An Extreme Home(School) Makeover

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Homeschooling can be the hardest and best of teaching jobs. But, mid-year we often need a little boost and perhaps even an Extreme Home(School) Makeover.

Twenty years ago, I set myself on a course to be a teacher. I was 19 and really wanted my life planned out. {chuckles} Little did I know back then….

Since my parents were teachers, it was definitely something I knew well. The teacher culture is unique just as is the policeman culture or that of the fireman. There’s verbiage and customs that ring true all across teacherdom. So choosing to be a teacher felt very natural.

Four years later I had a Bachelor’s, a Master’s and a teaching credential. Despite slim pickings in the local job market, I had also secured a teaching position two days AFTER the school year started. That first year I taught two different courses: American Literature and Beginning French. The year after that I had five preps (meaning five different classes to plan, teach and grade), more than one troubled student, several pairs of illogical parents to deal with, and a very stressful day.

Once I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t wait for our first baby to be born so I could “retire.”

Ha! Little did I know then that God would set us on a path, even during that last teaching year, to teach our children at home. By the time my newborn was in my arms, I was of the mindset that I would be his teacher.

And I have been. And it’s been the best teaching job I ever took.

It’s also becoming the hardest. For those of you who read my Getting Started in Homeschooling series last summer, you’ll know that this year I’m teaching five of our children at home while keeping the sixth one happy and out of trouble. Definitely a new pitch to my learning curve.

Almost halfway through our year, I’m dragging. This is hard! And I’m not doing it well! Ugh!

Yes, I know it could be just the winter blues, but I live in CA! Bad weather is not my excuse. My zest — and theirs — is missing. A friend mentioned that everyone struggles mid-year. That is good to know!

But, I don’t want to limp along the next 4 to 5 months. I want to reclaim my love for teaching and learning. And I want my kids to be able to welcome each new school day with fewer whines, groans, and complaints.

So, I’m embarking on a new project in these last two weeks of the semester:

An Extreme Home(School) Makeover

Yes, really. I’m going to live a better story with our school. Or at least try my darndest. After all, today is a new day.

I’ve only seen that Home Makeover show a few times. The Keeper of the Remote (also a carpenter) always rolls his eyes and moves on. But, I’ve seen it enough to identify these steps.

Even if you don’t homeschool, maybe you’ll be able to apply them to your current challenge.

1. Acknowledge that something isn’t quite right.

For me, I know that we’re not energetic or efficient. So, I ask myself: Why are we doing this again? What needs fixing? Redesigning? Refurbishing?

2. Gut the place.

While I’m not going to ditch everything, hubs did encourage me to entertain all opinions and options. I will confess to being biased in a certain direction, but I am trying to have an open mind in terms of teaching approaches. There are some structures I know I’m keeping in place and others that I’d be okay with tearing out.

Having survived more than one physical home remodel, I know that living with “the bare bones” for awhile is a good way to get perspective.

3. Seek outside opinions.

I emailed my list of homeschooling mamas I admire and respect, who also happen to be flung all over the map. As answers come trickling in, I’m learning that I am not alone. This is a hard job, but it’s nice to know there are others working to make it be one of the best. I’m determined to push through and learn from the challenges.

In addition to reading their emails, I ordered some books and have scheduled some reading time next week to do more research. I’m also visiting homeschooling sites and forums for more inspiration and to gain perspective.

4. Design.

This is the fun part. And I’m eager to start afresh somewhat. Find new books. Explore new field trips. Add some pizzazz to our days.

5. Be willing to call in subcontractors.

Last semester was the first time that we ever outsourced some subjects. And they were/are great experiences. We love the online Latin class as well as the local science lab class we enrolled in. I’m trying to keep my eyes and ears open for other opportunities for outsourcing.

6. See it through to completion.

This is the hard part. In the immortal words of Calvin, “The days are just packed!” But, I am dedicated to giving my kids a fun and enriching learning experience at home. I think we’ve seen success in years passed. This year just takes a little more tweaking than others.

Obviously, this is a work in progress. I don’t have any real answers or tricks, but I’m very excited about this little “remodeling” project. I have no idea where it will end up. But, I don’t want to wait for things to change. That was just plain depressing….

How do YOU reenergize how you spend your days?

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  1. You’re totally living my year. Our 4th baby was born last may with unexpected serious health concerns. She had surgery in Oct and will have another one in March. The stress has made our homeschool year unproductive and no fun! I totally revamped our curriculum this semester, adding more Charlotte Mason (living books, field trips, art, music) to our classical curriculum (which had sadly become not much more than workbooks). It has helped tremendously! Good luck!

