Monday, March 5, 2012

Homeschooling:Part III, The First Year

The saga continues:

For Part I, click HERE

For Part II, click HERE

It was the night before our very first day of school.  The shiny new kindergarten books were lined up on the top shelf of our new homeschooling cabinet, and the preschool books were organized neatly  below.  The pencil boxes were filled with new Crayolas,  safety scissors, glue sticks and #2 pencils.  The lesson plans were written in my new grade book, and I had an assortment of dry-erase markers sitting on my shiny, new teaching easel.

I was nervous.

I hopped under the covers that night, turned to my husband and said, "I promise never to wear one of those jean jumper dresses with a t-shirt and white sneakers that scream "homeschooling mom!" if you promise never to make me drive a mini-van."  He agreed to the terms, and then grabbed my hands to pray for me and our tiny little pupils on the eve of our first day of school.

Because of my lack of experience, I decided to stick to a schedule throughout the year, and rarely strayed from it.  I have changed a few things over the years, but three things I've adhered to from the beginning are:

1. We start the school day off with a devotional/ Bible reading and prayer.
2. Our children complete every single page of their curriculum books. ( I'm a nerd like that.)
3. We've continued with the same curriculum company for all of the elementary school years.

There are so many approaches to homeschooling and finding out what fits for your family takes some time.  I knew from the beginning that I had to have structure to my day or I would fill it with unproductive things.  I also knew that I wanted to adhere strictly to the curriculum because I was unsure of myself as a new teacher. I used the weekly tests given in each subject as a gauge of how well I was teaching. If my son did well, then I knew that I was getting through to him.  I didn't want to skip anything that might have been important. I also chose to stick with the same curriculum year after year because I was afraid of gaps in my kids' education.

Most of my friends have an eclectic assortment of  educational materials that they use. It works fabulous for them, but I was a newbie. I didn't know what homeschooling looked like and I wasn't ready to re-invent the wheel. I was afraid I'd risk skipping out on some important aspect of my child's education so I decided to stick to one thing and see it through. Oh sure, I supplemented with all sorts of things, but our core curriculum remained constant.

In addition to our regular school work, we joined a large homeschool group on the mountain for fun and fellowship.  I quickly realized that there were so many opportunities and activities for my kids to be involved in that I had to choose them very carefully.  We had to learn to say no to the "good" things in order to have time for the "best" things.  It took all of two weeks to realize that "socialization" wasn't going to be an issue. We were doing so much "socializing" that we had to simmer down a bit or we wouldn't have enough time to complete our school work.

The next thing I learned was that teaching children wasn't rocket science. It came very natural to me.  School work was completed much quicker when there weren't 25 students in the room. There was no time wasted standing in lines, taking attendance, waiting to ask questions, or riding on the school bus.  We got through our seat-work quickly and had plenty of time to learn about whatever perked my children's interest. I could cater their education to their personalities, and different learning styles.

One of the most rewarding things for me was being a part of that magical moment when my son first realized that he could read!  It opened up a whole new world for him and I felt so privileged to have been a part of it. Halfway through kindergarten, my son was reading far beyond his grade level. After lunch he would read  hunting magazine articles to me, or stories from Western Horseman.  As long as he liked the subject, he didn't mind being challenged with big words.

I was surprised to find out how much my preschooler also learned just by over-hearing what I was teaching her big brother.  She absorbed knowledge like a sponge.  It was amazing  to see how natural their progression was throughout the year.  Every step built upon another.

We were really thriving in our little homeschool.

The year was not without its challenges, though.

The nay-sayers still hounded us and viewed our homeschooling under a microscope. They would take every opportunity to have my children read random things for them, as if we didn't know what their intentions were.  We weren't stupid. We knew they were testing our kids to see if they were idiots or not.  Instead of being insulted, we tried hard to view it as one more opportunity to show them that our children were thriving. Some even told us that they considered it all a big experiment.  They were going to put their kids in public school and compare our kids with theirs after 12 years of education as if my kids were some sort of anomaly.

We also had a one year old in diapers.  She played with pots and pans, scribbled on paper, and occasionally emptied the contents of my tupperware drawer onto the floor while I was teaching.  Yet, having a toddler running around while homeschooling two other children seemed to come as natural as everything else. We just made it work.

