Reflection and Reformations: Improving our homeschool for this year

 

**To read about our home school experience thus far, check out these two posts: Another New for the Hofers  and Homeschool Year One is Almost Done **

 

I’m a teacher at heart. I buy calendars and planners based on the academic calendar year because I base my life off of an academic schedule. It’s always been confusing to me that the new year starts in January, when really a new year in my life begins every July/August. So when April rolls around, it brings a season of newness because an end of another (school) year is on the horizon.

This past April was no different than any other April—as a student myself, a teacher in the traditional classroom, a mom with kids in school, and now a homeschool mom.  It’s the same feeling. We were trudging through our last units for the school year. The homeschool convention was on its way here. I scheduled an assessment for my oldest. Our first year of homeschool was coming to a close. The season of reflection was upon me so that I could reform my thoughts and methodologies to be used the next school year.

Last year, I intentionally planned home school to be formal but relaxed.We were new in our community and home schooling was new to us, too. So we went with the flow our first semester. We did not add anything to our schedules the first semester except for one laid-back group and one formal scouting-type group. We learned a lot! The Prince learned independence in his academia and patience with himself. The Unicorn learned to read, learned that no matter how long it takes she will complete a task. She also learned no matter how stubborn she is her mama is even more stubborn.

As for me, I learned a lot too.

I learned how to relax.
I learned how to delegate tasks.
I learned patience is harder, but even more necessary when it comes to those closest to me.
I learned a slow pace of life is necessary and will be integrated into my regular routine.
I learned to take care of myself in all ways.
I learned what my true priorities were and flourished when caring for those priorities, letting all other things go.

I also learned about what worked for our family and what didn’t when it comes to homeschooling.

Here is what worked for us and how we will modify:

 

Agendas

Also known as the life saver of organization for homeschool. I want my children to learn how to be tasked and to do life in a structured, productive way. Last year I found these agendas and would print them each week after I planned in my own agenda what the kids were doing. The kids loved to be able to pick and choose what they did in what order (flexibility because my natural state is to go from top to bottom!) and to also cross off their work to see progress. These agendas offer free updates for life AND are on sale as of posting.

This year I modified this process and created binders for each child. This is a 1” binder and they got to choose which cover they wanted (still part of the agenda package I bought). There is front material they got to fill in—like an about me page and their likes and so forth. At the end of the year we will print out a page that will show us how much change happened in a year to who they are then vs now.

Inside the binder there are tabs that separate the front matter from the actual year’s agenda pages and then a tab that separates the agenda from the back of the binder matter. The back part of the binder houses assessment records and proof of growth. I won’t keep everything but a few items every six weeks or so to show what we’ve learned. Last year I kept everything. EVERYTHING. It’s a mess I still need to go through and am tempted to just walk the box over to the recycling bin. Not sure yet though.

In Ohio we have to have our children assessed or take a qualifying standardized test. We then send in a notification of intent to homeschool our children to our superintendent. It’s just a checks and balances to ensure our children aren’t being neglected. Last year I had a wonderful woman assess the Prince and it opened my eyes to see just how much he’s grown, but this year I’d like to see it in front of me. Visual evidence sits well as a constant reminder of growth.

So this year, we kept the agendas but modified to make them more of an all-in-one housing of our education process. It’s also very helpful for my husband to open up the binder if I’m gone and know what needs done.

 

Curriculum

I loved our curriculum last year. We used Horizon’s Math, Spelling, and Reading/Phonics and then we used Lifepac for Science last year. I didn’t over-buy but I also didn’t buy enough and ended up using supplements for social studies and Bible.

A little about Horizon’s: It is an Alpha Omega Publishing brand of educational curriculum. It provides a visually pleasing aesthetic which is highly engaging for my kids. The programming is set up to be routine for the students so they know what to expect each day. There are many hands-on activities provided in the teacher guide to supplement your child’s needs. I don’t always use them and will modify with other supplements. These lessons are also fast-paced and it is great for my child with ADHD. Don’t think fast-paced is a negative concept because it’s not. Horizon’s uses the spiral learning process so the topic the kids learn in lesson 1 will be brought up throughout as you go on.  Horizon’s is also teacher-led and I firmly believe concepts in math, reading, and spelling should be teacher-led.

