Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

The minimalist homeschooler

on January 25, 2012

Life has gotten in the way of school this year. Not that being in school would be any different. There are half days, teacher workshop days, assemblies, snow days, staying home sick, 3 day weekends . . .and being on a military base, there are military family days (not making that up, this is an air force base–we’re navy–and they call them PACAF days. . .don’t ask what that stands for, but it means no one goes to work or school). So even on our worst week I don’t think my kids are missing out on much.
It’s just that our lack of school has been for entirely different reasons. I became pregnant, and my first trimester was rough. I was nauseous, hungry, and fatigued all at once for more than 3 months. Midway through that fun time, my husband became ill. It’s a long drawn out story, but to sum up he was hurting all over and had trouble breathing, and we spent most days worrying and going to doctor appointments. Nothing ever came back with any results, and finally he was sent to an army hospital in Hawaii where they determined that he has nothing fatal, and what he does have they have no idea (thanks for that). We are now about to embark on a move to San Diego, where he’ll be attached to the military hospital there until he gets better . . .or they decide he’s not going to. We think it’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but that’s not official.
So, needless to say, add to that Thanksgiving and Christmas, and getting school done has been impossible. We’d get a good week in here or there, even a few good days, then it would fall apart again. I would evaluate the kids once in a while–ask what some word says, present a math problem when setting the table, etc. They’d even offer up evidence of their learning, so I have never been concerned that they aren’t where they should be for their age/level. I have the added advantage of being their mother, so I know that even if my oldest is behind his peers, he is exactly on track for his personal ability and we’re moving at the right pace. I also enjoyed the peace of knowing I wasn’t answerable to anyone for my children’s whereabouts. Being pregnant and sick I did not want to be dragging 4 kids 3 blocks in the snow to meet a bus 5 days a week, or scrambling to find someone to do it for me, or to pick up kids when I couldn’t make it due to a doctor’s appointment, etc.
Still, I’ve been frustrated. I WANT to be schooling. I spent all summer hammering out THE perfect (if I do say so myself) schedule and plan. It worked like magic for the first month so I knew it was good. We even have workboxes and a system. Not being able to do any of that has been tough on my ego. Plus I would just get all mentally and physically ready to jump back in, only to find out it was going to be impossible. I HAVE to focus on getting us ready for our move, then once we move we’ll be in limbo for a couple months while we find a place and wait for our stuff to arrive. So what to do?
One morning, I was so tired from doing so much the day before, and dealing with round ligament pain. I was determined to do SOMETHING, so I called my preschooler to the couch with her preschool book. We had a cozy time doing her work. That was so easy I called the kindergartener over with his reading book (TANGENT: I was not going to teach him until next year. But one day he spent time with his paper and crayons writing letters, then he brought it to me and announced, “This is my reading lesson just like Caleb.” Well, rather than have him go unguided I reluctantly started small lessons with McGuffey and “Really Reading” from Tanglewood Curriculum. He loves it.) We had a good lesson, so I threw in some of his lessons from “Our Home Kindergarten”, anything we could do sitting comfortable on a sofa.
That went so well, that I picked up my oldest son’s reading book. I’ve developed my own similar to Simply Charlotte Mason’s “Delightful Reading”. It involves letter and word tiles that need to be sorted on a table. Hence our inability to do much of it while I’ve been unwell (sitting at a kitchen table was killing me for a long time). But I came up with a brainstorm. I glanced at the lesson, and put it on the coffee table. I took the McGuffey reader (that was the assigned reading for the next few lessons), a wipe board, a paper towel, and a pen. Rather than tell him to make a word with his tiles, I asked him to tell me out loud what letters he needed to make a word. I then wrote it on the board. If we agreed it looked right we went on to the next one (if the word was “will”, I asked, “How would you make that say ‘spill’?”). Then I had him read. From there I read him his science book, and his geography reader. We then did his math reader and played with counting.
This was a major breakthrough. I’d actually done all school that we needed to do for the day from the couch in less than 2 hours. It started my brain working hard. What if I chucked the original plan/schedule (much as it pains me) and just found a way to cover all necessary subjects in a different way? In a minimalist sort of way?
I now have all school that we need for the next few months, through all the craziness of our move, in a laptop suitcase. For all three kids. They will each have a backpack during the transition that will carry coloring materials, books, games, and other activities strictly for them. Any “curriculum” they need will be in my suitcase.
And that is how we’re doing school these days. The kitchen table may be trashed, but that’s ok. I’ll just push the clean clothes over on the couch and sit down with a book and a kid..
So how is this working out? Beautifully. My kindergartner was doing subtraction while doing his chores. “Mommy, there were 3 glasses, and I put away one, so now there are 2. I put away one more, mommy, now there is one.” He and his older brother were practicing counting by 2’s, 3’s, and 5’s just last night while eating snacks. My preschooler is getting excited every time she sees me sit down with a Brain Quest, because she knows it’s her turn. I’m getting one-on-one time with my toddler, something he needs a lot of before the baby comes.
So here’s what they are all using:

Caleb (first grade)
-reading program with McGuffey primer
-Blink card game (matching 3 elements in different combinations: shape, number, color)
-Brain Quest (critical thinking skills as well as math and phonics)
-his personal history and geography book (short reviews)
-nature and science exploration as they present themselves in daily life
-Bible and memory work (Sparks), including how to use a grown up Bible

Isaac (K)
-McGuffey primer and Really Reading
-Brain Quest
-Dinosaur book and lap book
-Bible and memory (Cubbies)

Makenzie (Pre)
-Little Hands to Heaven (preschool curriculum, 2-3 easy activities per day)
-Brain Quest
-phonics flash cards (also using those for the boys)
-Bible and memory (Cubbies)

-listening to classical music
-observing works of art
-listening to character development stories
-discussing safety and health (using games to teach both)
-life skills in the form of family teamwork and chores

I can carry all this with us on our move without being overburdened, and the kids are bugging me (this minute even) to do their schoolwork.
What I realized in all this is that I was falling into the same trap or rut as public education. Thinking you have to do a lot a certain way to be doing anything worthwhile. Making learning a burden for me and my children.
Does it matter if we stick to the plan as long as they get what they need? And that’s the other thing, I was getting diverted from real needs to purported needs. All the fabulous stuff out there that’s available to homeschoolers makes it harder–a friend of mine dubbed herself a curriculaholic. 🙂 It’s so true of many of us, there are such great products out there for home education. But we get caught up in all that and forget why we are doing what we are doing.
This is what home school is about. The kids are learning, and so am I. I am learning to be a better teacher by being flexible and able to adjust. By not staying trapped in a plan or schedule but feeling free to use it as a guideline and checklist for what we need to do.
Do I want to use my plan to it’s fullest some day? Absolutely. School does need structure and discipline, this I know from Charlotte Mason and from life. The system I’ve worked out will make things run smoothly and efficiently. Is it absolutely necessary for learning? Of course not. What is necessary is to remember why I’m doing this, what my goals are, and who we are as a family.
That’s home school. And that’s doing it “right”. If there is such a thing.


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