Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Homeschooling Tips and Tricks

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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17 Days… and One Month Later

This year started out as one might expect – Christmas is over, and we extended our vacation by a week into January because we ended up continuing our school year into December. We spent Twelfth Night as we always do, taking down our Christmas decorations and storing them carefully for next year. We cleaned up the pine needles and got rid of our couch (since there are so many instruments taking up space in our living room now), leaving room for music practice and a couple of chairs that we rescued from my grandmother’s house.

We joined our friends one evening to continue our D&D campaign, had our regular round of music lessons, and spent the first Teen Social of this year with a LOTR marathon before taking a trip to Longview to visit my grandmother in her new house.

The first weekend of 2017 was winding down, and we were preparing to get ready for school when my dad called and said that he thought we needed to bring my mom to the emergency room. She’d been sick for a couple of months and no one could figure out why. Tests were clear, but she was getting sicker and weaker every week. When my dad called, she was very dehydrated, so we brought her to the emergency room and, after some testing, they admitted her to ICU.

 

On day 2 or 3 in ICU, she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and so we mobilized the family and between me, my dad, my sister, my brother and sister-in-law, we stayed with her round the clock. She was moved out of ICU to a regular room after a couple of days when her numbers started to improve, but because her cancer was so advanced, she decided to opt out of treatment options and move to hospice care. 17 days later, she was dead.

It’s amazing how quickly your priorities, your ideas about what’s necessary today, you entire world, can shift. Just like that, this year’s school plans fizzed into a holding pattern so I could focus on my parents. It happened so quickly that I don’t think that I’ve truly processed it even a month later. We spent so much time at the hospital and hospice center. School obviously took a back seat for a while – we only made it 2 weeks into the first 6 weeks of this school year before my entire being was focused on my mom. The first couple of weeks, we tried to maintain normalcy. We went to co-op; the kids and I all did our first round of chair testing; we even took instruments to the hospice center and the boys played for my mom and dad.

our last ‘family picture’ – January 2017

But it was a downhill battle, and she slipped away all too quickly. My siblings and I spent hours debating what the ‘right’ thing to do was – should we go to work, should we stay close? How long do we have? When should we bring the kids up to see her? So many, many questions and no real way to get good answers. It was a lot of ‘do the thing’ and hope for the best.

We were with her when she died. My dad on one side of her, my sister at the foot of her bed and me on the other side of her. Our brother had left that morning after being with her all night, and had to rush back once it was clear that she was in rapid decline.

I’m not good with grief; no one is, I’m sure. I (thankfully) haven’t had a lot of experience with loss. I’ve lost great grandparents when I was young, and 3 of my grandparents. I’ve lost my father in law, and my husband’s grandmother, and in 2009, lost a baby that we desperately wanted. Each loss has been different, and I guess nothing can prepare you for the feelings that come when you lose your mom. Even though she and I had a strained relationship, it’s been really difficult.

We spent the days immediately after her death going through all of the pictures, pulling ones we wanted to use for a slide show at her memorial service. There were so many pictures… and yet never enough.

 

We had a memorial service for her 3 weeks after she died, and are getting together this weekend to bring her ashes to our dad. The boys all wore yellow ties, because yellow was her favorite color.

PeaGreen, my niece, and LBB

me and my sister

My amazing sister-in-law and my brother

 

It’s been a month and a half now, and we’re in our third week of school. I’m glad we took the time off that we did, but am also glad to be getting back to our normal routines. We had another round of chair testing in orchestra, and the kids have been hard at work both at home and at classes and co-op.

They went to their Aquatic Science class in either February or March 2017 – I can’t remember off the top of my head. They had several water lab stations set up. It was pretty cool!


February 2017 – LBB is not thrilled about being at his music lesson today.

For our March teen social with our homeschool group, the kids painted the Galaxy Unicorn along with The Art Sherpa. They made their works their own; instead of a unicorn, PeaGreen chose to draw a weenie-dog with an inflatable unicorn horn. I think he pretty much nailed it.

March 2017 teen social

Seat testing again! The entire class stepped their game up so much this round! It was SUPER competitive this time, and they both did an awesome job – all the kids did!

I love their pre-test looks of intense concentration as they practice and hope they don’t get called next….

 

March 2017 – 2nd chair (tied with another girl in his class) – Grade: 99.6

 

March 2017 – 4th chair – Grade: 98.16

Once testing was over, they had lunch and we started our art lesson – sculpture.

sculpture – art class in co-op – March 2017

 

Even though things are ‘back to normal’, in some ways, things will never be ‘normal’ again. Or maybe it’s just a new normal. It’s really hard to sort through my feelings, but I needed a space to do that, so I started a new, less topic-focused blog. I’ll link to in eventually, but for now I’m keeping it to myself.

I bought an urn necklace with her birthstone in it and put some of her ashes inside. I wear her jewelry, and listen to songs she loved. For now, it’s helping me feel connected to her as I figure the rest out.

This is the last moment I had with her. Her hand was still warm, and I try every day to remember the feel of her skin. I know I’ll forget one day, and that hurts more than anything.

Until next time,

Warmly,
~h

 


Lapbooking in High School

lapbooking in highschoolWe love lapbooking. It’s one of those cool things that I had seen around the internet on homeschooling sites when I was new to the game that I thought was cool, but had no idea what it was or how to do it. Once I finally got my hands on a few, I fell in love and started helping the kids make them for pretty much everything.

First off, if you’ve never heard of lapbooking, it’s basically a way to organize all the information your students learn about something. They can span a single topic or person, like ‘alligators’ or ‘Queen Elizabeth I’, or cover a resource, like a novel or other book, like ‘Little House in the Big Woods‘, or they can span the length of a subject, like the lapbooks that correspond with Story of the World that were created by a couple of amazing mama-bloggers. Most lapbooks use what’s called a ‘mini book’ to house a piece of information. It may be a flap with a question on it, or a chart with diagrams, or a pocket with vocabulary cards and definitions on them. They’re part ‘open the flap’ book, part book report, part essay-question, part arts-and-crafts… they’re extremely versatile and you end up with a pretty cool way to display what your child has learned or material you’ve covered. As the kids get older, they can play a role in creating and decorating the lapbook as well, which really makes it their own.

If you have kids with sensory issues, or ADHD, lapbooks can also help in a couple of ways. First, for attention issues, lapbooks tend to break a subject or source into small, bite-sized pieces that make it easy to focus on one thing, complete it and move on. without getting overwhelmed with the bulk of material to cover. Additionally, the process of cutting and creating the book gives your child a hands-on way to process the information. If you have a child with sensory issues, then again, the hands-on aspect helps, because each bit of information is contained within a ‘mini book’ or insert that must be unfolded, twisted, opened, turned or otherwise manipulated to get to the information.

We started off with lapbooking and moved more into notebooking, which is similar, but more the ‘grown up’ sibling of lapbooking. Less ‘arts-and-crafts’ and more ‘deeper content’, which is good. But of course, you can make lapbooks more in-depth or focus more closely on a single topic or aspect of your subject matter. We use cheap composition notebooks (which are thankfully on sale right now!) for basically everything. Some, the kids just write their own content in and others, I print a page or template out and they paste it into their book after the work is done. That also creates a really cool product when you come to the end of the project/subject/topic.

If you’re into unit studies, then lapbooking is an excellent tool for that. There are hundreds available online to download for free, including ones I’ve created or found online and shared here, and many more that are more comprehensive from sites like HomeschoolShareTeachersPayTeachers and CurrClick.com. Homeschooling blogs are another great source of finding lapbooks on specific topics or using specific resources. But something I have noticed is that most lapbooks tend to cater to the elementary school crowd. What do you do when your kids ‘age out’ of what’s available online, and how do you incorporate lapbooking into curriculum for an older student?

That’s where I am at right now, and I would love to see what you’ve done with your kids if you kept lapbooking as part their studies. Our homeschool group is studying Russia for our next Social Studies Club meeting, so I am going to be working on helping the kids create something high-school-appropriate for that presentation. I’ll let you know how that turns out!

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 


High School Homeschool

high school homeschoolI can’t even believe that I am writing this. My oldest, LBB (which stands for LittleBoyBlue; called so because when the kids were little, my sisters and I frequently kept each others’ kids, and to tell cups apart, we color-coded all of them – his favorite color was/is blue, so the name stuck) turned 14 in December, which means that as of June 17 (when we ended our school year) he’s officially a high school freshman. How did this happen? Where did the time go?

Our homeschool group is putting together a yearbook for this past school year, so I’ve been looking back through old pictures quite a bit. I came across the pictures from our first forays into the homeschool world back in 2010, and it does not seem like it was that long ago. But here we are – we started when LBB was mid-second grade and PeaGreen was mid-first-grade… now LBB starts 9th and PG starts 8th in less than 2 months. I’m losing my damn mind!

As much as I absolutely love homeschooling, it’s Truth Time: I’m wavering between feeling like I can do totally this and having a total and complete melt-down freak-out because the thoughts of failing at this point is just so, SO overwhelming. I know, I know – it’s not that hard. For one thing, I was homeschooled, and I turned out okay. I understand the mechanics of what he needs to cover to complete a course of study comparable to the Texas Board of Education’s required program for public school, and how to help him choose courses for electives that will be useful and helpful in future career choices. I also understand the hows of dual credit and CLEP’ing – it’s not that part that I’m freaking out about… honestly, I can’t pinpoint exactly what part of this is causing the most anxiety because of my wavering evaluation of personal competency.

Luckily, I have tools – thank goodness for TOOLS!! For one thing, our homeschool group is literally the best one out there. We have an amazing group of moms who are so supportive and knowledgeable and willing to share both tips of the trade and general support when things start feeling overwhelming. We’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and there are some areas of homeschooling that I feel like I’m pretty good at helping with, but others are totally new to me. On the one hand, I now that high school will be like any other school day when it comes to the day-to-day operation. Even the things we study will, for the most part, be similar to what we’ve done previously. But still, anxiety persists.

Another amazing tool I have at my disposal this year is our group’s high school cooperative. We planned starting in January-ish, and finalized the co-op plans at the beginning of the summer. We’re only a few weeks away from starting classes and I am so excited – maybe even more than the kids are. One of the things I have had a hard time adding to my kids’ schedule is music. I took band in school, and played flute one year and clarinet the next. I am hopeless at flute, but decent on the clarinet – but not enough to teach. We have a mom in our group who IS able to teach, and willing to do so. She offered the kids the option of band (brass/woodwinds) or orchestra (strings) and strings got the vote, so not only do the boys get to have this amazing opportunity to learn an instrument, but I get to learn as well. We’re ordering instruments soon, and I can’t wait!

In another attempt to alleviate my anxiety, I have been reading homeschool/high school blogs voraciously. Annie and Everything’s 12 Reassuring Facts You Should Know About Homeschooling High School reiterates a lot of points that I have made to myself and others. Another blog post of hers (seriously – she’s golden. If you’re not regularly reading there then bookmark it now!!) talks about What to do When Your Homeschool High School Student is Behind – because, let’s face it – we have all had that thought at least once a week (day?!?). She also has posts on planning high school, from electives to economics, and more if you dig! Another great tool is the It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School Facebook group. With moms of kids all ages, it’s so nice to see that I am not the only one who feels like this (and even nicer to be able to reply on a post where someone has a situation that I can confidently comment on!).

But even with these amazing tools, I can feel the anxiety poking at the nice calm borders of my self-confidence and sanity every now and then, so I go back and read them again. And then I stop planning and stop reading and go do something fun with my kids, because no matter how much time I spend planning or stressing out, the harsh reality is that in five short years, both of my kids will be done with school. I know better than anyone how quickly the hours slip away, and when you’re on the other side, being well-prepared (though important) isn’t the biggest priority. I want their high school years to count for more than just a record of academic excellence. Aside from the fact that what is ‘excellent’ to me may be vastly different than what is ‘excellent’ for someone else, my goal is to raise happy, productive people. So if you’re freaking out, like me, then here’s the advice I give to myself:

“Slow down. It will be fine. You’re a good mom. The outcome is no longer only in your hands; the kids play a huge role in that as well, and they’re smart, motivated young men. You’re doing just what they need you to do. Keep it up!”

Hopefully one day it will sink in 😉

I will be updating my ‘curriculum’ page soon with this year’s materials, but if you’re curious about our homeschool style, there’s a lot I’m interested in that influences our direction on my Homeschool: High School Pinterest board. If you have any questions, as always, feel free to comment and ask!

Hope your ‘back to school’ shopping is going well!
Warmly,

~h

 


Bridging the Gaps: Is Homeschooling Enough?

bridging-the-gap-1aI’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.

Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.

Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.

My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.

I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.

If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.

Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.

Warmly,
~h

 


It’s May!

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Well, it’s definitely summer now, and never you mind that the official start of summer is still another month away; this is Texas and Texas weather does not play by the standard rules. We had maybe two days of spring weather this year, and I think I was working on both of them, which is sad. But the good news is that and early summer means beach weather and I can’t wait to dig my toes into the sand! Our first  beach trip this year is coming up in a few weeks, and I am planning on digging out the beach bag this week in anticipation.

We started off this month with a vacation. I know – not super productive, but between work (which has gotten crazy) and just general stress and the blahs that were hard to shake, this mama needed a break, so I sent the kids to my brother’s for a week. Well, most of a week. My brother and sister-in-law live in Jasper, which is about an hour from us, so the boys for to go be country kids for a while. They have chickens, a pond, lots of room to roam, and best of all – no internet access. After a couple of days, I went up as well, which gave me a couple of days to unwind (for the most part).

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We came back home and, naturally, jumped right back into the swing of things. Our homeschool group hosts a Teen Social each month, and this month’s event was a field day with games and contests followed by ice cream and swimming. Each parent submitted a mental challenge and a physical challenge, and the kids split into two teams to compete for bragging rights. There were a lot of games – more than we had time for – including a relay race, a LARP sword fight, a yoga pose challenge and an improv exercise. They had a great time!

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We also finally got to go play D&D again – it’s been a while! The kids decided that we needed a picture that better illustrates the intensity and excitement of our campaign, so we staged this candid photo for you.

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We join KidsBowlFree every year – it’s an awesome deal if you like bowling; kids get a free game every day during the summer, and you can add the family pass on for a single low price. I don’t have an endorsement deal with them or anything; we’ve just signed up for the last few years and it’s been a great way to have a thing to do in the heat of the summer that’s indoors and inexpensive, and family friendly. We did our first bowling a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t snag any pictures.

We also had the last book club meeting and I am so annoyed that I also failed to grab a picture from that! It was a great group of kids this year, and I am so glad the boys actually got to participate this year. We always have had grand plans ion the past, but the date ended up in conflict with something else in our schedule. This year, it worked out – I think we only missed one meeting.

Park Day this month got rained out – at least we thought it did, so we rescheduled to one of our mom’s homes. I didn’t know it, but the families in our group got together and created  ‘Heather Appreciation Day’. I was so surprised! They wrote me the loveliest cards and just said the nicest things. I don’t typically think of myself as craving approval, but it was really nice to have it from so many moms that I have gotten to know and admire. It’s been so great to be part of their lives, and to watch them grow to support and inspire both me and the other moms in our homeschool group. We have such a great group, and I am so glad that they’re there to cultivate the vibe we have that makes our group the best!

There was also cake… amazing, delicious cake from Nothing Bundt Cakes, which is a fairly new bakery in our area. Y’all… it was ah-maz-ing. Seriously. My favorite cake now is the chocolate chocolate chip. It was SO GOOD!

 

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We also spent that day prepping for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16 (link below). We made holi powder with cornstarch and food dyes and water – so much mess fun! When you mix cornstarch and water, you get a non-Newtonian fluid, which is SUPER fun to play with. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the best holi powder, so after some trial and error, we found that using only tiny bits of water and using gloved hands to mix the color in was the best way to get a good, bright mix.

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This week, we took the kids back out to Clifton Steamboat Museum, which isn’t really a steamboat museum at all – it’s more an eclectic history museum. It started out as a private collection that belonged to the owner’s grandfather. The theme is ‘Heroes Past, Present and Future’ and it’s such a neat place! A couple of years ago, on our last visit, the kids took a photo with this same statue, so they did a re-creation this time. It’s tradition now, so we’ll have to do it again next time!

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Friday, we finally got all the holi powder off the kitchen table! We picked up my niece and joined quite a few of our friends at a local park for WMC’s After School Playgroup Color War 2K16.

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Afterwards, we met some friends for dinner, and went to see a showing of The Goonies in one of Beaumont’s historic downtown theaters.

We’re coming up on the end of May, and since we school year-round, it won’t be a long break, but we do have a week coming up soon without class planned, so (even though we just had a week off) I’m ready for it. I will have a high school lesson planning post coming up in a few weeks – high school for LBB is only 3 months away! I can NOT believe that we’re there already. I did some preliminary planning already, but there are still some decisions to be made that I am stressing over. Too much; not enough; too rigorous; not rigorous enough… it’s a hard thing to decide on. Plus, our homeschool group is planning a co-op for high schoolers in the fall, so that’ll be on our plate as well.

Hope your last few weeks of school are passing quickly!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


How To Be KIND to Yourself When You Clearly Fail At Life

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One of the things I have heard over and over again as a mom is ‘be kind to yourself’. For a while, I truly hated hearing it, because no matter how hard I tried, there were literally  hundred times a day that I thought I have somehow failed at life. I say ‘were’ like something has changed – and something has, but it’s definitely not that part; I still fail at pretty much all the things on a daily basis, and self-care has been my focus over the past few weeks (months? years??) because I am honestly that bad at it. Let’s not even talk about how many times every day I fail at being an adult… a mom… a wife… a daughter… and what does that even mean, ‘be kind to yourself‘? I mean, honestly. I live inside my head; I know what goes on in here and it’s often not deserving of kindness. I think uncharitable thoughts, I yell at my kids, I lose my temper far too often, I have no patience, I suck at keeping in touch with friends, I don’t call my parents as often as I should, I suck at housekeeping and hate cooking… the list of my faults is long and, because I am a writer at heart, very, very detailed.

It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to start understanding and working through my issues to even understand the concept of ‘being kind’ to myself, much less apply it. I’ve written before about homeschooling with depression and anxiety, but as I said in that post, I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard. Despite all of my best-laid plans, self-care is one of the things I have a hard time managing, and even though I know how important it is to my overall health and mood, I still have to fight (with myself) to make me do the things I need to do. When I can’t even remember to eat regularly, or drink water when I am thirsty, it’s really hard to be ‘kind’ to the person who is actively doing the opposite of taking care of me. But I’m working on it, and here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Recognize that you’re doing your best in this moment.

Here’s a visualization exercise for you: Think about the most recent thing you did that you gave yourself a tongue-lashing for. Now take a look inside and find your inner child – that cute, mischievous 5-year-old you that still likes to pop bubble wrap and is still tempted to write on bathroom walls in public. Pretend like she did the thing that you did. Now talk to her like you talk to yourself. Now pretend that she is your sweet baby child, and someone else is talking to her like that. Did Mama Bear come out to kick ass and take names? If so, then you probably need to work on your inner voice.

