Since losing Mattias, I feel like it has been a long, slow journey back toward feelings like wonder, enthusiasm and excitement. It has taken a toll on our homeschool as far too many days were focused on getting through it rather than bringing any life to what we were doing.
Don’t get me wrong. Here at home is right where we needed to be. My children were grieving, too, and they needed space and time and the love of family more than anything else. And they did progress. Three of my children learned to read in that time. One graduated, became a farrier and is now away studying to become a full time missionary serving the children of Nebraska. I think, perhaps, we were where we needed to be for this season in our lives, but I’m ready to move forward again. To recapture some of the wonder and some of the joy.
So I spent the summer planning and reflecting on how to recapture some of the adventure in this homeschooling journey and settled on five areas to focus on.
Too much of our focus has been on getting done rather than on engaging with the material. It takes time to reflect. And sometimes, when I stop a lesson in the middle for a break, I see it modeled in the sand box and I hear it echoed in the conversations of Lego figures. Children work out their ideas through play and that can only happen when there is both a spark of curiosity and time to explore it.
Ask more questions.
This is something I noticed a long time ago, but when my children don’t know the answer to a question, I tend to guide them to it. It’s hard for me to let them wrestle with it for very long. In the age of instant access to information, it is difficult to even see the value of not knowing the answer to a question. To give us some practice, I bought a card set to the game Mindtrap. This isn’t a game we’d ever be able to get through. The questions are too abstract. But to start off the day with a little brain exercise? They’re perfect. The hardest part is following through with the time limit and putting the card away even when no one has come up with an answer. But out of sight most definitely does not mean out of mind and they have all day to wrestle silently with the problem.
“Here a little, there a little” has been one of the guiding principles of our homeschool for a long time. One idea per subject per day will encourage children to reason through what they are learning rather than focusing on the flood of information most textbooks throw at them. But as I reflected on where I felt I was falling short, I realized that I had strayed far from this ideal. I have been giving them ample information to process but frightfully few ideas to explore. Today’s was how impersonal technology is once you remove humans, regardless of how personalized it is. The house in “There Will Come Soft Rains” provides an eerie example as it goes on catering to the preferences of the people who once occupied it, though they are long dead. We have a whole year to look at short stories. We don’t need to pick each one to death. Asking a few questions can aid in understanding and deepen appreciation for the literature. Too many takes away the simple joy of reading a good story.
Plan for tangents and better ideas.
One of the difficulties I have with planning is that I don’t stick to it. I get behind or we stray from it. I then feel stressed as we veer further and further off course and I have this clear map telling me where we are supposed to be. This is why I don’t plan out a year or even a semester. I have a skeleton of a plan, because I have to turn it in to the state. So I was supposed to start off with Washington Irving? It made sense. His were among the first American short stories and he fits well into the time period we are studying in history. But two days ago, I decided to switch. Ray Bradbury was my introduction to the short story. He brought me to the library again and again, absorbing everything he wrote. It was after reading his stories that I first realized that while nonfiction is for the dissemination of facts, literature is for the exploration of ideas. I’ve read exactly one story to them and already they are hooked. Will we get to Washington Irving? Probably. But does it really matter?
Connect with their interests.
Anything can be educational. My tendency is to use what they are interested in to draw them into what I want them to learn. It’s engaging and high interest, but my focus really is on using their interests to meet my objectives. My eldest son, however, is interested in film studies. He is helping me put together a high school film studies course to explore the history of film, visual storytelling and the elements that make up a good film. I don’t have a list of objectives I expect him to meet. I don’t even know all that much about film studies. But I know he will need to draw on everything he’s learned about research and writing to pull together his film “canon” and determine what he needs to look for in each one. Instead of using his interest to meet my objectives, I am acting as a resource to help him meet his own objectives. And that’s when I begin to see my children get inspired.
And how did the first day of school go? After the kids dragged themselves to the front room and slumped in their chairs, I wasn’t too optimistic that I would be able to overcome their attitudes. But by the end of the day, there was a noticeable shift. When I asked them how their day was, the answer was loud and immediate,
“It was awesome, mom! 100X better than last year!”
I guess we’ll see how day two goes.
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