Written by Kari Patterson of Sacred Mundane
This year I ditched most of what we’d done before, and decided to take an Experiment Year. That is, a year to try new things, refuse to stress, return to JOY, and recover our lost love of learning.
By the end of last year I found myself frustrated by our workbook-driven, scope-and-sequence-bound educational existence. I just kept thinking, “This is not the life-giving, freedom-filled educational environment I had always envisioned for our family.”
Something had to change.
Turns out, almost everything did, and it’s been great! I am actually ENJOYING myself, my kids are enjoying themselves, and we’ve had ZERO TEARS over educational issues. Hooray!
These are not prescriptions, as every family is different. But I wanted to share five of my discoveries so far. My hope is that one of these might be an “Aha!” moment for you as well.
1. Secure my own mask first.
We’ve all heard the flight-attendant safety spiel regarding oxygen: “Secure your own mask before assisting your child.” Why? Because it won’t help your kid one bit if you’re passed out. The same is true of homeschooling.
No one wants to be taught by a stressed-out, on-edge, overwhelmed mama. Right? So this year I made a commitment to homeschool my own heart first, and for me that meant 7 W’s before school each day:
- Water (16 oz when I wake up)
- Word (time in the Bible)
- Wait (prayer)
- Write (journal)
- Weights & Worship (10 min of hand-weights while I sing along with music)
- Walk (2-3 miles on our driveway or treadmill).
I can do this and shower by 10am, when we begin school, and it makes all the difference for my mental health and well-being!
I know not everyone has these priorities, or the flexibility to do these things (I don’t have babies right now!), but some kind of self-care, each morning, does wonders for our mindset as we enter into schoolwork each day.
2. Start right.
I’m embarrassed to admit this is the first year we have prayed together every day before starting school. I was inspired by Sarah Mackenzie’s Morning Time, so our first day of school I pulled out zucchini muffins and invited the kids to the table for time together. I loved the feeling of beginning our day together, relationally, rather than jumping right into work.
I also loved Jamie’s idea to read aloud their family’s educational manifesto. I wanted something that would center us each day, so I wrote Our Family’s Pledge of Allegiance and Our Educational Prayer (pictured). We say these each morning, together.
3. Structure time not content.
This is a TJED principle (Jamie shares more here), and I’m really seeing its value this year. Rather than finishing a set-amount of lessons, we structure our time, and commit to work hard on that particular subject, or project, for that time.
I thought maybe we’d get behind doing this, but have found exactly the opposite. We get more done than I thought. The kids enjoy their books so much they love tackling 2 or 3 lessons at a time.
4. Ditch multi-tasking (for the most part)
I’m efficient to a fault. My husband says I’m like a shark: I must stay moving or I’ll die. I can complete many tasks at a time, and this is fine, but I’m finding that, from 10am-1pm, I need to ditch my multi-tasking compulsion and focus entirely on our education.
Even during self-directed subjects, like math, if I stay at the table and work on my own education, reading or planning (books/paper: no screens), things go so much better.
I respond to questions quickly and cheerfully, instead of yelling over my shoulder while I’m stirring the soup. Plus, they seem to need less help when I’m near. It makes the whole morning more peaceful.
5. Capitalize on unique strengths
My kids (like yours, probably) are very, very different. My son, with Asperger’s, has extreme strengths and extreme weaknesses. I used to lament because their learning styles were so different, but I’m finding that when I think creatively, exactly the opposite is true.
For example, Heidi (8) can write better and faster than me. She loves writing. Dutch (almost 11) writes like a toddler and cries if he has to write more than 2-3 sentences, BUT he can remember everything he reads.
So this year we are doing all our language arts studies (reading comprehension, spelling, vocab, grammar) straight from classics. I split everything up according to their strengths and let them work together. Heidi is the scribe, Dutch dictates. Heidi creates all the flashcards, Dutch does all his drill-work and spelling tests orally.
To my amazement, even though Heidi had “only” written down answers dictated by Dutch, she scored 29/30 on her first spelling test (5th grade words!) without studying — she had simply written the words so many times she learned them. Dutch did well also, because without the stress of writing he was able to focus on learning the words, written neatly out on flashcards made by his sister.
You get the point. I’m enjoying the opportunity to think outside the box, and let the kids learn according to their strengths. It also fosters their relationship, and teaches them to value others’ strengths, rather than be threatened by them. I’m all for that!
We’re only a couple months in, but I’m so very grateful for this Experiment Year and all it’s teaching me, as a homeschool mom.
I’m not sure if we’re “on track” for state testing, but I know we’re on track for who we are as people. It feels so good to break free from the scope-and-sequence slavery and get back to wonder, discovery, creativity, and joy.
Your turn: What are you doing differently this year and what are you learning from it?