Friday, September 2, 2011

Homeschooling - Year 1

The Decision To Do It1

In Feb of 2010, I first started thinking seriously about homeschooling my kids. I had thought vaguely about it before and read about it quite a bit on the internet, but I knew I was lazy, so I didn't do it. Then one day I was listening to the radio and I heard the statistic that homeschoolers on average score in the 70th or 80th percentiles2. Over time, that statistic really got to me. I mean, even if I do homeschooling badly and end up on the lower half of the homeschooling Bell curve, my kids will still probably be better off than in a public school.

So I started thinking about it.

I read a couple homeschooling books. The book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius is actually the one that got me thinking the most about how I'd want to do it. During the summer of '10, I embarked on the experiment. I set things up as I wanted, and we went at it, adjusting things as we went.3 I prayed about it, asking God if he wanted me to keep doing this or not.

And every time I asked God, I felt a sense of peace about homeschooling. And no peace about keeping the kids in school, even though I really liked the kindergarten teacher that both Kyrie and Elijah had gotten, and had no serious complaints about the elementary school.

So I did it.

I made the legal notifications, and when the school year started up in the fall, Kyrie and Elijah did not go. When people asked me why I was homeschooling, I would either point to the apparent advantage in quality of learning or else I would say "Because I think God wants me to."4

The First Year

Because I was inspired by the Montessori book to try to use Montessori principles, and because there are no Montessori curriculums out there for homeschooling parents, I decided to make up my own curriculum as I go. Over the course of the year, my methods evolved. I got a history book and a poetry book. I printed free math sheets online for math practice. We tried to do some Spanish flash cards, but that was a limited success at best. I started off by having them write and/or draw in a journal every day. I put together a paper with color-coded descriptions of all the parts of speech, and laminated it; we played verb-charades and "guess that noun". We practiced the prayers that Kyrie had to learn for her First Communion class. We went to OMSI. Savi joined in the homeschooling activities after her 5th birthday in February. By the end of the year, I was requiring them to do reading, writing, and math practice every day, as well as cycling through the other subjects over the week.

I found out that the hardest thing about homeschooling was anxiety.

I had an advantage here. I knew God wanted me to homeschool, so I didn't let myself be anxious about whether I was right to or not. I did spend an awful lot of time thinking about how much I should push the kids and whether I was missing something important, but for the most part I was satisfied with how things were going. My biggest concern was how much time we had taken off to deal with "life" issues: the van breaking, decluttering, and so on. I told myself I would make up for it by homeschooling during the summer. All in all, I developed a better appreciation for why people burn out on homeschool, but I was glad not to be there right now.

God Tells Me To Buy a Curriculum

Despite my overall satisfaction, the idea of picking a curriculum flitted vaguely through my head a couple times early this summer.

And then I had this dream.

I dreamt that my kids were attending Trinity - the high school I attended5. In my dream, I was so relieved that someone else was taking care of my kids' education and I didn't have to spend all that time thinking about it anymore, that I could just trust that they would be well-educated. When I woke up, that relief was still vivid in my mind, and captured my mind, so that I had to ponder it.

As I was speculating about my schooling options, it occurred to me that my main issue with buying a curriculum was that I didn't know if I could trust them to have high academic standards. So I asked myself: is there any curriculum I trust? And right away a name came to mind - Seton. Memories drifted up of reviews that I had seen online, way back when, complaining that Seton was too difficult, too dry, pushed the kids too hard. That's just the kind of complaint that people make about Trinity; Seton is the Trinity School of homeschooling, I thought to myself.6

Concerned about the conflict between a "dry" Seton curriculum and Montessori principles of using materials that attract interest, I opened up the Montessori book and started reading the intro. Almost immediately I came across a discussion of the swing between too-rigid schooling and too-loose schooling, and how Montessori avoids the problems of the latter by having a very structured curriculum7.

Structured curriculum, I thought. Hmm. I think God's trying to tell me something.

