Is it even worth it to make up a daily schedule? How close to perfect should life get before we begin our school year? These are among the questions tossed around by my homeschool buddies over the past couple of days. Those are questions with few definite answers. Loaded words in those questions: perfect, "school" year, and life.
I was thinking back to an article Kathy Von Duyke wrote some years back. It SEEMED like it was just a few years back but when I found it online I noticed that it was nearly a decade ago. Time flies when you are having fun. <g> And we HAVE had fun. Lots of fun. A cursory glance back over those years should have turned up more memories of struggle and frustration. We have lived in five different homes and three different states in that time. My husband was deployed, one son had major emergency neuro-surgery, same son was later flat on his back for an entire year while recovering from a different surgery, I had a surprise homebirth and then a solo one. We lost my husband's father. We battled the elements on the prairie. The dog died. I could go on. But why? Those things all happened but they did not define us.
What I remember most from those years are sketching crabs by the ocean, a yellow baby blanket meticulously crocheted by my then ten year old daughter, chicks that fit in your hand, climbing Pike's Peak, and the sound of Allen's voice reading Narnia to the children while I made dinner. I remember the look of triumph on three little faces as they each began to read for themselves. I recall the very morning one little boy tied his shoes the first time. And another evening when his younger brother, with no instruction at all, announced he could do the same. I remember driving away from hospitals with Colin, yes, but I remember dropping him off at the college campus as well. Despite the challenges they have always, always been learning.
So what does Kathy Von Duyke have to do with all this? She used a term way back then that struck a chord with me - guerrilla homeschooling. In a perfect world we could strategize, plot a course, and expect that with a reasonable amount of diligence we could run that course to the finish with few interruptions. (insert peals of laughter.....; )) In the real world, particularly a world that includes nine children, the picture looks a bit different. You might well stumble over that impressive teacher's manual as you reach for the phone book to schedule a Dr's appointment after yet another sleepless night with a croupy baby. You might kick it out of the way as you carry the laundry up the steps. It gets paint splattered by eager artists. It gets batter spilled on its cover from your kitchen helpers. But hey, it's ok because that manual makes a good booster chair for a little person who can't reach the counter yet.
Do those manuals serve anything but utilitarian purposes? Yes, if you take Kathy's advice to heart they are meant to teach YOU. If you are tied to a scripted lesson plan you are handicapped. You will not be able to teach beyond the confines of your tether. You will not be able to wash, fold, stir, drive or rock while you learn together. You will be with your manual. Good luck.
As the article points out:
"Children ask questions about their schoolwork at the most inconvenient times. In the world of guerrilla homeschooling, this means answering algebra problems from the changing table; stating the order of the planets while cooking, or counseling a frustrated child through a writing assignment; and still retaining a cool enough demeanor to deal with the squabble over toys that suddenly arose in your midst."
In the words of my teen boys - true that.
She advises moms to try to choose a subject each year in which to become an expert. Furthermore, she says the best way to do this is not to burn the midnight oil with dry volumes of teacher training materials but rather to read through the simplest children's books on those subjects. I have to agree. The best part is that you can read them aloud and kill two birds with one stone. Children's books cover the basics in clear, colorful ways. You get an outline of the vital information which you can flesh out over time.
For the language subjects like math, phonics, and grammar your best bet is to get a handbook for yourself. I really like the "Everything You Need to Know About" series for the elementary years and the "Easy Way" series for high school. Once you are up to speed you can 'drop tutor' as she describes. Meaning: you can tutor at the drop of a hat, as opposed to dropping everything to tutor.
You don't need a perfect world to teach well. You need a perfect strategy. You need a strategy that does not involve manipulating events that are largely out of your control. Each year I have discerned "what" we need to accomplish. We make checklists to help us stay on track and cover the necessary ground. The "when" of it varies but it always happens and surprisingly well. Real life and real learning are unnerving to those who are wedded to absolute control. With faith and a fun loving attitude you can roll with the punches and thrive. It just requires a bit of thinking outside the box. : )