Assessing Where We Are

Saint Anne

The first stage of planning for next year is taking an honest assessment of where we are and what is working and what could work better. This is one of those times where having a big family means a lot more work. This is a bit of a time consuming process. You really can’t skip this step even if you are moving from a school environment to homeschool. You just really need to know where you are in order to get to where you want to be.

The first things we are going to decide is if homeshooling is the best option for this child for the upcoming year or should we investigate other options, is the program and/or methodology we have been using working for us as a family and for this child in particular and which subjects are we continuing and which are we not. Once we say “yes, we are homeschooling next year.” I list out the subjects that each child has been working on this year and their extra curricular activities. For example Joshua has been working on Handwriting, Math, Spelling, Reading, History, Science, Grammar and Writing. We do CCD at our parish and Boy Scouts.

These go into my Yearly Assessment Worksheet. Then working across I ask the child their thoughts on the subject, I put down my assessment and if this is a subject that we will continue next year and if so will we use the same text series and what level we will need.

Yearly Assessment Worksheet.

This is also a great time to do a parent interview. We do this from time to time through the year but the end of the year is the “big one”. I sit down with each child and we go through a bunch of questions. The kids know they are free to say anything. This is a time where they can say anything at all and there will be no repercussions of any kind. It is very valuable to be able to see what they are feeling and thinking.

These are the questions we are using. If they don’t have an answer I let them think about it overnight and ask them again. I ask the questions and let them answer and then I hand the questions to them if they want/need to have some thinking time. It is ok to not have an answer.  Once I get the information I have a conference with each child and we talk about things they could do to make the family better.  I never share the specifics of what any child says to another, but we do talk about any themes that are revealed.

Interview questions

Gentle as the Moon · Simplicity

If You Wish to be Loved, Love.

Hecato, says: “I can show you a philtre, compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch’s incantation: ‘If you would be loved, love.'”

Seneca ~ Moral Letters to Lucilius IX.6

My dad has cancer.   This is one of those numbingly painful things that has been pulling my heart and peace to shreds.  So I have been going to back to essentials: prayer and Mindfulness,  a heart turned toward simplicity and Stoicism resting in the peace of Christ.     It has also led to some conversations with family.  Most particularly a very insightful moment with my mom.

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, Caravaggio
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, Caravaggio

We were talking about life – that whole messy business and something clicked.  She was expressing how her whole life she had never really felt loved.   My dad and I were assuring her that she was loved but there was the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff.   I came up with some wholly inarticulate version of “I have been trying to tell you I love you my whole life but you never believe it.”  Which led to her realizing the kind of odd cruelty her own lack of self worth inflicts on everyone who loves her.   No one can ever love you enough that you feel loved unless you have the faith that you are loved.  The only way you feel love is love someone else and have faith that they love you.

With a new appreciation of this truth I see it all around me.  In Seneca’s quote from Hecato. in random articles I read online and in thr Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

It seems that it is always in pain that we learn more about love.  I hope that my mother can see that the truest path to being loved is to love with no regard for any return but to love wholly and Holy and true.


Ten things I have learned over the years about homeschooling.

Carlo Dolci ~ St Catherine Reading a Book


Next year will be our 10th year homeschooling. Amazing how one moment you are the total newbie to this homeschooling thing and the next minute you are at a homeschooling workshop and you are the one with the most experience. How did that happen?

So in the interest of being helpful here are a few thoughts I have gleaned over the years:

  1. Homeschool is not school at home; it is a life style.
    This was the biggest surprise about homeschooling. I don’t remember what I expected homeschooling to be, but I know I was thinking it would be more along the lines of everyone sitting down and doing school work for several hours a day and that would be it. Lo and behold this is not what happened. We do school work for several hours a day, but it might be done at the dinning room table or the living room floor or even outside. Sure, we have time where we do school work, but we also take the opportunity to learn when learning presents itself. Yes, we are that family counting apples in the grocery store.The other aspect of homeschooling that is vastly unlike school is how and why we handle learn metrics. We do not do grades. We work to mastery. If you get something wrong you fix it. We don’t really have “Grade” levels either. If you are spelling at level three and doing math at level seven all is well. You are never ahead or behind you are where you are supposed to be.
  2. If something isn’t working don’t be afraid to switch mid stream.
    There is no shame in stopping something that doesn’t work. I have seen people struggle for next to forever with something that isn’t working for them or their child.  (that could be me)  No matter how much you paid for the program, how wonderful the illustrations are, how much your best friend loves it, how well it worked for your older child – if it isn’t working don’t keep slaving away at it. Beware of sunk cost fallacies playing on your decision making process and find something that works better. This is every bit as important to keep in mind if you are talking about one book, a program, a teaching philosophy or even the decision to homeschool.
  3. Focus the most energy on the things most important.
    You only have so many hours in a day and you only have so much energy to spend. Pick your battles. There will be times – maybe even whole years where life impacts schooling. New babies, family crisis, moving, illness all can impact the day to day schooling. During those times pare back to what is essential to your family and let the rest go for a time.
  4. Each child is unique – their education should be too.
    Work with your child’s strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. Let them explore the things they love but also make sure they have the skills to follow  where their passions lead. Don’t allow your educational philosophy to conflict with your child’s learning style.  This is really hard to keep in mind when  you very attached  to an abstract idea of what the “best” education.  The best education is the one where your child is learning and excited to learn.
  5. Do not expect what you do not inspect
    My kids have a tendency to not do something if they think I won’t look at it. Anything you have asked them to take the time to do should be something that you are will to take the time to go over with them.
  6. Don’t let your expectations drown your child’s enthusiasm
    It surprises me sometimes how things I think are exciting aren’t to my kids and how sometimes they delve into something that I wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes I have also found that if I am overly excited about something it builds it up too much and my children’s natural excitement isn’t allowed to grow.  There have been times where my expectation for good or bad has irrevocably colored my children’s experience.  I am very mindful at this point to hold my tongue as much as possible and not try to set them up too much ahead of time.
  7. Chores and life skills are as important as school work
    We are raising humans. They need to know a wide variety of life skills not just facts and figures. Take the time to teach budgeting, menu planning, auto-repair, sewing and all those things that a responsible human needs to know.
  8. Down time, self directed studies and play are critical
    Model a life of constant learning and expect your children to be learning things that interest them too.  Children need time to learn on their own, to process what they have  learned and to just play.
  9. Less really is more
    There are so many good opportunities, so many things we want our children to see and learn and do it is easy to take on too much. It is much more difficult to pull away from something than it is to have never taken it on. The advantage of not taking on too much is to more fully and deeply discover what is left. You have to leave time for peace and quite, there has to be down time or nothing works well. It is very much possible to overflow our small cup of hours with the deluge of good things that surround us.
  10. There is nothing more important than the relationship.
    There is no subject, no devotion, no class, no activity that is worth more than the relationship the parent and child have. No matter how important something is, if it is constantly causing your child distress or causing you to be embattled with your child it is just not worth it.