So Seton it was. I later had a spurt of second-thoughts and spent a weekend poring over reviews and looking at online "glimpses" into books. There was one set of curriculum that caught my eye - Living Books Curriculum. I looked over their reading list and felt this pull towards it. I can only think to describe it as a spiritual longing, rather to my surprise. I still had a sense during prayer that I should be getting Seton for this year, though, and there was no WAY we could afford to buy the whole LBC for Kyrie and Elijah and Savi, and Ken thought the kids still needed workbooks. I wasn't quite able to ignore that pull, though, or put it off for another year. So I made up a list of all the books on the LBC lists that were available from the library - sometimes substituting a different book on the same or similar topic, if the LBC one wasn't available. Seton will be our regular curriculum books, and I am going to try to have the kids each read one book from the reading list every week8, and discuss it with me.

We picked up the first week's set of reading books from the library today, and the Seton books should arrive by Tuesday, a perfect time to start the new school year. I am SUPER excited about this all.

1. Yeah, this section is before the the first year of actual homeschooling, but I don't think I really laid this out before on my blog, so I am now.

2. It was on Dr. Ray Guarendi's show. This link puts the average at 86th percentile.

3. One of the more interesting anecdotes from that time is that Elijah, fresh out of kindergarten, started reading this book called Extreme Nature. At 4.1 lbs, it literally weighed more than a tenth of what he did. It's 320 pages of gorgeous pictures and adult-level reading. He refused to let me read it with him or explain what it was talking about. He didn't understand almost anything at all from it, but he worked his way patiently through the whole thing until he had read every page. I was proud of him, and he was proud of himself.

4. Depending on how I thought whoever I was talking to would take the God-explanation, mostly. But I always have this urge to make it clear that (a) just because God wants me to homeschool doesn't mean he's telling you to do it also; and (b) I'm not one of those people who homeschools as a way to protect their kids from all those anti-Christian influences in secular culture. I mean, really, my kids have no shortage of secular influences. I worry about them being a bad influence on the sweet little kids in the homeschooling group that we're joining. Although I got to say, it IS really nice not to have my kids coming home asking to buy a DS or watch Hannah Montana all the time.

5. Trinity School at River Ridge. The kids were the same age in the dream as they are now, and they were not super-geniuses in the dream. Trinity was just accommodating them somehow. And my dream also ignored the fact that we live in Oregon, and Trinity is back in Minneapolis. But then, I find that almost all of my dreams take place in the house I grew up in, if they take place in any recognizable location.

6. And then, in true geek fashion, I thought, "Seton:homeschooling curricula :: Trinity:high schools". And then wondered whether I should call them curricula or curriculums.

7. Unstructured schedule, structured curriculum.

8. I have no idea if the kids will be able to read one book per week. Especially Elijah, who is crazy smart, but whose interest is pretty limited to Angry Birds and Sonic right now. He never did read that Hardy Boys book. There's only 25 books in his reading list, though, and twice that number of weeks before the next school year starts, so I figure that's lots of wiggle room.


  1. This was a great post! I have a four year old that I have been working with since she was 3 on the basics. I frequently encounter bouts of anxiety about educating her especially since I have never homeschooled before and I am concerned about missing something important. Also, I was wondering if you enrolled with Seton or are you simply purchasing their books? Lastly, I came across a great homeschooler's web site where she offers her free curriculum. She has some excellent ideas for babies and up. The best part is that she outlines everything very clearly:

  2. The kids are not enrolled in Seton. That would be WAY out of our price range. I just went through the lists they have up of the books that they recommend for each grade, and picked out the ones that I wanted to get. (I skipped most of the books in the "reading" sections, for example, because I figured getting reading books from the library would cut down on the excessive religious component - cut back the sweetness, as it were. Which turned out to match nicely with my plan to get reading books from the Living Books curriculum. And I skipped the Seton art books for my girls because they already have better art books than what is offered in those grades. And skipped the music CDs.)

    I sympathize with your anxiety. It is definitely killer. I highly recommend praying a lot about it and seeing if you get a sense of peace from God about homeschooling. That can give you something to fling in the face of the anxiety when it leaps up at you.

    Thanks for the link; I'll check it out!

  3. Yeah, that link is pretty awesome. I liked the book lists for the 6-8 yos, and the "heroes" page, especially.