Thursday, September 3, 2015

Chilling Out in the Interest of Academic Success

first day of school

The children and I got down to business with homeschool this week. Z is the only one officially studying, but I had a new set of markers and fresh paper for E to use to occupy her, plus the iPad if she earned it by falling asleep like a sweet little girl instead of a raging lion. (She has been known to roar repeatedly to show displeasure at bedtime.) We use a method I jokingly call Charlotte Mason for Lazy People, which basically means that we have failed at nature journaling and decided to stop trying.

If Instagram is to be believed, nature journaling is the cornerstone to the entire Charlotte Mason way of life, and here we are, just reading our books at the table in our pajamas. Yet Z still seems to be learning plenty, so I'm going to stick with our methods. It's not that we're lazy, really, we've just finally figured out how to chill out in a way that is academically advantageous.

One thing that I finally fully grasped after three years home educating is that Z learns best when she is relaxed. But don't we all? Being under pressure is the absolute worst way to learn. I've gradually been figuring out ways to give her the space she needs to feel at ease, and I think we finally have it figured out well enough for every subject that school feels good 95% of the time. (I'll be honest - she still hates copy work, so maybe that's more like 90%.) We are at the end of our book work for the week, and I can honestly say that this is the best homeschool week we have ever had. And it all has to do with the fact that it was a low to no pressure week.

Our reading time has always been fairly low pressure. I read two readings from the curriculum we use each day, and we discuss them as we go along, looking up extra facts, photos, and videos as necessary and desired. Then she does a little copy work, and then we do some math. Math is the big thing that has changed this year, and I'm so pleased with the change that I am glad that I went with my gut (and with the existing research) and decided to dial back the pressure and ramp up the enjoyment. We now play a math game every day, and she does a little work on Khan Academy twice weekly.

The key to math has been a combination of motivation and avoiding unnecessary frustration. If she needs prompts to figure out answers during the math games, I give them to her and wait patiently for her to figure out what she needs to know to keep playing. When she uses Khan Academy, the rule is that if it isn't making sense after she's watched the accompanying video and asked me a few questions, then she is to switch to a different math task. There are plenty of math skills to learn, so delaying learning one of them until it makes more sense to her developing brain does not mean that she will have nothing to study. Now she just moves on to a task that she is ready for, and it goes beautifully.

The difference this no pressure approach to math has made in our homeschool day and week has been astounding. Not only is she able to understand some math concepts more readily, but I find that I am also a better teacher. Because neither one of us is getting frustrated, we have more success. It makes sense. Z is also much more open to learning new things when she knows that it's okay if she doesn't understand them at first (or even for awhile). A great way to undercut confidence is to make a child feel like they are not trying hard enough when they are truly struggling to understand. We've stopped doing that, and it is making our entire homeschool week into a joy instead of a struggle. I love that. Thursday is the last day of the week we do book work, and we wrapped it up feeling really good about officially being back to work on Z's education.

We'll close out the week tomorrow by reading the original fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, then watching the movie and discussing the differences between the two. This is not an official homeschool task, but something that Z requested. We might have ended our official book work for the week, but we are not done nerding out just yet. I love that, too. I love it so very much.


  1. I was thinking about how she doesn't like copying. Perhaps I could send her post cards from my travels and she could write post cards back? Then, she could see a real-word advantage to writing legibly. :)

    1. I think she'd love the correspondence, but I'd probably still want her to do copywork. The main reason I prefer it is that there is so much language arts learning packed into just one thing. For example, we've been studying paragraphs lately, and it makes it so easy to show how different people use different methods of making paragraphs. Each of our texts is formatted differently, but all are correct. And I do think it's good for her to learn to do one thing that she'd prefer not to do, to do it well and get it done efficiently so she can move on to the next thing. She's always proud of herself when she completes a passage that is difficult for her.

    2. Ah! I think I misunderstood what copy work was. I remember copy work as tedious and pointless rote copying - could have been copying chicken scratch for all practical purposes. What you are describing sounds much more like grammar and comprehension - I definitely would have preferred that to what I had!


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