We are coming to the end of our second week of school, and things are already starting to loosen up at the edges. Some of the excitement of beginning a new thing is wearing off. Some days some people just don’t feel like doing schoolwork.
And of course, the ideal school day in homeschool happens about once every three months, and the rest of the days I’m constantly in a state of flex, regrouping for one turn of events or another. It can be stressful, but the sooner I learn to just always prepare for the unexpected, the better off I’ll be.
In case it’s not obvious, these pictures are of one of Paul’s not-feeling-like-doing-schoolwork days. (Of course he had to do it anyway, and he found ways to make it more interesting to himself, such as this odd position.)
Marie continues to enjoy learning more how to read. This week I found her sounding out the words on a raisin box, and also on a tag in the store when we were out for groceries. That was a big encouragement to me. That means she wants to read things–and that is so huge in teaching a kid to read.
It is such a blessing that Rachel Anne is still a diligent “scholar” when Marie is doing her schoolwork and uses her special crayons to color and make lines in a tracing book. She seems to have the idea that this is important and that it is part of school. Of course, big kids do school work, and it’s very important to be a big kid!
Hannah is continuing to make my spirits soar and exceed my expectations as she is quickly growing into an excellent independent studying student, and is vastly improving her ability to focus, stay on track, and complete her school list without me reminding her. I attribute that to timely and abundant positive reinforcement from me. The more praising remarks I make and give her for being a great scholar, the more she strives to be a great scholar.
Paul is scrambling to bring back to his mind all the addition and subtraction facts he had learned so thoroughly last year. (Wait until they start drilling him on his multiplication and division facts! I haven’t told him what’s coming yet.) The morning of this picture, he misplaced his normal timer and is using the timer on my phone to time himself for his math fact sheet (that he does every morning).
One of my “flex” days I did not get the papers graded and the new school lists printed the night before. Therefore, I explained it to the kids first thing in the morning, and told them they had to help do my work while I got their schoolwork ready. Besides loading and unloading the dishwasher and brooming the floor, that also included peeling the potatoes for our lunch that day.
In full disclosure, Hannah and Marie didn’t get all the potatoes peeled, but it was a good start and less that I had to do.
Guess what the most popular past time is around here after the kids are done their school for the day? You’re right. Play school. One day, Paul was teaching Marie how to read. Then, Marie was teaching Rachel Anne how to read. (Prior to this picture, she was teaching her words. When I paused my work to get the camera, she had just switched to the alphabet.) Later in the day, Marie, Hannah, and Rachel were playing school, and Hannah and Marie took turns being the teacher.
Today, some neighbor kids came over for a little while in the afternoon. Marie took it upon herself to give a reading lesson to Kristen (who is also 4 years old). Marie wrote all these words on the white board and was trying to get Kristen to sound them out and read them. Marie did a great job, and Kristen was very patient and cooperative.
I am just thrilled at how much (I think) they are learning even when we aren’t doing structured, required school. I also fully realize that the things they are learning in the (more) structured lessons is giving them the fuel and fodder to do this independent learning.
One of the biggest tools I use in my homeschooling is positive reinforcement. I cannot overrate the effectiveness of this for my kids. Pointing out all that they are doing wrong over the years has gotten disappointing results and basically no improvement and usually a bad attitude and even worse performance (on the whole). However, pointing out all the good things they have done, all the work that was praiseworthy and excellent, and expounding on it and praising it specifically has gotten outstanding results.
They then strive to do more and more of the work that gets neat little praise notes from Mom. I try to be sure to be very specific about what I am praising–neat handwriting, good spacing between letters, good sentences, lots of correct math problems, diligent work, cheerful attitude during school, doing schoolwork without being reminded, and all manner of things like that–so they will know what I am praising. Just “good job” and “you’re doing great” don’t necessarily let them know what they did good or great.
Now, if there is something that is wrong (incorrect answer), I do make a note of that too and they have to correct it. (I’ve found that if they have to erase something and correct it, they will quickly pay attention to get it right the first time. If I just say “In the future, make sure you don’t reverse your 2’s”, they will keep reversing them. Only when it actually makes extra work for them will they pay attention and get it right.) (If that makes me a mean teacher, then I’m a mean teacher.)
I require the kids to read their feedback notes, not only for the positive reinforcement, but also to see which ones they got wrong and so they will correct them. Andrew was afraid they wouldn’t heed my instructions (to read the feedback notes). The other day I asked the kids about it (after more than a week of giving feedback). They both immediately told me they always read their feedback notes and expressed how much they liked reading them to hear how they had wowed me. :) I guess no problem there so far!
I also use sticky notes to give positive remarks about the previous school day, and to highlight anything a bit different for that day’s school. (Here it is posted on the front of Paul’s school list.)
All this certainly takes more time than simply grading the papers and marking the problems that are wrong. However, it pays off so well for me, and it has brought about great positive changes in my students that it is well worth the extra time it takes to write personal notes. On top of all that, these are more than just students, they are my children! I want them to feel loved, appreciated, and encouraged by me!
Here’s an extra tidbit of info. Right before we started school, I bought myself a set of good, working colored pens. I have about 12 different colors, and most of them write very well. That way I can make the notes brilliant and exciting. I also can write the notes easily, not scribbling, scraping, and scratching along with colored pens that only half work, or using wide, fat crayons that take up way too much space. I’m so much more inclined to do things when it’s easy to do it. (Showing my true nature here…)
For a word on the “extra” stuff that has provided the need to “flex” the school schedule and keep me out of a boring rut this week, it has been The Week Of The Grapes. Andrew took this picture and said I had evidently returned from spying on Canaan Monday afternoon.
We got done our school in a zip and a hurry Monday morning and then went to a grapevine about 15 minutes from here that some friends of my family have (they offer me their grapes every year). The kids and I picked grapes for a couple hours and came home with 10 dishpans of grapes. My neighbor graciously offered I could use her very large refrigerated space, so I kept them in there and up through Thursday I was doing grapes whenever I wasn’t directly teaching school. I canned quite a bit of grape juice concentrate (using my wonderful steamer) and made 11 Sure-Jell batches of grape jelly and canned it (boy, is it ever good!).
Other things have fallen by the wayside, such as cooking and baking. We had run out of bread the week before, so this week I have started both of my bread machines first thing in the morning to get dough made (that I then shape myself and bake in conventional loaf pans) so we have bread for the day. I don’t know how we manage to consume about 2 loaves of bread every day! On my most intense grape day, Wednesday, we had cold cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and cold cereal for supper. We’ll get back to a better state of meals another week.
This morning my mom came and helped the kids and I pick more grapes. This time I kept only about 5 dishpans of grapes (I only want to do 4 more steamers of grapes for juice) and gave the rest to one of my neighbors who wants to can grape juice and make jelly. There are still loads of grapes left on the vines, but this is all I’m doing. (I’m telling you, this must be the year for a bumper crop of grapes. They don’t always produce like this.) I will steam and can all that I can tomorrow, and then that will be the end of my grape operation for this year. If I don’t get quite all of them done, I will give the leftover grapes to my neighbor. Next week will be filled to the brim, I’m sure, but it won’t be filled with grapes. And next week I may wear clothes that aren’t blue (if you saw me at all this week, I was probably in blue from head to toe so grape juice stains wouldn’t show on my clothes).