I have learned so much in the past month. I had all these ideas and so many things that didn’t entirely pan out the way I thought they would. I have a great urge to try to spit it all back out in an organized post so that others might not make the same mistakes that I did, but then I realize in my next thought that there are still ten million things I don’t know, and everything is incoherent (hello, pregnancy brain, I love to blame you!) anyway.
Nevertheless. A dear friend chronicles her life in blogging with lots of pictures. So here are lots of pictures from this very week of ours.
Lesson first: Daddies are great. (Okay, I already knew that, but this is a new context.) We did school on Labor Day. Seth was intrigued with what we were doing, so we drafted him into helping us build our Mesopotamian ziggurat. I would have never, ever, in a million years come up with such a good resemblance!
Lesson two: Visuals are great. Specifically, the alphabet here, which is hanging over our dining room doorway, has been a great help. It helps the children remember which letter is which and which sound goes with which letters, and it gives them a lot of confidence in “guessing” answers for our various phonics games. We also have a vowel chart which we refer to daily as well. Actually, I pretty much have our walls plastered with things we’re working on, and I take them down and replace them as we move through our studies.
Lesson three: nameplates really work! I printed these up TOTALLY just for fun. I’m not sure whose fun I was thinking of; it makes it look more like a school, right? But I thought they’d get ripped up and destroyed in a week. Instead, they’ve actually been great resources that the kids actually USE. Both girls have the worst time remembering how to make numerals, in particular, and they actually refer to the itty-bitty (but right in front of them) print on this during their math lessons. They’ve also noticeably improved their handwriting, especially of their names, from referring to the plate. Now I just feel dumb for having thought nameplates were merely classroom decorations!
Lesson four: a brainless (overwhelmed) Mommy needs a real preschool curriculum. I had vague notions of throwing something together for L as we went along, matching (vaguely) whatever the girls were working on. You can guess how that story went—it didn’t! Thankfully I had ordered a copy of Horizons Preschool for Threes way back in mid-summer, and they finally released it and mailed it to us, and to my great surprise, I actually really like it! It is reasonably affordable (like $30 or less?), covers all subjects, and really is designed for beginning three-year-olds. And it’s just about all I can handle, myself, to sit down with him and work through it. It could be a good jump-off point for a mom with more time to devote to preschooling (I think the teacher’s guide has lots of extra activities), but I needed something really simple (for me) that was also reasonably well-rounded to build all the essential preschool skills. So we literally just sit down together and work through the day’s worksheets. Preschool for Threes is a perfect fit for us. L also follows along with phonics, and often science and history lessons as well, and we do extra math with manipulatives. And the girls actually enjoy “teaching” him things like counting and adding, and he actually learns from them sometimes!
Lesson five: children love maps. Not the preschooler, who I think doesn’t understand what maps even are, but I have a modern map of the whole world hanging on one wall, and on the other wall, we tape up multiple maps of the area we’re actually studying—Mesopotamia here. We compare the maps, remember where we are, where Florida is (this gives them some concept of distance, because they know how long that drive is!), so they know where we are studying. And they can also compare to other places we’ve studied; they quickly recognized the Nile on their Mesopotamia map, and it opens the door for talking about ancient trade routes and other things.
Lesson six: planning is… enlightening. Really I could say much more emphatically that planning is the root of all success in homeschool or something like that, except that I know it isn’t true for everybody. But, trying to balance THREE children’s schooldays, when none of them are independent learners… I figured out in about week two that a vague plan or even a weekly sketch was just not nearly sufficient. This is what we’ve ended up with—those blocks of lessons are for one week. And that is terribly, terribly abbreviated. Behind those lines are actual plans, links, projects… this is just what I need to remember what page to turn to.
The really amazing thing is that all this planning actually saves me time. Week one and two, I had my weekly list of things to accomplish, and then when we’re all sitting there actually doing school, I had to keep double-checking and calculating which part we had to accomplish that day in order to get through our week plan. It took a lot of time and stress, right in the middle of the school day when I couldn’t afford it! Now I just look at my sheet, open the books, and literally check it off as we go. We’ve been getting more done, more projects, more subjects, and finishing our day about an hour earlier. Seriously! I cannot believe how much time I was wasting scrambling throughout the day.
How do I plan? Like this:
Homeschool Planet is the awesomest homeschool planner ever. It’s new. It’s a little rough around the edges (just came out of beta). It’s a little bit expensive. But… it’s totally worth it. I tried planning on paper for two weeks. In the amount of time it took me to plan one week on paper, I can do at least half a semester on here, and best of all, I can plan ahead as I have time to do it. And I can plan per subject rather than per week. That really helps with continuity. And in execution, this saves me HOURS each week. No exaggeration. I have tried lots and lots of planners and this was the first one that was powerful enough but also quick/simple enough. RECOMMEND.
Lesson seven: kids like to plan, too. This is our “into our brains” chart for a week. Every week I put a new one up. The stickers match our subjects, and when they complete a subject, they put the sticker in the right block, and throughout the week it completes a path—and at the end of the path is an increasingly-small reward. It works. Seriously. It’s like magic. Even the subjects they hate (*handwriting*), they know it’s just a sticker on the chart and then they will move on.
Lesson eight: projects and games are really helpful. Above, the girls hold leaves from their nature walk looking for monocots and dicots to put in their botany notebook, and are standing in front of the remnants of a phonics game that we’d played earlier in the morning (every right answer and you move the correct worm an inch closer to the apple). I hate projects. As a student, I was not the one who wanted to go out and experience it for myself if I could just read about it in a book. And as a teacher… projects are CHAOS. Seriously. Every time you do “fun,” you are inviting chaos into your home. But… it turns out they remember things better. They have fun. The silliest little game or a run out to the back yard to fetch some moss, and they get a boost of energy that will last them ‘till lunchtime. It’s great. It requires a lot of planning, but, again—worth it.
So. There’s my homeschool randomness, for anyone who’s curious what we do all day, how it works, with three littles and a baby and a pregnant, perpetually exhausted, brain-deficient Mommy.