Thursday, July 17, 2008

The First Week of School

I suppose I should share how our first week of school went. It actually went very well. A while back my husband shared an overview of what we planned for this year and we got a lot of feedback saying that we were taking on too much, our daughter would be at her schoolwork too much of the day and that I would burn out in no time. After just a little over two weeks into it, I think we planned well and that the doomsayers are wrong (so far).

Our daily schedule looks something like this:

  • 7:30 am Get up/breakfast/etc.
  • 8:30-9:00 am Go for daily walk/stroller ride (the earlier we get out the better as the weather is hot right now).
  • 9:30-10:00 am Start schoolwork (Bible reading, narration page, illustration page, math page, read an Aesop's fable, narration page, illustration page, spelling assignment, grammar lesson (3 days a week), Short history or science reading, narration page, illustration page, memory work (maybe once or twice a week), art lesson or free art time.)
  • 11:30-12:00 am School is over.
The list of lessons sound like a lot, but they are really short. The only days we have spent much more time than I like is when I've let my daughter spend as much time as she wants on her illustration pages. These were a feature of her schoolwork that she wanted and asked for. Sometimes a quick drawing is enough, but some days she takes her time to create an intricate masterpiece. We sometimes have to take a break for lunch and continue with whatever remains when the younger kids go down for naps. We have not gone any later than 2:00 pm and that was purely because of the time she decided to put into her artwork.

I have noticed a few things in the past week and a half that will have a bearing on the future:

First, we took a holiday for Mommy's birthday and it threw off the schedule. I noticed that other homeschoolers have mentioned that they plan by week instead of by day. My schedule was by day. The problem with this is that skipping a day in a carefully crafted week's schedule is that you either shift the whole week by one day, wrapping around to the next week, or you shift the work to other days, or you skip those lessons. While some lessons are not urgent in and of themselves, skipping lessons is not my first choice. I first thought that we would just shift the work by a day, but that was grating against my orderly personality. Besides, we have carefully planned library days that have to happen at their scheduled time. So I decided to shift the work of the extra day over the course of three days to catch up. That seems to have worked without putting an undue burden on my daughter. This will be an issue as we proceed since sickness and other needful interruptions will occur. We will just have to play it by ear. I hesitate to make my schedule less detailed, since I find it easier on me to have the preparation work finished to that level. I merely have to look ahead every two weeks to make sure we have the appropriate library books and craft supplies. Then I lay out the next day's work each evening and double check that I understand the teaching that I need to do.

Second, It will take a while for my daughter to get the hang of narration. At this point, I'm asking questions to get her thinking, but if she isn't in the mood to think, we stall pretty fast. I don't want to get in the habit of answering the questions for her. Nor do I want to reread the passages to help her learn what she missed. The point of narration is that she needs to learn to use her memory on one reading. It is a skill that takes some time to learn and she will need that time to learn it. Fortunately, I have experience that tells me that she will get it eventually. When I was a young whippersnapper (High school age or early college age), I annoyed my family by asking them questions about the Sunday morning sermon over Sunday lunch. You see most people forget the sermon almost immediately even if they liked it. At first, my family was simply annoyed that I kept pointing out to them how short their memory was for something they ought to be remembering. But, within a month we were having lively lunch conversations about the morning sermon. I'm looking forward to some lively conversations with my daughter about what she is being taught.

Third, It will be a challenge working more schooling for my younger daughter into the schedule. We have done some, but not to any set schedule. I have also taken time to read to my son. Both of the younger kids get some of Mommy's attention while the oldest is working mostly independently on some of her work (especially art). But, for the most part the younger two play the whole time and the room is a mess at the end of our appointed school time. On the plus side, the younger kids are playing independently or learning to play with each other without a lot of interference from Mommy. It is nice that Mommy does not have to do everything for them all the time. As they get older, I expect it will get a little easier to juggle teaching two kids set lessons.

Forth, I might want to reconsider the time of year that I start school. I've been in the midst of a nectarine harvest that couldn't wait. Traditionally, school started after most of the harvesting was over. A month ago we were drowning in plums. For the last two weeks it has been nectarines. The peaches are showing signs of being ripe any day now and the golden plums will probably be ready sometime soon as well. I've barely been keeping up with daily tasks and staying up late to preserve fruit. I have fruit frozen in the freezer for a more convenient time to make jams and jellies. I've sliced probably 200 nectarines for dehydrating and made fruit leather from nectarines and plums (3 gallon bags of fruit rolls; 3 quart bags of fruit chips). Our fruit loving kids are tired of the fresh plums and nectarines and we were giving the fruit away. Even if I don't plant a vegetable garden next year (although I do plan to), I still will have oodles of fruit from the trees alone.

Fifth, the purpose of all of this is to teach our daughter. Some useful questions may need to be asked. Is she learning anything? I think so, but the learning process is so gradual at times it can be hard to see. Is she enjoying her schooling? Yes, she was eager to get started and even plays school when she isn't actually doing it. Do I see evidence that she is maturing in her abilities? Yes, she is taking more responsibility for doing things herself. She is helping her sister by reading to her and teaching her. She is very proud of the fact that she is a "first-grader" and is thankfully oblivious that her skills are more advanced than her peers in many areas. She has an incredibly intense competitive spirit and would be an annoying braggart if she were aware of the differences. She has a way to go to get her social and emotional levels to match her academic ability, but I have confidence that a homeschooling environment is a more nurturing environment to work through the tough spots there. Having been in a similarly disjointed academic age/emotional age situation myself, but in a public school, I don't want her to have to go through some of the painful stuff that I had to go through. It took me about a decade to work past some the the emotional scars I got in public school (and that was in good schools, with good teachers, and generally good kids). And lest anyone thinks we are not "socializing" her, let me assure you that she is not isolated. She has classroom experience in church with her age peers. She has community involvement through the local parks and rec. programs. She is not shy and will often speak her mind to strangers to my mild embarrassment (as I am very introverted).

My conclusion is that we are not overworking our daughter. She has an appropriate amount of schoolwork. As it gets more challenging, she will probably spend more time on it, but at this point I have no concerns about that. There is room for improvement, but if there weren't our job would be done. It is sometimes hard to juggle it all, but that is because I have chosen to do so many things all at once. I am trying to be realistic and keep perspective on what is most important.

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