Saturday, September 15, 2018

Our First School Week 2018/2019

We just finished our second week of school, but I thought I'd still share some highlights and thoughts from our first week. I am considering doing this every week...we'll see how it goes.

Monday: This term I have planned to spend some time each day sitting around the table together and drawing. Three days a week, we plan to do a drawing from the Drawing Textbook, two days a week, a drawing or painting in our nature journals. I hate to admit it, but up till now I have been a failure in the nature journal department. I think it's because of the logistics involved...either we all have to take our journals along on a nature walk, or we have to find something and take it into the house in order to draw it later. This year, I found a local PEI nature guide with easy-to-copy line drawings of local "Birds, Bush and Barnacles." I decided that we would turn our nature study around for now, pick a plant or two to study each week, draw it, and then see if we can find it in the woods. It's not ideal, but if it means it will actually happen, it will be better than the little we have been doing. Today was our first day doing this, and the boys all enjoyed it. SA(10) and JJ(8) broke out their watercolours and painted the bluebead lily, a very common and distinctive plant in the woods here. MM(6) and I used pencil crayons (CM does not advise pencil crayons, but by this point I am just concerned with actually doing something regularly with our nature journals!)

Tuesday: Today everyone was tired, and we had a late start. We stayed out late last night for the Labour Day holiday, and we're paying for it! I felt like I was dragging everyone through the day. However, I did have a highlight with SA. I asked him to walk with me around our property as he narrated from Madam How and Lady Why on synthesis and analysis. It was a lovely, lengthy narration that demonstrated his understanding. I was so glad I thought to take him outside and do that. Inside, I often feel rushed because I have other children I need to get to. SA is an introvert who needs to process for a minute or two before the narration starts coming out of his mouth. He does not do well when I rush him. The walking really seemed to facilitate his thought processes. I need to figure out how I can incorporate this more often (and what I might be able to do instead during our long winter!).

Wednesday: I was thinking today about how different it is to do Year 1 with my third child than it was with my first. It's a lot like the difference between having your first baby and having your third. Everything is a Big Deal with the first. It's hard work and a steep learning curve. But now we've had basic learning routines in place for years, and all I have to do is include my third child in them by requiring narration in his turn. Aside from that I just have to spend about half an hour with him one-on-one for one individual reading and narration, and alternating reading and math lessons. Then he just sits with the other boys and does his own copywork, math worksheet, and Explode the Code. Narration is easy for him, both because of his extroverted personality and because he has been hearing it from his brothers since he can remember.

Thursday: Today school was cut short just before lunch by the arrival of cousins, come to camp in our back yard. They came along to our first retirement home service of the season  in the afternoon (My husband preaches and we all help with the singing.). Then we went thrift shopping for books. I am still afflicted by occasional headaches that began during my last week of planning...

Friday: The local annual Not Back To School Picnic was today, and we took a day off.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Planning Woes

School planning was painful this year, and I mean that literally. Figuring out the schedule gave me a headache for four days in a row. This is the first time that I have acknowledged to myself that I do not enjoy school planning.

This is a problem, because I really do enjoy having a plan. I tend to follow my plan well, and I will readily admit that one of the reasons I love homeschooling is because I feel a great sense of accomplishment every day, week, term, and year that we follow the plan and actually do as many elements of a Charlotte Mason education as I can squeeze in. I can see my children's growth as we faithfully do the little things, day after day after day.

I need to think this through now, while the memory of the pain is still fresh. Why was it so hard?What can I do to make planning less of an ordeal next year? 

Why is it so hard for me?

1. This is my first year with three students. SA(10) is starting Ambleside Online Year 5, JJ(8) is starting Year 3, and MM(6) is starting Year 1.

2. I also have a preschooler, AJ(3), in the mix. I feel I need to spend some quality time with him at the beginning of our school time in order to make him feel loved and included and (hopefully) pre-empt any negative attention-seeking behaviour.

3. My Year 5 student is not quite independent yet. He is just beginning written narration this year. I still read with him in Shakespeare and Plutarch, and work with him on Latin and dictation. I think all these things are fairly normal, and yet I can see that my second child is already much more independent than my oldest was at his age, and I wonder if I need to push SA a little harder towards greater independence.

4. I do things in my homeschool that simplify our days and make them more joyful, but do add to the decision-making at the beginning of the year. For example, we do several lessons each day together as a family, usually a literature selection, sometimes natural history or geography, always Bible, and often Canadian history (In addition to all the obvious things we'd naturally do together, such as poetry, composer study, picture study, nature study, recitation and memory work.). This means that rather than just leaving each AO year as it is, I have to decide which of SA's readings we will do together, and also which of JJ and MM's readings I will leave out as a result so that they are not overloaded (this is the harder decision of the two). Of course, leaving the Years as they are without adapting to my family would have its own planning challenges.

5. I figure out Canadian History from scratch, since my chosen curriculum is American-based.

6. I try to do all the CM things. Again, it's the planning, not the doing, that does me in. While there are always some things I end up dropping unintentionally as the year rolls on, it always seems to be because I didn't plan that subject well enough, or didn't put it in a good place in the schedule.

7. Making playlists (for composer study, hymn review, folk song review, and poetry review) took longer than usual this year because I switched from Freegal to Itunes and needed to build them from scratch to include review for the songs we learned in the last four years. Itunes had more choice than Freegal and that resulted in greater decision fatigue. I switched because Freegal makes updates to their app three or four times a year, and almost every time I've had to remake my playlists from scratch. I'm hoping my playlists will stay where they are in Itunes. If they do, it will mean much less work for me going forward. Only the composer study playlists will have to be made up in their entirety, folk song and hymn playlists will just be added to one at a time as we learn new songs.