Our other challenge was to balance our school day while raising cattle.  Although my husband took on most of the day-to-day  chores, there were still many occasions when I had to load up the kids and drive to the pastures to haul water, chip ice, or feed.  On those days, I had my son read to me while we were driving, and I learned to quiz him about his spelling words or math facts to pass the time. With the baby in a back-pack and two little ones to "help" mama feed, they learned lessons about caring for animals, and having a good work ethic.  Those were things not found in books, but were important traits for us to pass on to our kids.  When the chores were quickly done and we drove home, we just resumed our school day as normal.

In the end, we considered our first year of school to be a success.  I learned so much about the world of homeschooling....

To be continued.

(I've decided to continue this homeschooling series once in a while so that I can write about our homeschooling journey and address the questions that frequently come my way. If homeschooling is not your thing, you can just skip right on over the blogs with "Homeschooling" in the title. I completely understand.)


  1. Well, that's something I'm afraid of, the other kids and parents that have children in public schools hounding mine to see what they know, but every child is different, and we will just do our best! And, I get a lot of "Oh, well, it's going to bother you, cause you won't be able to go out and about to help on the ranch." But, I'm quite sure that we can pace ourselves and get a routine started over time that will allow us all to go help out like we do so much now.
    So glad you are sharing this journey for y'all, it will help me a lot!! :) Being I know hardly nothing about it. :)

  2. I have to admit....I didn't know whether to laugh or be insulted regarding the comment about your husband promising never to make you drive a minivan....especially since I, little ol' Miss Fashionista, drives one!!! HA! It's so funny the different cultures in this great country of ours. Out where you are, everyone probably drives only 4x4's which makes those precious souls who choose to drive a minivan stick out like a sore thumb....and wouldn't you know....they are probably the ones that happen to homeschool!! Here in New York.....well, to be honest, here in New York just about anything goes!!! LOL!

    1. Ha Ha! I knew I'd get some flack about the mini-van comment! LOL! Many of my friends and family drive them and they call them "Swagger wagons". I just can't haul hay and water for the livestock in the back of a mini-van...and a cowgirl can't lose her truck... it's like losing your identity! ;)

  3. "Swagger Wagons".....hmmmm......I like the sound of that!! Nell, I think you and your friends just introduced a new "car" to New York!!

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  5. Here's the hilarious video that the term "swagger wagon" comes from. It's sooooo cute.

    1. It's the commercial for the Toyota Sienna mini-van. You can highlight the link and right click it, or just google "Swagger Wagon video". I crack up everytime I watch it.

  6. Thanks, Nell!! I will definitely look it up! I left a comment above and deleted it from my end. I had no idea there was going to be a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT stating the fact!! Oy Vey!! Why don't they just say, "Get a load of this chick, who can't make up her mind what to say"!! Anyway, sorry about that!

  7. I just looked up the Swagger Wagon Video on youtube and you are is funny!! I cannot believe I never heard a minivan called Swagger Wagon before!!! Although I'll probably hear it all the time!!

  8. I love hearing your story! I also don't love mini-vans...but, being -rather- a city dweller, don't really have need of a truck (I'd much rather drive a truck!!)
    My lovely mode of transportation isn't a mini-van...I run around town in a Ford Econoline 12 passenger van....wahooo (said in your most monotone voice)...ALTHOUGH, the cargo I carry definately makes it worth the while!

  9. I think it's so encouraging to Mom's considering homeschooling to read the realness of this! Doesn't matter if you're a homeschooling newbie or a veteren, the mere fact that one is responsible for the education of their children is nerve wracking! Totally giggled at your jean jumper and white tennis shoe comment. I knew some of those types! ;) My Hubby forbades me to drive a mini van. Says we'll get a Dodge Sprinter before that happens. HAHA!

  10. Cute Story! I love to peak in at "homeschool" stories! Everyone's is so different! Which is why it is special to read them.

    Heehee! I would rather drive a truck too but like Kerri we grew out of our Suburban. No mini van here -- much worse -- I am in a 12 passenger van. ;0 I crack up just thinking about it!