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When Curriculum Isn’t Working

This post was originally published in 2011, but even after six years is one I refer back to when something isn’t clicking in our homeschool year. 

Each year we begin our school year with big intentions, excitement about the curriculum that we have in store for the year, but sometimes that excitement takes a big ol’ nosedive when something that we’re using results in frustration and tears {sometimes for the teacher as well as for the kids}.

When curriculum isn't working - www.homeschoolcreations.net

Even bigger of a frustration is when you have put quite a bit of money into a curriculum. Somehow that seems to magnify the ‘what to do?’ questions that go around in my mind.

How Do You Handle it When Curriculum Isn’t Working?

I asked you all that question on Facebook and the results were mixed:

  • Press on ~ keep working if there is a way to salvage it. Especially if it’s a component that was more expensive.
  • Put it aside ~ maybe it will work down the line with a future child or at another time
  • Move on and sell it if you can!

Out of the above, we’ve tried all three…and the last two have been effective for us ~ the first one didn’t have great results {grins}. It boiled down to me asking a few questions about the curriculum to see how it should be handled:

  1. Are we just bored with this? Could it work in a few years?
  2. Is it a readiness issue? (i.e. are you trying to use something that your child isn’t ready for yet either academically or in another way?)
  3. Is the curriculum problem just with me or the kids as well? {i.e. does it just not ‘click’ with my teaching style/format? or the way my children learn?}
  4. Is this inhibiting our children’s learning and making learning not fun?
  5. Are you using the product the way it was intended? (cough – did you read the teacher’s manual and follow their instruction? or have you tried to tweak it from the start?)

This year, we had a two things that just weren’t clicking and working. Mid-October we realized there were two programs we were using, one with the boys (history) and another with McKenna (biology) that weren’t working as we had hoped. The boys were the ones who asked us about changing our history program back to one we had used in years past, and together McKenna and her friend taking biology together helped us as we sorted through biology programs. We had previously used the biology program with Laurianna and while it is a solid program, reason 2 above was the issue – and with a high school class, we really wanted to make sure we are getting all the learning in that we can! While it did mean pulling an older curriculum off the shelf for history and investing some money into a new biology curriculum for our high school daughter, it was something we felt we needed to do.

Could we have kept pushing on with both? Most likely. Would it have caused more frustration? Yes. Would that have made learning together something enjoyable? No.

Ultimately, that’s what closed the book on that particular subject for us. Above all, my goal is to make learning something that is fun and enjoyable for our kids {and myself}. If I have a kiddo that is frustrated, pressured, and close to tears because of something that we’re using, I would much rather put it aside and find something else to replace it.

I also happen to know myself and my personality. Once frustrated {or having seen a child frustrated} it ends up souring my view of the curriculum…and truthfully, I don’t want to keep at it or try it in the future. I’m also not one that likes to accumulate things that we won’t likely use again, so I want it off my shelves and out the door.

The curriculum we put aside will be resold and we will put the sale money toward the curriculum we have purchased. I am so thankful that we have a HUGE variety of things to choose from, even though those choices can sometimes be overwhelming, and that we all have different teaching and learning styles!! It’s always a reminder to me that our kids are each different in their learning styles – and that’s okay!

That said, please know that we are ALL different. What works for one person may not work for another. What I choose to do or how I handle something may not be the way you choose to handle it.

What are your thoughts on the issue? How have you handled the need to change out curriculum when it isn’t working?

 

Homeschool Basics

This post is a part of the Homeschool Basics series. Be sure to read the other posts if you are just joining in. For the record, I am not an expert. I’m a homeschool mom who is sharing what she’s learned so far along the way with her own family.

 

To Finish or Not to Finish?

credit: Todd Wilson

The other day on Facebook I shared a graphic from Todd Wilson (the Family Man) and really truly loved the variety of comments from you all! (No really – I do!)

With the end of the year looming SO very close, there are days that we just want to be done. Finished. We are squeezing in testing along with wrapping up a few of the remaining subjects, but I will admit that it’s tempting to put one thing aside sometimes and call it good. 

And the truth is, we have done that in the past. (and our kids have survived). 

