2016 Reset: How to Review, Move Forward, and Regroup So You End the Year “Well”

January is the time many of us hit the reset button. This is a perfect time to assess our homeschooling efforts too. After a holiday, I feel like I have more energy to do this kind of work. My son is almost 4 years and 3 months old, and my younger one is almost 18 months old.

When you set out to do anything, ‘start with the end in mind’. In June 2015, I had already written our Purpose Statement for Preschool, and written down learning targets for this year. Our purpose for the preschool years is:

Above all, the purpose of schooling in the early years (18 months to 5 years old) is to foster and develop the foundation of a lifelong devotion to God, an insatiable love of learning, the habits that lead to a healthy and balanced life, and help our children uncover his or her giftings.” 

Now, we are half way through this school year, so we can see how we’re doing in comparison to my plan.

First, let’s talk about HOW TO REVIEW.

The first thing to do during your review time is go back over your learning targets and check off what you’re child has mastered. Moms, you also want to check with your spouse on his wishes. Part of my review process comes from ‘Biblical Home Education’ by Anne Elliot, who suggests you discuss the following with your spouse:

  • What are his likes and dislikes about homeschooling?
  • What goals does he have for each of your children?
  • What are his homeschooling style preferences?
  • Does he have any specific curriculum suggestions?
  • In what areas would he like to see the homemaking improve?
  • What are his spiritual goals for your family?
  • How does he think your daily routine could improve?
  • What discipline issues concern him, and how would he prefer that you address those?
  • What are his frustrations?
  • What are his priorities for your marriage, your home, and your

There are other questions I’d typically cover as well, such as:

  • What has gone well so far this year?
  • Do I notice any recurring themes to our schooling?
  • What hasn’t been working for us?
  • What spiritual fruit am I seeing in my children?
  • How has the Lord blessed us this season?
  • What character and behavior issues need attention?
  • How well am I expanding my children’s world (this is their exposure to new ideas)?
  • What natural talents, gifts, preferences, interests or learning styles are emerging in my children?
  • What learning weaknesses/ teaching weaknesses am I observing and how will I address these?
  • What areas require more emphasis or energy on my part?
  • What curriculum or materials need reworking?
  • What do I need to sell/ purge/ purchase?
  • What kind of support do I most appreciate/ am I lacking?

Second, let’s look at A SNAP-SHOT OF JANUARY. We’ve accomplished a lot this ‘school year’, however, I just wanted to record a snapshot of one month, for our own sakes. Thus, in the beginning of January, I started writing down the things we did each ‘school day.’ What I’m about to share doesn’t include spontaneous learning, what we cover at our Co-Op, nor my husband’s reading a chapter of the Bible each evening.

Overall. We had two trips in January, plus several bouts of illness, which prevented us from attending our typical co-op for the entire month! Don’t cough when I say what I’m about to say: we only homeschooled 9/20 possible days. I give myself Wednesdays off because we do morning Bible study, really leaving me 16 possible days to homeschool.

God. Of first and foremost importance, we did a devotional 6/12 times this January, and worked on scripture memorization 6/20 times. My aim would be to do 3 devotions a week, and scripture memorization daily. We use three books for devotions: AWANA’s Appleseed lesson book; Five-Minute Bible Devotions for Children: New Testament, by Kennedy and Brady, and illustrated by Wummer; and My Big Book of 5-Minute Devotions: Celebrating God’s World by Kennedy and illustrated Wummer. Our devotions covered:

  • Sin: anything we say, think or do that disobeys God. “Against you God have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight” Psalm 51:4. Micah drew a picture of a person and named an example of a kind of sin that comes from your mind, mouth or hand.
  • Teamwork: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” Ecclesiastes 4:9.
  • Listening, the senses, and obedience: “My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” James 1:19.
  • Faith in Jesus: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” John 3:36.
  • Overcoming fear: “Don’t be afraid… for you are very precious to me” Daniel 10:19a. For this we reviewed feelings flashcards and picked out all the ways to describe feeling fearful, and then contrasted those feelings to the cards that represent how we feel after we’ve prayed and are not afraid.
  • Loneliness, and our responsibility to befriend and include lonely people: “Show mercy and kindness to one another” Zechariah 7:9.

We switched gears in December of last year after trying AWANA for the first time. We learned AWANA is just not happening at the right time of day for my family. AWANA emphasizes scripture memorization, among other thing. In January, we started working on learning 6 scriptures or passages that directly relate to what my older son needs right now. The good news here is my son can complete an average of 15-18 phrases for those six passages, and I am seeing progress. When we first started, and when I started tracking this, he could complete only about 4 phrases. I guess he either heard these passages before, or maybe I started reciting them to him in December. I find these six passages far more relevant to what my son needs. Less, done with excellence, is far more productive for us.

