Reflections & Refining Moments (Year 0.5, Term 1)
We are wrapping up our first term with my 5.5 year old, Zach, and I wanted to share some a bit of our experience and some things that I've learned along the way. We plan to use AmblesideOnline (AO) starting next year, but since it is not recommended to start AO before age 6, we decided to take this year to establish good habits and rhythms to prepare for AO. AO is a free Charlotte Mason curriculum for years 1-12. Through the AO's Facebook group, I found a handful of schedules that other families have put together for an unofficial year 0.5. Using those schedules, I was able to create an unofficial year 0.5 (i.e., kindergarten) for our family. Today I'm going to share four things that I learned after finishing our first term!
Lesson 1: Gradually Ramp-Up at the Beginning
I recently read through Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson (which I highly recommend, by the way!). One of the tips she gave for families with multiple children was to stagger the start of your homeschool year. In other words, get one child up and running the first week and then add subsequent children one week at a time. Since I only have one school-aged child, I tweaked this advice a bit. I gradually ramped-up our subjects/workload. The first two weeks, I only did our scheduled readings. The third week, I added in our math lessons; the fourth week I added copywork; and the fifth week I added our reading lessons.
This soft opening of our school year allowed for us to get comfortable with each component of our school day without being completely overloaded by trying to do too much too fast. It's analogous to juggling. Starting with one or two balls is much easier than trying to throw all the balls in the air at once. I will definitely be doing this gradual ramp-up at the start of the next term!
Lesson 2: Don't Value Your Plans Over Your Relationship
So often as moms we put immense effort into preparing our plans - whether that's school, a birthday celebration, or even simply meal planning. And when it comes to our children's education, we too easily cling to our plans - often to the detriment of the relationship with our children. I've been steeping in Charlotte Mason's philosophy for the past several years and I began planning our first year of school months before our first day. I had a clear vision and a weekly schedule that felt unshakable.
Yet, it didn't take long for me to realize that I needed to loosen the grip on my plans. When we began our school year, I had every intention of doing school 5 days per week and checking off every single subject, every single day. This expectation wasn't taking into consideration the relationship with my son. After a week or two of putting the thumb screws on him, it became clear that the system I had created wasn't going to play out exactly as I had originally planned. He began dreading anything to do with school and it felt like I had zapped his love of learning.
So, I made some adjustments. I decided we would only do school 4 days per week. Additionally, I let go of the expectation that we should do every subject every single day. Some days we did, but most days we didn't. My new goal of doing math, copywork and phonics 3-4 days per week left room to enjoy school and meet my son where he is at - instead of exerting unrealistic expectations based off of society's definition of what school should look like. These small shifts dramatically changed our relationship around school and ultimately the atmosphere of our home.
Lesson 3: Embrace Interruptions
Distractions are a very real part of everyday life - especially in our culture at large that values results and productivity. And if you homeschool your kids, distractions in the form of being interrupted are completely unavoidable. Whether it's a small toddler underfoot, or a big life change, how we handle these interruptions speaks volumes to our kids. We indirectly teach our children what to value, how to gracefully accept disappointment, and how to trust God by how we navigate the endless interruptions of life.
When I began planning our school year, I didn't plan for Erik to change jobs and I didn't plan for my dad to be in the hospital. Most of us don't plan for interruptions, and how we handle these situations can teach our children more than any sort math lesson. In Homeschool Bravely, Jamie Erickson says, "....what if your older children could see you handle the tears and frustration of a toddler with love and empathy? What if they could see you clean up another mess with grace and forgiveness?...What if how you handle the inconvenience and interruption of a toddler is the lesson, perhaps the only lesson, that your children learn in their homeschool this year?"
Education is a an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. Life doesn't happen in a neat little box, cutoff from the difficulties of this world - and neither should our children's education. I want to embrace the messiness and lean into the circumstances Lord has given me. When my husband had a week off in between jobs, we dropped the school schedule and spent time together! Prioritizing this quantity time naturally opened doors for the rich quality time that is so important.
There was another time during the beginning of the school year where our neighbors cut down three of the ginormous trees in their backyard. We spent the entire afternoon watching this process in awe - the bucket trucks, the chainsaws, the wood chipper, and the efficiency with which the team of men worked was chock-full of tangible teaching moments. If I had been so concerned with getting through our curriculum, or not deviating from the schedule, I would have missed a real opportunity to provide some rich experiences for my kids.
Lesson 4: Persevere Through Difficult Readings
One of the beauties of a Charlotte Mason education is the emphasis on living books! Students aren't taught using textbooks or workbooks, but rather they read really excellent literature on a given subject. However, this also means that some (maybe even most...) of the schoolbooks we use can be challenging. One of the reasons is because living books tend to be older and the style in which they are written is something that we're not used to with modern books.
There was one book in particular that was a drudge to get through each week. My son initially grumbled and complained about this one particular book. So, one thing I did was instead of forcing him to sit through an entire chapter in one sitting, I would spread the chapter out over the course of the week and we'd only read 1-2 pages each day. Smaller bites made it easier to digest. In the end, I'm so glad that we persevered because it taught all of us a couple valuable lessons.
First, we had extremely fruitful conversations about being open-minded and not judging a book by its cover. Second, it became clear that even though my son was externally showing resistance to this book, he was still assimilating living ideas from the text. One night at dinner, he began to discuss this book with my husband unprompted. He ended up explaining how our culture differs from the culture of people who live in the Sahara and Siberia. Lastly, after finishing the book, we were able to articulate how there is value in seeing something through to the end - regardless of how we feel about it. I think it's important to teach students that sometimes our duty trumps our feelings.
The Bottom Line
The fact is that these won't be the last lessons the Lord has to teach me on this homeschooling journey. I'm sure in the months and years to come there will be many more moments of refinement. Prayerfully, the Lord will use these moments to teach me how to more fully embrace all that he has given me. I hope that I can continue building and learning how to do the job well. The Lord is the ultimate teacher and therefore I trust him to guide my steps in educating my children. It's not my job to contrive my children's education - that's the job of the Lord; I am simply His tool.