Homeschooling can be quite daunting. Where to start? What material to use?
My first few years of homeschooling were spent using various curriculums that came in a box put together by an expert. These “experts” knew what they were doing and had figured out all the age appropriate mental stimulus for my children. Right? The problem was that I was so. Stressed. Out. And this was only preschool! How in the world could I check off all the boxes on the expert’s list? Every day was a chore, and I kept falling further and further behind. Every week made me more anxious: I felt like a failure – already! – at homeschooling.
Thankfully, I connected with a parents’ support meeting where a wise homeschooling mom almost 10 years ahead of me said 6 little words that changed my life. “Throw out the Notebook of Doom!”
She told me to put the good books on a shelf and read them when we wanted. Not in any order. Not according to a checklist. That sage wisdom changed everything for me. For the first time, I just enjoyed reading good books to my children for the pleasure of it. We were happy and relaxed. Perfect.
Fast forward several years: I became more confident in my ability to homeschool. I started using other people’s booklists as scaffolding to guide me but created my own curriculum plan (see Part 1). Enter Problem #2 and #3! By throwing out the Notebook of Doom, I had no way of holding myself accountable (thus Math became the subject that happened once in a while) and I had no way of tracking what I HAD accomplished. That spontaneity might work for preschool, but I needed more structure once I had grade school children that needed portfolios of their schoolwork.
Introducing: the Post-it System! I took an idea from a friend and re-shaped it to work for me. Each subject I hoped to cover IN A WEEK’S TIME was written on a post-it note. I put our main subjects on green and our enrichment/short projects on blue. Let’s say I planned on 3 home days (2 were spent outside the home at co-op and field trips). I created 3 green post-its and 3 for handwriting because those were subjects I wanted to cover every day we were home. I made a post-it for spelling, poetry, science, writing, literature, and history/geography because those were subjects I wanted to cover every week.
The subjects that are enrichment work better as short projects for me so I put them on blue post-its. As the years have gone by, I try to limit myself to 10 of these short-term projects. At some point in the year, I want to study an artist, a composer, some health, and etc.
Each school day I would tell my children to pick out 4-5 green post-its (main subjects) and 1 blue post-it. My children choose what they want to do and in what order. I found that they really enjoy the independence and freedom of choice. I found that I have peace of mind know that the important things will be covered sometime that week. Who cares whether science happens on Tuesday or Friday?! I also found that as long I keep my post-its to a reasonable amount for a week, it is wonderful to have the flexibility to crank through 8 subjects on a good day and 2 on a “bad” school day.
I reuse the same post-its all term long. On Mondays, every post-it goes back to the starting area. As the school days progress through the week, the post-its get moved to the week’s planning grid. I bought mine from Post-it, but you could easily make your own.
But what about the tracking problem? If I keep reusing my Post-it notes, how do I ever know what I did two weeks ago? Or back in April? Here’s the trick: on Fridays, I write down what I did that week. Originally, I used a Teacher’s Weekly Planner from Staples. Now, I’ve graduated to a handy dandy form that I made in the computer. But there is no need for it to be complicated. Just write down what you did: this history picture book, those math worksheets, a few poems, etc. I also save all of my children’s paperwork in a binder. OK, honestly, sometimes I store the papers on TOP of the binder and stick it IN the notebook at the end of the year!
After 7 years of homeschooling, these are the tools that have helped me avoid pain at the end of the school year and keep my joy during it.
Kendra Lane Barrow spent her childhood years in beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where she cultivated a love for solitude, books, and nature. She is the author of a devotional book of prayer-poems and several Sunday School series written for children. As a graduate from Ohio State University with a B.A. in English Literature, Kendra’s excited to report that she is finally using that degree while home educating her children for the last seven years, and teaching literature and language arts for middle school and high school. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and two children.