Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Our Homeschooling Journey: The First Three Weeks

My knight, er...helmet, in shining armor.

My knight, er…helmet, in shining armor.

We’ve only got three weeks under our belt, but so far I have been amazed at what we have ALL learned in such a small period of time.  It’s not perfect – most days feature at least one bout of insanity at some point.  But at the end of the day, we can look back and always find fun, quality family time, and of course, a lot of learning.  In fact, since I’m learning something new and better about this whole process every single day, I hesitated writing this post, for fear that the minute I published it, it’d become “obsolete.”  But my guess is that like most other areas of my life, this one is pretty much ALWAYS going to be a work in progress, so I may as well document the journey!  So with that said, here are my observations after the first 3 weeks of homeschool:

BEHAVIOR:

One of our main concerns throughout the public school year had been the unpleasant emotional side effects that came with a 7 hour day of basically sitting still and being quiet.  By the time Big C came home, his body seemed to be in a complete state of confusion – his physical body needed to MOVE, but mentally, he was completely drained.  Add to all of that a desperate need for one on one time with family, and we ended up with an overly-emotional little boy that walked off the bus in a hyperactive frenzied state seeking love and attention.   BUT…now that I’ve got all day to fill up my little boy’s love tank, he is a million times more patient and even-tempered…most days.  He is after all, still a strong-willed 5 year old…but now a much more reasonable one!

Creating a pretzel/peanut butter log cabin during our Presidents Unit Study

Creating a pretzel/peanut butter log cabin during our Presidents Unit Study

OUTDOOR TIME:

A 20 minute recess (that was often spent indoors at the first sign of “cold” or “wet”), just didn’t cut it for a 7 hour day.  Not even close.  Now that we are homeschooling, we find ourselves with big chunks of time at all hours of the day to spend outside enjoying Creation.  Sometimes outdoor time is a science lesson – one day last week we measured the depths of puddles using a stick, and the next day we followed deer tracks in the mud along a creek bank.  Sometimes it’s exercise-oriented – a walk, hike, or bike ride.  One day we even “hopped” out our math facts with sidewalk chalk.  But most of the time, it’s just good, old-fashioned, unstructured play.  (For more on why unstructured play is so important for young kids, read this, or this.)

DAILY ROUTINE:

I purposefully said “routine” instead of “schedule,” because so far we’ve been pretty laidback, with a few daily constants to anchor our day into place.  We start our day with breakfast around 7:30, at which time we talk about our calendar, and read a variety of books – always one from our children’s Bible, a couple from our Unit Study Basket (each week we choose a new theme), and whatever other random books the kids take turns picking out.  After morning jobs are done, we usually do some sort of writing activity – it could be drawing a picture and writing a sentence about it, or maybe a couple of pages in one of our new Star Wars Workbooks.  Last week our theme was “Community Helpers,” so this time was spent making thank you cards/pictures for our trash/recycle collectors, mailman, librarian, and local firefighters.

At this point we sometimes do a school lesson, if it’s something that we can do with Baby Zu around.  Or if the kids are playing nicely together, I let ’em play while I finish my coffee and make an attempt at tidying up the house.  The rest of the morning depends on the day, but over the course of the week will generally include all of the following – library, errands, cooking, meeting friends, playground/park, playing in the backyard, nature study, crafts that relate to our unit study, visiting neighbors, and making music/dance parties.

Thank you notes and cookies left for our garbageman during Community Helpers week.

Thank you notes and cookies left for our garbageman during Community Helpers week.

We eat lunch around 1145, when we read a few more Unit Study books.  Sometimes I give Big C something to work on while I’m putting Baby Zu down from her nap, other times he just plays in his room and waits for me.  Baby Zu’s nap is our most “formal” schooling time of the day, and it lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on whether we did any “school” in the morning or not.  We do math and reading in 15-20 minute chunks, sandwiched in between more read-aloud time – either from the Unit Study basket, from Big C’s library bag, or whatever chapter book we are currently reading (right now we are FLYING through the Magic Tree House series.)

After our official school time is over, we BOTH get free time until Baby Zu wakes up…Big C usually chooses to either play outside or build with legos, and this is my time to write/email/plan/breathe.  If Baby Zu is taking a long nap, we sometimes watch an episode of The Crocodile Hunter together during this time.

Once Baby Zu wakes up we are usually out the door until Daddy gets home – playdates, bike rides, neighborhood walks, climbing gym, etc.  We all eat dinner together around 6, then relax around the house until the kids go to bed around 730 or so.

ROOM FOR CREATIVITY:

This has been my favorite part about homeschooling.  As a toddler/preschooler, Big C always had a HUGE imagination.  You know that expression about chatty extroverts being able to talk to a brick wall?  I always used to say that Big C could have an all day playdate with a brick wall.  He could use just about anything to launch him deep into his own little world.  But once school started, a lot of the quirky creativity stopped.  He was still a Lego Master Builder, and still loved acting out scenes from his favorite books and movies, but the costumes and impromptu crafting had disappeared.  At first I thought that perhaps this was all just my little boy (sniff sniff) growing up, especially after a few specific incidents at school that prompted conversations about caring (or not caring, rather) what other people think about you.

Going on a "pirate" scavenger hunt at a local nature preserve.

Going on a “pirate” scavenger hunt at a local nature preserve.

But I kid you not, during out very first week of homeschool, Big C averaged 4 costume changes per day.  Ninjas, medieval knights, firefighters, pirates, and of course about a million superheroes.  In a matter of days it was like that quirky, creative little boy had returned without missing a step, and it has been enchanting to follow him down all of his little rabbit trails of learning.

After a long day of public school, Big C wanted to talk about ANYTHING other than what he was learning at school.  Now, he rarely wants to talk about anything else.  It’s like the teachable moment lasts all day long, and we can dive in for as deep or as long as we want!

LESSON PLANNING:

During the “pre-kid” era of my life, I taught elementary school for 8 years, so in many ways, I feel right at home with a lot of the formal school stuff.  I loved teaching, and sharing those skills with my own children has been very rewarding.  That being said, homeschooling one child (with a toddler along for the ride) is A LOT different than managing an entire classroom!  There’s a lot that feels completely foreign, along with a few habits I’ve had to completely unlearn.  Most notably, I’ve realized that I can (and should!) be a LOT more relaxed about planning my days.  Rather than having to have everything prepped for the whole day before the morning begins, I can get things ready as they come up.  If I don’t cover everything I’d expected to on a particular day, it’s not a big deal, and I don’t have to play “catch-up” the next day.  By the same token, some days we skip ahead, and that’s fine too!  As long as there’s plenty of learning opportunities scattered about throughout the day, we can call it a success!

With all that said, there’s still a ton I don’t know, and a lot of resources I’ve yet to tap into.  But the past 3 weeks have been nothing but confirmation that for our family, this is the best next step.  For those of you that also homeschool, I’d love to hear more about your daily routine, so please feel free to comment.  And for those of you that are ready for more climbing posts…spring season is almost here, so be patient!

Measuring puddle depth

Measuring puddle depth

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN