Our homeschool year has ended and before we delve into 7th grade choices, looking at what worked and what didn’t work during our son’s 6th grade year seems necessary. Since this was our first year of homeschooling on our own and I didn’t really know what I was doing, I expected there to be a lot more that didn’t work than did. We had continuing challenges to deal with like our son’s ADD, our daughter’s frequent doctor appointments, unpredictable hospital stays, and her liver transplant that could happen any time. And as if our lives weren’t crazy enough, I got a job in September. I work at home and have a relatively flexible schedule, but it’s still something I need to focus on. My husband has worked only part-time, which has helped with taking care of our little lady, but our son’s schooling has been mostly my domain. But, in spite of everything, more things worked than I expected. First, here’s what DIDN’T work…
What DIDN’T work….
- Harmony Educational Program: Harmony Ed is a charter school that caters to homeschooling families. We chose their Flex option which allowed Ryan to do his core classwork at home and his elective courses at an on site location with other homeschooled kids. While there were some things that worked about Harmony (see below), there were some big things that didn’t work for us… Harmony students are required to complete Harmony-generated worksheets for each core subject twice a month, no matter what curriculum you use at home. I understand they’re trying to ensure kids are actually learning and progressing, but what we found was that the worksheets rarely lined up with the curriculums we were using. We’d have to stop everything we were doing to work on the worksheets, then we’d have to get back into the groove of our own work. The worksheets then had to be scanned and uploaded to the Harmony site every 2 weeks. In general, the disruption outweighed actually learning.
- The Checklist: At the beginning of the year we had a weekly schedule posted on the wall and even though it was easy to see, Ryan still didn’t seem to know what was expected of him each day. He’d think he was done when there were still things left to do, which lead to arguing and complaining. The posted schedule Did Not work…. Mid-year we created a checklist for Ryan to follow each day, a list of what he needed to do, something he had right in front of him that he could actually check off as he completed things. You can see our School Schedule here. While the checklist we designed helped Ryan understand what he needed to do each day, seeing the list sometimes overwhelmed him. We would rarely spend more than half an hour on any given subject (often less) but he’s not very self-aware when it comes to time management. He may, for example, spend all morning creating things with LEGOs and then when he looked at his list complained about having too much to do or accused us of not giving him any free time. Or he’d complain for half an hour about something that would have taken him 10 minutes to do. So in some ways the checklist did work, but in others, it didn’t. Time management and personal responsibility will be something we continue to work on next year.
- Attitude: Ryan has had a very difficult attitude this year. “You can’t make me!” was often heard in our home as well as “You’re so mean!” and “It’s not fair!” I especially love that this last one since it was my personal favorite at his age, so I guess it’s karma. Overall there’s been A LOT of complaining and then anger when we refuse to listen to the complaining. (A mom can only take so much!) We’ve had lengthy conversations about what kind of person he is choosing to be – a person who complains or a person who does what needs to be done or a person who sees where he can cause positive change, etc. – and how his choices make him feel. It’s hard to determine if this is just Ryan being a tween or if it’s ADD. The main reason we put him on medication a couple of years ago was depression related to ADD and it was working really well. But as this year progressed, his attitude became increasingly worse. We have tried different doses of his medication and different medications only to find the side effects weren’t worth the advantages. In the end we decided to take him off medication completely and change our approach to school. This has not been an easy decision. Ryan’s attitude has been our greatest challenge this school year, to the point where we’ve considered putting him back in public school just to get a break. (Incidentally, we aren’t planning to do that, because in spite of all the challenges, we feel homeschooling is best for him right now. We will also be trying a more flexible schedule next year – see below).
- Time Off: I work at home, my kids are buzzing around me while I work. In the evening, I feel I need to spend non-working time with my family. But I rarely get a break. Even though my awesome husband has been doing all the cooking since I started working and most of the laundry, I still found that in the evening I was spending time with my family out of obligation. I felt terrible feeling that way – I love my family and I love to spend time with them. The problem was, I wasn’t getting enough time away from my kids, enough time to myself to decompress. Now we are creating a structure to remedy this and will continue to next year.
What DID work…
- Harmony Educational Program: What DID work about Harmony Ed was the Flex program. Ryan did his core course work at home and one afternoon each week went to one of Harmony’s locations for his elective courses. He got to meet and mingle and learn with other homeschool kids, and we got a break from each other. Another thing that did work about Harmony was being reimbursed for many of our school-related expenses.
