Don’t dread higher math! Get inspired with these resources that will give you confidence and ideas for middle and high school math in your homeschool.
By the time our official planning starts, we already have a good idea of what we want from our homeschool in the coming year.
Leave a comment with your best homeschool planning tip, and you could win a homeschool planning package packed with Amy’s favorite planning stuff. (Winner randomly selected May 27.)
The key is to figure out how all the learning you've been doing through high school fits into the framework your dream college is looking for.
Mothers are the only workers who never get time off, said Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and that’s doubly true for homeschooling mothers, who cheerfully derail dinner prep to look up a particularly strange beetle in the bug guide and listen to impromptu poetry recitations while they’re in the bathroom. (Maybe that’s just me?) But time off every now and then is essential to maintaining your homeschooling mojo. While your books may be neatly shelved and your plans for the coming year ready to go, your homeschool soul could use a little nurturing. Whether you can spare a whole weekend or just a long afternoon, it’s worth the effort to make time for a homeschool retreat.
Retreats may seem like an old-fashioned notion, but the concept of reconnecting with yourself as a person and as a homeschooling parent is practically radical in these days of plugged-in, logged-on, non-stop presence. But homeschoolers are nothing if not radical (in both the original and now-dated modern sense of the word), and a retreat may be an inspiring way to bring fresh energy, insight, and life to your homeschool.
There are as many ways to plan a retreat as there are to homeschool, so we’ve put together a few suggestions that might work for your retreat or that might just serve as inspiration for your own retreat ideas.
Make your plans
If you’re like me, you have a never-ending list of books you’d like to read and lectures you’d like to hear. Whip out that list and start narrowing down the options. Are you starting to freak out about the prospect of putting together transcripts for college? Maybe it’s time to download that mp3 on homeschooling high school. Do you need help with setting a rhythm for your days? A Waldorf book about parenting young children could be a good bet. Try to focus on a mix of practical information—you want to change up your science curriculum or you need help getting inspired to teach writing next year—and strictly inspirational stuff. (We’ve included some great books and lectures below.) And go ahead and throw in all those awesome curriculum catalogs you’ve been hoarding so you can finally flip through them at your leisure. Try to add a mix of media: You won’t want to spend the whole day listening to mp3s or staring at your computer screen.
Choose a location
If you’re an introvert like me, the thought of a weekend of pure alone time probably seems blissful. But if you’re a social animal, you may get more from your weekend retreat if you invite a friend or two to join you. Either way, try to get away from the everyday—it’s going to be hard to give yourself over to recharging your batteries if you’re staring down a pile of laundry or constantly jumping up to refill someone’s cup of juice. If you can, splurge on a location that inspires you to relax, whether that’s a fancy hotel with room service and plush robes or a cozy cabin surrounded by hiking trails. Even an easy-on-the-budget, no-frills hotel room can make a comfortable setting for your retreat if you bring your electric tea kettle and a few candles. If money’s an issue, consider swapping baby-sitting with another homeschooling mom and set up your retreat in a spot with free wi-fi, like the library or a coffee shop.
Whether it’s your first year homeschooling or your fifteenth, you’re your own best inspiration. Start your retreat by making a list of all the things you’ve done right: great trips you’ve taken, fun art or science activities you’ve done, parenting moments where you got it just right. If you’ve been homeschooling, use this time to write down what’s really worked for you in the past, whether it’s starting the morning with yoga, doing narrations with Story of the World, or making Monday your baking day. Not only will making this list of homeschool successes remind you that you’re already doing a great job homeschooling, it will also help guide your choices for the coming year and may remind you of fun stuff that’s worth incorporating in your homeschool plans.
Define your homeschool’s mission
What’s the purpose of your homeschool? Ideally, you have an answer to that question that sums up your homeschool’s philosophy: “To grow curious, engaged children who believe they can learn anything and do anything if they are willing to do the work” or “Our homeschool teaches our children how to find, evaluate, and use information so that they can achieve whatever goals they set for themselves” are both examples of the kinds of big-picture goals your homeschool might have. Not so much of a mission statement writer? Make a homeschool vision board instead, putting together quotes, images, and other items that represent your ideas of what you want your homeschool to be like in the coming months.
Set your goals
In addition to setting academic goals for your students, consider setting some goals for yourself. Whether you’d like to be better informed about chemistry before you tackle the subject next year or you’re longing to be less stressed about unfinished assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you’d like to accomplish personally this year. Homeschooling can be an all-consuming activity, and it’s easy to be so absorbed in guiding your kids that you lose track of your own needs and wants. Use this opportunity to focus on yourself and to make a map of where you’d like to be this time next year as a teacher, a parent, and a person.