Despite there being 180 days of lesson plans or boxes to check off, there have been a few that we didn’t do every single lesson. Last year, a mere ten lessons from the end, one child asked if they could take the final test in the class and if they received a 94 or above – stop. Guess what? They scored a 100. Class over. (I’ll admit though, this is hard because I’m a girl who loves to check off boxes!)

The beauty of working 1:1 with our kids is we know when they have mastered something or need to focus in a bit more until they have. If it’s been mastered – it’s okay to move along. There is the aspect of high school classes to take into consideration (we have a level of commitment there we definitely need to hit in order to earn a high school credit), but if my 4th grader has mastered all the prepositions and can diagram and break down a sentence, I may not need to finish the last chunk of lessons when he already has the rest mastered. 

One mom mentioned: 

… most curricula was designed to include more in it than the average classroom/family could possibly do in a school year. In fact, some texts have directions for using a single textbook for at least two years of study. There are times we’ve taken two years to finish something, but there are times when we say that we’ve done enough and move on. (thanks Cheryl!)

Coming from the public school setting, that is so very true. No matter how much I may try to fit everything in, there is always more than enough to do. There are also days that we go off on rabbit trails and extend the learning in other ways. 

But on the other hand…

On the flip side of that, I love this comment too from another mom (Elizabeth): 

I see it as being a good steward of our finances and teaching the kids to be perseverant. I have done the hundreds of hours of research to determine which curriculum is best for the learning styles of my very different children. Then spent the hundreds of dollars that my husband has earned by sacrificing his time and talent away from our family…

The truth is – that resonates a lot with me as well! If the curriculum has been a great fit for our family, we need to remember that many of us have invested both time and money into our year – and it is important to follow through. I do think too that it is important to teach our kids the value of following through with commitments we have made. Sometime we don’t always like to do something, but it can be a matter of establishing good habits. 

My overall thoughts are this (and I’d love to hear yours too!) –  if you are feeling stressed out and about at your wits end, maybe even feeling like this year has been a flop and you are failing at this homeschooling thing… well, it ok to give yourself a little grace. I may just be time to put that history book aside and focus on getting the core stuff done. Or looking at the bigger picture – can you put the rest aside and pick up later? Or start fresh next year. Different states do require various things to complete the year, so take that into consideration as well. 

Maybe you need to take a day break and jump back in with a fresh focus to finish up the last bit with gusto. If one more worksheet might push you over the edge, maybe there is a creative way to finish out your year that both you and your kiddos can get on board with! Take that field trip and have fun together videotaping your kid’s thoughts on what they learned. Let THEM teach a lesson to you. (Check out this post for some ways to mix things up at the end of the homeschool year). 

The most important thing to remember is this: YOU know where your child is academically and what s/he does or doesn’t need to complete. Take the time to look back over the past year and honestly evaluate if you are good to go. Allow yourself grace if you are heaping guilt on yourself. 

It’s all about perspective and remembering what matters in the long run. :) ENJOY your time together with your kiddos! 

What are YOUR thoughts – every box checked or do you roll with it? 

 

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5 Things to ADD to the end of your homeschool year

The FIRST Thing to Do When You Struggle Balancing Home and School

Recently I asked a question on Facebook of you all: What is your biggest struggle in balancing home and school? The answers ranged from “everything” to finding quality time with spouse, meal planning, and keeping our home clean.

As homeschool parents, we have a lot on our plates trying to balance our homeschool time with the everyday happenings at home: meals, cleaning, shuttling kids, working, more feeding of the children, grocery shopping, marriage, and the many other commitments we have outside the home. It can seem like it never ends.

Overwhelm can sometimes be an understatement in how we are feeling. 

So – how do you do it all? Isn’t that a question that we all ask? We see all these amazing images and status updates on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram from other moms with immaculate homes and (seemingly) idyllic families. Kids who are dressed and have combed hair (the struggle is real onthat one in our house), perfectly plated food, laundry that is folded…and then put away. Often we’re struggling to keep up with the bare minimum and just see the bottom of the kitchen sink and remember about thirty minutes before 6 that we have to figure out what’s for dinner.

