Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Organizing Our School

First, I will share with you our read-alouds for the week. We are studying ancient history this year, and though we have not started at precisely the beginning (we have covered the Creation story more than once, and the kids got interested in Egypt before we did a few of the early Bible stories, so we will fill those in later...they do know them already), we are ready to jump on into Egypt in earnest this week, after dipping our toes in last week using the Flat Stanley Worldwide Adventures book The Great Egyptian Pyramid Robbery. For Fun Friday, the kids built Lego pyramids, and Tex read them the book Pyramid by David McCaulay, so they are raring to learn more about them.

This week we will begin reading Boy of the Pyramids: A Mystery of Ancient Egypt by Ruth Fosdick Jones in the evenings. We will also read the picture books The Great Wonder: The Building of the Great Pyramid by Annabelle Howard and Zekmet the Stone Carver by Mary Stolz during school time. I have no idea where these stories fit in on a timeline as we have not broken ours out yet.

We have Mystery of History to use as our spine, but at this point, I am still trying to figure out how our schedule will work, so I am capitalizing on the children's interest in pyramids and choosing to ease in to our studies with these books, then we will go back and fill in the chronological gaps later.

I am going to be honest here. I planned to "start" our formal homeschool year at the beginning of this month (I like to be able to take time off in December whenever I want). When I finished up those graduate courses for re-certification at the very end of May, August looked like a long way away. I breathed a sigh of relief (and absolute exhaustion), and out of desperation for my sanity, I basically took a month off. We didn't sit at home in the month of June and do nothing all day. Our state homeschooling convention, my birthday, Bubba's birthday, and several outings with family and friends all happened in June. It was a busy time, but a blessed relief from academics and (gasp!) blogging.

I went shopping in July (at the Dollar Tree---a good place for bargain school supplies!) and snapped up some excellent school supplies (some cool calendar items, bulletin board stuff, etc.), and was all on fire for setting up a workable schedule and (a somewhat modified) workbox system. You can read an overview of the workbox system at Heart of Wisdom, if you don't know what I am referring to. You can find some workbox printables at Homeschool Share as well as some great printable labels at Homeschool Creations. I zoomed right through the initial planning, roughed out a workable Monday through Friday plan, and was eager to get things cracking by laminating my activity labels and posting the BIG PLAN on the wall. Hmmmmmph. Let me tell you, that schedule has sat on the top of my paper cabinet for a month now and it still looks scary to me. I just can't do it. I am having a hard time getting past the idea that I'd have to stick to it, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, month by month...you get the idea. Really, that thought just scares the daylights out of me.

I am a very organized person at heart. Don't look inside my closet or my garage and you might actually believe that statement (though my disorganized looking spaces are organized in their own fashion...you just won't see it). I have lists for my lists, and labels for my lists, and I keep pretty well on task each day by reveling in that satisfying line-crossing-out thing you get to do when you complete a task on your list.

I keep a calendar on the wall above my desk for family events, a three-month calendar next to it for review dates and appointments, dry erase board lists on the fridge for me and family members to refer to, and books with lists in my purse, not to mention the family journal I fill out nightly as a record of what we did and the sweet things the kids said that I don't want to forget.

Oh, and before I forget, I want to metion a new site I found out about called Workflowy...it is a FREE site where you can make...you guessed it...LISTS! Then you can access them from any computer and keep up with your stuff to do no matter where you are!! (I assume it is accessible from fancy phones like the ones I don't have). Sorry if that was random, but it is pretty nifty...if you like lists.

However, in spite of my love of list-making, the idea of having to say, "It's nine a.m. and that means that we are all dressed, teeth brushed, beds made, breakfast eaten, devotions read, and now it is time to do math for a half-hour, then history for an hour, then reading time for..." Well, eek! You get the idea. I just CAN'T seem to make myself do that. Can you? Do you? If you do, you impress me. Really. I mean it. I can make it to a doctor's appointment once in a while by nine thirty (I did so just last week), but EVERY DAY? Ugh.

Still, I felt that this was something I needed to do. Something that would bring us structure, guidance, accountability, a PLAN. Well, having thought about it in great depth, I am finally admitting that I am not there yet. Not this year, anyway. I want more structure, we need more structure, but an hour by hour accounting of our time day to day is not going to do anything but stress me out. Whew. I feel so much better having admitted that. You aren't mad at me for giving that schedule up before I even tried it, are you? You can do it if you like, but it is just not for me.

Things are too unpredictable around here still (with a tornado-boy, octopus-armed, mini-mayhem, sweetie-pie toddler running around causing rampant destruction minute by minute...) and I have too much to do to get where I need to be to be able to sit still at a table (or at least in one area of the house) for a few hours every morning (I need to tame that garage and turn it into a play room, as well as take care of that closet I mentioned, redo my front porch and my laundry room, not to mention help with fences and stalls in the barn still...and get rid of more stuff!!!!).

Still, I am not unaware that structure is a good thing for children, so I am coming up with a new plan. This plan has a modicum more structure than what we did last year (since the main focus of learning for Ladybug and Cowboy last year was learning to read, add, and subtract, there wasn't much to do but read, add, and subtract a lot...plus we did art and nature studies), and the added structure will help the younger ones (and, I think the older one...Tex) be held more accountable for achieving a group of pre-set (by teacher) goals. Yet, it will offer me flexibility to change from day to day. For example, if I have a migraine, I can add more computer work to the day. If it is a nice day out, we can do several learning activities outside (like an art project, nature study, and reading), all in the morning, then work on the garage for the afternoon.