Other. Sometimes we say the Pledge of Allegiance at home, but I didn’t track it, so I don’t think we did it in January.

Chores. He has managed to learn how to make his bed on his own now, and has done this twice this month. He also takes his plate to the sink, and helps vacuum. Putting toys, stuffed animals and books away has become a regular expectation, and he can pick out his clothes and get dressed independently now.

Art, Drama, Sensory, and Field Trips. We’ve done 5 visual art projects this month, 2 drama activities, 3 sensory experiences, and 2 field trips. I really need to give him more variety here using different medium and tools. We’ve done simple things like coloring Dumbo the Elephant and Timothy his friendly mouse friend after reading the Dumbo story, dot art painting, shaving cream in the tub, story re-enactment (ex: Noah’s Arc using Little People), light board art, made the alphabet with our bodies, and worked on understanding perspectives by building a block city and seeing how different it looked when we stood high above it on a ladder. One of our favorite activities this month was we studied some famous paintings with an eye for history and detail.

We are, as always, enjoying outside play, and field trips to places like the zoo, indoor gyms, and yes, even the grocery store (this counts because we discuss healthy and unhealthy food). We started learning how to dance together as part of our physical recreation. We enjoyed playing catch a few times this month, even with the baby. We could always use more of this too.

He’s still enjoying music appreciation and is learning piano basics at our favorite piano teacher’s house, Mrs. Tallo, and our home. We only fit one piano lesson in though, only practiced three times on our own at home, and only listened to classical music three times this month so far. My goal would definitly be to have daily practice for music and more listening. This month we listened to praise music as part of ‘peace time’, and snuggled our pets. We listen to praise music in the mornings too, but didn’t do this when we were out of town. What a nice way to ask God to bring peace back into your home!

Math. Micah did 6 math sessions, 5 calendar studies, and we took time to learn how to read analog and digital clocks. For math, we worked on one-to-one correspondence, played a math game to reinforce number recognition and math symbols (he added and found the right symbols for these problems using a board game called TUF plus our base ten set: 8+1=9, and 7+8=15). We thought it was fun to race cars down a ramp and measure how far each one went, naming who went farther. We worked on the difference between even and odd using stacking towers. He started learning his 3 times table. We learned the more than and less than sign, and played ‘alligator’ math, pretending the alligator had his mouth open to eat the larger number. My son also named what digit was in the ones’, tens’, and hundreds’ place, and used a base ten set to visually represent each number so we could see which stack looked larger. We used a physical calendar to review the days of the week, months of the year, seasons, and put a sticker on each date. We also looked for and anticipated special days for each month including holidays.

Reading. We only did 4 reading sessions, 1 american sign language (ASL) lesson, and 6 writing sessions in January. For reading, we played games. These are games I make up using letter tiles from Bananagrams, the Imaginiff boardgame and pieces, The Logic of English Phonogram Game tiles, letter matching, rhyming, and writing letters on pieces of paper and simply moving the letters around. We are only working on phonics or sight words when we read, so some of the words he read this month are not real words. Here are some examples from four different reading sessions (note: sometimes we only have the attention span and time to read 2 words, and sometimes we got up to 13 words):

  • lit, ran, jab, tuck, ant;
  • off, to, too, was, his, did, God, say tree, in, it, sin;
  • of, gum;
  • cat, kup, nin, qor, sat, tup, con, ket, rag, aug, yon, bet.

I care only that he uses his knowledge of phonics to pronounce the word. For instance, he pronounced 10/13 words correctly in the last set I listed there. Also, when we read for leisure (which is twice daily for a half hour or so), I always point out words for my son to call out. He’s got a great memory, so I really can’t tell if he’s reading or reciting from memory. His memory is the reason we have to play those silly word games… so I can tell if he’s using the right phonemes or not. He knows all his basic phonemes except “u” to which he pronounces “yuh” and there’s one other letter he consistently pronounces differently.

He learned his colors in ASL, though we have to practice more. He got 7/10 correct after seeing the signs only twice, but when I asked him later that day, he remembered only about 4 or 5 of them. If I used the signs more, we’d remember better, but I’m learning them for the first time too!

We switched gears in writing at the start of the new year. I have him writing one phrase from the six bible verses he’s learning now, and sometimes writing his name ‘from scratch’. It’s taken 6 sessions for him to write this: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take.” We only do our schooling as long as it’s fun at this age, and I think he’s doing great. He wrote his name from scratch 3 times this month. We should do that daily.