Make a little you-time
The purpose of your retreat is to recharge your homeschooling batteries, so build in some time to just relax. Giving your brain free reign inspires new ideas and connections that you don’t get when you’re dealing with the daily grind. You know what gets your creative energy flowing: Maybe it’s a hike up a waterfall, a session with a massage therapist, or an hour of uninterrupted knitting. Treat yourself to your favorite leisure activity, and you’ll be surprised by how it improves your mental clarity.
Write your bad day mantra
Bad days happen, and when you’re doing double duty as teacher and parent, it’s easy to take them personally. Right now, while you’re feeling energized and excited about the coming year, write a message to yourself to read when you’re having a bad day. Think about the words you need to hear when a math lesson ends in tears or you snap at your toddler for making a mess of the science center, and write them down in your best handwriting. Keep this message to yourself close, and pull it out when you need to as a much-needed reminder that you’re doing the right thing even when things don’t go just right.
Ideally, you should leave your retreat with a clear vision of what you want the coming year to look like (and the confidence to change your mind about that vision any time), a handful of new ideas, and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the homeschooling fun ahead. But even if you just come away with some good questions, you can consider a retreat time well spent.
Tips for making your homeschool retreat a success:
- Make a schedule to keep focused
- Turn off your phone, log out of Facebook, and don’t check your email
- Set aside time for just relaxing as well as time for being productive.
Food for Thought
- Susan Wise Bauer: Homeschooling the Real (Distractable, Impatient, Argumentative, Unenthusiastic, Non-Book-Loving, Inattentive, Poky, Vague) Child
- The Homeschool Scholar: A Homeschool Parents Guide to Grades, Credits and Transcripts
- Pam Sorooshian: Unschooling and Math
- Donna Simmons: Talking Pictorially and Living Actively with your Young Child
- Rafe Esquith: Lighting Their Fires: How Parents and Teachers Can Raise Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World
- James W. Loewen: Teaching What Really Happened: How To Avoid The Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History
- Sharifa Oppenheimer: Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children
- David Mulroy: The War Against Grammar
- Lori Pickert: Project-Based Homeschooling
- Grace Llewellyn: The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
Your challenge this week: Figure out a game plan for your homeschool retreat, and write an official retreat date on your calendar.
My homeschool organization method: A bullet journal and an as-we-go planner than lets me keep up with what we've done instead of trying to anticipate what we're going to do.
When I first started homeschooling, I’m pretty sure I believed that homeschooling was all-or-nothing: either you homeschooled your kids throughout their childhoods, or you sent them off to school. But many families I know aren’t like that. Maybe their kids homeschool for most of their childhoods, then head to junior high or high school. Maybe their kids avail themselves of select activities at schools but remain homeschoolers. Maybe some of a family’s kids attend school, while others homeschool.
We’re that kind of family—a part homeschooling, part schooling family. Our thirteen-year-old son learns at home and has no interest in going to school—ever. Our ten-year-old daughter attends a private, part-time “school for homeschoolers” and says she never wants to go back to full-time homeschooling. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well for our family. You’d never know just how much hand-wringing and agonizing it took to get us to this point.
Our part-time schooling arrangement came about during a particularly long, brutal winter up here in Minnesota in 2013-2014. Cooped up by heavy snow and wind chills that were regularly hitting twenty or thirty below zero, the only learning we seemed to be doing was about working through interpersonal conflict, and boy, was there a lot of that kind of learning. I was stressed. They were stressed. My energy for homeschooling was at an all-time low.
One bitter-cold February day, I sat both kids down in the living room and said I thought we needed to really look at whether homeschooling the way we were was the happiest choice for our family. My daughter, then eight, burst into tears.
“But I don’t want to go to school!” she wailed.
I told her there might be another, less drastic option. A few old homeschooling friends of ours had ended up attending a three-day-a-week Christian Montessori school intended to give homeschoolers some of the benefits of school while allowing time for family learning, too. The school had unusually long breaks—six weeks off in December and January, two weeks in March—and finished for the year in mid-May. There were no grades, no tests, and minimal homework. It felt like School Lite—a gentle way to try out school without completely giving up on homeschooling.
My son was emphatically not interested. My daughter agreed to check it out.
The day we toured the school, I was impressed by the school’s peaceful, friendly atmosphere. But there were also things that gave me pause. The school was run by evangelical Christians, but our family isn’t Christian. Would my daughter be accepted here? Could we as a family feel comfortable here even though we don’t go to church and aren’t believers?
My daughter was quietly observant throughout the school tour, her body language stiff. By the end of the tour, I was sure she was going to say she wasn’t interested. Honestly, I kind of wanted her to say she wasn’t interested. As miserable I’d been with homeschooling that winter, I didn’t feel ready to give it up, either.
As we left the school and walked to our car, I asked my daughter, “So, what did you think?”
“I liked it!” she declared. She was perfectly clear on the matter; she was going to that school that fall.
