Homeschooling and Libraries

Things I'm thinking about and learning while working with homeschoolers and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Interview with Maureen Wittmann, Part 4

Adrienne: Now for nitty-gritty questions. What does a typical day for your family look like? Do you follow a schedule? Do you have planned "school" time? Do the kids follow different schedules?

Maureen: Again, this is something that changes and evolves over time. Our schedule today is so different from our schedule eleven years ago. Then my family was small and my children were little. Today, I have seven children, ages 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, and 17.

I'm at the pinnacle of our homeschooling experience, with a preschooler, grade schoolers, middle schoolers, and high schoolers.

I begin planning in the summer. I sit down with each child and discuss what our goals are for the upcoming school year. We look through the homeschooling catalogs together and decide what will work best for said child (and said mother). We lay out a plan, which is tweaked after the school year begins and real life takes over.

The three older children, having been homeschooled all their lives, are pretty self-directed learners. They create their own weekly itineraries on Sunday night or Monday morning. (I have my planning forms available for free download at my website if anyone is interested, I try to take the older kids out for breakfast or lunch once a week to go over their progress and chat about the books they're reading.

My 11-year old, on the other hand, needs constant direct supervision to get anything done. He definitely has the Edison Trait (a.k.a. ADD or ADHD). Like Thomas Edison, he's very smart but can't sit still. I try to give him enough space to explore subjects on his own, but he would never do the basics (especially language arts) if I didn't work with him one-on-one. He's also my one reluctant reader – thank goodness for books on tape!

The 6- and 8-year olds are learning to read together. I use Orton Gillingham, a multi-sensory, phonics intense, reading program. I work with them after I get Thomas Edison engaged in something he's happy to do on his own (science experiments, LEGO building, BOT, etc.). I also pay one of my teens to tutor the two grade schoolers and the preschooler. I've used this tactic for years. It frees up some of my time to help older children, the littles get some special attention, and the big kids learn from it too. Also, We take lots of breaks for outside play and exploration.

My preschooler spends most of his time just having fun being a 4-year old. He begs to "do school," so I supply him with a kindergarten math workbook, plus give him lots of space to paint and color. He loves to go out and jump on the trampoline while the other kids are working. And, of course, there is loads of read aloud time. I often have older children read to the younger children. It gives the older kids practice and the little kids love it!

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I babysit two preschoolers for just a couple hours in the morning. This actually frees up some of my time, as they play so nicely with my preschooler. They occupy themselves very well.

Except for 8 a.m. Mass on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I don't schedule any outside activities before 2 p.m. I'm not disciplined enough to get back on track after being gone all morning. If schoolwork isn't done in the morning, we don't go out in the afternoon. There is one other exception, sometimes we'll pick up our books and go to the library for "school."

Outside activities include shooting sports. During the school year that only means one evening meeting a week. (Summertime is a different story – 3 to 4 practices a week, plus competitions!) We also have Teen Wednesdays. This is a group I lead, with about 20 homeschooled teens. The first Wed. is Writers' Club, second and fourth Wed. is Socrates Cafe, third Wed. is Readers' Anonymous, and if there is a fifth Wed., we do something special. A new activity for the Wittmanns this year is Science Olympiad. The kids will compete with other kids (mostly from public and private schools) in the area of science. This is a national organization,

I don't have an hour-by-hour breakdown of each day. We're more laid back than that. But basically, we get up in the morning, eat breakfast, get right to work, eat lunch, do some chores, the olders work on special interests, the littles play, sometimes we go out to the library or an activity, we make dinner, welcome home Daddy, and enjoy our evening together.

Adrienne: I love some of the strategies you've come up with to make things work – creative, positive, working with everyone's strengths. :)

Maureen: A lot of educational reforms that have floundered in public schools, work beautifully in the homeschool. Unit studies, child-led education, each child progressing at his own rate – these are all grand ideas, but very difficult to implement in a large classroom setting. Yet, with a mother working with individual children, these pedagogical approaches can, and do, work, and often with grand results. For example, I know several unschooling families whose children went on to receive full college scholarships and do very well in their university studies.


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