Friday, June 27, 2014

How I Homeschool

I'm linking up to Michaela's blog, California to Korea
to share a bit about the hows and whys of homeschooling in our family!

How long have you been homeschooling?
We joined a homeschooling group when Mary Clare was only 2 years old, so we've been doing it all along. But starting from her official kindergarten year, we just completed six years of homeschooling!
How many kids are in your family? How many are homeschooled? Are any schooled in a more traditional way?  
We have five children (ages 4 months, 3, 6, 9, and 11), and three of them are school age and have always been homeschooled.  Next year we will have kids in grades 1, 4, and 6.

What laws, if any, are there in your state regarding homeschooling? How does your family meet compliance?
In Texas there are hardly any homeschool requirements.  The only stated requirements are that we teach reading, spelling, math, grammar, and good citizenship, all pursued in a bone fide manner.  So we aren't required to follow any specific curriculum or provide any test scores or work samples to the state.  We definitely cover the above five requirements, so I don't have worries about meeting some kind of standard set by the government.  
Switching gears here: if you could summarize your homeschool philosophy in one sentence or mission statement, what would that be?
"Raising saints, forming souls, finding beauty, and learning about the world. Together."
What is your homeschooling style?
Up until now, I've pulled together my own curriculum following recommendations by classical and Charlotte Mason-style programs, like Mother of Divine Grace, St. Thomas Aquinas Academy, The Well-Trained Mind, and Mater Amabilis.  As we begin middle school with our oldest daughter this coming year, I've opted to enroll with a homeschool academy for the first time.  We are enrolled with Mother of Divine Grace School, which also follows the classical model of education.
Do you follow any set curriculum?
As I just mentioned, we will be closely following the Mother of Divine Grace program (MODG) this coming year.  I will still do some of my favorite programs and books with the younger ones, even if they aren't the top MODG recommendation, like All About Spelling and Math U See.  But Mary Clare will be following their syllabus and daily lesson plans for almost all of her subjects except spelling.  

She will also take two online classes, have a TA (Teaching Assistant providing grading and follow-up) for two subjects, and Ellie will take one online class.  I have been paired with a consultant to discuss curriculum choices, receive 4 long phone calls during the year, to be available by email, and to help with report cards and other assessments.  We will have lesson plans to follow online, and records will be kept through this accredited homeschool program.  I'm very much looking forward to having this assistance and accountability next year!
What do your best homeschooling moments look like?  What do your not-so-good moments look like?  How do you stay on track?
Our best moments are when we're all on the couch reading storybooks, science, and history together.  I love when the kids work together and encourage each other and when they are doing creative arts and crafts activities.  Our spelling program is very rewarding and I love when the spelling rules start to click for the kids.  Learning catechism together is a beautiful experience.  I also love when they master math concepts, and when they all work on their different subjects together in the homeschool room.  Other favorite moments are spent with friends having feast day celebrations, visiting museums, and going on nature explorations.

The not-so-good moments happen when I can't get out of bed, or when I have to retreat to bed frequently throughout the day because I'm tired and overwhelmed.  The kids sometimes fight a lot and sometimes really hurt each other.  Some days I yell.  Some days they cry.  Some days I cry.  Those are the really hard days.  If I'm in bed crying when Steven gets home, it's been a really bad day!
I stay on track by making weekly checklists for the children and trying to follow a school year calendar and complete our books in May.  I am on some homeschooling Facebook groups and Yahoo groups where I can ask questions, and I have lots of friends who I can go to with concerns or to brainstorm ideas when we have challenges.  This year I will be forced to stay on track with our homeschool program, since we will have quarterly consultations and work samples due, and Mary Clare will be responsible for work turned in for some of her classes, as well as taking the weekly online classes.
How do you keep any non-school-aged kids busy?
It's really hard to answer this.  I have five kids who are all home with me 24/7.  There is constant noise and motion, so we learn to work amidst it.  The 3yr old will play with toys nearby or write in his own little workbooks or coloring books.  Sometimes the younger ones use the Montessori Boxes we made a few years ago.  But other times the toddler will climb all over me and whine in my face, trying to steal my iPhone.  The baby will be asleep or will be in my lap crying or being nursed, or maybe she will sit in a seat for about five minutes.  It's kind of like a circus many days, but we still love it!
What outside activities do your children participate in?
My girls have taken ballet lessons for many years, and they have done some piano and choir the past few years.  Steven Joseph has been on baseball teams, and the kids are on the swim team most summers.  We have done a few co-ops over the years, mostly Classically Catholic Memory.  The children have been attending the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Montessori faith formation program with our current homeschooling group.  4-H has been another activity the girls have done the past couple years.  When we move in a few months, we will re-join the girls' and boys' clubs that a friend leads for our original homeschooling group, where the children learn life skills and celebrate feast days together in a beautiful, creative environment.  Our homeschool group usually has monthly park play days and nature clubs which we enjoy. 