I wept many tears that spring and summer, agonizing that sending her to school was a big mistake (always out of sight of my daughter, of course).
My daughter did occasionally feel out-of-place attending a school where almost all the other kids were regular churchgoers. She was startled when one teacher mentioned that they didn’t teach about evolution at her school, but that they prayed for people who believed in it. My daughter had taken a class about evolution at our local zoo the year before and had read extensively about it at home. The idea that her school would completely dismiss discussing it floored her.
At home, we talked about approaching these sorts of differences as a chance to learn about the range of perspectives that make up our country and our world and the different ways people approach controversy and disagreement. We brainstormed how she could stay true to herself even if she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up loudly at school. I was grateful that our family’s work together as homeschoolers had laid down a foundation for us to talk this way, and that my daughter’s years as a life learner have given her a strong sense of self she can fall back on when she feels confused or out-of-step with the people around her.
As that first year went on, my daughter found that she really liked the way Montessori learning combines structure with freedom of movement and choice. She’s also fairly introverted, and she found that her school—a school where “nobody knows how to be mean,” as she put it recently—helped her come out of her shell. Seeing the same kids regularly in a routine, predictable environment was more comfortable for her than going to unstructured homeschool play groups, where she’d mostly clung to my side and not talked to the other kids. Once-a-week, short-term classes for homeschoolers also hadn’t really given her enough time to warm up to other kids.
I still don’t believe that school is necessary for kids to get “socialized”—it’s simply that for my individual kid at the developmental stage she was at, this particular school was a better social fit.
Meanwhile, back at home, my son was enjoying having three days a week of one-on-one time with me, combining a few classes at a local homeschooling co-op, a bit of math, lots of reading, and plenty of time pursuing his passionate interest in all things gaming-related. Some days, it felt like we had our own little writer’s colony of two, as my son worked in one room on video game-inspired fan fiction or creating the rules, characters, and storyline for a role-playing game he was designing, and I worked in another room on my own writing. We’d check in with each other over lunch, a board game, or during a hike by the Mississippi, two creative colleagues egging each other on.
My daughter is now preparing for her third year at her school. It will probably be her last one there; she’s feeling ready for a secular learning environment, where she doesn’t worry that she might scandalize a schoolmate if she mentions a pop singer she likes or alienate a teacher if she mentions evolution in a school project.
Luckily for us, there’s another part-time option for schooling here in our town, a public charter school where students attend classes in person three days a week and then work at home two days a week. She is hoping to transfer there for sixth grade. She wants school, yes, but she still wants a bit of freedom about how she spends her days, too.
I tell her that if she’d ever like to return to homeschooling, it’s always an option. She just smiles. “You really want me to come back to homeschooling, don’t you?” she teases me.
Well, yes, I’d love for her to come back to homeschooling. But what I want even more is for her to know she has choices. I’ve learned I can trust her to make the best of whatever situation she’s in and to know what’s right for her, even if it’s not what I would have chosen for her. She’s learned that she can handle new experiences with grace, take the good with the bad, and then walk away when something is no longer working for her. Those are lessons that I think will serve us both well as she moves forward in her life’s adventures, wherever they take her.
It’s almost time for our homeschool to start its seventh official year, and as I’ve been getting ready for another year to start, I realized there are a few little things I look forward to doing every summer that seem to make our year run a little more smoothly. I thought I’d share them here — and I’d love for you to share some of your back-to-homeschool tricks in the comments!
Set up a folder for each class. You already know I’m a big advocate of the folder system for organizing our homeschool records, so it’s no surprise that one of my annual back-to-school duties is labeling folders for the new year. With my 3rd grader, I just set up one 3rd grade folder, where I’ll stash memorable work and my notes throughout the year. For my high school student, I set up a different folder for each subject. I like to use portfolio folders because I’m always leaving them lying around or stacking them somewhere, and I don’t want all the pages to get mixed up. (These are the folders I use, but I don’t think they’re inherently better than other folders—I just like the way they look!)
Start our new book list. I keep a master book list of all the readalouds we do each year, and the official new school year also means the official 2016-2017 reading list. I used to keep a separate notebook for book lists, but now I just jot the list at the back of my homeschooling bullet journal. Because I am a giant nerd, I use a green pen to write down books I read with just my 3rd grader, a purple pen to write down books I read with just my 9th grader, and a blue or black pen (whichever is handy) to write down books we all read together. I find that these book lists are invaluable to me as the years go by—both as a reminder of what we have and haven’t read (which gets surprisingly fuzzy over time!) and as a series of happy memories.
Fill in the calendar. Before we get into the week-to-week busy-ness of the new academic year, I like to set up a calendar to remind me of favorite holidays (Hobbit Day!), homeschool days, festivals, and any other events that we’d be sad to miss. I started doing this one year after we totally missed Banned Books week one year—we just got busy, and the week was over by the time it popped back up on my mental to-do list. Having a calendar doesn’t always mean we’ll be able to do all the things we’d like to do—but it does mean that the things we’re excited about won’t slip by unnoticed.
