Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Conventional Wisdom 2014

I'm very thankful that nearly every year I get to go to a homeschool convention. In fact, the only year I didn't attend was when my youngest was still a nursing baby.  As welcome as nursing infants are at most anything homeschool, it didn't sound like a fun and refreshing time for me to tote around my seven-month-old.  For the past three years, I've been to conventions outside my home state, mostly because they are larger and nearly the same cost.  A wider variety of speakers and vendors are offered. I consider these getaways an essential part of my journey as a home educating mama.

Over the years, I'm less concerned with how-tos and finding the next great curriculum that's going to revolutionize my homeschool.  I'm in my seventh year of teaching, my children have never been in any other kind of school, and though I often feel like I'm hitting a wall, I've learned that it's usually not long before we find our way around it or over it or maybe we even knock it down. So I find myself going to more of the workshops that promise encouragement.  Workshops with titles like "Lightening the Load" and "Calm My Anxious Heart".  One fabulous workshop I attended last year was on keeping your own love of learning alive.

I'm encouraged just by being in the presence of so many other homeschooling families.  I marvel, truly, that so many of them bring their whole family!  Babies through teens, dad too.  I think it's wonderful, but I personally enjoy making this once-a-year getaway a girls' getaway.  (Josh and I will celebrate our anniversary with a getaway shortly and the kiddos will get away to Camp Nana.)  I've always enjoyed the diversity at these conventions, particularly these larger ones in big New England cities like Hartford and Worcester.  There are prayer caps, saris, veils, yarmulkes.  There are long skirts, a few short skirts, plenty of jeans. Tons of other moms are wearing those fabulous knee high boots that I can't even zip up.  In this group of people, I feel I am perhaps one of the more liberal attendees.  I don't want to be convinced to join a family integrated church, to shun all sports and clubs, or to throw away my son's Captain Underpants books.  I don't want to amp up my arsenal of creation vs. evolution arguments.  I don't want to hear anything political, even as regards parental rights or homeschooling laws. I simply wish to go and be reminded that I have made the right decision to homeschool my children.  To have someone tell me that all the little things I worry about (doing enough, balancing it all, teaching another child to read) will be just fine.

And I love to eat food I didn't have to cook.  To waste time in the vendor hall.  To be given a chance to miss my children.

So, I'll share my short list of the most profound things I "learned" at this year's convention:

Number One: Ditch the books after Easter.  This advice came from Carlita Boyles, creator of Math on the Level.  She is a veteran public school teacher and homeschool mom.  As a public school teacher, she said nothing was retained after Easter break. So as homeschool parents, she encouraged us to fill those days with less book work and more hands on, fun learning, even if it meant finishing our days on weekends or summer field trips.  Truth is, I probably won't ever ditch the books after Easter, but it is incredibly freeing to be reminded that I can. And that our days get to be whatever I think they should be.  And that great learning is taking place outside the books.

Number Two: Chore basket.  I am an absolutely horrible maintainer of the chore chart.  Chore charts make too much work for me.  I don't follow through with enforcing them or paying for chores. Obviously, I want my children contributing to the household chores.  And I realized I may be provoking them to wrath by not paying them their allowance consistently (even if they are not doing their chores consistently). So, I came home with a new plan to try, this idea also from Carlita Boyles.  I stapled two paper plates together to form a container, leaving the top unstapled to make enough room to stick a hand inside and grab a chore card (I already have these from the unused chore chart).  I made another container for pay tickets.  Each ticket has an amount on it, mostly 25 cents, some a little less, a few 50 cent tickets, and two $1 tickets.  First they choose a chore ticket, complete it, and get their work checked. Then they draw a pay ticket and immediately get paid.  So far, the kids have not even been asked to do a chore, but the entry has been cleaned and swept, a bathroom cleaned, family and play room picked up, wood box filled, and living room swept, and I've paid out about $2 (Mister got lucky and drew a $1 ticket the first time).  They love getting paid immediately. There have been no complaints even for a 15 cent pay ticket.  While it's too soon to tell if this will be a long lasting plan of attack, for now, my house feels so much tidier, the kids are proud of their work, and pleased with their pay.

Number Three: Don't go upstairs if you don't have to.  This was another incredibly freeing lesson to learn, this time from Denise Eide, a speaker I had never heard before, and also creator of a curriculum I had never heard of before called Logic of  English.  She was confessing many of the things she is anxious about, even little things like the cracked linoleum in her entry way.  She also confessed that she has a large, older home with four bedrooms upstairs and the master bedroom downstairs... and that she almost never goes upstairs in her house. Because she homeschools, runs a home, a curriculum business, and is a conference speaker.  And when she goes upstairs and sees the mess, it stresses her out.  And she just doesn't need the added stress, so she rarely goes up there.  This resonated with me so much, especially because I very recently thought that I just needed to not go into the "kids wing" of the house or even the family room, which is upstairs as well, because the state of disorder makes me, seriously, spazzy.  If I just go up the stairs, hang a quick right into my bedroom, and ignore the rest, life is more peaceful. If my downstairs is fairly tidy, I am happy.  Hearing another mom echo my own thoughts made me feel better about this.

Number Four: Fancy curriculum isn't necessary.  I am an absolute curriculum junkie. In fact, once I heard Denise Eide and then checked out this never-before-seen curriculum, I wanted it.  Because it looks so cool and fun and shiny and new. But, I heard this little voice many, many times at the convention:  I don't always need a new curriculum. In fact, many things I teach can be taught without a curriculum.  I'm quite happy with much of what I'm using. Rod and Staff English isn't fancy, it's Mennonite after all, but it's a great fit for both of my older children.  I teach spelling with a used copy of Spelling Power and Phonics Pathways.  I teach writing from my own knowledge of the subject.  We'll watch Sister Wendy for free on youtube for extra art history.  I'll get most of our read alouds from Goodwill.  Penmanship is integrated, not it's own subject.  I want to use every curriculum under the sun, from this new Logic of English, to IEW, to History Revealed, to every Sonlight core.  But we're good with what we've got.

That's this year's convention in a nutshell, from my perspective. As always, a great and necessary time away.

 And now, back to  year seven of homeschooling.