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Post Harvey: Back to School, Take II

Well, we’re trying this whole ‘back to school’ thing again. Post hurricane Harvey, it’s been difficult to get into a good routine. Not having the basics will do that; even now (towards the end of the month), we’re still working in notebooks without a desk or table, and lacking most of our ‘normal’ homeschooly things. But, as the infamous and fabulous Tim Gunn admonishes, we’re making it work.

The first week of January was a total scratch. Loverly Husband was off work, so our initial plans to ‘back to school’ the first week got thrown out (save co-op, which actually did start back up the first week) in favor of working on our house. We never get much schoolwork done when he’s home anyway, and with so much still left to do on the house, I imagine a lot of ‘in favor of working on the house’ options will be exercised until we get it back into working order.

Happily though, the beginning of week 2 put up back in business. I spent Sunday the 7th getting my computer set up (finally – my REAL computer!!), and printer – only to realize that the printer went kaput somewhere along the way. Realistically, printers aren’t once-in-a-lifetime purchases anymore; I know this. We bought our current printer, perhaps, 2 years ago, and these days that’s about all the life the average printer seems to have in it. So on the one hand, it was probably about time for it to die and be replaced. On the other hand, REALLY?! Are you KIDDING me? What’s one more matchstick on the ever-growing bonfire that is my life, I guess. In any case, we did start school the second week of January (even without a new printer, which arrived on Wednesday).

TH THINK High School Co-op – January 6, 2018 (resuming after Hurricane Harvey)

TH THINK High School Co-op Moms!

I also got to spend some time towards the end of the week with my oldest friends. We’ve literally known each other since the cradle – I’m the youngest, so we’ve been friends for over 40 years now. Though we’ve all kind of gone off on our own paths, it’s a lovely feeling to be able to reconnect and spend time together with people who’ve known you all your life!

My oldest friends – since we were babies!

Our homeschool group tries to plan regular Teen Social events, and Mom’s Night Out events each month. This time, they happened to coincide; we dropped the kids off at a local trampoline park for their kids’ night, and the moms in our group met for dinner. We had a great time!

Our homeschool group’s Mom’s Night Out (while the teens and ‘tweens were having a teen social at the trampoline park)

Car selfie on the way to orchestra practice!

Back to school – Week 2 of 2018 and back to the grind (even though our house is still not finished – life goes on)

D&D – ongoing for almost 2 years now!

I’m honestly torn between taking it easy right now and cracking the whip. On one hand, we’ve missed quite a bit of school this past year. Between my mom dying right at the beginning of the year, her funeral and grieving her loss, we missed several weeks (which we’d mostly made up by the end of the summer), and then hurricane Harvey’s shenanigans, which has put us *months* behind… I just am not sure what the best thing to do is. We’re kind of taking it down the middle; neither light nor intense – just ‘normal’, I suppose.

Oddly enough, I pulled several resources that focus on a unity-study/literature-based approach (which has always been my favorite way to homeschool), and it seems to be working well and covering all the based (with additional math, science and history). We’d gotten away from a CM-style method as the kids got older because I was working more and needed them to be more independently capable. This requires more reading, which we enjoy doing together, so it’s been a lot of gathering on Mom’s bed to read, which is a nice throwback to several years ago.

 

Week 3 threw another wrench in our plans. I swear… lately it seems like every time I start to get a handle on things, something goes catastrophically wrong. Loverly Husband was unexpectedly off again, so not much got accomplished other than music practice & co-op. Truthfully, it wasn’t unexpected on his part; only mine. I had not gotten the updated version of his work schedule, so my planning had not taken that into consideration. It worked out though (as it also always seems to).  The weather was crazy cold – freezing temperatures most of the week, and our second snowfall in one year – unbelievable for Texas! I also ended up getting sick, so it all kinda worked out for the best since most of my week was spent in a feverish sleep. We (and by ‘we’, I mean my Loverly Husband) were able to make progress on the house; the tile in the hall bathroom got grouted and he finished the flooring in the hall and kids’ rooms.

Toward the end of the week, we met with Home Depot to do our kitchen consultation… it was a great experience, but I had no idea that we would be looking at a months-long process. Le sigh. Nothing with our house has happened quickly or easily, and that is so wearing and stressful.

Actual snow! There was more than this, but I was sick and didn’t get pictures.

sneaky selfie at Home Depot

Week 4 was a little more ‘back to normal. We resumed school and co-op (which we cancelled the week before due to my illness and the weather). Our homeschool group’s big park day met mid-week. We had quite a few new people, which is always good. It will be interesting to see how many of them stick around. We always have interest on park days, but that doesn’t always translate to growth in the group. But hopefully some of the newbies will stick around. After park day, we had lunch with some friends, then went to the craft store. I picked up a presentation white board on clearance since I don’t have access to my chalkboards at home. It’s hard to homeschool when you’re used to having things that you suddenly don’t have anymore. It’s a learning experience for me, for sure. I realize how spoiled I am (and grateful) as a homeschooling parent.

Lunch after Park Day

Co-op was great; we had 2 new students join, and the moms worked on art projects! We’re all kind of doing the ‘Wreck This Journal’ thing, and we played with the paint pouring technique on small canvases while the kids were working on their lessons.

paint pouring at co-op (moms having fun!!)

Kids working hard at co-op

Solitary workers… working together! LOL

Wreck This Journal

running errands – my kids are weird

That brings us to this week… we’re definitely back to the grind; staying home most of the week and playing catch-up. All in all, now that we’re in the last few days, it seems like this month has flown by. But the whole month feels like it was just dragging by every day. Weird how time can pass both slowly and quickly at the same time!


Today is January 29th; the one year anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s been a really long, hard year. This was one of our first, and our last family portraits. I miss her.

How’s your 2018 going?
Warmly,
~h

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Eight Years of Homeschooling

Facebook has this feature whereby it will suggest that you share a ‘memory’; a post or status update that you’d shared previously. Occasionally that’s a knife to the heart if they suggest something you’d rather not relive, but sometimes, the suggested posts are a reminder or evoke a sense of wonder at how far you’ve come.

That was the case this morning, when I got this suggestion:

It’s particularly relevant at this point in my life, because I remember scurrying around to get everything set up so we could start homeschooling. My kids’ last day at school was spent rushing to get their desks set up, doing the final once-over to make sure we were ready with curriculum… and trying to make their last day at school special in some way. That mirrors what’s going on in our life right now, as we’re still mid-transition in the recovery process from hurricane Harvey’s flooding. Our house is getting there, but still not finished, which means that our schooling spaces are not anywhere near as polished as they were when we began this journey. Just because our house (life?!) is in chaos doesn’t mean that school can be on indefinite hold though. So I spent most of last week doing the same thing I did in the beginning – scurrying around trying to make sure I had everything we needed handy. I’m still missing a 3-hole punch. Go figure.

I actually had to take some of my own advice as far as what was strictly ‘needed’ (and I maintain that this is sound advice): a good printer, an electric pencil sharpener, a heavy-duty stapler, and a really nice coffee pot. (That last one started out as an indulgence for Mom, but has slowly warped into a necessary part of everyone’s day).  We’ve moved away from some of the recommended items, so I feel like it’s time to update that list a bit (or at least edit).

Where once I recommended a laser printer (and cheap toner), we’ve since gone back to an inkjet. I’ll be honest: it’s mainly because of the cost of ink/toner. It seems like they flip-flop every few years as to which one is less costly. As I mentioned previously, I print quite a lot, so whatever we have needs to be the most cost effective option. We just bought our second Canon Pixma MX922 with this refill ink from Blake Printing Supply from Amazon and I’m pretty happy with their product. The only advantage of a laser over inkjet is that laser toner doesn’t get ruined with water; inkjet ink runs. That’s not really a problem in most instances, but I craft/art journal and sometimes tea or coffee-stain pages I’ve printed. I can print first, then stain with laser printing; with the inkjet, I have to stain the paper first, then run it through the printer (which can create issues if there is coffee or tea dust on the pages, but I haven’t run into this problem). I also bought a cheap stapler since my Swingline bad boy is in storage – I cannot wait to have my office set up again so I can have my ‘real’ things back (at least; the things that didn’t get ruined in the flood).

