Articles for January 2016

New Homeschool Science Year

Midnight.  New Year.  2016.  New Homeschool Year.  And my iPhone started beeping with received messages.

I was excited!  Friends from around the world?  Family?  Son off with college friends wishing younger sister and I a happy New Year?  Nope!  Seven families took me seriously when I told them to contact me in the new year for available spaces in the homeschool science club and their messages arrived within five minutes of the new year.

Mom and Emily in science together.
Mom and Emily in science together.

Science has become my focus for the past decade.  I am not a scientist.  I am into the humanities; literature, history, languages, music etc.  I am a former school teacher for the years leading up to starting a family and was homeschooled for part of my education each year until high school.   Because my public school science education up to high school was filled with clouds, volcanoes, the human body, seasons of the year, and one semester of junior high school science labs, I wanted something more for my kids while we homeschooled.  (Remember, I was only going to homeschool for a year or two, maybe through elementary school.  I had no idea we would go through to graduation.)

My childhood “home”schooling (it was called tutoring in the 70’s to avoid truancy laws) was the result of following my father’s out-of-state job.  Homeschooling was incredible, and I remember more lessons from those months, while school science memories are filled with images of the classrooms environment.  Homeschooling science looked more like a Charlotte Mason discovery, with field trips and journaling.  Those are the foundations that I wanted.

Andrew in the chemistry lab.

Two years into homeschooling, I headed down to our local science museum to see about their homeschooling classes.  None.  They didn’t think there were many homeschool classes out there.  If I could pull together a “class” of 12 students, we could do a private lab, like the field trip school groups.

Done.  In one week I had 24 students in my “school”.  We met for the year, one hour of science each week for 30 weeks.  At the end of the year I had 100 homeschoolers waiting to be on the list.  I offered three classes the next year, six the following, and now have 14 science groups.  Naturally, as we grew, the classes split into age groupings, and I needed to always offer something one age group older as my son aged up and needed more challenges.  However, with a younger sister, I needed to offer younger classes for herself and homeschooling cousins.  And if we were going to be there for three hours, I might as well have multiple classes for my own kids to take advantage of . . . and since the science museum gifted my children free tuition, I was going to take advantage of it.

Definitely it snowballed.  Sounds like a huge mess.  Papers, checks, schedules, phone calls, meetings.  Chaos?  Not really.  I really enjoy administration and organization and I have enjoyed it so much.  If public school was not so tied up with red-tape and rules that limit exploration and independent learning, I might have ended up in administration.

At the museum, I meet the most incredible homeschooling families that have inspired me.  I have also supported families that are struggling to get started, or struggling through a family crisis.  Families come from all types of backgrounds of homeschooling, so we all need to be patient and tolerant of different philosophies of homeschooling — Big Bang scientists conversing with Creationist scientists — careful conversations in front of our children.

How does all this relate to Minimalist Homeschooling?  So many of these families ask me how I do it.  How we are going the long haul for homeschooling.  I wanted more for science than what I could teach from a workbook or in the kitchen, and sometimes we need to look for more with out making it complex.  Let go of what we can’t teach, while deepening what we can.   For myself, it sums up to five key points:

  1.  Keep it Simple — We choose a quality curriculum for each subject.  Not a packaged program in a box from some company.  Each subject is matched up for our child’s learning style and my teaching style preference.
  2. What we start, we finish.  — Before we start a new spelling book or a better/improved/exciting curriculum, we finish what we started.  No reason to do every page, but I try to get every dollar out of what we started.  Keeps this down to a simple stack of materials and a basket of exciting new things.
  3. Don’t keep every book that comes into the house. — We’ve been gifted with treasured handy-me-downs and rejects, but this doesn’t mean they are the right match for our family.  Keep what works, and declutter the rest to recycle bins or homeschool swaps.
  4. Balance the in-home and community activities. — We are definitely not kitchen-table homeschoolers anymore.  When we started, the community homeschool options were limited, but now with the abundance of options we need to be choosy.  What fits with our goals, how much time do we need at home, and when can we double our activities between two kids (ie. both take swim lessons at the same time).
  5. School longer through the year, and less through the day. — We homeschool for about 11 months of the year, but really homeschool four days a week and about four hours a day with academic studies.  (Music and sports are outside those hours.)

Sticking with these guidelines my annual purge of the schoolroom-office was easy.  After several years of eliminating the gifted reject books from others, our schoolroom did not have much to eliminate, just a single paper grocery sack of recycling papers, and four boring text books.

This afternoon will be spent sending out email reminders to the science group, and sending out apology letters to remaining waitlist families wanting to start winter classes.  As much as I enjoy our eight week winter holiday break, I am excited to head back for a chemistry assembly and 12 glorious weeks of letting someone else teach science to my kids.

Have a wonderful start to a new year of homeschooling!  Keep it simple and enjoy the journey.


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