January 9, 2011

Review of the first half of the Year

So far, this has been our best year of homeschooling ever. I am more than a little surprised that I am saying that. I am not what anyone would consider a cheerful pregnant person. I fall into the short-tempered, grumpy, and highly irritable pregnant person category.

I didn't have high expectations for this year.

I didn't even have a strong spiritual witness that I needed to homeschool this year. In fact, when I prayed about it I felt like it didn't matter if we homeschooled or not. I could choose.

I chose to homeschool because I wanted to have baptism prep with Miriam and I was unable to fathom entertaining Cowen with Miriam gone every day. The boy is very dependent on her. There were other reasons, but those were my main two. (Putting Cowen in public school kindergarten was out of the question for various reasons.)

I went into the school year with lingering nasty morning sickness, a sense of doom, and a commitment to baptism prep. That was it.

And yet, this year has been fantastic beyond my wildest hopes. I've thought long about why this has been the case and I've hit on a few answers.

1) I started to practice what I preach in that I don't think children need formal academics before they are 8.

Ever since I started taking education classes and thinking about education systems and the purpose of education, my opinion on early education has shifted and solidified to anti-formal schooling for young children. I have come to believe most strongly that a mother's influence is the most important thing a child can have--especially for children under the age of 8--and that time with mother is the best gift you can give a young child. I have also come to believe very strongly that pushing academics early on can distort a child's self-perception and diminish a child's interest in learning.

I have long thought that, but when you first start to homeschool you get hit with a barrage of anti-homeschooling sentiment from all those around you. Especially your nearest and dearest who worry about your children out of love. It is hard to resist feeling the need to "fight back" by proving your children's smarts and pushing them to achieve according to public school standards. We are so used to competing and measuring and comparing that it is hard to let that go no matter how firm our convictions.

This year, I stopped worrying about it. If Miriam got "behind" in math, I didn't care. If Cowen didn't learn to read in kindergarten, I didn't care. I don't think children need to know anything specific before they hit age 8 except gospel principles and how much you love them. I finally, finally, gratefully lived up to that belief. It has made all the difference.

2) I remembered that I am a teacher who can adapt to her student's learning styles.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes right now. I know--most homeschool moms are really good at recognizing their children's learning styles and adapting to them. Again, for me, this was related to wanting to prove that my children were not falling behind. Instead of looking at my daughter and evaluating her needs, I pushed her in math to get a certain amount done just to get it done. I really am a good teacher. Professionally speaking that is. It took watching a teacher give a fantastic lesson on graphing for me to remember that I am good at creating lesson plans to teach things and I never used textbooks when I taught professionally. Why was I so welded to Miriam's math book?? It was an "aha" moment. I could teach math. Not just stick a math book in front of my child.

Reevaluating my math strategy has changed our homeschool drastically. Miriam's favorite subject this year has been math and it is because I am teaching it and because I took the time (a great deal of time) this summer to really think about how Miriam would learn math best.

3) I tried harder to match lesson plans to my children's interests.

At the risk of sounding like an unschooler--which I am not--I have to say that following my children's lead in what to study has made a big difference this year. I started out the year thinking we would study ancient history. I tend to focus on history because it is my thing, so I know a lot about it and I can easily create lessons plans. Easy is a good thing.

But this year, Miriam told me that she wanted to be an animal rescuer so I scratched my lessons on Persia and started our animal classification unit. Not because Miriam said to, but because I was paying attention to her interests. Let me be perfectly clear here--I am not an unschooler. I do not believe that children know enough to know what they want to study, let alone what they should study. I am also not a real TJEder. I like some TJEd ideas, but not "inspire not require." I believe in a whole lot of requiring. But I am also a teacher, and teacher's know that students only get excited about learning something if you sell it to them well. With animal classification I was able to sell it well in addition to my children's pre-existing interest.

The result was one of the best units I've ever put together. Not because the actual lesson plans were always that great, but because interest remained high long after I thought it would wane. I originally planned on spending a total of one month on the whole thing. Instead we spent almost a month on each category of animal because my children really loved learning about the subject.

4) I was less rigid about our schedule.

5) I spent more time during the summer pondering my end goals for my children and aligning my homeschool to match those goals.

Clarity of purpose creates stunning results. I started homeschooling for particular reasons, but those reasons have shifted a great deal in the three years we've been at this. During the summer I figured out what my goals are now. Then I focused our day around those things. For example, piano is more important to me than math right now. So, at the end of the day if Miriam hadn't practiced piano I felt grumpy. Once I realized this, I planned our schedule to make sure the critical things--devotional, music time, piano practicing, and baptism prep--always happened. If we didn't get to other subjects like math or language arts, I didn't mind because we did the things I felt were critical. Having a really solid focus has meant that I am happier at the end of the day with what has been accomplished and that my children are happier because I am happier.

6) I actively found ways to let my children create.

My children have been happier and more joyful during school time because they love to create. Seeing their enthusiasm has made me happier. I like to facilitate happiness in my little ones.

7) I asked for more revelation in school matters because school affects everything else in our family, including the spiritual development of my children.

This is the most important difference this year. I read several good books this year about Christ and developing a more loving attitude towards those around you. I highly recommend President Eyring's book To Draw Closer to God. I also listened carefully to Sister Beck who promised that revelation will be given in abundance to the sisters if they ask for it.

I started asking for it.

Revelation has come that is so simple, but has helped in so many ways. For example, Miriam and I put together a check list of things she needs to know and do before she is baptized in July. At the end of one week, I pulled out the list and was going to go through it with her and check off the items she had done. But then I had a thought--that this was something she should do with her priesthood leader. So that Sunday, Miriam and her dad had their first baptism meeting/interview and went through the list together.

I could have done it. It wasn't the difference between doing something bad or something good. It was the difference between doing something good and doing something much better. I didn't think of it myself. That kind of revelation has been so helpful. Nothing earth shaking, but I have felt more confident in my decisions. I have felt more love from my Savior. I have felt more love and peace in my home. Even with my losing my temper every sixty seconds. (Irritable pregnant person syndrome.) I have felt more guided in what I should do for and with my children. I have given Miriam more independance and trusted her and my Savior more. I have felt less need to control everything all the time. I have even managed to not yell at my kids during devotional now and again. :)

I still have a long way to go in creating the atmosphere in my home that I want, but diligently seeking more revelation has changed our home this year. And because of that, our homeschool has changed.

As I get nearer and nearer to delivering number five, I remain hopeful that home and homeschool won't fall apart and that this year will continue to be the best homeschooling year we've had.


  1. I'd be very interested in your baptism check list. My oldest will be baptized in October and I've been pondering how to make sure she's ready.

  2. Awesome post -- again! I really, really appreciated all that you said. Thank you for some needed insight and clarity that I've been seeking, too. :)