How do we homeschool with 9 children? *smile* We currently have a plan for our family that is working beautifully for us, and the curriculum is a new type as of these last 2 years. We spent our first 6 years homeschooling one way (watch for a future post on how we began), but as our family continued growing and our oldest children were needing the freedom to become more independent we developed our current plan, which we've been implementing for two years now (as of summer 2011). We've grown with the process over time and have enjoyed homeschooling more and more. Not that homeschooling is always easy-breezy (well, academics are easy, it's the character growth that's harder!) But with all of the hard work and our leaning on the Lord for strength, perseverance, faithfulness, creativity, there is abundant blessing, well-being, success, vision and encouragement for the future, and peace in knowing that we're within the Lord's will. Continuing my homeschooling series I'll share with you how we homeschool currently with 9 children. In this part 1 we'll look at:
- The blessings in using Christian textbooks
- What about learning styles?
- What our school day looks like
- Making time for school
For the first 6 years of our homeschooling only our oldest 2 daughters needed my full attention for school (younger kiddos were productively occupied, and loved on, some doing preschool activities, but not needing curriculum). But two years ago I found myself unprepared for the fact that I suddenly had two more children ready to begin kindergarten and first grade curriculum. I hadn't even realized or planned for them to be ready that year; they had shown absolutely no interest in those types of schooling activities seemingly just the week before! I needed a totally new plan. The curriculum we had been using simply would not work for the four oldest children going in to grades K, 1st, 5th, and 6th simultaneously. I had no alternative plan to the curriculum we started with loved, and thought we'd always use.
I began reflecting on how other large families we knew homeschooled and realized that most of those moms were using Christian textbooks. Now this was not an option I thought I would ever consider because my only experience with textbooks was my own public school experience growing up. Those books taught me next-to-nothing (even though I was a 3.9 GPA student), they were dry, dry, dry, and booor...ing. But I also thought about the fact that these moms I was looking to were very good moms, were established and successful at homeschooling and discipling their children. So I decided to do my homework and find out why they chose the Christian textbook method. I went to a very trusted resource and author, Teri Maxwell (mother of 8), and read her book Managers of Their Schools. Having read nine of her other books I knew this would be very informative, encouraging, and would give me vision for our family's future. Having loved the book, as always, I ended up very much patterning our homeschooling after Teri's methods.
The blessings in using Christian textbooks
The main curriculum we chose to use is called Alpha Omega Press Lifepacs. A set of 10 work books per subject to be completed over the course of a school year. Right now I'd like to share with you what we learned about Christian textbook curriculum in general, and later in the section of this post, "What our school day looks like", I'll share with you which subjects specifically we do each day with textbooks..
Alpha Omega Press sells both textbooks and computer based learning called Switched On School House for school-aged children 3rd grade and up. I purchased the 3rd grade science curriculum for our 7-year-old son (at the time) who was very computer proficient and he just had help from an older sister to do some of the written/typed answers and the experiments. The program is really impressive, and students can choose to highlight parts of the text and have it read to them by the computer; this was good for Brandon when he first started so that he could focus on the learning and not yet have to work on his reading skills simultaneously. (This photo of Brandon working is of computer learning but not of SOS).
I was completely unaware of how many blessings there are by using Christian textbooks! Here are some of the ones we experience:
- they have the materials presented clearly and in an efficient way for learning, broken in to reasonable 'chunks' (assuming you choose good texts)
- they save me a lot of preparation time, making it possible for me to teach children at different levels easily
- they provide an orderly, logical sequence to move through materials year-to-year
- they provide the tools of learning and a core of knowledge my children use to build onto with their own interests and strengths
- they help my children learn that learning requires discipline and is not always entertaining
- they make it possible for me to teach things in which I have little or no background
- they offer structure
- transcripts and records are easier to keep
- they enable me to teach a large number of children more easily
- they enable earlier student independence
- In most cases teacher's manuals, answer keys, and other teaching aids are available
Many moms have idealistic mental images of what school will be like, but in reality it is unattainable and exhausting, especially with a larger family. With textbooks there is no making trips to lots of extra stores for the materials needed to do school. There is no dependence upon the library to have what we need. It is paralyzing to the flow of school when the library doesn't have what we need when we need it, and it is a common problem because many moms in the area are following a similar purchased curriculum or are focusing on a similar season of the year or holiday and everyone needs the same books. With textbooks there is also only one financial investment, rather than having an ongoing expense. And textbooks and workbooks do not have to be consumed; they can be re-used for other kids as they grow in to those grades - again, a financial blessing. We have our older daughters answer the workbook questions into spiral notebooks (they each pick out their own picture theme/style of notebook which they love), but our 8-year-old son who is in varying grade levels depending upon the subject, just consumes the Lifepac workbooks because he is not proficient enough yet in his handwriting to be copying all of his work to a notebook.
