Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting Organized the Easy Way

Today, I'm posting an email I sent to my email loop. I thought it might be helpful to others, so here it is:

One person wrote in to ask for help with homeschooling. She had a ton of great resources and lots of great ideas for teaching her children, but had not implemented them. She realized she was disorganized and unproductive and feared for her children's education. She didn't feel like she could make lesson plans, but thought maybe that would help her get school accomplished each day. She was feeling like a failure because she had done so little of what she intended to do. She had all these great books and great ideas, but nothing was getting done.

First let me state that this is absolutely normal. I would say most homeschoolers experience this in the first few years of homeschooling. But with a little direction, I believe you can get past this and into a positive, forward moving routine with homeschooling. Even a disorganized person, and even a person that does not like too much structure, can easily implement structure into your homeschool.

Let me suggest that one of our many goals with homeschooling our children is to move them from dependence to independence. As they move in this direction, you will, slowly through the years, move from teacher to coach to advisor to mentor. We want our children to be self learners. Individuals that have learned how to self educate will outperform their teacher-dependent peers. However, we do not want to move our children into independence too early, nor too late. Each child is different. I had one child that was totally independent by nine, and another that is still not totally independent at twelve. You know when your children are trustworthy, mature and self motivated enough to be trusted to complete their work without constant supervision, checking and grading. You know when you can trust your child to grade their own work. Self motivation is something we can instill in our children (but that’s another topic).

With that said, let me encourage you that homeschooling will not always be laborious for you. Once your children have taken matters into their own hands, your load is significantly lightened. It’s good for them, and it’s good for you when they begin to follow the schedule, doing their work, reading and completing assignments on their own. The trick is to choose curriculum that allows them to be independent. There are a lot of great courses out there that actually work against our efforts to create independent learners. They can be replaced with just as great courses that work towards independent learning.

Not only is the curriculum you choose of vital importance, but it is also important to create a basic schedule that your family can easily follow. For some, a curriculum with a detailed daily schedule, with exactly which pages to read in which book, is comforting. For me, it works to simply have all the subjects listed and the children simply check them off as they do them, using the curricula that I have chosen – usually just doing the next lesson. My children were entrusted with their own simple schedules even at six years old. They have checklists that they must complete each day. My six year old would read the next thing on her schedule, find the book and bring it to me to read or teach her. When it was time for writing, my boys would get it all set up and then call me over to teach them the next lesson. Most things they could complete without my help, but some subjects required my oversight and instruction. They, wanting to complete their list and get outside, made it easy for me to do by getting it ready for me to teach.
Sometimes the schedule was printed on paper they hand in to me; other times, it is written on the white board. Either way, they don’t have to wait on me to begin school; they don’t have to ask me “What’s next?” they need not inquire, “Are we done with school?” It’s obvious to them and they know that the more quickly they work, the more quickly they can play.

Here is a simple schedule on a magnetic whiteboard. My kids have different colored magnetic pegs that mark where they are. Sometimes, they do not go in order - especially if the subject is dependent on me helping out in some way.

I think that might help with the organization aspect. Again, some people really need it all spelled out. That’s one reason I’m creating the Notebooking Journals to go with my books. They will include a detailed schedule with reading pages, notebooking and projects assigned on specific days.

As far as having a ton of great material that you cannot implement, that’s another matter entirely. How I can relate! I think we all can. We see a great book on the Human Body; we buy it. We see a fabulous video to go with it. We buy it. We find wonderful project books that will accompany it perfectly…we shell out more cash. By the time school starts, we have a large stack of resources for teaching Anatomy, but no plan. Sigh. In fact, that is exactly WHY I wrote the first book in this science series. I had many books to teach my children Astronomy, lots of projects books, picture books, scientific books etc. But it was hard to implement. I needed one book that combined all the features that would make teaching Astronomy doable (and didn’t plant seeds of evolution into their little hearts). We do this same thing with history, geography and other courses as well. There are so many great resources out there and we can’t resist filling our shelves with them – and there they sit.

Here’s some bad news and some good news: Without a schedule – that either you or someone else creates – it’s nearly impossible to teach from a stack of random books.
However, here are three pieces of good news:
1. There are courses out there that teach well using only one book, rather than having to piece together many books to give a full picture.
2. There are courses out there that have very detailed schedules to allow you to teach from lots of different resources if that’s your preference.
3. A strong reader can work their way through the stack of reading material on their own without a schedule and really learn a lot - if they have assigned reading in that subject.

By using assigned reading times, my kids are able to enjoy the wonderful resources that compliment our learning. For example: In history, we work through one main book. Then, the kids work, on their own, through the great supplementary books I bought. I would love to read aloud to them, but if we waited for that….it may or may not ever happen. My husband does read aloud to them from some of the history books sometimes at bedtime, however. Those are usually above their reading level. I make sure to get a lot of books that they can read on their own. They read and narrate to me, or make a notebook page or book report on the book.
I have history, science and geography books on their reading list. On the chart, it says “reading,” but they have a separate list that they work through of possible reading books. This way, they can actually learn from the great resources you bought. That’s the beauty of homeschooling and independent learning. My kids know tons of stuff that I don’t know. It’s hilarious, really. My son will tell me something that sounds outlandish. I’ll question his source and he’ll retrieve one of the books I assigned to him as proof. It’s amazing how much they can learn on their own. Really. Of course, this works best when your kids are older - or strong readers.

The problem is that when your children are young and not reading well, you are anxious to teach them everything NOW! There's so much to learn and you are ready to teach it all. Right NOW! I was that way. I needed to learn that homeschooling and learning is a journey, not a race. There is time to teach them everything you want them to learn. There is time to learn to be disciplined. Most homeschool moms learn self discipline as they homeschool. Homeschooling does reveal all the weaknesses in us. But God has a way of using this to teach both our children and us, to make us all better.

I hope this is helpful for now!