I’m in the February doldrums, feeling like I’m drifting through my days without much of a plan, on autopilot. Actually, not moving at all, it seems most days. Becalmed.
I’ve been praying along with Mrs Darwin’s novena for order. At the end of the first day I sat down and opened up a new document on the computer and started typing. All these thoughts about reorganizing and restructuring came pouring out. It was only later, after I’d been typing for some time, that I realized that this thing I was writing was a sort of answer to that prayer, an unconscious push to start to find some order, to ask the questions about where we are and where we are going and all that jazz. Order. Ok, we can run with this.
The main questions on the table seem to be: What do I think the homeschool day should look like? How do I get it there? Answering those questions may or may not be what this document accomplishes. I’m just writing and seeing where it all goes.
Last year I started to have a little mini panic about how to accomplish the task of educating multiple children of different ages at different levels. Bearing’s good advice helped me to conclude that first I needed to create a structure, a framework for our day, that could be adapted to the needs of the various individuals and only once the structure was in place would I worry about fitting it all in. Well, I think, maybe, I’ve got the structural boxes in place and now it’s time to strategize about how I’m filling them. My basic school structure in two parts: after-breakfast table time, after-lunch couch time.
Right now this is what it looks like:
Sophie and Bella know after breakfast is math, copy work, reading. They might need prompting to get started and to stay on track, but they know what’s supposed to happen. They are generally successful at accomplishing their tasks on their own or asking for help if they need it.
After lunch is read aloud time. Fiction, history, science, etc. The kids all know this is supposed to happen and, again, some prompting is necessary for the transition since this usually happens after I put Lucy down for her nap and they have generally begun some kind of game or art project while I’m doing that, but otherwise they are all in. Anthony and Ben are fully a part of the afternoon reading. Though occasionally Anthony might opt out, it’s an exception to the general rule.
Thus far I think I can declare success in that both Bella and Sophie are working well within this framework and even achieving a modest amount of independent, self-directed work.
However– this is the really big caveat to declaring the structure is in place– I’m not so happy with my inability to consistently get Ben to sit down and do work. Though I lean towards less structure rather than more for children under six, I’d also like to finish the Saxon K math book and I’d like him to get used to fitting himself into that morning table time structure more consistently than he is currently doing. A huge part of that is my own failure to draw him in. I get focused not only on getting the girls through their tasks, and especially at keeping Bella on task, but also on trying to get through my own daily, weekly, housework needs. And, frankly, get distracted by books and art projects and conversations on Facebook. If the girls were totally independent during morning time, it would be easier to bring Ben into the mix, but both of them need quite a bit of hand-holding still. So at this point Ben has done much less of the Kindergarten work than either of the girls had done at the same point in the year (when both of them were ahead in the book, he’s still doing November’s lessons.) Actually, that’s not really true since Bella was doing the K book when she was six, not five. So he’s sort of ahead of Bella, but behind Sophie. On the whole, I think working to add him into the mix on a daily basis is a goal I’d like to aim for next.
But what next for the girls? What we are currently doing is bare bones and every time I post my learning notes I cringe a bit that once again we’re still doing bare bones work. I’d very much like to beef it up a little if I can.
(Aside: do I work on just incorporating Ben for now and leave the what’s next for the girls until I’ve got that where I’d like it to be, or do I try to tweak both things at once? I’m so torn on this. Part of me thinks it’s best to work on one habit at a time but part of me is impatient and also is a little skeptical about getting Ben on board and thinks maybe I should let him be and focus on the what’s next for the girls.)
(And here’s where the post just stops trying to pretend to be a post and becomes my brainstorming notes.)
Some things that I’d like to add in at some point, some sooner rather than later, some long-term:
1.Dedicated time for prayer.
Two question: What prayer? When?
Right now they sometimes join in with my haphazard morning prayer, which I might say as I’m nursing Lucy when we first get up, or if I opt to nurse her while trying to get a bit more sleep, I might just listen to the podcast while prepping breakfast, or I might read Morning Prayer aloud or quietly as I eat or after I eat.
I’d like to formally open the “school” day with prayer, but is that really me or am I trying to squeeze us into someone else’s idea of school? I do better with flexible routines rather than rigid hard stops. So how does prayer fit into that? Right now trying to start the day with prayer is so dependent on how breakfast and everything else goes. If the girls need to start work while I’m doing something else, it doesn’t make sense for them to hold off on math and copywork until we can all begin neatly together with prayer. So something short they could each do on their own? A brief morning offering, invocation like meal blessing we could either do together or they do solo depending on the needs of the day?