Let’s face it – it is SO easy to get overwhelmed and feel like life is out of balance. Quickly!

I’d love to share my heart (and home) in a short series on balancing home and school in the upcoming bit on the blog (because I can use a refresher too!), but I need to put out a few disclosures.

  1. I don’t do it all
  2. My all is different than your all.
  3. Sometimes we desperately need to redefine ‘all’ to match what is reality – not expectation.

Maybe you are looking for a few tips on tightening things up. Maybe life feels completely out of whack. Regardless, in this series we’re going to talk about some ways we can approach different areas of our homes and lives and try to bring things back into a more organized state.

But today, there is one thing that I think is so very important to not only understand in our minds, but especially in our hearts. 

Know that you can’t do it all.

No matter what you think, there is no mom that is doing it all. Everyone has different priorities and things that make their families unique. There are days in our home when we are lucky to finish the basics of school and have three decent meals (because those kids keep asking for food. And the husband – he likes to eat too). Housework may be pushed to the side for a day or two…or more. Other times we may even be scraping the bottom of the fridge to find something edible. 

There definitely is something to be said for having an organization plan in place (a routine or schedule), but remember – life happens. You need to know what your top priorities are and what is most important to you.

Pinterest can be one of my biggest downfalls and if I’m being honest, Facebook too. It’s easy to see and read how everyone’s life around us is going along so amazing. Their kids are sleeping through the night after just 2 weeks, while yours are almost 10 months and can’t make it more than 3 hours (been there, friends). It’s easy to make life look “good” for others to see, but part of that transfers into a struggle when we begin comparing what friends or others have that we don’t. And then we begin the process of beating ourselves up for not having it look JUST like an image we see or an impression we got from something. 

Can I tell you something? There’s a lot that we miss in all those pictures and status updates. We are seeing what others are allowing us to see. A picture of a happy family taking a road trip together can be shared on Instagram, but I can guarantee they aren’t sharing a video or picture of the same kids that have already started fighting in the backseat over just fifteen minutes down the road. (I have zero experience with said issue. Zero.)

We don’t see the messes or the many hours that go into making something Pinterest-worthy. But our hearts take in what we are presented with and then latch onto our lack. 

And friends – that is SO not my heart for you. This is something I have struggled with tremendously over the years and it has eaten at me, stealing joy from the moments I should instead be savoring. 

If you are struggling…

While I may not know what area you feel you struggle most with, I do know there are many resources (and friends) available to help us each out along the way. Can I encourage you to pick one area in the upcoming week and spend 20 minutes a day focusing on that area? If you need accountability – ask a friend! (I will be!)

Here, the newness of spring has been inspiring to me to change up some things in our home and get back on track in multiple areas. I’m committing  20 minutes twice a day  – starting the day with time to prioritize and focus and then making a “clean sweep” of the house each evening so we have a fresh start the following morning (clean counters and a tidy living area).

What area will you focus on this week – and remember: focus on the unique priorities YOUR family has. Don’t worry about what others are doing. Do what is best for you and yours! 

 

5 Ways to Get Out of the Mid-Year Homeschool Rut

Some days it feels like we have been homeschooling F.O.R.E.V.E.R. and ever amen. The days seem to be on an endless repeat, kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, especially when the weather has gotten cold and spending time outside is nothing short of frigid. All the excitement of those nicely sharpened pencils and fabulous homeschool tools – well, that’s long past gone. 

The great news is, the mid-year slump doesn’t last forever. While spring is on the horizon and the promise of beautiful days tempts us, there are 5 ways to break out of the mid-year homeschool rut. Truthfully, there are many more (and I’d love to hear your ideas as well), but here are several tried and true methods that may help your family out. 

1. Plan a field trip.

When the weather is nice, it’s easy to remember to plan field trips to all of the fun outdoor places, but when the weather is cold take the time to visit some museums and stay nice and toasty. Look within a specific radius and plan to see a play together, visit a historical museum, enjoy an art museum, or visit a children’s museum with friends. Get out of the house and have some fun. 

