Another year of homeschool is over – we made it through! But what about next year?… Like last year, we’ve been looking at what worked and what didn’t work during our son’s 7th grade homeschool year. Most of our challenges were similar to the previous year’s – Ryan’s ADHD, our daughter’s imminent liver transplant, and finding the balance between work and homeschool and family and everything else. Overall we all agreed this year was an improvement over the last. But here’s what DIDN’T work…
What DIDN’T work….
- Unschooling Approach: This year we sort of tried an unschooling approach, which basically is a child-directed education driven by the child’s interests, sometimes called “life learning.” Since I feel the basics are important – math, writing and reading – I thought for our son’s remaining classes or interests, they could be more directed by him. And occasionally it worked and was magical, but mostly it didn’t and was frustrating. This schedule-driven, do-the-right-thing mom had a difficult time relaxing and trying to fit “life learning” whims into her busy schedule.
- Flexible Schedule: We started having a flexible schedule this 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. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. What didn’t work is some days he would sleep late, not start school until after lunch, then complain about how much he had to do all afternoon. Or sometimes he would just skip doing a class because it looked hard (usually math or java) for a few days in a row. This would create a snowball effect so that by Friday (sometimes even Sunday) he still wasn’t caught up with the week’s schoolwork, which meant no friends or computer time. Another thing that didn’t work is when he needed help and I was working. I would tell him a certain time that I could stop work and help him. But inevitably when I stopped, he refused to stop doing what he was doing (usually playing or reading) and thus the frustration and procrastinating continued. Overall, it was worth it, but we’ll be tweaking it this year.
- Math: Most of the shouting and arguing that occurred this year had to do with math, his refusing to do math or not being willing to learn new lessons because they were “too hard”, and even trying to convince me he couldn’t do even the most basic math like subtraction and addition. So frustrating! I’m not sure if it’s the curriculum or hormones or…. What!? Now that school is out, Ryan assures me it is not the curriculum. But he can’t say what it actually is, which leads me to believe it’s hormones. The funny thing is, he’s actually very good at math. Once he grasps a concept, which he usually does quite quickly, he’s fine. I’m at a loss and not sure what we’ll do differently next year.
- Monthly Calendar: Each month I printed out a blank calendar and Ryan wrote in the school schedule for the month, extracurricular activities/classes, etc. For bigger projects (like Java projects or Scout merit badges) we scheduled the steps he needed to take to complete the project on time. We started out this year doing the calendar, but after the Christmas break we never started it up again. I found it was a huge effort to keep him focused long enough to do the entire month of writing everything in.
- Piano: Though piano isn’t part of Ryan’s curriculum per sé it is part of his education. He takes lessons from my mom and I think it’s important to have some kind of musical ability. But we’ve given him the option to quit piano and do any kind of art/music type of class and he keeps choosing piano. Like many of this other subjects, he would just skip the hard music pieces or the ones he made a lot of mistakes on. Getting him to practice has always been a struggle. We’re lucky if he’ll practice 5 minutes. And he’s sometimes rude to my mom which is totally unacceptable. Not sure what we’ll do next year.
- Mom working: While my working is vitally important to our family’s financial stability, on the homeschool front it has been difficult for everyone. For Ryan he doesn’t get one-on-one attention all day from me like he prefers, and for me it is challenging to juggle my work, our daughter and helping Ryan. It’s something we’ll need to figure out.
- Daily/Weekly Checklist: Ryan has a daily/weekly checklist to follow each day, a list of what he needs to do, something he has right in front of him that he can actually check off as he completes things. You can see our School Schedule here. While the checklist we designed has helped Ryan understand what he needs to do each day, seeing the list sometimes overwhelms him. He may, for example, spend all morning reading a book and then look at his list and complain about having too much to do or accuse us of not giving him any free time. Or, similar to last year, complain for half an hour about something that would take him 10 minutes to do. In some ways the checklist really works, but in others, it doesn’t. Time management and personal responsibility are things we continue to work on.
- Attitude: Last year we were really struggling with Ryan’s attitude about homeschool (i.e. “You can’t make me!” “You’re so mean!” and “It’s not fair!” kind of attitude.) This year was improved for sure. Something new that emerged though was his skipping things that were hard or really new (and thus hard). Specifically we had issues with his Java class which became increasingly more difficult for him. At the end of the year when he had a final project due, he refused to even begin it, to let us help him, or ask for help from his teacher. “I’m passing – I don’t need to do it” was his argument. Finally I reached out to his teacher, who took Ryan under his wing, so to speak, and helped him complete his project. It wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So this year has been about the benefit of trying new things, even the hard things.
- Time Off: Working at home with the kids buzzing around me, needing things, wanting my attention, it’s kind of overwhelming. Finding a healthy balance for myself and all the other people who need and want my attention is a continuing challenge.
What DID work…
- MyTechHigh: This year we tried 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 tons more. Ryan took a beginning Java Programming class for Minecraft this year. In addition to reimbursing for core curriculum costs, they pay for elective courses too, which was Taekwondo this year. 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 learn each week, like a list or as a blog post or video. They receive a pass or fail grade for each subject. What we liked about this way of monitoring is that Ryan’s education/learning wasn’t limited to his school subjects. He had to report on his core and elective courses, but he also reported about what he learned in scouts, piano and anything else outside of school. In addition, when he needed help, his mentor and teachers were readily available. Our experience with MyTechHigh was wonderful and we will continue with it next year.
