First, I read somewhere last summer that school is our (as in mine and the kids') job and we should treat it as such. So the first step was to adopt the mindset that school was non-negotiable. No more waking up in the morning and thinking "Meh, we'll just take the day off" or "We'll just skip that today". This change in outlook made up 90% of the difference.
But not only did I have to change my attitude, I had to change the kids' attitude. We did this with timers. I told the kids the amount of the time they had for each subject (5 minutes for copywork, 15 minutes for piano, 20 minutes for science, 30 minutes for math, etc. ) and dangled free time in their faces as a reward. Finish before the time limit? Free time for YOU! Take longer? Lose some free time! And if you weren't completely finished with all your work before a certain time, then some very special evening privileges were revoked. It was simple and effective.
Yes, we still had bad days where we were finishing up our work at 5 pm, But for the most part, they worked hard all morning and enjoyed their free afternoons.
And finally, I accepted the fact that I suffer from decision fatigue. All of our work this year was either open-and-go or already completely planned out. My kids are of the age that I can say, "This is how this is supposed to work" and they can follow the plan. So subjects like Geography, that used to get swallowed up in great dark holes of despair, actually got done this year because I gave them a list.
These apps, this puzzle, this book, these games, this CD of songs. Pick one each day and do it. And they did. Then I had to enforce a little more structure because they would just pick their favorites over and over and over. Next year, there will be a list and they will have to do a specific one each day. Because I love giving freedom, but if you take advantage then I will tighten those boundaries right back up.
So now to the subjects of what worked and what didn't. Here are the plans that we started the year with and you can read below to see how that worked out.
I gave up doing certain things on certain days. I gave up loop scheduling. If we couldn't do it every single day, then we just didn't do it. Because... decision fatigue. I realized that if I have to stop and figure out what we were supposed to do today then I would just stop doing those things. We were only consistently doing whatever we were supposed to do daily. So I just made everything a daily thing. Then everything got done. I did have to drop some stuff so we didn't spend too long in Morning Meeting every day. But it was worth it in the end.
This started well, we read books, learned some stuff, and each kid did a report on Antarctica. Then we floundered for a long, long time. Then I gave them the list that I mentioned before and they learned a ton about Europe. So, not as great as it could have been, but at least I did turn it around.
This also started well. It was fun. Then we kinda stalled. We did get a lot of books read, but we fell way behind on projects. We are finishing up our booklist and doing a bunch of projects over the summer. I am so ready to put Ancient History behind us!
This was a total flop. Sigh. I think we did one day of work. Maybe two. I'm starting to think Latin is just not in our future.
Math U See works great for us every year! Each kid finished up a book (or the equivalent thereof) and great progress was made all around.
We have used All About Spelling for years, so we have this down pretty well. Kaytie started doing so well with spelling in general that I put her on the fast track and let her zip ahead. Daniel and Abbie, who have floundered in spelling for years suddenly started understanding what was going on and made steady progress.
I love Bible Study Guide for All Ages and it works for us. My older kids are bored with it, and my younger kids don't appreciate all the reading (I used to help them with it but I pushed them out of the nest this year) but we keep on using it because... it works.
Fix It! Grammar is such a hit for us! It works so easily and so well that even my science and math loving, language averse boys enjoy it (not that they admit it) and learn from it.
Nate now has handwriting that I can read without translation. Daniel can write well in cursive. Abbie learned cursive this year. I call that a success!
Jump In! worked well for us as long as we (and by that I mean I) worked well for it. Once I relaxed the reins and gave the kids independence then work stopped happening. Kaytie will be doing something different next year. Nate will start up in Jump In! right where we left off and keep on trucking. Only with a lot more supervision.
Another topic that went well as long as I provided daily supervision. But I started taking Kaytie and Nate's word for it that they were working twenty minutes a day and at the end of the year they were not even half way through the book. So they are working all summer to finish it. Consequences are no fun.
Daniel and Abbie's science went better. They felt as though they ran out of "fun" experiments to do, though, so we will swing into a different direction next year. More Unit Study and less notebooking and free exploration. I still plan on putting our trusty encyclopedia to good use though!
Even though I didn't originally plan on doing so, I started Daniel and Abbie on phonics review using Logic of English as a base. We just worked on phonemes every day. It only took a few minutes, but it made such a difference! Abbie has fallen in love with reading and Daniel doesn't fight it like he used to.
Logic (Kaytie and Nate)
We worked all the way through The Basics of Critical Thinking and never even got to The Thinking Toolbox. So we have that on our list for next year. No big deal. They learned a lot.
Art (Kaytie, Daniel and Abbie)
We changed directions in art so many times I can't even tell you all of them. What we finally ended up with though, was youtube videos of art instruction. The kids use my iPad to watch and follow along. The girls then use those learned techniques to draw their own stuff. Daniel sticks pretty closely to Minecraft, snails, and ocean scenes.
Nate used Khan Academy most of the year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm trying to find something that is both more structured and more in depth for him for next year.
Duolingo for Spanish (Kaytie and Nate)
A definite hit! The kids loved this program. They often ask to do it on the weekends. They both have picked up a good chunk of vocabulary and grammar. Neither is fluent in Spanish, but we are working on that. We all three highly recommend Duolingo!
Photography (Kaytie and Nate)
Well... they took a lot of pictures and they completed all the lessons. Nate had a brief love affair with photography wherein he completely took over my camera and filled up memory cards daily. Kaytie did exactly what was asked of her and no more. I think Nate needs another challenge and Kaytie needs to move on to something else. lol
All in all, we really had a great year and have high hopes for another great year after we have a long, fun summer.