Every summer, I sit down and think through our logistics, the pieces of our day, our flow, and of course our materials. There are always changes that need to be made, because every year I am faced with a whole new set of ages, sometimes another student, and….a constant toddler.
What (mostly) worked:
I remain so thankful for our new-to-us table. Its functionality makes everything easier. I liked rotating out my subjects over the past few months as described in my post about the table, but will be tweaking that slightly into a loop schedule, at least in part. Or something. Maybe.
This system is so easy and has worked beautifully for us for two years now. Even so, I need to change it up a bit for next year due to the First Law of Motherhood: Everyone will always need you all at once. See below for more details.
(The Second Law of Motherhood: The bathroom does not offer you privacy.)
Separate Work Spaces
I saw how this could work for us after visiting my cousin’s house and seeing her girls’ work spaces in different rooms. At the time we worked together in one room (which is likely ideal for early elementary years anyway) but I was at least able to conjure up separate areas for the boys – at that time in 3rd and 4th grades and doing quite a bit independently. This helped immensely in terms of space and focus.
After we moved, we no longer had a room dedicated to school/play, so the boys’ work spaces have lived in separate rooms. This has worked really well. Any independent work happens at their desks, and even better- it gives them a landing zone for many of their materials and supplies.
I just scored a lovely old desk at a yard sale and set it up in another corner of the living room for my rising second grader. I’m on the hunt for an old basket to hold her books – with that, plus a jar for pencils and a cheerful spider plant, she’ll be all set. She is very pleased.
Areas for Improvement:
This year, I once again handed my big boys a spiral notebook with a daily checklist, and for the most part left them free to decide what to do when. From a communication (and planning) perspective, this worked brilliantly. But when I added a first grader to my homeschool roster, we ran into one specific practical difficulty.
There were too many times that they needed me for a minute or five (math question, editing clarification, narration) and I was in the middle of something with someone else – usually math or reading with my first grader. This became frustrating for everybody.
And so I’ve realized – this coming year, I’m going to have to balance the desire to give my kids some scheduling independence with the practical challenges of teaching 3 students (plus that toddler).
I have been trying to figure out how to juggle this without pulling my hair out and yelling a lot. I have come to the conclusion that I need to include myself in our daily schedule. Mom needs a column. Light bulb!
Along with that, the schedule needs to grow more specific. There’s just no other way around it. I need to make sure that whomever I’m not working with is doing something which ought to be able to be done with complete independence. This seems obvious but in the past I’ve just winged it, with not-awesome results.
Carving Out Time for Grammar
Ideally, my boys and I would spend about 20-30 minutes per day working through our Essentials grammar. (I’ll go into detail about what that looks like in another post.) But I didn’t have a specific time on the schedule for this (see above…) and so we only hit it once or twice a week. This next year, I’m going to give it a dedicated spot.
What really didn’t work:
Traditional Science Curriculum
My science hopes and dreams fell completely flat this year. I’m pretty sure it’s because they weren’t ACTUALLY hopes and dreams.
Mama, know thyself and act accordingly.
Even though traditional science curricula give me hives, I bought one. My reasoning was this: in grades 4 and 5, shouldn’t we move beyond our un-schooling approach to science?
Nope. No! At least, not in that particular format.
I should have known that it is very hard to transmit interest and enthusiasm to your kids when you are coming from a place of…..hives.
Next year we are taking a different (and very Johnson-family-esque) approach to science, which I’ll be writing about soon.
I had vague plans. Vague plans and I always break up (regretfully) after a very short relationship.
“Do one Shakespeare play every 12 weeks” is not a recipe for success. I’ve had vague Shakespeare plans for years now (friends who followed my personal blog are laughing….). Anyway, this particular year in which we didn’t do Shakespeare, here’s how it went: I checked out a couple of picture books from the library…and then we did nothing else at all.
I didn’t even read them the picture books.
This year, I found very specific and simple plans to use. Shakespeare is something I really want to do, and my kids are definitely interested. They eat up everything Shakespeare-esque I (vaguely) toss their way. It would be a shame not to give it another go – this time, equipped for follow-through and success. More on that in another post too!
Frameworks Save Lives!
I’m a huge believer in this idea: if you spend time building a functional framework, to whatever extent best suits your people and your needs, daily homeschool life will run so much more smoothly.
Right now, I’m attempting to sketch out daily rhythms and to create means to keep track of everyone’s everything. I’m looking at and thinking about our physical work spaces.
Where do people work best? Where do I work best? Where could I keep my materials for easier access? Where do all the pencils go?!?! <— existential query
How will we structure our days? How can I better equip us to carve out time for the things that are important? What is important? How can I make sure my kids have time for the things that are important to them?
I really enjoy this process because I take such comfort in having a plan, even when it must be adjusted.
Except when the plan is eating me.
This month, I bit the bullet and purchased Pam Barnhill’s Plan Your Year materials. I’ve used her free planning sheets for years and created everything else myself. Her block scheduling sheet (included in the free download sample pack on her website) has been particularly helpful and is how I’ve planned the content for our table time spread across our six 6-week terms.
(Side note: I like Pam. In a recent blog post she said this: “A homeschooling day is a unique experience akin to educational nirvana in some moments and being pecked to death by ducks in others.” I think we can all agree with her.)
Anyway. I spent the $24 and bought the massive pack of forms, ebook, and audio files this year. Because frankly, my brain exploded when I began to try to figure out how to organize a 6th, 5th, 2nd grader and myself through all of the pieces of the week.
PYY has been both practical and clarifying, and I’m grateful for the orderly handholding. Homeschool planning in my brain dump notebook had taken on a frantic look of chaotic genius, except without the genius piece.
And so. Onward! I’ll report back.