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

Homeschooling Tips and Tricks

Homeschooling Despite April Showers

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HS despite april showersSome years, I wonder where old sayings come from. This is not one of those years! We’ve had SO. MUCH. RAIN. Luckily, we’re not in a low lying area and haven’t been flooded out, but with the incredible rainfall this month I do start to worry anytime the yard starts looking more like a lake.

Despite the rain, homeschooling continues! We’ve been indoors quite a bit, and even some of our homeschool group’s activities have been either cancelled or rescheduled due to the weather. I thought that I would have time to work on planning for next school year (high school for LBB – eek!!), but so far, nada. Work has me completely busy with event planning and organization. That’s good; I like it when work is steady even if I don’t get paid, but the time it takes away from other things is a double-edged sword. On the one had, I love being busy and having lots to do (especially with the slump I’ve been in since my dental surgery – I’ve needed the distraction), but being a busy bee also makes it suuuuper easy to put off things that aren’t as exciting (like math… and history).

So the last week or so has necessitated a lot of soul-searching and figuring out where I need to spend my energy. One thing that helped get me motivated to work on school stuff was the acquisition of a new giant cabinet for the school room. My storage solutions were less than solution-y, so getting rid of the junky looking mess and having a nice, clean, white cabinet to put things into made a world of difference. The taller storage means that I can fit some of the overflow from the other cabinet, too – it’s just a much nicer space now. In addition to ‘surroundings’, I am also working on self-care – things like hydration, making sure I eat when I need to (because I don’t do that), and trying to get up earlier so I can have some time to myself in the mornings. I’m not a ‘morning person’ by nature, but I am giving it a shot. I am a fan of planner stickers (little stickers made specifically to track lifestyle and habits that go into your daily planner/organizer). I make my own either by finding inspiration from things I see elsewhere, or creating my own based on what I want to track. Being able to tie feelings with practical habits is helping me manage my anxiety and depression. Doing the things that I know make me feel better is always difficult; this makes it a tiny bit easier because I refer to my planner so often, and it’s constantly in my face.

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It’s helping in our school-ish world, too. One of the things I found when I was cleaning up was an old binder with the kids’ work from a couple of years ago. In it was our daily routine. I’d forgotten about it, because it seems like we went to workboxes or something like that and stopped using that schedule. But I like the concept, so I re-worked it for what we’re doing now, and re-did the boys’ current binders. I love the word ‘accountability’ for the kids (and for myself). I found Thirty Handmade Days’ printable accountability and school binder covers a while back and I LOVE them. I made new covers using her templates and made my own additions and customizations to simple things up a bit – I’m a fan of ‘all in one and done’. They look great, especially when compared to their ragged old ones.

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We’ve had a lot going on over the last few weeks – National Siblings Day was April 10th, and we planned a family dinner with my brother and sister and our families. We try to get together every other month or so; this time just happened to fall on NSD.

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Top Left: My brother, doing what brothers do to their older sisters. Top Right: Brothers who don’t appreciate the joy of the sibling relationship yet. Bottom: My brother-in-law, sister, sister-in-law and all our noisy heathen children.

 

One of the cool new things we’re doing with our homeschool group is LARP (live action role playing) PE. We have park day once a month, and the kids plan a game/battle scenario to play out while we’re there. To help with that, one of our families hosted a sword-making day and we all brought supplies to make LARP-safe swords from PVC pipe, foam pool noodles, soft-foam (for the sword tips), hot glue, electrical tape and duct tape. The guidelines we used can be found in the NERO Rule Book.

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Another project we started with our group is this year’s Triangle Homeschoolers’ Yearbook. At Park Day, we got student pictures of some of the kids, with plans to get pictures of the rest next month, or have their parents send in headshots to be included. We’re using Picaboo online yearbook building, and it’s a REALLY cool program! We’re setting it up so that the kids can edit and create the yearbook, and we’re doing a cover contest as well, so the cover will feature kids’ art – so excited about that!

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Here’s a sneak peek – this may change; I was playing around with the program to see how easy it was to use; I have no idea what the final, kid-approved project will look like. Every part of the page is editable, from the backgrounds to the layout and the numbers (which are stickers that can be moved, re-sized, turned – whatever). I can’t wait for the kids to dig into it!

