Tuesday, June 9, 2015

State of the Homeschool Address, Part One

Seven weeks ago I realized that we had seven weeks left in the "school year" and Kal-El had 16 weeks worth of work left to do.  He was nine weeks behind.  Four weeks of this was due to me being sick the entire month of December.  The rest was due to the way he works.  Kal-El comes up with at least "one big idea" every day.  Usually two.  For example, a few weeks ago Kal-El's story problems introduced him to the idea of "lines of symmetry."  The story problem asked him to fill in a piece of graph paper with a pattern that exhibited four lines of symmetry.  Hmmm.  The series would have done well to introduce one line of symmetry, then two, THEN four.  I had him fill it in with one line of symmetry.  So, yesterday during school Kal-El challenged himself and spent an hour filling in a piece of graph paper to exhibit two lines of symmetry.  If he had a square piece of graph paper instead of a rectangle he probably would have achieved four.

Kal-El spent the next two hours writing his own encyclopedia.  Now, for the past six years I would have chalked all that up to great work and let him call it a day.  Kal-El's big ideas are very time consuming.  However, this time I said, "I'm glad you enjoyed that.  Now, you still have a work plan to complete this week and if you are going to stay on track you'll need to choose some other works today."  Mean Mommy!

The first point of good news is that my other child, the perfect one, I mean Me Too, is right on schedule for everything except two of our extra curriculum choices:  The Story of the World and Spanish.  In fact, I went through the KotU scope and sequences for every Montessori subject and he is right on schedule for year one in everything.  Phew!  

A side note here is "I thought there was 'no behind' in Montessori." True.  I have avoided looking at the scope and sequences much for the past few years because when I started Montessori elementary  my overwhelming impression of the scope and sequences was that everything says year one on it.  Truthfully it's not everything but most of it.  There are some things slated for other years.  However, I don't think anything says year six and very little says year four or five.  So what are the kids doing in those years?  I don't know.  Either those things are very very difficult and time consuming, the kids will be busy doing "big projects," or those are the years you get to everything you didn't finish according to the rest of the scope and sequence.  It is probably a little bit of all of those, but I'm counting on more of the last one.  Just because something has "year one" in the "start column" it doesn't mean you will can or should do it then. In order to read the scope and sequence properly you kind of have to understand what is in the albums.  In the scope and sequence behind each presentation or group of presentations there is a range of years.  A "start year" is given and an "end year" is given.  If something has a "start year" of "one" and an end year of "three" that can mean a couple of things.  It might be something that doesn't take very long and it is recommended that you give that presentation anytime during those three years.  Contrastingly it could be a big work like racks and tubes and you may start it in year one and finish it in year three.  To complicate matters there are some works, like racks and tubes, that become less attractive as the child ages.  It is for that last reason that I am trying to stay somewhat on schedule.

A second bit of good news is that almost everything that Kal-El was running behind schedule on are extra things that I have added to our Montessori-inspired experience.

The problem with "adding things" to Montessori is that it can be very difficult to get it all done in a Montessori way.  For this reason I try to "add things" only if they have to be "added" by definition (such as Spanish or violin),  to specifically flesh out something in the albums already (such as History), or to specifically replace something in the albums that I feel is "sneaky" and I am not incorporating well (such as vocabulary or spelling).  Because it is so important to me to add these things in a manner that is as Montessori-inspired as possible, these things have a tendency to linger.  That is how Kal-El winds up only halfway through All About Spelling Level 2 near the end of third grade.

As always, these things are teacher error.  If I had communicated his work plan in the right way he would have better met my expectations for pacing.  I obviously get better at this as I go. That is why Me Too is not behind schedule.  Still, the warning stands.  I can absolutely envision someone unwittingly getting themselves in a situation where they really have two hours of "curriculum" work scheduled for each day without even getting to the standard Montessori work.  Even without the "extras" I find that I want to give 5-7 presentations a day and can only manage 1-3.

Another factor is that I have a hard time getting the added things to fit.  The reason is that some of them don't technically belong there.  But that aside, I always try to start using a resource a full year before I truly want it implemented because that's truly how long it takes me to figure out how to make it work.  It took me a full year to realize that we need to do Spanish every day. In the case of SOTW it took me two years to figure out that we were only going to finish each cycle in a year if we do it every day.  If we are doing Spanish and SOTW every day, that's two presentations right there before I've even done a "land and sea breezes" demonstration, given an art presentation, a Bible lesson, or shown Me Too the next stage of the decanomial square.

Putting aside anything "extra," I think I have learned that it is tempting to have a lot of threads open at once but some while some threads are conducive to a year of ongoing work (long division for example) other threads are better if you open it and keep going until it is done.  There have been times where a single child has had two threads of numeration (or as Me Too calls it "numerication"), long multiplication (at least two formats), long division, squares and cubes, fractions, story problems, and the primary memorization sequence all open at once.  We wind up rotating so many things that months go by and you aren't finishing anything.  I am finding it better to have maybe two things going pretty much daily (right now long multiplication and long division), one thing open to get to weekly (right now story problems) and then one other thread to do as often as possible or almost daily until you've finished what you need to get to for the year (right now multiples) and then move on to something else (such as factors or squaring and cubing).