Rotate our bookshelves. I’ve written before about our library organization system, so you probably won’t be surprised that I spend several weeks in August rotating the bookshelves in our house to match up with our plans for the year. (I’m very happy to pull our U.S. literature classics collection out of its bins and put it back on the shelf, though I will miss our Native American collection, which is rotating off the shelf and into storage for a while.) I try to keep the books that will part of our planned homeschooling on the same bookshelf so that it’s easy to access them throughout the year.
Restock our Terrible Day box. This is a plastic bin that I pull out on those days where nothing goes right—our fun field trip got rained out, everybody has a case of the grumpies, nobody wants to do any work, whatever. On those days, we pull out the Terrible Day box and randomly pick something fun to do. I keep it stocked with fun art supplies, Munchkin expansion packs, new board games, Lego sets, cool coloring books, craft kits—basically all the things that I know my kids will almost always be excited to get their hands on. There are some days where homeschooling is just too much, and the Terrible Day box really has helped turn some of them around.
What are some of the little things you do to get ready for the new year?
When I first began to homeschool, I did a small “graduation” for my son’s Kindergarten year because so many other people were doing something similar, but after I did it, that somehow felt wrong. I think a graduation should come at the very end of one’s education. But I still wanted to mark the end of our year so that the boys could see that they were progressing and accomplishing good things. That’s when I decided to do an end-of-the-year review where I’d simply showcase everything we had done that year.
I consider July the end of our school year, but I don’t worry about finishing the curriculum we’re using. While we do finish some items, there are many resources I just put a bookmark in and start where we left off in September. Also, on the official paperwork, I say our school year is from September 1 – August 31. By law, my boys are supposed to have 180 days of school each year during that time. I know I go over that amount, especially when you consider how full of learning our daily lives are.
Most of the work I do to mark the end of the year is quiet work I have to do by myself at my computer. This year, I’ve been hard pressed to work up the motivation to do this, but I am slowly getting it done!
First, I create a progress report for each of my boys. This is required by law in our state of Georgia. Briefly, this is how I do it:
On a piece of paper I list and make each area of study a heading. Under each heading, I create bullet points and list all the applicable curriculum my boys have completed (if we haven’t finished something, I note the pages we’ve completed); apps they’ve used; field trips; library books read on that subject; projects; outside classes, if any; and summer camps that support that area of study.
I also make comments on their progress such as: “The nine-year-old’s reading skills have greatly improved this year.” “The six-year-old is showing a growing interest in math.”
By law, I have to teach reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, so I always list those, but since I don’t have to show this progress report to anybody, I consider it a keepsake, and I list the other things I’m teaching too: art, Spanish, and physical education. I also make a separate heading for my boys’ major projects that year. For example, this year my son has been learning how to play the piano and also studying the composers and listening to a lot of classical music. So I made a heading where I can go in-depth on this topic.
The progress report is usually about two pages long and once I’m finished, I print it out and put it into a 3-ring binder, which I call their portfolios. I make these binders at the beginning of a year, and I put any documentation I have about their school year into it, such as brochures to museums we’ve visited or the programs to the classical concerts we’ve attended. I also keep our daily work charts in the binder as well.
After the progress report is complete, it’s time to start on the fun ritual I do every year, and that is make a slideshow of all our photos from that year. I’m a photographer, so I take lots of photographs of our field trips and the boys’ projects and everything else. (Though, I have to admit, I got lazy this year and mostly used my phone camera!)
Making a slideshow with hundreds of photos and several video clips is quite a chore. That’s why I have not yet completed this year’s slideshow. Last year, my husband helped me by adding music to it. Once we’re done, however, we put it on a DVD and we can send it to the boys’ grandparents. They love it!
We actually love sitting down to watch it too. The boys are delighted to see photos of projects that by now they’ve forgotten about! (Sometimes this review inspires them to go back and work more on something!) If we took a vacation or had relatives visit us during the year, I include those photos too. Although it’s a lot of work, it’s worth the effort to have our photos in an accessible place and not lost somewhere on an external drive!
When it comes time to watch the slideshow (which is usually in late July or – ahem – maybe mid-August this year), I gather our curriculum, portfolios and major projects the boys have been working on that year, and I lay them out on a table. I take a photo of the boys standing in front of their work, and (in lieu of a report card), I give them a certificate of completion for that year and sometimes a small gift (something educational that will help them with a project). Then we watch the slideshow.
And that’s it. That’s our end-of-the-year ritual.