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Our activity this week was a STEM Day; we brought craft supplies and had an egg drop challenge. The goal was to create a capsule that would protect an egg from a ten-foot drop. LBB created a very cushioned container with lots of spikes to help diffuse the impact. He put a lot of work into his capsule! PeaGreen made several different style capsules; one with sponges, one with spokes. I made a couple too, just for funsises.

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Unfortunately, of the 5 that we made, the only one that protected the egg was the simplest one – I cut an egg carton so that there were 2 sections with 4 cups each. I put the egg in the divot in the center, then put the top on and used masking tape to secure it. It worked! Simple is sometimes better, I guess. We were surprised that PeaGreen’s sponge-capsule didn’t work; you’d think that sponges all around would have protected the egg – too ‘squishy’, maybe? And LBB’s capsule, we think ended up being too dense to disperse the impact. This was a really fun project though!

Stay dry!!
Warmly,
~h

 

 

 


Thoughts on “I can’t Homeschool”

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Basically, yes, you can.

Ultimately, that’s the end result of my thoughts on ‘I can’t homeschool because…’. Whatever your objection, it can be overcome if the need is there. When it comes down to it, most of us homeschool because it is what’s right for our kids at the time. Or maybe what we were doing with/for them wasn’t working and we needed a change, and homeschooling is a step towards an as-yet-undefined ‘something different’; but either way, it’s usually because we want something better for our kids than what they were getting before. So yes; if the need is there, you absolutely can homeschool your kid(s).

But just for funsies, I thought I’d break it down into specific objections.

THOUGHTS ON ‘PATIENCE’

‘Girl… I don’t know how you do it. I have zero patience; I’d lose my mind if I had to be cooped up with my kids all day, every day!’

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten some variation of that comment. It’s frustrating to me, because I also have zero patience, and frequently wonder if I am, in fact, losing my mind. It’s also annoying to me, and probably to other homeschooling parents as well, because it implies that we have some kind of handle on things that other people don’t – and that assumption/implication is SO FAR from the truth that I just #literallycanteven.

I am not a patient person. I am, in fact, the living embodiment of Impatience. I am easily frustrated and frequently have to take ‘mommy time outs’ for all of our sanity. Having no patience is not a ‘reason’ that homeschooling can’t work for you. Knowing your limits, getting into better touch with who you are as a person and what you need, and incorporating that into your week is key. I say ‘week’, because ‘day’ isn’t always possible. Balance over the course of a week is much easier to gauge and maintain than it is to try to balance every day, and most of us can take a couple of hard days (even in a row) as long as we get some down time after that. Same in homeschooling.

Personally, I need time away from my family quite frequently. Even my Loverly Husband, whom I’ve dedicated my life to, bugs the crap out of me if we’re forced to spend too much time together – that’s human nature, and children are the very embodiment of ‘human’: selfish, compassionate, irritating, kind, argumentative, adorable littles copies of the person I see in the mirror every morning. I love them so much I could squish them into itty-bitty pieces and put them in my pockets… but they make me insane and I just need to escape them, and that’s okay. Headphones are a staple in our homeschooling day – for me, and for the boys. Headphones let us all be absorbed in the work we’re doing without distraction. It gives us ‘privacy’ in the presence of the others in the room. The kids have the entire house to school in; they don’t need to be under my feet to get their work done. They check in with me when they need help, or we work together if we’re covering new territory.

I also take needed ‘me’ time – writing group on Monday evenings, Mom’s Night Out and/or Brunch once a month or so with my friends, and even a lunch date most weeks. Involvement with our homeschool group is another way I pepper my day with conversation from other adults – both online and at weekly events. I volunteer/work, so I also have obligations that get me out of the house that aren’t related to my kids; so that helps, too. Which leads me to another objection:

THOUGHTS ON ‘I CAN’T BECAUSE I WORK’

I get it. Working a full-time job (or even a part-time job) makes homeschooling a little more difficult, especially with littles.  Working parents often feel like the task of homeschooling seems impossible or impractical for their family. If that’s how you feel, then you might be right for your particular situation. But it may surprise you to know that a lot of parents who homeschool also have 8-5 jobs outside the home. Most would say that it’s not the ideal scenario, but it’s far from impossible, even if both parents work.

