Well, I figure we’re about halfway through the home school year. Not quite, but close enough to start evaluating the process and maybe even make plans for next year’s education. There have been some really amazing moments with home schooling and there have been some very challening moments. I definitely feel like it is time to start weighing in on whether or not this will be our plan for the next year. So, for those of you who are considering home schooling maybe some of my thoughts/experiences will give you a better starting place for considerations and planning since we kind of had a last-minute decision to do this and had help from a few friends but just weren’t really sure what we were getting ourselves into!!! Obviously these are subjective to the way that we are trying to work home school but comments or helpful suggestions would be welcome because we are, clearly, still learning!
This has been a great experience for the entire family: challenging, humbling, humiliating, and often times full of joy. Because my DH works full-time plus is currently in a major church ministry the bulk of the instruction falls to me. I will say, however, that he is amazingly helpful on Saturdays when we are a little behind or after he comes home from work when Blake and I have been butting heads over getting work done. If you don’t have a spouse who is willing to help out even though home schooling is “your” job, then I’d say you may want to have some intentional conversations about that. It has been good for Kyle and I to talk about Blake’s progress, where we see him growing or lacking, and how we can speak Biblical truths into his heart and life through this process. It has brought us together in that…and it has also brought challenges to the marriage. Mostly because about once every other week I send him a text or a nearly-tearful voicemail saying that I can’t handle it and that Blake needs to go back to regular school. I love my son but he is willful. Probably a lot like me. I would say that overall these challenges have brought Kyle and I together on a lot of issues regarding education as well as on parenting and he seems to understand when I need to “escape” into the bathroom with a good book and a bubble bath on some of these days! I don’t say it enough to him, but without him we’d probably have been done with home schooling months ago…if you decide to do this, prepare for challenges and know that it MUST be a team effort or it can put a stumbling block in your marriage.
With my children, Blake is currently six-and-a-half and Bryan is two-and-a-half-years-old, there have also been great joys and great challenges. One of the decisions we had to make early on was the time of the day in which to complete our schooling. My intent was to make sure that Bryan is not ignored for the time Blake and I worked together…but there is always finding a balance of when Blake will work and when Bryan will be awake. Definitely a juggling act. If you have multiple children but only one is school-age I would definitely spend some time considering what your days look like and how you can commit to the education of one and still be attentive to the other. Some days Bryan is really happy just to play in the basement with us while we do school and other days he wants all of my attention. Sometimes we even strike a balance where Bryan and I can work on colors or “art” while Blake completes assignments. It has definitely brought my boys and I closer together. When Blake was younger (from the time he was born until three years ago) he was in childcare while I worked full-time. I missed a lot of his life and so when we were together it was almost always “fun” time or “buying” time where he got to make choices and get “stuff”. Part of the challenge of our relationship has been a near-constant repetition of “It’s not always about you.” The first few weeks this wasn’t an issue, but it grew into an issue when he balked at doing work so I spent time and attention with Bryan even though it was school time. At this point it has become a healthier relationship for us because he understands the different ways that he can have my time and attention and that sometimes he needs to have quiet time or play time alone while I give Bryan attention. It has been great because he really treasures the fun times we have together and I have loved being able to watch him grow and change which I missed much of in his earlier years. Because Bryan is so young it has also been a blessing for me to do home school because I am able to be much more a part of his early years. Bryan loves reading books and will crawl into my lap at any point in the day if he sees me sit down because he wants to read! It’s wonderful to be able to do that…which I understand would happen if I was a SAHM without homeschooling but because I am more aware of the teaching and learning process in the home now I think it has been a real blessing to me. It has also been wonderful to see the boys grow closer together. For Bryan’s second birthday my wonderful M-I-L got the boys bunk beds and we moved them in together. This move was partially to ensure that I didn’t have two rooms full of mess and toys, partially to ensure that we had a guest room for my family or any other people in need of a place to stay, and mostly because I want my boys to grow up to be best friends and share life together! It has been amazing to see how their relationship continues to grow too. Because we are doing home schooling Blake has so much time with his baby brother which he wouldn’t otherwise have. He reads books to Bryan and teaches him counting, colors, shapes…it’s wonderful to watch. They also play together all the time which sometimes involves Bryan sitting on the couch holding a Wii controller while Blake convinces him he’s actually playing (he learned this trick from his uncles!) or sometimes involves creative, and often, hilarious play. Overall I think this has brought all of us together though the experience also tends to showcase our flaws and struggles as a family and in marriage. It is important to be honest with yourself about where struggles may occur and to be honest as you experience them. Repentance will also, most likely, play a large part in this process if you struggle with any of your children and strong personalities.
You must submit your intent to home school to your district superintendent, per ORC 3301-34. In this letter of intent you must include a sample outline of the curriculum you intend to use. We chose Rod & Staff and there are pros and cons for my son and for the way we work together (or don’t…depending).
