Thursday, January 8, 2015

What's Working and What's New? Our Home School Mid-Year Review

I plan the bulk of our home schooling curriculum once a year in June/July, but each December/January it is time for our mid-year review.   The intent of our mid-year review is to look at the following with regards to our home school:
  • What has been working well?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • What needs to be removed from our curriculum?
  • Is there anything new to focus on? 
  • What specific needs does each child have over the next few months?

 

Pen and Paper

I start the process of our mid-year review by writing out the answers to the above questions.  I think back on the previous semester with an open mind to identify things that need to be changed. Sometimes there may be a particular book or curriculum resource that I was very excited about, but that my children don't engage well with.  I may find that there are some subjects that we never even got off the ground with, and I need to decide whether I will re-commit to working on those or let them drop off the to-do list.

I think about each child and what needs I can identify. Perhaps they are struggling with a certain activity, chore, or skill; perhaps they need extra support in some specific area. I think about each child's current interests and ways that I can direct our schooling to make the most of those interests.

Mentoring Conversations

Once I have written down my own thoughts, the next step is to have a conversation with each of my children to discuss their goals and desires, needs and wants. I write it all down, and this shows the children that their input is valued and important. I give plenty of time for the children to think about what they want to accomplish and what they need.  While I may make gentle suggestions during this process, the children are ultimately allowed to decide whether or not they want to focus on anything in particular.

During the first couple years I was homeschooling, I didn't involve the children in the planning or mid-year review process. One of the many things I've learned while implementing the Leadership Education model in our home school has been the importance of giving my children ownership of their own educations. In the end, the goal of their education is not to cram information into their brains so they can pass a test. Rather, the goal of their education is to prepare them for their own life missions, to allow them to pursue their own passions and lead fulfilling lives.

To this end, rather than me acting as the teacher with my children as the students, I am acting as a mentor who supports my children in pursuing their own interests and fulfilling their own goals. My children are ultimately responsible for their own educations, and this means that their own interests are just as important as my own agenda for their learning. Mentoring conversations are a time for me to get a better understanding of what I can do to help my children in reaching their goals and pursuing their own interests.   

Bringing It All Together

After I've had mentoring conversations with my children, I am able to put together a plan for any changes that will happen during the coming semester. The whole process of our mid-year review takes only 1-2 hours. This is time well spent since it allows us to move into the next semester with purpose and a fresh perspective. 

Results From Our Recent Mid-Year Review

Things That Are Working Especially Well
When I thought back through the curriculum for the last semester, three things really stood out to me:
  • Circle Time  - Our once-a-week Circle Time has become a very special part of our schooling.  It gives the children and myself a chance to connect through poetry, singing, and movement. (Let me know if any of you are interested in more details about what our Circle Time actually looks like.)  
  • Chores - Children working alongside parents is an important part of Leadership Education in our home.  In the last semester, I focused even more on chores (and implementing Teaching Self-Government techniques), and the results have been beyond my hopes. My children are doing more and more chores, and as they have settled into this, I have found that they get much enjoyment in being able to contribute to the household in a concrete way.  My children are becoming more and more helpful over time, spontaneously offering to help and (most of the time) helping in a cheerful way. 
  • Little Britches Series - My husband has been reading aloud the Little Britches series in the evenings, and these books are absolutely fantastic. These autobiographical books tell the story of an early 20th century family from the perspective of Ralph Moody, who was a real firecracker of a boy. Through the backdrop of these books, we are having many meaningful conversations with our children about family, work, money, love, and responsibility.

Changes to Our Existing Curriculum
I've identified two areas of our curriculum that need to be changed:
  • Chemistry - We are loosely focusing on Chemistry for our science studies this year (in addition to Nature Study, which is an always-present part of our science curriculum). Although I have tried two different Chemistry read-alouds, neither of them seems to be sparking much interest in my children.  However, my children have been greatly enjoying chemistry-related science experiments from Adventures with Atoms and Molecules as well as More Mudpies to Magnets. Since my children are still rather young, it is more important that they find chemistry to be interesting than that they learn lots of facts about elements and molecules. For the coming semester, I will ditch the Chemistry texts and focus only on the experiments. 
  • Spanish - While I had intended to make Spanish a regular part of our homeschooling this year, it has just not happened. I've decided that, with so many other things to focus on, I am going to let Spanish fall off the curriculum list for the remainder of this year.

