September 26, 2009

Finding Routine

I hate schedules and I always have but I am learning I need to follow one in order for us to be successful this year. My kids like schedules, they like knowing what's coming next and being able to set their expectations and when I look at it that way so do I.

We have been playing around with schedules this year to try to find one that works for us, however I have realized any schedule must be fluid as we really live fluid lives where things change often. One of the reasons for that is we are a one car family and some days we may not plan to have the car and realize we need it and need to change or adapt plans as when we want the car we need to drive Serona to work.

So how do we have a fluid routine? I have set the goal this year of being sitting down at the table at 9:30am and working until around noon before lunch. That happened one day this week, the other days we started at 10, 10:30, 11am and one day after lunch, so much for the first week of a schedule. The goal was to have a solid 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time, then lunch, then finish up whatever work was not done before we have to get to evening activities and get dinner on the table. That goal we met though we never started at the same time each day.

The printed work assignments helped my kids have some structure to hold on to even when it seemed we were not following what we said we were going to. The accomplished everything on their assignment sheet this week except our science experiments because our kit never came. Most days they were close to following their schedule but on Thursday I added in a several hour video and discussion time about consumerism and advertising and how advertisers are gong after kids and what strategies they need to fight back. It was a great afternoon and I am glad we added it in but it basically became school all day Thursday.

I was thankful we use a 4 day schedule because that allowed for me to add in the extra advertising afternoon with no fear of falling behind since I knew we could make up the rest of Thursday's work on Friday which we did. I also made the choice this week to not to a field trip even though we have been doing one a week each week in September, we needed the time to get into routine instead. Also looking ahead to realize that next week we have a field trip, homeschool cooperative, and a swim meet, which typically means 4 practices during the week and then the meet on the weekend.

One of the flexibilities I love of homeschooling is being able to modify our school schedule as needed for my kids based on what is going on in their lives. Next week will be a busy week for my 10yo and so I can lighten her load a little by making this week and the week following a bit heavier. In the end the same amount of work will get done over 3 weeks as if I had not lightened her load but this way her swim meet week can be lighter on school so I can counterbalance some of the stress going on due to sports and free her up to focus on both.

That doesn't mean I place sports above school. She knows if she falls behind in school she will lose swim practice or even a meet and I still keep her doing school because that is the priority. However, she is an excellent student who can handle a busier week and appreciates a lighter week when other life responsibilities are bigger. I figure that is how smart adults manage their time, how good college students plan ahead and these are good habits and strategies to build in from a young age. So I am thankful that when someone is sick, has a big sports event, or just needs a rest that we can be flexible and take some of the school pressure off and then make up for it at a later time.

One of the things about homeschooling in our family that I have learned is September is not the most productive month overall. We typically start later and take more days off because the weather is beautiful here in Minnesota so we get outside more and the world is quiet as everyone else has gone back to school, it is some of our favorite homeschooling times. Sure we start all our textbooks and assignments, but we are also starting sports, fall activities, homeschool coop and the like so I find we ease into school, reviewing and building routines, habits and getting interested in the topics at hand, while also enjoying the last nice days for what will be awhile.

Yet January through March we are far more productive than many others, sometimes I think we get more than half our school work done in just those three months. January and February are pretty miserable in Minnesota, the weatherman always uses a positive or negative on the weather report, because we are just as often negative as positive, with stunning windchills and it is typically not even that fun to be outside in the snow/ice when it is that cold. There is little going on or planned because it snows often or you could have windchill warnings so I find we often make spontaneous field trips decisions rather than planned ones, because truthfully there are somedays we never really want to leave the house. This is a perfect time for our family to get a lot of school done and not drive anywhere.

There are subjects we do everyday: math, reading and writing. This is typical year round but we may cover half of our science, history and geography books during the cold months in comparison with the easing in of a chapter a week we are doing now. My daughters dream of a minute by minute schedule is not going to work in our lives but she too is coming to understand the beauty of a flexible schedule and I am coming to appreciate the need for more structure to meet her needs, we seem to be meeting somewhere in the middle and for now that is good.

September 14, 2009

5th Grade Schedule

I just finished up our template schedules for the year. Each year I plan out the weeks for the kids the Saturday or Sunday before the school week. I grid it out in a simple table with the subjects and days of the week. In each cell I write the assignment for the day. The kids receive the schedule on Monday morning and can plan out their week accordingly. Once I have the template and first week assignment done, it is easy for me to modify each week. I save each week under a different filename (typically the Monday date) and at the end of the year we have a complete record of the work they did, it is pretty handy for record keeping.

My kids like this system because it gives them some control and a visual depiction of where they are in their school week. I also add in sports, field trips and outside activities so they can plan accordingly. The younger ones like to color in the boxes they finish and I always let them work ahead if they want but not fall behind more than one subject per day (and it must come out even at the end of the week) I can easily check their schedules when they request play dates or special privelages and see where they are at.

This year I am adding in an extra step, I am going to place a check in the box after I have reviewed the work to try to keep my accountable and so I don't fall behind in checking their assignments either. It is very easy to do and I find my kids appreciate it and school runs smoother when we have it.

This is Maria's schedule for 5th grade. It looks neater in the actual format, with pretty boxes etc. I abbreviate the different textbooks and include page numbers or lesson numbers where needed. Also we typically work on a 4 day work week and leave friday for activities, field trips, coop and any leftover work they have not finished.