Being teacher led means I am actively participating in knowing my children’s strength and weaknesses as I’m constantly assessing work as we interact. It also creates a trust-bond between child and teacher—that you’re safe to fail in front of. That you’re also safe in which to celebrate wins. Laying the ground work that you’re going to be a safe person for your child in all areas of life.

Horizons does not offer science or social studies programming so we utilized their sister company, Life Pac’s science last year. It was much different than Horizon’s but we actually enjoyed it. Life Pac is student-led which simply means the teacher does not teach anything and more helps along the side. Life Pac teaches students to be self-motivators and to learn independently. Their success is recorded formally and there are formal tests and exams each unit. Speaking of units, Life Pac does not teach spiral mastery, though, and instead teaches mastery by unit before moving onto the next unit. Each LifePac comes with ten units for a full year’s grade level. Average time to complete a unit is around 3-6 weeks depending on the topic and how in depth it is.

Something new this year we added was the History/Geography and Bible curriculum from LifePac along with the Science. Another new thing I decided to do to make it easier on me was to order the accompanying science experiment kit. Did you know stores don’t carry seeds anymore after August? I didn’t either. Searching all over hell’s half acres trying to find simple science experiment materials was so frustrating. So I ordered the accompanying science experiment kit from ChristianBook. Be sure you wait for a free shipping coupon code!

I’ve also added new curriculum: typing for third grade, a nature notebook, art, safety, and the human body. This curriculum is from The Good and the Beautiful. A friend of mine told me about their typing curriculum and I fell in love with the other things, too. The art, specifically, because I’m not naturally drawn to making art, but my kids are. They love it. I love to create on my own, but struggled to incorporate it in for the kids last year. I bought The Good and the Beautiful art curriculum because it is dummy-proof. It tells me what I need to have on hand by the whole book and by project. It also tells me how to differentiate instruction based on ability level. What?! Yes. It’s fabulous. I’m going to start using it probably once a month we will do art projects.

 

Supplemental books I used last year and this year include:

 

 

Groups

Homeschooling will make your kid unsocialized. Have you met me or my kids? We do not lack for socializing. And in fact if you think home school kids are weird, I’d dare you to not remember the weird kid in your class growing up. Thank you.

With that being said, groups are necessary for everyone’s whole body health for EVERY SINGLE PERSON. I am pretty introverted and so is my daughter. So it’s easy for us to get away without seeing other people. Instead, I schedule things so we have to do life with people. Last year I started the kids in American Heritage Girls and Trail Life in August of last year. One afternoon we met on base for a home school group. We also went to an evening group at church. Later on we added other activities to our week. This year we’re doing the same things but adding on extra curriculars of Tae Kwon Do and gymnastics. We’re going to be much busier this year but I think we’re ready!

Preschool

The Dragon is beginning to dip his toe into school. We’re working mostly on the basics of colors, shapes, numbers, alphabet, motor skills, and more. We’re also using Horizon’s preschool curriculum for him but I’m also utilizing many other resources for other skills, creating sensory bins, and more. So far my favorite sensory bin brand/company is Twig and Daisy on Etsy. I’ve made multiple purchases through this company and very time it is timely and a high quality hand made product. She takes the guess work out of sensory ideas and just makes it easy to dump and go. At time of publishing I have another order in place for her products. So grateful for her work.

Another place I watch for preschool manipulatives and things is Amazon lightening deals. If you’re a home educator or a traditional classroom teacher you can sign up for rewards from United Art and Education. I utilize those coupons especially when I need very specific items.

Also, this 100s frame from FromJennifer  will be utilized by all three children this year. It is phenomenal how many different ways to utilize this board. 

 

Classroom

I realize we don’t need a classroom in order to do school, but I am a formally educated educator. (follow that?). I need a structured place to conduct my work and I firmly believe students do, too. Think about it: We have a place where we do certain things—At church we have a pew. In that pew we know what to expect and what behaviors are appropriate. At the kitchen table we know we don’t wrestle, we eat. When we have a certain place we do certain things, it creates an expectation of how we conduct business here and it is taken more seriously. That’s why I have a specific room in our house that is our office/school room. I love how I set it up last year and did the same for this year.

