Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Best Laid Plans...

Yesterday was our first day back at school after Easter break. Funny how you plan everything "just so" and then life happens. Bernie and Terri woke up sick and weren't able to keep anything (even liquids) down all day. Gus tends to have a hard time jumping back into things like Math after a break (this seems consistent with his unofficial Asperger's diagnosis). He struggles especially with staying focused, but sitting with him, letting him dictate some problems to me and keeping the assignments reasonably short all help.

It's interesting to see how our planning works through challenging days. The "system" we've developed this year - although we're still tweaking it - seems to be a good fit overall. Approximately once a month, I make a list of basic jobs and subjects I want the children to cover each day (I put this together in Excel with boxes for each school day of that month. The list is broken into three sections - chores, "essentials" and additional subjects. The chores and essentials need to be finished before movies, dance/gymnastics class, computer time, etc. The additional subjects are required or not required at my discretion, based on our extra-curricular activities, field trips, etc. This allows us, for many of our subjects, to base our accomplishments on time and effort rather than number of pages or topics covered. The "additional subjects" tend to be the more open-ended ones like reading and art. Even this varies somewhat from child to child.

The beauty of this system, for us, is that it keeps us on track in various ways, but allows us to keep a pace we can manage. (Not always slower, by the way, but appropriate to each child). Quite a few of our subjects, especially for the younger children, are "open-ended". For science, the younger children get to pick a science book to read, or work in the garden or their nature journal (the older children have somewhat more restricted choices - for example Ria got to choose a general topic to study in science this semester and is required to keep notes/write reports as well as read and enjoy science). For reading/literature, Gus on down get to choose what to read each day, but Ria has an assigned list based on a high-interest topic. Again, she has more writing requirements. In general we tend to do a mix of texts/workbooks and living books/hands-on/etc. even within particular subjects. For example, Gus enjoys Math puzzles and stories (such as The Man Who Counted by Malba Tahan) and works better on his formal Math when it's kept a little shorter and he can look forward to the "fun" stuff too.

So, yesterday was a rather difficult day with taking care of sick kids and running after a very healthy toddler while helping and encouraging the others. But Bernie and Terri took the day off without the pressure of being "behind" and Gus, even after being quite frustrated at times with his distractedness from some subjects, was extremely pleased when he finished his entire list in a timely manner. Ria doesn't generally struggle with finishing her list, but she also hasn't fallen into the habits I formed in elementary school of getting by with only what was required and learning for the sake of tests and grades rather than bigger things.

When even a bad day is a "successful" day, I guess we're doing okay. But it sure took me a long time to develop all these little strategies that fit the needs of our family so well. Learning to understand my children's learning styles and strengths and weaknesses has been a big part of the puzzle. Each family is unique and each child is unique and I think every family - even those who don't homeschool - go through their own process of figuring out what works for their children.

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