2. Take a break.

Sometimes we get so fixated on the getting everything done and squeezing in every bit of learning that we forget to rest and take a vacation. Our family has a six week on and one week off vacation schedule that helps break up the school year for us (other families follow a 9 week/2 week cycle or have their own schedule).

Find a good routine that helps your family stay in a great learning mode and keep it fresh as well. Vacations and relaxing are GOOD things. And try to plan an actual day of REST for yourself. Curl up with the kids and watch movies all day. 

3. Mix it up a bit.

Put aside the typical school work for a week and do something different. If your school day follows the same routine, mix it up by spending a week on a unit study. If your kids are interested in a specific animal, take a week to learn as much as you can together. Otherwise, try flipping your school day around and work backwards to break out of the monotony a little bit. 

Better yet, ask your kids to help you plan a week of learning. Follow their interests and let them help lead the way in their learning. 

4. Use those extras!

Remember all the learning manipulatives, games, and extras that you have on your shelves? (Cough.) Take a day (or two), pull them off the shelf, wipe off the dust, and learn using all of the hands-on materials you have. Mad Libs, Legos (build a scene while reading history), Bananagrams, Sequence States, wooden blocks – you know what’s available. USE IT! Let it be a memorable week together and have fun! 

5. Take a nature walk. 

Yes, it may be cold outside. There may even be tons of snow, but get yourselves outside, moving, and explore the world around you. The fresh air will do you (a whole lot of) good, and you can warm up with some hot chocolate or tea when you get back inside. There will be plenty to journal and talk about together and it may even launch into a great topic study on winter animals, maple syrup, or another fun topic! 

 

Mid-winter doesn’t have to be a time that throws your homeschool out of whack. What ways has your family found to break out of the same-old, same-old rut

 

 

Think we’re crazy? I promise you, I’m not! You NEED a rest time in your day, moms!! We can’t keep up a crazy pace and not feel like we’re going crazy ourselves! See how our family implements a daily rest time HERE

What is Your Teaching Style?

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When I started homeschooling over eleven years ago, I had no idea that there were different homeschool teaching styles (or philosophies, if you prefer to use a fancier word). I just started on my merry way and a few years later someone asked me if we were Charlotte Mason or Eclectic.

Say what?? Who in the world was Charlotte Mason and eclectic…well, that just sounded so scattered!

Honestly, I had no idea what my answer truly was, and it was something that made me sit down and look things over (because my Type A personality just HAD to know). For those of you newer to homeschooling, or maybe as clueless as I was, a quick look at several of the different approaches may be helpful to you too. 

What are the Different Educational Philosophies?

Just like our children are all different, there are many different ways that we can approach teaching our children. Believe it or not, we as parents are different too and have different ideas and beliefs on how to best approach education. These approaches aren’t just in the homeschooling realm, but also exist in the public school realm as well.

It’s great to have a basic understanding of the different philosophies and honestly, they each have aspects that are helpful. Don’t put down one idea over another. There is something to glean from each area!!

This post briefly covers a few key philosophies:  Traditional, Charlotte Mason, Classical, Unit Studies, Unschooling, and Eclectic. Keep in mind that you may identify with parts of different philosophies – and that’s okay!

Traditional

This method revolves more around traditional textbooks and worksheets to determine if a child is learning. Work may be graded, tests given, etc…and can look more similar to a traditional school setting. Many may say it just is the school classroom dropped into a home.

Your family may use this method in certain subject areas and not in all (for example math or grammar). It may also be your overall teaching style as well (we have friends who follow this method exclusively).

A few companies to consider for the traditional method: A Beka and Rod and Staff.

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image courtesy of Microsoft

Charlotte Mason

This philosophy began in the 1800’s by a woman named Charlotte Mason. She believed that children should learn from real life through playing and creating. Part of the real-life learning would include plenty of nature walks and art studies. Instead of textbooks, children use “living books” – or books that make subjects come alive. This approach also includes more discussion and narration, not test taking for determining learning.

Helpful texts for this approach include A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola and Ambleside Online.

Classical

This method uses the Trivium: reason, record, research, relate, and rhetoric. Not sure what that means? In the early stages of learning, children learn the basics of reading, writing, and math. They then move into the grammar stage, then the dialectic stage, and then rhetoric (usually high school age).