The pros of this curriculum include:
the cost which was one of the lowest for a full 1st grade curriculum.
the usability of the materials (worksheets and books).
the manageability of the amount of work required each day.
the use of repetition across the subjects both daily and as review.
the limited number of subjects which include handwriting and phonics (these are connected for the first 1/3 of the curriculum), religion/reading (these are paired with each other), and math.
the fact that this curriculum is one used in classrooms can give you a feeling of confidence that it meets educational standards.
easy to understand teacher manuals which have some great teaching tips.
the use of both phonics and whole word in the reading instruction.
The cons of this curriculum include:
there is no “pre-test” or evaluation tool which may have saved us a lot of frustration because, as it is, I have been making Blake work through everything when he really has mastered quite a few of the skills but I wasn’t 100% sure of what he was bringing into first grade.
the use of repetition can be tedious and because my son seems to be farther ahead on some of the content it can definitely become a problem when I want to make sure he has a skill mastered and he doesn’t feel like doing it…again!
the math worksheets can be frustrating because it isn’t explained well that you need to make additional copies of some of the generic forms (to be used throughout the entire year) and that some of the worksheets should actually be used for two or three lessons…if you don’t get that then you have a child doing a LOT of work some days.
the use of many out-of-date words (I believe the curriculum was written in the ’70s) and some that are specific to the way the Mennonite church must teach/speak.
some of the illustrations which children are asked to write names for are hard to identify (even for an adult) and some are asking for a specific, out-of-date term which can be frustrating when a child doesn’t have familiarity with that terminology.
- the use of very traditional family roles which I, personally, don’t find troublesome, can create some hard questions…ie, the roles of fathers and mothers and then the application of that when the children know someone who doesn’t have/live with one of those parents. Like I said, it doesn’t bother me but I know some people may not like the wya it is presented.
- the lack of any kind of pacing guide. Especially since this is a curriculum used in a school it would be really convenient to look and see that I am approximately where I should be. I fully understand that homeschool operates differently than traditional school but as a first-timer there is a lot of pressure to make sure Blake is getting what he needs in order to function appropriately at grade level or at least make significant progress.
- because this curriculum is used in schools it definitely has that feel and sometimes there is limited interaction in completing assignments because there are so many workbook pages…we try to find a balance or incorporate additional resources here.
The great thing about the classroom for home schooling is that it can be anywhere! Our school day could take place as a field trip to the Cincinnati Museum Center (which offers a discount to home-schoolers, simply take a copy of your approval letter from the district and you get $20 off a membership), in our clubhouse out back, on the grass, in our kitchen or living room, and often times it is in our “official” classroom. Because I taught for eight years I initially wanted a more “formal” classroom because I had so many resources from teaching (white boards, book shelves, etc.) and we had so many materials from my classroom, Blake’s art area, and in the form of workbooks and activity books that we had previously purchased. I will say that Blake did well with a desk and in his classroom but there are drawbacks to that as well. Blake loves the idea of school and he loves using the whiteboard and chalkboard as well as organizing his classroom. (I can’t imagine where he gets that from! 😉 Sometimes, however, it is just not a classroom kind of a day. For starters we have our classroom in the basement which is unfinished and can get pretty cold. Sometimes school is later in the day and we need to do work in the kitchen while I make dinner. And sometimes we just don’t want to sit in the classroom. The lesson I’ve learned is to be flexible. I know, those of you who already homeschool told me to do that…but it took Blake and I a while to find our “groove” and to figure out what that looks like best. I would also say that if you have other children who are not yet in school make sure that you do school where they have access to toys (and to you) so that they can play while you work. Also I’ve found it has been much easier to work with Blake when I have a space for Bryan that looks the same and some little coloring and workbooks for him to do because he likes to do school with Blake. As far as purchasing supplies for your child I’d say you have to know them…I know Blake likes to stand up and move around so I wanted to make sure we had a white board and chalkboard for him to use for some of his work instead of just using worksheets. I also took advantage of yard- and rummage-sale season to find workbooks and other teaching/classroom/activity supplies. You can get great products for super cheap and my friend, SC, actually hit a retiring teacher’s yard sale and got a ton of amazing tactile learning tools for a tiny portion of the cost it would have been to buy them new! To be honest, though, all of the curriculum I use on a regular basis can fit into a bag or on a shelf in a closet so if you don’t have room (or the desire) to create a classroom don’t feel like you can’t do this! Many moms I’ve gotten to know simply pull things out onto the dining room table and they say it works for their family.
