The weeks are just flying by before I have a chance to finish a complete thought.
I’d like to write about our trip to California we took at spring break. Yes, I know. March. We’re approaching September. I have come to terms with reality that that may not happen.
I’d like to write about the boys’ swim lessons this summer. Or the summer in general. Or our week long vacation to Colorado where we went jeepin’ over 13, 000 ft mountain peaks and soaked in natural hot springs and visited our old favorite hangouts. Or the wedding I photographed and the energy I took back with me from Colorado. Or school. Or my clean eating lifestyle changes. Or my progress in my treatment plan for Hashi’s. There’s just so much happening right now that it’s been a little daunting to even wrap my brain around it all.
I’ll begin with what’s most important to me and what’s been weighing on my mind most heavily the last three weeks.
As you all are well aware, we are nearing that time in summer where we transition our lives from summer chaos to fall and the beginning of school. Many of you delight in the fact that you can send your children off for 8 or more hours a day and finally can get the house cleaned and make it stay clean for more than 20 minutes. In fact, school is already in session here. I know. They went back nearly three weeks ago!
But that joyous day of sending my children away never came for me. And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
We moved to Sedona in May 2012, just after Mason, my oldest, completed his 3rd grade year in Colorado. Great school. We were all very sad to leave. However, Sedona brought us new adventures and we were ready to begin them. We weren’t ready, however, for school to begin back up in early August. We were pressed for time because school started three weeks earlier than I had planned and I felt rushed to get him into a school, any school. So, we opted for the public school with daily bus service to our little home in the canyon. It started off just ok. His teacher was really young, first year (AGAIN! Mason gets a first year teacher) so I was pretty nervous how he was going to handle his classroom. From what I saw of this teacher, not too impressed. Personality of an eraser. But what does my opinion matter? Mason liked him.
Working nights was hard throughout the school year because I was left out of the loop on many occasions. I asked how school was every time I saw him but I still felt disconnected. Mason finished off his fourth grade year with some minor behavior issues, serious organizational issues, and grades that fluctuated all over the scale, very different from his previous years. Despite being in a gifted and talented program, he still came home with F’s on his report card. It wasn’t that he didn’t know the information, it’s just that he was lazy. Not motivated. He just didn’t turn in or do most of his assignments unless someone was right behind him telling him to get them done.
I knew something needed to change in a hurry or I was going to lose Mason to the “institution” and he’d lose interest in learning forever.
I thought about it for maybe a week but I knew what I had to do. I was done interviewing schools in the area. There weren’t any that I thought would be good for Mason. It just isn’t possible for us to drop him off and pick him up everyday from school because of mine and my husband’s work schedule, so the private charters were out. We don’t know many families in Sedona to rely on carpooling and the bus system doesn’t run for the charter schools.
I thought, “I can do this. I loved school when I was younger. I practiced teaching my cousins every chance I had, those poor girls. Hey, just because I didn’t finish my teaching degree doesn’t mean I don’t know how to teach! I know I can teach him myself! Who knows my kid better than me? No one!”
And so began our journey into the world of homeschooling.
At first, I was going to enroll him in an online charter school. I call this my lazy option. We discussed this and neither Mason, nor I was too crazy about him sitting in front of a computer to learn for six hours a day. Mason actually vetoed it immediately! I was more excited about the free materials I’d get to teach with. The more research I did and the more reviews I read, this was not the school for us. We needed flexibility, after all, that’s a huge bonus to homeschooling. Mason needs the opportunity to work ahead when possible and this school didn’t allow that.
My next step was to research how to make my own curriculum.
What an undertaking this is.
I went to the book store, my favorite place to be lately, and picked up a couple basic math and language arts curriculum books made by Spectrum. These are workbooks that Mason will use directly for his lessons. Then I got another book called, What Your 5th Grader Should Know by E. D. Hirsch. This is a very good breakdown of things every 5th grader across the U.S. should be learning, from music and visual arts to history, math and science. It aligns with most state standards. This book helped to give me ideas about what Mason learned last year and where to pick up and begin this year. As I said, I’ve been out of the loop so my first question while making a curriculum was the obvious, “What the heck am I supposed to be teaching?”
From there, I started downloading the core standards of my state. I would never have known to do this had it not been for my teaching program at GCU, so for that I’m grateful. The core standards, again, is a breakdown of the things a typical 5th grader will be taught over the course of the year. This is more from an actual teacher in a classroom standpoint but it’s a good launching point. Homeschooler’s don’t need to strictly adhere to the standards but I want Mason to learn the basics and then some. The standards don’t give specific lessons but generates concepts to teach with certain units of study. Students are expected to have a firm understanding of each concept listed on the core standards.
Once I had the standards, it was easier to tentatively plan out the year and decide not only which subjects to teach but which lessons or units I want to cover in those subjects. This is actually a really fun part of planning but it’s very tedious and overwhelming at times. In Arizona, home school students must be taught the subjects of Reading, Grammar, Math, Social Studies, and Science, at the very minimum. Mason will also learn more about Writing, Literature, Spelling, the Arts, Home-Economics, and will even get some shop work in once a week, or so. The beautiful thing about homeschooling is that these lessons are all around us, not just in a workbook or on the computer. Mason will get to participate in the grocery shopping, cooking, and even head to work with dad one day for shop class and brush up on more of his carpentry skills. We call this shop and math!
My plan for Mason is to teach him verbally and assist him with various worksheets and games and experiments, depending on subject matter. I also will be incorporating movies, online learning games, interactive lessons, field trips to local museums, galleries and geological sites and plenty of books into his daily lessons. Oh there will be books! Mason’s favorite thing to do is read so he will be doing tons of that. Autobiographies, stories, poetry, history lessons, and his science will be mainly books we rent from the library. There are TONS of FREE resources online where I can not only print worksheets and workbooks but also set him up with learning activities, quizzes, games, ideas for experiments, and so much more. We live in a great time period where homeschooling is made so much easier by all the available resources.
Setting up a 5th grade home school curriculum is not an easy task. Thanks to the internet and other homeschooling families in my community, it’s been a lot less difficult than I thought it would be.
We officially start in one week and plan to run a 36-week course. I haven’t planned out the year entirely because I still want Mason to have some flexibility in his learning and be able to direct me to a new topic or curiosity at the time he desires. I’m excited though. I always knew I’d be a teacher someday. Just never thought, in a million years, I’d be a homeschooling mom.
Oh and not to be forgotten, little Jackson turns 5 at the end of September so he and I will be starting his Preschool curriculum this year as well. This is a bit more relaxed and common to me, as I was a preschool teacher for at least two years, both in a classroom and more informally.