Originally Published in 2004
I know that when I started teaching I had many ideas of what I wanted to do with my children and I was idealistic about how it could all be accomplished. I seemed to think that it could all be finished in a couple of hours a day and then my children and I would have the remainder of the day to do anything that our hearts desired. It would leave so much time for us to enjoy one another, do service work, and develop any other area we wanted in our lives.
Step 1: Prioritize
For my younger children this was a realistic expectation. I soon learned, however, that as my children grew, the academic load became more than could reasonably be done in a couple of hours. I had to make decisions about how often I took my children out of the home and for how long. I found out very quickly that, because we live in a rural setting, making a trip took valuable time that we sometimes could not afford if we were to still meet the work load my children were developing. I had to take a serious look at the schedule and decide what could stay, and what needed to go, on our list of activities.
I also found that I had to be disciplined in what I did in the home. The first place in my life that this became apparent was my time on the phone. Often the phone would ring when my children needed me most. I had to make the hard decision to screen my calls until our academic work was finished for the day. I still struggle with this, even when my children are finished with their school day. I must decide to keep phone and computer time to reasonable limits so I can live out my vocation as mother of my children.
Step 2: Organize
When I had received their books, I found that I had to come up with a way to keep their work organized so that we did not lose the assignments that they had completed. I had to designate a special place for each child’s books. I purchased milk crate type boxes with hanging files. Each subject had a file. In the hanging file I placed a pocket folder for finished assignments and the books for that subject. In the front of the crate was a file for their planner and syllabus. We still use this system, although as they get older not all of the books fit in the crate and must be given special designated places on bookshelves. My children know that when school is finished I expect their books and work to be filed in the appropriate places. For younger children, I show them how to put their books on their crate and then I put them away when I pass by their crate as I tidy up the house after school. If I don’t get to this on a given day, well, the books are there, on the book crate, even if they weren’t filed. At the end of each quarter I save work from each subject. I staple their grade sheets with the work I have saved and keep it in a folder. I call this their test folder.
Step 3: Develop discipline
I have also utilized the teacher assisted program in Mother of Divine Grace School to help with organization. My children in the teacher program have their assignment sheet for the teacher in their test folder. The work is placed in the test folder as it is completed. I show the child how to determine the assignments that will go to the teacher and then expect them to put that work in the folder. I must follow up to make sure the child is doing this as we go along. If an assignment is forgotten, I check their folders in the subject area. All work is dated and has their name and subject written on it. Ideally it also has the week # and day # from the syllabus. If not, these are written on before the work is sent to the teacher. At the end of the year I have at least four samples of work from each subject and all 'teacher assisted' work saved in the folder. I save this work and recycle most everything else. It helps me to keep a handle on how much to save and it keeps me organized through the year.
I also found I had to have a way to keep track of what my children had done and a way to tell them of their assignments. Laura talks about “The List.” I used a teacher planner to write in the children’s daily work. Eventually I made and copied my own. These required only a few notations from me to customize them for individual children, which was a real timesaver when there were several children schooling. Now, Laura has the teacher planners that have the assignments in them ready to use for our families (available in the MODG bookstore). I believe these tools, whichever way you may decide to implement them, are essential to successful schooling at home. We must teach our children to be disciplined and organized, but in order to do that we must first have developed this skill in ourselves.
Laura has often spoken about the important of “meeting” with your children. I have a weekly meeting with my high school students. I try to have some sort of daily meeting with my younger children as well. My older elementary students work on many things independently, but I find I must look over their planners daily or we may “forget” an assignment or two. This is pretty easy to remedy if I aim to look over their planners every day, even if I miss a day here and there. If I were to miss a week then I am afraid there would be several assignments that needed to be made up. Eventually this work to be caught up would seem so monumental that the temptation to leave some out would be too great for me. So I look over their planners and initial the assignments I have seen and/or graded. The children highlight assignments they have completed. I grade the work as soon as I am able, throughout the morning, or at the end of the day. When I had a nursing baby to hold I often did office work from my nursing chair. A table on which the children can put their work and the key for me to grade with my grade sheet and a red pen made a desk that I worked from while holding the baby. Daily grading can be difficult but I believe, like Laura, that some areas must have feedback to see how the child is doing. Math and grammar exercises are two areas I find this to be a must.
I also find it important to help my children prepare their work for the teacher. We work hard to not fall behind in the work so the packets can be mailed to the teacher within a week of completion. I teach the children how to copy their assignments before mailing. Recently, I have let them address the envelope to the teacher. They also addressed the return envelope that I put postage on and placed in our mailing for our teacher to easily return the work.
Step 4: Utilize support systems
Sending this work in a timely manner enables the teacher to go over the work and to send it back and have some work re-done if she feels it needs a re-write. This work helps my children learn and do better with each assignment. If I wait until the end of the semester there is not time for the teacher to send the work back for re-writes. My teacher has time only to grade the papers and is not able to work with the child on any areas that need improvement. This is the beauty of the MODG Teacher Assisted Program: getting feedback from another adult, given both to the student and to me as the teacher in the home. I also talk to my children’s teacher. I want to have a general idea of what she is asking of the children so I can implement it at home. I know neither she nor my consultant can come to my house to do this for me, but I am eager to glean any tips they have to give me to make my teaching smoother in the home.
Finally, I want to say that I have been doing this for about 10 years now. I have made many mistakes and still do, sometimes hourly. Some of these suggestions I have described took years to develop. My children are normal children. They forget things and I must remind them. In the midst of their accomplishments they also have areas that need improvement. I have learned that even though I know homeschooling is the best choice for our children, it is not without bumps in the road. I tell people that we all have warts, but in a family we learn to love one another in spite of the warts. I pray for grace every day. I want to walk towards holiness, searching for it in all things. I am afraid holiness is not always what you would find when you walk in the door at my house. I am so thankful the Lord forgives and that He gives us the grace to forgive one another. I am also thankful for MODG in giving such a wealth of knowledge to tap into whenever I have a question. Rest assured that when you have a question, your consultant will find someone who can answer it. This knowledge is like a bank that we are able to draw upon whenever we are unable to get an answer on our own, as well as a huge support for us as homeschooling parents. Please, always be willing to tell your consultant your difficulties. She may not be able to solve the problem for you, but she is often a key in helping you find the resources to solve the problem you may be having. Solving those problems can make all the difference in the world in your homeschool journey. May God walk with you each day as you school your children and lead them to Him.