Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Look of Eagles: An Honest Recounting of our First Week of School

When we got back from our week-long vacation, our box of new homeschool curricula had arrived from Rainbow Resources. This year, it turns out I did not own a single book from Volume 3 of Five in a Row, so we bought the Volume 3 literature package. It was so lovely to get see that big stack of beautiful picture books!  The kids were so excited, they spent the last few days of our vacation playing school with their new handwriting books. My oldest daughter even decided to teach herself cursive from an old Richard Scarry book.

On the way home from West Virginia, we listened to Come on, Seabiscuit by Ralph Moody. The recording by Jim Weiss was so good. If you loved the movie, you will really enjoy listening to this. After Seabiscuit is retired from racing with an injury, his owner Mrs. Howard visits him one day in his stall and finds that Seabiscuit has "the look of eagles." The only way to keep him happy was to put him back in the race. That's the way it it with our kids too. Even if it's the middle of July, once they have the "look of eagles," you may as well put them back in the game. This, incidentally, works out really well because by May, they definitely have the look of butterflies, and there's nothing to do but set them free to flitter around the yard from flower to flower.

You would think that this enthusiasm would lead to an amazing first week of school, but even though this is my third year of homeschooling, it seems that I still haven't learned that the first week of school is always a bit traumatic. By that, I mean mostly for me. This year, in particular, I seemed to have experienced every emotion you will ever experience while homeschooling all wrapped up in one week: Enthusiasm, doubt, fear, anger, exhaustion, and joy.  I know that usually first week of school posts are rosy, but maybe this will help introduce you some of you newbies to real-life homeschooling.

Day 1: I dive in enthusiastically at 8 o'clock in the morning and bustle around for eight hours doing all the lessons I've planned. Because one book is not enough to study, I decide to combine two books: Blueberries for Sal  for the preschoolers and The Finest Horse in Town for the elementary-schoolers.
We had spent the Saturday before picking ten pounds of blueberries, so Blueberries for Sal was an obvious choice. The Finest Horse in Town was also set in Maine and covered patriotic topics for July so it seemed like a good fit.
Blueberries make excellent math manipulatives, especially for subtraction when you eat "tremendous mouthfuls."  
Day 2: The day the kids have their own plans. It was science day, so we talked about how scientists classify different animals. I got out all of our animal flashcards and we sorted them in different ways and read from our National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia. Then we were supposed to do a simple project where we make our own animal classification cards for the different animals in our books. Then, in theory, we add to these with each book. Somehow, two hours later, the living room floor was strewn with every magazine we own and the children had produced one book of animal artwork, one collage book about farm animals, one collage book with the actual animals from our books, and a collage book of various colored tractors. 

Day 3: the first meltdown happened. One tired mama, three whiny, young kids. I don't even think we made it through reading our picture books before I lost my temper and had to give myself a time-out. Having recovered some, sent the kids outside to play, and served lunch, I decided to try and redeem the day by planning a fun book-inspired Fourth of July meal for dinner. The kids loved squeezing lemons for lemonade and making patriotic jello parfaits. 
And they were quite industrious all afternoon making paper flags and decorations and setting up a playmobil recreation of The Finest Horse in Town. Everything was happy until the flags wouldn't stay on the wall and everyone was hungry and it all fell apart, which is why I don't have any pictures except this I took the next day.
Day 4: We were all slowing down and drifting back to last year's schedule of starting between 9 and 10. Yes, you don't have to be a morning person to homeschool. Good news for me! The day goes well except that I begin to have curriculum doubt. The spelling workbook I ordered is confusing. I decide to jettison it, but what do I replace it with? So I begin scouring the Internet for free spelling curricula, which leads to reading about different theories for teaching spelling, which eventually leads to wondering whether my entire educational philosophy is off and perhaps I should be homeschooling some other way: Charlotte Mason, classical, unschooling! Aghhh!

And also somehow the house exploded!

Day 5: The kids are calm. The house is put back to order. We start work at 10 and by noon, the kids have all done reading, math and a watercolor painting project, and we are done for the day! This is excellent news because I need a couple hours at least to put away the mountain of clean laundry.

Week 1 wasn't everything I hoped it would be, but somehow the books got read, the blueberries were all eaten, and we're still excited to do it again next week Ahh, homeschooling!

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