We often talk about homeschooling as a journey, and we can apply that in many different settings. But when you think about it for your homeschool year, a lot of times we like to put things on cruise control and just go through the year. We think if we have our plan, we can just go through without too much thought; but today we want to talk about making tweaks and adjustments as you go along in the mid year. Joining me for this discussion is my friend and coworker, Laura Pitney.
Sonya: Good to have you with us again.
Laura: Thank you for having me.
Sonya: Let’s talk about those midyear adjustments. I keep thinking back to the cruise control scenario, because usually when you plan out your route, you’re assuming that things are not going to change. But this is the real life we’re talking about in homeschooling, and things change; and we’ve got to make adjustments with those. So let’s talk about some of the adjustments we’ve had to make this year so far and how we made those.
Laura: Well, first of all, I’d like to say that it’s so important to have the plans, to have the game plan and to have the route that you’re going to do; because when life does happen and the crazy happens around us, that’s what keeps us anchored. I do value referring to my plans, referring to my notes. That helps me stay on track amidst all the unplanned events that happen. Usually mid year, between Thanksgiving and January, I try to give some devoted time to look back at my original plans for the year—all my goals for each kid, for the family. I really use that to gauge if I’m on track or not. Then I make adjustments, meaning, “Okay, we’re moving slower in this subject, so my first goal’s probably not going to happen. Let me go ahead and put a realistic goal, because it just didn’t work out like I assumed it would.” So I definitely make adjustments based on the progress.
Sonya: I’m glad that you said you’re going to adjust your goals rather than you’re going to push your child. We want to make sure we tweak our plans to fit the child, rather than trying to push the child to fit the original plan.
Laura: Yes. I’ve tried it the other way and it was not fun for any of us. I want to like my children and I want them to like me. So adjusting the goals is just the right way to do it.
Sonya: It respects him as a person. We always say, “Teach the child, not the curriculum.” When you’re trying to make your child fit the original plan and something has changed, that’s not respecting that child as a person.
Laura: Right. The other thing I try to focus on is I try to be a truth seeker. I feel like it’s really easy to see all the things you haven’t accomplished or haven’t done or where you’ve fallen short, just because you have it all on paper and it looks really good. So I remind myself, “Okay, what have we done? What’s the progress we have made?” I remind myself of the truths that I know are true, versus those unmet expectations. That has helped me mentally at that midyear point saying “It’s going to be okay.”
Sonya: You’re right, it’s easy for us to look at the plan we had and we’re not there yet, as you said, progress, isn’t there, or “I didn’t do this one thing I thought I was going to do.” It’s easy to beat ourselves up and get a defeated attitude. “I’m no good at this, nevermind, we aren’t learning anything.” It’s amazing how our brains will just go there so quickly. Instead, if we can look at what we have done and celebrate those wins! It’s so easy for some temperaments especially . . . (I’m preaching to myself, that’s how I know. We’re very much alike in this) . . . it’s easy to just look at where we missed instead of celebrating where we did accomplish things.
Laura: Yes, and then we may be surprised. We may have kids that semester or that year that really excel and do great. And we’re like, “Hey, let’s keep on trucking.” I don’t want to just focus on the negative, but realistically, we have very high ambitions on our paper plans. So that midyear point check-in, I just feel like it’s so vital to get back to the reality of what’s actually happening and what we’re actually doing, whether you level up or down or however you have to adjust.
Sonya: Sometimes, if we go back to that car scenario, it’s like we have our route planned, but maybe we suddenly realize we’re not on the route we had originally thought we would be. Yesterday we went to a botanical garden about an hour from our house. As we drove down the road, we suddenly realized we had missed the entrance. So we had to find a place to turn around and come back. It makes sense to do that in the car, but so often in homeschooling, we think, “Well let’s just keep going, we’re making good time,” and we don’t realize we’ve gotten lost.
Laura: No bathroom stops.
Sonya: That’s right, “We’re going, kids!” So we might get off the route. We might hit an obstacle in front of us and we have to figure out how to maneuver around that. Or we might hit a really steep hill and we have to adjust our speed. We have to adjust maybe our resources that we’re using. So many ways we can tweak. One adjustment that I’m making right now—true confession time, okay, I got off route. I had slacked off on asking my daughter to narrate for me. For those of you who don’t know, my youngest is 22 but she has special needs. We are still homeschooling her every day, because she can still learn. She’s reading at a third-grade level (Praise God! We didn’t know she’d be able to do that.) We’re working on her math, but I had really slacked off on narrations with her because it’s so hard for her to put things into words, to capture them and to speak them. My thinking was, “This is too hard for her. I don’t want to make school so difficult that she loses interest in it and doesn’t want to do it.” That was my reasoning. But I just finished reading a fabulous book by Karen Glass, called Know and Tell. Wonderful book! I highly recommend it. This is another reason why we keep teaching ourselves and keep learning for ourselves, because it motivates us and encourages us and reminds us where we’ve gotten off the route.
Laura: That never happens. [laughs]
Sonya: No, to none of us. But in that book, Karen especially talked about how narration needs to be practiced, just like any skill. It’s like if you want to improve in playing piano, you practice; and you don’t expect a newbie to play Chopin mazurkas perfectly if they haven’t practiced. It dawned on me, “Of course, it’s going to be hard for her if we never practice.” I thought back to all the other skills that she had learned, like she’s now in math Book 2. So she’s adding and subtracting three digit numbers with carrying and borrowing.
Laura: It’s a big deal.
Sonya: It’s huge! She’s using the manipulatives. The fact that she can do that is mainly because we’ve practiced it so much. It was like one of those head-palm moments: “Oh of course, she’s not going to improve in this if we don’t practice it every day.” It’s not fair of me to assume that she can’t improve on something if I don’t give her the opportunity to practice. It’s not just a developmental thing. So we’ve started narrating again.
