Friday, October 20, 2017

Just how do you homeschool?

We are all caterpillars just crawling around
and eating leaves and sometimes changing.
Of all the questions that I have been asked over the years, the most common is this one. I think it is because often people really know well what the brick and mortar school looks like because it is the one that most of us know so well. There are a few systems at play but generally they all function in the same kind of way. Homeschooling is an entirely new game and it is hard to really figure out what each family is doing because each family does it differently and sometimes one family does it differently at different times.

The needs, challenges, resources, and strengths that we come into homeschooling with will change over time as we and our children change. Because there are lots of ways to go about this, about as many as there are homeschooling families, I want to give some more general guidance about homeschooling and household management based on what has worked well for my family. Later in this series, I will go more into how my family is currently schooling. This first post will deal with some specific tools in my kit that I use in order to keep track of the chaos on school days and my general approach to school. The second will talk about how I manage the other household affairs which is a real issue (find that post HERE). The third will deal specifically with how I school with my children’s specific program. All about us. Hopefully, it won't bore you.

Today is all about having a homeschool toolkit. I have a few systems that I have always consistently deployed to keep my head above water and before I get into the nitty-gritty, I want to talk about these.

1. School toys for the preschool gang. Always, always, always have some school toys that may only be used during school hours. We use train tracks, blocks, wooden puzzles, lace tracing cards, random playing cards, and even a cheap (like SUPER cheap) digital camera. These things can only come out during school hours only. I have two bins and they get switched out and they cannot have both out at the same time.

2. Baby jail and prison guard. I have used anything I could get my hands on the keep the active babies out of death’s grasp including walls built of furniture, wide laundry buckets, playpens, whatever. You need a safe place for baby to play when they want to explore a bit. I always kept a special basket of baby toys which only could only be used in desperate situations like a kid crying over math or my need to use the bathroom. We also have used a kitchen timer and cycled kids through a half hour of guard duty at a time. It keeps the younger set entertained with fresh new games all day and gives the older kids a chance for a break.

3. Just right books. Every kid needs a book that is easy enough to read that they don’t need help. Little ones can have an “I Spy” book. The point is to keep something on hand that will keep them occupied while they wait for you. If they get to a point where they cannot do any more work, but you aren’t available, have them do some penmanship and then open their just right book.

4. Post-It notes. I use loads of them. Tons. Each kid needs a stack of his own. When they get to a problem they can’t solve, a question that they have, they can write it down and move on. They give me the note and I get back to them when I can. When I need them to work on something or check it, I put a note on the cover of that book. When it is done, they give me the note for me to double check. Post-It notes glue all the little loose pieces of my life together. They sure as heck better not go out of business.

5. Get ready the night before. At-schoolers do things like pick out clothes the night before and pack lunches and school bags. In the case of homeschoolers and at-schoolers, knowing that no one has underwear is easier to deal with the night before than in the morning, so do it the night before. Have a breakfast plan so you aren’t panicked in the morning. Cereal is fine. In fact, cereal is freaking great if you are protecting your mental health by just making that plan. If you have a space dedicated to do school, do a quick pass through that area and remove the laundry baskets, coats, shoes, and whatever will slow you down in the morning. You are shipshape and ready for action, Captain.

6. Have a school plan for the kids done ahead of time. My favorite time to do this in the afternoon when we are wrapping up for the day. In fact, I have a scheduled time for it. Some people like to do it when their kids are in bed and they can do it uninterrupted. Both plans are good. The trick is that you need to do it before the kids are yelling at each other, the dog is barking out the window, and everyone needs to just get started. Take a comp notebook, write a list of their subjects and make a quick note about what to do. They can check it off when they are done and you don’t have to constantly be available to answer, “What next, Mom?”

7. Set boundaries. For ages, we had an outgoing answering machine message that said, “Hi, this is the Naasko Family. We are unavailable during school hours. Leave a message and we will call at lunch or at the end of the day.” I even made a sign for my door when we lived in a busy suburban neighborhood (it was on the back door since that was where the kids went to knock). If you are bad about the temptation that the cell phone might be, put it in a drawer for later. If the TV is the big draw, put the remotes in the same drawer. If your kids become distracted, you might need to lock out some sites on the computers. Don’t worry, it is not forever. Basically, you can set a timed lockout so that you can focus on the immediate task by using this Google extension called Stay Focusd. We use it on our computers and it works well. I have had to use it when I was procrastinating on book writing so it works for moms, too. 

8. Schedule two tidy ups a day. We do a quick run through the whole house and everybody has to be onboard, once in the morning and once in the evening. Set a timer for twenty minutes and make it a race. Make a list and they can be done when it’s done. Do like I do and make stay up television and device availability dependent on it. You can do it a lot of ways but do it.

9. Start each kid with their strongest subject every day. Make sure that you do not put off the hardest until the end of the day. I usually try to put it second, if possible. Start with a success and move onto something harder and switch back and forth as much as possible.

10. Give and get a hug. If you have a kiddo who is prone to meltdown over poor subjects, be available at that time. Be ready for it. Give the other kids a break at this time. If you feel like you are just firefighting and not getting anywhere with this kid and subject, stop beating yourself up right now and take a deep breath. Then reach over and hug that kid who is just falling apart. Rome was not built in a day so don’t think Trig mastery will happen overnight. Keep building, keep hugging, and keep on keeping on. Then find someone to give you a hug, you need it, too. Call me and I will send you a virtual hug.

Tomorrow I will have a post on how I incorporate laundry and other housework into our day. I will also talk about the different ways in which this has changed depending on the number of children I had at the time and their ages. You will still need to do dishes and cook meals and wash clothes while schooling kids, so this is ultimately important.

The third post will talk about my family specifically and be more of a slice of life. You will find out all about how we use St Raphael Online. I have children signing into their one-hour lessons staggered all day. We use Khan Academy for math and Rosetta Stone for language and all of these are computer based. We use a mix of computer-based learning and text-based for science. I have a limited amount of internet connectivity at a time and a limited number of devices so I have to careful to assign kids to their work based on this. As for spelling, grammar and composition, and poetry, these are the subjects that they do with me. To help me manage schooling nine children with one preschooler running around, I group the kids according to ability. I have four levels of spelling and two for grammar and slot to run through all the kids’ poems they are memorizing.

Looking for that household chores post? Find it HERE.


Keep it clean, people. Remember, if you cannot say something nice, say nothing at all.