- Daily Checklist and Problem Solving: When we found that having our weekly schedule posted on the wall for Ryan to clearly see and he still didn’t seem to know what was expected of him, we asked him to help solve the problem. His idea was to have a checklist of all the things he needed to do each day. So that’s what we did. You can see our School Schedule here. The checklist has definitely helped make expectations clearer. And it was wonderful that he solved the problem himself.
- Monthly Calendar: Each month I printed out a blank calendar and Ryan wrote in the school schedule for the month, playdates, extracurricular activities/classes, etc. as well as due dates for Harmony assignments. For bigger projects (like research papers or Scout merit badges) we scheduled the steps he needed to take to complete the project on time. I think this is starting to make some difference in Ryan’s ability to manage his own time and we will continue this.
- Extended Family Involvement: My mom taught science this year as well as piano lessons and music. Science was never one of my strengths so I’m very, very grateful my mom took this on. She’s very creative, is an R.N. and found some fun ways of teaching Ryan. This year in science they went more in-depth with anatomy, learned about astronomy, micro-organisms and sound. In music, he’s really progressed in his piano skills, though he says he hates it, and has learned about several composers. Even though he and my mom sometimes butt heads, they have a really close relationship and I’m grateful that they have this special time together each week.
- Self-Directed Curriculums: I purposely chose self-directed curriculums for Ryan’s other core subjects – math and language arts. (Some worked, some didn’t.)
- Math: We used Saxon Math and he was able to complete 1-1/2 years worth of math. I don’t know where he ranks with other kids his age (and nor do I care) – I do love that he was able to work at his own pace and move quickly through things that came easily to him and spend extra time on things he struggled with. We will continue using Saxon Math next year.
- Language Arts: For writing and grammar we used JacKris Publishing’s Growing with Grammar and Winning with Writing curriculums.
- Growing with Grammar included a daily lesson read from the lesson book, then a corresponding workbook assignment. The layout was simple, lessons not too long or difficult so they kept Ryan’s attention.
- On the other hand, Winning with Writing wasn’t great for us. There was some instruction on the structure of writing different kinds of papers, and in between, a paper was supposed to be written each week. This was too much writing for Ryan. He has great ideas for fiction papers and enjoys doing research on subjects of his choosing, but writing about things he doesn’t care about is almost impossible. Also he is very good at articulating his thoughts and sharing what he’s learned verbally, but writing is difficult for him. This is not a writing curriculum we’ll use again.
- Mark Twain Media Publishing’s has excellent spelling/vocabulary workbooks called Spelling Skills. Each week focuses on one themed list of words, with interesting, fun exercises each day to reinforce spelling and definition. This was easy for Ryan to do on his own, most of the time, kept his attention and I think he even enjoyed it. = )
- Connecting Subjects: Ryan is not a really motivated student in the traditional sense. He doesn’t care about the traditional subjects if you present them in the traditional way. And he has trouble focusing on things he doesn’t care about. But what has worked is looking for opportunities to tie different subjects together. For example, when we read Artemis Fowl which has real-life locations in the story, like Dublin, Ireland, we found it on the map. We might look at pictures or read more about Ireland or look at Dublin on Google World. In one of the Percy Jackson books we read the characters traveled through the Panama Canal. That lead us to the map again and then we watched a documentary about how the Panama Canal was built. This lead to discussions about segregation, oppression and racism as well as some government discussions. Even the day when Madagascar movie quotes kept popping into his head and interrupting our school work became an opportunity to visit our map, find Madagascar, and (if you’re familiar with the movie), map out the route a ship might have taken from New York to Madagascar. (That was an Inspired Mom Day!)
- Reading: Each month Ryan set his own reading goal – how many pages he would read. We would agree at the beginning of the month what his prize would be if he met his goal. Sometimes it was a new DVD movie, or going to see a movie or a new book. This worked really well. He read 47 books this school year for a total of almost 9,000 pages read. In addition to his own reading, we listened to 5 audiobooks and read an additional 9 books together. I did not try to force him to read any particular books, only followed his interests – fantasy and sci-fi are favorites. (You can follow what we read on Goodreads.com). When he’d lose interest in reading, I would check out 15 or 20 books from the library that I thought he might like (and tried to find as many as I could that started a series). Of those he might like 3 or 4 and we’d be set for several more weeks, months if he grabbed onto a series. Reading together is our favorite thing. As Ryan likes to say, “We’re bookworms, Mom.”
