Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Crawling toward the finish line

Kitten, Bookgirl, Hatchick and I have been working hard to finish up this year's school work. Bookgirl and Hatchick will finish at the end of this week, which is why I'm considering it our last official week of the school year. Kitten, however, will be working on a couple of her high school subjects through the summer.

I'm told this is not unusual for the first year of high school at home. I had a great time participating in this discussion over at Karen Edmisten's blog not long ago, at which point the light finally dawned and I realized something I needed to be aware of a long time ago: I've been trying too hard this year to reinvent high school at home, instead of trusting my instincts as a homeschooler and doing what worked for us. Apparently, I'm not the only homeschooling mom who has ever done that. :)

As Karen put it, high school really is like starting over, in many ways. All of the comfortable, familiar curriculum items which formed the "core" of our grade school days were gone. Instead, there was a bewildering array of choices, and lurking amid them all the notion that if you didn't choose the exactly right best option in every single case, you'd be derailing your child's potential "college prep" program, hurting her chances of doing well on the SAT or ACT tests, and otherwise ruining her life.

Pressure? Oh, boy.

But as it turns out, that pressure was predominantly self-inflicted--pretty silly given that I live in Texas, one of the homeschool-friendliest states in the nation. Why I agonized over the local public school's "college prep" recommendations, made lists of "must-do" classes, and then tried to cram eight full classes per day, every day, into our schedule will always puzzle me. Why I did this without even considering that we would always be doing one class more than any public high school (religion class, naturally!) each day boggles the mind. And why I suddenly felt so much of a need to replicate or duplicate the classes going on in the brick-and-mortar schools, when one of the joys of homeschooling is the freedom to go beyond those borders, is truly puzzling.

With grim determination Kitten and I have been muddling through all of it, to the best of our ability. But a much-needed math curriculum change midyear, and a science program that was moving at a slower pace than I'd first scheduled (because the slower pace was necessary for actual comprehension of the material), meant that we'd be working on finishing at least those two subjects over the summer. I kept thinking that things would have to be different next year, but couldn't quite see how--until that discussion over at Karen's blog, when I finally realized what the problem actually was.

It's not that I don't think homeschoolers should toss out all ideas of what a "college prep" program is in the brick-and-mortar world; some idea of what students will be expected to have covered in the four years of traditional high school is good to have, so that our children's transcripts are comprehensible to the admissions office of a college. But there's a big difference between making sure your "core" classes follow the typical high school requirements (e.g., four years of math, science, English, and history, with 2-3 years of a foreign language and assorted electives to round out the program) and making up a daily schedule featuring one of each of those classes, plus religion class, plus two electives, for a whole year.

Thankfully, now that I've figured this out, I can plan next year's schedule in a much more coherent way (for example: figuring out that "English" was supposed to cover both literature and grammar instead of having each be a separate course complete with daily assignments etc. is a big help. It's not that we won't still do both--but I'm envisioning a rotating schedule, with grammar so many days a week and literature the other days, etc.). Bookgirl, who starts high school next year, will be the main beneficiary of Mom Finally Figuring Things Out--but I know my patient Kitten is also going to appreciate days which are smoother and less cluttered, giving her time to continue to explore her own interests and take "classes" in a less formal way (I'm thinking a healthy cooking "elective" might be fun for both of us).

We may be crawling toward the finish line this year, but I share all of this to encourage those moms who are, perhaps, just starting out, gathering handfuls of kindergarten or first grade curricula and wondering if they can do it all: you can. Be confident, and learn to trust that inward voice that lets you know when things could be better--that voice doesn't ever completely go away, and even veteran homeschooling moms have been known to take a step back and say, "Okay, something's just not working. What is it, and how do we fix it?" Because those moments of doubt or frustration will occur--yes, even in a family like ours that has been homeschooling for ten years now. Working a little over the summer, picking up the pace here and slowing it down there, or even realizing that the book your homeschooling friends raved over is reducing your third-grader to tears and isn't worth continuing are all challenges you may face--but most of those obstacles can be overcome, and there are plenty of wise moms out there to help you figure it out--even when you're teaching a ninth grader and can't imagine that you don't, by now, know what you are doing.


Deirdre Mundy said...

We actually decided to do "Year Round" schooling with our small fry-- after all, reading and arithmatic need to happen every day of the year when you're just starting out, and religion isn't limited to 9 months of the year....

And it's easier for me to have a less-cluttered schedule for 12 months than 9 months of cram followed by 3 months of nothing. (Besides, at this point school is still a treat....)

As for HS? We'll probably just do Kolbe, since when I tried to imagine my ideal curriculum it looked like Kolbe with more math and science (yay Branch campus of state college!)

I'm a big fan of more relaxed K-3 (doing science and history, but not on a syllabus--just through reading and feildtrips and talking).....after all, short people need lots of fresh air!

Anonymous said...

from Scotch Meg

Thank you so much for this post!

My daughter is a junior, but went to a good Catholic high school for two years before coming back home this year.

And if you think the pressure is intense in Texas, you should try living in a town and state in New England where the public university is often looked down upon. What's nearby and good means pricy and private. Even "paradise, not private" doesn't completely overcome the impetus to compete.

We jumped into this year with enthusiasm, thinking "NOW she can do all the things she loves and couldn't do for the past two years" - which meant three languages, two instruments, chorus, marching band, music theory, chamber music...
and then we wondered why the online physics course wasn't getting done! It took us until November to figure out a schedule for other subjects that worked together with the rotating schedule at the local high school where she took the language classes. It took us most of the rest of the year to figure out that she had just taken on too much, period.

And it didn't help that I worked out a reading list for her English class that meant reading 300 pp or so per week. And then couldn't backtrack because the other parents expected us to cover that material.

So, summer physics. Summer history.

And a simpler year next year, with more time for music.

Barbara C. said...

We're still a long way from high school (my oldest is just finishing first grade), but I envision trying combining history, literature, writing/grammar into one super-subject once we get to high school instead of isolated subjects.

Cafi Cohen's "What About College?" really changed my perspective about structuring high school.

Robyn said...

Thank You for this post. We are a long way from high school too as my oldest is a 3rd grader, but this is my first year homeschooling and it has been overwhelming. I don't know if we will continue through high school yet as our main reason for doing it is how awful the public school here is(they had a discussion about gay marriage and having 2 dads and decided that my active 8 yr old was ADHD even though 2 doctors say he is not), but this gave me hope that if we do I can handle it.

Ouiz said...

High school is creeping ever closer, with my oldest going into 7th grade this year (eek!). I am terrified at the thought of high school, and so I thank you for words of comfort!

Anonymous said...

Here's the thing that is a game-changer for most: what do you expect to do after high school? That answer will say much.

E.g. for the kid who isn't ready to leave home, or wants to save, or isn't sure about major, then a job or local community college might be just the thing. Everyone gets into community college. (However, not everyone gets a job these days).

For the seriously academic student who volunteers, scores great on standardized tests, has jobs/responsbilities, is involved in the community, extracurriculars, etc. and really wants to get into a top school (Ivies, etc), then that's going to change pretty much everything.

But you have to have an idea of what you want to do after high school. Do research and see exactly what your colleges are looking for in a student. Take all their prereqs. See what their policies are for homeschooled kids. Be prepared! Doing the whole college entrance thing is not unlike its own part-time job.