Textbook learning is easily measurable. I know exactly what the children have accomplished, it can be easily checked and evaluated, and I can measure their comprehension; it is objective. The material is presented in an orderly fashion, and chronologically, which makes sense to children and they can easily build upon their learning as they go. Through textbooks children develop good life skills of taking written material and pulling out the key information, then impressing it in to their mind through study, discussion, and projects. Children can become independent learners, which was something I needed our oldest girls to do (and it was time anyway as they were ages 9 and 10-years-old) so that I could devote my attention more to the younger children, their schooling, and to the toddlers and babies. The girls were thrilled to become self-paced, not having to rely upon my time or availability. They were then free to complete their work at their own pace and get it done earlier in the day. We've found that textbooks are not too difficult for slower learners, or too easy for faster ones. A slower learner can take the time he or she needs to master the concepts while still keeping up with the year's curriculum, and it's easy to go back and re-do work they didn't quite grasp as measured by quizzes and tests.
Textbooks have also become associated with classroom problems that parents desire to avoid. But the problems are not necessarily stemming from the textbooks themselves, but rather from the classroom. When the schools take out morals, ethics, character, and prayer - surprise - they fall...apart. We can take the textbooks out of the classroom environment, however, and use them as a tool to provide a beautiful, effective, thorough education at home. This is one mom who, with text books, has become so much happier and accomplished, and so have the kids!
What about learning styles?
There has been a great deal of focus given to learning styles in the academic community: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Focusing on teaching to and purchasing material for such individuality, however, is not emotionally, practically, or financially conducive to homeschooling 9 children. However, parents we've known (and from our own short experience) have been able to teach all of their children from textbooks, not just the visual learners. Auditory learners can read their material aloud or have it read to them; kinesthetic learners always have writing to be done in their assignments and can always do more writing if they need to. Learning styles have actually begun being questioned as to their validity. What do learning styles do for a child who then comes to believe that he has to be taught in a certain way or he cannot learn? Sometimes learning is difficult in life, but people need to learn to persevere, and learn strategies to help themselves learn however material is presented. These skills are learned, habits are formed, and expectations of them selves and others are set during this time. Textbooks have been used in schools for many years and children have been able to learn. In fact, the Bible has been used as a textbook for thousands of years prior to formalized schools. Apparently God intended us all to learn from that and He was not negligent in His understanding of people. When moms feel they have to discover their children's learning style and then have no choice but to acquire materials and time to each each student a specific way this can become an overwhelming burden, and it keeps the students dependent upon her now, and upon others in the future. Learning styles teaching may also lead to parents enrolling their children in public or private schools because they falsely believe that they can't teach their children well enough.
What our school day looks like
Below is our weekly schedule from last fall (how and why we do scheduling) if you would like to see it. For some of you visual learners like myself it might be useful. *smile* (Double click on the photo to enlarge it one or two times if you'd like to actually read it - ha ha.) The dark shaded areas are meal times so that I can easily see at a glance what things happen in which blocks of time during the day; and the light shaded areas are the babies feedings, so that I can see across the span of children what each person is doing while I'm occupied with feeding.
Our days of homeschooling the children include studying math through a great curriculum called Math-U-See, which we have used since the beginning of our homeschooling career 8 years ago, and we LOVE it. The children do history & geography and language arts via Alpha Omega's Lifepacs; the two oldest children were doing LA via the Lifepacs but we recently switched them to Alpha Omega's computer-based learning, Switched On School House (or SOS), for that subject upon their request. Our 8-year-old son has had great success with SOS as well, and he even asks to use it in his free time! So we use SOS for language arts, science, and Spanish. The children study Bible with their NKJ study Bibles, and they play violin taking private lessons twice a month.
The textbook and work book learning happens primarily at the kitchen table for the sake of having nice handwriting, space to open books, for accountability on quizzes and tests, and because the kids always like to "be with everyone" - love that! The older girls also work in their room at a desk sometimes, or at the playroom / computer room desk, sometimes on the back deck when it's warm and dry outside, sometimes in mommy and daddy's bedroom where it's quieter, and sometimes, in December, by the Christmas tree. *smile*
We have some homeschool drawers beside the kitchen table where we keep all of the curriculum currently being used (additional curriculum, like the rest of the workbooks for the year are kept in the playroom on shelves).
The oldest girls with the most curriculum have the large bottom drawer, mom has the next-up large drawer, then upper drawers are for smaller supplies, pencils/erasers/glue/scissors, and math manipulatives. On top of the drawers are more school books, the electronic pencil sharpener, a bucket of colored pencils (love-love these; no ink to get anywhere, and the kids like that pencils don't bleed like pens do), and there's a 3-ring whole punch. We get out school supplies and put them away as we use them throughout the morning, keeping our table free of clutter and maintaining a plenty large usable work space.
