Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Teaching From Rest, Still Tired

So, with my chronic insufficiency being established in the last post, I would like to chronicle what the last two weeks of my ill prepared home school actually looked like.

To begin with, I shouldn't be two weeks into our year already.  I had every intention to start officially this week, after I got all my ducks in a row.  I was going to spend a relaxed week in OKC with the grandparents.  I was going to spend a week at home getting all my curriculum in readiness.  I was going to spend a week deep cleaning the house so that we could start things off on the right foot.  And that meant a clean right foot.  Not a right foot encased in dog poop.  Not a right foot, encased in dog poop climbing over the seats in the car before leaving for church and thus endangering all who entered the vehicle afterwards in becoming besmeared with dog poop.  Definitely not that right foot.

Where was I?  Something about the futility of trying to keep children's feet clean I think.  Oh yeah!  I was going to start this school year off right.  What happened?   I gave up.  The summer got to me and I just couldn't take it any more.  I have finally realized that I need the rhythm of school days to keep me grounded.  I also need more frequent breaks during the school year to keep things fresh and refreshed.  In short, I need to go to a year round model.  The only problem with that is that many people start their year round school in July.  I realized with a start that I was already a month behind!  Cue panicked frenzy!

The second thing that changed was giving myself permission to tweak our curriculum and make it serve our family instead of becoming slaves to the program.  I made the bold move to drop history, art and music appreciation from the daily load.  I also relegated science to one evening class a week, wrote off Thursday as impossible and bought 3 bags of preloaded school supplies and 4 plastic crates.  Oh, and one box containing 5 reams of copy paper.  That, my friends is the extent of my planning for this year.  And it has made all the difference in the world!

 I also gave myself permission to stop comparing myself to other peoples schedules.  I would literally drive past a school during school hours and torture myself thinking about how my children were not seated at the table "learning" at the same time that all those other kids were diligently filling out their worksheets.  And don't even get me started on the guilt that would shoot through me as I lounged on my porch swing and watched the yellow bus clatter by.  " Are we doing enough?  Am I working hard enough?  Are my kids smart enough?  Disciplined enough?  Do they have enough free time?  Too much free time?  Too much screen time?  Not enough sleep?  I really stink at reminding them to take their vitamins and brush their teeth.  Will bad breath hamper their professional career? What if they never learn the distinction between noble gases and peasant gases?"  But not any more!  At least not any more for this month.  I am determined to do what brings peace to the home and let the rest go. 

Last year I tried locking all five kids in the master bedroom with me while I circulated between the 2nd grader in the "closet study" and the 4th grader at the desk and the Kindergartener on the tablet and the two toddlers who wreaked havoc continuously.  We were all miserable.  This year, Ana is a little better at sitting at the table with us and coloring or playing with blocks.  This has freed me up so much to conduct more of a traditional class room.  Here is how our days have played out so far:

6 a.m. - Rob and I get up, stumble into the kitchen to get coffee, drink coffee while having devotions, first together and then separately.

7:15-7:30  I invite, cajole, summon and finally threaten the kids to get up and get dressed.  They have family worship with their dad while I do my workout.

8:00 The kids fix themselves a simple breakfast of toast, eggs, fruit, cottage cheese or yogurt while I shower and dress.  Ideally they would also clean up the kitchen and practice their violin without being told and without fighting over the peanut butter.  That doesn't happen very often.  Actually, it has never happened.

9:00  My goal is to have everyone dressed and ready to walk out the door by 9 whether we actually need to walk out the door or not.  Some days we're ready by then, some days it's 9:15 or 9:30.  I am encouraged though, so far this is quite an improvement from last year.  The first order of the day is Table Time.

I got my idea of Table Time from Sarah Mackenzie's new book, Teaching From Rest.  She describes her morning symposium as being a time in the day where they all worked together on the things she felt most important.  The things she wanted to accomplish if nothing else got done.  She also wanted to spend time encountering Beauty and Truth with her children.  Morning Symposium is the time to do this.  For us this means beginning with Catechism practice.  It has been a source of embarrassment for our Sunday School Superintendent that his own children came in dead last at learning the Catechism.  But since he has taken over morning devotions, that has freed me up to focus on Catechism and memory drills.  Already the kids are showing more confidence and enthusiasm in learning the foundations of our faith.  I'm very thankful!

