Thursday, January 26, 2012

Homeschool Halftime Report

Somewhere in the past week or two, (or three, who knows? I can't keep track of the laundry, let alone my school semesters,) we passed the halfway mark of the year. I almost wish that I would have known when it was, because we would have had a major celebration.

Not only have we survived the first half of our first year homeschooling with everyone alive but:

1) We all still like each other.

2) The girls are actually learning things.


3) I'm not going insane like I was worried I would. At least not all the time.

These are all causes for big party, don't ya think?!

The Good:
The girls are actually learning. I see progress nearly every day. One of my biggest concerns when we decided to bring them home was their lack of writing skills. I'm not exaggerating when I say that at the beginning of this school year, Abby and Ashlynn could barely write coherent sentences. Their spelling was atrocious, grammar was non-existent, and requiring them to write anything resulted in their reacting exactly like they would if I was pulling their teeth out with pliers. Thankfully,this is the area where I'm seeing the most improvement. While their papers and writing assignments still need coaching and editing, I'm seeing much more understanding of basic writing conventions. We do spelling and vocabulary on a near-daily basis, and grammar exercises come around often as well. Their actual writing assignments are something we don't do as often, mostly because it requires so much time and energy to research, write, and then edit and their writings, but I'm determined to do better in that regard. Today, Abby is happily editing her recently-written paper on Belgium to use more transition words, and Ashlynn is brimming with facts about monkeys that she learned preparing her report.

Math is more of a struggle for my girls, but we're plugging along. We've had our fair share of tears from both the girls regarding multiplication tables, long division, fractions and the like, but they're coming fewer and further between so I count that as a success. A few months ago, after multiple days in a row of tears and frustration from Ashlynn over subtraction, she quietly told me that this was something that she never understood. No one had ever taught it to her. I asked her if she ever told her teacher last year that she didn't understand. She nodded, then added, "She told me she wasn't going to help me because I should already know it." Sigh. That's one of the reasons I'm so grateful to be at home with them- if there's something they're not understanding, they're certainly NOT afraid to express that fact to me. Often loudly, occasionally with tears and/or foot stomps.

As for history and science, we're taking that as it comes. We've read some "American Girl" books and talked about the setting and historical events. The girls devour all sections of the newspaper every day which has prompted some very interesting discussions. ("Mom, what does convicted mean?") We've been a little lax in formal history lessons, but are catching up. Lessons for the past few days have covered the three branches of government, the constitution, and the French revolution. I have to confess to cracking up every time one of the girls pronounced "judicial" as "judicle" (rhyming with "cuticle.")

We are fairly organized and follow a loose routine. Morning is for breakfast, chores, and the majority of our school time. At the beginning of the year, we used mornings to practice, but as Ian has gotten older, and busier, and decided to take one nap a day instead of two, it dawned on us that if we were going to learn anything at all, it had to be done while the walking human tornado was safely asleep. After lunch is practicing, and wrapping up loose ends, and by the time it's 3:00, we're done for the day so I can start teaching, or running to other lessons or rehearsals.

We're also seeing lots of exciting things as far as music development in both the girls. Their practicing happens five days a week consistently: Abby for about two hours, and Ashlynn for close to one. Abby is a week away from being finished with Suzuki Violin Book 6, and Ashlynn is nearly finished with piano level 2, and just wrote a long, complicated composition for the upcoming piano festival. This is one of the things I'm most enjoying about having the girls home. We rarely, if ever, fight about practicing anymore. It's just something they do. It's not rushed or shortened because of school commitments, and I have more time to help both of them. Although I confess that "helping" sometimes means shouting suggestions or corrections up or down the stairs.

The girls are happy. While we definitely have our days, I think that they are satisfied here at home. I don't know that they would admit it, but I think they like being at home and having the flexibility and the individual attention from me. I overheard Ashlynn telling her sister last week that "I had a nightmare that I had to back to school!" and I counted that as a sign that something we're doing is working.

The Hard
So I'm realizing that the above paragraphs make our life sound fairly idyllic. Let me assure you, it's not all sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops every day. Far from it. There is a lot of hard. I'd be flat out lying if I told you I didn't frequently wish to send the girls to school for a day so that I could find a few minutes of downtime. It's difficult to be on duty as both the mom and the teacher all day every day.

The most difficult part is balance. How do I manage to mother four kids, educate two, and keep Baby Ian, who is determined to climb on everything in sight, alive? We've had many mornings of chaos where the girls are begging me for help with spelling and vocabulary, Max is throwing his toys around the house, delighting in the noise, and Ian has dissolved in a hysterical puddle of baby goo because he has decided that 5:00 am is morning and is so tired that he can't be awake one more second. (How I gave birth to morning people, I'll never know.)  Many times, it feels like triage: who needs me the most right now?

And that's the other hard part. I am one person. There are four of them. And someone constantly needs something. Sometimes that need involves crying, whining, or throwing reusable glass milk jugs down the stairs and laughing hysterically when it shatters into a million tiny pieces all over the basement floor, just to get my attention. There are frequently times where Ashlynn needs help with a math problem, Ian is climbing on the table, Abby has an urgent question about her violin etude that just can't wait, Mom, and Max is screaming because he just pinched his finger in the cabinet door while he was slamming his Woody doll in it. (Don't ask. I don't understand it either.) I am plagued many many days with epic guilt, worried that I am shortchanging all of my children simultaneously.