- Mid-Day Exercise: Ryan has been taking swim lessons for his physical fitness this year. In the middle of the year we found mid-day classes at one of the community pools. The break in the middle of the day was excellent AND there were often only two students in the classes (sometimes it was only him) so he was able to get one-on-one coaching.
- Incentive: If our son didn’t love playing computer games, I don’t know how we’d get him to do schoolwork. He gets half an hour of non-school computer time each weekday and two hours on the weekend. He doesn’t get his weekday time until his schoolwork and chores are done and he doesn’t get his weekend time unless he’s caught up on the entire week’s work. Finding an incentive has been a lifesaver this year.
- Playdates: Our boy is pretty social and the only thing he misses about public school is his friends. So we make a point of scheduling playdates with his besties a couple times a month or more if we can. If he has a playdate to look forward to, it makes the days he doesn’t see friends easier to bear. We’ve also made an effort to Skype or FaceTime with friends during the week or his cousins who are friends.
- More Family Time: Ry ADORES his sister. When he was in public school she would be asleep when he left in the morning and he had to go ALL DAY without seeing her! He hated it. Now they play throughout the day, and even though he’s annoyed by her “stupid movies” or “dumb songs” or her being too loud, he is happier being able to spend time with her throughout the day.
Most of this list is the things my husband and I felt worked and didn’t work. But what did Ryan think worked and didn’t work?
What Ryan Thought Didn’t Work:
- Making Excuses
- Harmony worksheets
What Ryan Thought Worked:
- Seeing you and Dad more (direct quote)
- Eating whatever I want whenever I want
- Science Experiments
- Computer Time
I think we’re on the right track since we overall we agree. = )
All in all, in spite of all this year’s challenges, homeschooling was a great experience and we hope to take what we learned this year and rock 7th grade next year. Here’s what we’ll be changing up next year…
- Different Charter School – MyTechHigh: We will be trying a different charter school that caters to homeschooling families – MyTechHigh. This school focuses on technology and all students are required to take a technology elective class. They have a huge range of choices from computer programming to design to 3-D printing and so much more. They offer a beginning Java Programming class for Minecraft – Ryan has been asking me for weeks when he gets to start this class. In addition to reimbursing for core curriculum costs, they pay for elective courses too, which could include (but not limited to) Ryan’s swim lessons or piano lessons if we chose. They offer a wide range of online core and elective courses or you can use your own curriculums. As far as monitoring the students learning, the students report what they’ve learned via email or video themselves. I think this will increase Ryan’s participation in his own education. We are all looking forward to this change!
- Flexible Schedule: For the last month of this year we added a new element to the Daily Checklist which we will be continuing next year. Instead of nagging, arguing, and fighting with Ryan all day to do his work, we just let him do his work when he chose. He had his daily checklist, he knew what needed to be done, he got to choose when he did everything. Some days he got things done by lunch time, others days he didn’t start until 3 p.m., some days we were still doing work at 8 p.m. Such unpredictable, unscheduled days made this schedule-driven mom uncomfortable, but you know what? It was worth it! Arguing in our house came to an almost complete stop! And, Ryan was still learning and doing what needed to be done. I think maybe he was possibly learning more!… I have my doubts, I do. How is a flexible schedule preparing him for the “real world”? etc. etc. I have to trust that we are doing the right thing for Ryan, that he will learn everything he needs to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. (Unschool Rules has been a great resource for trusting!)
- Unschooling Approach: I’m fascinated by the unschooling approach to homeschooling, which basically is a child-directed education driven by the child’s interests. Some call it “life learning.” But I’m not completely sold on it. I do feel that the basics are important – math, writing and reading. Beyond those subjects I like the unschooling approach. For this schedule-driven, do-the-right-thing mom, this is uncomfortable, but I feel in my gut it’s the right thing for Ryan. So next year I’m going to try to relax and let him lead me in learning instead of the other way around.
- Math: We’ll continue with Saxon Math
- Writing: We’re switching to Write On!, a writing workbook that is more visual which I think will appeal more to Ryan. We might also try WriteShop Junior which look similar. We’ll see!
- Grammar: We’ll continue to use Growing With Grammar.
- Spelling/Vocabulary: We’re switching to Soaring With Spelling and Vocabulary.
- Science: Ryan wants to learn about animals next year so we’re going to use the Animal Life Series by Mark Twain Publishing.
So that’s it! We’ll see how next year goes! Happy Summer!