The electric pencil sharpener though, I stand by. I recommended the Westcott iPoint Kleenearth Evolution Recycled Electric Pencil Sharpener in 2012 (after a year of use) and I was still using that same pencil sharpener in August 2017 when it got ruined by the flood. I replaced it with the Xacto Vortex 1730 (because that’s the only corded one that was in stock when I went to Office Depot). It remains to be seen if it will hold up as well as the iPoint, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. It sharpens faster and doesn’t get as bogged down as the iPoint, so we’ll see how it holds up.

Planner-wise, I am using a bullet-style journal/planner this year. For a little while, at least. I’ve been printing and a ‘Bossy Book’ of my own design for years, but since I lost access to my computer after Harvey, and didn’t have access until well into January, I wasn’t able to plan or print my book for this year. I may still print one later, but for now I am enjoying having ‘something different’. I am still planning out the week, and using our ‘Work This Week’ page that I print for myself and the kids each week.

This is a light week (obviously), but you get the idea.

I am leaving a lot of flexibility in the kids’ school schedule right now, because we have so much going on at the house; they need to be able to work or go help with something. I figure that some school is better than none right now, and there’s always time to make it up over the course of the rest of the year. Despite 2017’s many wrenches, we’re not as far off schedule as I’d initially feared; we should be back on-target before the 2018-2019 school year begins, even with a light schedule right now.

Otherwise, favorite schooling things come and go, but those are pretty much my go-to minimums. You can safely add a good, sturdy 3-hole punch to this list, as well. We’re slowly replacing other things we’ve loved and lost. It’s slow-going, but we’re getting there.

Anniversary and birthday posts tend to require some sort of re-cap, or ‘what have we learned’ type of reminiscing, so here’s my .02:

  1.  invest in time spent with your kids – book learnin’ is great and all, and necessary to some degree (IMO), but when it comes to what counts, building your family up has to be a priority, otherwise, what’s the point? Among all of the families I know, whether it started out as their priority or not, a side effect of long-term homeschooling is the connection you build, and maintain, with your kids.
  2. invest in your community – I say this from a position of being burned out and taking a step back from almost all commitments that are outside of my house. It has a lot to do with hurricane aftermath, but the burnout was strong before that, too. In every community, there are ‘doers’ and there are ‘takers’. I don’t mean that to be insulting to people who are introverts, or shy or have social anxiety; all I mean is that they take advantage of what’s offered, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The ‘doers’ tend to take the lead, plan things, organize things, make things happen. That’s a good thing; it’s very likely in their nature to do so and they enjoy it the vast majority of the time. But if your ‘doers’ are asking for help, and you tend to be a ‘taker’, then please, honestly evaluate your contributions and step up and take some of the burden off of them. If you want your homeschooling community to thrive, then you HAVE to contribute; you just have to. Otherwise, your doers will get burned out and stop doing all the things and you’ll have nothing to take from. If you’re in a position where you absolutely can’t help, then be a good taker – rsvp when asked to; show up on time; have your necessary supplies; be communicative. There’s nothing worse than organizing a thing and having every last person flake out at the last minute with absolutely no warning or communication. I cannot tell you how many times my kids and I have sat waiting on people who never showed up and didn’t let us know they weren’t coming. Don’t be that guy! That said, ‘doers’ tend to make the world go round, and I am fortunate to have several capable ‘doers’ and equally awesome ‘takers’ in my homeschool group. As I’ve stepped back, others have filled the gap, and it’s lovely to be part of a consistently thriving community.
  3. Be flexible – Dude… life happens. Whatever plans you make, there’s a 50/50 chance that something will happen that will disrupt them. don’t get bent out of shape about it; just flex a little and go with the flow. To illustrate this point (perhaps unnecessarily, but absolutely accurately), the picture above has had not one but TWO major changes to the curriculum since I started working on this post on 1/14. And, thanks to Loverly Husband’s unexpected week off and my getting sick for that same week, the monthly schedule in my planner has also changed. C’est la vie!
  4. Learn to say NO – it’s easy to over-extend yourself when you’re homeschooling. People think that just because you’re ‘home’ that equates to time they can impose upon. Side-note: They can’t, and it’s okay to tell them that. Additionally, without a regular ‘out of the house’ school schedule to follow, sometimes social engagements or extra-curriculars can start poaching on your school hours! I know ‘socialization’ is a big deal in the homeschool world, but for us (and most of the families in our group), it’s more an issue to having too many opportunities to socialize than too few. Being ready and willing to say no when you need to (or want to) is sanity-saving. This also applies to getting caught up in ‘my homeschooler is better than your homeschooler’ type of mommy conversations where everything seems to be a competition. Man… there ain’t enough time in the world, or any student accomplishment so grand that will satisfactorily shut these types up. Unless maybe your kid won a Nobel Prize or something, but even then, I bet they’d just change the topic to something their kid excels in. Just avoid them entirely by saying NO. Furthermore, it also applies to well-intentioned (at best) and nosey homeschool-doubters (at worst) who want to quiz your kids every time they see them. Put those people on the Nope Train with the One-Upers and enjoy your newly discovered peace and quiet.
  5. Try to say YES more – Having said the thing about ‘no’, the opposite is true as well. When opportunity knocks, don’t be so schedule-bound that you can’t take advantage of it! Try new things – co-ops, classes, sports, field trips, travel… give your kids (and yourself) the gift of freedom; take advantage of any and everything that you can. Living life to the fullest is often just as great a teacher as 3 hours behind a desk. Don’t lock yourself into thinking that only ‘formal’ or semi-formal learning is the only way. Lots of kids learn best in a group environment, and group learning can be a fun and valuable addition to your regularly scheduled solitary or family-based book work.
  6. If you’re just starting out, de-school for a bit before committing to anything. We jumped right from school-school to homeschool, and even though we did a ‘light’ version, I wish we’d taken time between the two. All in all, it wasn’t a bad transition for my kids though. Just in hindsight, I’d have done it differently. My kids were young though, so it may not have made much of a difference. For teens though, I’d definitely recommend de-schooling before jumping in. Join a group, meet some people, do some activities… it’s a culture shock for them; give them time to get their feet wet before making a bunch of expectations and requirements.
  7. In the early years, take your time – there’s no rush. Our first year, we only did the basics; 2 R’s, really, plus other crafty stuff. I added in other foundation subjects like history and science in our second year, and still more in the third year and as we went on. There’s plenty of time when you’re homeschooling. Not all kids are bookworms or geniuses, and not all kids are going to be homeschool prodigies; there’s no need to rush them through everything so they can be the ‘best’. It’s totally okay if your kids are just normal kids. Mine are, and they’re still spectacular.
  8. When you (the parent) get burned out, take a break. You will get burned out, trust me. Homeschooling is awesome, but it’s also hella demanding, and takes a lot of time on your part to be successful. When you need a break, it’s totally okay to enroll your kids in an online school, or hire a tutor or otherwise outsource their education for a few months (or years, even). There are some very reputable online schools that do it all… don’t be afraid of giving them a try if you need to be less responsible for a while (or at all). Better yet, plan your year with dedicated breaks so that you can rest as well. But if you plan on homeschooling for several years, know that burnout is real and try to stay ahead of it. It’s easier to take breaks as you need them than it is to power through and end up needing an unplanned  significant rest because you over did it!

Eight years, eight lessons learned; eight bits of homeschool-y advice… seems right, so I’ll end that there. Feel free to chime in with your lessons learned in the comments; I’d love to know what your important bits are!

Looking back, as a newbie homeschooling mom, I was way more eager than I was knowledgeable. I was pretty honest and up front about that in the beginning; my blog served as a place to archive our journey – mostly for my kids. I still keep things updated mostly so they’ll be able to look back and see the kinds of things we did; places we went, memories we created together. I used to scrapbook, but time and Hurricane Harvey took care of that, so I’m glad I transitioned to online documenting. Blog format is just because I enjoy writing. But that blind enthusiasm is what it takes sometimes – just an absolute willingness to jump in with both feet and make it happen. Most of the best things I’ve accomplished in my life have come about because of exactly that kind of determined passion for a thing. If you’re just starting out, don’t let a lack of knowing what you’re doing stop you. Connect with other homeschooling parents, read, research and work with your kids along the way; you’ll figure the rest out as you go.

