Not making it work, just letting it work.
Those of you with children who mostly go along with your plans or who have no need to walk a road made bumpy by learning disorders, may not understand what I am saying. But homeschooling is finally working. I have new ideas this January, but I am not implementing them. I have goals, but I am not making the kids jump through hoops. I did not return to more formal learning this January with a blaze of hope and determination, only to crash several days in with fatigue. You see, it’s just happening. We’re just getting to it. They’re just walking the path.
It’s a whole different world. The way the golden glow of a setting sun suddenly washes over an August landscape scoured fresh by a thunderstorm. No wonder people seemed to be talking about a different life than mine when we were both talking about homeschooling. Sandra’s eyes are strong and all she needs is practice to read at grade level. She reads in the evening for fun; she is reading a book I have never read. That is a wonder. She is eager to work, or at least to be done, to move forward on her path. She likes the work she’s doing to move forward in her education. Tias’ eyes are stronger every week and I hope the vision therapist says soon that we are done and can skip the 5 hours of driving every other week that therapy requires. His force of nature personality is mellowing, the jagged bursts of energy and emotion smoothing out. He is not yet where Sandra is in terms of understanding that homeschooling is something that he does for his own benefit, but things are far more mellow.
Homeschooling is working.
So it was with great puzzlement and more than a little worry that I found myself drawn to a new organization system last week. After all, the problem with a new system is that you’ve still got to implement it; and there’s the fact that a system doesn’t change reality, no matter how much we may wish that it would. Planning has been dangerous for me. As a recovering perfectionist, someone who drives herself hard, someone who has felt her heart break year after year as none of the visions of homeschooling seemed to materialize, I have had to walk away from systems, goals, plans. I have focused on building rhythms so that Matthias is not surprised by what I expect of him. I have focused on building our relationships. I have focused on living richly so that our surroundings and habits might enrich the foundation so that when we were ready to build our skills the ground was fertile.
But I couldn’t stop returning to the file folder system once I had stumbled upon it. And when my friend Wanda said the exact same thing, we knew something was up. So we skated on my backyard rink with the kids after medieval history time and talked. And here’s what I realized: the system is structured, but what you put in it doesn’t have to be. Just because you’ve got weekly folders for the rest of the year doesn’t mean you’re writing lesson plans in ink for November and expecting life to follow through. The system is formal, but it’s just a place to put things.
Wanda and I, in what can only be described as one of the odder flights of fancy a pair of women can go on, were so jazzed by the idea that we bundled our kids into vehicles and went on a group expedition to the office supply store late on a Friday afternoon. Our kids were confused and bemused.
But the system offered simplicity. Clarity. A place to toss the phone numbers you get from the soccer team and the list of good books on gardening you’d like to remember come spring. An external brain. Knowing it’s there, you can toss things into a place and allow the part of your mind that’s worried you’ll forget them or lose track of them to rest.
So how is it set up? I’ve got hanging files for two months at a time, just as she suggests. It is a very logical grouping. July and August just belong together. I’m hoping that the two month span will prove to be a good unit study time frame – long enough to get into things, short enough that it stays fresh and interesting. I love unit studies, even ones so informal the kids don’t know we’re doing them.
Within the month groupings there are file folders for each week. Then I have several extra hanging files: crafting, 101 Things list, household. Those are to hold things that I want to know where they are, things like lists of projects I want to do, knitting patterns I want to knit in the next weeks but haven’t started, estimates for redoing the bathroom, favourite recipe lists so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time I need to make up our weekly plan, lists of phone numbers from volunteer organizations I belong to, etc.
What goes in a weekly folder? Anything I’ve photocopied or printed out for that week – cursive worksheets for Sandra and me, colouring pages for medieval history, Tias’ weekly checklist. I usually have a few weeks of such things hanging out in stacks, and it’s nice to have them sorted and put somewhere more tidy. I have my Weight Watchers’ meeting outlines in there, lovely since I always worry about losing them. I also threw a package of index cards and sticky notes into the crate. Some are reusable reminder cards – library books due, for instance – that I can just move ahead a few weeks as I need to. Others are ideas I don’t want to forget – hike this trail when the crocuses are blooming, don’t forget to plan Tias’ birthday party (which always surprises me in early September). Having the index cards should (based on years of experience with my personality) be better for jotting down notions than making lists. Lists have a kind of compulsion that leads to either overworking myself or heaping guilt on myself.
Within the two-month hanging files I also have some things that don’t belong to any particular week, things like index cards for lists of field trips that might be nifty or books I might want to read. Right now those are blank. But they’re there, reminding me in some way to think along those lines, just patiently waiting to be useful. There are also monthly calendars in there, with birthdays and races written down.
Wanda and I were having so much fun that she invited my crate over for a playdate with her crate. Our children may have been excited to play Mario Kart against each other on the Wii, too. It was interesting to see what we had done differently. She has a 3 week rotation of recipes, for instance, and has all the recipes photocopied and tucked in there. I hope she’ll blog a bit about what she’s done so that I can poke my nose in and maybe get a few more ideas.
As I said, it’s just a place. A place to put things that I need to hang on to, a place to find things when I’m looking, a place with empty lists reminding me that a task or an area of life was something I wanted to pay attention to, and a place to put things like mail to remind me to deal with them more permenently.
Hopefully, a place that lets things work.