And then twin babies and toddlers happened. The babies pretty much took up all my time and we didn't do a whole lot of extras that year. It also made me realize that in order to survive the next couple of years, I really needed a plan. I needed a plan where I didn't have to think about what we were doing at all because I had no extra brain cells to think with on any given day. My efforts did work and I was happy with how the year went... even with twin toddlers. Of course, my tendency to go overboard took over. Last summer I worked for hours and hours planning every little bit of our day. And after all that work, I have only vaguely followed it this year. I'm sure this is due to a combination of factors. First, the little girls are not quite the constant effort this year that they were last year. (This is not to say that silence from them for any length of time is a good thing, just that they have backed off a bit on the extreme chaos they were causing.) Second, I was never really happy with how my schedule turned out. I tried creating unit studies without a piece of literature to hang it all on and for me, that just doesn't work. I need a story of some sort to make sense of it all. Third, even with a new daughter and a son who is quite capable of causing his own brand of chaos, we are reaching a new normal and I feel as though my brain isn't quite on overload as much as it once was. (Adding five children in the span of six years will do that to a person. Overload, that is.)
So all that is the background as to why I woke up on Monday morning and realized I needed to rethink things. My excitement over following the plan I had so carefully laid out was non-existent, and I have learned if I am not excited about what we are studying, there is no hope for my children's excitement to show up. I got to thinking about some of the things I did with M. and B. when they were little and realized that one of the things they both really enjoyed was creating books. Real books, the kinds with title pages and a story and illustrations all bound together. For their books we had done different things... using tag board for covers and stapling, hole punched paper with brads to hold it together, and binding it all together using a stick for support.
So that is what we are going to do. With M. and B., I could just say write (or dictate) a story and then you can draw pictures for it. With this group, I am going to have to be a little more structured in my approach. I have some pre-writing exercises planned and we'll take smaller steps toward the goal of writing and illustrating a book. (Too many in this group either can't work independently or if they can, are too easily overwhelmed to manage the instruction, "write a story".) Then, I have found a company that will bind their stories into a real hard cover book. Along the way, I found some books on how books are made, and on various children's book authors and illustrators so we can see how others go about writing and making books. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll write down everything we do and share it with you once we're done.
The other thing I wanted to mention is that it really is OK to drop something (or wait) if it isn't working... curriculum, subject, style. There is no one way to learn things. You will not miss a window by waiting, though you may miss it by trying to teach things too early. There is not even really an order in which things should be learned. Yes, it makes sense to learn addition before multiplication but I've known children who are really interested in times tables and learn them first. (Um, this would not be my own children to whom I am referring.) You base what a child is learning on the child. I can't tell you the number of books and programs I've bought thinking they were going to be perfect, only to discover they weren't perfect for us. It hurts, but just because you paid for it is not a reason to keep using something that is making everyone miserable. It's not a sign of failure, but a sign of common sense to admit something just isn't working.
There has been more than one instance where one of my children was really struggling with a subject... math, English, handwriting.. and I've just had them put away the book for a few months. We just don't work on it. The child often has developed such a complex about it that nothing I do is going to help. Taking a break and ignoring it is often the best. More often than not, when we eventually come back to it, the child looks at it and exclaims, "Hey! This is easy!" They weren't ready for it six months ago, and now they are.
Pretty much, trust your gut. And that's why deserts are going on the back-burner and we'll all work on becoming authors this month.