals, and they aren't "finish X curriculum." I'm focusing on what I want the kids to get out of certain subjects, or what I want to emphasize, and the curriculum we use is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. And that feels pretty good.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

First day of school!

I don't know about you, but we had a great summer. There have been so many things I've wanted to write about, but I was a little busy this summer writing a book. (Squee!) We had a summer full of sun and play and lots and lots and lots of free time. My writing frenzy translated into a lot of play outside time for my kids - definitely a good, old fashioned summer. They spent quarters at garage sales, held a lemonade stand, rode bikes, climbed trees and played countless games with their friends in the neighborhood.

All good things must come to an end, and today we joined the ranks of families going back to school. Although by "going" I mean "going downstairs." 

This year I have a fourth grader, a second grader and a kindergartner. It is still sinking in that my youngest baby is five years old and I no longer have a preschooler. I've had at least one child in preschool (or at preschool level) since like 2008. It is crazy to think that my kids are all in the elementary zone.

This is our fourth year of homeschooling (which also seems crazy), and I've learned a lot about what works for us and what doesn't. I've learned that simplicity is a good thing, over-planning (which is my natural tendency) is rarely worth it, my kids come up with better project ideas than I do, and I have to pace myself with read alouds or I lose my voice (that's one I was reminded of today). 

We'll be tackling more writing projects, US history and geography, astronomy and probably some life science later in the year, a lineup of fun books to read and dissect, as well as the mainstays like math and reading and handwriting. 

I'm excited to start another school year with my kids. Every year is different, and we adapt and change, finding new ways to learn and have fun. I don't exactly run a Pinterest-worthy homeschool, but we delve deep into our interests, experience a lot of interesting things, and spend a ton of time creating and building. Like I always say to people who ask me about homeschooling, it works well for our family.

Heck, it works AWESOME for our family.

I'd love to be among those posting cute first day of school pictures of my kids, but so far I have not convinced two of the three to get dressed, so pictures will have to wait. I'm not gonna lie, clothing is definitely optional at the Frank Academy of Awesomeness (although underwear is required).

Happy first day of school!