We have done some truly awesome things over the years – maybe not so much in terms of individual events, but certainly in terms of the cumulative value. Field trips are totally my jam; there are long stretches of time where we literally went on a field trip of some sort every single week. Camping trips, behind the scenes access, travel, exotic animals (outside of a zoo)… it’s been a great time. That’s the kind of thing I hope my kids remember. Now that they’re older, we do less educationally aligned field tripping and more socialization with their friends (per their request), and the trips are more future-oriented than ‘discover the world’ in focus, but with no less enthusiasm. I am so grateful that we’ve had circumstances that allowed for, and intentionally worked to create and sustain, this kind of life for our kids and family. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it.

Both of my kids are in high school now; officially, there are only 3 more school years left in my journey. That’s absolutely crazy to write and read and think about… my oldest is 16 now, and will be starting his junior year of high school this fall. I don’t even understand how that’s possible, but it is, nonetheless true. Having a definite deadline makes me realize how much we have left to do, and how little time there is to accomplish it all. But whatever happens, I’ll very likely still be writing about it. So, here’s to another few years!

IMG_20180123_130429_509

Mmmm… coffee ❤

Thanks for reading along!
Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: End of the Year Update

Well, 2017 has pretty much been a trash fire. I am sincerely hoping that 2018 has better things in store! It’s been a while since I updated, but since this is primarily a homeschooling blog and we have been out of school over the past couple of months, there hasn’t really been much to report in that vein. That’s not to say we’ve been idle; in fact, I have been feeling rather ‘stuck’ on house progress lately, but looking back over my last post made me feel much better because I can see the progress we’ve managed to accomplish.

Rebuilding is slow going, but I suppose that’s to be expected when it’s all DIY. We’re fortunate, I realize, in that we actually are able to do most of the repair work ourselves. That cuts down on cost, but learning as you go isn’t exactly ideal. We’re going to contract out a couple of jobs, but most of it has been/is going to be a family effort, with the help of a couple of extended family members and friends here and there. So far, our biggest hold-ups have been waiting for supplies that we’ve ordered to come in or be delivered, and Loverly Husband’s work schedule. We waited for several weeks for the vanity and sink for the hallway bathroom to come in; apparently a plain, white, 2-drawer, open-top cabinet with 2 doors is a ‘specialty item’, as is the very plain white sink that goes into it. It did eventually (finally) arrive, and has now been installed. We were waiting on that so we could add the tile and finish the walls. We’ve added the main part of the tile; now we’re waiting on the deco tile to come in. Our flooring has been delivered though, so I feel like once the deco tile is in, we’ll make quite a bit of progress rather quickly. The kids have both painted their rooms; this week will be a second coat of paint, finishing the texture in the bathroom and doing the ceilings in the hall and bath, and painting the kids’ ceilings. Here are a few progress pics:

One downside to not updating weekly is that it’s hard to know what order to post things in to catch up. This week is Christmas, so that’s what’s mostly on my mind right now; documenting for the kids. Our homeschool group had its annual Christmas party earlier in December, and PeaGreen elected to wear footie pajamas instead of actual clothes, which was fun. We had a good time and met a few new people. Hopefully our group will continue to grow and prosper this year. Our teen group is still really strong, and there are a couple of kids who’ve aged up into the ‘tween’ group this past year as well, so we’ll have some fresh ideas and interests to fuel the group.

At home, we did minimal decorating this year since we’re in the middle of construction, but we did find a lovely little tinsel tree that is quite festive. We were fortunate that our Christmas decor boxes weren’t damaged in the flood, so next year we should be back to normal. I’m really glad we didn’t lose all of the kids’ hand-made ornaments from school and other crafting! I’ll miss seeing them this season, but next year, we’re planning on getting a real tree again and things will be back to normal.

We actually had a snow day this year! The last one was in 2008, I think. It didn’t last long; only a few hours, but PeaGreen and I got to catch snowflakes on our tongues, so it totally counts! Our family ornament this year is a quad of gold and glitter elves. I haven’t done personal ornaments yet, but that will likely happen this week. Every year I do a themed ‘family’ ornament, and a personal ornament for each of us. One day, the plan is to gift the kids their ornaments for their own trees, along with a ‘story of our ornaments’ booklet that I’ve been keeping for them.

Backing up a bit, we spent Thanksgiving with Loverly Husband’s family as well. The matriarch of the family died in May of 2016, so it’s been a strange thing to figure out where to host holiday family stuff, but I think they figured it out. Loverly Husband’s uncle has a great place, and all of the kids love going there.

Like most hardcore fans, we saw Star Wars with my dad. It was good! I liked it, but I won’t bore you with a review. There are some glaring issues that I feel like they exploit ‘because it’s Star Wars’, but overall, I was pleased.

In other news, we finally got our dryer in (so no more laundromat trips – yay!!), and took a ton of car selfies, as usual.

Star Wars selfie with Gramps!

We are slowly getting back into the groove, homeschool wise. It’s been nice talking to the other moms more; now that the kids are older they don’t need to be entertained/supervised quite as much, and I am really enjoying getting to know them better. We had a homeschool group teen social at the coffee shop, and one of our moms, Michelle’s, birthday dinner out was really fun.

Since we haven’t been having lessons, the kids have totally taken advantage of being free-range. PeaGreen and his friend Jack have been scavenging the neighborhood for lumber in the trash piles and found enough to build a decent-sized tree house at my dad’s. They’ve made quite a bit of progress since this picture; I think it has walls and a roof now. They’re pretty proud of it.

One thing I didn’t think about was that I normally create my new planner in November and have it printed in December so that I can spend our month off filling everything in and planning for the new year. Since the flood, I don’t have my computer (I’m using one a friend gave to us) so I don’t have access to some of the software and files I would normally use. So I decided to give a bullet journal/traveler’s notebook/midori style planner a try.  I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I am still undecided as to how I feel about it. Pros and cons for sure, and it’s working for now. I have a space created in it to plan school, but we haven’t started back yet so I don’t know how it’s going to work, but I am going to stick with it for a while longer and see how it works for me.

My planner is definitely one of my self-care tools, so not having it (and having to make adjustments) is a challenge. Fortunately, I have others as well! My friend (and self-care guru) Leia issued a ‘legs up the wall’ challenge for the holidays. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) is a restorative yoga staple, and doing it every day (or nearly so) has been a great way to stop and breathe and relax for a moment. New hair and Black Friday makeup purchases help, too.

 

… and to wrap this post up, here’s our Christmas card, complete with pictures from today (Christmas day, 2017) this year.

Happy Holidays!

Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: More Home, Less School

So… remember this paragraph from my last post?:

“I say ‘ideal’ because we are still displaced from Harvey, and  keeping any kind of regular schedule is… difficult, at best. At this point, if we manage to get *any* schooling done, I am counting it as a success. We are eight weeks out, and I literally have no idea when our lives will return even to a glimpse of ‘normal’. But we’re working on establishing whatever good habits, school-wise, we can, and music practice is a big part of that.”

Little did I realize at the time I wrote those lines how much of a prophet I was. We are now eleven weeks out from Hurricane Harvey, and in just 3 weeks, I can’t even begin to tell you how far from ‘normal’ things feel right now. The last few weeks have been one of those times in your life where, for every good thing that happens, something equally bad happens. I don’t know how to feel – good? bad? meh? Mostly meh, I think.

We moved back into our house (such as it is) on October 29th. That was a very long day, filled with moving and cleaning and last minute sheetrock-hanging (in the bedrooms) and setting up of temporary bedding. When I say ‘such as it is’, I mean we have sheetrock in the bedrooms and one bathroom, and that’s pretty much it. No float and tape, no paint, no trim – just sheetrock. And there bare studs in the entire rest of the house – the only reason we put up the bedroom sheetrock was to give everyone a little bit of privacy. The first few days, we didn’t have internet, and since we had a cold snap we had to go buy heaters. We did get Mac the Wonder Dog back from the friends who’ve been keeping him while we were displaced right before Halloween, then the weather changed, and it was so hot and humid that we also had to go buy air conditioners. Texas, y’all.

pizza at home… with no walls.

Being back in our own space, however sparse and utilitarian it is at the moment, has a feel. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s more relaxed (even though living in an unfinished space (no doors/no walls) is arguably more stressful) or something… it’s very hard to put into words. We’ve since established internet, we’ve hung doors to the bedrooms and sheetrock in the hallway and living room, and pulled the ceiling out of the hallway and hall bathroom and re-sheetrocked everything except the kitchen. We got doorknobs earlier this week, and that was a big celebratory moment. It’s slow-going, but we’re getting there.

doorknob shopping!