Two questions: What to read? When to read it?
I’ve been trying to make up my mind on this count for a long time and keep waffling back and forth: do we read from the daily lectionary or try to read a book of the Bible straight through in dedicated study. Or both? I’ve been bouncing back and forth between the two. We sometimes get into a nice streak of doing the daily lectionary. We have read all or parts of several books of the Bible: all of Acts, most of Mark, parts of Luke, Parts of Genesis, all of Judith, etc. Nothing consistent or programmatic, but just as the whim strikes us.
The other problem is that in my mind Bible reading is neither fish nor fowl, it’s doesn’t clearly belong to either block of time. So do I put it at the beginning of table time or at the beginning of couch time? Mix and match depending on the day? It’s hard to be consistent and without consistency it falls through the cracks. Bottom line: we don’t read the Bible as often as I like. I’d like to do more reading from the Bible story books for the younger kids and more reading from the Bible for the older kids and myself. And I think my lack of a clearly focused goal is really what’s shooting me in the foot. I probably need to make up my mind on one particular path and follow it. But I’m unlike Frost’s traveller in the yellow wood and the thought of the road not taken keeps me hemming and hawing at the fork unable to pick one.
3. Language lessons: phonics, spelling, grammar, etc. The nuts and bolts of language
This would seem to belong to morning block. Problem: as it stands now, this is not independent work and is very dependent on me and girls all being ready at the same time, synchronizing schedules. Since often they’re working at their own paces, it’s hard to get us all ready for this at the same time. Toddlers and other distractions for me, distractions for them. We are a distracted family and I need to work with that, not pretend like it doesn’t exist or will go away. <— this really this is the key to it all. But also, I keep thinking maybe if I found a good workbook based program one or both of the girls could be more independent with this. Right now I’m just continuing lessons from The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and occasional lessons prompted by specific questions that come up from the girls’ reading. 4. history, science, art, music We do them but in a haphazard way. It mostly works, but I’d like to be more consistent. We are sort of behind where I’d like to be in history, but not terribly. We don’t do as much science as I’d like or as much art or music. But neither do we neglect them. This seems to me more clearly a back burner, long term goal rather than something to be worked on at present. 5. reading and math for Ben and Anthony I already covered that above, but this was here in my original outline and somehow I'm loathe to delete it. So here it stays, an orphan structural element in a blog post that can’t quite decide how it wants to be structured. It’s a good thing this is for a blog and not an essay. It would require considerable revision to make this clunky document flow. None of my parallel elements is managing to stay parallel as I keep filling things in and changing them, as I discover new ideas in the process of trying to get it all down. Let’s just call this exhibit A in my non-linear thought processes. 6. catechism, saints Another thing we do sort of haphazardly. I read the catechism lessons when the mood strikes me or when it strikes Sophie or Bella. Sometimes they are resistant. Sometimes I am. I think my kids are generally well catechized and we do a good job of living our faith, but I worry that my lack of consistency sends a message that this is less important than literature and math and reading. We sometimes read about the saint of the day, but I often forget. Another thing that doesn’t have a clear home. Not clearly afternoon reading, not clearly morning table time. Part of the problem isI think it should be morning time but we never seem to have enough time and getting started is a persistent problem. See a pattern here? Does it come down to there not really being enough time in the day to do all I want to do or do I need to manage our time better to make it work? I value our flexibility, lack of rigid structure, and the children’s ability to have so much free time to play imaginative games with each other. I recognize that as they get older they will need more structure. But how much of that needs to have foundations laid now and how much can just wait until they are older? Really is all of this the conflict between my two visions of education, between my unschoolingish side that disdains structure and my classical side that craves it? I seesaw back and forth between these two ideas about what a school day should look like and perhaps the challenge is simply to live within the tension of those competing visions, valuing both of them, taking from them what we need and letting them go when they don’t work for us. But how much of my unschoolingish tendencies are just a cover for laziness and an inability to get organized? To what extent should I fight my tendency towards unstructure and to what extent do I recognize it as who I am and count it as a strength rather than a weakness? I want to be organized, but I am probably never going to be that person. And then again, what do my kids actually need? Shouldn’t it come down to discerning their needs and trying my best to meet them? So I don't know that I've achieved any kind of order, except to get my thoughts somewhat more in order. At least in laying it out this way, I can see more clearly the convoluted thinking that is leading to my throwing up all these roadblocks to decision making. I don't feel much closer to making any decisions, but I think I need to let this simmer for a while on the back burner and come back to it to see what I've got. [caption id="attachment_9664" align="alignnone" width="1024"] junco[/caption]