Friday, May 25, 2012

Big Changes - letting go of MY plans

It's 2012 and we live in Guatemala, so we're surrounded by it. People from around the globe are coming to the land of the Maya to await the fulfillment of the prophecy. Some expect the end of times, others interpret the end of the calendar as the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one full of energetic change.

If I had to choose, I'd go with the second option. I quite like the idea of everyone waking up on the 22nd of December, enlightened and uplifted. Maybe we'll suddenly be able to fly, or see through the matrix, or turn deserts into fertile land through the power of manifestation, end hunger and war forever, fart rainbows, and live happily ever after!

Okay. Maybe not. Maybe it will all go on as usual.

Here, at our house, things have definitely undergone major change over the last week.

I'm cutting our schedule down to the absolute basics. 

Last year was a dreamy homeschool honeymoon of a year. It was cozy, led by curiosity, full of cool projects, very improvised, and relatively easy for Lu. Last year, he was able to do at least 60% of the work by himself. He was confident and proud of himself. He was shining. But this year - 4th grade - is not as easy. He needs me in asking distance most of the time, and he needs me sitting right next to him for a good chunk of that. And maybe that was our problem. Maybe it was too much too close proximity, too many hours a day. 

On the one hand, we were getting so much done. We got through everything twice as fast because we were working together, side by side, and Lu's mind can't wander when all my attention is on him.  If we hadn't been arguing so much about everything, we probably could have finished everything in six months. But that, obviously, isn't the point. And somehow, I lost the plot.

Being right next to each other for most of the day was leading to things like me getting overly annoyed with Lu's fidgeting, Lu trying to push me over the edge, me yelling, Lu yelling, yucky feelings of a day gone down the toilet, and so much frustration for both of us.
But even so, I was excited every day to have another go. Another chance. A fresh start. Today would be perfect. But it wasn't. Quite the contrary. Each day was getting worse. I was keeping track of how long we could manage before getting into an argument. An hour. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. Five minutes. And when we got down to five minutes, I finally accepted that it just wasn't working.

So, for now, I'm letting go of my very elaborate plan for 4th grade and just figuring things out day to day. Lu is doing his language arts worksheets and math reviews by himself, turns them into me, I check, and give them back to him to correct. No conversations about it. No constantly correcting his posture and handwriting. No complaining about his fidgeting. Because I'm not watching him while he works.

We're still having read-alouds together.

This story - The Dragon Who Liked to Spit Fire - was one of my favorites as a child. My mom recently brought it in a box with a bunch of other books from my childhood. It's so fun to read them again, and even better having them read to me by my son now.

We're doing more household stuff like cooking,

This is Lu's latest culinary invention - Cheesy Eggs a la Oregano

chopping garlic and talking about Star Wars 
simultaneously (almost),

and helping out with other household chores.

There's more time for outdoors work too. Here Lu is practicing his machete skills and cutting down the brush on an undeveloped part of our yard. Where we live, boys will start learning how to use a machete at age 6.

And of course, there's more time for the workshop,
one of Lu's favorite places.

He's typing a lot on a kids' forum - which he's loving-, and occasionally writing on his blog. He's doing a bit of spelling and grammar each day. Some math practice, and a bit of independent science reading and writing. He always has a chapter book on the go, and there's no arguing about that because he truly loves his books. He's reading Robin Hood in Spanish now. And that's about it. We've gone from 6 hours a day, on average, of actual schoolwork time, to about 2 and a half hours.

So, I have very little involvement in our current homeschool setup besides answering the occasional question and checking work. For now, that seems to be what we need. And even though it's hard to let go of what I had planned, I know that a loving and peaceful home environment is more important than whether or not we cover Ancient Greece or Multiplying Decimals or European Geography this year. And that might sound obvious, but when you're still new at this, and you've worked so hard to structure your year, and you've been trying to prove that you can, and things don't go as you expected - it can be tough to let go.


  1. Oh wow - 6 hours a day! I would kill my son if I had to spend that much time with him :-) How fabulous that you are able to change tack and go with what works (even if it means relinquishing a bit of control). I've been there! If you saw my "plan" of what we were going to and then what we have actually done, you'd laugh.

    Anyway - I think you are on the right track and I wish you guys didn't live on the other side of the world - I think we have a lot in common :-)

  2. Thanks Ingi. Likewise, I'd love to hang out IRL.

  3. Hey Gabi,

    I loved this post, and then checked out your 4th grade schedule. Your ability to step back and let go of all that organization speaks so highly to your quality of homeschooling. All that great stuff that Lu is doing now - the cooking, the household work, the workshop inventions, learning how to use a machete - all of those are a legitimate part of education too.

    For me, the most important thing I can do as a homeschooler is to instill a love of learning in my kids. The worksheets and tests and texts are things they really won't retain over the long haul; it's the hands-on activities and subjects that they get excited about that will be meaningful in the long run. And downtime is essential to nurture the creative spirit! Don't underestimate that gift you're giving him.

    So I wouldn't say you only homeschool 2 hours each day now. I don't think of myself as an unschooler (I'm far to organized for that, I think), but I do think it's important not to limit our definition of education to the traditional core subjects of reading, math, science and social studies. Art, music, problem solving, logic, language, invention, cooking... these are just as important! If anything, I'd say you've extended your homeschool day, and made it better for both of you in the process. Congratulations!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to share that with me Gwyn. Your kids are so impressive, so I must be on the right track if you agree with me.