Sunday, March 09, 2008

Spring means renewal

I like spring. Spring is a time of renewal. When I was a kid I liked summer better. I could play outside most of the day without any school. But now, Spring is the season I like best. Where we live, the trees are blooming the allergens are wafting on the breezes and the home improvement stores and plant nurseries are packed with people ready to get going on the projects they have in mind for good weather.

We are always busy, but it has seemed busier than usual this sping. We just mailed off our tax returns, so that is done. We finished out our new garden this weekend by putting in supports and planting snow peas and grapevines. The garden looks mostly like a muddy mess right now, but I've started to see tiny radish seedlings poking up (they are always the first ones, right after the weeds). We are all well again after a three week bout of illness which put all plans on hold. I don't think my husband will mention it, but he got a promotion and raise. It is always nice to be appreciated by one's employer.

Between the return of sunny weather, the garden, and life seeming good right now, It feels strange to be saying that the school year is running down. I can see the end of our currently scheduled work in just a month or two. We also do some kind of schooling pretty much all year, so it feels strange for that reason too. I have had trouble in the past being in sync with the traditional academic year. Somehow our daughter seems ready for something new long before fall, so for the past two years I have started her new school year in the first week of August. We are usually well finished with what I had planned by May, so June and July become a very light schooling time and we spend more time going for walks, playing outside, and doing fun things. That time becomes my planning time to get ready for the new school year.

This year however feels like a bigger challenge. Although I've been homeschooling for two years now, it has been preschool and kindergarten. Our daughter is above average in reading ability at this age so her reading skills are probably a grade or two advance. Still, This coming year is first grade. This fall she will be required by the state of California (based on her age) to be enrolled in a legally accepted educational situation. If you follow my husband's blog, you know that their is a current court case that has the homeschool community stirred up about whether homeschooling is legally recognized in our state. I will let him worry about that for now. What worries me is that I expect so much of myself in homeschooling our kids and this year was the year that I was going to be adding probably twice as much work as we currently do. In addition, my next daughter is probably ready to start working on some pre-reading skills.

I have heard numerous times from homeschoolers that the first year is the hardest. I think it was true for us (at least so far) because we were feeling our way and our daughter was so young that many curricula were just mismatched to use with her. This past year has felt easier. We had our plan of action, it worked relatively smoothly, and we made steady progress. I was pleased with the curriculum materials we had chosen. We covered language arts appropriate to a Kindergartener (reading practice, writing practice, memorization, vocabulary words, and spelling words), beginning math skills (using Horizons Math published by Modern Curriculum Press), Piano and lots and lots of art.

Next year we are adding formal grammar, history, and science. My first challenge is to finalize our plans about what we will be doing and what curriculum we need for what. We are planning to follow a classical education plan (for those of you who are familiar with educational theory). We still have not decided about when to introduce a non-English language and which language that would be.

Since we are winding down on our current school year with what we had planned so far, and since my daughter always seems to be ready for something new when everybody else is taking a break, I am tempted to try something new. I am tempted to take our year-round school literally and slowly add new aspects that we plan to cover next year a little at a time. I know that she is ready for more formal grammar instruction for example. Why don't I go ahead and get that started and keep up some form of reading and writing practice like we already do. Maybe I could just do the reading and writing in a new way to keep it fresh for her. We could do more math play during the late spring and summer to keep her from forgetting it all before I start her in the next level. It would also help reinforce her understanding of the facts she has covered so far. I already know she needs more work on learning money and measurements. Those are both best learned by hands on practice. Once she has had the added work for a month or two, I could try adding history or science. That way when we start school up in the fall as a first grader, It won't all hit at once and feel overwhelming.

I suspect it would be easier on me that way, too. I know I don't like feeling like I've had extra work dumped on me either. And whether I like it or not, teaching children in the early grades requires a lot of one-on-one attention. I keep hearing that the older they get the better they work independently. I know that my daughter can work steadily for hours without help if she loves it (art is like that for her). But however good she is at other subjects, she needs someone right there to remind her what she should be doing.

So I am in the process of figuring out how to renew our homeschooling for another year. Let's hope the court case allow us to do this for many years to come.

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