After this, we take some time off in August because it’s time to celebrate both my boys’ birthdays. They are three years apart, but their birthdays are exactly one week apart. (I didn’t plan it that way!) Then in early September, we start our new school year, continuing what we didn’t finish and/or sometimes getting out some shiny new curriculum. I do nothing special to mark the first day of school. I think our end-of-year ritual + birthday celebrations are quite enough!
Writing down my end-year-old work makes it seem like a lot, but I assure you, except for making that @#$%! slideshow, it’s not too time-consuming. ;)
If you’re interested in seeing examples of some of the print-outs I mentioned in this post, they are available as free downloads on my personal blog.
What do you do to mark the end of your homeschool year, or do you mark the beginning of the year? Or both?
Who else looks forward to summer days spent lugging coolers and towels to the beach and spending hours refusing to move off your beach lounger for all but the most desperate of cries? Summer is meant to be enjoyed and during a good summer break, a house should be full of sand, dirt, and sunburned kids.
On my beach lounger, though, I begin to dream about our homeschool. I maintain that nothing makes a school year run more smoothly than spending some summer hours creating a specific plan for the following academic year.
If you school year round, this post is for you too. Use use whatever break you take for an annual review and planning what comes next.
Step 1: The Theme.
Decide what overall education values are important to your family. Essentially you are creating a mission statement for your family’s homeschool.
A good starting question to ask yourself is: If I teach my child nothing, ever, what is it important that my child has absorbed living in our home? For our family our theme is, generally: learning is a privilege and a delight; don’t screw it up.
Many people’s answers will be education related, but others are not. Some families want to emphasize familial closeness or cooperation. This is your family; there is no wrong answer.
Remember, though, not to be too specific. Be general. Often I find with my friends that their mission statement could apply to everything they do as a family, not just the homeschool part.
Why this step matters: When you are in the nitty-gritty of the school year and a problem pops up, sometimes it’s difficult to see what specifically isn’t working. Re-examining the difficulty from a more generalized vantage point often allows a better diagnosis of the problem, and gives us permission to change things.
Step 2: Get Creative.
Set aside a chunk of quiet time by yourself with no distractions (put that phone away!) This might be the most important step of all, and I encourage you to pencil a good block of time into your family’s schedule. If you have little kids, line up child care so that you can close the door to your office or, better yet, leave the house.
Have a notebook handy to jot down ideas. If you’re the visual type, buy yourself a pretty notebook and nice pens (a new Moleskine and a medium tip Sharpie pen are pretty much heaven on earth). Spend time thinking about each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and goals, both longterm and short term. Jot every thought down; you never quite know how some seemingly benign thought will open up new opportunities.
Think about the past school year. What worked? What didn’t? Write your answers down. Think about them. Chew on them. What would have made things run more smoothly? If you are preparing for your first year as a homeschool parent, think about your goals. Think about why you decided to homeschool, and what you’d like to accomplish, both broadly (I’d like my child to get into Harvard) and specifically (I’d like to teach my six-year-old to read).
By the end of this time, you probably will have a skeleton outline of what you would like your school year to look like (or, if you don’t, you could put one together by reviewing your notes).
Why this step matters: I have learned countless things from this time with myself. Often little things that have been nagging at me reach that “a ha!” moment and forming a solution becomes simple. Often this time alone allows me to see patterns, and plan and change academics accordingly.
Step 3: The Specifics.
Now you’ve got a guidepost and a framework and it’s time to get down to the specifics. Make this part work for you. Do you hate depending on the library? Then buy the books you need to reach your academic goals. Do you like specific, grid-like schedules that take you through the academic year? Make one. Do to-do lists motivate you? Then create your child’s courses and materials in the form of lists that you can check off regularly.
The purpose of the nitty-gritty to to create specific academics for your school year that stay true to your family’s theme, consider your child’s goals (or your goals for your child, as the case may be,) and that are tailored to work for you.
And it should be noted that, for many families, what works for them is a boxed curriculum. If that’s the case, you’re done! Go back to the beach!
Step three can take awhile. I sometimes spend hours agonizing how to divvy up specific books so that they will match up, timeline-wise, with some piece of historical fiction I have chosen for a particular child. Let me repeat what I said above: you’re making a plan that works for you. If you want to assign your child The Witch of Blackbird Pond while you’re studying ancient Greece, then do it! It’s your life and your family.
Step three can also involve a lot of research. If you have decided your daughter needs to focus on diagramming sentences and you’ve never done that before, you may need to spend some time researching what texts are out there and how you are going to plug that work into your school day.
Why this step matters: By the time you are done, you will have all the materials you need for the school year ordered (or know where you can locate them), and a plan for how you are going to execute the day to day of your homeschool for your entire academic year, and that feels pretty great.
Happy planning, and let me know how it goes!
So this is happening, y’all: This fall, my homeschooled daughter starts high school—and we’re planning to homeschool all the way to graduation.