We use a 3-foot by 2-foot size magnetic white board to do some teaching, to keep track of what everyone has accomplished in their day with check boxes and to be able to see at a glance what is still to be done without my having to interview people.
We also use it to display some of the children's work, and to keep our sticker charts handy for rewards (see photo below). The children earn rewards for different things: drinking their whole 24 oz. water bottle in a day, sitting on bottoms an entire meal (for those who struggle with this), completing work in an unusually timely way, and anything else I desire to reward them for. *smile* They can earn .50 cents for completing one row of five stickers (equaling $2.50 for the whole chart) or one Jelly Belly (for those who don't realize the value of money yet). Sticker charts can be purchased online for $3.99 for a package of 24 from Shapes, Etc., and stickers for these charts also from the same company.
I also give the children scratch-n-sniff stickers as rewards when they're younger (or if they still want them when they're older) and they complete their workbook page for the day; they used to stick them on the actual workbook page they just completed, but eventually they started sticking them on the front of their workbook so that they could enjoy seeing them accumulate, and enjoy smelling them all each day. These stickers can be purchased online at Stickers Galore, in small quantities($2.29 for 60 stickers), or in a large variety pack (of both pictures and scents, $11 for 435 stickers) which is a couple years worth supply, and very cost-efficient. I wish I still had one of their completed school workbooks to show you that is covered edge to edge with stickers - it's so cute! But here's the beginning of the next workbook's sticker collection. *smile*
You can see on our weekly schedule (above) that the oldest girls school independently. I just check that their work is completed each day, and I correct their quizzes & tests, then I rotate my time through all of the seven younger children, doing school curriculum with some, preschool activities with another, holding time with toddlers, and feedings and snuggles with babies. Our oldest daughter finishes her school very early in the day so she also spends much of her morning helping with the other kids school & activities.
I created a grade sheet to help me keep track of our 7th graders' progress this year (our 11 and 12-year-olds both completed 7th grade this year); each of the girls has her own page. I do not start giving letter grades for the children's work until about 4th or 6th grade, depending upon the child. There's no need, and it can put undo pressure on them. I do always correct all of the children's work and have them redo problems they got wrong, but I don't assign a letter grade to the assignment until they're older. So each of the 10 workbooks for one year has 3-5 quizzes before that book's final test. I grade 30% of their final grade from quizzes and 70% of their final grade from tests, using the typical grading scale: 90% and above A, 80% and above B, 70% and above C, etc. Here is my grade sheet for next year (the math section at the bottom is a completely different curriculum and type of grading).
I hand write into the left column which Lifepac book they're working in (i.e. for 7th grade there is book #701, 702, 703, etc.), and then I record their grades for each quiz #1, #2, etc. (example: 93 pts. - A) as they take them. I then average those point scores and multiply the total times 30% for their final overall quiz grade. When they take the final test for that book I multiply that score of points (total of 100 possible) by 70%. Then I add their final quiz points to their final test points to determine their final points/grade for that book. At the end of the year I'll average their book grades down that vertical column on the end to find their final grade in that subject for that year. The SOS computer-based curriculum keeps track of all of the students grades within the curriculum for me.
I also pull out the final test from the center of each workbook before the student begins that book and I keep it in a clear plastic sleeve in a three-ring binder with my grade sheet, totaling 10 final tests in sleeves for that one subject. When the student is ready to take a final test she just gets the test from my binder and does the test at the kitchen table on notebook paper and then turns it in to me for grading; I then record her grade on my record sheet.
Making time for school
We have found that it is crucial for us to be home during the week in order to complete our school. So much gets accomplished by doing this simple thing! We do school 4-5 days per week, depending upon whether or not we have any fun, unusual plans for Friday that week. We love to take field trips as a family periodically, but our week is not full of outside commitments. Even our wonderful music teacher comes to our home to give music lessons. Also, three of the kids at a time spend Tuesday afternoons at Grandma & Grandpa's house, but we still complete most of our school those days in the morning. And Fridays we sometimes choose to have friends over to visit and play and have lunch; if no one is scheduled to come then we do school, and perhaps add in an educational video documentary via the Netflix online library as a treat. Because we try to be home during the week without filling that time with lots of outside commitments we have time for a couple of these pleasant activities with family and friends.
So here's the beginning of how we do homeschooling. *smile* I hope you'll look forward to part 2 when we will look at: managing our school days, Daddy - how he is involved, Mommy - how I manage myself, and our annual first day of school. And I have a bunch more posts to write specifically for our homeschooling series.
Blessings on your efforts!
My other posts on homeschooling:
Click Here - for more posts on homeschooling
Managers of Their Schools, Maxwell
Managers of Their Homes, Maxwell
Managers of Their Chores, Maxwell
Keeping Our Children's Hearts, Maxwell