Onward!

It’s been a while since I last wrote and honestly the only reason why I’ve taken a step back from blogging is because I’ve been elbow deep in living the life.

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I have spent more time reading up on a philosophy I thought I knew while trying to concurrently implement elements that I have always cast aside in favor for other styles than I thought would be necessary. I knew I was going to have to change things up when I started the switch from mixing unschooling and Charlotte Mason to full on CM and I guess I was a bit naive regarding just how much unschooling I had taken on. I dropped Unschooling because I noticed that my children needed the structure more but I didn’t want to lose the atmosphere that we had created in the process.

When something’s not broken you don’t go trying to fix it and the one thing we had really accomplished with unschooling was that the children loved learning! The last thing I wanted to do was make them feel like they must do this checklist worth of subjects and to reduce learning to a chore when we had spent so much time building an atmosphere of learning. After thumbing through multiple free sites, I built my own curriculum for all three of the school aged children mixing sources from multiple grade levels to reach each child where they were at… or so I thought.

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After one six week term with my own CM styled curriculum I realized that mixing them just wasn’t challenging my oldest at all and my younger two really needed to be separated, so I switched things up again. For the first time ever, I moved towards using someone else’s curriculum. At this point I needed something that I could pull together within one week but that also didn’t micromanage my time with too many instructions and so I decided to stick with Ambleside Online‘s free curriculum. I knew that most of the books could be found in the public domain so I didn’t have to spend a fortune pulling together my resources and many of the ones that are not free I could find in one of the three counties that I have a library card for.

We have been at this now for 6 weeks- we should be taking a break this week but using someone else’s curriculum has been a HUGE adjustment for us and instead of being ready for a break, we are two weeks behind. It’s not that this curriculum is hard for us, instead its exactly the kind of challenge we needed, but trying to juggle the items listed on the weekly syllabus (which I LOVE the format of!) with the things that used to be considered electives has been a bit of a challenge.

I used to focus on Math, Phonics, and Reading and everything else just kind of fell into place and because we are always on the move everything fell into place easily. Now I am trying to read 35, 15 minute long, readings a week (years 1,2 and 4- the on demand non-structured preschool readings are not included in this number), regularly make sure we are adding in Nature Study, Hymn Study, Composer Study, Folksongs, Handicrafts, Geography, Mapwork, Plutarch, Shakespeare and Poetry all while continuing Piano Lessons, Science Classes, regular Field Trips and while adding in an engineering class, doctors appointments and our own fun readings every night.

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Dude, I can’t even express how stressed out I was getting over it all during the first two weeks. I read so many blogs and listened to quite a few podcasts trying to figure out how families larger than mine manage to keep this all together!  I was trying so hard to keep the atmosphere that we had created while trying to add in all of this structure because I could see the value in every single part. I knew that together we could have something pretty awesome but I also knew that how things worked for other people wasn’t going to work for me. I don’t have the energy to keep house along with all of this other stuff and keep up with friends or volunteering- all of which are important to me and I don’t want to cut back on- but something had to change. The kids loved school but I was getting too stressed.

So I looked at it from another angle.

Mornings don’t work well for us- at least not for readings. Mommy reading everything out loud, doesn’t work well for me. Schedules, well, I still can’t keep them, so I work with my own version. Routine…not my cuppa tea. So how do I fit it all in without making a schedule or routine, without me reading everything out loud and without bombarding our mornings with lessons?

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While daily checklists and scheduled routines do not work for us, loose weekly requirements do. What does work is making a big list of everything I want to do across all three years during the week on our big blackboard, choosing a handful from each year and fitting those in everyday. Somedays don’t work as planned, either stuff comes up that is just too awesome to miss out (like free children’s day at the Aquarium) or we are so out of it that school just cannot go on, but the system still works for us. All in all, it has allowed us to keep the atmosphere, find a rhythm, and it keeps the boredom from settling in. On the downside, we don’t always get everything to fit into one week, but we are doing so much regularly that it no longer bothers me.

I do not read everything out loud anymore- Man was this killing my voice and my daily productivity! Not enough tea or coffee to keep me from getting sleepy while reading out loud for hours on end. Only one of my four is a strong enough reader to read on their own but too much reading assigned to even him meant that his reading for fun habits were disappearing and I didn’t want that either. Instead we started finding audiobooks through our library (who uses hoopla) or Librivox  and we now listen in the car or they listen during quiet time on their own. If we are not listening together then I’ll read ahead on my own so that I know what they are learning too and narrations are always done with me so we haven’t lost the one on one time in the process.

Also I don’t do all of the readings in the mornings anymore. I spread them out throughout the day in between our other activities. What used to be scheduled from 830 am to 1230 pm now is broken up on the way to science or piano, in the morning before math/ copywork / nature study/ handicrafts or in the evening after dinner. This way we keep the fun feeling of reading with mommy but it doesn’t turn into a chore. Sometimes it’s outside under a tree, sometimes on the couch, sometimes while we eat breakfast… but most of the time we read when I know it will keep their interests.