We’ve always tried to leave the decision about whether to continue homeschooling up to our kids—as long as they’re actively engaged in their learning, it’s their call whether to keep homeschooling or look at a more traditional school environment. There was definitely part of me that hoped, as we visited hybrid schools and Montessori high schools over the past couple of years, that my daughter would want to continue homeschooling, but apparently there was also an equally sized part of me that hoped she’d find a school she loved, because when she made her decision, I had a little bit of a panic attack. High school is scary, and the stakes feel really high. It’s definitely taken me some time to get comfortable with the idea, and if you’re in the same boat, I think it’s important to give yourself that time. Freak out. Panic. Spin your wheels. Get it out of your system so that you can focus because once you do, homeschooling high school is not that different from any other grade.
Going into high school, we have two big goals. The first: We do not want to lose all the things we love about homeschooling just because we’re keeping serious transcripts. I’m not willing to give up lazy mornings and readalouds and afternoons of crafting and conversation in exchange for workbooks and homework. Our second goal, which may seem contradictory, is to make sure we cover the bases so that my daughter can do whatever she wants college-wise after she graduates. Since she’s not sure whether she wants to be an astronomer or a You Tuber or a graphic designer when she grows up, covering our bases should keep us busy!
To keep things simple, we’re making sure to cover these bases, which most liberal arts schools seem to be looking for, over the next four years:
- 4 years of English
- 2 years of a foreign language
- 3 years of mathematics
- 2 years of a laboratory science
- 2 years of a social science
Some of these classes we’ll do as proper classes; others may happen more organically as part of our regular homeschool lives. My job is going to be to keep up with what we’re doing and write everything down so that when the time comes to make that official transcript, I have all the information I need and then some.
As usual, my daughter and I had our annual planning meeting, exchanging ideas and book lists for 9th grade over chai lattes at our neighborhood coffee joint. As has become our way over the past two or three years, she led the conversation, and while I may have double-checked our academic requirements list a few times, I let her lead. Here’s what we’ve landed on for her first year of high school:
- Japanese. After six years of Latin, my daughter wants to try something new, so we’re giving Japanese a whirl. I’m not sure yet what resource we’re going to use for this—I’m sure as heck not going to try to teach it myself—so finding a good beginner Japanese class will be my summer project. (Suggestions welcome!)
- U.S. history and literature. My idea is to teach a U.S. history class that prepares my daughter to take the AP U.S. History test, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ll likely use my battered old Norton Anthology of American Literature as the spine for the literature part of our class.
- Comparative literature: Studio Ghibli’s adaptations. This class was my daughter’s idea, and I think it’s genius: We’ll read books (Howl’s Moving Castle, When Marnie Was There, The Borrowers, etc.) and then watch Studio Ghibli’s film adaptations of them, looking for similarities and differences and thinking about what they mean.
- Physical science. I’m not sure what resource to use for this either. Good secular high school science is hard to find.
- Math. Now that our daughter is in high school, Jason is taking over her math lessons. He’s kind of famous in our homeschool circles for what I call his “kitchen sink” approach to math—he’ll cover a hodgepodge of algebra and geometry over the next two years, and then our daughter can decide if she wants to try something like trig or calculus.
- Etc:. We’ll continue our Craftsy crafting adventures with a more advanced crochet class for amigurumi makers—my daughter is hooked. (No pun intended!) She'll also join her littler brother and me for art and nature study when she wants to, and she'll continue with her music practice. She'll also still memorize a poem every week or so. She'll also take one of our online classes this fall—probably history or philosophy, but she mentioned that statistics and probability sounded interesting, too.
As you can tell, we’re covering our bases by ticking off items in our goal list, but we’re still doing things in a way that allows my daughter to plot her own educational course. I’m sure we’ll hit bumps and roadblocks, that we’ll need to course-correct along the way, and that I’ll forget something really, really important until it’s almost too late, but that’s par for the course with homeschooling.
What about you? Are you homeschooling high school? How is your planning shaping up?
On the home/school/life Facebook page, a reader named Liz said she was new to homeschooling and would like to hear how other families approach their academic goals. Do they set daily goals, weekly, quarterly, or yearly goals? I thought I would begin by trying to explain how I set academic goals for my boys, and then I invite you, other homeschoolers, to please explain how you do this in your homeschool. Hopefully it will help Liz and many other homeschoolers starting out on this journey.
My boys are still young, but so far, I would say that I have set certain priorities – one or two academic goals – for each year. In order to do this, I have to remember that my boys have a long education ahead of them, and we don’t have to teach everything at once. If I were planning to put them in school, I might have to change tactics, but even while focusing on a few core subjects each year, I don’t abandon all other subjects, so that’s still not much of an issue. Let me explain…
By focusing on just one or two subjects each year, I give myself plenty of time to experiment, try different resources and see what works. And it alleviates the panic I might feel, if I were trying to teach every subject in depth. By giving myself a whole year to, say, make sure the study of art is part of our homeschool, it slowly becomes part of our weekly routine, so the next year when I’m going to focus on incorporating more Spanish lessons, I’m not worried how I’m going to do art. That’s already there. I’ll explain more about this later.