One of the key things that you’ll notice about this method is the four year teaching cycle of history and science (the topics repeat every four years). We have followed this approach in our history studies and you may already be familiar with a text that follows the classical approach, Story of the World. This method also frequently focuses on learning Latin as a part of study.

Helpful texts for this approach include The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer and Teaching the Trivium by Harvie and Laurie Bluedorn.

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image courtesy of Microsoft

Unit Studies

This method of study is fairly straight forward. If your child is interested in the ocean, you would read  books that covered that topic, write about topics that related to the ocean (writing/grammar/spelling), learn more about scientists and animals {science}, etc. It can also be tied into a literature theme (i.e. based on a book that is read together).

Basically, unit studies cover a certain theme. Some parents may come up with all of their material on their own for a theme, but there are many companies and sites that offer lessons and ideas packaged together. It might get a little trickier as students get older to include all subject areas. This is how we initially started our homeschool journey – with country studies that led us around the world and studying all sorts of different things!

A few companies that use the Unit Study approach: Five in a Row and Konos.

Unschooling

This method would be mainly opposite of the public school philosophy. Instruction is led by the interests of the child and is very relaxed. Formal lessons may not be involved. It follows the belief that children are all curious and natural learners and they will continue to learn as they grow and develop.

Book for further learning: How Children Learn by John Holt.

Eclectic

Basically, this method focuses on a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s eclectic! Maybe you are classical in your history approach, Charlotte Mason in science, a bit more traditional in math, etc… You cover subjects with your family in a manner that best suits your individual needs.

What is Your Teaching Style?

Quite honestly, our family fits more in this latter category now that we are a bit down the road of homeschooling. Depending on our children, we’ve adjusted pieces of our curriculum (and teaching) to flow with how they learn best and what works with our family.

Over the years you may notice your teaching style changes – that is fine!! Don’t panic! Be sure to read up on the different philosophies and do a little more research on your own too.

Have you determined your teaching style? Leave a comment below and tell us yours – we’d love to hear.

Homeschool Basics

This post is a part of the Homeschool Basics series. Be sure to read the other posts if you are just joining in. For the record, I am not an expert. I’m a homeschool mom who is sharing what she’s learned so far along the way with her own family.

 

Tips for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Mom

Tips for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Mom

The homeschool year hasn’t even started for our family yet and last week there was a moment when all I wanted to do was sit down on the floor and have a really good cry. Ambitions were high for the summer months, and essentially nothing on my list was accomplished (according to what my brain and unwritten expectations were). Just so you know, I envisioned having co-op syllabuses completed in June and a huge chunk of my planning done that month as well. I thought I’d have it ALL done and just kick back and relax the rest of the summer. 

Sometimes those unwritten expectations can really wreak havoc on a person – and mind you, I’m a top contender in that department. 

But life intervened and between swim team duties and some wonderful family interruptions, summer didn’t go according to plan. And that’s all a good thing. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in my expectations that I miss the life to live right in front of me.

However, when walking into the school room last week to get started on organizing for the new year, it felt like a blanket of heaviness was draped over my shoulders. Piles of curriculum pulled off the shelf to relocate or sell were all over the place – even after baskets of books had been taken out. Stacks of supplies the kids had brought up to the school room for me – and then dumped somewhere random – stared at me. Our room is a huge blessing, but left alone where we don’t see it everyday left it at a point where it was just plain overwhelming. 

homeschool room before

I shared a picture on Facebook last week of the overwhelm I was feeling, and many of you chimed in or emailed me sharing your current state, which told me one thing: we are NOT alone in our feelings of being overwhelmed. Sadly, many of us sit and hold it in, adding to the mountain of feelings. 

Whether or not you have a week or more (or less) to get ready for the upcoming year, here are a few tips for when you feel overwhelmed as a homeschool mom. 

Tips for When You Feel Overwhelmed as a Homeschool Mom

Take a deep breath. I’d love to say that I didn’t tear up, but that would be a lie. I cried a little – and that’s ok! I needed a chance to stop for a moment, and getting that overwhelmed feeling out. After that, I sat back, stared down my nemesis, and took a deep breath. That moment of calming was enough to help me focus on the task ahead and realize it could be done. 