I really and truly have days where I fantasize about sending them to school. Just for a day or two. And it's not because of them necessarily, it's all the chaos combined, and because there are some days (weeks?) where all I want to do is ignore everything and curl up under my covers with my kindle, a jar of nutella, and a spoon. Did I tell you that Ian's teething? Molars? All at once and that because of that he doesn't believe in sleeping at night? So mornings are painful, some afternoons I have to prop my eyes open with toothpicks, and there are many days that I'm powered by Diet Coke and the sheer force of will. This week I decided that there needs to be a substitute hotline for homeschooling moms.

The truth of it is, I don't know what I'm doing. We take it a day at a time. And I'm not joking about the keeping Ian alive part. That kid is determined to climb on top of anything that stands still long enough, and then of course promptly falls off. That is when he's not emptying shampoo bottles, throwing onions like baseballs, emptying drawers, dishwashers, baskets of toys, and making his sisters crazy.  I'm amazed we haven't had to rush to the ER for a set of stitches or a broken arm.

And my house. Oh, my house. It will never recover. We clean up in the morning, we clean up at night. But if you're coming at any other time, be prepared to dodge toys of every shape and size, the bagful of math manipulatives that gets dumped on the kitchen floor every morning, half the contents of the pantry that will be scattered all over the main floor of the house, and of course the three baskets of clean laundry that Ian has conveniently unfolded and tried to shoot baskets with. And because Max is still new at the potty training thing, he will most likely be half naked and climbing in the laundry basket full of freshly washed clothes. Don't say I didn't warn you.

One of the first things people always ask me when they find out I'm homeschooling is how long we're going to do it. It's nearly inevitable that I'll hear a lecture about how important it is for my children to be properly "socialized" (and I'll write another post about that sometime later on), or how if they don't go to public high school they'll hate me the rest of their life for robbing them of that opportunity. Public high school? Excuse me? I have a fourth and a third grader. I need to get them doing long division before I can contemplate (and worry about) the wonders of drivers ed, junior prom, and Friday night football games.

So are we going to be doing this next year? I don't know. Maybe? Probably? Ask me again after we've survived February, (Oh how I hate the dreariness of February!) and tried to homeschool and move at the same time. But for now, despite the craziness, I'm mostly sure we're on the right track.


  1. Love it! It sounds just like my life right now, down to the teething baby (6 teeth in about 8 weeks, four of them molars--it shouldn't be allowed!) It sounds like you are doing great, and things are totally normal. My house is a disaster too, and I am even preparing a post on all the messes (I took photos for proof)... now if I ever get time to actually post it, that will be a miracle. They say February is the worst month for homeschoolers and that's when everyone thinks of quitting. For me, last year, it was March. Anyway, it sounds like you're prepared for that. I have more times table practice ideas if you ever want them.

    But like you said, there are so many good things. I love having such a pulse on exactly what Dallin is understanding and how he feels about it. I feel like I know him so much better. At the beginning of each week I look ahead and wonder how I will possibly survive, but every weekend I look back and realize that, somehow, it worked out.

  2. What's funny is I was JUST thinking (literally like two seconds ago, just before I snuck away to the computer) about your girls and wondering how they're enjoying homeschooling. My daughter asked me this morning what going to school was like and wanted a very detailed answer about kindergarten through middle school. I'm very reassured to hear that your girls are liking homeschooling better than away-schooling. Having never done anything but homeschooling with my kids, I sometimes worry that we're missing something (although responding to my daughter's query helped me remember some of the things I'm glad they're missing). But most of the time, I'm pretty darned certain this is the path that's best for us for now.

  3. I was homeschooled, so I say, you go girl!

    And I have to say I'm extrememly proud of you. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't be able to give my kids the time, attention, and structure required to actually have them learn anything.

    So again I say, Go Superwoman!

  4. YAY. I'm so glad we're in the same boat. Apparently my life is normal!

    Couple of suggestions... Have them write 3-5 sentences in a journal every day. Here's a good link for journal topic ideas. That will help with the grammar, spelling, and sentence structure.

    History: Story of the World on CD. That is all. The kids LOVE listening to it.

    High School: Right now my idea is that I will let the kids choose to go for half a day if they wish, to get the extra-curricular activities. We'll see if that's still the case in 3 years when High School comes around. (EEEEK.)

    Socialization: I dare you to watch this video without laughing so hard you pee. :D

    Love ya!

    1. I second Kayleen's suggestion about SOTW on CD. Jim Weiss reads it, and my kids love ANYTHING he reads (and unlike the Magic Treehouse audiobooks, his CDs don't make me go catatonic in self-defense). Jim Weiss really is very, very good, and I enjoy his CDs almost as much as the kids do. His retelling of Atalanta and the Golden Apples is wonderful!

  5. I think the whole notion of needing to be in school for "socialization" is so far-fetched. It amazes me that people think kids need to be in school to learn how to get along with other people. Large families are actually perfect places to learn social skills. And I don't even homeschool nor have the intention of it but it makes me mad when people bring that up as a reason not to homeschool. I definitely think there are some valuable experiences that can be gained our there in the world with lots of different kinds of people but to think that's the only way to teach social skills shows ignorance. You keep doing what you're doing--sounds like your girls are thriving and that's all that matters.

  6. I have no practical advice, only to say that as I read this I kept nodding my head and going...yes, we are outnumbered. How? HOW??? And then the thought ends there. How indeed.


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