Before I did any of this – before I even began homeschooling “officially”– I sat down and considered what my priorities would be for my boys. At that time, they were only five- and two-years-old.
What surprised me is that this list of priorities is still my core priorities. It has given me something to come back to when I worry about a bad day or week. It reminds me that in actuality, I have created a daily life that incorporates all these things, so even on the worst homeschooling days, we’re still doing pretty good.
Here’s that initial list I made:
Imagination/Play/Motion– Let them use their imaginations and be in motion as much as they need to be.
Literature – Immerse them in books and storytelling.
Exploration/Nature – Let them explore the world and get into nature as much as possible.
How to find answers – Encourage them to ask questions and teach them how to find answers.
Spend quality time together – Use our time wisely. Don’t over schedule the kids or myself. Allow for plenty of time at home for free, unstructured playtime.
Teach responsibility– Explain why we (mom and dad) need to work and why we all need to take care of our home.
This may not look like it covers many academic goals, but it does. When you create an environment where learning is part of your daily life, and exploration, questions and creating are honored, your kids will cover many points in a typical course of study by themselves. For those homeschoolers who choose to unschool, this will meet their goals very well. For homeschoolers like us, who don’t unschool, I find it fairly easy to fill in the gaps with a few hours of formal lessons each week.
Here’s a few examples of how I’ve prioritized our learning each year:
When my eldest son was six, seven, and even eight, my first priority was helping him learn how to read. This doesn’t mean that I pushed him. On the contrary, I went at his pace, but we worked on it first and a little bit everyday. We also studied math, science and various other subjects. (My son loves science, so it feels effortless to learn a lot about science.) What I’m speaking about is that I put more of my efforts into finding the right resources for reading, which didn’t come as easily to my son. Now that he’s nine, he’s reading quite well. I think it’s because he was ready to read, but it helped me to make that my focus. I wasn’t panicking trying to teach everything at once.
Before my eldest turned six and my youngest three, I didn’t do any formal art lessons with them. My boys are very creative, so they had fun painting and doing projects of their own, but I wanted them to learn the fundamentals of art and also about the most significant artists. So that year, I decided to build it into our schedule by making Fridays “art day.” I spend just a little time “teaching,” and then we make some art. Right now all I require of them is to listen to me for a few minutes and look at some artwork online. The art making is completely optional. However, they usually want to make art, and even if they choose to do something of their own design, I’m very happy that art is now a regular part of our routine. We’ll continue to use Fridays as the day we delve into the arts in a formal way. Over the duration of their entire education, I know we’ll cover a lot of ground.
Now that my son is reading well, I’ve decided my priority this year will be math. Again, it’s not that we haven’t already been working on math, and he is not behind in math, but I am putting more of my efforts into math. I started this summer. I made a list of math games we would play, I found art lessons that incorporated math, and I checked out some math books from the library, such as The History of Counting and Mathematicians are People Too. Since the new school year began, I have done math lessons with my son everyday, and we do more of it too. (I used to do it two to three times a week.) If I’m going to spend time researching strategies to teach, it’s going to be on how to teach math, and I’m not going to worry as much about the other subjects. (But remember, we already have a good footing in reading, and we have literature and art embedded into our schedule. And science is covered because it’s my son’s first love. We also get a lot of social studies through reading, watching documentaries, and going on field trips.)
For my six-year-old, my priority this year for him is teaching him how to read. I’ve started the same program with him that I used with my older son. If it doesn’t go well, we’ll try something else. I also do math and handwriting with him, but we usually do reading first in case he has an off day, gets grouchy, and loses concentration. I don’t push. But by keeping reading as his priority, I feel certain we’ll at least accomplish one significant thing this year.
This year I am also making more effort to do Spanish lessons. This is mostly for my older son who wants to learn another language, but my younger son benefits by listening in when he wants to. Like the year I incorporated art, this priority is just about making the effort to carve out a little more time in our schedule. Now that my son is nine, he seems ready to take on more. So this is another benefit of doing yearly priorities – the ones that my son hasn’t been ready for usually slide to the back burner.
I can see ahead where I will have a year when we study writing and grammar more in depth, and another year when we will focus on history. Maybe one year when my son is older we will take on a more rigorous and systematic curriculum in science, especially if he is going to continue in this direction for a career. Though we’ve made strides in all these areas, by putting my focus on one or two subjects each year, I feel good that over time, we’re incorporating a wide variety of lessons. And just because we shift focus, that doesn’t mean we are abandoning all other subjects. It’s just a subtle shift and a little more concentration in one area, and once we gain momentum in one subject, it’ll be that much easier to continue with it.
