Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Countdown to 30: Homeschooling

{I'm doing a series of answering peoples' questions about me and my life as I count down to my 30th birthday. If you have something you'd like to ask me--anything!--please leave a comment or send me an email. It's not everyday I open myself up to answering any and all random questions, so ask away!}

Today's question comes from my sweet blog friend Jenny.  Who writes:

My oldest is 4 and will be starting his second year of pre-k this fall. We've decided to HS kindergarten. So what's your HSing day look like? What's your school schedule like? How do you do it with multiple children? How do you defend your choice to HS to others who don't agree?

Yay for homeschooling! 

The decision to school your child at home is a brave one, for sure.  It's countercultural and intimidating and people are going to think you're weird.  :)

But I am so, so glad we decided to do it anyway.

We see homeschooling as simply an extension of our family's typical day-to-day activities.  Our ultimate goal is not to raise Harvard graduates (though that would be fine with me!), but to raise women and men who love Jesus and love others, who know how to learn and who love to read.

We start our day around the table where we do our Bible/Saints reading over oatmeal.  We read a Bible story (alternating between different childrens' Bibles--the Jesus Storybook Bible is my favorite!), and then a reading about a Saint.  We like the Children's Book of Saints, as well as any of the Loyola books.  We have also done a missionary biography or two, although I'm a little choosier with those.  Don't ask.  (I'm just not always thrilled with the underlying messages regarding culture and salvation in those stories.  Sorry.)

Then while I load the dishes into the dishwasher and wipe down the table, my kids go get dressed and make their beds if they haven't already.  Once they're done we usually move on to Math--Anna works mostly independently because she can read.  My sons do math with my guidance, because they aren't reading fluently just yet.  As for curriculum, we like to use Saxon Math.  (Which some think is boring, because it doesn't have cutesy pictures etc., but I actually like that.  Less for my more-distractible child to be distracted by, and a focus on the basics.)

My youngest two, who aren't in school, head off to play independently.  Sometimes they are underfoot or nearby, but it has never been much of an issue.  (And no, they don't head off to play independently in the front yard.  This is just a photo I took of them last week.  When I was with them in the front yard.  :)  )

After math we do History.  We are using Story of the World (LOVE!!!), which I read aloud--we studied ancient history last year, and will be studying the middle ages this year.  My kids love hearing the stories, and I always have a basket filled with library books corresponding to whatever we're currently studying.  Sometimes I photocopy coloring pages for my kiddos, out of the accompanying activity guide.  (And sometimes I even take my youngest on a field trip to Rome.  :)  )

Then there are the other things, like spelling, handwriting, and reading instruction. 

Spelling:  Used Zaner Bloser for first grade.  I like their sweet illustrations and their stuff seems affordable.  This next year I'll be using Spelling Power for my second grader, but my sons will do ZB like she did last year.

Handwriting: Zaner Bloser for kindergarten, and not sure what I'll do for Anna this upcoming year.  Last year we counted her spelling workbook as handwriting.

Reading: Anna taught herself to read shortly before her fifth birthday, so we never did phonics or any sort of anything for her.  I've tried different things with my sons, with limited success.  Until I scored a set of Reading Rods at the thrift store ($3!!!!!)--and my boys are doing SO WELL with them!  They love being able to hold the blocks in their hands, manipulate the words etc.  I cannot say enough about this curriculum!

I have to tell you that I am super excited to begin catechizing my children at home this upcoming year!  (Essentially, teaching them the faith.)  In fact, I just ordered the Faith and Life series for first and second grade today--can't wait for it to arrive!

As far as the schoolday goes, I like for us to be done by lunchtime.  Sometimes I'll read to the kids from a classic children's book like Paddington Bear or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz while they eat.  After lunch is naptime for my youngest, and the rest of the kids have free time.  Occasionally I enforce a rest time for them too.

We are structured, but flexible within that structure.  I don't run my home like a bootcamp (usually) and I don't try to emulate a public school classroom.  Because we are a home.  A family.  And I believe learning should be a natural outflow of our home.

