Time to change things up in our homeschool!

I was talking with Alex Rider last night and he said he just doesn’t have the same motivation that he had when he was younger to get his work done. He can remember how he used to just sit down and “knock it all out” when he was younger, but now he just can’t do that. Even with the consequence of no computer gaming time, he said it doesn’t matter. He says that spark just isn’t there and he just doesn’t care as much anymore. When the computer is pulled away from him, he just wanders around the house, kind of bored but not caring, and eventually usually sits down to read a book. But he said he doesn’t care if that happens. I told him that some of that is probably his age – he’s 12 and has hit puberty – and part of it might be the kinds of work we have done (literature-history-centered curriculum.) I was glad that he was able to share with me that he felt this way and that he could see that about himself as compared to his younger self. We already had plans to change things up in our homeschool after struggling to get the boys to work consistently this year, so I can only hope that this helps him get his spark back.

Just because we are using a curriculum that has worked for a year-and-a-half, doesn’t mean that it will continue to work for everyone. As the boys grow, they change, and what works from one year to the next can, and usually does, change. So, we are going to try dropping our current core curriculum, Trail Guide to Learning, which I loved for its simplicity and ease of use for me. I thought they liked the reading of living books for history instead of more dry history teaching methods, but they said they didn’t like it because it makes all of their school too history-focused and that all of their literature was history-based. Unlike so many other homeschooling families out there, our family is decidedly not as interested in history as in science – at least for the 3 guys in the family! (I am very good at, and have always enjoyed, math and the sciences as well, but I am also enjoying re-learning history.) So we are finishing up our current unit tomorrow and starting something new on Thursday. We are going to try using the Intellego Unit Studies as our core and see how it goes. I let the boys pick what they wanted to start with (a science core about animals, of course), but told them that we would alternate between the science-focused and the history-focused units (about a month at a time.) And that the first 2 history-focused units I will still be choosing because I still have the goal of giving them a good foundation in this country’s formation and Constitutional government before letting them loose to choose their interests.

These unit studies are not the traditional, literature-focused, lapbook- or notebook-focused studies. Instead, they are based on the multiple intelligences of how children learn, utilizing the Internet to their advantage, providing pictures, videos, animations, games, as well as textual learning online combined with the addition of books your family chooses to enhance the unit. They encourage the children to choose the types of activities that most appeal to them (encouraging exploration of all 8 intelligences) to integrate/reinforce their learning. They also encourage following their interests sparked by the unit study, and choosing which topics they desire more in-depth study of instead of being told which topics are more important. The boys and I have talked about this for about a week-and-a-half, and they are quite excited to try this, partly because it means they don’t have to do the other curriculum! LOL! But, they are loving the idea of having more choice and they loved the looks of the studies with their full-color images and more modern learning style of using the Internet’s vast resources (I bought a 5-pack of them through the Homeschool Buyer’s Co-op and they are delivered as PDF files on CD instead of printed manuals. Allows for much more interactivity with the Internet links to click right in the file!)

They are also loving that they will now choose, from my approved list of literature, their own literature books! So now they don’t have to read history all the time. They know that they can choose any Newbery book and that it will automatically be approved. And they know that many of the Newbery books we have read in the past were very good, so they aren’t complaining about that at all. (My list encompasses much more than just Newbery books and is an ever-growing work in progress, but that is a good starting point for them and something with which they are familiar.)

As for language arts, they will continue this month working on writing their novels as part of the Young Writers NaNoWriMo. They have been so excited to write what they want to write and are progressing nicely this month! Another clue to meintegrate more creative writing in our homeschool! The more they get used to writing every day, even creative writing, the easier it will be to teach them the academic writing skills they will need later on. We will continue to discuss writing and grammar skills in our read-aloud time in the evenings. When NaNoWriMo is over (the end of November,) we will spend some time learning about revision, and then, editing. When all of that is done, I plan to integrate their writing practice into their unit study, having them apply different skills that we are learning in the evening to their writing for that week. And it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be that hard to have them write “stories” about their unit study topics which would make it more interesting for them and still show me that they are integrating their learning through writing. Writing doesn’t have to be boring!

The unit studies incorporate vocabulary study as well, so I told them that we can drop Megawords for those days that they do unit study vocabulary. We have a formula for equating pages in the Megawords workbooks with vocabulary study in their units. I will probably still pursue roots and stems study in the evenings as well, just not right away.