If you want to homeschool, or need to homeschool for your kids’ sake, there are strategies that you can employ to make it work. Flex-schooling is one. Basically, flex-schooling is school that isn’t done in the traditional ‘school day’ hours. Evenings, weekends, holidays – that’s where a lot of school gets done. Depending on your childcare situation, you can send work with them to be accomplished during the day and review it with them in the evenings. If the kids are older, then some combination of that might work. Organization and planning are key when your time is limited. Better organization and better planning means that your time with the kids is well spent. Talking with your kids about what to expect and what is expected of them is also key. If they’re older, then they might need to step their game up a bit and be able to work independently or help younger siblings with their work.

Another alternative is to drop to one income. For many families, this isn’t feasible, but for some it will be. Do the math – many find that whoever brings in the lesser income if often only paying for the things necessary to maintain the second parent’s job – a second car/insurance/gas, childcare and food expenses. Eliminating those expenses often means that one parents can stay home, making homeschooling a more viable/less stressful option.

We’ve done various combinations of these things. We have only one income, and one car. I work, but it’s on a volunteer basis even though it’s a ‘real job’. Flexible school days and hours work well for us; even into weekends and the wee hours of the night, since I am not a ‘morning person’. My kids get their work for the week on Mondays, and turn it all in on Fridays (ideally). It doesn’t always happen like clockwork, but that’s the plan, anyway. We’ve tried other things, and will try new things in the future, I’m sure. We make it work!

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T MATH’ OR OTHER PERCEIVED PARENTAL EDUCATIONAL DEFICIENCIES

Basically, if you have a high school education, then you are well qualified to tackle homeschooling K-8th. Some might extend that through high school; I say at least through 8th grade. That’s where all your basics are – reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we all do those things every day. So we don’t all have training on how to teach a 6 year old how to read – that’s okay, because we have THE INTERNET, with literally all of the knowledge of mankind at our very fingertips, including myriad videos posted by school teachers with strategies they use in their classrooms that you can adapt for use with your child.

Every homeschooling parent (and honestly, everyone who wants to know something, period) I know uses YouTube as their go-to resource for learning how to do a thing. From learning Klingon or Elvish to diagramming sentences to building a primitive shelter from mud and bamboo to explaining string theory…. it’s all there. Just because you are their ‘teacher’ doesn’t mean that YOU have to do all the teaching. Combine internet resources with the knowledge and skills and abilities of other homeschooling parents in your area, and you may be able to establish a cooperative learning group where each parent teaches to their strengths.

Last but not least, there are guided textbooks and curriculum. If you can read it, you can teach it. With ‘say this’ guides to just plain reading and learning along with your child – just because you don’t know a thing doesn’t mean that you can’t facilitate your child learning how to do it.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T HAVE SPACE’

If you have a kitchen table (or even a TV tray), and a bookshelf, then you have space to homeschool; and besides – who said homeschool has to take place ‘at home’. It can be ‘yard-schooling’, ‘car-schooling’, ”grandma’s house-schooling’, ‘park-schooling’, ‘library-schooling’ – wherever you are, your kid can learn. Yes, it’s nice to have 15 acres of property and an old barn that’s been converted into your own personal little school house, but if space is your limiting factor, then you need to think outside the 4 walls of your hacienda.

Honestly, we don’t even ‘school’ at the table or desks even though we have a ‘school room’. Mostly, it’s sprawled on the bed, or couch or in the car on the go, or in the yard when it’s nice out.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T WANT MY KIDS TO BE WEIRD’

NEWSFLASH: Your kids are already weird.

Next!

Srsly though… yes, there are some people who are isolated and lack social skills. But you’ll find those people in public schools, too. That’s often more of a personality issue than an issue of where/how they were educated. Most homeschoolers are active in extra-curricular activities (sports, dance, martial arts), local community service activities, volunteering, and participating in classes offered during the day when most kids are stuck in school. Because homeschooled students are often interacting with the people in their communities, they’re not shy about walking up and striking a conversation with people of all ages. I don’t usually see the kind of uncomfortableness around the elderly, or scorn for younger kids among most homeschooled students that I know. High schoolers play with 5th graders and they’ll all talk with the janitor about his job and offer to help the lady put her bags in her car from the grocery store. Maybe they are weird – but this is the kind of weird I am totally okay with.

