Through much trial and error, prayer, webinar watching, book reading, podcast listening, and more trial and error—here are six simple things we have implemented into our homeschool that have made all the difference.
- Setting a Vision & Writing Goals that Reflect That Vision
- Spiral Notebook Planning
- Six Weeks On, One Week Off
- Starting Our Day with Bible & Morning Time Symposium–Instead of Math, Grammar, and Writing
- More Reading Aloud by All Family Members
- More Games
Setting a Vision & Writing Goals Which Reflect That Vision
Yes, I am one of those homeschooling moms. I am already dreaming about the wonderful new books we will encounter the next school year. However, I am doing one thing differently this year. I am reviewing the Vision statement I made for our homeschool last fall, before looking at all the shiny new curriculum choices out there. I am looking at our Rule of Six to make sure these options fit the bill and reflect our goals. I have learned that this is MUCH more important than planning out an entire year’s worth of lessons, or trying to fit the curriculum into six six-week terms.
This year, I did not open our math curriculum and try to figure out how I was going to spread it out over 36 weeks. I’m not saying that is a bad thing to do, I just found that for myself, I was becoming a slave to the curriculum. Instead, I set specific math goals for each child. As long as the curriculum met those goals, we progressed forward with it. If more time was needed for mastery, we took it. My vision for our homeschool shifted from “We must finish the book at all costs!” to “We will master each concept and then move on to the next concept.” If I had gone the former route, Rosebud might be finished with Latin for Children Primer A by the end of term, but she would not know her Latin. In fact, she would probably despise her Latin lessons. Instead, we are taking two weeks per lesson this semester so that she has time to really learn the vocabulary, conjugations, and translations. Once all of that clicks, I know she will begin to move at a quicker pace again. What has this given her? It has not only given her mastery, but a love for the subject. She enjoys Latin! It is okay if we finish the first level in the middle of next year. At the same time, my youngest is plowing through Song School Latin: Book One and will probably start Book Two before the school year finishes. As long as she is mastering her vocabulary and delighting in the content, we will keep the pace going.
This mindset has breathed life into our homeschool, and has made me a better guide for my girls. I am no longer anxious that we might be “behind.”
If this resonates with you and you want to learn more, I highly recommend the following:
- Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year, which can be found on her website, Ed Snapshots. There are also free podcasts and videos on vision casting and goal setting that Pam hosts which are very helpful. They are a great place to start, and will help change your mindset about planning.
- Sarah MacKenzie’s Focus and Align, which is a video master class that can be viewed by Read Aloud Revival Members at any time, is a wonderful resource. This is where our Rule of Six came from.
- Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie
- Educating the Whole-Hearted Child by Sarah Clarkson
Spiral Notebook Planning
Oh y’all, this one is SO simple! Again, I’m not saying that Homeschooling Tracker is the wrong thing to do. That may fit your homeschool perfectly! But for me, it wasn’t working and it was causing more stress. This year, I let each girl pick out a spiral notebook that she was excited about. This would be the notebook we would use for assignments for the entire year.
Ideally, on Sunday evening, I will sit down and write Monday’s independent work into their notebooks. Sometimes, I actually do this on Fridays right after school has ended. This is my practice for the remaining days of the week. I find that if I take 10 minutes at the end of the school day to write down the next day’s assignments, it is fresh and in tune with their needs. As the girls complete their assigned tasks, they put a check to the left. I then go in, check their work, and if it is satisfactory–put a check on the right side of the assignment.
It only takes 10 minutes of planning the previous day. That is it. It has fostered independence and a sense of responsibility in my girls. If one child finishes a task, but I am working with the other child on something, that child knows to go on to another task on her own. And, they love checking off the lists!
As the day progresses, I can make notes on their pages for myself. For instance, I might write down, “Make sure __________ reviews her Latin chants from Chapters 11, 12, &14.” Or I might write, “Review Rosebud’s spelling for conceive.” So, its a great way for me to “brain dump” as well so that I don’t forget what I want to review the next day.
In short, spiral notebook planning is a win/win. It is working well for our homeschool and has really streamlined my planning process.
Six Weeks On, One Week Off
The concept of a Sabbath week has completely transformed our homeschool. I cannot say enough wonderful things about this schedule. There is great blessing that awaits your family during break week. I get the chance to just read for fun or catch up on all those podcasts I was missing. I also get to evaluate the last term and adjust as needed. It is a great time to review my Rule of Six, and to see if we are sticking with our goals. I don’t know about you, but I need lots of reminding and reviewing. I often forget and go astray. This Sabbath week helps me to focus upon what is really important.
As a family, we play more board games, go on field trips, sleep in, read aloud big chunks of Harry Potter, and just enjoy a more relaxed schedule. And yes, the girls get to play more Minecraft. I’m not gonna lie. I also get a chance to do some serious meal planning for the next term.