  2. Yes, a makeover is a great idea. We’ve actually had a major revolution around here, and I’m so busy with it that I haven’t written much about it. Hopefully today.

    But we’re all much happier and we’re learning more. Yay for changes in midstream! I hope your changes work for you.

    And don’t forget, teachers have professional development days; don’t forget to use some of those if you need extra planning/thinking time! LOL


    Annie Kate

  3. I am “retired” from homeschooling my kids (and a lot of other kids, too). I tried conventional schooling (desks, textbooks, etc) and got burned out fast.

    Then we switched to using original source materials, biographies, and historical novels (instead of textbooks) and approached learning from self-designed “unit studies” that covered all subject matters.

    When studying ancient Rome, for example, we tried tossing discus, spears, etc. Then we marched a couple of miles at the normal army speed (15 min/mile), while carrying backpacks (not as heavy as the originals). The kids learned great respect for the Roman armies.

    I found online sources that taught how our state builds roads. We compared that to how Romans built roads (that are still usable today–without potholes).

    We did math using Roman numerals (which both taught the numerals and gave great respect for the invention of the zero).

    We did science experiments based on the knowledge the ancient Romans had and compared their knowledge of medicine to current medicine.

    All of us (including me) learned a lot. Everyone stayed engaged (although frustrated doing math!) and no one has forgotten a thing learned.

    Since I homestead, we followed the same process when it was time to garden. We did a unit study on native Americans in the area and planted, grew, harvested, and cooked the crops they grew. This was side by side with modern organic methods in deep beds.

    Guess which method was preferred? The native American method won out because everything was done as a group, with singing, ceremonies, and feasts. The modern method tended to be done by individuals, without any ceremony, and felt like just plain work.

    So I would urge you to consider unit studies, starting with the subjects that most interest your kids, then work into things they need to know. (It’s really easy and they usually don’t even see that they’re

    I promise this method produced lifelong learners whose college professors were wowed by their incoming level of knowledge, ability to think “outside the box,” and skill sets beyond just reading, writing, and math.

    Oh, we did use outside sources, as well. We started science with physics. First thing we did was go to an amusement park. Then we came back and learned how and why the various rides worked (from a physics perspective). Then aeronautics, getting a neighbor with a plane to take them up over our home and show them exactly how lift is achieved with wing shape. (The neighbor was former air force, so they learned much, much more about different planes, with trips to the local aeronautic museum.)

    Field trips were also weekly affairs (related to the unit studies), as was a homeschool band and basketball league.

    Go for it!

    And yes, you need planning time and days off. We live where there is winter, but we took no snow days. Instead, we took “sun” days off when the weather was wonderful. You might consider doing the same. It can be just the tonic you need to get going again.

    By the way, we got rid of desks after week one. Work was done wherever was appropriate. Reading took place on the couch, cuddled together, projects wherever the surfaces would handle our materials, etc.

    (And if you have a reluctant reader, have them practice reading to a dog. If you don’t have a dog, visit someone who has a gentle, quiet animal. It is easy to teach a dog to place a nose or paw on one of two books offered. Then you ask the dog, “Which book do you want to hear?” The dog “picks” a book, and the kid buys in to the idea the dog wants to hear it. Dogs don’t give criticism and make wonderful listeners.

    1. Thanks for your suggestions. Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun! We do do unit studies of a sort, but I need to include some more of the hands on kind of stuff.

    2. Around here (Twin Cities area in Minnesota) there is a “Paws to Read” program that is held in various local public libraries, where you can sign up your children to read to a dog. That might be an option for some readers to look into as well.

    3. I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Penn State, and this is exactly how I learned to teach. Unfortunately, when I became a part of the public school system in Pennsylvania, these wonderful ideas were squelched in favor of No Child Left Behind and teaching to the state’s standardized tests.

      I started homeschooling the way I taught in school, but we’ve quickly moved toward unit studies. Fully integrated unit studies activate so much more of the brain than the traditional compartmentalized approach. Plus, it’s much more fun and more interesting.

  4. I too practice mindful retooling each Feb.- Mar. Our fall and winter rhythms look so different. And our energies come in from the cold. We currently have four scholars at our house and I will tell ya, its a balancing act. I’m blessed to have “bigs” to help fill in some blanks for me. Keep up the great work- we moms have to stick together!

