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My Homeschool Hopes for 2021

At the end of 2020, we almost gave up homeschooling. It had been a rough year and the final few months had been just hard. Drained, constant friction, and weariness painted our days. I had lost my vision, I felt defeated by my son’s behaviour and didn’t know how to work with him. We spent a month away visiting family for Christmas. In that month we made a lot of progress with issues, as well as having much needed rest. Most importantly, the Lord gave me comfort, direction, and encouragement as I have sought Him for this year of home education.

At my lowest, as I was preparing for the year, I thought inwardly, “I’m not sure I can do this.” My heart felt faint and my knees trembled. But, oh how good God is. He answered my prayers and gave me clear words of hope and admonition.

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths of your feet, and be steadfast in all your ways.” ~ Proverbs 4:25-26

This is the way, keep walking in it. In my heart, I have always known not to give up and that sending the children to school is not the answer for us. But weariness, trials, and family dynamics can really get you down. And, as my mother reminded me helpfully (as I tend to forget), if this is the path that God wants us on, the enemy will do anything he can to get us off it.

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame will not be disabled, but rather healed.” ~ Hebrews 12:12-13

Be obedient, be faithful, trust the Lord’s hand of healing on this path (for us all). God is so very good, and faithful to lift us up when we need it. He never lets us down, and is with us to the end of the age. I continued, therefore, to forge ahead with planning and preparing our home for a new year. In fact, for the first time ever, we have our very own schoolroom! It feels good to have everything all in one room, rather than spread out throughout the house, creating clutter.

Time Plans

Through careful thought and deliberation about where we are at and what I think will benefit the children (and myself), we are going to do a 4-day school schedule, in the Sabbath schooling style (that is, 6 weeks schooling, 1 week off). We will have three blocks and then a two week holiday in July, with three more blocks before Christmas.

Bringing in a Biblical mentality of work and rest to our homeschool makes sense to me. And I know that this will keep us from burn out, knowing we have a time to breathe after a good chunk of learning. I decided on a 4-day schedule because my children are still young – 6.5 and almost 8 – and we have homeschool co-op on the Friday afternoon. We also have a home to manage, dogs to walk, libraries to visit, and friends to see. It’s a full life during the week (and winter will have rugby for Josiah thrown in).

Character Plans

I have been reading through Charlotte Mason’s Toward a Philosophy of Education which has been something the Lord has been using to confirm in me the two main things I want to focus on this year with the children – ideas and good habits.

Both ideas and habits are crucial to the formation of a child’s character and I see that so clearly now in our children, but especially our boy. I have written about our move from unschooling-style to a more structured way of homeschooling here, so I won’t go into depth here. But, suffice to say, we have been reaping the consequences of not working on habits and helping the children rise up to higher ideas.

Through regular schooling, help around the home, and being exposed to rich literature, my prayer for the children that they will grow abundently in character this year and that peace will be a staple of our home because of the work Christ is doing in all of us.

We so loved Heidi last year.

Curriculum Plans

There are four main focuses I have for our homeschool this year:

  1. Read Alouds: We read about six chapter books last year which is the most we have ever read together. Our favourite, hands down, was Heidi. I was impressed that my children listened through such a big book, and that I committed to reading it over 5-6 weeks! This year I would love us to read more than ten chapter books. The ones I definitely want to read to them are:
    • Treasures in the Snow
    • The Trumpet and the Swan
    • The Railway Children
    • The Secret Garden
    • The One Hundred and One Dalmations
    • and The Animals of Farthing Wood.

  1. Math: Last year, math took a back burner, especially for our son. He did lots of natural learning in math, especially through his passion with rugby (learning all the statistics, years, players, goal counts of different games etc.) which throughly pleased and impressed me, but this year we definitely need to get into some structured, regular mathematics. We are doing Life of Fred and the worksheets from M.E.P. For our daughter, we are continuing through Horizons, but I have brought her up to Grade 1 even though we didn’t finished K.

  1. Memory Work: This was a special request of my husband – and I listen to that wise man! We want them to learn some of the ‘classic’ scriptures that are foundational to Christian life and history. I have also added a few poems in there, and some tongue twisters (both our children are lazy speakers, and our son has a lisp).

  1. ‘Gather Round Homeschool: This curriculum is just such a blessing to us and is definitely what God wants us to continue in. I have reviewed it here and shared how I planned our Oceans unit here. We are working through Year 1 at our own pace, but by the end of the year, I would love to have finished these units:
    • Oceans (we’re 1/4 through it)
    • Space
    • North America
    • Human Body
    • South America

Final Thoughts

From ending last year almost giving up, and starting this year feeling very fragile, I am now in a much better space. I watched this lovely video by Sodbuster Living today and I appreciated her honesty so much.

