So we moved to a state with less-friendly homeschooling laws. I can understand where lawmakers might have thought these were a good idea: public school staff think that homeschool parents all just use their older kids for free babysitting (and somehow don't see that most parents see public school as just that!). So the laws here are intended to make sure kids are actually being educated, which they define as testing at the 13th percentile. Yup. 13th.
They do require testing every 2 years "starting in 3rd grade". I'm sure this made sense to the educators, who really have a difficult time grasping that kids actually are usually on different levels in different subjects. So, along with my "intent to homeschool" letter, I sent a "how does this testing thing work?" Here's my problem: Kids have to be tested in the odd years. So, they say, when your kid is in 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. But do I test them before or after those years are done? Also, what happens with someone like Anda? Age-wise, she's in 1st grade. But one law says, "When they reach 3rd grade", and Anda is in 3rd grade in some subjects. So technically, she reached it. But only in Language arts and Science. In Math and Social Studies, she's still in 2nd grade. Or do they mean, "when your child is the same age as children who are in 3rd grade"? Because that's something different. I'm inclined to lean toward that last interpretation simply because then I'll KNOW my kids will pass their tests (Caleb will be tested for 3rd grade this year that way even though he's in 4th and 5th).
Anyway, I've had to re-think schooling because a) I now have to keep records for attendance and examples of work completed and b) we now have to do school for 4 hours a day, 172 days a year.
One of my friends recently posted her homeschool day schedule, which includes waking at the same time every day and following "steps" no matter how long they take (or short). It was a beautiful, structured, orderly day.
It was a day I could NEVER succeed at.
I've always thought homeschooling should be organized like that, with classes starting at particular times or in a particular order and lasting particular lengths, etc. That's my 8 years of formal teaching experience cutting in!
What I realized is that we already do many more than 4 hours of schooling per day, and that I need to do things MY way for My home school, just like my friend needs to have structure.
So I made a list of 8 topics I want the kids to cover each day. I'm going to assume each takes half an hour, and if some take more and some take less, that's okay. If the subject got covered, we'll record it as half an hour. I'm also going to assume that each subject is 10 minutes of actual instruction and a 20 minute "guided" activity (guided so it counts under the law, but only loosely--as in, I'll sit and nurse while they sit in the same room as I'm in and make star maps). I'm making a sticker chart that the kids can sticker each subject after they do it--that will count for our "attendance" records each day. And I bought the kids each a bin to toss their work into as they finish it--that will count as their "portfolio" I have to keep, and it will help keep the junk off the floor!
My 8 "dailies":
1. Time4Learning.com/Saxon Math for 3rd and up
They have to do one lesson in each of 5 subjects; this might take an hour depending on the lessons, but usually takes half an hour and is aligned to state standards, making my homeschooling look acceptable. This includes the most necessary subject that homeschoolers often fall short on: MATH. Must be done daily. Period.
They do this for an hour or two every day anyway; might as well count it. Plus I enjoy reading children's classics to them at bedtime. Oh, and as a former English teacher, my philosophy is (and always has been) that reading ANYTHING is okay. They can read the super mario brothers wiki if they want. They can read emails. They can read the newspaper. They can read books, comic strips, the phone book, recipes, etc. They just need to read to improve their skills and learn about the world and discover their own interests and talents.
We do this as a group lesson. I'm posting the lesson plans and activities on LearningLynx.blogspot.com as we go. It's a heavily online-based program (because Caleb does better with online learning) and uses only free resources online. Hopefully it will be helpful to other parents, too.
We haven't started this yet, but it will be on Learning Lynx, too. It's a comprehensive, period-by-period history/art/language/literature course that covers first what life was like in whatever period we're studying and then what happened in that period. I intend it to be heavily hands-on, rather intensive, fun, and also drawn almost entirely from the free resources available on the web.
Really this is just loosely disguised "Get out in the sunshine" time. The kids need vitamin D, and they need exercise, so every day I send them outside to play and, as Anda says, "experience nature!". Public schools count PE, so I'm going to count this time, too.
This is a class that is different every day. Mondays they do typing (online); Tuesdays we'll do a group cooking class/practical arts class; Wednesdays they have to make something (anything; I don't care what and I won't be assigning it); Thursdays they have to write something (again, I don't care what and I won't be assigning it); Fridays they have to watch something from a list I'm compiling online (right now "anything nonfiction in my Hulu queue" is the list; eventually it will be on a google doc and include educational stuff from YouTube, Discovery.com, pbskids.org, etc).
7. Personal Research
I want them to spend some time every day learning about something they want to learn about. It can be anything (Caleb has said he's going to learn to program computers; Anda wants to learn about animals) and doesn't have to follow through more than a day. I won't assign it. I want them to learn how to follow their interests, develop their talents, and learn on their own. That's the skill that can best help them as adults that is NOT taught in school. When I mentioned this to the kids, they were TOTALLY excited about it and started right away. I will probably have them give me a minute-long verbal report of what they learned because reporting on learning helps it stick. I might also encourage them to post a note about it on their blogs because that will help, too, and will count as "record keeping".
8. Click List
Every day, if they haven't filled 4 hours already, I will have each kid get online and do something from a list I'm compiling (will be on a google doc when it's done linked from the sidebar of Learning Lynx so they can access it easily). The list will include movies and activities online (for example, they could explore the Library of Congress YouTube channel one day, play games related to Space at NASA's kid's site the next, learn writing at Scholastic's website, do online worksheets or coloring pages, watch the webcams in the national zoo, etc). This can be different things each day and should be fun, relaxed, and varied based on whatever they are interested in that day. It's like personal research time but is intended to introduce the kids to new subjects to explore that they might not have thought of (and that I might not know anything about so wouldn't think to teach them).
I'm thinking about including 5 minutes each day for handwriting, a "daily oral language" exercise which my kids call the "what's wrong with this sentence" game (and they LOVE that game), and some gospel/scripture study time.
Obviously we'll have no trouble filling the 4 hours, if we just do it.
I see this as loosely-guided pseudo-unschooling. Unschooling purists would scoff at me, of course, but my basic philosophy as a parent is that the kids came with the skills, talents, and gifts they need to live successful, happy lives, and my job as mother is to help them discover what they are, not to define or mandate or mold my children. Too much structure would hamper that for us (not to mention make it so we never do any schooling), but there must be some level of "I'm going to expose you to new things" so they can discover.
The Time4Learning makes me feel confident we are getting the basics covered, which I have hangups about. The Group science and humanities classes give me a chance to teach (which I LOVE), and give the kids a chance to learn how to politely interact in groups (important if they are ever going to have a job), and it gives me a chance to model good teaching (I am a very good teacher, if I may say so myself, and I have some kids with budding teaching skills that are best developed by watching really good teaching happening). Besides, the kids LOVE learning as a group, it builds family unity, and is really fun to have a body of common knowledge to talk about and experience together.
For us, this is a fine mixture of structure and free learning. And then, naturally, the kids will be involved in (and count for school) things we do together anyway. When I build cupboards for the living room, that will be our school for the day. When we go grocery shopping, that will count (economics lessons!) because we always spend that time talking about money, wise shopping, how to select products to buy, how to not be tricked by advertising, etc.
Flexible must be the name of my game because I am at heart not terribly structured--but also intensely creative. Might as well take advantage of our gifts and not dwell on our shortcomings, right? I mean, isn't that why we homeschool?