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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.
Image result for if you build it they will come

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

 

 

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It’s Full-on Summer, Y’all

Ugh. It’s SO. FREAKING. HOT. Actually, it’s not the temperature; it’s the 100% humidity that makes being outside unbearable. Even in the shade, the air is sticky and leaves you feeling gross within just a few minutes. I haven’t updated as regularly as I have been, and I am totally blaming the weather. It’s so sticky that even the speed at which my fingers move across the keyboard is enough to generate sweat and tbh, I’m just not that into it.

Sarcasm aside, I feel like this summer has been hotter than usual and as a result, we’ve opted for as much time indoors as possible. Barring a couple of beach trips (which have been a lot of fun, as noted in my previous post), outdoors has been limited to short meditation sessions or to evenings after the sun sinks behind the western tree line. I spent early spring preparing a lovely little outdoor spot with flowers and repainted patio furniture. It’s a shame, too; we were off to such a good start, with dinner on the patio a couple of times a week, but once the heat set in that was a no-go. The sad thing about it is that we still have at least 2 more months of this before it will start cooling off. <— That is said with *extreme* hopefulness, btw.

Also, writing this makes me realize that we need to schedule another beach day, stat!

June was pretty typical; nothing special happened really. Loverly Husband has a new work schedule, so that’s been a bit of an adjustment. His days off fall during weekdays sometimes now, so we’ve had to do some finagling to make sure that our school days and off days line up more with his. Some families cam make homeschool work when Dad’s off, but we never have really been able to stay focused when the temptation of leisure time with Dad is an option.

Music lessons are progressing as expected; PeaGreen is still playing violin (starting 2nd year violin with co-op this year) and piano; LBB is sticking with cello and has started piano. He caught up to where the rest of the class is remarkably fast; even though he’s only about 2 months into cello, he’s starting book 2 with the rest of the class and is only behind muscle-memory-wise. I played with LBB’s violin some last night – just to see how I’d do – and it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Last time I picked it up, I could not play just one string (it’s so much smaller than the cello); this time, after about 15 minutes, I was fairly consistently hitting the right strings to do scales.

A fairly steady stream of ‘school, orchestra practice, school, music lessons, weekend; repeat’ is how much of June went.

orchestra practice – June2017

Dungeons & Dragons – June 2017

 

Lunch date with my two best guys ❤

 

family car-selfie

July started off with PeaGreen’s 14th birthday shenanigans! We made plans with our longtime-summertime play cousins, who moved to Houston last summer. We took the day off from school (birthdays are never school days in our house) and spent the day with friends.

obligatory car-selfie!

They have all grown SO MUCH!! This was way back in 2012; the first summer that we spent with our little mini-group. Now, they’re all ‘tweens & teens, and are making plans for their futures. It’s hard to believe that one day these will be graduation pictures!

PeaGreen campaigned hard for a new kitten, and found the perfect tuxedo cat whom he named Ganymede. Ganymede is a bratty, scratchy cat, but he’s so tiny and adorable that we overlook those few small flaws.

Look! Actual homeschooled students doing actual schoolwork! So rare to see! LOL

PeaGreen had some friends over to help celebrate his birthday. *so much junk food*

We spent some time at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, TX, and at the Pompeiian Villa, which is an historic home-turned-museum from the days before Port Arthur was a major industrial port in Texas. The MotGC has an exhibit called ‘Betting, Booze & Brothels’ that was great! It was an exhibition created by the Museum on crime and vice in Texas and Louisiana based on the book by Wanda Landrey and Laura O’Toole that deals with the history of gambling, bootlegging, prostitution, and government corruption in this area from Prohibition to the James Commission (1960s) and will be open until August 26, 2017.

PeaGreen holding a 20’s era tommy gun. Since beginning to play violin, he’s made A LOT of jokes about a tommy gun being hidden in the violin case; we thought this was a fitting pose for him!

the dining room at the Pompeiian Villa

Since my grandmother moved to Longview, we haven’t been able to see her as often as we used to. We’ve missed her so much, and finally got to plan some time to go see her. We took a day-trip with my dad and my sister and piled the kids up in the car for the 4+ hour drive there. Her little apartment is very nice; not like ‘home’, but we keep telling her that it’s an adventure.

LittleBoyBlue, PeaGreen & Fred – they’re all so grown up now!!

Our friends were in a play! A neighboring city hosts an amazing summer kids’ drama workshop, and four of our friends were in this year’s production. We’ve been meaning to go see a performance and finally got to this time!

Goofing off with my kids… we take a lot of car selfies. One day I am going to make a post of car selfie progression pics from a full year.


.First day of vibrato practice. I really thought that there would be more complaining/blistered fingertips, but so far it’s going well. So much of playing a stringed instrument is pure muscle memory; I honestly had no idea how much. Knowing a thing with your brain is entirely different from being able to make your body do the thing – even when the thing is rocking your finger back and forth on a string. I’m sure it’s the same with other instruments (piano, I can say for sure), but it seems particularly daunting right now as we learn a new skill.

We’re back to co-op starting this week. We have a few kids who decided not to take all the classes, so orchestra has moved to Mondays, with Thursday’s co-op day being the optional class (which is opposite from last year). It’s nice, because it’s changed the time frame of our co-op day; from 10-2 this year instead of 9-3. Since we start later, we don’t take a lunch break, and it works out.

Today was the first day trying out the new schedule and it worked well. I didn’t get many pictures of today’s classes, but we’ve got an essay class, banking & finance, drama/improv 101 and orchestra. There was a lot of groaning about classes before we started but I don’t know if that was actual dread or general teenaged existential dread… whatever the case, I think they were all pleasantly surprised at how much fun they had today.

August promises similarly warm weather and the start of the new school year. We are still doing our summer schedule right now, but I will be updating with a curriculum for 9th (PeaGreen) and 10th (LBB) in August with the Not Back to School Blog hop, which should be starting up soon. This will be their 9th year, if they host it this year. There was some confusion since they moved it to the new host; either way, *I* will be doing my own version of it like I (intend to) do at the beginning of every year:

  1.  Week: Curriculum & Pictures
  2.  Week: School Room or Space(s)
  3.  Week: A Word from the Kids
  4.  Week: A Day in the Life

Until then, I hope your last few weeks of summer are enjoyable!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


May Flowers – Spring 2017

I can’t believe it’s May already! When I was a kid, May meant ‘summer’ in full force, but it seems like over the last few years, it’s been cool well into May. This year has been no exception to that; the daytime, though warm, has been lovely. Mornings and evenings are darn near perfect. If I could bottle this weather and keep it forever, I would. I keep trying to convince Loverly Husband that we could move to some place where the weather’s like this all year round, but so far no dice. Ah, well… maybe some day!

In the mean time, we’re making the most of spring! We’ve been eating dinner on the patio – well, I call it the patio. That’s a generous term, I know. We once had a covered carport, but hurricane Rita carried it away and we never replaced it, so now it’s just a concrete slab where we usually park my car. Loverly Husband has a giant work truck, so he doesn’t park on the slab, leaving the whole right side of the slab open… for my table, chairs and plants (now). It’s turning into a lovely little space that is shaded well in the afternoon due to the trees that are on the fence line between us and the neighboring house (which was once my grandmother’s, before she moved to Longview). In any case, it’s nice to have an outdoor seating area, and dining area, whatever you want to call it.

 

In between our outings, the kids have been doing more in the kitchen. Cooking is not my ‘thing’, so they have had to learn to experiment with foods and cooking to figure out what they like. They’re pretty intuitive though, and even offer to cook dinner for the family on occasion. PeaGreen’s favorite things to make are Corn Casserole, and (Easy) Chicken Alfredo. LBB is more of a ‘fix something to eat’ over a ‘prepare a meal’ kinda guy. Hopefully he’ll either learn to cook more things or find a partner who loves to cook!

As always of late, music practice dominates our days and week. We have a seat test for orchestra once a month, and this time around, we only had the music for a single week. Not only that, but some of the songs required notes or position shifts that were totally new, that we also had to figure out for ourselves. It’s the kind of move that, as a teacher, I wholeheartedly approve of. But as a student, it was harrowing. I didn’t do as well as I’d have liked; I still got an A, but I feel like I could have done better. The boys also were disappointed with their performances, both receiving B’s, but in context (first year students with no prior music experience; new notes; brand new music; a long piece; with only one week of practice), I think they did well.

We played The Sound of Music for our test. Oh! That was the other thing; we were given THREE pieces of music; The Sound of Music, Fireflies, and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, and told that the test would come from one of those pieces, so practice all three.  We didn’t know which piece we’d be playing until the day-of, about 15 minutes before the test. So yes, adding that factor in, I’m overall fine with everyone’s grades.

In our homeschool co-op, the kids are taking a class on Teen Mental Health. They’ve had a semester-long project to work on that is coming to a close, and each week has been focused on a distinct method of awareness or coping with life and self-care and maintaining good mental health or managing mental health issues. To help focus on living things and the slowness of thought that comes with managing plants (and relaxation that many people find), the kids made succulent and cactus terrariums. In addition to the little plants and moss and rocks common to this style of container, the kids brought a variety of little trinkets to put into their containers.

LBB’s echevarria variant with moss and glass beads

PeaGreen’s cactus and succulent with Zelda

In our art class, we started art journaling to explore mixed media art.

And just because this was such an enjoyable little evening, here are some pictures we took when my dad joined us for dinner on our little patio (and more pictures of my plants, because they’re making me super happy these days). He said that this was the first actual ‘dinner’ he’s had since my mom died. Apparently he’s also more of a ‘fix something to eat’ type. That’s kinda sad, because he used to cook dinner fairly often, but Sunday Breakfast was his specialty throughout my childhood. He even had a special Tupperware container that lived on top of the refrigerator with his secret, proprietary mix for making homemade buttermilk biscuits. He and my grandfather and brother used to deer hunt every fall and winter as well, so homemade deer sausage was always on the menu… with eggs of some kind and coffee. I miss those days.

We went to McFaddin Ward for ‘Manners Mater’, a social etiquette class for one of our homeschool group’s Teen Socials. We’ve been having two each month lately, and the kids are enjoying it. The kids dressed in a variety of styles of clothing, from ultra casual to business casual (we couldn’t get them into formal wear, lol) and performed skits to help identify polite behaviours and impolite behaviours. We actually went to the museum first, because I wasn’t sure where our class was going to be at, so I got a couple of pictures of the boys on the porch while we waited. We’ve been homeschooling for almost 7 years now, and haven’t been to the museum yet. We’ve been all around it, at the carriage house, in the visitor’s center and on the grounds, but never actually inside. ‘Gotta do that, H.I.’.

