Our first year homeschooling, we made several mistakes.
Well, okay, we make mistakes every year, but hopefully we’re learning from them and not making the same mistakes over and over again! (Like Eldest likes to say, “I might make lots of mistakes, but I don’t make the same one twice.”)
One mistake was to do school-at-home. We ordered an entire 2nd grade curriculum from a well-known Christian curriculum company. We tried to do everything in the Teacher’s Manuals. We tried to stay on schedule, a lesson a day in each subject. We were sitting at the kitchen table from just after breakfast until well after dinner. We were exhausted!
At least we didn’t go the whole route and buy a little school desk for Eldest, and set up a schoolroom with chalkboard, flag, etc. I know homeschoolers who’ve done this but it seemed kind of excessive for a single child. Also, considering we abandoned the textbook route some time later, we saved ourselves some expense, when you consider the cost of a teacher’s desk, student desk, chalkboard, flag, etc.
When summer came, we took the summer off, just like the schools did. (Our second mistake, did you guess right?)
We had worked through the previous summer (i.e. the summer before we started homeschooling) because that was our test: Our dd had gone all the way through first grade and couldn’t add 1+1. I researched and settled on (Happy Find!) a math curriculum that sounded good. It was advertised for struggling learners and gifted learners and everyone in between. This was the test: If I could teach Eldest addition all the way up to 9+9 over the summer, I could continue homeschooling in the autumn.
By the end of summer, she’d learned not just up to 9+9, but she could add six-digit numbers and columns of numbers and do word problems like adding up all of a family’s menu items at a hamburger place and being able to figure out the bill!
However, we took the summer off after our first full year of homeschooling. We needed it. She did. I did.
When autumn rolled around again, she’d forgotten a lot of what she’d learned.
How most math textbooks are designed
Sometime during this period I heard a homeschool dad talk about math. He said that math textbooks (specifically a certain brand, popular with homeschoolers, but those from other publishers as well) were designed in a way new homeschoolers (who tend to go through a textbook from start to finish) didn’t understand.
The first third of the textbook would be review of the previous year’s material, counting on the fact that the students would have forgotten a lot during summer break. The middle third of the textbook introduced and drilled the new material for that grade. Your average math class didn’t get more than 2/3 of the way through the text. The last third of the book was for advanced classes so they wouldn’t run out of material if they went through the text at a faster rate. This material was repeated in the first third of the next year’s textbook.
Thus, this father opined, you really only had to use the middle third of the book, if you never took a break longer than about two weeks! His children went very quickly through that whole math series as a result. Only if they struggled with a concept did they work the “review” lessons in the first third of a book.
Breaking free from convention
It wasn’t until our third year, I think, that we decided to break free from the institutional school schedule and keep on through the summer. We modified our schedule, to be done by 11:00, and let the neighbor children know not to knock on our door before then.
We cut back to the bare bones: Bible reading, half a lesson of math per day, and fun-but-educational readaloud, things like the Burgess books (Bird Book, Animal Book, Flower Book, Seashell Book, Old Mother West Wind, etc.) and Hillyer’s history and geography books.
We read aloud on a blanket in the front yard, and what do you know? The neighbor children began to join us for our readaloud time! They liked our fun-but-educational books just as much as we did!
Benefits of not taking the summer off
Benefits of keeping a modified schedule through the summer:
– better behavior
– no boredom
– less fighting between siblings (we started homeschooling an only child and added two more along the way)
– easier to ease into a heavier academic/activity load in the autumn
– able to add special activities like swim lessons or swim team, or take a week off here and there for camping
We haven’t started our modified schedule yet. The Parents in the household (yes, dh and myself) have decreed this week a clean-up-the-house week. Our house has gotten pretty trashed from the busyness of the end-of-the-year madness (recitals, plays, Outdoor School, and the like).
Let’s hope we can get it done in a week…