New Curriculum for the Coming Semester
I have found one new resource that I will be adding to our curriculum:
  • Art and Music Appreciation - One of the things I love about Charlotte Mason's approach is the focus on exposing children to the beautiful things in life, such as music, art, and poetry.  Up until now, though, I have never found a simple way to include these into our regular schooling routine. I recently found a fantastic resource that provides a weekly dose of beautiful art and classical music at the blog All Things Bright and Beautiful. With this resource, each week my children and I will be observing one new painting and listening to one new piece of classical music.

Surprises from Mentoring Conversations
Both of my children had some good insights and surprises for me during our mentoring conversations. 
  • 7&1/2 year old daughter Alina
    • In addition to pursuing the interests I already knew of (fairies, unicorns, horses, dinosaurs), Alina set a goal for herself to learn more independent cooking skills. I had not realized this was something she wanted to learn right now.
    • I suggested that Alina might want to work on correct capitalization and lower-case usage in her handwriting.  She decided not to work on this because she doesn't particularly enjoy writing now and thinks that practicing this skill would make her enjoy it even less.
    • Alina wants to have pet roly-polies to take care of. She agreed to share the ownership and care of these critters with her brother (who has a love for all insects).
    • Alina wants to have a garden of her own.  We moved to this house a year ago, but have not yet had a good place to use for gardening because there are so many rabbits here. Building a rabbit-proof garden enclosure is on my list of tasks for the coming semester.
  • Nearly-5-year-old son Ian
    • In addition to learning more about his obvious interests (cars, trains, trucks, construction equipment), Ian wants to learn more specifically about how things are made and assembled. He identified specifically wanting to know how our space heater, doors, and steering wheels are made.
    • Ian asked to start reading lessons about 6 months ago, but in the last couple months he has been less interested in doing these. During our mentoring conversation, Ian commented that he wants to do reading lessons more often now because he has noticed that he will "say the wrong word" if he hasn't been practicing regularly.  I thought it was interesting that he has realized that regular practice is needed to keep building on his reading skills.
    • Ian seemed very excited that I was writing down the things he wants to learn about. He started to get more and more enthusiastic during our conversation, and started naming all sorts of things he wants to know about: clouds, stars, plants and how they are planted, gigantosaurus, asphalt pavers, semi-truck fronts and trailers, airplanes... the list went on and on. It was great to end on a high note, with his enthusiasm being well-kindled.

Not Just for Home Schoolers

Mid-year reviews are not just for home schoolers. Any parents who are fostering a love of learning could benefit from periodic planning and mentoring sessions. These are wonderful tools for focusing our efforts on the things that our children need and desire in order to find their own personal missions.  

Do you have a mid-year educational review? Do you like the idea of being a mentor to children rather than a teacher?

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

i'd love to know more about how you do circle. thanks!

MamaWestWind said...

Aw, love hearing about Ian and his enthusiasm, it's so sweet to hear what they kid's are interested in. It's so true that a mid-year review is not just for homeschoolers. I want to make sure that my boys are learning about what they are passionate about at home. I think this helps them to see that learning is fun and happens all the time. Trips to the library and lots of reading in the evenings will be apart of our routine.

Sarah Smith said...

Even though your boys are at school now, I'm sure you do a great job of supporting their interests and making education a fun, interesting time at home. Your boys are such sweet little beacons of childhood to me.

Alexandria said...

I'd love to know more about your circle time!

Sarah Smith said...

Since I've had multiple requests for more information about our Circle Time (here and on the TJED Facebook page), I'll be blogging about that soon!

Angela said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the American Chemical Society's "Middle School CHemistry" program. It's all free and amazing. You could easily modify the lessons to just do the experiments, which are simple and use household items. I highly recommend it!!!

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'll look into it!

Liz said...

I always enjoy your homeschooling posts! Thanks for the inspiration.

Sarah Smith said...

Glad you found it helpful!

Elicia Gregg said...

Sarah - I think doing a mid-year review is such a cool idea. I might incorporate that into what we do here at our house.