Afterwards, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with lunch at Elena’s Mexican Restaurant. *so yummy*.

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Afterwards, we had music lessons (because Friday). PeaGreen worked on his piano solo, and LBB practiced violin. He was going to add guitar, but opted to stick with one instrument for now. I don’t blame him; finding time to practice two isn’t easy. Our homeschool group’s ‘end of the year talent show and recital’ is coming up the first week of June, so we’re all in preparation/practice mode. PeaGreen is planning a performance with two of his friends in addition to his solo and playing with the orchestra. He’s working hard!

Here are the books we’re using for our piano class, in case you were wondering.

Overall, a busy and productive few weeks, as always. Stay tuned for another update soon!

Warmly,
~h


April Showers: Late Spring 2017

I hate starting off a post with ‘we’ve been really busy’. If you know me IRL, then you know I’m always busy; that doesn’t change. Everything else may, but that’s a constant in my life. I don’t mean that to sound like a complaint, truly. I like it. I thrive on being ‘busy’. When I say, ‘We’ve been busy!’, it’s more of an acknowledgement that it’s been a while since I slowed down to take stock of what we’ve accomplished – me, individually, and each of the boys, and all of us together (including Loverly Husband) together for school or general family wellness. That’s one of the reasons I like blogging, particularly about our homeschool journey, because it does force/give me the opportunity to record and reflect on what we’ve been doing with our time.

That said, April’s been a busy month, for sure. I brought last month’s update through the first 6 weeks back to school after my mom died. Our break week was pretty chill; we spent most of the week at home, barring a couple of outings. The most glaringly obvious event was the kids’ first formal dance! Honestly, I wish they’d been as excited about it as I was for them. I wasn’t allowed to go to school dances, so this was a big deal. Yes, I recognize that I am living vicariously through my children; go away with your criticism. I want them to have opportunities I was denied; what parent doesn’t want that for their kids? It was super weird though; we had a pre-prom party a friend’s house, then dropped all the kids off to be tended by event chaperones. I trust my kids, and their friends are trustworthy. I wasn’t concerned about anything untoward going on – it was just the strangeness of ‘dropping them off at an event’. I’ve really never done that before! This is new territory, but appropriate for their age and maturity, I think, and something I have to get used to as they become independent young men. It makes me want to fold them up and put them in my pocket…. but also let them bloom and grow into the fine young people they are proving themselves to be. It’s a dilemma.

Before prom festivities could commence, we went with our homeschool group to a tour of the Lower Neches Valley Authority, better known around here as the LNVA, saltwater barrier, which is the system of testing and regulating and prevention of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico creeping up too far into the Neches River. The Neches is where we get most (all?) of our water from; everything from the city water supply to rice and crawfish farming and petrochemical processing plant use. The saltwater barrier is a big deal, and the dam/lock system they have to keep the river salt-free (or at least within acceptable levels) is pretty neat. We got to go up on the barrier itself, and walk across the top, as well as into the lab where they do all the water testing.

That’s the barrier system in the background. There’s a shot of the kids, looking down from the top of the barrier, and a shot of our group at the top railing.

The theme for the homeschool prom this year was Masquerade, so we went to a local party shop to look for masks. We lucked out – they had a whole section with Venetian style masks. The kids both found masks that suit their styles; PeaGreen’s colorful, ostentatiously feathered Columbina mask in all its sequinned glory; and a smirking, judgy, full-faced Bauta for LBB. At least, from the definition of masks and their meanings, that’s the closest to ‘types of mask‘ I could find for them. Reading through the meanings was interesting; I think they chose well as far as coincidentally aligning personality with choice of mask.

I also found Joker and Harley Quinn mask/sunglasses, which I am tempted to purchase. I didn’t though; all my money right now is being spent on herbs and plants!

Prom day rolled around and we spent the early evening at our friends’ house. She decorated and we all brought food – finger foods so no one accidentally spilled and spoiled their outfits! We’re sometimes smart when we put our heads together to plan things like this. It worked out perfectly; the kids had enough time to get together and relax, eat, and we got pictures just in case they slipped by the photo booths at the event.

‘boy band’ pose

I was really glad that whoever set up the prom didn’t let anyone sneak by without getting a picture! LBB is a pro at disappearing when it’s time to take pictures, so I am really glad they got him. Photography by someone who is not me… they’re in the SETXHomeschool Prom albums.

I got to spend some kid-free time with my friend Kandi; we went to dinner and then to a lecture at the McFaddin Ward House Visitor’s Center featuring Anita Davis of the ESSE Purse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. I wasn’t sure what to expect; the way the event was advertised, I thought the lecture was going to be about some of the ‘famous purses’ they have on display, or about purses in general and what women carry in them. It was more about the woman, herself, and how she got started and she touched on some of the other bits; I was a little disappointed, but it was still very cool to see a woman over the age of 40 reinvent herself and do this awesome thing. Her talk was great for what it was; if I’m ever in Little Rock, I am going to do my best to actually visit the museum.