I really hope that this idea works – at least for the most of this year. It all sounds good on paper, both to me and to them, but only time will tell how well they actually take to these particular programs. What is has really done for me, the researching and discussing of alternatives to our way of doing homeschool, is free up my concept that they have to study specific science topics determined as “must know” topics, or choose to study the same field of science for an entire year, or for history, that they have to cover everything in a curriculum right now, or even in a chronological fashion. I figure as long as I have them continue using a timeline and/or Book of Centuries, and discuss with them their choices for what they want to study in history, they will not only cover what is important to them over time but also be able to make the connections between the different time periods they study. I had felt like I wanted to do this before, but because the boys are not yet mature enough to pursue studying of topics on their own without a structure of some kind, I didn’t think we could do anything like this until high school. Now I feel like I have a framework and structure that I know they can follow while I am gone during the day, but will perhaps train them to do this kind of thing on their own when they are older. And I think I have made it through another stage of letting go of “gap worry”. Smile

If this major change-up in our schooling doesn’t breathe some life back into my son’s (or sons’) motivation, which it might not considering his (their) age, I don’t know if there is much else I can do to help him (them) find that motivation. If he doesn’t have much important to him right now, not even what used to be considered most important, then what kind of “carrot” can I dangle in front of him to make it worth his while?!

I’m off to check out a book from the library: “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men” by Leonard Sax…


About Cindy

I am a wife to a wonderful hubby and mother of fraternal twin boys (born 6/28/1998). I enjoy family vacations/travels, my photography and acrylic painting hobbies, and anything else I feel like writing or sharing!
This entry was posted in History, Homeschool, Language Arts, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Time to change things up in our homeschool!

  1. Rashel says:

    Hi. I found your site by doing a search on Paths of Exploration. I was just wondering if you would be interested in selling it since you have moved on to another curriculum.

  2. Ruth in NC says:

    I know it has been months since you posted this but I am curious if you read “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors …” by Leonard Sax and if it was useful. I am struggling with my youngest still and looking for suggestions. My library doesn’t have this unfortunately.

    • Cindy K. says:

      I read some of it, but didn’t have time to read it all. I did find that it helps explain what boys need to have (a purporse, or meaningful activities), especially as they enter adolescence, and why sports are pushed so much on boys to help fill this void. But it did give me ideas on other ways as well, but unfortunately I still have not found that one “thing” for Dragon Rider to help develop his passion and fill this void for him. I have also read Sax’s book “Gender Matters” all the way through, which I found quite helpful to understand what kinds of learning environments are better for boys, even if I can’t meet all of those needs (like keeping the temperature in the house down to 68 in the summer time!) I think if you can find ANY of Leonard Sax’s books to read, it will be worth it! Have you tried ILL (inter-library loan) yet?

      Our changes have improved things in our homeschool. While we will have some days where they don’t get something done, it’s no longer an everyday occurrence. I no longer feel like the boys are fighting with me every step of the way, so it has helped. I am also learning that while they may not think they like to do or want to do little “projects” with their learning, they do better with some thrown in, especially when it’s off the computer. A certain amount of hands-on it best for them, even if it’s just a poster or collage of what they are learning.

  3. Ruth in NC says:

    When you have used Intellego for awhile, I would like to know how you are doing it. Do you print all the pages? How do you give the internet links to your boys? I have looked at the units on CurrClick but have never been sure how to actually implement them. I know those sound like silly questions but they have been a roadblock for me so far.

    • Cindy says:


      I know you said to let you know after we have used it for “a while” and we have only been using it for a week so far, but here are my current thoughts anyway.

      First of all, no, we do NOT print all of the pages. I cringe to think that we would print out all of the pages! Seems like a waste to read and file/throw away. Besides, between the active hyperlinks in the file and the many gorgeous images, it works much better to use it on the computer. The photos are much more appealing this way and look beautiful! And we can easily click on the links in the PDF reader and off we go to the website to read/do the activity.

      If we were using a real, 3-ring notebook like Steve from Customer Service recommends (and his son uses), then we would only print out the pages that are needed by the student for the actual writing or activity. So maybe 5% of the total pages are actually being printed out. Including the pages that you print from the various websites when the activity calls for a “worksheet”.

      Since we aren’t using a real notebook, but rather a virtual one via Microsoft OneNote, I use OneNote’s “printer” to send the student pages to their virtual notebook and they are then able to type right on top of the worksheet to do the work! We don’t use ANY paper this way. (I guess we are pretty “green” oriented, though that wasn’t the original reason we started this.)

      Since the boys have to do 95% of this on their own with me at work, here’s how they do it. Before they start, I have “printed” the chapter’s worth of student pages to their OneNote file. Then when they are about to start their studies for the day, they bring up their copy of the unit study (it’s a PDF file) in Acrobat Reader. They start where they left off the day before. They read the next Activity and when they get to a link, they click on it, go to that site, read/do what the unit study directed them to do, “print” to OneNote any parts of that site that they want to save in their notebook, then close the browser and go back to the PDF file. Then they continue on like this until they get to a part that mentions “questions for discussion or writing prompts”. For those, they create an empty page in OneNote and write their answers to each question there. Since they are participating in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers program right now, I don’t have them create writing assignments out of any of these prompts yet. They just usually answer each in a single sentence. (So far, there have only been 2-3 questions/activity.) When we are done with NaNoWriMo and the follow-on revising and editing, we will start incorporating their writing assignments into their unit studies, using lessons that we cover together at night.

