The other day my daughter told me someone asked her what homeschooling was like. They wondered if I sat and lectured the kids and she told them that no, they teach themselves from textbooks and get help when they need it. While that is true, now, it's not how it's always been. I reminded her of that, and then I started thinking about the changes in our homeschool over the years.
We've basically had four different stages of homeschooling in our family. When people ask me about how our homeschool day works, I tell them what it's like now. Even I forget that it was different when we only had young kids, close in age. We taught differently then, and we used different curriculum.
Stage 1 - Homeschooling two small girls:
When we first started homeschooling, we had two students, close in age. We sat at the kitchen table and they both did handwriting and math at the same time, in their own age-appropriate workbooks. I sat there holding the baby and moved between them, helping them as needed. Sometimes I cooked lunch or did dishes nearby. When the workbooks were done, and the baby was napping (hopefully), we'd sit together at the couch and read a book from our Five In A Row unit study. We talked about the lessons, looked up information in other books, and found places on our globe or wall maps. Then my older daughter would read from her Christian Liberty Nature Reader and I'd take the younger one to my bedroom to do her phonics lesson.
After that, they were free to play, read, watch educational tv, build with legos, etc. They played ALL afternoon. The house was trashed with their creative play as toys moved all over the house in their imaginary world. We'd try to clean up before supper, before Daddy got home. Sometimes we didn't get it cleaned up until after supper, after Daddy had seen their creative mess. At that point, education was very much centered around Mommy. We were relaxed, conversational, and literature-based in our methods.
Stage 2 - Homeschooling four young children:
Things got a little more hectic when I had four children in elementary school. We still did our math and handwriting at the table but there were more people working together, more distractions, more need for me to be right there with them.
I was trying to work two different levels of Five In A Row. I had two young kids using a mix of Before Five In A Row and Five In A Row. I also had two older girls using Beyond Five In A Row and usually sitting in again for Five In A Row. While the baby played on the floor, I had a preschool/kindergarten boy doing a few workbooks, lots of puzzles, and lots of legos. I was continually trying to find a quiet moment to get the struggling-reader alone for some more phonics practice. Then when I needed to do Beyond Five In A Row with the older two girls, we would sneak into a bedroom and hope the other three kids would be happy for us. Many of those lessons were interrupted by younger children.
It was hard, and I always felt as if we were falling behind. In reality, we were doing a good job, but it wasn't easy. Education was still very mom-centric, conversational, and literature-based ... but it was getting harder to manage with the different age levels and larger family. Kids often played in breaks between working with Mom, so play and school were both intermingled through our day and every day looked completely different from the last one.
Stage 3 - Homeschooling Kindergarten through Junior High:
It was at this point that we decided we needed a change. My oldest daughter was approaching junior high and I was seeing that soon I'd need to teach 3 different levels of unit studies. I couldn't do it. It stressed me out to think about it. So we switched to Tapestry of Grace.
With Tapestry of Grace, all the children studied the same period of history using living books at their age-level. I used the library to find the recommended books and substituted books when I couldn't find a specific one. I read books aloud to the younger children and the older ones read to themselves. We used more non-fiction books at this point, and less literature, and we missed the more relaxed conversational story-time that Five In A Row was. But I loved that we were all studying the same thing.
Sometimes at lunch or supper, the kids talked about things they learned in their different books, and they were eager to share things with Daddy. It meant more preparation by me of finding the books, filling in assignment sheets for the kids, but it made the daily work of homeschooling more manageable.
Homeschooling was somewhat mom-centric, but older students moved toward more independent work. They read their own history books, and their own math and science lessons to themselves from textbooks that taught TO the student, and sought me for help when they were confused. We became less relaxed, but still enjoyed learning from as many living books as possible.
Stage 4 - Homeschooling all grades, K-12:
It was when my oldest daughter entered high school that Tapestry of Grace began to break down for us. For our family, who was still relying on the library for a large portion of the books, we found it hard to find the correct books in our rural library system. Substituting books didn't work as well for the lesson plans at the high school level and some of the books were just too difficult, even for my advanced reader. (I should clarify that we were using the Classic TOG plan, not the redesigned plan. The book issue isn't as difficult if you purchase them all, but we couldn't do that.)
When my second daughter entered high school, she told me she didn't want to use Tapestry of Grace, but wanted to switch to textbooks. She had never enjoyed reading as much as her older sister and she saw how overwhelmed her sister was with reading. She didn't want that. She also wanted to have more "regular" course titles that lined up better with the public school courses. While I didn't agree with that particular reasoning, I didn't want her to hate her curriculum, so we switched. As she began to use separate textbooks for history and literature, her older sister decided to follow suit and abandon Tapestry of Grace. Thus began the fourth change in our homeschool.
At the moment, my youngest children use math and handwriting workbooks. They do phonics one-on-one with me, and read the Nature Readers to themselves. They join in on the Tapestry of Grace studies, as interested. We read together from lots of other books that interest them. They do more hands-on, relaxed, life-learning than the older kids. Education is still fairly mom-centric, but Mom doesn't feel the need to push this age as hard. I miss using Five In A Row with them, but every time I try to return to it with the younger kids I fail to follow through. It's too hard to get that daily FIAR time in and still manage the other school needs.
Once a child is reading well on their own, we add grammar workbooks, science textbooks, and Tapestry of Grace assignments to their math and handwriting books. Over the years, I've come to follow TOG more loosely. I look at its book suggestions but I often seek out more appealing books that cover the same time-period. I have 3 students using Tapestry of Grace. Two of them are boys, and some are reluctant readers. They all do better with something that is very engaging and interest-catching. If I assign too much reading, they fall behind. Every week is a balancing act to be sure that they are challenged, but not overwhelmed. Mom is the education planner and manager, but the goal is to move them toward independent work as much as possible. Mom comes to help as needed, and some days this keeps me running back and forth, especially at the start of the year.
My high school students diverge from Tapestry of Grace and work very independently. They are using textbooks for all subjects at this point, and I have taught them to fill in their own weekly-planning charts, too. At the start of the year we look at each textbook and figure out how much they need to cover each week to finish the book by the end of the year. I help, as needed, and keep their grades. There are two subjects they are studying that require more of me. My junior is using Abeka Spanish and I have to sit and do review and conversation practice with her. We've figured out how to do it in 3 lessons per week instead of 5 lessons, but often this happens late at night instead of during the day. It's too hard to do that during the noisy, hectic day. My freshman is using Classical Astronomy and sometimes has to do night-time observations ... for some reason, she doesn't want to sit outside in the dark listening to coyotes alone. Most of the time, though, they read and study on their own, and Steve and I help where needed, when they're stuck on a math problem, need help with a new concept, have an English question, or need help with a science experiment.
Homeschooling now looks completely different than it did when we started. I am less involved in their daily lessons, but it's what we have to do to teach six students at once (preschool through high school.) Instead of sitting together on the couch or at the kitchen table, we are scattered through the house. We have one studying at a desk in his room, one studying at a desk in the kitchen, and two or three working at the table. Sometimes the youngest student has to do her math on the floor beside me in order to stay focused.
Despite being spread out and mostly self-directed, we still try to be conversational. We often discuss their history lessons, their literature books, or what they're learning in science. They share with me, their Dad, or each other. Some days, I spend a lot of time redirecting distracted kids who would rather socialize with each other or play. Some days, less bookwork happens but important spiritual or life discussions happen. But they are all learning and growing, and that is what matters.
This post has been entered into The July issue of The Carnival of Homeschooling, at Home Spun Juggling.