Last February, the girls and I took several weeks off from homeschooling. We decided to go with our own flow, and use a “tidal” approach to schooling, in which we do school year round, but take breaks when we need them. We’ve taken breaks for appointments, for illnesses, for when guests visit, for fun, and even for our sanity.
This February though, we’re not taking week long breaks. I think the difference is that I’ve changed my approach to our daily lessons. It’s probably laughable in its simplicity, but my approach had been to start and finish the lessons I had planned for the day. My focus was completion, specifically with core subjects like math and reading. I figured working on specific tasks from beginning to end each day would be a good way for us to both make and measure progress. I figured that the pace would be a good challenge and the girls would learn the value of persisting. They would receive a sense of gratification with each lesson completed and checked off.
Also, when people like the girls’ PCP, their post-adoption social worker, friends, and/or family ask me how the girls are doing in school or what they’re doing, it was really easy to answer. “Oh, they’re 75% of the way through with their reading program. They should be reading independently by March.” Or “they’re mastering addition, by next week we will have moved on to subtraction.”
The innate problem with focusing on completion is that it prevents my focus from being on the girls’ needs. Although each girl has impressive academic strengths, each also has weaknesses which can slow progress. We all have weaknesses. The girls’ weaknesses (cognitive and psychological) would pop up surprisingly and in unexpected places. Here I have to humbly confess that at this point my frustrations would be triggered: How could you not know this answer? You knew it yesterday. Why aren’t you looking at the book we’re reading? You can’t read what’s on the page if you’re not looking at it…etc. You get the ugly point. And then the learning environment would be derailed.
My new focus is proficiency, and we now take however long is necessary for the girls to become proficient in each lesson. In OT school, we would often discuss an “appropriate challenge” when discussing goals and activities to do with clients. An appropriate challenge is one that stretches or challenges our skill set in a positive manner, makes us try hard, but does not present a task that is so difficult that a sense of defeat sets in. A “just right” challenge. The notion of an appropriate challenge tied in with a focus on proficiency sets the tone for our school days. This means that some days we only make it through 1/3 of the reading lesson when we begin to go beyond the girls’ competency level. At this point I have to try and discern if it’s appropriate to push them a bit, stretch their skills, or if it’s time to wrap up reading and move on to something else. It’s definitely a balancing act. I’m finding so much of life is about balance.
So, that’s my daily grind philosophy and it’s making school a lot more enjoyable. My bigger picture what-should-a-first(ish)-grader-know philosophy is something like an overview of: knowing who you are; knowing where you are; knowing your worldview; understanding beginning logic regarding math and science; reading; and growing a love of the arts. Ambitious, I know. But I think it’s important for a child to, as much as she can, understand these foundational ideas before moving on to other things. In my mind it’s like establishing home base.
To that end, we are loosely following the kindergarten/first grade Sonlight curriculum which includes Horizons math and lots of literature. We supplement with other books, but this is our main curriculum model. Honestly, I love the Sonlight curriculum, but buying the whole set is not a feasible economical choice for us. So instead I make a list based on their suggestions and buy them used. Many of their supplemental books are Usborne. I’m a big Usborne fan. When I get ready to buy school books for the year, lots of these guys are on my list.
One of the Usborne books we’re using is Finding out About Things Outdoors by Usborne Explainers. I think it’s a great book to help the girls better understand our environment and the natural world. It explains rain cycles, what makes up soil, seasons, volcanos, water pathways, plant life cycles, and even our solar system. It’s fabulous. And timely. I heard the groundhog said that we’re going to have more winter, but I’m not feeling it. We’re already getting our spring rains in the valley. The river is full and so is the (wink wink) wet-weather pond in the backyard.
So the girls and I went outside and found seed samples, checked out the soil, the pond, trees, plants, and enjoyed the fresh air between the rains. While we were at the pond I reemphasized the rain cycle and we talked about how some of the water in the pond will evaporate. I was well into my evaporation monologue with wild gestures about tiny air particles when Audrey deadpanned, “I don’t see it. I don’t see any water rising.” When I tried to explain the notion of being invisible to the human eye, Eva quipped “like Lord of the Rings!” Thanks sistas, for keeping me humble 😉