A third point of good news is that usually only spend three hours a day four days a week specifically having a "work session."  Violin practice is, of course, outside of that time.  On Friday's we almost always have a fieldtrip.  A lot of other work happens spontaneously inside and outside the school room.  Me Too is famous for going in there by himself on a Sunday.  We are pretty on track for such a low pressure situation.  This gave us a lot of room to catch up by the end of the year.  We had to add  another hour of work after lunch.  Kal-El  had many things on his work plan changed from "whenever" to "daily."  He is having to learn how to balance the desire to do "big projects" every day with expectation that he also do a few "little things" like a long division equation, a grammar box, and a spelling lesson.  I think that long term I may have to stick with the extra hour if I am going to teach history and Spanish the way I want to teach them.  I hope not, but we'll see how things pan out when we start the new school year in September.

Even with the extra time spent I think we are going to have to have a little bit of formal school this summer.  I really dislike the idea of school in the summer but I am determined to begin The Story of the World: The Middle Ages in the fall as well as the second volume of our Spanish curriculum.  I don't see us finishing in the two days.  The boys LOVE both of those subjects so I don't foresee a problem there.  Kal-El can't handle spelling and vocabulary work on the same day so we finished the spelling during the school year (today actually!) because we have to work together and he can finish the vocabulary this summer because he can do it himself when he's the only one awake from 5:30-7 a.m.

The extra school hours soaked up my usual blogging time.  I couldn't make it up elsewhere because we are remodeling.  Again.  Part Two of this post will fill you in on what the boys finished this month and where we stand going into next year.


  1. And you've outlined my hesitancy about that scope/sequence - much more eloquently than I did ;) Totally not set in stone ;)

    Great insight on the add-ons - a reminder to all to stick with what is most valuable!

  2. I love love love this post. I promise to come back and comment more when I have a next bit of screen time.

    1. Interesting thoughts about the scope and sequence. I usually try to get that initial presentation in at the begining of the age range if it is something that I think will work out. (That is, something that the child can actually understand.) I also usually monitor work progress and try to encourage productive work flow so that we do hit those initial presentation ages on target. This is usually for a similiar reason that you do; because I feel if I wait longer I'll miss that sensitive period. I saw that happen a bunch while we were in chaos moving halfway across the country. S started showing signs of really being ready to read, and I think that D was in that early 3 year old, want-to-touch-and feel-everything mode while we were holed-up in some vacation rental with absolutely nothing touchable. (Can't touch much in a bug-infested rental property.) Now I am trying to catch them up because further delay will further delay other things on down the line. (like dominoes.)

      My encouraging the work flow thing doesn't sound very Montessori, I know. For the older ones it has been linked to grade-level appropriate work that children in public school are doing at a certain time. For my primary guy, it is really more about following his needs, and continuing to give him presentations that inspire continued deep work. In essence, I haven't had to do much leading, just more observing, following, and monitoring progress and the age levels shake out to be pretty much what the scope and sequence suggests.

      And NOW you tell me about "adding things?" right when the kids have gotten excited about SotW? (I know you warned me before.) It is my goal to focus on the SotW a bit more during the summer, to try it out, and learn how to incorporate it. We generally do longer classroom times than you do. I find it helps keep the focus better than short times and not every day. So I am hoping that this will help vary our longer classroom time sessions.

      Having too many threads open gives me the itchies. I can't focus and keep track of what they are doing. Usually we do end up having a bunch of threads open, because there is just that much work to get done. But my child will usually flow from great effort in one area to great effort in another on their own accord. T will focus on division and then he'll focus on squaring and cubing. But it isn't usual that he'll do both works in the same day, or even same few days. And of course I just follow along.

      I'd love a break in the summer, but we are just plowing through and continuing formal schooling right through. (Minus two weeks we are spending in another state.) Our schedule is backward, with sports and practice in the morning and school in the afternoons, but I have found a consistent schedule does wonders for my kids. A day with "do-what-ever" means a lot of whining about being bored and wanting to watch a lot of TV.

      Can't wait to hear your "school standing" and future plans. I haven't started planning for the fall yet. Just finished planning for the summer!

  3. wow, 1-3 presentations a day? I barely manage 1. I need to work harder! My problem is scheduling time to prep.

    For me the scope and sequence doesn't ever make sense until I take a class and go through the whole album's presentations. Typically some of the presentations are very much tied to sensitive periods, which the scope kind of suggests to you but every child differs. And when I get lazy and forget a sequence, one of my kids will show their sensitivity to certain subjects. And then once I start hearing, "well we typically start numeration first grade, and squaring and cubing late second or beginning third", seeing how the different threads tie together gives me a very good idea of when different presentations should be done.

    But then I forget it all after my class.....