Happy January!  Are you excited about five or six more months of homeschooling ?  Yeah, me neither.  Our books are a tad battered, I’m having recurring nightmares about the Quarter Exams That Never Ended, and I just don’t even want to think about all the words my fourth grader has not yet learned to spell.  Plus, it’s cold outside.

When the Only Way Out is Through

It’s the time of year when my inner unschooler shouts, “Go play with icicles!”  I wish I could, but this is not that year.  There are times when taking a break from the routine and rediscovering a love of learning really is the best solution to the mid-year meltdown.  January is a great month to spend curled up with hot cocoa doing read-alouds, or tromping to the museums in one long festival of field trips.  Relaxed-schooling works, and it can it work very well.

That said, having spent the month of December doing some serious discernment, I’ve determined that this is not what my family needs this year.  Different problems require different solutions, and the problem my family has is not that we aren’t geeky enough.  Our trouble this year lies in geeking-out in all the wrong ways.  Here are the three changes we’re making for Q3 of our 2013-2014 school year.

1. Living History, Pen-and-Paper Edition

Are you old enough to remember back when children – even eighth graders! – wrote essays on sheets of white paper?  I found some of this stuff at recent archeological dig – you might have seen pictures: Razor-thin rectangles of wood pulp mixtures, processed into sheets that look sort of like the “page view” feature in your word-processor, only with blue horizontal lines, and red vertical line for a margin, and three holes punched into the side.

We’ll be using those this quarter.  The problem we were facing: Digital drift.  My lovely child sits down to type up an essay, and has to quick check e-mail – Grandma might be sending pictures, and she’ll want to know he received them.  The poor student meant to be doing pages of science, really, but it was so much easier to Google “covalent bond” than to check the glossary in the back of the text book -- and look, there’s his buddy opening a Google hang-out, and it’s a programming question, that’s science, right?

Paper it is.

2. The One-Living-Room School House

I go back and forth on how to organize our home for school time. We don’t have a dedicated school room – we don’t have a dedicated anything-room.  I count it a feat of organizational triumph if I can entertain guests in a room with no artfully-stowed sports equipment in that room.  Yes, there’s a view of the whitewater gear out on the porch, but if the room itself only contains books, toys, microscopes, games, firewood, a pirate ship, craft supplies, kitten food, the map collection, the TV, three computers, musical instruments, and clean laundry hidden in a blanket chest, that counts as a formal-living room, right?

So when the children persuaded me last summer that they should each work in separate rooms, so that they were less distracted, I fell for it.  My second-grader could work in the living room, where I was on hand to answer 10,000 questions.  I gave my two most-distractable ones quiet places: the 4th-grader earned a desk in the girls’ bedroom, and the 8th-grader a desk in the semi-private lucky-to-be-the-only-boy room.  The 6th grader was assigned a nice sunny table by the fireplace, but she kept drifting to the closet that doubles as her cubic feet of personal space – she’s got a light and a fan in there, she’s locked the door and she’s not coming out.

Big fat fail.  Yes, the house was quieter.  Much quieter.  That was my warning sign.  You can do a whole lot of not-quite-school when you’re behind closed doors.

So our purgatory this winter is all four desks back in the living room.  We’ll see how it goes.  At least when they aren’t doing their work I’ll know it.

3. Educational Activities Evicted

Here’s the trouble with my children, and I’ll tell you right now it’s a genetic disorder: They are interested in stuff.  The other day I told my eldest daughter to clean all the not-school items off her school desk.  She managed to remove a pallet-load of interesting books, personal journals, art items, camera equipment, and a few emergency hairstyling supplies from that sunny table by the fireplace.  Still perched on top of her stack of textbooks: Pink felt.  I assure you, pink felt is not part of her curriculum this quarter.

I go through my day in one chaotic work-life continuum, and so do my children.  It is very, very difficult to explain to my second-grader that she really must do her phonics book, even though she has glittery hand-me-down scrapbooking paper shoved in her stash of “school stuff”, begging to be turned into something edifying and educational.  No, really.  The child needs – I mean needs -- to do her phonics book.  I’m the teacher.  I know.

It’s going to kill us, but the not-exactly-school stuff is going to have to be stowed off the desk.

What’s your plan for 2014?

Unless you’re my secret twin, my list of changes for the new year probably looks nothing like yours.  You might have even resolved to do less phonics and more scrapbooking, because your nose-to-the-grindstone Jack was turning into a dull boy.  (Mine were turning into “mere toy”, the other half of that useful proverb.)

I’m interested to hear about your school: How are things going this year?  What’s working well?  What would you like to change?

Happy New Year!

Copyright 2014 Jennifer Fitz