8. Planning requires an amount of focus that is difficult with four children around me. Every time I get into the flow, I have to switch gears and make everyone a meal, or do some laundry and basic cleaning. Also, when I am so focused on my computer screen, the children start to misbehave.

9. I am reluctant to change anything about my homeschool. I love Ambleside Online. I know there are other CM curriculum out there that do more hand-holding when it comes to planning, but I would find it very hard to break up with AO's wonderful booklists. I love doing certain things as a family. I love getting most of the homeschooling done in the morning so afternoons can be free. I'm not really willing to give any part of that up. 

Does that mean I just have to accept the four-day headache as part of what it takes to homeschool the way I want to homeschool? (That's a genuine question. It's possible the answer may be yes.)

What can I do to make planning easier next year? 
(and always...)

1. I could go over to another CM curriculum that has more scheduling helps for multiple students. But see #9 above. Still, it's possible that this could be a solution. (I looked into AO for groups when it came out, but because I'd already been combining my students all along, I saw that it would take just as much work to adjust that plan for my current students as it was taking to adjust the regular plan. Also, I now have students in two forms, and in a couple of years I'll have students in three forms, which would still mean working with two to three schedules.)

2. I could get a consultation somewhere and talk it through with someone experienced. The thing is, I think I make beautiful plans. They cover everything I want to cover. We actually do them (imperfectly, but still faithfully and consistently). I am planning things that work for us. I don't know if following someone else's ideas or plan would work as well. So I'm not sure if this would actually help me with the headache.

3. I could think through my planning process and have realistic expectations for how long planning will take me. For the record, here's what it took this year:

- Brainstorming: 1 week. I think through the past year, what went well, what didn't. I think about CM's principles. How is our balance is when it comes to atmosphere, discipline, and life? How have I been fostering the "science of relations" in our home? I consider if there's anything new I want to incorporate into the new school year. I look at the AO booklists. I think about each child individually, their gifts and their challenges, and specific ways I'd like to help them grow this year. I look at a calendar and think about when to start and where the terms will fall. I write every thought in a notebook. I also start to read something for of Charlotte Mason's volumes, or something else. This summer I was reading Karen Glass's Know and Tell.

- Book buying: 2 days. I go to and buy all the living books I need. I also order math curriculum. I make a chart of what I've ordered, where I've ordered it from, and when I'm expecting it to arrive. I like to have the books in hand before I start scheduling.

- Morning time planning: 1-2 days. This is the learning we do together. I plan for our breakfast learning routine (1 literature or other reading and narration, Bible, hymn and catechism memory work, Bible reading and narration, and prayer) and our "tea time" learning routine (poetry appreciation, poetry and folk song recitation and memory work, picture study, grammar, foreign language vocabulary review, Canadian history, drawing, nature journalling.) I modify an AO schedule and put in each of these things in the order I plan to do them in every day. For the memory work and recitation, I choose what we will do each half-term, and print off what I need for the term coming up.

- Memory Binders: 1-2 days. I have two memory binders for myself and each student: one for Bible, hymns, and catechism, and one for poetry, folk songs, and picture study. I print off copies of my selections for the coming term and put them in page protectors in our binders. I also upload prints of the art we will study to Staples so they can print them in colour for me and I can pick them up next time I'm in town.

- Canadian history and geography planning: 2 days. I look at AO's schedule for my oldest child for the range of dates covered in history for that year, and I look at my collection of spines to figure out which one(s) I want to use. I also pick supplementary biographies or other books. I read or skim everything and schedule it all out. Thankfully this is a subject we do as a family and I don't have to plan more than one year at a time.

- Planning individual subjects: 1-2 days. I figure out what I'm doing for foreign language, piano, drawing, handicrafts, etc. I also think about what I'll do with my preschooler while the others are busy and can't play with him.

- Buying school supplies: 1 hour. I usually don't need much, just some art or handicraft supplies, notebooks, pencils. 

- Scheduling: 1 week (for three children and one preschooler). I consult PNEU schedules as input, though not as a rule for my home. I work with the AO schedules and modify them as needed for each individual child and for the things we do together as a family. 

- Printing: 1 day. I print off copywork pages, math workbooks for one of my students, my oldest's Plutarch selection for the term.

- Rearranging the school room: 1 week. This year I took all the books off the shelves and put them all back again after the shelves had been anchored more securely. I think my normal time is probably more like 1 day to put last year's books away and arrange this year's books and supplies.

- Playlists: 2 days. Again, I expect this to take much less time in the future.

Where am I? I think I just counted over four weeks of planning!!! I honestly didn't realize it all added up to that much. I just started and kept going until I was done. Well, that was a helpful exercise...I will know for next year that it just takes that long.

4. I could try to get help with the children during the scheduling week. I do need to do my scheduling at home, where the books are...I can't escape to a library or anything like that. My husband did take the children out two Mondays in a row towards the end of my planning, and that was tremendously helpful. Maybe I need to let him know that I need that regularly for four or five weeks. Maybe the kids can go to Grandma's for a couple of days. Maybe there's a Vacation Bible School nearby that can give me a few hours every day for a week. (I have resisted VBS so far because I have bad memories from my childhood...but maybe there's somewhere I can trust.)

I think I'm getting somewhere with those last two points. I need to have realistic expectations, and I need help. I honestly did not know whether anything good would come out of this writing exercise when I started. Thanks for sticking with me! I'd still like to hear what works for you. Does it take you this long to plan? If it takes less, what do you leave out? Or do individual things take you less time? If you've struggled with planning in the past and have come through victorious, I would especially love to hear your story.