I find that when I come back from a week-long break every six weeks, I start the next term with greater energy and focus. If you are on the fence about implementing this kind of structure, just go on and dive in. You’ll love it and so will your kids.
Starting Our Day with Morning Time (Instead of the “Hard-core” Subjects)
If you are new to this blog, I will take a brief moment to outline our Morning Time Symposium. This is a two hour block when we learn together as a family. The goal is to encounter truth, goodness, and beauty while we talk about ideas and share insights. We start with Bible study and then from there incorporate these elements: memory work, poetry time, fine arts loop, and content area study (history or science). My girls love morning time symposium. It is, without a doubt, their favorite part of our homeschool day. For a year and a half, I had this time placed mid-to-late morning. Recently, during one of our Sabbath weeks, I came to the realization that starting with the harder subjects like math, grammar, and writing was causing stress and consternation. We were all taking that baggage into our precious symposium time, and more often that not, our days were going off the rails. I knew I needed to let go of the idea that the “important” subjects must be covered first. Oh my goodness, listen to me. Yes, math and writing are extremely important, but they do not trump great discussions about poetry, books, the wonder of God’s creation, and the events that have shaped our History. They are not more important than experiencing the great masterpieces of music and art and studying about the men and women who created those masterpieces. Most importantly, they do not take a higher priority than Scripture.
If nothing else, moving math, writing, and latin to our mid-morning has freed up our Bible study time. I don’t feel the “pressure” to stop a biblical discussion in order to start our math lessons. In fact, most of our symposium subjects are on a loop. So, if we don’t get to something in that two hour block, we can just pick it up the next day.
Switching these two “blocks” of time has completely transformed the atmosphere in our home. I get very little attitude during math and writing now. In fact, my girls are discovering the beauty in these subjects, and are more likely to diligently complete their assignments. Our homeschool days are filled with much more delight than drudgery.
More Reading Aloud
This year in January, we participated in the Read Aloud Revival 31 Day Challenge. Wow! What a transformation it made in our lives. Before this challenge Sunshine loved to write and illustrate stories, but she didn’t love reading. Rosebud has always loved reading, but Sunshine found it to be a chore. We were trying all of the recommended series books, but nothing really appealed to her. She just wasn’t falling in love with reading. But all of that changed with the read aloud challenge. In this challenge, the girls were to read aloud for 15 minutes a day. They could read to their dad, to me, to each other, to their favorite stuffed animal, to our dog–to anyone! They just had to do it aloud and not “to self.” Many days I’d stand by Sunshine’s door and listen to her as she read to her dolls. Such exuberant, fluent reading was flowing from her lips! By the end of the month, I would find her sitting on the couch, with a book in hand, reading. “Mom, I want to read this book to you!” “Mom, I’m going to read this book today–and it’s Saturday!”
This challenge made all of us aware of how important it is to read out loud together as a family. If you do nothing else, read aloud together everyday. The questions will come pouring in and the discussion of great ideas will flow freely. Your kids will learn. Truly. Reading aloud really is a part of our family culture now.
I should add that we are now checking out more picture books from the library. There are dozens of delightful stories just waiting to be discovered by your children. Each month, Sarah puts forth a reading list that is chock full of wonderful, short picture books. I take the list with me to the library and we check out as many of them as possible. Then, when we get home, we fill our library bins. Rosebud will read during meal times, when she first wakes in the morning, in the afternoon after school, and before bedtime. Just yesterday she proclaimed, “I’ve read them all–time to go back to the library!” These books also make wonderful read aloud options. I try and implement Andrew and Missy Adams’ Teaching the Classics socratic method with these books. I have my list of questions to ask about the characters, setting, plot, conflict, climax, and resolution. We also talk about themes and author intent. Going through this process with shorter children’s books gives your kiddos many wonderful tools for a lifetime of reading and meaningful discussion. By the way, the second edition is due to be released later this month. It is well worth the cost and will unlock the door to true education for your child. You don’t have to be homeschooling in order to utilize this book in your home. It is a vital resource for every family.
We are a part of a Classical Conversations Community. Each week on community day, tutors introduce different games for reviewing memory work or math concepts. I have loved including these in our school day. But, I was curious to see if there were more options out there that would be easy to implement. I am all about easy implementation. So, back in January I went online to the IEW website, and found that the Teaching with Games DVD was reduced to $15. I bought it, and I am so glad I did. I watched it one weekend, took notes, and immediately began implementing some of these simple games into our homeschool day. If you are still reeling from your February slump, just plug in some simple learning games. These games are never a waste of time, because the students are experiencing the information in a very tangible way–so they remember the concepts you are trying to teach. Why not smile while learning? For a great list of family games that teach, check out the My Little Poppies blog.
Well, there you have it! Six simple steps for a better homeschool day. I hope that they will be helpful as you strive for true scholé in your home.