Now, please, share how you approach your academic goals. Because one size never fits all. :)
Whether you’re a new homeschooler not sure how to get started or an experienced homeschooler looking for a little planning inspiration, these simple strategies will help you get organized for the learning year ahead.
Once when my middle kid was about nine, she came home from playing with friends and said, “I must be stupid.”
“What?” I was floored. The friends were public school kids, but they’d always been kind and accepting of my homeschooled kids, as far as I was aware. “Did the kids say that? Did someone call you stupid?”
“No,” she shrugged. “They didn’t call me anything. But they were talking about their favorite subjects, saying I like social studies, I like science, I don’t like language arts, and I didn’t even know what any of those things were, so I guess I must be stupid.”
And so began one of our “formal” lessons.
Our family takes an “everything is connected” approach to life, but some people prefer to break the world into subjects, perhaps for the sake of being thorough (or because the setting of school requires it of them). It gives you more of a checklist approach to life. Have we done our math today? Have we practiced reading? Have we learned to spell a few words today? Have we spent some time with nature, making sure we are learning about the way of the world? Have we contemplated cultures, people, or methods of governing?
These are all things we encounter daily, and the flow of life naturally takes us there.
Coming from a subject-oriented education myself, I found it surprisingly hard to turn it into words my nine-year-old, unschooled kid could relate to.
Okay, so when you write a letter to Grandpa thanking him for your birthday present, and I show you the way letters are typically structured, with the date in the top corner and “Dear Grandpa,” at the beginning… that’s language arts, or English. Those are lessons in how to write.
Things that fall within this subject:
- When we read fables, talked about them, and then made up some of our own.
- When you asked why words ending in –ough had different sounds (I think the examples were cough and bough) and so we made a list of all the –ough words we could think of and talked about how some pronunciations didn’t necessarily make sense, you just had to learn them through exposure and memorizing.
- Pretty much anytime we are in the car for longer than a few minutes playing rhyming games or alliteration games or those word games we just make up on the spot to keep ourselves entertained.
- When we write our own stories. And especially when we go over those stories that you have written and we talk about the things you could do to make the story more readable for others. That’s grammar. Punctuation. Sentence structure.
The more I spoke, the more puzzled she seemed to get.
“I don’t get it. What about science? Do I know any science?”
- When your sister collected all the different leaves and looked them up and pressed them in a notebook. She wrote the names of the trees they came from on the page. She took photos of the whole tree.
- When we tried to raise Betta fish. When we talked about their genetics and colors, that’s a branch of science.
- When we collected water from all the different sources and looked at little drops under the microscope. We found the water fleas and you drew pictures of them. And we looked up the parts of their little bodies and read about the way they lived.
- When we followed the ant trails and tried to distract and deter them by placing different types of foods along the way.
- When our friend took us to the lake and showed us all the different fossils and told us stories about what those creatures once were.
- When you planted seeds and watched them grow…
Though she insisted it still didn’t make any sense when I suggested that every single thing she did each day could be categorized as a subject (or many subjects) if we took the time to break things down that way, I could see that she was beginning to understand.
“How am I ever supposed to figure out what my favorite subject is?” she asked.
How is a child to learn to detest when they are given a life focused on the joy of exploration?
That was a tough question, I had to admit. And I thought the first question she had to ask was how important was it to have a canned answer to such a question available. There were times, we both had to admit, when it was easier to just throw out an answer that the questioner understood than to have a discussion on the merits of a life-is-learning approach anyway.
She does love to read, so I suggested reading or English might be an appropriate answer. But she reminded me that reading seemed to cover the gamut of subjects and she didn’t want people to think she limited her reading in any way.
I thought maybe saying she loved all the subjects would be a good response. She thought that might be bragging.
I don’t know that she ever came up with an answer to the question. Today, at 16, she tends to spend her time sewing (mostly clothes, both upcycling from the thrift store and creating original costumes), reading (young adult, general fiction and fantasy), following Chinese culture and history, learning Mandarin, and drawing (computer illustration, but freehand). She’s a competitive shooter and a Disney animated movie aficionado. She loves to roller blade and bike (last year she even trained for a 200-mile ride, but an injury kept her from the actual event).
Of my three children, she’s the most likely to approach a subject with a drill mentality, the idea of doing something over and over again until she’s mastered it. She knows how to play the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up in months. She has to work at spelling, but has the most legible handwriting of anyone in the family.
When I asked her this morning what her favorite subject was, she furrowed her brow and looked at me like I must be confused. “Do you mean like, in school?”
She then looked thoughtful and took a minute to answer. “Traditionally speaking, I guess I would say Chinese, language and culture. Any other answer is too abstract.”