In this installment of the planning series I discuss how I choose the subjects I will teach this year.
Is there anything more exciting than looking at all of the pretty curriculum catalogs and homeschool blogs and Pinterest boards and curriculum fair materials and thinking about all of the wonderful joyous time you’re going to spend with your cherubic children teaching them all the things?
That is, for the few brief moments before full blown panic sets in and you think “how in the world am I going to teach my little monsters anything at all let alone All The Things?”
Experiencing the bi-polar emotions of homeschool planning is one of the most challenging parts of homeschooling for me. I want to do it all. And I want to do it all in picture-perfect blog-worthy style filled with hot chocolate and hand-crafts and great living books while snuggled up with my precious children on the couch.
It is in my personal nature to have the above picture-perfect homeschool fantasy, realize that that’s never going to happen (at least not on any sort of consistent basis), and decide if it can’t be perfect than I might as well not even try.
That’s not the holiest part of my personal nature.
Over the years I have learned from some wonderful homeschooling moms, both online and in-real-life, that doing a little every day, even if it’s not perfect and even if it’s not “all the things,” can build something truly wonderful in you homeschool and in your family.
And so, as I enter the phase of my yearly planning where I choose the subjects, I take the advice I learned from the great Sarah Mackenzie in her book “Teaching from a State of Rest.”
Namely: Major on the Majors and Simplify the Curriculum.
It’s hard, oh so hard, to take that advice. Because I want to do picture study and composer study and nature study and Shakespeare and a rich science curriculum filled with hands-on projects and all the language arts – grammar, spelling, mechanics, essay composition, dictation, copywork – all of it! I want to fill the days with handcrafts and fine art and rich, deep history unit studies and amazing field trips and music lessons and daily mass and service projects. I want to do it all!
My husband is an economist so he’s always telling me that choosing one thing necessarily means not choosing something else that may be equally good. For him, this is simply applied logic. But to me it is THE great unfairness of the universe that makes me cry out to heaven, “But I want to do it all!!!!!”
Unfortunately, God in His wisdom has not seen fit to provide me with more than the 24 hours a day he has allotted to everyone else, and so I must learn to spend these precious hours wisely. I should not try to cram them with all the things. Nor should I allow them to simply fill up with crap because I failed to plan to fill them with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.
And so, as I plan this year, I am prayerfully discerning what Major on the Majors means for each of my children. I decided to ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in making a list for each of my kiddos for the next year. I didn’t get all fancy about it, I just opened a google doc for each kid and started typing.
I was surprised at how quickly this distilled and clarified things for me. (Not sure why I am always surprised by the good things that come when I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. I really should call on him more often!)
I have a second grader who will be preparing for her first reconciliation and first holy communion this year. So that’s of prime importance. She also needs to continue to strengthen her reading skills – that’s goal number 2. For math, I want her to memorize all of the addition and subtraction facts. Sure, we’ll work on other stuff, but if she knows those facts cold by the end of the year, I’ll call it a success. Finally, I asked what character traits this child needs to concentrate on at this time. I didn’t think long. The answers were fairly clear to me – responsibility and humility.
So boom. There I have it. Four Majors for my second grader. Could I fill up our schedule and stress myself out over at least a dozen other subjects? Yes. And honestly, I probably will. But at least I have this list to come back to and say “if you’re doing this, you’re doing enough. Everything else is gravy.”
Also, now I know that even if I teach her how to knit a sweater and she memorizes all of the presidents in order and she learns to speak fluent Swahili, if I haven’t helped her to improve her reading or helped to teach her responsibility and humility, I haven’t done what the Holy Spirit asked me to do for her this year.
Once I’ve clarified the fundamental goals for each kid, I make a list of all of the subjects I want to teach or feel like I should teach. This includes stuff like science, history, Shakespeare, poetry. This list can end up being All The Things. At this stage of the game, I’m not ready to completely give up on that fantasy. But that’s ok. I’ll get more realistic in the next couple of steps, and I have my list of Majors to guide me.
If you’re interested in what this process yielded for me for this year, stay tuned! These first posts will talk about my process – then I’ll share with you the results.
In the next post I’ll share the process I use to decide how I will plan my year once I’ve decided the subjects I will teach.
In the mean time, tell me, how do you decide which subjects to teach each year?
List Links to other useful posts on this subject:
If you haven’t read Sarah Mackenzie’s posts on Simplifying the Curriculum or Planning to Teach from Rest go ahead and click on those right now. They’ll open in a new window and you can read them now or save them for later. They’re very good and they’ve inspired a lot of my thinking about this.