Timing is Everything
At least, that’s what I’ve always heard. Be flexible in this part of school as well. I know that when babies are born there are books that encourage parents to create the routine for the infant; if that works for you and your children, great! It didn’t work for mine and I didn’t try to force a schedule on Blake because I know we operate differently. Okay, just kidding…I tried to force a schedule and it ended (on a near-daily basis) in yelling, tears, and sometimes a glass of wine on my part. My goals was to wake up, watch a TV show and have breakfast, get dressed and “go” to school. Then we’d finish school and have the entire rest of the day to go places or have fun activities or clean (which is another whole blog topic). After my bright-eyed idealism wore off and reality set in, Blake and I had several conversations about how to make school run more smoothly and without as many battles of our wills. We started doing school during Bryan’s nap time (which meant that we sometimes did school at different times of the day if Bryan was off his schedule) or even in the evening. While this schedule doesn’t fit with what I’d prefer to do, it has eliminated many of the battles. I still get frustrated sometimes because I’d rather go out in the afternoon knowing that we are “free” from school but I’ve realized that less battles means a happier family. We try to work out two days without school…typically we take Sundays and Wednesdays off because we like Sunday to be relaxing for family time and Wednesdays because I meet with my friend, AR, and Blake has Tae Kwon Do as well. It also is nice because we only have two-three days at a time and then a break. If we are having a long field trip day, we just do work later on Wednesday and take another day off! Flexibility is key. Of course I forget that a lot and have to remind myself that it’s okay that home school doesn’t look like traditional school.
Before making this decision, I’d attend some kind of informational meeting. We went to one that was free at a church in Mason and it covered legal issues, notification issues, evaluation, and various grade-level experiences as well as curriculum resources. You need to create resources…be they home school co-ops or groups or simply people who are going through/have gone through this process. I cannot express my thanks enough to my wonderful friends MB and SC enough…these women have been sounding boards, Customer Service reps, shoulders to cry on, and just great friends as I’ve worked through this process and continue to do so! We chose not to join a co-op our first year simply because it seemed daunting to me to try and find a co-op, pay for it, and figure out how to participate in it since we made our decision so late in the summer. I would recommend some kind of support system, though, so that your child(ren) can socialize and so that you can as well. Also it is also great to have other moms who will give objective answers to questions you have. There are also legal organizations to join which will help with any issues that may arise with a school district issue, end-of-the-year testing, or other issues that arise. By participating in a co-op and/or legal organization you’ll have access to end-of-the-year evaluations which are required by your local school district to ensure that you are teaching your child and that they are progressing. I have not experienced this process yet so I can’t comment on how that evaluation will go. I’d also say that it is a great piece of advice to check out your school district’s policy on homeschooling notification prior to starting the school year. We have a local superintendent as well as a county superintendent so my notification didn’t actually go to my local school district…thanks to MB I knew that ahead of time! One home schooling mom recommended that I photocopy my approval letter from the district and keep it in my purse which is great advice because many places (like the Museum Center) offer discounts to educators when you purchase passes. Bookstores will also honor this and one of my friends says that if you show it at the library you can have extensions on book check-outs as well. I haven’t tried the last one, so you’d need to ask your local library. Speaking of libraries…great resource! We try to go once a week and there are study/meeting rooms that are free and on a first-come, first-served basis. Next year, when Bryan might stay contained better in one of these rooms, it would offer a great place to do school outside of our house. Also Blake loves getting audio books and non-fiction books so we always try to get books on new subjects and the children’s librarians at Middletown Public Library are AMAZING if that is where you go, you probably already know how wonderful they are!
Hopefully some of the experiences we’ve had so far will give you an insight into what the process looks like for us and at this point in the year. The most important lesson I’m learning is to be flexible while ensuring that Blake knows that school is not an option. Delicate balance, true, but I’m learning. My tips for those of you considering this option (if it’s earlier than we started to consider it) are: go to a home school convention which are typically in the spring because you can actually look at curriculum instead of just looking online and you can start gathering information and networking, attend a meeting in your area for parents who are just learning about/exploring the home school option because these are typically smaller and more specific to the first-timer, ask at your church if there are parents already home schooling or talk to friends you know who already do this, and above all, pray about your decision and its impact on your family. Because it will be an amazing process.
- CHEC (Christian Home Educators of Cincinnati) which offers a multitude of support options and meetings (as well as association with a the Home School Legal Defense Association). Check out their website at http://www.chechome.org if you live in: Anderson, College Hill, Greenhills, Hamilton, Fairfield, Kenwood, Lebanon, Mason, Milford, Mt. Orab, West Chester, or Western Hills for affiliated area groups.
- If you live in Butler County you need to go to http://www.bcesc.org to find out the notification requirements as well as contact information for the process.
- If you are interested in the Rod & Staff Curriulum you can look at it at http://www.rodandstaffbooks.com if you’d like information on other curriculums feel free to contact me and I’ll send you some of the other curriculum sites that I was given in my search process.