Unschooling Approach: As I said before, there were things about trying the unschooling approach that didn’t work. However, we did do some fun things that were Ryan-directed. We started a container compost pile (which he lost interest in after several weeks). After receiving a children’s cookbook for Christmas, Ryan took on learning how to cook something new each week. He learned to bake homemade bread with his grandma and has cooked many things with his dad. This he initiated and followed through with on his own, which is unusual for him. He took several merit badge classes at the local high school throughout the year and also took an astronomy class at the Planetarium. We used our Zoomy Microscope quite often. And this summer he went to a Working with Wildlife camp at the Ogden Nature Center where he held a hawk, cleaned animal cages, prepared food for and learned about the animals in captivity at the Nature Center, and more. Awesome experience.
- Flexible Schedule: There were some things that didn’t work about having a flexible schedule, but some that did too. There were days Ryan finished all his schoolwork by lunch and had lots of free time. The best thing about it was the household arguing in our house was reduced considerably from last year. I worried when we started the year how having a flexible schedule might prepare him for the “real world”? etc. etc. But I look at my own work schedule that is often 15-30 minute increments of work time with 15 minutes to 2 hours between, with no real solid schedule, and I think maybe what he’s learning is the future of many jobs. Being flexible and going with the flow are really useful skills!
- Mom’s Night Off: This year we worked on implementing Mom’s Night Off each week. Sometimes that looked like me getting together with friends for lunch or sewing for a couple of hours in the evening or reading a book without interruption. Sometimes it was just me going to bed at 7:30 p.m. Whatever it was, it helped renew my spirit and energy!
- Extended Family Involvement: My mom taught piano lessons, some family history and also helped Ryan quite often with his schoolwork, especially math. Even though he and my mom sometimes butt heads, I’m grateful they have this special time together so often.
- Self-Directed Curriculums: I chose self-directed curriculums again this year for Ryan’s core subjects – math, language arts and science. (Some worked, some didn’t.)
- Math: We used Saxon Math again this year. He fights doing math, yet is very good at it. It was the source of much contention this year.
- Language Arts: For grammar and spelling we used JacKris Publishing’s Growing with Grammar and Soaring with Spelling and Vocabulary curriculums.
- Growing with Grammar includes 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 keep Ryan’s attention.
- We tried Soaring with Spelling and Vocabulary for the first time this year. There is a 16 word spelling/vocabulary list each week and an exercise or fun assignment each day to help learn the words, with a test on the 5th day. Ryan was easily able to do this on his own and enjoyed it too!
- For writing we switched to Write On!, a writing workbook that is more visual which I thought would appeal more to Ryan, and it did overall. It had a lot of fun, little assignments, which he enjoyed, and the little assignments led to large, structured assignments like essays, which he hated and basically wouldn’t do. Mid-year we switched to 642 Things to Write About: Young Writers’ Edition. Ryan loved it! Some of the assignments were “Write a to-do list for a villain”, “Describe your dream tree house”, “Create a haiku about your shoes”. This is the kind of writing that appeals to Ryan. And being a workbook format, he loved that he could write right in the book.
- Science: This year Ryan wanted to learn more about animals. We got the Mark Twain Publishing Animal Life Series workbooks: Invertebrates, Reptiles, Amphibians, and Mammals. Also Birds which we didn’t finish. Science was his favorite subject (other than Taekwondo).
- Incentive: If Ryan didn’t love playing computer games, I don’t know how we’d get him to do schoolwork. Or anything. 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. After his birthday this year and the (much-dreaded) acquisition of an xBox, we had to add a new computer rule. Any amount of time he goes over his daily allowance is deducted from the following day’s computer time. This has cut down on nagging and shouting in general.
- Sister Play Time: When Ryan was in public school his sister would be asleep when he left in the morning and he had to go ALL DAY without seeing her! He hated it. Now playing with her has become part of his daily “routine”.
Most of this list are 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:
- Math – he needed more help and preferred Grandma’s help
- Doing hard things
- Reading – he wants to set a books-per-month goal instead of pages-per-month
- Writing – he hated any structured writing like essays
- Piano lessons – “except when it’s easy and I don’t make mistakes”
- Mom working
- Dad trying to help me with school
What Ryan Thought Worked:
- Taekwondo, Scouts and cooking (Taekwondo being the only class of those in his actual school schedule)
- “Eating whatever I want whenever I want”
- New writing book that was fun and he could write in
- Reading – “I liked trying out new books and reading aloud together”
- Science – “I loved it!”
- Weekly checklist
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 8th grade next year. Here’s what we’ll be changing up next year…
- Math Hour: This year I will be setting a specific time each day to stop work and help Ryan with schoolwork. I hope it works!
- Unschooling Approach: While I struggled with this approach, I think it’s useful for Ryan as he’s not interested in anything he has to learn at school. So I will be working on my flexibility skills this year and looking for opportunities to expand Ryan’s mind in areas he is interested in.
- Math: In spite of all the issues we’ve had with math, we will continue with Saxon Math and hope for the best.
- Writing: We’re continuing with 642 Things to Write About: Young Writers’ Edition. If Ryan seems more receptive to doing structured writing, we’ll try something else too.
- Grammar: We’ll continue to use Growing With Grammar.
- Spelling/Vocabulary: We’ll continue with Soaring With Spelling and Vocabulary.
- Science: We’ll finish the Birds workbook in the Animal Life Series by Mark Twain Publishing. Then switch to ScienceFusion which is a workbook curriculum with lots of online resources and companion materials.
- Sensory Processing Disorder: After much research and reading, we’ve decided to have Ryan tested for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). He fits so many of the common red flags that it seems like knowing one way or the other would be helpful for all of us, especially, I’m hoping some of the ongoing challenges Ryan has with school. (I’ll update later on this.)
So that’s it! We’ll see how 8th Grade goes! Happy Summer!