Jump in and DO IT. While the list of things needing to be done would definitely take more than an afternoon, I jumped right in to work on what was in front of me, clearing the visible clutter since much of my overwhelm comes from the visual aspect of messes. You know what your own triggers are – tackle those first so you can relax a little. I grabbed a large trash bag, moved piles to the hallway for things to be taken out of the school room, shelved books, vacuumed, dusted, and focused on the giant task in front of me. I set an internal goal (remember how I said I’m good at those??) to get it cleaned up in an hour (call me crazy). 

Plot your attack and stay focused. Because I have trouble remembering things at time (I’m over 40 and a mom of four. Have mercy, please.), I took a small notebook with me to jot down things that came to mind as I was working. Print off planners for the girls. Plan out the first month of lit lessons for our co-op classes. Double check all curriculum for the year. Find all the US History books on our shelves. Organize science supplies.

The list may keep growing, but rather than getting distracted by little things along the way, stay focused on the task in front of you. My list was my mental dumping ground for what needed to be worked on later that day or in the upcoming week. When finished with the initial cleaning, I went over the list and prioritized what needed to be done. Some of the items were able to be checked off quickly (making me feel accomplished and more motivated!), and the rest – well, they’ll get done too – in time. 

Putting it down on paper puts it into perspective for you as well. Looking at it in black and white helps you see what really needs to be accomplished, or saved until later. While finishing off the baseboards in our school room is something that needs to be done, it doesn’t need to be finished before the school year starts. (grins)

Phone a friend. There is power in numbers, so don’t push aside the benefit of friends. My initial panic also involved chatting with a friend on the phone and commiserating our mutual chaos. We made a plan to sit down together in the upcoming week – me to help her with one of her daunting tasks (anything is more fun with a friend!), and she is going to work with me on one of my projects. Together is always more enjoyable! 

Friends also have the added benefit of talking you down from your proverbial ledges and giving you a nudge (or shove) in the direction you need to be headed. I have two local friends who are fabulous at holding me accountable on tasks and helping me stay focused. 

Let go of what doesn’t need to be done. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the things you feel you should be doing. Earlier this year I shared 10 things to eliminate from your homeschool and in addition to those ten things, I would also encourage you to not overdo it. Don’t overwhelm yourself (or your kids) with subject areas that you don’t really need to work on solely because it appears it’s the right thing to do. From outside activities to 15 subjects per child, you can get yourself on the fast track to a certifiable mess. Limit and eliminate the extra stuff – and don’t look back. 

Pray. This just goes without saying, but remember to keep yourself grounded in God’s word, letting Him know your fears, frustrations, and dreams. 

Get rest and lots of it. It’s hard work being a mom and adding on the responsibility of being your child’s teacher ups the stress even more. You need to rest. And beyond rest, you need to sleep. Don’t burn the candle at both ends and hope to catch up on the weekend, or whenever. Get the rest now. Go to bed on time and strive for the rest your body needs to keep going. Take care of yourself as much as you care for those children of yours, otherwise you can put yourself out of commission quickly. Ask me how I know. 

Aside from your body responding better, sleep will also give you more clarity of thought. Tasks that seemed incredibly overwhelming the day before might be put into perspective or a different approach may come to mind. Know when to slow down, stop, and put your feet up for your own sanity (and your family’s)!

homeschool room after

While there are still many tasks ahead in the upcoming week, my perspective has completely shifted from feeling overwhelmed as I’ve taken a step back and plotted out what needs to be done. And that hour time limit I set for myself? It did wonders to ease my mind. It’s amazing what you can get done when you stop and focus on what’s in front of you. 

This won’t be the only time during the year that those feelings of overwhelm will creep up. Throughout the year, they resurface in different areas, but in those moments, pause and take a deep breath. You CAN get through this. 

Are you struggling with feeling overwhelmed? What tips can you offer to other homeschool moms in the trenches with you? 

 Tips for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Mom from Homeschool Creations


 


Another post you may enjoy….Why Your Homeschool Needs a Rest Time.

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