Friday, September 06, 2013

Growing Pains

Our new school year has required some growth and stretching from all of us.  The first week was HARD.  Like, mama in tears every day HARD.  I love homeschooling, and I have firm convictions about this lifestyle for us, but let me tell you, I thought about that big yellow school bus several times during our first week.  Here is a short list of the contributors to the chaos during week one:

  1. Over-scheduled family.  David is working his normal full time job, plus he has taken on teaching a class at Tulane this semester.  It's just one class, but it puts him home late on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The kids have been in 2x/week swim school in the late afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, pushing dinner and bedtime late on those days.  That meant that during week one we had a late daddy or a late bedtime every night of the week.  I know that many families juggle far more than this, but for us, this is too much.  
  2. Frazzled mama.  I am one who needs her environment in order.  August was full of renovation in our front room, and it didn't get all the way unpacked and functional after renovations were complete before school started.  That stuff (unpacking, organizing, and decorating) on top of starting school was too much on my list.  
  3. Trouble working one-on-one with one or two kids while one or two others entertain themselves in a reasonably quiet and non-destructive way.
  4. Trouble juggling the school needs of kids whose skill set is pretty different now than it was in May. 
So, back to the schedule drawing board.  

The first issue seems to have worked itself out.  We had already decided that we were going to take the fall off of swim school while David is teaching this class.  They only overlapped for that one week.  Plus, our Musikgarten class started this week on Wednesday afternoons, which further helps by breaking up one of those long days when David is late.  MUCH better.  

The second issue was resolved by Labor Day weekend.  Thank God for the holiday!  With an extra day of Daddy home to run kid interference, I was able to knock out my work on the front room and start our second week in a much better place, environmentally.  I love our front room now!  We've spent a lot of time in there this week. 

The homeschooling issues were more challenging. I spent some time (probably not enough!) in prayer and a lot of time on IM with my best friend in Houston who parents four kids, homeschools three of them, and faces similar (often more challenging) problems with academics and temperament of children, plus a long conversation with David (of course).   We hatched the following plan: 

One of Karla's suggestions was to move Five in a Row to later in our morning. I had been starting FIAR over breakfast with reading the story and then moving straight into the FIAR activity afterwards.  That was fine, but on some days that spent too much of my oldest's academic focus energy, and then doing 3Rs (reading, handwriting, math) was torture afterwards.  Left up to me, we'd do the fun stuff first! I love having FIAR first, setting the tone for our day.  But the truth is that our mornings have been much smoother this week when I hit the 3Rs with the oldest first, as soon as breakfast dishes are cleared.  He spends his academic energy on those non-negotiables, and then if he's wiggly during FIAR later, so be it. 

Another schedule tweak was giving the not-currently-working-with-Mom kids something specific to do.  I had been telling them that they could play until I needed them again, leaving them up to their own devices.  To my children's ears, that sentence must have sounded something like: "Mom is going to work with one of your siblings, so she won't be paying much attention to you.  Feel free to sneak off and see how much trouble you can get into." That must be what they thought I said, because that's exactly what they were doing!  I was pulling my hair out having to interrupt work with one kid to go bust the mischief the others were getting into.  I was in a bad mood and my kids were in trouble by 10am every day!  Karla had been giving her 1st graders who weren't working with Mom a basket of quiet things to work on, so I quickly capitalized on that stellar idea and started one of our own.  Our "busy basket" this week included a couple of puzzles and games, a small crafty thing like pony beads and pipe cleaners or stencils and construction paper, and AUDIO BOOKS!  The kids have been checking audio books out of the library for a while to listen to in the car, and they're my go-to solution for peace on squabbly car rides.  It occurred to me that they could serve a similar awesome purpose at home.  I threw a few audio books (Amelia Bedelia is popular right now) and a portable CD player with headphones into the basket, and we have had PEACE!! I will change basket contents as often as needed to keep it interesting.  

Simply solving the problem of how to get some one-on-one time with the kids without the others destroying the house has really helped with problem #4.  It's a work in progress, but I'm getting to know them all again, seeing where they've grown this summer, what skills have gone soft this summer, and where everyone needs to be working as we continue to move forward.  

Moving FIAR to after snack time has the same effect as doing it first thing, since I can read the book while the kids eat.  It's so nice to read to a quiet audience with their mouths full of food.  I also sweetened the deal for cooperation with 3Rs, busy basket time, and FIAR by awarding five minutes of screen time (laptop or iphone) for each of those 3 time periods, for a potential total of 15 minutes each, to be redeemed after rest time in the afternoon.  I made a chart for the wall, and they get to circle how much time they've earned at the end of each period.  So far, so good.  They're big fans of mama's phone.  

Since we started the new systems, the days have been SO much better.  It's not perfect, and it never will be.  This lifestyle is messy.  Having everyone at home all the time means that you're parenting full time, all day, every day.  Discipline is a constant.  Changes will continue to be made.  BUT it's going to be a good year! ...even if it got off to a rocky start.  

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