Although it looks like we were super active, those were really our only two ‘out of the house’ things during our off week. Loverly Husband has a new schedule at work, so he’s off occasionally during the week now. This time, his ‘off’ days and ours happened to coincide, so we spent a lot of time just hanging out at home with Dad.

Easter isn’t a big thing in our house; Loverly Husband stayed home and worked on the yard while the kids and I went to my brother’s for a BBQ. My dad went, too. Before my mom died, we planned a big family dinner for every couple of months. We hadn’t had one in a while, because my mom wasn’t feeling up to it, and then her illness and death took the spotlight. This was the first thing we’ve done as a family since her death that wasn’t because of her illness or arrangements following her death. It was surreal. We didn’t talk about her much, but it was so odd and different without her there to do the things and contribute to the flow of conversation. I miss her.

We started our second 6 weeks on April 17th, and it’s been full-speed ahead since then. I dropped the kids off at their music lesson Monday in favor of a fancy ladies’ luncheon at the incredible Monica’s with my friend Bridey who recently moved out of town, then Wednesday, the kids and I hooked up with another family in our group and went to the Health Museum in Houston to see Body Worlds Rx exhibit. I missed out on it the last time it was in Houston; the kids were really little and I remember being iffy on whether or not they could handle the idea of actual bodies being displayed like that. My parents went to see it last time and said it was really nifty; having seen it for myself, I’ll have to agree. They don’t look ‘real’ though; the plastination process makes them look like mannequins.

We spent all day at the museum; the kids got to go through the Body Worlds Rx displays, we watched about 30 minutes of an hour-long film about the process that von Hagens uses to make the displays, and the kids did an hour-long lab and ran experiments on (???). The film was dated and dry, but the process itself is so neat/eerie/cool/gross/fascinating/disconcerting/incredible. This is the actual film, though the version we watched was narrated in English. There are snippets of it in English on YouTube as well.

 

Our homeschool co-op resumed this past week for the last 6 weeks of the 2016-2017 school year. I cannot believe that we’re almost a year into co-op, or that we’re almost DONE with a full year of co-op! The kids are taking art (practical), in which they’re working for 3 weeks on mixed-media and art journaling, then they will have 3 weeks to work on their final project (they can use any of the techniques we’ve learned throughout this semester); the last 6 weeks of teen mental health class, which focuses on physical health and their final project (each student has been working on an ‘awareness board’ for a particular mental illness); art (history), which is new this 6 weeks; and the final 6 weeks of orchestra. They’ll be seat-testing this coming week, with music that they’ll have only had 6 days to prepare for.

We have music lessons every week; LBB uses the time to further his violin skills, and PeaGreen chose to start piano lessons. We have a talent show coming up in our homeschool group, our ‘end of the year’ orchestra concert *and* a recital for our music teacher coming up at the end of summer. That’s a lot to practice for!

We’re still playing our Dungeons & Dragons campaign that we started last year. We try to play every other week, and most weeks that works out, but it’s been a while, so it was nice to get back to it. They both have looks of concentration on their faces – that’s misleading! It’s a lot of fun and silliness.

This evening, Loverly Husband and I ditched the kids for dinner at a local gourmet burger joint, browsed Home Depot for plants and a part to repair the light in our ceiling fan, Office Depot for a new desk chair, and a 45 minute, extra-long wait in the Starbuck’s drive-thru. Despite the extended wait time in the car, it was a lovely evening out!

 

Warmly,
~h


Spring 2017

Today is the first day of our break week. If you’re a longtime reader, then you’re familiar with our school year schedule. We have 6 weeks of lessons, followed by a one week break. Normally, this would be our second break, but with my mom’s illness and death in January, we took time off, so this is actually the end of our first full six weeks of school this year (we also school from January – November, year-round, rather than the traditional Sept. – May schedule).

As much as I’d love to say that we’re going to be productive this week, that’s unlikely. It’s almost 2 in the afternoon at the time of this writing, and here’s what my kids are doing at this exact moment. Not that I blame them; if not for a meeting this morning, I would probably have stated in bed until noon, at least.

At the beginning of last month, I was so ready to fall back into normal routines, and now, I’m so ready for this week’s break! Life feels mostly back to normal, which is both a good feeling and a sad one. I’m still grieving the loss of my mother; do you ever not once she’s gone? I feel like the loss will get more and more poignant as time passes, especially with milestones and life events that I know she would have wanted to be there for. Even silly things, like my new-to-me patio situation I’m adding photos of in this post. I don’t believe in hiding from grief, so be warned that my posts will very likely mention my mother and how her loss has and continues to affect me, my kids and our lives from this point on. I am a proponent of Caitlin Doughty’s ‘death positivity’ advocacy movement in a big way, so if that bothers you, well… tough. <wink> If you’re into it, check out her book, and the one forthcoming in October, and her YouTube Channel that talks about all kinds of death and death-related things.

