Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homeschool re-examined: The Long Haul vs the Short Game

First, you must know I had never created a lesson plan before in my life. Ever. 

Beyond playing house as a child (which, since I was the oldest, consisted of me just ordering my little siblings around), I had never - ever - considered being a teacher. A trainer, yes. In my professional careers as computer programmer, project manager and Avon sales representation/manager, I've taught training course for years, but that was different. So different.

Today I sit down to plan my first six weeks of classes this year. We will start in three weeks and even I can't procrastinate anymore. Anxiety attacks are already starting, so I hope that getting things down in black and white will make things better in my brain.

I've had a full summer - two months so far - to relax and let last school year rattle around in my shell-shocked brain and settle into some kind of normalcy. And it actually did, to my relief and surprise. My biggest realization came last week when the question came up to Ben again about what grade he might want to go back to public school and his answer was...."never". 

Hmmmm....so it seems that instead of an emergency stopgap measure to help Danny with his learning issues, I've created a new reality for the whole family. We may be a serious homeschool family right up until high school - or beyond.

I never really considered this when I started. I figured I was just a band-aid on my boys' education until I could fix their damaged learning and send them back to public (or private) school at some future day. I didn't think this would be permanent. However, I may have created a monster - or a unicorn, depending on your definition of a brand new creature that never before existed - the Varga Homeschool Family.

I'm sure I'm not perfectly suited for this. However, I want the best for my boys and I want them to learn and love learning as much as I do. I want them to feel free to learn and study the way THEY do best, without condemnation about their uniqueness. I've seen immense changes in my boys since they've stopped attaching inadequacy and anxiety with learning and I can only hope that continues.  Just one example - Ben has NEVER wanted to go to school and started preschool and kindergarten with MUCH trepidation and never really got relaxed in a school setting. He was a great student, but very anxious all day in school. In second grade, he started and loved karate class, but quit after his first belt test after having a huge anxiety attack in front of the class. He just refused to set foot in the dojo again. Until this year. After being as relaxed as possible (I mean, how tense can you be bouncing around all day in your underwear?...), he asked to start karate again and I think he'll really do great this time. He's grounded in the love and support of his mom and family every day and that's what will help him fly and succeed.

Okay, I get it. We're in this for the long haul - and that's an amazing thing. 

But could someone else write these lesson plans for me??....:)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer Break 2013...because I was definitely broken...

Whew...I haven't posted since May?! I have to admit, I seriously checked out this summer. I had such a serious case of burnout from homeschooling my first year that I shut down our school, headed out to our timeshare the next morning and never looked back (except to travel up to our umbrella school in Rising Sun and show them our amazing work).

Until yesterday. 

Two thirds of the way through our vacation, it's time. I looked at the calendar last week to surprisingly discover it was already August and realized it's time to put next year together. Since I had already planned to use June to decompress and do some painting around the house and July for Spring cleaning and a nice long vacation with hubby while the boys vacationed with their godmothers, I am right on track. I had hopes of painting more, including the homeschool room (which was our dining room in a previous incarnation), but I need to lay those hopes aside unless a miracle happens in homeschool planning for next year :)

Since recovering, I now realize how seriously we all were burned out from our first attempt at homeschooling, so I'm making some modifications this year...one of the many benefits of homeschooling - we can modify anything that doesn't work! Some changes we'll be making this year:

1) We're going to try a modified Workbox System for work assignments with the boys each day. The Workbox system was originally developed by Sue Patrick and can be started with younger children, but really works with any age group. In a nutshell, each child starts the day with his work in "workboxes" and as he finishes his work, he moves the completed work to his "finished" area and stacks the empty workboxes aside. Since each student can move at his own pace and it is extremely visual, it works well for my visual learning boys. Each drawer is marked with what is being worked on and as long as it is done in the assigned order, each student can plan his day as he likes. The key is to put small treats and breaks along the way at unexpected intervals so they get rewards throughout the day. Very Pavlovian :) I'm looking forward to moving from being a public school-like "teacher" to a "facilitator" for most of their classes.

2) Changing the attitude of the classroom this year from "I'm teaching" to "you're discovering". I'm planning on teaching the boys how to find their own answers this year through search engines online, reference books and other methods. I want to teach them to learn, not just spit out information. Of course, we still have to drill the basics because they are still weak in that area from public school. But I am so proud that we ended last year with both boys knowing all their multiplication tables, holding their pencils correctly without any pencil grips and writing in much-improved handwriting. So that part is definitely staying!

3) I'm going to continue to try to instill a love of reading in them. This is a tough one. They are both reluctant readers and even though they CAN read, they don't CHOOSE to read. I gave them a complete break from reading at the beginning of the summer, but by last week I was really missing reading to them, so I pulled a fun book from our Sonlight curriculum that we didn't have time for last year (The Candymakers by Wendy Mass) and starting using it for bedtime reading. A book about a 12 year old boy who lives in a candy factory? Danny is enthralled and I am tickled. :) Ben is still wary...he is so bright with an amazing vocabulary, but something hasn't "clicked" in his reading enjoyment yet. He can't seem to read for enjoyment...somehow the content doesn't move into his brain very easily. He is content to listen to me read for now - and interrupts me to define words he doesn't know - but I haven't gotten the feeling yet that he can process all the story internally yet, so I'll keep reading to him and hope it "clicks" one day.

4) Make sure they move more and sit less. I was a nervous homeschool mom last year. I was terrified that they wouldn't get the subject content they needed and I would fail them. I am losing that fear a little this year, so I want to make sure they get as much "body knowledge" as they do "subject knowledge". This is one that I'm sure that moms who homeschool from the beginning do much better than those of us who are used to the public school model. Yes, we're still going to have desks they can use for common subjects, but I want to get us outside of the house and outside in the world more this year. If I can. I have been blessed that my personal health is doing so well these days (aside from putting on 10 pounds since beginning my homeschooling journey), so I'm hoping we can do more outside this year. Both boys are already enrolled in SAC soccer for the first time (serious nerves about Danny's "fitting in", but gotta tough it out since he's getting to be a big boy now) and they'll be enrolled again in the YMCA PE program they enjoyed so much last year. The Y program even finally got Ben swimming independently, which made me so happy and this summer at the pool MUCH more enjoyable. One serious bonus of pulling Ben out of  public school last year is that his anxiety level seems to have dropped steadily and that has led him to want to re-enroll in Karate this year. I am SO thrilled! He enrolled in our neighborhood dojo in the first grade and was amazing. His sensei said he was definitely gifted and would be one of his best students...until Ben had to take his first belt test in front of the whole school. He had a huge anxiety attack and even though he finished his test (under firm pressure from his dad and teacher) and got his yellow belt...he was traumatized and refused to ever go back. Out of the blue this summer, he said he is ready to try again. Win!

For now, these are enough goals for me to plan and start our next school year.The schoolroom got a straightening yesterday and this week I'll be moving more shelves in and rearranging the furniture to see if we can find a "better" way to work. We still have a few weeks to go before we do hardcore curriculum, because we'll be taking our ocean vacation the week the public school students start and driving 500 miles to see my dad for his 75th birthday during our first week of school. The boys don't realize that during their first week of school, we'll be doing "video carschooling" on the van DVD player!

I need to get used to this rhythm and relax and enjoy, because Ben just told me this week that he may never want to go back to public school. I hear ya, son. This is too much fun. :)