Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mid-Year Evaluation

Since I don't have a bureaucracy breathing down my neck, I decided to give myself a teacher evaluation.  So, how have I been doing since the fall?  Here is what I have learned.

Lesson #1  Not enrolling the children in outside co-ops for the fall was a great decision.  It gave us all some time to settle into our work after a long summer break.  I had the time to really delve into our curriculum to see what worked and what didn't.  If we jumped into co-ops right out of the gate in September, it may have taken us a lot longer to discover this.  More importantly, sports schedules coupled with multiple co-op classes would have surely led to burnout for me.  As spring approaches, and basketball season winds down (King Man plays for 2 leagues), I am ready to add in more outside cooperative classes.   

Lion Heart can spell Stop and host of other words!

Lesson #2  Don't take it personal, especially not with a 5-year-old.  I spent the entire month of August planning out a Montessori-inspired experience for Lion Heart.  The first Monday of our homeschool and each day after I was met with resistance every step of the way.  His actions told me what his words could not: "my creative spirit and exuberance would not be squelched by your lesson plans!"  I was so angry and frustrated with him until I remembered that I unschooled King Man until age 7.  More importantly, Lion Heart and King Man are two very different children, almost at opposite ends of the spectrum.  So I set aside my plans, continued with his drumming and violin lessons, field trips, reading, lots of reading, and all was well.  I re-introduced my "plans" after the new year and amazingly Lion Heart is more receptive.  He now has a budding interest in spelling and teaching himself how to read.  I'm going with his flow and loving it.

My #1 Goalie

Lesson #3  Surrender to what is.  My life is not what it used to be.  Because my husband is disabled, I sometimes feel like a single mom.  In early morning moments of clarity, I am able to find peace and reasons to be grateful.  I was able to combat my resentment about being the only activity-chauffeur with a simple change in attitude and mantra: I am blessed to be able to help my children cultivate their gifts.  I make it work for me by doing my grocery shopping during soccer practice.  I found a yoga class that meets the same time as King Man's drum class.  Amazingly, after I surrendered, I began to meet more moms who wanted to share in the joys of cultivating the gifts of their children too. Translation:  Carpools!  I have a carpool for  drumming on Fridays so that I can attend Lion Heart's basketball games.  I've even found time to carpool two other children to basketball practice with King Man.  I'm just paying it forward.  Recently, we had a rare Saturday - no games, no music lessons, no NOTHING.  How did I spend that time? I rolled up my yoga mat, tiptoed out the door, and headed off to a free yoga class.  Surrendering has brought me great joy.

Lesson #4  Teach them to Learn how to learn:  In my training as a tutor with Applied Scholastics, I learned the concept of teaching a child how to "learn how to learn."  It dawned on me one morning as I became frustrated with not completing all of the lessons on King Man's daily schedule that I was missing the point.  If King Man can "learn how to learn," he can teach himself anything that I missed.  All of the tension and knots in my neck immediately disappeared.  Instead of rushing from one assignment to the next, I now spend more time talking about how to approach learning, why it's important and how it relates to his life.  The academic task are now secondary.

Saturday African History Class

Lesson #5  If a child doesn't have a sense of himself in the world, his education is meaningless.  After Saturday morning sports and music lessons, my children participate in what I call "positive action culture school."  The class, Blood is Thicker Than Water: African History and Politics, focuses on Africa and our historical connection and responsibility to the land and it's people.  When I first told King Man that we would be taking a history class on Saturdays, his reaction was that of a child whose PS3 had just been dropped out of a window.  While he still grumbles, he is learning a great deal more than I could ever teach him from someone who is living what he is teaching.  That is a lesson in itself.  I somehow know in my heart that what he is learning in class will make him a better husband, father and man in his community.  He is learning how to make history.

Living History Books
Lesson #6  Take Your Time.  I have to remind myself that I am not a school and our learning does not have to fit into a set number of weeks.  The history that I have chosen is African-centered, meaning we learn about the world from the cultural and political perspective of African people throughout the diaspora.  What this means in terms of curriculum is that living books have not been written to be consumed in a school year.  We have to take our time to really understand what history means, why it's important and how it's relevant today.  Now we take the time to discuss the topics that come up during our readings, instead of rushing to complete the unit. I still use Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool through High School by Rebecca Rupp to make sure we cover certain bases.  But, my new philosophy is "grade level and above for math and language arts, organic learning for everything else."  It may take us a couple of years to get through the bound volumes of Grace Abounding and Journey of Liberation.  But when we are done, it will be a solid foundation, not a rush job.  This is a benefit of home education.