Moving on, even though we’ve been supposedly ‘back to normal’ (whatever that means), we actually have had kind of a light schedule, especially in the first couple of weeks. There were a couple of field trips that I wanted to take the kids on, so days in Houston meant limited time for desk-lessons. I’m okay with that; the value in spending time around art and culture a couple of days has value for them. LBB (15) asked why I take them to art museums and make them go see live music and stuff. I told him that art exposes you to a different way of looking at the world, and gives you insight into how people of the past viewed the world. You never know what your ‘thing’ is; taking advantage of every possible experience will help you explore possibilities that you never knew existed. Even if you hate it, it’s still an experience that you have a definite opinion about now, because you’ve personally experienced it.

I’ve been a fan of Ron Mueck for years, and when we saw that his art was on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (through August 13, 2017), I knew we HAD to go. It was AH-MAY-ZING. Of course, we saw the big, giant head and the enormous newborn, but those get so much attention, I wanted to focus on other pieces. These are some of my favorite pieces.

probably my favorite. The detail in their skin and clothing is incredibly fine.

 

I am fascinated by the indents of fingertips in flesh. That, combined with the aging skin, complete with wrinkles, droops and sags is beautiful.

 

This is so graphic and lovely. Her expression and body language is familiar to me as a woman who experienced an exhausting birth, and dealt with depression afterwards. Who is this creature? What now?

I haven’t been to the MFAH in a long time; it was lovely to go again. The kids walked around without me, which left me and my friend Jenise to wander around sans childish commentary… so we had to come up with our own. I’m sure if we were overheard, people thought we were being disrespectful or whatever – but there are only so many ‘hallelujah’ moments that one can experience in a days’ time. My phone’s battery died mid-visit, so I didn’t get pictures of some of the other paintings that made an impression, but we had a blast!

Mid-March saw vision appointments, with new glasses for LBB, and glasses for PeaGreen for the first time. We knew it was coming; his doctor told us last year that he’d very likely need them soon, and he was right. I don’t think he could have escaped it though; Loverly Husband and I both wear corrective lenses, so it was probably inevitable.

March 16th was a homeschool co-op day. That was the last day of their sculpture assignment; they all made final touch-ups and set their pieces aside to dry. PeaGreen went with a butt sculpture, and LBB opted for a hand. It was interesting working with a group of teens without any particular boundaries. I told them they could sculpt whatever body part they wanted to, as long as it was accurate (or as near-to as possible). After a lot of jokes about sculpting penises, I truly expected to see at least one student follow through with it, but they actually ended up sculpting a set of shoulders, a foot, an eye, a head, 3 students chose to sculpt a hand, a butt, and a bust (head and shoulders). For three 1-hour class periods (and minor work at home), their work didn’t turn out half bad.



 

March 18th was the 3rd annual Normalize Breastfeeding Project. This is a project that Whole Mothering Center, the organization I work for (and co-founded) puts together each year to celebrate breastfeeding as a cultural norm. The final photo turned out really pretty!

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The rest of March kind of passed in a blur. We had a couple more co-op classes in our homeschool group, which is on the same schedule our personal school schedule is on, so we;’re actually out this week. We start our last 6 weeks for this school year next week – I cannot believe how quickly it has passed! We’re planning on doing another round next year, and are in the process of planning classes and things now. I’m excited about it; it’s been such a great experience for my kids and I am looking forward to next year’s classes. In art, they started watercolor – sounds fun (and is, in a way), but watercolor is so difficult to work with competently; I wish I;d scheduled more time to play with it. We start mixed media next week though, and I am SUPER excited about that.

The kids had a teen social that was at The Art Studio; they had a live band night and the kids went with a group of teens from our group. That was their first ‘no parents’ outing. It’s so weird to see them growing up and being old enough for these kinds of experiences. I’m glad for them, and it makes me nostalgic. I loved going out with friends at their age, and I hope they’re making memories. I didn’t get pictures, because I wasn’t there, but I hope that they took some to share in their little friend group.

At the end of March, my friend Leia of Gentle Strength Yoga hosted an Ayurveda basics class that I was able to attend. I am so glad I went! More than just reading about it, having someone explain it and bring it to life was fantastic. I don’t practice it, but it was interesting to me that across almost all spiritual and wellness paths, there are some threads that are consistent: the connectivity of mind and body; a focus on nutrition, rest and movement; and mindful attention to your body and actions and thoughts. I attend to those things in other ways, but I really appreciated how those threads of similarity tie health and wellness together and was glad to learn about it.

April 4th was my 40th birthday. I started a photo project last year after seeing a similar one online. It was supposed to be ‘a year of selfies’ for things like positivity in growing older, appreciating your aging body, and that kind of thing. I only ended up with about 80 pictures, but I’m pretty happy with the result. Because I lived it, I can definitely see things reflected in the pictures that I didn’t realize would be; my mom’s illness and passing are obvious to me, but I wonder if it’s visible to anyone else if you didn’t know. I wasn’t going to share the video slideshow originally, but a couple of people who knew about it were asking, so here it is.

Before you dissect it with negative commentary, some pictures are edited, others are not; it was meant to be a personal project, not necessarily one for public consumption. So, if you need to say something nasty, just… don’t. One thing I have come to discover about pictures is that there are never enough of Mom. We’ve gone through the thousands of pictures my mom took and put in albums, but there are only a handful ‘of’ her. So, if you’re a mom, take a damn picture of yourself. Take lots! Your kids will want them one day – good, bad, edited, raw, color-corrected, too dark – it won’t matter to them. They’ll want them all. Along the way, especially after my mom died, this project became more about that than anything else – just having pictures for my kids.