  5. I don’t home school and all of mine are high school and college … but we still seem to hit “bumps” in January. We re-evaluate homework routines, whether extra help is needed, what courses to focus on next year … just how to get re-energized about what we’re doing. Good Luck!

    1. Interesting (and helpful) to know that it is a “universal” problem. Thanks for the encouragement.

  6. This is so our family!!! I started homeschooling 2 of 4 kiddos in Jan. 2009, so I didn’t feel “the pain” until Christmas time 2010. But this school year I’m taking action! I decided to take our school year – all year. 3 weeks on, 1 week off. While we are off, have fun, do our science projects, catch some bugs….School/learning isn’t all about sitting at the kitchen table, with our noses to the grindstone. I can’t wait to follow you and learn more ways to beat this for our family too. I love your blog and appreciate your honesty. Glad I’m not alone!!

    1. I was wondering if I was the only one who had struck upon the “3 weeks on, one week off” idea. Glad to see someone else uses it too! It’s great for scheduling field trips or other fun (or not so fun) things that tend to disrupt the flow of your school week. Gives you a chance to catch up on household projects or go for an extended trip to grandma’s, too! This is my favorite way to give us all a shot in the arm, regardless the season! 🙂

    2. One year I tried the 6 weeks on and 1 week off (I think that’s what it was), but we got all messed up. It was too hard to get back to things after the week off. But, I think it’s great to try different schedules until one fits!

  7. I had been going through the same sort of thing back before Christmas. I decided to take off the whole month of December and to use that as a time to regroup and reflect. I looked at what subjects *I* was less than enthusiastic to teach and the main one was math. We were using Saxon, and although it worked great when the kids were younger, it was causing a great deal of frustration for all of us. I bought some cheap Spectrum and Instructional Fair workbooks for us to finish out this year. (The kids are 11 and 14.)Low and behold, the kids love them. Who knew?!? They ask to do math now. I’ve also been letting them work on their own schedule a bit. One is a fairly early riser and she’s been doing some of her work independently (with me checking behind her) before we are even awake. This gives her more free time later. My son is night owl. He finishes up his work when we are crashing and totally over the day. 🙂 Right now, this is what is working for us. I’m sure it’ll change a million times before this journey is over. And that’s OK. We are blessed to have that flexibility.

  8. This year I have planned 9 weeks and then take 1 week off to plan the following 9 weeks. That has been a nice reenergizing and reassessing time for my homeschool.

    1. So good to hear of another schedule pattern that works well. Do you have any problems on reentry?

  9. I too have had a surge of energy in the direction of changing things up a little! Your post is very timely for me, thank you! It was just the pep talk I needed!

    1. Oh, us Californians need to whine together in a corner. Hehe. Our house stays so cold that we have the thermostat set for 65 and it’s running half the day anyway. Even if it’s warm outside.

  10. The thing that’s helped our “slump” is my mom coming from Minnesota for 4 months. I have her work with the kids in different areas (multiplication tables, reading, spelling, bible memory). She feels useful and it helps to get another person’s perspective on things (I have had two kids who have/are struggling to read and it helps to get another opinion on what is going on).

    This year I’ve been doing research on auditory processing issues (what seems to be dd2’s issue) and have ordered a bunch of stuff in hopes that it helps get her to reading well. Also, when I’m planning my year I make 2 lists of curriculum/books. One for fall and one for spring. After Christmas I order those books and just getting that box of goodies brings some life back into our schooling.

    1. What a great boost! So glad to hear your mom could come visit. Fun! And I agree, now that two boxes of books have arrived, that does help.

      Thankfully, I didn’t buy a ton in the fall, so I’m not burning up all our cash.

  11. Good for you for having the courage to admit (publically, on the internet!!!) that things aren’t working. And even more, for having the courage to CHANGE. So many people get paralyzed and are too fearful of change.

    I don’t homeschool but a few weeks ago I had a huge ephinany about my professional teaching (private cello lessons). Namely I need to give it up for awhile. I haven’t been at my best in awhile (ok, since my 5.5 y/o was born) and while trying to set goals for 2012 I realized how unmotivated I am in terms of putting in the work to make my teaching better. That was a big red flag for me. Thankfully I came to this conclusion while I still love all my students. Unfortunately this makes stepping away more complicated but if I’m going to praise you for courage I should show some myself, eh?

    1. Well, you know what they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. 😉 How are you doing in your changes?

      1. Well, it’s complicated. I’m pretty much committed through May. This is good because it gives us a few months to adjust to the income drop, find someone to take my students, and talk to my colleagues as I have an administrative position with the organization where I teach. Including handling the money and my husband managing the website. Then I need to work through the details of a few other projects I have ideas for. Nothing can ever be simple, eh?