Socialization is always a ‘hot-button’ topic, but the rule comes down to this: If you don’t want your kids to be isolated hermits, then don’t BE an isolated hermit.

THOUGHTS ON ‘COLLEGE’

Did you know that colleges actively recruit homeschooled students? We’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and now that LBB is about to start high school, I have been getting emails from colleges all over the US, and even a couple in Germany who want my kids to enroll with them for dual credit courses. Many of them give preference to high school graduates who have gone through their programs when it comes to college admissions. Why? Because homeschooled students generally are interested in learning. They’re self-starters; motivated; driven; goal-oriented. Not every student, but the majority are. They’re not burned out on classroom activities; for many it’s a totally new experience. Because they’re used to working independently, they don’t have issues with getting their assignments done, and are more likely to actually read the material assigned and engage with the professor. Don’t take my word for it: Penelope Trunk,  Online College, Stanford Alumni, Alpha Omega, Tech Insider, MIT Admissions… the list goes on.

CONCLUSION

 

Here’s the deal – we all do what we think is best for our kids, within the abilities we have and what circumstances allow. All of us, which includes you and me and the neighbor down the street. My situation is different from yours, and the neighbor’s situation is probably vastly different from either of ours… and we’re all just doing the best we can. The choice to homeschool everything to do what what you think is best for your kids/family at this time and within what your current circumstances allow. I say ‘at this time’ because I know a great many homeschoolers who either went into homeschooling with the plan to put their kids back in a brick-and-mortar school at some point, or whose kids eventually decided that they’d like to return to school (or try it out if they’ve never been). I know others who have had to make some shifts in their family dynamic and plans due to circumstances beyond their control, and others who gave it a try and found that it wasn’t a thing they wanted to do… and all of that is both fine and totally normal, and completely within the norm of ‘homeschooling culture’, because it’s not ‘about’ homeschooling – it’s about doing the best you can, in any given moment, for your children and family as circumstances allow.

Homeschooling isn’t ‘for’ everyone. It’s not possible for everyone, or even desirable. But if you want to do it, then there’s very likely a way to make it happen. Don’t let the ‘I can’ts because…’ stop you!

Warmly,
~h


Homeschooling Confessions: When Real Life Interferes with School

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Around the mommy-blog world, there are several versions of the ‘mom confessions’ memes, from ‘bad mommy confessions’ and ‘lazy mommy confessions’ – I tend to think they’re funny, and accurate, which is why they’re so popular. While I am certainly not the first one to do a ‘homeschooling mom confessions’, I thought this was a great one to start off on a subject that always seems to come up… interruptions.

HomeschoolingMommyBot says:
“So my confession is that we do a lot of short homeschool days so we can LIVE LIFE and ENJOY IT. I did not get into this homeschooling gig so I could sit at a table with my 5 kids from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. pounding stuff into their brains.”

I love this confession – the entire idea that education is only valuable if it’s behind a desk or in a classroom, and/or that it has to take place during ‘normal’ schooling hours, is one of the stereotypes that homeschooling families deal with quite often. The idea of homeschooling as a highway to ‘super students’ is also a path fraught with unrealistic expectations and pressure that homeschooling moms often endure, even if that’s not their perspective or approach. Even if you’re a ‘relaxed’ homeschooler, the question still comes up: ‘What happens when real life gets in the way of your homeschooling plans?’

It happens to all of us sooner or later. No matter how well you plan, if you homeschool for any length of time, it’s inevitable – something WILL happen that takes your focus off school for a time. Things will be going well; you’re in a great routine and things couldn’t be better. You’re on-schedule, the kids are engaged, you feel like you finally have a handle on things… only to wake up one morning to find that you’re days or weeks off schedule, and wondering how you got there. Sometimes, the unexpected will be a small blip in your otherwise pristine homeschooling journey and you can jump back in without issue; other times, it’ll be a huge crevasse that will take weeks to finally get across and for things to stabilize again.