History. We learned about history 5 times this month. In Story of the World, Book 1, we read pages 73-87. This means we learned about:

  • How life might have been like for a 7 year old boy in Ancient China, flooding, and rice farming;
  • Ancient Africa, the Sahara Desert, why the peoples of Northern and Southern Africa might have migrated away from each other, and read two African folk tales.

When we read from Story of the World, we also look up short videos that demonstrate an interesting area, so we watched rice farmers working, floods in China, and how a parched dry desert looks. We also practiced the Timeline Song two or three times. We should sing our songs more often.

We read a book on America, so we read about what pioneers are, Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark and saw the difference between America and North America on a map.

We learned about Martin Luther King Jr., slavery, and how important it is to treat others how we want to be treated. We learned about Groundhog Day and why we celebrate it.

Science. 4 days we explored science in some targeted capacity, sometimes a few times a day or in a few areas. We:

  • Identified the types of clouds in the sky;
  • Figured out how old we’d be in other planets and why;
  • Floated a planet (Saturn, represented by a balloon) in water and talked about why it would float even though it’s the largest planet by size;
  • Illustrated the parts of the flower and its cycle of life, saw a short video and used our lunch food to make food flowers, bees and honey;
  • Learned how bees pollenate flowers and make honey, how other animals impact seed dispersion and biodiversity;
  • Studied bats including how they live, what they eat, and echolocation;
  • Did a salt and water experiment with a sweet potato and learned how it impacted the size and flavor of the potato when cooked;
  • Took a tour of the International Space Station (ISS), watched a space water experiment and discussed gravity, learned about space-related objects based on the alphabet, pretended we were walking on the moon and how bouncy it would be because of less gravity
  • And finally, we diagramed and learned about the skeletal system of the human body.

Cooking. We cooked twice together. He wanted to make muffins on a whim, so we did. And pizza. Yum! We had a week where we ‘went to France’. We practiced some basic French words, ate like the French with a 5 course meal of small helpings of appetizers, main entree, cheese platters, salad and then dessert while listening to French folk music, or music from a French classical composer. These kinds of food adventures are probably partly why my boys have broad palates. We should cook more!

Games. We’ve really enjoyed games this month. He learned how to play Checkers, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Topple, Crazy 8’s, Go Fish, the Dot Game, and Tic Tac Toe.

Kade. While this is happening with Micah, Kade does what I call baby homeschool which is either doing activities with us, or he does fine motor skill activities (putting golf tees into containers, or sticking toothpicks into herb shakers). We also read board books, and  do bath time which is when I take care of things like cradle cap or other baby-specific hygiene needs. I need to give Kade more opportunities to do messy art and read more books, teaching more sign language to little Kade.

Finally, let me think about what we need more of in the FUTURE. I just finished a book called “Jump-Starting Boys” by Pam Withers, Cynthia Gill, Dr. John Duffy. It emphasized boys needing the freedom to be boys, but also learning how to love reading and writing. My big goal after reading this book, was to find some reading buddies for Micah. We will start our Reading Buddies in February. For this, we simply asked some friends who have families of similar values with older boys, if their boys would read to Micah a little each week. We will see how this goes.

In addition to my smattering of notes in January’s review (which I colored blue so I can quickly scan), I think Micah would benefit from making up more stories with me too, and we should work on sequencing some more. We’ve got to get back on the stick with our penpals! We’ve got to get messier with art, and I want to teach him more about the lives behind the artists themselves, and how their creative process helped build or destroy their character, and how their character impacted their art.

I should get him more familiar with our National Anthem, and keep teaching him about our holidays. We need some field trips where he can meet more community helpers and see what they really do to help others.

For math, we should do more skip counting songs, patterns, and more number line work. We should also do more with counting money and telling time.

We should do more to teach him financial stewardship and entrepreneurship.

For science, he really ate up a “How Things Work Book”, so I need to keep borrowing these from the library, and giving him engineering and experiential tinkering opportunities. Micah asked me to learn all the bones in the body, so I got him a book called “The Human Bone Manual”, National Geographics Magazine for Little Kids, a book called “What is The Animal Kingdom”, and “The World of Animals” from God’s Design for Life curriculum. I plan on using “The World of Animals” as one of those weekly resources we enjoy doing, kind of like how we read “Story of the World”. The other three resources we will read as our whims carry us.

I need to make music practice, and music appreciation a daily routine, including some guided listening.

Lastly, I went to a great homeschool conference today about Classical Education from these wonderful ladies at Gloria Deo, and was inspired and convinced we should start learning some fun Latin songs to take advantage of the automatic memorization machines that 4 year olds are.

In summary, I feel good about the work we did in January, and the fun we had, despite only schooling 9 days, and I am refocused for a great finish.