  12. It takes courage to review your curriculum mid-year. Besides the economic investment you have made, there is the “being right” factor — no one likes to say they did not choose wisely. It is important to go ahead and make the necessary changes so that you can enjoy your school with your kids. I know I have wasted time because I didn’t want to waste money — and that was a poor decision. I will be interested to see what decisions you come to with your review.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement! I figure boredom and “hating school” are bigger prices to pay. AND the resale season is JUST around the corner! 🙂

  13. I am glad you posted this. Not glad that you are having a rough time, but glad to hear that someone else struggles too. Our local group of moms is having the same issues and it is good to know we aren’t the only ones.

  14. Thanks so much for your candor. We’re seriously considering the change to HSing. Although I’m a former English teacher and hubs is a former history/social science teacher and current professor in a local university’s school of education (talk about being invested in “the system”), we’re becoming more and more convinced that the traditional system is not working for our munchkin. Your honest posts have been so helpful.

    1. It’s not the easiest job, but I do love it. Last year we considered other options (Christian school, charter) for our high schooler, and came to the same conclusion: We wouldn’t have it any other way. Good luck with your journey!

      (By the way, folks in the university system, at least here in San Diego, are very friendly and welcoming to homeschoolers. I think they get it.)

  15. I confess we havn’t homeschooled all our children all the time… but, what worked for us may be useful for others: “less is more”…We have brought our boys home to learn at different times when the system really, really wasn’t working for them. In both cases, the boys needed to sort of incubate and nest, so our formal work was very minimal (math, composition), and we made a lot of outings (nature, Native American sites) and read and cooked. Even with such minimal formal work, both boys advanced academically tremendously, and more importantly, had the nurturing time they needed. As a college professor, I was truly shocked how much they learned with very little formal work.
    Blessings to you and your family. Kerry

  16. We had a chain of events that has made consistency so hard! This was my first year homeschooling with a newborn baby on my hip. Four out of six of our family have birthdays in the fall. Right before Christmas, we had three deaths in our family. Then, the holidays… you know what I mean. Busy. Crazy. Stress.

    So, I dumped the 12-box workboxes and went to SIX. Changed from phonics to reading literature for my 2nd grader since phonics was boring BOTH of us. I relaxed with my K-4 and admitted that if he doesn’t move into 1st grade early that it really doesn’t matter.

    Change of choices and my attitude has REALLY helped but I really owe most of the credit to a book I am reading, Eat That Frog.

    1. I’ve looked at the workbox idea, but it exhausts me to think about it! LOL Go you!

  17. We do a hybrid homeschooling approach. We homeschool three days a week and my son goes to a learning center two days a week. We use K12 curriculum and really like it. It has lots of hands on ideas too. Some things are on the computer and some things aren’t. Our state pays for it, but you can do it on your own. I don’t know how expensive it is but everything is set up for you but you have enough freedom to still pick and choose some things.

  18. Could you PLEASE share the latin dd is desperate to learn latin..we currently do Public school..but have homeschooled and likely will again..anyhow she wants to work on latin this summer. Would really appreciate the link..thanks

  19. I’m not sure if my experience will be practical for your family, but I’m going to share it just in case. We decided to go through a cyber school for our homeschooling materials this year. My older daughter is 4 and had to start out in a pre-k program. It was not appropriate for her skills, but we had to work through the assessments before moving on to kindergarten. That (mostly worthless) experience took us through Christmastime. Til the end of course paperwork was finished and the kindergarten materials ordered, it was the end of January. I tell you all of that to say that starting a brand new course in January was awesome. We had a month-long break and started fresh and renewed. We’ll take another break in the summer for a month or two, and finish kindergarten around the end of 2012. I’m hoping that this schedule will keep us from experiencing mid-year doldrums.

  20. Not only is it good to reassess mid year, but in differing life seasons. We are moving to Canada in July (from Indiana) and although I would love to totally switch gears on science, history, and literature, it is easier for us to just finish out the year with the more traditional curriculum so I can focus on cleaning out/packing. I am a textbook learner, but I think we all could learn from a more Charlotte Mason approach. I’m already putting books aside that I find that my mom saved for us from when I was homeschooled for next year’s schoolyear so I just have to pull out the boxes and go at it. Thankfully, my oldest will only be in 5th grade so I still have a ton of time with him to make the best of the rest of his years with me. Enjoy you revamped schedule!