Ahhh. Spring is in the air. April is a magical time in homeschool – if you operate on an academic calendar, which we mostly do. We’ve survived the winter of our discontent, and now we’re venturing out for some more exciting nature studies (like identifying wild flowers!). Today I took L6 and J4 to our local farm-themed park for an Easter egg hunt, and A9 went on a cave tour with Dear Husband. We’re all breathing in some much needed life.
The Big Picture: My Favorite Part
As much as I love the process of homeschooling my kiddos, sometimes the doing of school gets a little monotonous: breakfast, math, copy work, circle time, lunch, AO readings, outings, dinner, bath, bed. The part I totally geek out about is big-picture planning, and nothing gets much bigger than planning all of next year. Well, unless you want to talk about obsessing over college entrance requirements, which my friend Cassie has turned into an Olympic sport. I digress …
In order to begin planning next year, I first have to convince my brain that all the boys will be in the next grade up, especially my oldest because he has to be the first one every single time. I mean, fourth grade! Form II Latin and Plutarch and Shakespeare in original language!
Second, I start wrapping my mind around what the next AO year will require. This also involves asking 100 questions on the AO Forum and Facebook group as well as acquiring (and pre-reading) books! I’ve already made my list for Year 4 and bought a few, but now I give myself permission to make several purchases. Thankfully, because we use Ambleside Online, all the books A9 uses will be used by L6 and J4 someday. Living books are the ultimate hand-me-down.
Since I know we are following AO, I don’t have a ton of curriculum decisions to make. But, I always end up tweaking my approach to school. So, third, I take a good long look at how we spent our time and what can be improved. Here’s where I hope to bless all you readers with what we have learned by experience.
Evaluating: What Worked and What Didn’t
As we finish up our third year as AO homeschoolers , I’ve noticed a pattern of practices that have and have not worked for us.
What Has Not Worked (for us)
- Trying to start the year after public school. One year we didn’t start until September! I thought I was being clever, but we ended up schooling well into the summer months. No one under this roof was a fan.
- Adding bookwork to AO’s curriculum. One year we got bogged down in a super lengthy Bible study. Another time we ended up doing a lap book. Ugh!
- Attempting to complete a 12-week term in 12 weeks. If we stayed home all the time, we could do 12 weeks’ worth of AO readings in 12 weeks. But, we don’t. We attend a weekly co-op and play sports and participate in Cub Scouts and meet with a weekly hiking group. And, sometimes we get sick.
- Skipping circle time (aka morning time) more often than not. I put most of our riches into circle time (we call it that b/c sometimes we do it after lunch instead of in the morning). We run on a loop schedule of Shakespeare, composer study, artist study, and nature books. And, we also sing hymns and folk songs and memorize facts (related to what we’re learning) and poetry. If we don’t get around to circle time at least a few days a week, we really don’t make progress.
- Scheduling non-school activities in the morning. Two and three years ago when the little boys were still in diapers and pullups, going places in the afternoon was a big no-no. They would either fall asleep or melt down (or both), so I got in the habit of scheduling dentist appointments and going to the grocery store before lunchtime. I guess it’s a habit that’s hard to break because I find myself still doing that – and guess what happens when we are out all morning. The kids still want their afternoon free time!
What Has Worked (for us)
- Starting school the first Monday of August. A nice, early start ensures that we get some kind of summer break, and we can always take a few days off in September when the public school kids empty out of the parks and museums and ice cream shops. In fact, I can guarantee we’ll take a break or two because the boys all have September and October birthdays.
- Trusting that the AO advisory has planned enough bookwork. If I “add” anything to AO, it’s going to be a field trip or other experience. Or, maybe I’ll throw in an extra hymn or folk song, but not an extra history book! (Note: I do pretty much let my kids read what they like in their freetime – library books.)
- Feeling secure that we’re making progress even if we’re off schedule. For my Year 3 student, I knew that if we did 2 or 3 AO readings in a school day, we were on pace for the week. For my Year 1 student, we only needed 1 or 2 AO readings in a school day to stay on pace. BUT, sometimes school gets interrupted – either by accident or not – and it does me no good to (1) freak out or (2) expect my 9 year old to complete 4+ AO assignments in a school day (on top of math, copy work, circle time, etc.). So, assignments often slide to the next week, and sometimes we have to have a catch-up week. THAT IS OKAY. We will finish our 36 week schedule in about 42 weeks. That still leaves 10 weeks for holiday breaks and summer break. It’s all good. Way better than stressing over our pace.
- Prioritizing circle time. So much learning happens around our kitchen table during circle time. For one, it’s the only time all three boys do schooling together. It’s also the gateway from morning skills work to afternoon readings – it’s a transition piece.
- Keeping appointments in the afternoon. This ensures we get our skills work (math, copy, dictation) and circle time done each day. Readings can be done in a waiting room, but not so much the other stuff.
- Making regular trips to the library. We are lucky to have a really, really great library system. It hosts all kinds of great programs and has lots of books on the shelves. The buildings are clean and new-ish, and the library staff is qualified and helpful (and friendly to homeschoolers). My kids LOVE going to the library, and the more we’re there the more books they read. Simple as that.
- Planning pre-school activities, too. It’s easy to get caught up in what the oldest student is learning because I’m re-learning it, but I don’t want to focus so much on A9’s schoolwork that I lose focus on L6 or J4. I mean, I’m sure this is how “birth order” personalities are created, but to the best of my ability I’m going to be just as excited about phonics and early reader books as I am about Marco Polo traveling to China and back.
- Making time for nature. It’s tempting to skip that weekly nature hike in order to get our bookwork done. Big, fat, juicy check marks all over our clipboard is as tempting as a mocha latte with a cookie on the side; however, you can’t thoroughly study nature without being in it. Yes, a nature hike takes all afternoon – a span of time during which we could easily complete several AO assignments – but it’s just as important as the rest of a CM education. In fact, since it is the main way our students learn the art of observation, nature study is one of the most important elements of a CM education.
I hope some of our experience can help you as you evaluate your current year and look forward to next.
Until next week (or so).
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (audio book)
- The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton (Family read aloud – Dear Husband is reading it in a Southern accent for some reason. Very entertaining.)
- The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (for my co op class)
Moderately challenging books:
- Personal Reflections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor (Reading along with CiRCE’s Close Reads podcast)
- Mind to Mind: An Essay Towards a Philosophy of Education by Karen Glass
- For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay in conjunction with Brandy Vencel’s Start Here study (for my CM study group)