We have these Ikea table tops and these Ikea drawers. There is a thin piece of wood under the table tops so they stay level. In each drawer of the desk, I’ve organized the curriculum. The top drawer is their Bible, journals, and Bible curriculum (along with pens/pencils, etc). The next drawer own is Reading/Phonics. In this drawer they have a folder that is where I place any worksheets needed for the week. I do the same with math, science/social studies (share a drawer), spelling/writing (they share a drawer). It’s easy for the kids to remember where everything is and not get lost.

The only thing I changed this year was to put helpful stickers for multiplication, number line, and fractions on the top just for a fast reference.

 

Field Trips

Last year we did field trips with our on base group and by ourselves. I think we actually started doing field trips pretty early, like in August, because it helped the kids and I get acclimated with our new area. Last winter my parents had some medical issues so we missed a few scheduled field trips and instead took school with us to help take care of their needs. In the spring and into the summer we took off on Fridays and went to explore Central and Southwest Ohio. I know we will continue to do that every now and again and it will pop up more and more when we need more breaks from school schedules.

Something new this year, we will hike the first Friday of every month with our home school group, which is new for the group, too. I’m heading that one up and excited to see how this plays out. It may be a complete bust and the kids and I will hike alone or maybe we’ll have some trail buddies who learn to enjoy the outdoors. We will also likely participate in any other field trips that might come up within the group as long as we’re available.

 

Electronic Devices

Did you know you do not need a computer, chrome book, or tablet to school your children? Today, schools are utilizing electronics for textbooks and more. An electronic cannot provide the tangible touching, writing, and working on an assignment that helps all senses engage in learning. In fact it has been proven over and over that using electronics instead of physical texts and manipulatives, can stunt a child’s cognition.

No, I am not an iPad free home. My kids have iPads. They use them every day. But not for school. School is traditional in our home. We have a wifi device that allows me to shut off access to their iPads during “school hours” and turn it back on once they’ve done everything they needed to do for the day—including attitude checks and more.

That being said, I did purchase Adventure Academy for my oldest. They’ve all had ABC Mouse for a few years now. These two apps I highly recommend because they really do engage the students well and they really don’t realize they are learning or moving up levels. Another app I do recommend is the Toca Boca apps. They are engaging, fun, and teaches the children how to interact within a community and life, subtly.

We will incorporate the computer this year because my oldest will need the computer to learn how to type and how to use basic word processing functions (taught in The Good and the Beautiful typing course.)

 

Rewards

The last thing I’ll discuss for now is rewards. Last year we started a reward ticket system. Each time they finished an assignment the students received a ticket. They saved the tickets to earn prizes. This year the prize amounts went up in ticket cost. Essentially they can get a cute eraser/pencil or something small for the cost of one week’s worth of tickets. For two weeks worth of tickets they can earn a free app download to their iPad, a trip to Ollie’s for a book. One month’s worth of tickets includes things like Chick Fil A, a paid app, a book, ice cream. One quarter’s worth of tickets will get them out of school for an afternoon and we can go to an amusement park, movie theater, zoo/park, or something big like that.

I’m trying to teach the value of delayed gratification through this ticket reward system.

There are tears.

There is whining at times.

But there’s also creativity happening right next to me as I sit here writing. The three kids are trying to count how many tickets they have together, trying to pool tickets as a whole to earn enough in order to download a new app they can all share across the family share. Brilliance is ignited when we lack something. I’m giving the kids opportunities to be creative in seeking their desired outcomes.

In the end, my children are learning to be grateful for what they’ve earned. They’re learning to not spend their tickets on something small when they really want something larger and could have saved another week to get what they really want.

 

 

If you’ve made it this far, you deserve a medal. Thank you for following along on our homeschool journey! I would be remiss to leave out the very last thing that’s influenced our homeschool life and that would be our community of people around us. I cannot thank the souls that support our home school journey with encouragement. It’s been such a blast to watch my children grow this past year and not send them off for someone else to get the joy. I also understand I’m fortunate to get to do this. I don’t take anything for granted and will forever be grateful for this opportunity.

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hey, i’m Danielle

I love Jesus. I love my family. And I get joy from having a front row view of people growing toward their goals because of what I’ve taught.

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