Why did you decide to homeschool?
While we were dating, Steven and I met several homeschooling families and were very impressed by their children.  They were well-spoken, mature, smart, and kind.  Steven was especially interested in how this lifestyle worked, and I even did a research paper on homeschooling for one of my education courses in college (My degree was Elementary Education and I taught in public and private schools before having children).  At this point, we planned to hypothetically homeschool our future children once we were married.  As time went by and we finally got married and started having children, we continued to meet and befriend other homeschooling families and other young couples who also planned to homeschool their children.  We had a handful of mentor couples who were an example to us of a holy marriage and inspiring to us as homeschool families.  So this was always been the life we hoped to live out, and we are thankful to God that He has given us the ability to follow this dream for our family.
What benefits have you seen?
I think my children have maintained the innocence that we all desire for our children.  They are interested in good and beautiful things.  They have a good grasp of the history of the world, of their Catholic faith, and of the importance of living a virtuous life, being a good citizen, and behaving as a loving family member.  They have friendships with other lovely children, and they are learning to be good siblings and friends with each other.  They are also learning so many life skills that I had to learn on-the-job as an adult like budgeting, chores, cooking, sewing, and crafting.

Just this week, the kids did a few things that really impressed me.  Steven has been traveling quite a bit, so they needed to step up to the plate and be understanding that it is a challenging time for Mommy.  I bought them a blow-up pool at the grocery store and they were all thrilled.  They worked hard to do their chores and a few schoolwork items, and then to get the pool set-up by using the ShopVac with no assistance from me.  They have been helping each other with chores and thanking me for various things during the day.  Yesterday, Steven Joseph cleaned out and vacuumed my car after one simple request from me.  Ellie heard the baby crying in the middle of the night and came down to offer to hold her for a few minutes.  It's the little things like this that help me to see the big picture, that the sacrifices this lifestyle entails are all worth it.
Do you plan to homeschool through high school?
Short answer: Yes.  Long answer: We take things a year at a time, but homeschooling has been on our hearts since our earliest days of dating.  It has become a lifestyle for us.  We are able to make different changes in our family life to allow for successful homeschooling.  We moved away for a few years, and now are preparing to move back to our close-knit community where we will have support for years to come.

We will have the assistance of the MODG enrollment, but also the options of various nearby co-ops and classes, and even a hybrid academy (part-time school) that follows MODG.  I feel like God has given us the resources and grace to continue this endeavor, but I can't say that we will never get to a point where we might need to put the children in school.  Our youngest is currently four months old, so it's kind of interesting to think I may still be doing this in 18 years, but it's also exciting and comforting at the same time.  
If you could give any homeschool advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?
Find support!  Joining the homeschool group when my oldest was a toddler made a big difference in my confidence starting out.  Many of the moms I met when the girls were preschoolers are now some of my closest friends, and the kids have all become close as they've grown up together.  Living in a community with strong homeschooling support group, if possible, is ideal.  Moms need that support, and as the children get older they will appreciate having close friends who share the same values, goals, and family lifestyle.  I know not all moms need a support network, but as an extrovert who enjoys activity and social interactions, it is so important for me!

Also be sure you rely on God.  Recognize that there is no way we could live this lifestyle without His grace, or without the assistance of the sacraments and prayer.  When I take the time to pray by myself and with the children, our days go so much smoother and my own attitude is improved.  Keep a smile on your face and remember that adage we're always told:  the days are long but the years are short!  Steven always reminds me that we are going to blink and realize we are fifty!  I am already having a hard time believing that our oldest is starting 6th grade, so I'm really trying my hardest these days to savor the babyhood of our littlest one as well as the childhoods of our older kids.  I hope having this blog will be a special way to preserve these memories!
Thanks for reading and feel free to ask other questions if you have any!


Micaela Darr said...

What a great blog post, Blair! I really love your philosophy. And I am with you 1000% on the extrovert-mom-needing-social-time thing. When we lived in Korea, there were no other homeschoolers nearby. It was a really difficult time for me. My kids were fine, but I struggled!

Anyway, thanks so much for linking up. I always love seeing photos of your beautiful family!

Melissa D. said...

that was really beautiful Blair! Thanks for sharing.

Kelly said...

Great post, Blair! I probably comment this every time, but I think it's pretty neat how close in age our 5 children are. Everyone I know enrolled with MODG loves it. I hope your school year goes well :-)

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