School, on the other hand, has had to go onto the back burner for now. We’ve put co-op on hold, and even music lessons and orchestra are on shelved for the moment. It’s exceedingly difficult to do lessons without computer access for the kids. I didn’t realize how much of their work was being done on the computer. What isn’t online is printer-based and not having my printer set up (or a space to put it in) makes that very difficult to accomplish. At this point, we are about 4 weeks behind schedule; we’ll be about 5 weeks at the end of this week. I’ve written before about there not truly being a ‘schedule’ that homeschooling needs to happen on, and been encouraged/supported by long-time homeschooling friends who’ve dealt with similar setbacks that have reminded me of this fact. But we started the year off-schedule due to my mom’s illness and death, and just as we were getting caught back up, Harvey hit. So even though there isn’t really a schedule, there is definitely a place where I feel like we ‘should be’ that we aren’t. That’s stressful no matter how you slice it. Especially with the kids both being in high school this year, there is only a limited time that we have to accomplish high school lessons; I don’t like starting out in such a  deficit.

That said, we do have a workable plan to catch up, if not exactly where we should be, then close to. We normally take all of December off from lessons; this year that won’t be in the cards. Using that time to play catch-up will get us close to where we should be. In the mean time, I am trying my hardest to be zen-mama and let the kids do their own thing while we get what work we can accomplished on the house. I’d like to say that we’ve been filling our time with other fun and/or educational-type activities, but the truth is that it’s a lot of ‘go-fer’-ing, grunt work and wait-and-see. I’ve spent more hours than I care to count wither online comparing, on the phone with or in the store shopping or waiting in line at Home Depot, and picking up tools and other materials from Ace Hardware. We had a door issue with Home Depot that took 3 weeks, 4 deliveries and one instance of getting shirty on the phone with customer service before we got it resolved. Like I said; we are making progress, it’s just SO. SLOW.

sheetrock in the living room! And the ever-dwindling pile of sheetrock in the living room waiting to go on the walls and ceiling.

hallway ceiling torn out (now insulated, sheetrocked and taped and mudded)

hallway bathroom mid-demo (now all sheetrocked and mudded). We have a vent fan in there now! Yay!!

In between the chaos of fixing our house, we’ve tried to do some fun stuff without feeling too guilty for taking time off construction duty. Halloween came and went; I was disappointed because that’s normally my favorite time of the year, but all of my Halloween stuff got ruined so I am going to have to wait until next season to start replacing things. It didn’t ‘feel’ like Halloween because I had no decor. Luckily my Christmas boxes survived in tact, so Christmas should be merry and bright. PeaGreen and his friend started a thing – they are now called Boris and Anatoly (with LBB stepping in as Dimitri on occasion). They all think it’s cleaver and fun and hilarious. I don’t get it. But whatevs.

Halloween 2017

We did make our annual trip out to the Texas Renaissance Festival last week. It was such a great day! I had a horrible time last year so I was really not looking forward to going this year, but it ended up being the perfect weather, and we had a small group of our homeschool friends with us, so it turned out to be just a really fun day.

TX Ren Fest 2017

We also took a full-day family break and brought the kids to see Thor Ragnarok. It was a little campy for my tastes, but still fun. Dinner afterwards was a riot; these two are pretty funny when they’re getting along (rare these days).

That’s pretty much it for now. The next few weeks will be full of more of the same, and hopefully we will get to a place where we can start back on lessons in full very soon.

Warmly,
~h

 


Post Harvey: Back to School

Last time I posted, we were in the middle of our ‘soft start’ back to school. Since then, it’s been a struggle trying to figure out what our new ‘normal’ looks like. Before hurricane Harvey struck, we’d been experimenting with a block schedule, but without any impetus to really give it a good try, it’s just been a thing more in theory than in practice. But since we are still living with friends right now, and not in our own space where we can school as we normally do, we’ve revisited the idea of a block schedule in truth as a way to make the most of our time and energy (and limited space and resources).

Block scheduling, for those who aren’t familiar with the concept, is basically where you do only one or two subjects per day, but rather than spread the lessons out over the course of the week, you do several lessons in that subject all at once. Colleges usually have block scheduling. Here’s a sample of what our (ideal) block schedule looks like right now:

  • Mondays: science, SAT practice and music (orchestra class)
  • Tuesdays: history, civics, SAT practice & music
  • Wednesdays: math, SAT practice & music
  • Thursdays: co-op (including orchestra class)
  • Fridays: grammar, literature, SAT practice & music (orchestra practice at home and private lessons on their second instrument)

I say ‘ideal’ because we are still displaced from Harvey, and  keeping any kind of regular schedule is… difficult, at best. At this point, if we manage to get *any* schooling done, I am counting it as a success. We are eight weeks out, and I literally have no idea when our lives will return even to a glimpse of ‘normal’. But we’re working on establishing whatever good habits, school-wise, we can, and music practice is a big part of that.

LBB is still catching up to where the class is after switching to cello from violin over the summer, and PeaGreen (who is still playing violin for co-op) has experimented with several instruments including piano, guitar, ukulele, and coronet and has now decided that saxophone is the one for him. With a saxophone in hand now (thanks to a very generous friend), he’s confident that his future as a jazz musician is assured. We’ll see how that goes. LBB has tried guitar and piano, and is just focusing on cello for now.

so shiny!!

This is his ‘serious jazz musician’ face.

Practice in ‘not our house’ has been difficult. I don’t know if our music stands were tossed in the cleanup, or if they’re very well-packed, but I couldn’t find them so we’ve had to make-do. Fortunately, that’s been resolved since these pictures were taken (thanks Amazon Prime 2-day free shipping*!!). LBB’s been using my cello book in class, so I also got him a new book, strings and a bow for PeaGreen (the one PG is using is his teacher’s) so we’re finally set for orchestra to resume. Co-op as well; we started up a couple of weeks ago, but the first class back ended up being a social thing with no classes since the kids hadn’t seen each other in a month. Hurricanes are hard to deal with in so many ways; I’ve been through them before with younger kids (Rita when they were 2/3, and Ike when they were 5/6 or so), and this experience has been harder in some ways and easier in some. When they were younger, being out of our house was an adventure. As long as I was cool, they were cool. Now, they have enough knowledge and interest in the situation to be stressed in their own right, independent of my feelings about the situation. Just another stop on the magical mystery tour of parenting teenagers, I guess.

We did get ‘official’ school pictures done though. Behold:

It’s been hard to decide what the priority thing is lately. Everything is a priority right now, therefore nothing is. It’s a weird place to be in, and stressful because there’s so much to do in every direction. Not only are we cleaning up our own house, but also my dad’s. He lives 2 houses down from us, and was also flooded/rescued during Harvey. He’s also been displaced and is staying with friends. He’s in a wheelchair, so my sister was really the one who did the initial cleanup and set-up of the fans to dry everything out. Along the way, she found a Starbucks gift card in some of my mom’s things (we lost so much of her personal things that we hadn’t gotten to yet – it’s pretty traumatizing), and since she doesn’t drink coffee, passed it along to me. Being without her has been hard; it was nice to have ‘coffee on Mom’ one last time with LBB. I do want to point out that though I did get the picture I wanted (below), LBB thought it was ‘disrespectful’ to make a big deal about having coffee with/on Grammie, which initiated a conversation about grief and processing and the ways and hows that make things okay or distasteful for different people, and how to support different choices and paths of grieving. I forget sometimes that he lost both of his grandmothers within 18 months of each other. It was a good conversation, and a good reminder for me.

Aside from school and life-lessons, the process of cleanup, demolition, and rebuilding continues. We have an old house, so there have been some repairs that we needed to make anyway that the flooding just exacerbated. Workdays at the house are hard, but it’s nice to see progress.

In the chaos, I am trying to remember to be a good mom. PG and I went to see a showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas (which is a traditional Halloween and Christmas Day movie in our house, but that we won’t get to do this year – at least for Halloween. Maybe for Christmas!!) date night. Then the next day, I woke LBB up early to go have breakfast with me, and of course, selfies in the car have become our ‘thing’.