SUBJECT Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Bible devotional memory devotional memory coop
PE swim circuit jogging walking swim
Math lesson 7 lesson 8 lesson 9 review 1 lesson 10
Writing lesson 2 letter to family
Grammar lesson 14 lesson 15
Spelling 15 mins 15 mins
Science weather experiments
History lesson 46 lesson 46
Geography continents review mapping
Art art class picture study
Music mozart guitar guitar lesson guitar guitar
Foreign Language french latin
Blogging 3 posts this week
Logic lesson 2
Literature door in the wall
Activities swim swim church beekeeping field trip swim

That gives you a basic feel for a week of her schedule. Ciaran has a similar schedule with a few less subjects and some topics we only do once a week for him. In general all the kids do PE, math, reading, handwriting, and language arts every day and alternate all the rest of the subjects through the week.

September 11, 2009

First week of school and 9-11

On Tuesday we watched the buses go by starting at 7am and continuing until around 8:45am. We were in bed for the first bunch and in our pjs through the rest of them. It was a beautiful day so we decided to take a walk at the local arboretum. We brought along some books and I took some great first day of school pictures of my kids doing school up in a tree literally. They climbed their favorite trees and I handed them their math workbooks where they did one lesson and then went back to running around. A bit later we sat in the shade under some canopy trees and read for about a half hour until the bugs started to get annoying. That was enough school to call it our first day back to school right?

The next two days were also beautiful and our time was simply better spent outside. We took long walks in some of our favorite places and managed to get math and reading in each day, they even wrote a little bit. They played board games together, worked on a skit or two and spent a lot of time on the trampoline and swings. We had Starbucks and took a long drive.

Today, September 11th a day to remember for our family. A few years ago we started a tradition of baking and delivering home made cookies to our local firefighters, police officers, and emergency room workers on this day. The kids each make cards that we deliver along with the cookies. This year Maria made one for the hospital workers, Ciaran the police department and Sirah the fire station. They worked hard on them and together we baked a few dozen cookies to deliver.

While we were making the cookies we talked about September 11th and what happened on that day. We talked about our family and friends that were directly involved or affected by that day and pray for those families and all those affected and changed by the events of that day. We talk about why those emergency workers and first responders are so important to us and everyone and how thankful we are for them. Then we go out and deliver the cookies and cards.

Every year I tell myself I will make it through without crying and sometimes I manage through the police department our first stop but I never make it past the fire station. Knowing how many fire fighters died that day and how many went into the buildings knowing they were unlikely to return out alive yet still they went. I think of my relatives who were there and my cousin who died there fighting the fire and I think of the local men and women who would do the same for me and my family and the tears come. The fire fighters in many years have been the most affected or touched by the gesture coming on this day. One year we went in and saw the poster they keep on the inside of the station with all the fallen fire fighters from that day and I point out my cousin to them. This year the visit was more upbeat though the fire fighter we talked with lived in New York for many years and he and I were able to talk about that.

The hospital is where we all felt it the most this year. The nurses at the front counter were so moved by my kids and the card that Maria wrote. She drew wonderful pictures of nurses and doctors caring for patients and wrote touching words thanking them for all they do and the difference they make in all our lives. The kids did all the talking at the hospital, I am not sure I could have said much and it would have seem so inadequate next to my kids and their words even at the young ages of 10, 8 and 6. When Sirah shared that we did this today to remember and honor those who died and helped people 8 years ago when so many people died in the building and planes the nurse said she had goosebumps and looked up at me tears in her eyes and said you must be so proud of these children. I was.

I know all parents are proud of their kids and amazed by them but today I think anyone would have felt those things about our kids. I looked at them and their hearts and was so moved. Heading back to the car they talked about how good they felt and how we should not wait until next year to do this but we should do it once a week. How there are so many people we could bake for and say thank you too or just cheer up with a card and gift. I was amazed.

After our last delivery I was ready to just go home and pull my kids into my arms and hold them close and just be quiet and thankful with them. Instead we had plans to meet friends at a homeschool day at Fort Snelling and headed there. On arriving there I had quite an internal struggle going on within me. This particular family we were meeting was touched by September 11th in a most intimate way, the father was in the Marriott Hotel in the towers the day they fell and he survived and has shared his story with me. I actually just reread it this morning after watching some coverage with Serona. Part of his story talks about the fire fighters and one in particular that left an impression on him a fire fighter who kept saying the Hail Mary over and over again. My cousin was found in the hotel with a rosary in his hand. I have no way of knowing if they crossed paths but the similarities of the stories touched me in particular today. Walking around the military fort, hearing a cannon fired off, watching some sort of military exercise or flyover in the sky as 5 military ships circled and passed over the fort was nearly too much for me to take. Some years it does not affect me as much but today everything just swirled around and came together in a way that quieted me and led me to reflect.

Tonight at dinner the kids had lots of questions and Serona and I did our best to answer things like: Why would someone kill themselves to kill others? What makes someone hate our country so much? Why didn't they try to land the plane instead of crash it into a field? Do terrorists still live and try to do things like that? These are questions I wish I did not have to answer and when they were heading to bed I prayed for good thoughts to fill their heads and hearts and for them to remain innocent children for awhile longer.

Thank you to all who have sacrificed for me and my family. Thanks to all the heroes out there, to the military families who give so much and to those who gave all for others.

In the end I think we had an incredible first week of school and one that simply could not have been replicated in another setting. From long walks and math in the trees the first day to the service acts and life and history lessons of today I simply could not give our family a better first week.