The next thing we do together during Table Time is math fact drills.  I have a stack of papers printed off of math facts.  I set the timer for 5 minutes and the older two boys race each other to see who can complete the most.  What I love about this is that it is a limited commitment.  When the timer goes off, you stop.  No laboring to finish the page.  That in itself is very freeing and it inspires them to greater feats of mathematical prowess.

After math drills, we take out our spelling.  This is again a stack of papers I printed off of the Easy Peasy All In One Homeschool website.  I have Dee copy a list of words everyday until he can write them down on his own with no mistakes.   Cy has shown remarkable improvement in his spelling over the summer, so I am starting him out in a witty book called Painless Spelling.  I found this little jewel in the bargain bin about five years ago.  I have been impatiently awaiting the day I can finally utilize it in our little academy.  I hope it actually helps.  If not, we'll move on to something else.  The world won't end.  

During this time in the morning, I am also circulating between Alvin and Elle as they work in their respective work books, also printed off from the Easy Peasy site.  Alvin is doing Kindergarten reading and 1st grade math.  Elle is an exuberant preschooler.  Ana is still a crayon munching Visigoth.

The last subject covered in our Table Time is a brief read aloud session.  This only takes 5-10 minutes.  Right now we are reading about great inventors.  Later we will rotate through several books including a charming tale about the constellations and another that relates the stories behind great paintings as well as a children's anthology of Shakespeare.  This "loop" of materials is another idea gleaned from Teaching From Rest.  You could implement this in any number of ways to better utilize the materials you have on hand that you have always wanted to use, but never got around to.  And did you know you don't have to read every chapter of every book?  I know, it sounds like heresy.  I indulged in just such shenanigans this morning.  I skipped right to Alexander Graham Bell and left decades of steam engine development in the dust.  It felt wonderful!

10:15  By this time the bright young scholars are getting restless.  We take a 15 minute "recess" and practice our karate together.  This has been another area that we have neglected.  Since Alvin has a test coming up next week and I have one in October, now is the perfect time to make this a daily event.  It also helps get out the wiggles!

Around 10:30 or thereabouts, Cy betakes himself to the Closet Study and begins on his computer assignments for Math and English.  Dee joins me on the porch swing with an old reader from the 40's that we are both actually enjoying.  The younger kids play under the trees in the front yard.  Ah, the elusive home schooling idyll.  I don't achieve it very often.  It makes me happy whenever I do.  True, they all had a sand war while I was on the phone, thus necessitating baths before lunch.  But there was something about it that felt so right.  This is the Holy Grail of childhood, is it not?  Scraped knees and sand in your eyes and a three inch layer of grit in the bath tub.  Magical indeed.

After setting Dee up on our second computer for his online Math and English assignments, Alvin joins me on the swing and we read his lesson online from my phone.  After Dee is finished with his computer time, Alvin and Elle each gets theirs.  By this time our collective patience has evaporated and we are ready for lunch.  I spend the first 10 minutes of my break hunched over my phone.

And speaking of lunch, I guess now would be the time to mention this weird little diet I went on over the summer.  It's actually not a diet, but more of a method of eating.  And following this method, I have lost nearly 20 pounds!  What makes it bizarre is that I set my timer for 10 minutes, eat slowly, then take a 5 minute break from eating.  After my break I eat until comfortably full, about 10 more minutes.   Well, that 5 minute break can kind of drag.  So, I pull out my handy dandy Life of Fred.  Have you never met Fred Gauss, the 5 year old professor of Mathematics at KITTENS University?  Please, hop over here and discover the most entertaining math program available!  My kids adore Fred.  It isn't like school at all.  It is a zany adventure that introduces them to all sorts of concepts.  The best part is that Fred begins at the elementary level and progresses through college level calculus and statistics.  I do have a niggling fear that there is not enough actual work involved, so that is why we are not using Fred exclusively just yet.  But for a lunchtime treat, he's perfect.