In other news, our library’s homeschool book clubs have started up again. The teen book club was originally scheduled for sometime in September, but got moved for obvious reasons. I was afraid we’d miss it this year; we missed all of last year due to various reasons – the primary one being my mom’s illness and death (and coming to terms with that after the fact). But with the hurricane, it got pushed back to October, so we didn’t miss it after all.

Another ‘after working on the house’ outing – to Orange Leaf for some much needed froyo with Dad.

practice, practice, practice

Somehow, I only have the one picture of PG playing his new pink violin. I’ll have to rectify that soon.

Though it’s very slow-going, we are definitely making some progress on the house. Now that all of the damaged sheet rock is out, we’re making plans for repairs. On my end, that means choosing new paint colors. I’ve decided to go with the same color for all of the rooms except the bedrooms, and gray is the direction I am leaning. I picked up a few paint swatches and put them on the walls to check the color in the house (because it never looks like it does in the store under the fluorescent lights). Most of them were too ‘blue’, and a few too dark or with a green cast to them. I was able to narrow it down a bit, and will get down to three or so and then move the samples to the other walls.

#allthegreys

#finalists

 

I know that I want my bedroom the same color it was before, but the paint cans are all gone now, so I was really glad I am my same obsessive self, because I was able to go back through blog posts to when we re-did our bedroom to find the paint color – Daring Indigo by Behr. I now have justification for almost a decade of blogging!

At this point, we are just trying to figure out funding. Between FEMA and SBA, hopefully we will be able to make the repairs we need to so that our home is livable again soon. Anyway. That’s pretty much all that’s happening in our world right now. Hope your world is functioning within normal parameters 😉

Bonus picture of these two weirdos ❤

 

Warmly,
~h

*disclaimer: this isn’t a sponsored post and I am not an Amazon affiliate. I just appreciate the hell out of a company that can get me things I want/need in 2 days for free. 😉


Hurricane Harvey

This year has been a hard one. My mom died in January, and we were among the thousands who lost their home in Harvey. I’ll have commentary on homeschooling through things like this at some point, but for now, I just want to archive our experience.

Thursday, August 24th was about the first real mention of Harvey as a threat to the Texas coastline that I got wind of. I was in Denver, CO on day 7 of an 8-day business trip and ready to get home. News of a hurricane wasn’t particularly worrisome;  I live in a hurricane zone so I’m used to the sensationalism that a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico tends to spawn. Those of us who were raised along the coast know that you don’t really start worrying until the day before the storm makes landfall, and even then, only if you’re in the target zone. At that point, Harvey was still out in ‘projection’ zone with no clear landfall destination, so I wasn’t overly concerned that it would hit my city at that point. Although I will say that I was a bit concerned about driving into a hurricane, since we were scheduled to begin the drive home that afternoon. We got in touch with our respective husbands to touch base about hurricane plans and whatnot and started home. By Friday, we were back in Texas, and the news was a little more stressful, so we were eager to get home. As evening fell, we were driving into Houston from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and there was a steady line of traffic for hours, headed North on I-45. We decided to bypass Houston to get back home to Beaumont. We hit gas shortages and issues with ATMs and credit card readers along the way, but made it safely home before midnight.

The weekend was spent in recovery mode. I don’t ‘people’ well for long periods of time, so I was in total hermit/hibernation with my family mode after being gone and surrounded by (amazing, fantastic, inspiring) people for a solid week. Being back home – in my own space – was divine.  News over the weekend was bad – Harvey had hit Corpus Christi and bounced up the coast to Houston, with major flooding and other related issues. Though we had a lot of rain in our area, there was no wind or other ‘normal’ hurricane related stuff going on. At this point, I was sympathetic to those affected, but super glad the storm had missed us although the forecast looked like we were still in the line of fire. I wasn’t worried though; we’ve weathered storms before (hurricanes Rita and Ike, among others), and we were as prepared as we could be.

Monday, we had still more rain, and we lost power for a while, but it came back on. We have a weird drainage issue on our property, and sometimes get water leaking into our office/school room, which is a converted garage. It sits on a slab, at ground-level while the rest of the house is on pier and beam. Because of all the rain, we got a little bit of water into that room – no big deal; it happens sometimes. Basically, it looked like someone spilled a big glass of water in the corner of the room. We cleaned it up, and Loverly Husband grabbed a shovel and cleared the drainage that ran beside the house, then he and the boys took turns using a broom to encourage the water not to accumulate near that wall. By Tuesday (August 29th), the sweeping thing was getting old, so I took over for a while so the boys could get some sleep – and still the rain came. The power went out again, and stayed out this time.

By Tuesday evening, things were pretty stable. No power, and lots of rain, but not really even all that heavy – just *constant*. I took a little video clip and posted it on Instagram; even though we were hearing about water starting to rise and people getting flooded in and trapped, we didn’t have any standing water in our yard – just a bit up by the porch where the weird drainage issue is sometimes. We weren’t even having water in the office anymore at this point. I was absolutely not concerned that we were going to get flooded in. Our street may get covered, so we might get stuck in our neighborhood for a couple of days, but I was in no way worried that we’d have water in the house, much less be in danger. Our city called for a mandatory evacuation of streets that branch off of ours, but never for our street; our property is high – my family has lived on the same piece of land for more that 60 years and it has NEVER flooded where we are. Even in 1994, which is the benchmark that everyone was using to gauge how bad things were going to be, we never even had water near our houses. We went to bed Tuesday evening honestly believing that we were in no danger.

That changed at 2AM Wednesday morning. Loverly Husband shook me awake to tell me that we ‘have a problem’. We had about 4″ of water in the office. It was wild to see! My shoes were floating. I think my brain kindof shut off; how do you react to wading through ankle-deep water in your house? We made a lot of jokes about indoor pools and unplanned remodeling, then took the office chairs out of there and put whatever wasn’t already wet/ruined up onto the desks. It was still raining, but we figured that this would surely be the worst of it. We did what we could; things were already wet in that room; there wasn’t anything else we could do about it in the middle of the night in the dark with no power, so we went back to bed thinking that we’d figure it out in the morning. In hindsight, we were already in trouble at that point – we just didn’t know it.

The top image is from Tuesday (Aug. 29) afternoon. There is no water. The grass looks fantastic. It looks absolutely no different than any other typical rainstorm that we frequently weather. There was nothing to suggest that we were in trouble. My dad (who lives next door to us) drove down the street to areas that normally flood, and had been evacuated, and reported nothing extraordinary – just what we’d expected. Everything was within normal expectations for a tropical storm.

The bottom image is what we woke up to just before/at sunrise Wednesday (Aug. 30) morning. We had 2′ of water in the office/school room, and it was rising FAST. I wasn’t thinking anymore. I was in survival mode – in ‘get the kids; get to Dad’s; make sure everyone is safe’ mode. Loverly Husband and I told the kids to get a bag packed and we did the same. He moved the car out to the street (which wasn’t underwater yet). I don’t know what I packed – just threw some clothes into a backpack. There was no cohesion; no planning – just reaction.

We gathered up the two dogs and the cat and waded out to the street in thigh-deep, freezing cold water. I sat in the car while the boys went to my dad’s to check on him. We decided that we’d go to my Dad’s; his property sits higher than ours (though only slightly). We moved the cars off the street into his driveway – the highest spot around. All over, there were little islands – his driveway; the street in front of our neighbor’s house; a little island across the street in the horse pasture. I stayed in the car to charge phones, and watched the water rise and rise and rise.

At 9:30AM, we finally had enough snap to recognize that this was going to get WAY WORSE and called for help. Between our neighbor and a friend on Facebook who was helping coordinate with local volunteers, we got put on someone’s list.

While we waited, Loverly Husband went back over to our house and water had already risen to the point that it was several inches high inside the main part of our house. He emptied the refrigerator (something we knew to do from previous experience so it would be a massive, gross problem later), and grabbed some of his work things that he’d forgotten in the mad rush out the door. That was a peculiar feeling – watching as everything you worked for and planned for and saved for is destroyed right before your eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it. I *literally* watched the water go from being ‘problematic’ to ‘terrifying’. The pictures don’t show it,  but there was a crazy strong current. The water in my dad’s front yard (to the right of the above picture) was hip-deep on me and strong enough to push me over when I lost my balance. By the time we were rescued, it was chest deep on Loverly Husband.