So here's the new plan. I have been toying with the idea of workboxes for months now, and I like the idea. But we do have a small house (just under 1500 square feet for eight of us, and some of that is an unheated/cooled semi-enclosed front porch), and space is at a premium. Plus, I can't see Boo ignoring the possiblities of opening all those drawers at this point, and I can't figure out where to put them so he can't get them.
So two weeks ago, when shopping at WalMart, I bought these "lap desk" containers and gave one to each child. I put a handwriting book in each of the Three Amigos' boxes, as well as their nature notebooks, spelling notebooks for the older Amigos, a box of crayons, some regular pencils, and a few worksheets or activity/coloring pages. Then in another box I put a blank book we are using to make an alphabet book for Firefly (just a file folder with about thirty pages stapled in it), added some crayons and colored pencils, scissors, and a few glue sticks. I also printed up some "A is for Ant" printables from Homeschool Share and Lapbooking Lessons, and added a book or two on ants from our Insect Books box. I didn't work on organizing Tex at this point. We don't have his laptop yet, so I set him to reading a few books for our first study on Egypt (his choices are pretty heavy and may take him a while), organizing his planner, and working his way up to Algebra (which he is studying this year) on his Khan Academy account.

Our trial week was a success. We had a blast. The kids enjoyed their lap desks. I liked the convenience of having all of the things I needed for the Alphabet book at hand before we even started, and as long as I walked between the computers and the tables different kids were working at, things went very smoothly.

Okay, so that shows you the flaw in the system. I had to be there, monitoring and adding to the mix constantly. That was okay for the first two weeks, since it was rainy, I had bad headaches all the second week, and I didn't want to do much else anyway, but for the third week, I was feeling okay, and wanted to get out to that monster garage and get to work! So what did I do for school that third week? Well, I wound up having the kids do the majority of their work on the computer (we use some Time4Learning for Ladybug and Cowboy, as well as Reading Eggs and Mathletics, plus Starfall/More Starfall for Firefly, Mark Kistler and Meet the Masters for art, with some Bibletown for fun, not to mention the link-ups and memes we occasionally participate in--see my left sidebar) for a few hours in the morning, reading a few books each day as they took turns using the computers, and then working outside every afternoon.

I feel pretty lousy about that week, schoolwise. Sure, we went to the library and read out loud a lot, and we accomplished a lot of cleaning, but I feel overused the computer and underused the kids' creativity. I am supposed to use those online classes as a supplement, not as the basis of what I am doing. Ugh.

This is the board used by House of the Rising Sons.
I love, love, love this idea.
Please check out the rest of her post.

Obviously, I need to find some middle ground, so I don't default to the computer when I can't be "fully engaged." That's where a schedule (that the kids can follow independently) comes in. Well, today I was persuing a few link ups (Link and Learn at No Time for Flashcards, in particular), and I found this interesting blog, House of the Rising Sons. I LOVE her idea to use similar box labels to the ones the original Sue Patrick Workbox System uses, but to put them on marker boards, instead of on the boxes. In this way, all their work is displayed on the one board and you can write any specifics to the side of each label. Then, instead of using mulitple boxes to store the assignments (ie. one box per label/subject), you keep each child's work in one box (such as our lap desks). Thus, their assignments are listed on a small board that they can easily handle, they can still see each assignment in order, then they have the satisfaction of marking it off as it is done.

It is an ideal system for list lovers like me (and Ladybug, who is a listmaker in training), and since you prepare it each evening, instead of once weekly, it is not prepared so far in advance that it can't easily be adjusted for issues that come up, or based on how I am feeling (or what I am doing) each day. I can choose to write out what we will do OVERALL on my own list, to help me organize our way through the Ancient History we hope to cover this year, but I can go day to day, exploring more or less as the kids show evidence of their own delights in the material. Yay! A solution I think I can live with. I am excited!!

So I have written out my first boards for Ladybug and Cowboy for tomorrow. I don't have labels printed yet, so I just drew pictures with the dry erase markers. I think it will go well. I pray it will go well. I remember how frustrated Bubba became early on in our homeschooling journey when he wouldn't know exactly what was going on every day (we did not have any sort of precisely written daily schedule at that point...just a knowledge that there was a LOT we needed to cover and catch up on, not to mention the co-ops, Boy Scouts, sports, church, etc.), so if he'd finish quickly, I'd give him something else to do, and so on and so on...and you can imagine how that made him feel. This way, the kids will see what is to be done, do it, and we will all have that relief of being done when it is done. Hooray!!

I will update later and let you know how it goes. Say a prayer for us! Thanks.



The Red Brick Farmhouse said...

Awesome, AwEsOmE, AWESOME POST! I loved all your ideas and links. I am certainly going to try some of them. I am trying to organize more and be more on a schedule this last year. Hoping that helps in mine and Kiddo's frustration levels!

Thank you for sharing!


Unknown said...

Hi Heather,
I LOVE your blog. You have such a beautiful family. I really hope that the dry erase boards with picture cards works for you. It sure has been helpful for my little guys. Seeing their whole day layed in front of them has made our school days so much more joyful and productive. Hope you received the printables this morning in your inbox. Off to check out the rest of your blog. Thanks so much!

Blessings to you,

Anonymous said...

My wife is amazing! My normal prayer time with the kids was filled with interesting facts and questions from the day. God blessed me beyond measure in the woman He chose for me to marry.

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