April also marks the return of the South TX State Fair. This was the first year that I let the kids run around with their friends without me – again; it’s so weird to see them old enough to do stuff like this. I remember being this age and wanting nothing more than to roam the fairgrounds with my friends. We’d have spent hours just walking and talking and people-watching. Our kids were ready to head out after a mere two hours. We took them to a local coffee shop for a while to hang since they weren’t quite done visiting with each other.

The children… off on an adventure!

Jenise, Heather, and Kandi – 2017 TX State Fair

I absolutely LOVE this picture! It looks like a still from a movie.

In other news, I’ve been spending time out-of-doors, Summer Crafting (even though it’s not technically summer yet). I rescued a very sad patio set from my grandmother’s house and re-painted it a lovely sky blue. While the kids were at their music lessons, I went to Home depot and roamed the garden department, picking up herbs and plants and pots, and got filthy dirty planting a little herb garden for my little table. The addition of a canopy and pillows (made from Dollar Tree place mats) makes for a happy little outdoor spot… at least until the temperature climbs into the high 90’s and the mosquitoes come out.

this years newly potted herb garden

manicure by Mother Nature

sky blue patio furniture, topped with a bright yellow canopy. My mom would have loved it!

coordinating pillows to tie the color scheme together!

Our plans for the coming month include the kids’ first formal dance, a trip to the beach, the Health Museum in Houston, another visit to see my Grandmother in Longview, and (as always), school, school, school. We’ll see how that works out when I check in next time!

Warmly,
~h

 


Happy Halloween – October 2016

happy-halloween-from-improveit-360Another month gone, y’all. I honestly don’t know how time passes so quickly. At this point, my plan to update each week is just completely out the window; I’m barely able to get in the once-a-moth gig at this point. Once you read through this post, you’ll see why though. The additions to our normal busy schedule have basically made ‘free time’ a thing of pure fantasy.

We’re still taking #alltheclasses – the boys started an aquatic science course with one of the moms in our homeschool group and are 8 classes in at this point. They’re enjoying it. The course is project-based, which I absolutely love, because I feel like they’re getting more out of it than they were with traditional book-work. This is the kind of science-y stuff that I have always wanted to offer my kids, but never got around to doing. They’ve made models, maps, used all kinds of cool tools and worked in larger groups, which has been a really neat dynamic for them. That can be one of the failings of homeschooling – missing out on group learning environments. It’s not an essential element to education, but I’m glad that my kids get to experience it. Since it’s a small group, and the kids that are there actually want to be there, I feel like this is a really good opportunity for them. Their next lesson involves building a wave pool thingy. I don’t know a lot about it, but I can’t wait to see it!

Our homeschool co-op is still going strong. I can honestly say that this has been the best part of our school year. Having something to break up the monotony of the week has been really nice. We’re 10 weeks in, and will be taking a break next week for Thanksgiving, then have the last 2 weeks of the fall semester before breaking for the rest of the year. We’ll pick back up in January, at which time I think we’ll all be ready for it to start up again! Our schedule for co-op runs in 6-week segments; we’re in the second 6-weeks right now. We started home economics (which I think is called family and consumer sciences in schools now) this 6 weeks, and the kids are learning how to crochet, along with literature (still Romeo & Juliet, which they elected to continue), debate and orchestra. We got our music for our homeschool group’s Christmas Pageant coming up in December (a community service event where we visit a local nursing home and sing carols and play for the residents), so we’ve been practicing Christmas carols and learning tab music.
The last month has been full of activities. We went to Johnson Space Center’s Homeschool Day in Houston the first week of October. This was our third trip, I think, and as always, we had a blast! (no pun intended). This was the first year that we’ve gone with friends who were older; the moms and I sent the kids off with a couple of assignments and we got to go on our own tours. We met back up with the kids at lunch, then sent them on the tram tours while we caught a couple of the inside demonstrations and then toured the Space Shuttle. Because they kinda did their own thing, I don’t think I have any pictures of the boys from this year’s trip!

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Each month, our group hosts a teen social for the group’s ‘tweens and teens to get together for some older-age appropriate socialization. In October, we brought games to a local coffee shop and let the kids hang out while the moms had their own table.

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We also have Social Studies club every 6 weeks where we focus on one country at a time. Each student does a project of some sort based on that country. October’s country was Iraq. My kids chose a culture project; LBB did a recreation of a painting by Faeq Hassan, and PeaGreen did a recreation of one of calligraphic artist Hassan Massoudy’s pieces.

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Mid October, I helped host WMC’s Nurture & Nourish Retreat at Crystal Beach. We rented a beach cabin, and spent Friday through Sunday working really hard on the mental aspects of good self-care. We spent some time learning how to stop the negative self-talk spiral, work through anxiety and depressive episodes that sneak up on us, and quite a bit of time learning some watercolor letting techniques and creating some artsy affirmation cards. It was such a great weekend! I came home refreshed and although it took a few days to recoup from my retreat, once I settled in, I feel renewed.

We’re hosting another retreat in April, and I am so excited for it!