At 1PM, thanks to several amazing neighbors and volunteers from Louisiana’s Cajun Navy, we got my dad (who is disabled and in a wheelchair) loaded into a flat-bottomed aluminum boat, and headed to meet my sister who was waiting with rescue volunteers to pick us up. A second boat brought me and the boys, our two dogs and cat and my dad’s dog out (and a rescued chicken along the way), and a third trip brought Loverly Husband out. We were each allowed one bag, which was all we could realistically carry anyway, but it meant that we didn’t necessarily have everything we needed. LBB made it out without shoes, and in the commotion, my dad ended up leaving his bag at his house, and so had nothing with him except his dog.

My sister took this as we were being boated to higher ground.

I cannot describe how surreal it was to *boat* down a street you’re used to driving down. The line of sight was completely different; our boat driver was from our neighborhood and so was familiar with the terrain. I can;t imagine how much more difficult it must have been for volunteers who didn’t know what the land under the water looked like. We stuck to the ditches for the most part, but the water was so deep that it wasn’t necessary for most of the ride. We passed a car that had been completely submerged; only the tip of the antenna was sticking out of the water. Many of the houses were already flooded up to the bottoms of the window sills, with a couple up to the eaves. We live kind of in the country, so many of our neighbors have horses and other animals – we saw horses congregated on little islands of high ground; pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, dogs, cats… it was really weird.

My sister was waiting for us, with her father-in-law (and my dad’s BFF) in his big truck to pick us up. Thank goodness for family, because I don’t know what we’d have done without them. We went back to their house and got showered and into dry clothes, and my sister’s MIL cooked and got a warm meal into everyone.

PeaGreen – cold, wet, tired, scared

LittleBoyBlue and the dogs, with his one bag

The view as we left – water covering everything, with volunteers and concerned families everywhere.

The next few days were a blur. We stayed with my sister in her tiny 2 bedroom house – the boys slept on the couch while Loverly Husband and I stole my niece’s bed. I’ve been through hurricane displacement before, so I knew to apply with FEMA and call the insurance company. We didn’t have windstorm or flood insurance – just regular homeowner’s, which doesn’t cover anything related to a hurricane.

We weren’t able to get back into our neighborhood until the following Tuesday – nearly a week later. There was still water covering the road on Monday, and the Army was in our neighborhood with a ‘gas leak’. We think they were doing house-to-house checks for bodies and didn’t want interference or to freak people out, which I can totally respect; we saw several houses tagged with the big orange X and the date once we got back in.

We ended up with 4′ of water in the office/school room, and about 2′ in the rest of the house. We lost everything that was on, or near or touching the floor – basically everything from doorknobs down in most of the house and *everything* that was left the the office from about waist high down. The water in there was about an inch or so over the top of my desk. Unfortunately, that’s where some of our most important paperwork was; the kids’ school stuff and archives/records, and most of my art supplies. I was able to keep most of our curriculum, which is fortunate, but all of the kids’ school records that weren’t digital are lost. And books… so *many* books.

The kids and I spent Sept. 6-8 clearing out the house and packing up what little could be salvaged into containers. We took a mental health day on Saturday, but were back at it on Sunday, with Loverly Husband finally getting some time off work the following week so we could start demo’ing the house.

The kids in front of our storage building, which now houses everything we are left with after the storm.

We lost basically everything: all of our furniture, beds, the kids’ violins and my grandmother’s piano, heirloom furniture, books, movies, games, music, memorabilia, photo albums, scrapbooks, clothes, electronics, computers & tablets, shoes, holiday decorations, tools, toiletries, our car… I can’t even begin to list what all we lost. I keep hearing ‘it’s just stuff; stuff can be replaced. At least you all are safe’. That’s true, but as my friend Renae said…

All in all, it could be worse. I know that. We have been INCREDIBLY fortunate to have family and friends to stay with and rely on. We have been the beneficiaries of donations and funds to purchase supplies to demo our house (which is now devoid of doors, trim, flooring and sheetrock from 4′ down), and to purchase some basic necessities. We are still in the waiting pool, with thousands of others, for FEMA to inspect and allocate funds to begin repairing our house. I have 5 close friends who also had water in their houses, a couple with water all the way to the eaves, and several acquaintances who also had some pretty severe damage. It’s not just us; there are so many families who are affected by this storm, and by the others that followed – Irma, Maria…

I am so incredibly grateful to the people who risked their lives to help rescue us. The people who boated us to safety were our neighbors, who themselves lost their house with water up to the eaves. We are fortunate to have support from friends and family so that we have a place to stay, transportation, and pretty much all of the basics.

That said, we are not ‘okay’. Being a guest in someone else’s home for a long period of time is difficult.  Probably the most frustrating thing is not having any sort of timeline to go by. You can power through almost anything if you have a set time frame and a date at which your situation will end or change; we are in a constant state of limbo, without any information with which to make plans or goals. We are slowly starting to regain some small bits of normality and replacing things we’ve lost (just basics at this point, like clothes and toiletries and instruments and minimal school supplies so we can at least get back to school), but we have a LONG way to go. Our house is destroyed. We have no furniture. Talking with friends who’ve undergone similar disasters (floods, fires, etc.), I know that it will be a long time before we are back to ‘normal’. We really haven’t even begun yet and I don’t know when things will start to settle down into whatever the new normal will be. But we’re making the best of it… or trying to, anyway. Self-care is, as ever, a central theme in my life. I am trying to stay positive and model good coping behaviours for my children, and overall, we are managing.

I am incredibly glad that we are homeschooling, because we are currently living with a friend in another nearby city. If the kids were in school, that would be a big dilemma – stay in our home district or move them to the district we ‘live’ in now? Since we homeschool, we just delayed the start of our school year by a few weeks; we actually started yesterday with a ‘soft start’ – just a couple of subjects and assignments. We’ll start in truth next week with a return to co-op and music lessons and the whole shebang.

I guess it kinda goes without saying that I will not be participating in the Not Back to School Blog Hop this year; I’ve already missed all of it! But I’ll do my own version of the weekly themes as we get to them this year. First up is usually student pictures – we did get that accomplished! LBB is in 10th grade this year, and PeaGreen is in 9th – it’s all high school from here on out. I can’t believe that both of my babies are high schoolers!

I’ll have a more detailed look at our school year at some point – no promises though. I don’t have my desktop computer and am forced to write on a laptop (which isn’t horrible, but it’s not as user-friendly as my big computer and I don’t have access to everything that was on that hard drive), so I am not even really sure what our school year will look like right now. But say tuned and I’ll be in touch soon!

Warmly,

~h


Homeschool Co-ops: Yea or Nay?

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. As parents, we are often left wondering where this mythical village is, and why we weren’t invited. As new parents, we’re consistently offered help, and told to just let friends and family know what we need, as if telling will magically translate into having. But when you decide to start homeschooling, most of those offers of help disappear. Along the way, homeschooling families seem to have noticed this trend, and voila! – the homeschool co-op was born.

A homeschool co-op, generally speaking, is an organized group of homeschooling families who choose to educate their kids together (cooperatively, thus the name), in small-group settings. Co-ops can be formal or informal; focus on ‘core’ subjects (language arts, math, science and history), electives (art, music, labs, etc.) or a combination of the two; organized through a church, local homeschool group, and or just a group of interested parents.  Co-ops use the same subject or text for teaching the students while they are at co-op, so they’re usually sorted into similarly aged groups for classes and may or may not assign ‘homework’ to students for completion outside of co-op days. Co-ops can have all kinds of arrangements, but usually meet one day each week. Some co-ops follow a more traditional school schedule; others only run seasonally or follow an altogether unique schedule. In most co-ops, the parents of the students are the teachers. This allows the parents to pool their strengths, and can offer some really fantastic opportunities to the kids. Others have a few dedicated teachers (who may or may actually be teachers) while the other parents in the co-op take on other tasks.

I’ve seen parents on either end of the spectrum, from brand new homeschoolers to experienced homeschoolers, look into co-ops for a variety of reasons. My kids and I have participated in 2 co-ops; one was not so great, but the one we are in now (our second year) is fantastic. Just like any other endeavor, some things fit and some don’t. There can be a bit of trial and error, and sometimes forging your own path to find (or create) what works best for your family. Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages that co-ops present.

