When we first realized a couple months ago how sick I was, my husband began the worst-case scenario worrying. Chief topic: How will we keep educating these children? We have a variety of options: Catholic schools, non-Catholic Christian schools, some decent-enough public schools, and a handful of leads on childcare providers who’d be willing to oversee homework time during the day while my husband is working. So far though, I’m not so sick that I can’t keep going at it, though it’s with a few changes.
1. Workbooks are my friend.
The first thing I dropped was a very parent-intensive course my daughter and I had been doing together. It wasn’t that the material was too difficult for me to keep up with — the topic was writing and grammar, I’ve got that in the bag, no problem. But I knew the sheer hours we were spending sitting down together each week was no longer sustainable. The physical energy required to present a course, live, with lots of supervision . . . not happening. We dropped it.
In contrast, one of those I-never-thought-I’d-do-this things is working very well. A little backstory: When my eldest was younger, we had a very free-ranging and student-led / parent-guided approach to education. Lots of reading aloud, library books, papers assigned by mom, one-on-one conversations. It worked very well for him.
Fast forward six years, and everything’s different. My two youngest actually like workbooks, for which I give thanks daily. It’s not that they don’t do any free-range learning, but the part I think of as our official school day is not that.
Sick person school method: I just stack each girls’ books in a pile next to my bed. I start with math, circle the pages they need to do, and when they are finished they come get the next book, circle, off they go. I’m around to answer questions, but mostly they can read the instructions and do the work. Not the most exciting educational method, but they are learning and they are enjoying themselves. I’m good with that.
2. Course plans can be a good investment.
My older two students, now in 6th and 8th grades, are mostly using the course plans from Kolbe Academy. I know that not every student can be just handed a binder of course plans and be told, “Have at at.” But these two both err on the self-sufficient side, so it works out. I’m also very comfortable black-lining assignments that I don’t think are necessary, or that don’t fit with our current couch-based approach to education.
Other Catholic homeschool programs that offer ready-made course plans include Seton, Mother of Divine Grace, and Catholic Heritage Curricula. Each program has slightly different features and benefits, so there’s no particular “better” one; it’s a question of which one is better for you. I’ve happily used texts from all of these programs, think very highly of them, and know many happy families with each.
Something I haven’t done, but which is part of our contingency plans, is avail myself of online courses, such as the ones offered by Homeschool Connections. If you have a favorite program, please share the link in the combox!
3. What is most important for this quarter?
The reality is that we simply can’t do as much as we used to. My kids are getting relatively more home economics, relatively less academics. When you need to pare down, prioritizing is key. There’s no magic list of The Most Important Subjects; this is something you have to decide child by child. For my youngest, Math, spelling, phonics, grammar, and religion are most important this quarter. My 6th grader, in contrast, isn’t doing any grammar at all; we have worked it intensely in the past, so she’ll be fine with a quarter off and then a fresh start in the fall. Latin, a subject I love but for which I have no particular skill, is mostly shelved for all four kids; we’ll visit it again another year.
I think it’s important, for sanity’s sake, to not read too much homeschooling literature when you’re operating in crisis-mode. There’s nothing worse than dragging yourself through the day only to read, “Every Child Needs a Thorough Arts Educations, Study the Masters in Just 90 Minutes A Day!” The masters aren’t going anywhere. They can wait.
4. Structure your life so it’s manageable.
Dark secret: I spend a lot of our school hours watching Netflix. Yes, I know! But there’s a good reason for it. I need to be “on” during school hours, or my kids will just sneak off and play video games. I can’t, physically, be up doing the odd chores I used to do while the kids were working. If I try to get something useful done, like answering e-mails or working on a writing assignment, I get too sucked into my work. I end up ignoring the kids, or asking them to wait just a few more minutes, when really they need me to be available to answer questions and give out assignments. If I try to pay bills with a little person hovering over me, I’m just plain crabby.
I’m human. I find it difficult to sit for long hours patiently waiting for someone to need a spelling test. Movies are mildly interesting, but they don’t usually enchant me so much that I can’t happily hit ‘pause’ when it’s time to explain, again, what a “digraph blend” is. So I put on the headphones so the kids aren’t disturbed, and pick out something slightly entertaining, but not too absorbing. I think we can safely say my shot at canonization is tossed out the window, but hey, as a coping mechanism, it works.
I’m not suggesting you go and do likewise. I am suggesting that if there’s some weird thing that does work for you, you’re not a bad person for having that weird thing.
Tell me your secrets.
Have you been here done this? Or dealt with some other difficulty that made homeschooling crazier than usual? What worked for you? What problems did you have to work around? How did you prioritize? I’m all ears.
Copyright 2014 Jennifer Fitz