Lesson #7  Know when to fold 'em.  As hard as it is to swallow, I may have to sell some curriculum that I have not used.  I look at it every day and tell myself that King Man and Lion Heart have to finish it because I paid for it!  Un-used curriculum sitting on my shelf bugs me. But if it doesn't work, it just doesn't work. There's no way to get around it.  So I've decided that the proceeds from the sale of the curriculum that doesn't work will go towards the curriculum that does.  Yes, it took me 6 months to accept this reality.

Lesson #8  Chores are a part of homeschooling.  I work part-time outside of the home so our "school day" has to end around 2pm.  This means I have to make lunch and dinner at the same time or we don't eat.  Initially, I saw meal prep and as an intrusion on my homeschooling time.  Now I see it as a very important part of life skills training for my children.  A clean house and having healthy meals to eat are just as important as learning math, grammar and history.  So we all chip in to make it happen in a timely manner.

Lesson #9  Switch it Up.  Homeschooling, just like anything else, can become monotonous.  When I start to feel bored and they start to misbehave (a sure sign of restlessness) I announce something that the boys love to hear: it's film school day.  We utilize our Netflix membership to watch films on topics we've been studying.  Recently, we watched Nubia: The Forgotten Kingdom after reading about Nubia in our Classical Africa text.  Now the word Ta-Seti, which means "Land of the Bow" has so much more meaning for King Man.  Film days also make it easier for Lion Heart to learn alongside his brother.

Lion Heart practicing Bow Pose or Dhanurasana

Lesson #10  Start with the Spiritual.  This has become so vital to my being the best mom/teacher I can be.  The days when I start off with yoga/meditation or exercise, I am much more effective the entire day.  I also leave out the yoga mats so that upon rising, both boys can hit the mat.  Afterwards each has to start the day giving thanks and reading a devotional.  No matter how late we get started, if we begin with the spiritual, we are off to a positive and productive day.

Conclusion:  I've done pretty darn good.  I've learned some valuable lessons and I'm finding the time to take better care of myself.  I'm working smarter and possibilities are opening up because my focus is on being grateful as opposed to lack.  Most important of all, I've learned to relax.


  1. WOW Monica!!! You are always such a wealth of information! Thank you so much for sharing! I thought I could take a glimpse of your blog and get back to it later, but as I began to read, I can't stop. Then, I just have to check out your links and then continue reading....then stop and go to another interesting link and so on and so on! :-)
    I must get the information on how to sign up for the tutoring with Applied Scholastic. Did you do an individual or group training? When and where? I went to their website and there are several options. I want to do what you did.
    Also, I just added this book, Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool through High School by Rebecca Rupp to my Amazon list and placed a hold on it at the library. :-)
    I love your "new philosophy..."grade level and above for math and language arts, organic learning for everything else."

    You can try selling the unused curriculum on Ebay and on Craigslist.

    I usually make breakfast and dinner at the same time. Usually we would be out during lunch time. Sometimes I do make lunch and dinner at the same time too.

    Kudos to is so important for us to take the time to take care of our OWN self and RELAX...I'm working on that...

    1. Hi Oforiwa,
      I need to figure out a meal plan that works for my family as well. I am definitely in timesave mode. Taking time for myself is also another area where I need to focus more of my attention. Miss you and hope all is well.


  2. Hi Monica,

    I too did an evaluation and decided not to push so hard because as homeschoolers we are flexible, and as you said something met with resistance today may be welcomed in a month or so. I use Rebecca Rupp also as a framework but I am having a hard time coming up with anything from an african centered perspective for history. I have also decided to ditch some things because they are not working and due to time constraints because I work outside my home as well. Anyway thanks for sharing this and I will be taking some of this advice for my family.

  3. Hi Monica!

    This is such a wonderful post! You never cease to provide invaluable information and you are such a gem. I am successfully homeschooling at night and on the weekends. This is in part due to your posts and emails. I just don't know how all this would have panned out without you.
    Thank you dear.

    Best Regards,

  4. Great post! I'm going to re-read this one a few times to take it all in. Thank you!