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October is always my favorite month of the year – so several reasons: 1) It’s fall (supposedly), which is my favorite season; 2) pumpkin spice; 3) Halloween season; and 4) it’s time for our first week-long break of this school year – yay! This time, our break fell the week of Oct 17-21, which was the same week after my retreat. I needed to take some time off to ease back into real life, and having the week off from school was perfect timing.

We had a couple of things planned for that week that we ended up missing. The kids prepared for several weeks for their Public Speaking (part II of persuasive speeches) class. PeaGreen went to visit his cousins, but LBB and I were going to go without him. I tried, but I just couldn’t make myself take LBB. I needed the break! Taking full advantage of the time off so we could start back strong the next week was a priority for me.

During my off week, I didn’t just laze about – I was productive! I spent a couple of afternoons painting with a friend (who shall now be called ScienceMom since she’s the one who teaches the kids’ science class as well). We found a really cool Harry Potter/Starry Night mash-up picture online and I wanted to attempt a recreating. It didn’t turn out too bad! I also found a YouTube channel called Painting with Jane. I did one of her tutorials a month or so ago, and I loved her ‘Squishy’s Embrace’ picture, so I did that one as well. I actually had to go out and buy new canvases! I’ve had the same 4 sitting around for a while now, but they’re finally painted, so I got new ones.
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We decided back in the summer that our homeschool group should do a haunted house for our Halloween party this year. That was ambitious, and as the month started winding down, I think we all got more and more nervous about how it was going to work out. The last week of the month was full of decorating and setting up – I think we spent more time at ScienceMom’s house than we did our own! This is from the day before the party, after a long day of moving furniture and decorating. We didn’t want to wait until the very last-minute, so the bulk of the work was done the day before.

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Vampire’s Lair

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Zombie Maze with the projection screen in the background

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zombies in the window

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LBB’s very simple – but absolutely terrifying – costume

The end of the month was really exciting. We had the Halloween Party, and started the second 6-weeks of co-op. Due to a strange set of last-minute goings-on, I ended up hosting at my house, which was kinda nice. My house is tiny, so it was somewhat less comfortable for everyone, but we did get to do orchestra outside, which was amazing! All music should be played outside, I think.

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After setting up the party, we went to see the annual screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Jefferson Theater in downtown Beaumont. I love going there – it’s such a cool old 20’s style theater. They’ve been hosting classic movie night over the last year or so, and it’s been great to see fun old movies and neat to hang out in that theater. I had planned on taking my kids to see it, but LBB elected to stay home, so PeaGreen and I went and met some friends to see it.

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

We also moved my grandmother’s piano from her house to ours. She’ll be moving in a few weeks, and the piano was not going to be able to go with her, so it’s now comfortably in place in our living room – and getting regular use as well. The boys took piano lessons from her for a couple of years, but they slacked off as they got older. Loverly HUsband and I both want to learn, and PeaGReen is interested in taking lessons again, so the plan is to start in January. Right now, we’re just focusing on violin and cello. cam05015

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I bought a bike! A pretty, pink cruiser with a nice, wide seat. It’s been fun to ride again!

Another big deal for me was a paid writing project – my first! I worked with a good friend of mine to complete a CPR & First Aid manual/training course for an online school. It was a 20K word-count project with a week-long deadline, and we aced it! Unfortunately, it was the week before NaNoWriMo, which means that my brain hasn’t recovered enough to make NaNo happen yet. At this point, it’s halfway through the month and I am still on the outline. That makes me sad, but I’m not giving up yet. If you’re writing, too, then Happy NaNoWriMo to you!

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That’s pretty much it for October. Because I’m 2 weeks late with this post, I’ve talked about some stuff that’s happening in November already, but for the full story on what’s current, you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks for the full November update post (unless I get around to updating before the month is out… but don’t hold your breath). <wink>

Hope you’re enjoying the cooler weather – I know I am!
Warmly,
~h

 

 


NBTS Blog Hop 2016: Curriculum Week – High School Lesson Planning

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Here it is, folks – the long-awaited high school lesson planning post! And hey – it syncs up with iHomeschool Network’s annual Not Back to School Blog Hop for this year, which makes me happy. I don’t know why, exactly; I don’t actually participate the NBTS Blog Hop (as in, adding my link and everything). I just like that there’s a ‘plan’ and being on-task with it, I guess*. I’m weird; what can I say? Moving on then…

As you may know, my boys are technically a year grade apart, but I plan most of their work together. Since they’re so close in age, it’s just easier for me. That means that this year, since LBB is in 9th grade, and PeaGreen is in 8th, PeaGreen will actually start accumulating high school credits this year because he’s doing high school level work. Luckily, we live in Texas, a state with little to no state/government interference, regulations… oh, I mean assistance <wink,wink, nudge, nudge> so this work out quite nicely for us.

This is an interesting dilemma for me; on one hand, PeaGreen is perfectly capable of doing the same work his older brother is doing. Holding him back wouldn’t make sense to me. But at the same time, he is younger, and there’s a part of me that wants to make sure to keep that separation because as an ‘oldest child’ myself, I know how important that extra bit of privilege/responsibility is to identity. Then again, there’s a wider gap between me and my younger siblings, so maybe it’s less of a concern with closely spaced siblings? If you have input here, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. In any case, LBB will turn 15 in January and he’ll start Driver’s Ed, which will, at least for a while, give him a little bit of ‘extra’ that comes with age for a while.