Here’s the deal – just like we try to remember when dealing with our kids, we’re doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us in this moment. As you learn new and better tools, your inner critic is easier to hush up. I won’t say ‘silence’, because my inner critic will not be silenced even when all is well (which is why I ply her with wine and decent chocolate on occasion), but as you change the atmosphere inside your head, there’s less for your inner critic to latch on to. The learning of new tools isn’t a fast process, so don’t expect all of your changes to take place at one time. Simply recognizing that there are tools out there, even if you don’t yet know what they are, is a huge step in the right direction… which brings me to my next point:

2. You’re an ever-evolving work of art.

You know what? It’s okay not to have your shit together. We’re all learning new skills and tools all the time, and it’s okay to not know them all, or not know how to implement them, or not be sure that they’re the right tools for you. Even if you decide to implement some new things, it’s okay to struggle with getting it going well. Every day is a new day. You have the opportunity to begin again every. single. day. There isn’t a guarantee that every new thing you learn will be implemented forevermore and always. What’s the saying? ‘When you stop learning, you stop living‘. Being ‘in progress’ means that you’re not a static being. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be absolutely dreadful, but others will be phenomenal. Most of them will be somewhere between ‘really good’ and ‘not so great’, but there is opportunity and change in each of them. Some days, you’re going to cope better with the highs or lows than others, and that’s okay, too. It’s not ‘all or nothing’; like a great work of art, it’s a process – the (better, happier, more capable, adultier, better adjusted, successful) person you’re becoming is a work-in-progress. The important thing is that you keep making progress. It can be one step forward, two steps back… but even the Texas Two Step is going to take you all around the dance floor sooner or later. The direction you thought you were going may not be the direction you truly need to move in. As you learn more and make changes, your path will become clearer. It’s okay to resist that process, too! Eventually, you’ll get where you’re supposed to end up.

 3. No one else has their shit together either; some of them just fake it better.

 Don’t believe me? Text your BFF right now and ask her to show you Mt. Laundry, or her kitchen sink full of dishes, or whatever her secret housekeeping shame is. Or maybe it’s not housekeeping that is her (or your) downfall, maybe it’s something else… whatever it is, we all have one (or more) areas of our lives that just don’t ever manage to flow correctly. But, there’s probably an area in your life where you do feel competent and successful and put together, and you can bet that someone out there has seen you do The Thing and assumed from your obvious competence at The Thing that the rest of your life was similarly in order. My ‘thing’ is making it look good on paper. In practice, it’s a hot mess, but damn if I can’t make it spiffy in written format! It’s my gift.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, or something like that… whatever the actual quote, comparing yourself to someone else is never going to end well (unless you’re the obvious winner, in which case, <highfive>). But you know who I’m talking about; the person(s) that you always compare yourself to where you’re not the winner. It’s easy to make comparisons when you only have the visual and not a front row seat to the three-ring circus inside her head. Everybody is struggling; it’s not just you. Even the most zen mama you know has issues (and if she’s that zen, she’d probably be genuinely open to talking with you about hers and yours if you asked her). The point here is don’t let unfair comparisons be another bat that you use to beat yourself up. Use your inner voice for good, not evil… which feeds directly into the next point:

4. Start small… today; Right Now. 

Say something nice to yourself. I mean it – do it even if you think it’s hokey or whatever. If the only thing you hear in your head is negative commentary, then you’re never going to get out of the place you’re in right now. Being KIND to yourself means changing your thought patterns. The change starts with you, with your inner commentary. If you need tools, make affirmation cards – they don’t have to be fancy, they just have to say things that you need to hear. I made my deck in index cards with markers and glitter glue. I looked online and found things I liked and copied them, then printed them out and pasted them on my cards. Simple and effective.

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If affirmation cards are too ‘woo-woo’ for you, then enlist help to focus on the positive things you bring to the table. Make a pact with your best friend where you can only say positive things about each other to each other for the next week, or start a Secret Sisters gift circle in your group of friends that celebrates each others talents and mad skillz. Chances are, she needs it, too.

Whatever your preferred method of getting some positive thoughts knocking around inside your noggin, do it, and make it a daily priority. Self-care is so, so important to your general well-being. Carve out space for you to tend to YOU, and make that time sacrosanct. Be a little bit selfish; you’re worth it. Small steps add up to bigger ones. Taking even 5 minutes to meditate or commune with Nature or whatever your Thing is and making it part of your daily routine – even to the point of helping your children and family to understand that this is ‘Mommy Time’ and to respect it lays the groundwork for you to take bigger self-care steps in the future.

So tell me, what does ‘being kind to yourself’ look like for you?

Warmly,
~h