      At the end of each chapter (we have only reached the end of Ch. 1 so far but are looking forward to the end of Ch. 2 probably tomorrow), they have the chance to extend the study on that topic in any way they wish. They get to choose what they want to learn more about from that chapter or any topic that the chapter sparked a n interest in. This is what I am looking forward to most. I want to see where they will take this and how much they will “get into” their chosen topics. The last page of each chapter lists over 20 ideas covering all 8 of the multiple intelligences for the kids to explore, learn, and remember whatever sparked their interest during the chapter. We even added a couple that might appeal even more to my boys.

      They are supposed to work on the study for 1.5-2 hours/day, 5 days/week since it’s our core right now. I don’t think they are quite there just yet, but they do seem to be getting better and continuing from Activity to Activity and to the next Chapter each day. Added to this, they do math 4 days/week (30-45 minutes), reading/literature 5 days/week, logic/puzzles 1 day/week, and art 1day/week. This month, they are also working on NaNoWriMo each day, too. That’s it! Really simple! Oh, and we have a deal where they have to find at least 4 vocabulary words each day, M, T, Th, F, and add them to the unit study’s vocabulary journal, OR they have to complete 2 pages of their Megawords each day. So far, I have had no problem getting them to do the vocabulary journals! LOL!

      At least, during the day it’s that simple. We do other things together at night which include review/discussion of the day’s work including the unit study and math lessons, continuing 1 sentence grammar parsing most nights, and reading aloud from a variety of books that include poetry, short stories, novels, grammar study, writing lessons, study skills how-to’s, learning of multiple intelligences and how to develop each of them, and philosophy for kids. We have a bit too many things going on at one time right now in the evenings, so it makes it hard to choose what we will read that night. But that also gives us a lot of flexibility as to what we want to cover.

      I know this got long, but I hope it helps you see how we are doing things – at least this week! LOL!

  4. Amy Bogard says:

    Hi Cindy,
    I connected to your blog via your comment on our sketching/ creativity blog Drawing Down the Vision. I wanted to comment on your struggles with History instruction in particular. Have you heard of the books “You Wouldn’t Want to Be a…” They are about all historical subjects and provide a way of looking at history that puts the student really into the story. I dear friend of mine uses these books in a homeschool cooperative teaching situation and the kids love them!!
    Do your kids keep a sketchbook? Dan Price has a great little book called ‘how to keep a journal of your life’ which asks you to slow down and jot the seemingly mundane down into your sketchbook. For me, my sketchbook is a place to really piece my whole world together. It might be a good practice for your kids.
    Good luck to you on your educational adventure!

    • Cindy says:

      Hi Amy!

      Yes, I have heard of those history books, but I kind of forgot about them, and I think they sometimes feel that the books are too “young” for them. But, it has been a while since we have looked at them at the library and since we aren’t using a history curriculum right now (doing a science-based unit study), it might be a good time to try them out again. Thanks!

      As for a sketchbook, yes and no. They each have a sketchbook that they have used for different lessons and interest-spurts over years, but they really don’t enjoy sketching/drawing. However, I am finding that they don’t mind the watercolor lessons we have been doing this year, using the Klutz Watercolor book, so I am going to keep that up and continue with the painting idea instead of drawing/sketching for now. Maybe when they finish the Klutz book, we will move on to more watercolor lessons or give acrylics a try (which I already dabble with.) Maybe they are finding freedom in painting because, at least with watercolors, it doesn’t have to be as exact as drawing has to be. I think that’s why I dived right into the acrylics – I could paint something that looked pretty decent (using instruction books and videos) without as much worry over the details.

      Thanks for the tip on the Dan Price book!

  5. Wow! Your son sounds like my 19 year-old, who is currently struggling with motivation issues also. I think it is probably better that you can deal with it now, while you still have some control. I’m going to check out those Intellego unit studies also. Gohan and I were having a similar conversation last week, where he basically said that he does not learn much of anything from text books. He decided that he likes unit studies better, but is not big into art. These might work for him. He doesn’t like to do too much school on the computer, but some is nice for mixing things up a bit.

    • Cindy K. says:

      I’m glad that my ramblings were able to help you with ideas for your son! Let me know what you think of the Intellego Unit Studies. We just started the Animal World one even though it is designed for grades 3-5. We are working on it together this weekend to get them started on how to work through it.

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