My kids attend a full-day enrichment-type program on Thursdays in a nearby suburb, where they get to enjoy a typical schoolday (for homeschooled kids.)  They have lots of friends and get to take fun classes like art and drama and science and dance.  This program is free (!) because it's through the public school system--what a blessing!  (It's also pretty sweet to have one day a week with just my two youngest girlies!)

And yes, I do occasionally encounter someone who is openly hostile towards, or skeptical of, homeschooling. 

The truth is that I live my life differently than the vast majority of people I meet--and this is just one more thing to tally up in the "those weird Heldts" column.  :)  I honestly think our family size (five kids ages 7 and under) and make-up (two adopted) really breaks the ice.  Because by the time it comes out in conversation that I homeschool, the person is already so beyond being surprised by anything about me.  :)

People wonder about socialization the most.  In a family with five children and two parents who, quite frankly, talk a lot.  I know, right?  The funny thing is that an.y.where.we.go., my kids set out to make new friends.  No joke.  Every event, every BBQ, even at the 4th of July fireworks show, they take off and by the time we've left they've made several buddies.  I also have to tell you that I was public schooled K-12...and I knew COUNTLESS socially awkward people.  So I think it has very little, if anything, to do with public vs. private vs. homeschool.  When someone asks about it or expresses concern, I politely tell them that my children are quite social and well-adjusted.  And occasionally I throw in my anecdote about social awkwardness in the public schools.  :)

People also wonder how it's possible for a mom to teach kids what they need to know, academically.  How can my children learn from me (college drop-out that I am) as well as they could from a certified teacher?  I always tell people that a mom is actually in a prime position to teach her children.  That it is really quite a natural thing and while it's perfectly fine to delegate your child's education to a public school, it's also fine to do those things at home.  I am able to teach quite efficiently without a huge classroom to manage, we're able to avoid the pit-falls of peer pressure and negative influence, and guess what?  There's no homework.  No sitting around the table every night with three tired, cranky children slogging through packets of worksheets.  In the same amount of time we would spend doing that, we're able to do an entire day's worth of schoolwork.  Done by lunchtime.  The rest of the day free for playing, reading or resting.

I believe God creates us with a capacity and desire to learn, and as a parent I attempt to facilitate and nourish that.  This summer, my seven year old is averaging a huge long chapter book every one or two days, on her own.  She's blowing through Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, has read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Indian in the Cupboard series...the list goes on.  This is all of her own volition.  And it makes my heart happy, because it encapsulates a good portion of my dream for schooling at home: a child who loves to learn and who has the freedom to explore his or her own interests.

My two favorite books on homeschooling are A Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home and Catholic Education: Homeward Bound: A Useful Guide to Catholic Homeschooling.  The former is excellent whether or not you plan to school classically, and the latter whether or not you are Catholic.

Support and encouragement are also so important on this journey, and I would urge anyone schooling their children at home to seek out a group of like-minded mamas.  It can be through a co-op, church group, homeschooling group, or even online.  Somewhere that you can ask questions and connect with women who totally get it.  I am blessed in that some of my closest friends also happen to be homeschoolers.  (I met these dear women before any of us were schooling at home, too!  And, not everyone in the above photo homeschools--this was taken at one of our awesome girls' nights.  Four of us pictured in the photo do school at home.)

Remember that homeschooling is an extension of mothering, and so there will be hard days where you wonder why on earth you set out to do this (and when you might even reach for the phone to enroll your child at your neighborhood school, ASAP!)  I confess that when I drive by our local elementary school, I occasionally have wistful feelings about what my days would look like if my kids were away for eight glorious hours.  But deep down?  I am so, so glad to be teaching my children at home, so glad for the life they are living and so glad that our typical day is not a series of pickups and dropoffs--especially for the sake of my two youngest.  And, I love having my children around.  Truly.  I miss 'em when they're gone!

Hopefully this sheds some light on what we do.  Good luck on your journey, and thanks for asking!


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