Co-op Pros & Cons:

Advantages:

  • better use of your time – Homeschooling is time consuming and can be difficult. Sharing the work with other parents can be a really attractive option! Cooperative schooling means that you don’t have to fit in every. single. thing. to your schedule. If you co-op is core-focused, then you don’t have to worry about what to use, because the co-op will tell you. If your co-op is elective-focused, then you can focus your home days on core and not worry about fitting in art and music.
  • regularly scheduled social opportunities/away from home opportunities for kids and parents – Socialization is still (still? STILL.) a hot-button topic for newbies or those uninitiated into the homeschooling world. Since co-ops offer education in a group setting, it has a more familiar ‘feel’ to it than it might otherwise because your students are going to regularly be in a ‘class’ with other kids. If you or your children are social butterflies, having a dedicated day of the week where you know you’re going to be with other people for the majority of the day can be a good thing for your sanity. Actual *adult* conversation, folks!
  • allows you to take advantage of other parents’ strengths/knowledge – This is one of the primary factors in the ‘pros’ column, in my opinion. Every parent has the subject that they can knock out of the park, and another that they dread tackling each day. Co-op allows you to pool your knowledge, skills and strengths with other parents so that you can stick to what you do best. This helps the kids, too! I firmly believe that a teacher’s passion for a subject helps engage students. I would much rather have a parent who loves biology teach my kids rather than push myself to plod through it alone. Additionally, your co-op may offer something that you just flat don’t have access to. Last year, my kids were able to start violin lessons through our co-op. I didn’t play strings at the time, so this was something that would have otherwise been unavailable to my children. This year, I am teaching and essay class – something all of our kids need help with, but that the other parents dread. Since I love writing, it works out.
  • small group learning – kids with learning disabilities/anxiety or developmental delays may benefit from small group environments; they aren’t isolated like they would be at home, but aren’t overwhelmed with a large group of kids and noise like they would be in a traditional classroom. I’ve found that my kids have more closely knit friendships with their co-op classmates than they did when we weren’t participating in group classes every week. Since well run co-ops function like mini schools, the students (and often parents as well) are able to establish intimate friendships with their peers. Small, close-knit groups also offer opportunities for healthy competition among peers. Last year, during a seat testing day for orchestra, the teacher had to use 2 decimal places to determine seat placement – that’s how close the grades were!
  • cost – this one goes in the pros and the cons list. Participating in a co-op can allow you a little more room in your homeschooling budget. Some things, like science labs and art projects, tend to be costly if you have to buy a kit for only one student. Splitting the cost between a group may mean that you get a discounted rate, or can split the cost of a kit with several other families.
  • group-specific opportunities – some classes are harder to accomplish in a one-on-one setting. PE is often more fun when you have a group to play games with. Public speaking is more challenging (and arguably more beneficial) when your audience is real, live people instead of a room full of stuffed animals, your mom and baby sister. We often talk about the advantages that one-on-one homeschooling can provide, but there are some things that just work better in a group.
  • motivation and accountability – this one is iffy; if your co-op is core-focused, then having to meet up each week and keep pace with the other students is a nice incentive to stay on track during non-co-op days. However, if your co-op isn’t core-focused, then this may not apply. However, having a regularly scheduled time to ‘talk shop’ with other homeschooling parents can help keep you motivated to stay on track with your lesson plans, and help troubleshoot when things aren’t going well. Students can also energize each other; hearing what their friends are studying or learning about can help spark interest in your child, too.

Disadvantages:

  • time  – there are several time factors to discuss: one is the amount of time that co-ops can take to organize and plan. Because they’re usually run by parents, that means that, at the very least, you will have to pitch in to help plan, organize or contribute to the smooth running of the effort. If you’re teaching, factor in curriculum research, lesson planning, and grading or evaluation. Consider if the time investment is worth it based on what your kids are getting out of it. Another time factor is the schedule: homeschoolers jokingly operate on ‘homeschool time’, which can mean a variety of different things but usually indicates that start/arrival time is negotiable. For a group to run smoothly, that may mean altering your normal homeschool schedule to fall in line with ‘real world’ time again (at least on co-op days). The last time factor is the amount of time that the co-op takes out of your normal weekly homeschooling routine. If you already have a pretty tight schedule, then you may need to evaluate if you have time to devote to co-op and still have your normal course load. This is less important if you have younger children, follow a more delight-led or unschooling path, or if your children are very independently motivated. Our normal personal homeschool day is a minimum of 4 hours (that’s the *minimum*). Our co-op last year was from 9-3 (this year it’s 10-2), and we also have music lessons 2x per week. We only have one day each week that is fully ‘at home’, so co-op HAS to be worth it for us. Co-op schedules vary, so make sure you consider your students’ work load outside of co-op classes if you’re considering joining or starting a co-op.
  • cost – costs can vary dramatically depending on what classes are being offered. The good thing is that co-op parents are generally pretty conservative, so you aren’t spending money on ‘generic’ supplies; what your co-op asks of you is exactly what the student needs. Some co-ops factor in administrative cost, which may include venue fees or pay a coordinator; others may trade cleaning services or lawn maintenance or some other service that should be factored into your tuition fee/time commitment. There may also be costs associated with co-op that aren’t factored into the tuition fee, like clothing, lunch or event admission fees (if your co-op has field trips). Last year, our co-op began a student orchestra, so the cost of our students’ instruments was on top of the tuition fee.
  • distance – This may also be a disadvantage for some. In our area, there are quite a few co-ops to choose from. Some are very near (the closest to me is literally less than 5 minutes away from my house), but the co-op we participate in sometimes requires a 45+ minute drive on co-op day because we rotate participants’ homes. I put this in the ‘disadvantage’ column, because let’s face it: for most homeschoolers, any location that isn’t our couch or kitchen table is probably farther than we want to go for homeschool. Again, this is just one factor that may make participation in co-op more or less feasible for your family.
  • students may not get what they need from the co-op – Ideally, you will have some input into the classes offered by your co-op. But some co-ops are formed with only a small planning committee or you may have joined after the classes had been set. Depending on how the co-op is structured, your student may be older or younger than the other students, or may be farther ahead or behind the skills and lessons the class is teaching. Class/curriculum planning is one of the harder aspects of organizing a co-op for this reason. It’s a good idea to find out what the co-op’s policy is on dropping out before you commit to the year, for both yourself as a teacher and your student.
  • no/less individualized education – one of the main advantages of homeschooling in my opinion is the ability to customize your student’s education, from philosophy and approach to curriculum and accommodations. You lose some of that autonomy when you choose to educate in a group setting. It’s not as limited as it would be in a traditional classroom, but you’re not as free to make changes like you would be otherwise.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I think it touches on some of the more pertinent points. As with anything you decide to try with your kids, it may work and you may love it. It may be okay, so you continue doing it because you already committed to it. It may be a flop, and you want out asap! Good communication with your co-op group goes a long way towards clearing up any misunderstanding and alleviating any mishaps.

Our Experiences

We are in our 7th year of homeschooling, and have been in 2 co-ops (organized through the same local homeschool group). Our first go-round was when my kids were in middle school. My two were among the oldest in the class, and we had about 8 families participating. We had 3 age groups, with 4 classes plus lunch. The kids were separate for most classes, then we lunched together and had a big group art class. I taught geography, history and art. It had… issues. Overall, it was a good experience, but there were some things that were problematic. First was time vs. value. Originally I wrote new lesson plans, which was very time-consuming. Unfortunately, as the other older kids dropped out and my two were the oldest, I needed to shift into a lower gear for my classes. I ended up using materials that my kids had already gone through, so my kids weren’t benefiting from my classes. They still had French and a science craft/lab class that they really enjoyed, so it wasn’t a total loss, but overall, the value wasn’t worth the time investment. We also has issues with switching location; originally our co-op was held in a church with several classrooms and a large communal space (both indoors and out), but when that fell through and we moved into a home, there as more tensions since we were all on top of each other all day long. Ultimately, we cut the experiment short by several weeks.

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2014 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK Co-op

Our second co-op started last year. We limited it to high schoolers, which was one of the reasons I think it was so successful. Previous experience taught me that a small co-op with several age groups didn’t work. With several different age ranges, it’s more stressful because as a teacher (especially if your don’t have kids of your own in those ages) you have to switch gears mentally to teach up or down to the age of your class. With the high school co-op, we kept the 4 classes plus lunch structure, but since we only had 9 students, we only had one class going at a time instead of 3. That was great, because when I wasn’t teaching, I could chat with the other moms or take care of work things.