1:00  After lunch I put Ana down for a nap and then we all gather for our last school activity of the day, our Naptime Story.  We just finished the entire Little House Series.  Right now we are cruising through the light hearted Cheaper By the Dozen.  The kids think it's a hoot.  I'm secretly hoping they will catch the Efficiency Expert bug and start thinking of ways to eliminate wasted time and motions.  Hey, a mother can dream, can't she?  (disclaimer: this book, though set in the early 1900's does have some language that you might not deem appropriate.  Motherly editing is advised)


That's the end of our day.  I take a nap.  The boys play with Legos, read, build forts and watch documentaries.  We tidy the house around 4.  Thursdays are a completely different animal.  We actually do leave the house at 9 a.m., alas and alack!  This is the day we run errands, go to the doctor, visit the library, have music lessons, go on nature hikes and grocery shop.  When we get home we watch some of our library videos.  After supper we condense our science lessons down and watch assigned videos, read the links provided and conduct experiments according to my discretion.  If I'm too pooped, I don't worry about it.  No more guilt driving past the local elementary school!   

It may sound like we have a lot going on, but if you look carefully you'll see there are really only 3 main subjects.  The Three R's are really all I care about this year.  I am endeavoring to attain mastery in these areas and not worry so much about the others.  Karate and Music, History and Literature are an integral part of our every day life.  We do them week in and week out, regardless of the season.  It's how we relax and have fun.  We don't even think about how to fit these things in, they flow naturally throughout our day.  That is why I am ditching the other courses that are suggested online.  They take time away from the best parts of our day that are unscripted and refreshing. 

We desperately need things to be simplified.  My motto this year is, "Today do less.  Do it well."  It's simple and profound advice.  Like most simply profound advice, it should be easy, but it's not.  When you have a large-ish family, nothing is easy.  What keeps me going is the promise that God's grace is going to be sufficient.  I can't foresee my children's futures and adequately educate and prepare them for every eventuality.  I can do my best to teach them how to learn and to teach them how to lean.  To lean on God for guidance.  To seek His wisdom first.  He will prepare them for the works that He has already prepared for them before the foundation of the world.  It's really not all on my shoulders after all!  And that is why I can take a nap on the front porch swing and relish every delicious, sun soaked second without guilt.  And in the spirit of this year's motto, I'm going to nap well!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Ready or Not, Here I Come

I'm not ready for school to start.

Never mind that we just completed our second week of academics.  I'm still not ready enough.  I don't think I'll ever be ready enough. 

I'm sure having a beautiful homeschooling planner would buoy my spirits.  I'm positive a nifty spreadsheet for the year would be exceedingly reassuring.  Even better, a complete set of boxed curriculum with every thing needed neatly packed inside would surely give me peace.  No money left over, but surely the peace of mind would be worth it.  Or maybe I should just pack them all off to the neighborhood elementary school and be done with it.  Then I wouldn't have this nagging guilt from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. that my kids should be strapped to their chairs with No. 2 pencils duct taped to their hands.

No doubt about it, I'm not only not ready enough, I'm just plain not enough.  I have insufficient patience, insufficient energy, insufficient resources and an insufficient number of limbs to do the job that I have set for myself.  I need at least two more sets of hands.  At least.

But all this is okay.

Because I need to be reminded that I am not sufficient in myself to think anything as of myself or my educational prowess.

My sufficiency is of God.

Thank you, Lord!  Thank you for being bigger than phonics, bigger than improper fractions, bigger than violin practice x 15 minutes per day x 3 wiggly boys.  Thank you that you are even bigger than my delusions of scheduling grandeur.   

I am slowly learning that I don't have to have everything all figured out in order to take the next step.  God is faithful to provide for us when we step out in obedience to what He has called us to do.  I am reminded of Peter, stepping out in faith to walk to Jesus over the waves.  He was climbing out in faith and obedience.  He was right where the Lord had called him to be.  But he still got overwhelmed.  He still took his eyes off of Christ.  He started to sink like a rock.  Just because I'm certain I am where I need to be, doesn't mean I'm out of danger or am actually prepared to keep my eyes on the Lord, regardless of the tempest around me.  This is why I'm not ready for this new school year.  This is why I will never be ready.  I'll never be prepared for every eventuality.  I will never be enough.  And I love it that way! 

When I am weak, He is strong on my behalf.     

Ready or not, Academic Year 2016/2017, here we come!