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I was overthinking it all. I was guilty of overthinking again. I do this a lot. I compare what I’m doing with what I read and I wonder if I am doing it wrong or if I need to add such and such… in a matter of 2 weeks I lost my focus. I went into this school year with a relaxed attitude. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t over burdened…but then when I adapted to someone else curriculum I fell into the curriculum trap. It is a guideline, it is a philosophy, it is a lifestyle, it is not a how to. I needed to go back to how I viewed the curriculum; looking at it more like a booklist/unit and less like a manual. I am too literal to look at it like a manual. I stress out too easily. I overthink it too much and I forget that education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.

This is one of the greatest things about homeschooling and in an effort to create more structure I momentarily forgot that structure does not have to look like school to be effective. I don’t need to have blocks of subjects. I don’t need to have to do lists written out for each child. I don’t need to do it all. The children still need to be responsible for their own education and they need to work with me like they always have if we want to pull this off. I can homeschool in an organic way without being an unschooler and I can find freedom in a rhythm that is full of discipline.

I am, I can, I ought, I will.

This is our life.

This is not school.

We are individuals who were created in the image of the Almighty, we are each unique and in that uniqueness we are different from others so our school may not look like others do. We may have aspects that are similar. We may follow the same philosophy. We may even have many of the same struggles but what works for one does not necessarily work for another.

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So onward we move down this road, focusing on enjoying this journey because the destination leaves me with an empty nest, a thought I am not ready to rush into.

The Six Letter Word.

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In an effort to get organized I have been researching scope and sequence, curriculums, and what seems to be a never ending fountain of information! I have mentioned in the past where my aspirations lie. I love the theory of Classical with its languages, structure, and focus on classical resources. I love the idea of Charlotte Mason with its nature studies, handicrafts, art/music appreciation, narration and dictation. I love the concept behind Child lead learning in an almost unschool format because of the constant barrage of question thrown at me from these rambunctious kiddos!

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When I finally felt like I had organized everything needed for an amazing first grade and Pre k year, I was flabbergasted by what little mans teacher told me at our parent teacher conference.

We knew that he was advanced, we knew he might be gifted (that 6 letter word!), but after being told that our son was the worst student his last teacher had in 30 years we had nothing to prepare us for the bomb being dropped.

Little man will be 6 in two weeks and according to end of the year placements he is reading between a 5th and 6th grade level, his math is between 2nd and 3rd grade and his comprehension of science was “mind blowing” …his teachers words not mine!

He’s no Sheldon Cooper, but I was preparing a rigorous 1st grade curriculum with a few 2nd grade language arts components only to have to begin at square one! So I began to research giftedness a bit more only to find that there is a huge stigma around the word itself! As if claiming that a child who is either gifted intellectually or overtly talented in a specific way is a negative. I also don’t understand why special needs is a term associated with only negative special needs. Either way the child is at one end or the other of the spectrum, and sometimes both simultaneously!

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I’m overwhelmed to say the least. I’ve never thought such a special little brain would be entrusted in my hands! He’s just a normal energy filled little boy who loves superheroes and space… Although I’m not sure how many five year olds are fascinated by black holes and quasars.

Yet with all this I also have major apprehensions. I don’t think my kid is better than yours. I think giftedness should be treated exactly the same as any other special need. In that it requires certain actions on the part of parents and educators to foster positive results. Some kids need individual attention to thrive, some need special resources. I am terrified.

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With great power comes great responsibility, right? As his mother and his teacher my role is to teach him that his intelligence is a power that requires great responsibility. He needs to know that there are more important things in this world than pure intellectualism. He needs to be taught how to be a man of character, of kindness, of creativity and faith!

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I have more than one child though. My girls also scare me with their passions and understandings at such young ages. What happens if they are gifted too? Am I going to have tailor make every curriculum for each of them all the way through high school? I am not saying that I have not been blessed. I’m saying that the sheer weight of the responsibility all this implies has brought me to my knees!

So for now I’m letting go. No curriculum. No week by week plans. I’ve created a loose blueprint of subjects I think are important based on where each kid is currently at and where I want them to be. I have created extensive Pinterest boards with hands on and simple ideas that can be used at the spur of a moment. I have over 200 children’s books and encyclopedias to use as resources. I am not unschooling. I do have a plan. I do have materials to work with. I will implement as much Charlotte mason as will fit into the organic nature of our families learning and if we can mix in a bit of classical too than sweet! Most of all we will follow passions, focus on character, and explore or analyze everything we come across!

And if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something new.

Pray for us. Talk with us, I need reassurance at times that I can even do this. Please don’t condemn us because of it or think that this is in any way an issue of my kid being better than anyone else. It’s not. This is us trying to figure out how to give each of our crazy kids exactly what they need. 🙂