Our school year was really easy to plan this year. When we started homeschooling, I decided to go with a 6-week on, 1 week off schedule, and school all year long. That got switched up and changed during the first few years for various reasons, but that’s always been my ‘ideal’. Last year, and most of this year, we’ve managed to maintain that, so I just stuck with that plan and mapped out the school year accordingly. That gives us 195 school days (we have some weekend days that we’re counting as ‘school days’ because of clubs or other projects planned for those days), spread out over 39 weeks, from September 2016-August 2017. This includes a month-long break in December, and a couple of weeks in July. In truth, there will be missed days here and there; our ‘normal’ school year runs somewhere in the neighborhood of 170-185 school days per year. I build a little padding in so that we necessary, I can take a break or call a ‘movie day’… or just skive off school entirely and go to the beach.
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Here’s what a year’s worth of work looks like for my kids. It’s not quite accurate, because this doesn’t include their notebooks from this school year. They have one for CNN Student News/Current Events; Literature; Spelling/Grammar; Math; History and Science. But this is what goes into their binders each week over the course of a school year, and includes any worksheets or handouts that I give them or that they get from classes or clubs or events that they do during the year, arranged by week.  I don’t know if that’s ‘a lot’ or if it’s ‘not very much’. I try to avoid the trap of comparing what we do to what others do, but I thought I’d put this out there. The stacks are about 2.5 inches high in the center (when smashed down), if you’re wondering. I am about to file it all away, so I thought I’d snap a picture of it for posterity!

So… what I am sure you’re wondering is how I actually went about planning this school year, and what we’re using, right? Let’s get down to it!

As I mentioned before, LBB starts high school this year. We’re also in Texas, which means that although the TEA has regulations in place that govern how public schools may place and graduate students, private schools (which is what homeschools fall under in terms of designation) don’t have to follow those recommendations in any way. Shocking, right? I know… it scares the bejezus out of me, too, sometimes. Luckily, Annie & Everything is a blogger who apparently has my brain bugged, because every time I start freaking out over something high school related, she posts a blog that pretty much addresses my exact fears.

When there are no rules, what do you do (other than ‘pretty much whatever you want’)? I’ll admit it; started by looking at the TEA’s guidelines. As much as I fancy myself a bad-ass free-spirit who don’t need no fancy-schmancy ‘rulez’, the truth is that those guidelines are familiar and comfortable, and they’re just an easy place to start. We’re tweaking some of it, and have discussed with LBB his options as far as dual credit course and CLEPing courses that he covers well during his high school years, which means that he’ll be at least as prepared as his public school peers when it comes tome for secondary education. We’re starting with the basics, and letting him determine what direction he wants to go. While we’ve set University before him, that may not be his path (which is cool, man…), but we do want him prepared if that’s a direction he chooses to go in.

All that said, here’s what their actual schedule looks like this school year:

  • Math (D) (currently recapping middle school; will being Algebra I when finished)/Coding (1xW)
  • History – Ancients (2xW)/Geography (1xW)/Current World Events (3xW)/Community Service (1xM)
  • Science – Biology (3xW)/Science – Aquatic (2-3xM)
  • English I (3xW)/Literature I (D)/Grammar (D)/Speech 101 (1xM)/Writing (D)/Spelling (D)
  • Logic (1xW)/Debate (1xW)
  • Art History (1xW), Art Club (1xM), Art (practical)(2xM)
  • Music (orchestra – first year violin) Class (1xW)/practice (D = 1 hour)
  • Health (D) /Mental Health for Teens (spring semester 1xW)/Physical Education (D)/Home Economics (1xW)
  • plus notebooking for most subjects (D), field trips each week and driver’s ed in 2017

KEY: (D = daily) (#xW = 2 time per week, or 3 times per week, etc./ M=month)

They average between 4-5 hours of school work 3 days per week, with a lighter day of desk-work/book work on Wednesday (2-3 hours) to accommodate our homeschool group’s field trip or class, and this year we will have a full day at co-op on Thursdays. Like i said earlier, I don’t know if that’s a lot or only a little. Some days I feel like it’s a super lot; other days they get it done quickly and I wonder if I am being rigorous enough. Sometimes, homeschooling mommy-brain just won’t cut you any slack. Le sigh…

So here’s the grand finale – the part you may have been waiting for: What are we using this year? Here’s a list of most of the resources we’re pulling from this year. I don’t like ‘textbooks’, so you won’t see a lot of those on the list. Some of their classes are being taught by other homeschooling parents through either clubs, classes or our co-op. Having a strong support network/homeschooling community/village is so key to opening more options for both the homeschooled student and the homeschooling parent. We’ve worked so hard to build our group, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am to be part of such an amazing group, and how grateful I am to each and every one of the parents who are willing to put their time and effort into teaching and sharing and helping this community thrive. This year is going to be an amazing school year!

RESOURCES for this school year:

 

If you have resources that you love, or that you think I would, please comment and share them!
Happy homeschooling!

Warmly,
~h

*upon further reflection, the NBTS Blog Hop is one of the first things I joined in on when we started homeschooling – I think it was the 2nd year they were doing it when we started – so it’s always been something that helped me feel connected to the homeschooling world, I suppose.