We had our co-op in someone’s home both times; the first time, it wasn’t ideal, because we were shuffling kids into bedrooms and the kitchen and living room. Space was crowded, and there was nowhere quiet the entire day. For the second go-round, we had class in the living room or kitchen, and had an office (or outside patio space) that was kid-free during classes. Again, this had to do with limiting the age range.

We tend to favor a 6-weeks on/1-week off schedule for our co-op classes. A lot of the families in our homeschool group follow that type of schedule for their personal homeschool, too which is nice. The first co-op we participated in lasted through one 6-weeks and petered out somewhere in the second (maybe third). We’d only planned for three 6-week sessions, but it wasn’t working, so we cut it short. When we started up again, our group actually had a high school co-op (which had five 6-week sessions) and an elementary co-op (which had two 6-week sessions). The high school co-op ran August – May, and the elementary co-op had a fall session and a spring session (both only 6 weeks long).

Overall, both experiences were good to have, but our second experience (limited to high school) was much better; so good in fact, that we have already started our co-op schedule for the 2017-2018 school year. We started earlier so we could have six 6-week sessions for the year. Not everyone who was in the high school co-op returned for this year’s classes, but enough did to make it worthwhile.

2016-2017 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK High School Co-op

Starting a Co-op

I don’t know how popular homeschool co-op classes are in other areas, but a couple of years ago, we had 13 co-op groups in Southeast Texas. We have a population of about 388,745, with somewhere around 1,500-2,000 homeschooling families; I don’t know how that compares to other areas. Most of the co-ops in my area are faith-based. Actually, all of them are, except the one we belong to. Since I wasn’t willing to sign a statement of faith, we didn’t qualify for membership in most of the groups and co-ops in my area, which is what led me to starting our local homeschool group in the first place. As the group grew, possibilities opened up, which is what led to us deciding to give co-op a try.

Honestly, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how a co-op ‘should’ be organized. Since it’s a cooperative effort between homeschooling parents (and students), you have a lot of freedom to create and customize it to whatever your community in interested in. But if you are thinking of taking on the task of creating a co-op, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • choose a coordinator for a very small group, or committee of 3-5, depending on the size of your co-op – every ship needs a captain, and someone needs to have the final say-so when it comes to decision-making for your co-op. Choose wisely; the coordinator needs to be someone who is organize and can handle both stress and communication well. Additionally you may want to have someone in charge of the treasury (collecting tuition, ordering supplies, reimbursing expenses, etc.). Keeping a cash box or money bag is fine; no need to open a checking account unless you want to go a more formal route.
  • ask for input from your group – homeschoolers like options! They like to be included and have a say in what’s happening with their kids (as they rightfully should). Ask for input or feedback on policies, plans, classes; ask what parents want to teach (or what their strengths are), and ask students what they want to learn about. Your co-op will only be as successful as the interest your group holds in participating, so input from your membership is vital to your staying power. We usually ask parents/teachers to list their class name and a brief description of their class, the created a poll and let the students vote on which classes they prefer. Once classes have been chosen, you can move on.
  • create a handbook – communication is so important when you’re organizing a group of people. Creating a handbook can get a lot of the questions out of the way, ensure that everyone (parents, teachers, and students) knows what to expect and what their responsibilities are, and serve as a reference point when communication gets sticky. Your handbook is where you’ll lay out everything about how your co-op operates, and should address most of the questions that you have as you’re looking into co-op: how does it work? what does it cost? how are the students graded? what if I want to teach/don’t want to teach? what about younger/older kids?, etc.
  • determine location – where will your co-op meet? Some options include: someone’s home (same place every time, or on a rotating schedule?); library; city or town community room; church; park (though outdoors can get distracting or be problematic when the weather is bad); restaurant (possibly negotiate a deal for lunch)… your city likely has some unique possibilities – think outside the box! Cost is usually a factor when it comes to location. Some venues will work with your and allow you to meet without a fee, or at  discounted rate, or even in trade (with your group offering cleaning or lawn maintenance or some other task in exchange for space). Storage is another consideration – will you tote school supplies back and forth, or is there space to store things on site? Other considerations include: table or desk space for the students, computer and wifi access, chalk or white board/projector/screen access; parking; lunch facilities – will everyone need to bring lunch or can you cook on site?
  • have the teachers decide on their curriculum, create lesson plans, and price supplies – be sure to factor in printing costs and coordinate with other teachers to use the same supplies where possible so you don’t over-estimate supplies costs. Supply cost estimates are usually needed before tuition can be decided, or you can set a flat fee. Be sure to ask parents what they have on hand that can be donated to co-op to help keep costs down! What you choose to include in your tuition fees is up to you.
  • decide how non-teaching parents will contribute – it’s not ‘cooperative’ unless everyone participating has a role. There’s plenty to do; ideally everyone takes a turn doing all the things, but if the same parents seem to enjoy teaching and you’re content to let them do it, make lunch or snacks or childcare for younger siblings the responsibility of non-teaching parents. The larger your group is, the more jobs there are. No one should feel taken advantage of.
  • decide on your schedule, and how the classes will be broken up – Some classes only take 4 or 6 weeks to complete; others last a full semester or even longer. Your schedule will depend on what your co-op is planning to do, and will require someone organized to create a schedule that works. You’ll need to know when you want classes to begin so that you can set your tuition due date in time to order supplies. Be sure to add in field trips, special events or other things like that so you’re well-planned. You can add things like ‘morning meditation’ or ‘lunch chat’ or something else clever to address the specific needs of your group. It’s also a good idea to plan a ‘state of the union’ assembly at some point to see how things are working for the group.
  • decide on tuition fees and due date – If your location carries a fee or built-in obligation in trade, that will need to be factored into your tuition cost. Decide when you need tuition paid by so that you can order supplies in time for classes to begin. A savvy shopper will check online stores, shop for wholesale options and look at price-matching options to keep costs as low as possible. Consider additional costs as well, and make parents aware of things that the co-op will not supply (like musical instruments, lunch, literature books or things like folders/pencils/etc.).
  • have a great first day! Keep the coffee flowing, bring mimosas sometimes, let the kids cook lunch, have class outside one day, bring in a guest speaker …. co-op can be amazing and fun and just the thing you need to get you out of a rut. If what you want or need isn’t available in your area, then create it. If you want it, chances are someone else does, too.
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Oh, sure… they meant baseball fields, but this totally applies to homeschool co-ops, too.

Other Options

Of course, co-ops aren’t the only option for parents who aren’t sure they want to take on homeschooling all on their own. Many areas have local homeschool groups that serve as a supplement to your personal homeschooling plan. While they may not all offer a co-op, they often do offer support and a shoulder to lean on as you’re finding your way.

More recently, there is a trend towards part-time private schools, where the kids attend a brick-and-mortar school a couple of days each week and homeschool the other days, which is a neat option. Unfortunately, the only ‘schools’ I am aware of that offer this option are costly which takes it off the table as an option for many homeschooling families. Another movement on the rise is ‘democratic schooling’, like the Sudbury School model. Great in concept, but if you’re a working homeschool family living on one income, it can be cost prohibitive.

Online academies also offer an option, but that’s not a great option if your interest is in homeschooling and not just ‘school at home’. Those programs are run by the state and you end up with none of the benefits that homeschooling provides, like (depending on your state’s laws): full control over what your child is learning; opting out of standardized testing; endless personalization and customization options for your student; and liberation from the 8-3 school day/week and mandatory attendance schedule. Still, some families find it to be a good option, either as an intermediate step towards more independent homeschooling or because it just works for them.

You can also look into workshops or classes held by stores, restaurants, or other local businesses. Colleges, museums, and other places may offer summer camps or classes, or may be willing to work with your local homeschool group to hold a class with enough participation. Private music classes, art classes, gym, dance or other sports are usually available to homeschoolers, and you can always look into hiring a tutor if you feel like you’re not able to help your student get where he or she needs to be.

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Hopefully, this will give you some things to think about, whether you decide to join a co-op (or start one) or try something else. I am a firm believer in being open to trying new things, and if it doesn’t end up working out trying something else… and even trying something again that didn’t work out before. Our first co-op was a learning experience, and that led to a success story the next time we gave it a shot. Remember: nothing you choose in homeschooling is so permanent that you can’t stop and choose something  else.

If you have the opportunity, give a co-op a try!

Warmly,
~h