Throughout our early years of homeschooling, I had a love-hate relationship with the administrative side of things. Thankfully, that has changed (you’ll see how farther down in this post). Now, however, it’s worth pointing out the repetitive cycle I’d been stuck in for so long because I know others are still in it. It went like this:
1) I started by planning the entire year in advance. It’s an approach that gave me great hope that we’d accomplish a lot if we stuck to the program. If only we could…
It was never long before we hit a bump in the road—an illness or a lack of readiness to move on—that slightly altered our course. Of course, “slightly off” at the beginning means “miles off” at the end, so I would take a different approach the next year.
2) That usually meant making plans in smaller chunks (like one semester at a time), and this seemed like a better way to go. However, finding time and energy to plan in the middle of the school year was always a challenge for me. I’d end up winging it and our homeschool experience became minimal and uninspired. Again, it came time to look for a better option.
3) That’s when I’d decide to work from a list of skills, topics, and milestones with no dates attached, and this actually worked much better. The problem here was that, at the time, I had no idea how to mentor in an open, intellectual learning environment, and I didn’t yet have the Mark 12 verses to use as a directional compass. So, without fail, I’d see more highly regimented families around me productively checking off boxes and I’d fall prey to self-doubt. Thinking we should be doing more always sent me back into hyper-scheduling.
This cycle replayed itself over and over for almost 14 years with only minor variations.
Recordkeeping had its own set of issues.
I had systems that would work, so long as I was diligent to correct and log my children’s work each day. But as life got busier, daily recordkeeping turned into weekly which turned into monthly which turned into whenever. Somehow, my perfectly planned systems always managed to crumble and I’d have to play catch-up.
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12).
Things started changing for the better when I began using more of a “learning journal” approach. I would simply note what we did AFTER we did it and then use these notes to determine where to go next. Recordkeeping became a much more pleasant activity of reviewing all the learning moments in our day instead of focusing on distant and rigid goals. Really, it changed the emphasis from recording learning that was planner-driven to planning according to the present need as reflected in the journal. As a result, that tension-causing sense of running, running, running yet always feeling behind disappeared.
What I found is that working this way was neither difficult nor time consuming; it all felt quite natural.
Eventually, however, I thought it would be nice to have some sort of convenient form to keep in a binder as an official record. So, I made a “daily record” sheet that I still continue to use. It consists of a page of boxes in which I note all the learning situations that occurred at any point in the day (or 9 of them since that’s all that fit on the page). It could be anything from the traditional reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic to a history unit , science experiment, Bible study, or a music lesson. But, it could also be an informative video or impromptu discussion that goes deep into some unplanned topic. Anything in which ideas were explored and skills were practiced can be included.
One of my favorite things about this record sheet is that it accommodates the overlap of multiple subjects within a single activity. This does a lot to combat our tendency to overload our kids with lessons in order to cover all the bases, and we can see just how many subjects we hit in either a direct or indirect way. To log this, there is a series of letters that pertain to a particular subject or category of subjects across the bottom of each box. All I have to do is circle any that apply. Easy-peasy.
A=Arts & Crafts
H=History and Geography
L=Life Skills and Social Situations
M=Mathematics (critical thinking/logic)
P=Physical Fitness and Health
My organization and recordkeeping issues continued to improve once I surrendered these things to God and He transformed my understanding of education in light of His word. This learning journal approach to recordkeeping allowed me to see what we were doing, where there were gaps, and what needed more attention and practice. As a mentor, I could then offer support to God and my daughter in these areas with activities, targeted lessons, or field trips. Of course, this did require some degree of planning.
But that’s a post for another day…