Homeschooling, friends, is really hard. We have to be honest about that – not just to other people, but to ourselves. The key to continuing in grace and strength is to completely depend on God for the direction and practice of our days, as well as answering this question, “What do I want our homeschool to be like?” We shouldn’t look to anyone else, or let beautifully taken photos shape some homeschool-in-the-clouds for us. We must be realistic, honest, and faithful to God’s calling on our children and who we are as their mother.

So, this is how we are starting 2021. I am hopeful in the Lord, pleased with the relaxed curriculum, satisfied with the ideas and habits principles, and on board 100% with my husband. Despite the last few months, by God’s grace, I am starting this homeschool year with a restful spirit.

How about your plans and hopes for 2021?

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How Books Are, and Will Continue to Be, Our Main Homeschool Curriculum

All links in this post are to Amazon Associates.

 

“What better education can we offer our children than the shaping of their hearts to love others as we have been loved by God ourselves? Charlotte Mason, a nineteenth-century educator, said as much when she taught that it’s not how much children know that matters – it’s how much they care. Education is put to its best use when it teaches us how to love.” Sarah MacKenzie, The Read Aloud Family

I’ve always known the importance of books.
Growing up, my father was a Professor in Children’s Literature, and in our home there was always a library. Thousands and thousands of children’s books at our finger tips. Of course, when I finally got hooked into reading, it was through The Baby Sitter’s Club (much to my Dad’s despair), but hey, I was reading, right? Those girls were my friends, got me through some lonely, friend-less years at school. And, they got me into other books, so I knew – first hand – what meaningful connections books could give.
Watership Down, The Halfmen of O, Snowfall, My Friend Flicka – those books had lasting effects on me as a child. When I left school and went to university, history and books were what I pursued. Words and literary worlds are my thing. So, of course, I knew that they would be my children’s thing also. I don’t think my father would let it be otherwise!
Becoming a homeschooling family has taken this to a whole new meaning.

“It’s tempting to idolize certain aspects of education. We value good grades, high test scores, elite college degrees, and lucrative careers. But our obsession keeps us from remember what education is for. Education is for love.” ~ Read Aloud Family

Starting to homeschool brought me a lot of fear. The invisible standards of our school system, peer levels, and my own lack of confidence meant I have yo-yoed through philoshophies and ideas and what works for us. But one thing has been a common thread these last two years: books.
Whether we are pursuing interests, rabbit holes, or I am planning my own lessons for the children, books are the centre of our learning. Often a book will be the anchor of a unit study. Sometimes, a book will spark a new interest in the children. More often than not, we’re just reading all the new books we get from the library each week. And we’re talking and thinking about those books.
Through all these books, and all the love we have pouring over them together, I have come to see what Sarah MacKenzie says above: education is about love. It isn’t about tests or grades or how much my child actually knows. It is about helping them care about themselves, their family, the wider community, and the world beyond.
“Is the main reason we want an excellent education for our children so they can outperform their peers? So they can rank higher, get promoted faster, become more financially successful than their collegues and friends? Or do we want our children to become educated so they can follow the two greatest commandments: love God and love one another?” ~ Read Aloud Family

 

Why do I think books, as a core curriculum, will provide a better education than anything else?
I think, above all else, books and stories enable the world – people, history, experience, ideas, scientific facts – to truly and deeply come alive to children. Charlotte Mason’s term ‘living books’ is so apt – if a book is written well, anything and all things can come alive in a child’s mind and heart.

From within, then, and not just head-knowledge, will a child be educated.

A child can experience a time in history that could otherwise just be facts, say in Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. The reader can understand, not just what life was like in the late 1930’s, but what it was like for Anna, a Jew, escaping Germany and learning to adjust to a new life for being ‘hated’.
A child’s creative ideas could be planted and grown through reading all the Harry Potter books. Imaginary worlds and characters that spill out into play and creative pursuits expand a child’s mind far more than the typical reading comprehension exercises. Not to mention the inner warmth the reader has as they read Harry’s courage, good characters against evil ones, and the difficulty of choosing what is right when the odd’s are against you.

I could go on and on about how truly wonderful and life-giving books can be for children. And I think really using books – picture books, novels, reference books – can be absolutely sufficient for a homeschool curriculum. (I have already reviewed the Five and a Row curriculum, which is literary-based and which we love and use.)

“We read with our children because it gives both them and us an education of the heart and mind. Of intellect and empathy. We read together and learn because stories teacg us how to love.” ~ Sarah MacKenzie

If you need some more encouragement, I highly recommend the Read Aloud Family book that I have quoted – it is excellent.