Laura: How’s it going?
Sonya: It’s going pretty well. What’s interesting to me, . . . what I really enjoyed in the book was a chapter on using narration with special needs, and it talked about how we can scaffold and help each child. But it’s mainly about developing a relationship and that narration can really be a relationship-building activity, which was a wonderful thought. In the books that she’s reading aloud to me, I will ask her for a narration and I let her keep the book. Currently—we’re going to work away from this, but—currently she’s looking through what she read and finding a phrase or a sentence to say.
Now my first thought is, “Oh, no, take the book away. You don’t look back at the book.” But I noticed she’s not just grabbing any random sentence. She is thoroughly looking through there for whatever she can find that will summarize what she read. Sometimes it’s a complete sentence, sometimes it’s just a phrase, but she’s being very careful about finding the words. It’s still hard for her to put the words together for herself, but she can find what she wants to say, already there. So we’re starting at that point which is really interesting.
Now, yesterday I read aloud to her. Well no, two days ago I read aloud to her and then closed the book and asked her to narrate. It took quite a while. But I thought, “Let’s try a written narration and see if that’s easier for her to just put something down instead of trying to speak it.” We read the story of Samson and the riddle that he gave at the wedding: “Out of the eater came something to eat; out of the strong came something sweet.” That story. I thought, “I don’t know if she even knows what a riddle is or has that comprehension, but we’re just going to see what she got out of that story.” I waited and I waited, and it took probably two full minutes for her to write anything down. Then she wrote down, “Marry someone.” But that’s all right. That is what she got out of it, or at least what she could communicate. I’m sure she got other things out of it, but I’ll take that. Especially since we’re now starting over again, if you will, with that skill.
That was encouraging and we’re going to keep going down that path and giving her those opportunities to share and hopefully increase in her. As you said, I was going to beat myself up because I pulled out the notebook that we used to narrate in years ago and flipped it open, and she was giving two-sentence narrations to me that were really good. I was writing them down. And I looked at that, and I looked at “marry someone,” and I was like, “What have I done!?” But we have to instead celebrate and move on from here. So we’re going to make that adjustment, and we’re getting back on route and we’re going to go. How about you?
Laura: Personally, the route that I have always planned for each school year, I don’t think, has one time actually happened the way I had planned. I share that as an encouragement, that in the midst of the events and the way life happens, you just have to adjust and do the best you can. I mean I’m going to stay as close to that road, that journey, as my plan that I started out to do, but things happen. I’ll give you a couple examples. My father passed away about five years ago, and it was December and it was really sudden. Obviously the Lord was in that situation and has used that situation, but coming off of the grief of that, all I wanted to do for myself was what I do best to cope. And that’s “Give me some paint; let me redo something. Give me something to organize.” That’s just how I deal with stress or things and so I spent time there.
Sonya: Some people have shopping therapy; you have fix-it-up therapy.
Laura: Which is funny. It’s why I have a lot of my friends’ keys to their houses. So that way, if I ever need to come organize something or paint something, I already have the key. So it was just funny.
Sonya: I’ll give you a key when we’re done.
Laura: So after that time, I spent, I don’t know, January, February, just working on house projects. I painted my kitchen cabinets. A lot of school did not get done at the time, but there was investment in my home and in the atmosphere in my home and in my children and those relationships. So school was put to the side because we were living out the life that we had to, to survive, even just for me. So that was one of those times where we still accomplished things we needed to accomplish, but it wasn’t necessarily the original plan of how it was to be done.
Another example is the last few years, there really hasn’t been a semester that I haven’t had an extra child in my home. Therefore school was still getting done, but the dynamic of our homeschool changed. It was just different situations where people needed help here and there. In return, I’ve had people help me with my children. So again, that wasn’t on the original plan or even talked about come the beginning of the school year, but we just made those adjustments as it happened. Again, life just happens and school is definitely a priority in our home, but it’s not always the focus. The focus is the heart and the relationships and ministry, ultimately.
Currently, we are moving. Trying to do homeschool in the midst of moving is a big deal and moving from one house to a new house and the new house isn’t ready yet. So therefore, we’re in limbo, still trying to have normal routines and function with school. Fortunately the Lord has been very gracious in knowing me intimately to where I usually put really high expectations on myself and all the people around me. I feel like He’s been very gracious to lower all that down and just focus on making sure everybody’s happy and healthy and not always going crazy in the midst of the crazy, of not having a home. We’re homeless right now, literally. We’re living in our church.
But I can say I probably have never had a normal school year, ever. There’s always been something that has, I don’t want to say interrupted, but changed what my original plan was. So those midyear connections or reviews or however you want to word it, I feel like, anchor me back amidst all the things happening, to where I can turn the corner and feel like I can finish strong.
Sonya: It doesn’t have to be only halfway through the year. Like you said, sometimes you start going in one direction and then that extra child needed to come stay. Those extra children were all school age, right? You had to homeschool them. It wasn’t just a little one under foot. So you had to adjust your plans at that point. All through the year, we are going back to look at that original plan, which is our starting point. Like you said, if we don’t have that, then we’re just, you know. . .
Laura: Really in trouble.
Sonya: Yes, floating along.
Laura: There’s no journey happening.
Sonya: We’re wandering is what we’re doing. So we look at that original plan and we evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. We might want to apply that KISS framework we’ve talked about: What do I want to Keep? What do I want to Improve? What do I want to Stop doing? And what do I want to Start doing? Then we make adjustments and we try it; and then repeat the cycle, going back again as many times as we need to during the school year. That’s how we make our homeschool journey work for our family, rather than forcing our family to try to fit into an often unrealistic framework. Thanks for your thoughts on that.