Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Our Homeschool Journey

The summer of 2012 was when I officially decided to homeschool our children. Oh, I'd done the Elder Cracker Jack's preschool at home many years before as I was unwilling to pay the price the local preschool was asking and I'd toyed with the idea of homeschooling all of them full time off and on through the years. But, it was last summer that the decision was finally made... well... final. I had started seriously considering it at the end of the 2010-2011 school year when the Younger Cracker Jack was in Kindergarten at a local public school and being violently bullied *(if an adult had been doing such things to another adult as was being done by this child to my daughter they would have been arrested and put in jail for assault amongst other charges)* and she came home crying on several occasions asking to be homeschooled. Prior to that I had not even discussed the issue with the children.

The next school year was an odd journey for us from public, to private, back to public schooling that culminated in the decision to homeschool about halfway through a summer reading program. The Elder Cracker Jack had always had problems with bullies due to his size, good grades, and general goofiness. The Younger Cracker Jack never did get bullied near as badly as she did at the end of her Kindergarten year but she also never forgot it and it colored the rest of her "regular" school experiences. And as for Peanut, we'd had wonderful experiences with the Early Head Start Program in one city we'd lived in and less than stellar when we'd moved, I wasn't willing to chance her getting lost in the system.

One of the deciding factors was the results of the summer reading program that I had enrolled the Cracker Jack's in at their public school. What was supposed to be a program to help get the Younger Cracker Jack up to speed with her reading for the start of second grade ended up being more like a glorified summer latch-key program where if you could memorize a few words you were given free books. They did not focus on reading at all, it was fun and games, field trips, art projects ... and once a week they got to pick out a few books to bring home. Of course I didn't find this out until the middle of the program. I was highly upset. My daughter's comprehension is wonderful but she has issues reading and I had been expecting help with those issues, had in fact been given assurances by her first grade teachers that the program would help with them. I did allow the children to finish the program, but only because they were enjoying themselves so much.

I began looking into what I could do to homeschool. I also had a small idea at the time that we would be moving south for at least a few months due to some family issues and so I needed to find a way to do this without adding a lot of things to what we were bringing (as this was a temporary move we were staying in our camper). I found many wonderful options. Once we'd decided that we were definitely going to homeschool we informed the children, but we didn't know what they would be doing yet.
The children were very excited about homeschooling and when we went on our summer camping trip that year to the Seven Lakes Michigan State Camp Ground they made sure to tell all the new friends that they made all about the fact that they were going to be homeschool campers. They were going to learn everything, everywhere, and boy were their parents the coolest parents ever!!

Weeellll.... For the next couple of weeks they sure believed that. And when I settled on a curriculum I believed would work for us they were ecstatic. Had mom really said that they were going to be learning at home, camping all the time, and getting to "play" on the computer every day too?!?!?!? Not exactly. But to those  three that's sure what it had sounded like. I had chosen Time4Learning.com for the Cracker Jack's core subjects and ABCMouse.com for Peanut's. Both programs are actually really good. And they worked out well for us for approximately four months. Both keep records for you, do all of your planning, are fun and interactive.
After the first two months the Elder Cracker Jack began to get frustrated. For History and Science he had to take notes offline while he was reading online to be able to study for the quick quizzes. The Math lessons were too repetitive for him, and moving him up a level just didn't help. And he'd had to wait a whole month to use their art section (part of how they had it set up at least when we were using this program). During those first two months we didn't really do a lot of field trips or art projects, and because all three children were using the same computer and I was using it at night they always felt rushed. 

In November we landed in Paducah, Kentucky. This picture was taken in front of a portion of a real train on display before the city's mural wall along their historic water front area.  This was taken on one of our first days there. I had decided that the children needed a couple of fun days as we had been schooling every single day for weeks. That plaque is in front of the train engine. 

And here's a shot of the mural wall and the waterfront. These are places we visited many many times while we were in Paducah, Kentucky. The wall goes on for about a mile and each mural is beautiful and unique. And watching the barges on the watcher is calming, entertaining, and educational all at the same time. It is definitely one of our favorite places of the city.

It was towards the middle of November that I really began to decide that the online schooling method just wasn't right for our family. At least not with our situation. There was a monthly cost to both school sites, the fact that I only had the one computer, I paid for my Internet service each month, and ECJ was not being challenged enough. I added in nature walks about that time. Spent many hours researching curriculum well into the nights every night. Talked to my husband and my children. Prayed. 

On the morning after our only real snowfall I made a decision. We'd be using ABeka books for Language Arts and Arithmetic. We took the day off from our lessons and went down to the waterfront to see how it looked in the snow. I told the kids we'd be stopping the online school for a little while and I'd be getting them a few text books. I would be doing their Science by using nature and we would see what we could learn. "What about History?" ECJ asked. Well, we'd found out that YCJ hadn't even known that Native Americans were real right before Thanksgiving. My answer was obvious to me, "We're going to learn about Native Americans, everything we can find out about them. How they lived, where they lived, what they ate, what the children learned, oh just everything!"  Once again the children became excited about homeschool.

About a week after I ordered the books they arrived and we began again in earnest. Elder Cracker Jack wasn't really sure he liked this new method of homeschooling, especially since Peanut insisted he needed her babies to help him. And I'm not sure he really welcomed mom's intrusion into his lesson by asking for a quick picture.
Younger Cracker Jack was just beginning to learn to crochet and had taught herself to chain stitch using her finger because the needle was too difficult to master right away. She really enjoyed doing this while her brother was toiling away attempting to finish his lesson, which he was quick to point out took longer than when he'd been doing them online.

It took about a month to settle into our new routine. And during that whole month they weren't really sure they liked the whole text book "thing". When asked if they'd rather go back to schooling online they always answered "NO" because it had been too frustrating. The blessing and curse of switching curriculum and styles during winter and while staying in a camper is that we were able to adapt rather quickly to the way our days now looked. 

On one of our late winter/ early spring nature walks we found the first flowers. 
The children took this to mean that God was saying the worst of it was over and we were on the right path. They enjoyed the rest of the official school year. And are happy to be continuing to homeschool this year. My husband still has his moments where he thinks they may be missing something at a more "regular" school environment, but he's agreed that for this next school year at least they'll be homeschoolers full time. 
Personally, I continue to pray for guidance every night that I am doing what is right for my children, that He show me how to teach them what they need to learn, and that He let me see if and when it's ever time to send the children back into a different school environment. As of now I have no plans to return them to public school or private school. We'll be doing a few extra curricular outside of the home to help teach things I have proven inadequate (such as swimming) to teach, and will be joining a local support group for larger field trips and a wider variety base in which the children can make new friends.
He is watching.

*Upcoming posts: How to begin homeschooling, Our homeschool experience, and A Day in the life

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