As a homeschool mom, I’ve pored over dozens of homeschool help books, but none inspired me as much as the Read-Aloud The Year of Miss Agnes from History / Bible / Literature B. We recently read it for the second time, and once again I was amazed with all the wisdom this novel holds.
If you haven’t read it yet, don't worry. I won’t share any huge spoilers. But I will tell you the deep lessons this novel imparted to me.
After years of figuring out my homeschool philosophy, my kids' learning styles, and the most time efficient way to pack in as many subjects in a day as possible, this book turned it all upside down. Of course, those things are still important, but The Year of Miss Agnes simplified things about education which I tend to overcomplicate and inspired me to be a more intentional homeschool mom.
1. Bonding Begins with Tea
Are things strained in your relationship with your kids? Follow Miss Agnes's model. She begins bonding with her students over a cup of tea.
Tea or hot chocolate with snacks are great remedies. Especially when we are struggling or stressed, it's easy to push these relaxed moments aside in favor of more important things that need to get done.
For two years we did poetry teatime every Friday afternoon, and it became the highlight of my kids' week! They think it’s the edible treats, but I know it’s about taking a moment out of our week to have fun together.
This year our Fridays are game teatime instead of poetry. What you drink or eat and whether you play board games, listen to classical music, or read poetry doesn't really matter. The point is adding fun to the week and building a solid relationship with our kids in the process.
2. Geography Is Best Taught With Maps
Miss Agnes points out countries on the map every opportunity she has, and her students begin to make connections to the rest of the world in ways they never had before. Sonlight makes it easy to make these same kinds of spontaneous connections.
A few of my siblings do a lot of travel for work, so when they jump on the airplane, we grab a map to identify where they are going. When my brother was recently in China, my son noticed China borders South Korea. This realization brought up a fun conversation about the Olympics and the fact that even though those countries border one another, some parts of China are very far from South Korea!
3. A Clean School Room is a Refreshing Start
On the first day of school, Miss Agnes's students enter a clean and organized school. They immediately knew something was going to be different about this teacher because she cared enough to keep their learning space clean.
If you are in a homeschool rut, one of the best places for a fresh start is a clean up of your homeschool space. Clutter may not especially bother you, but you may have a child who struggles to learn in that type of environment. It is entirely worth taking a day off from teaching to get your school space in working order.
I have found that a mere 30 minutes of clean up goes far to improve attitudes towards school. When we homeschool moms value a clean space for schooling, it shows our kids that their education has value too.
4. A Calm Look Goes Farther Than Getting Upset
When Miss Agnes's students misbehave, they expect her to fuss at them; however, she never yells. Just one look from her causes them to stop their unruly behavior. They realize they cannot upset this teacher, so they simply stop trying and instead start behaving properly.
I admit, I am not good at staying calm when my kids start roughhousing or being outright disobedient. Especially when trying to get my toddler to calm down, I tend to raise my voice. But a calm look or response improves the course of our whole day.
Truth be told, I practiced being calm this morning as we were reading in the school room downstairs. I calmly told Little Brave to take his loud toy upstairs. He obeyed, and after 10 minutes of quiet, I really thought I had won a toddler victory—until he came back to the school room with a face covered in the chocolate he had found in the kitchen. I’m still going to trust wise Miss Agnes on this one! Our entire home environment is much more peaceful when I keep my cool.
5. Get Rid of the Books That Weigh You Down
Homeschool moms— myself included—love to brag about how many books we have. But maybe there is merit to letting go of the books we know we won’t use. If you are a living books educator and have textbooks sitting on the shelves, maybe it’s time to say goodbye to them.
One of the first things Miss Agnes does on the first day of school is pack up the old textbooks they aren’t going to use. Removing clutter helps us focus on the purpose we are trying to accomplish in our homeschool each day.
6. Don’t Put Too Much Faith In Grades
I was so anxious for Dreaming Daughter to read that I wasted too many of her early homeschool years drilling her with flash cards. I shake my head now, but I truly let the pressure of grades influence my goals instead of teaching her to enjoy learning.
Midway through first grade she began reading. By second grade, she was completely on track with her peers, and now in fourth grade she reads ahead of grade level! I wish I had trusted the process in the first place.
As soon as Miss Agnes begins teaching her first day of school, she announces that she doesn’t believe in grades. Her first step is simply to discover where each student is academically and begin working on progress for each student.
Now my Wild Little Girl is in first grade, slowly learning to read, and I have learned to be patient. I focus on progress each day, choosing to push grades and expectations out of my mind.
7. Teachers Should Be Fun
Miss Agnes is a fun teacher!
- She makes writing perfectly something to aspire to.
- She plays music during art lessons.
- She reads stories aloud with voices for every character.
- She tells stories to illustrate the importance of math.
Homeschool moms, it’s okay for us to have fun, too. A simple smile can go a long way on a hard day. Our children need to feel like we enjoy this homeschool thing, or they won’t believe it should be important to them. That doesn’t mean we can't have hard days; I have plenty of those, too! It simply means we can release ourselves to thoroughly enjoy the good days. Laugh, smile, sing, and make memories with your kids while you are teaching them.
8. It’s Worth the Fight Through Hard Things
Maybe you have a child with a learning disability or a bad attitude. Maybe you feel like you cannot handle another day of homeschooling. Home education is worth fighting for! Seek the help whether it's for your child or yourself.
Miss Agnes realizes after teaching for a few months that one of the children in the community hadn’t attended school because she was deaf and not expected to get an education because of her special needs. Not on Miss Agnes watch! She finds a way to get this young girl in school, and it becomes a learning experience for the entire class.
Therapy, counseling, outside classes, and tutors can all be a huge help. I’ve had years where depression threatened to overtake me, but it’s was worth it to fight back. You’ll come up for air again and feel proud you got through the dark days.
9. Learning is Lifelong
Even a few adults in the village benefit when Miss Agnes teaches them how to read and write. She inspires her students to dream beyond the little school house and keep learning all their lives.
One of the most precious truths we can teach our kids is that education is something they bring with them to adulthood. When I remember that learning extends throughout an entire lifetime, it takes some of the pressure off me!
In our information age, there is no possible way we can teach our children everything. Things are changing so quickly we don’t even know what they will need to know in ten years! We do know teaching the love of learning is a foundation. Teach a child how to find the answers and nurture their natural curiosity, and you are halfway there.
If you haven’t read The Year of Miss Agnes yet, prepare to take notes from her down-to-earth way of teaching. If you don't want to wait for HBL B or you've already passed the level, add this novel to your own book pile and read it for yourself—the sooner the better. After all, education is for homeschool moms too!