We all fall into ruts. My personal tragedy is the monotony of being a grown-up and doing ‘the things’. I’m horrible at over-scheduling myself and getting exhausted because I don’t take into consideration my need for solitude and quiet. I love being busy! But I also need time to re-charge and find my center again. I’m awful at striking balance, and have a really hard time building ‘me time’ into my schedule. I started this post a few weeks ago, having no idea how timely it would actually become. As I write, we’re approximately a week ‘behind’ on school work – partially because my work has recently become a little more time-consuming, but also because I’ve been a little under the weather and just plain tired; by the time I get around to working on desk work with the kids, I’m just not focused enough to keep them (or myself) on-task. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been ‘learning’ taking place. Times like this always present a challenge to my ordered nature – does it count as ‘real’ school if there are no worksheets or written work to prove it? I need quantification; it’s in my nature to want to see the data. But I know that’s not always a good measure of how much they’ve learned – I see it in my kids all the time. But knowing that doesn’t negate the desire to see it on paper.

Other times in the past, we’ve fallen behind our glorious yearly plan and schedule because there’s been some catastrophe or other real life issue that’s come up that I just have to deal with (like an unexpected plumbing nightmare, or illness in the family that takes precedence).  We live in the South, so hurricanes are always a thread during the late summer/early fall season. We’ve thankfully not had to deal with those things recently, but if we did, the naive, ever optimistic homeschooling mom part of me likes to think we’d be prepared. The haggard, more realistic and experienced homeschooling mom part of me scoffs at this comment.

What happens when your attention is honestly focused elsewhere? For myself, there’s definitely a tendency to start with the self-blame and doubt – thinking that ‘if the kids were in school, they wouldn’t be falling behind’. But is that really true? I don’t think so; in fact, I am more prone to just skating by when there’s a stressful situation brewing. Think about it: as an adult, how much of your time is spent on autopilot; doing the bare minimum to get by that you absolutely have to do, without truly absorbing what you’re doing? Kids are no different; a move will be stressful – maybe even more so if they’re in school. An illness or sick relative will still be on their mind – what if it’s during a testing year/month? Are they going to be up to par if they’re worried and stressed about both things? I’d rather take the time necessary to deal with whatever needs handling, and return to our normal schedule when the distraction has passed that force a half-effort just to ‘get through the material’.

That said, there may genuinely be times where ‘getting through the material’ is called for, especially in cases where the distraction or situation is projected to be a long-term one, or something that isn’t quickly or easily resolved. In that case, doing the best we can with the options available is still the way to go, which may include considering options that wouldn’t otherwise be agreeable. I’ve said many times that I am not ‘anti-school’; if that was the best option for my kids, then I’d consider it.

But for most of us, distractions and interruptions are a part of life. They come and go. Relax-Mama-posters-LR-Cover-1288x984-1748x984I’ve learned to accept them, and roll with them as best I am able. Depression and anxiety are issues that I deal with on a regular basis, so when I need to take time out, I do. Even though doubts still prey on my mind and my anxiety can get the better of me at times, I try ‘use my tools’, relax, and remind myself of the truths that I’ve come to know about homeschooling, especially in times of distraction or interruption:

  1. Learning doesn’t always have to happen at a desk.
  2. ‘Doing work’ doesn’t always mean that actual learning is taking place.
  3. I have time; this interruption will pass and we’ll get back to normal.
  4. We’re not in competition with anyone or any organization and are thus never truly ‘behind’.
  5. Our goals are for the kids to know how to study and learn; that’s not something that can be taught via worksheet.
  6. Our year-round schedule allows for ‘distractions’ and ‘interruptions’; we’re not off-track (even if the schedule says so – just fix it!)
  7. School isn’t limited to weekdays or daytime hours; we can make-up work on the weekend or in the evening if necessary.

What are your reminders that get you through distractions and back on schedule?
Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 

 


Juggling Act: Homeschooling & Work

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I’ve always dreaded the question, ‘do you know any homeschooling moms who work?’, mostly because I am never quite sure how to answer. I mean, yes, I know several moms who juggle homeschooling and a ‘real’ job – by that, I mean a job that requires the putting on of pants and leaving the house. But I never know quite how to relay my personal experience.

Bad Mommy Confession: I am a workaholic. I am always working. I don’t get paid for most f it, but I work every single day on something related to my business. It’s not even a ‘business’ in the sense of most businesses; it’s run entirely by volunteers – but it still requires a tremendous amount of time and effort to keep things running smoothly. This past week, we hit our 10th anniversary/birthday, and have been launching something new every day this week. It’s been exhausting to plan and put together and make sure everything gets posted on time! But it’s been absolutely worth it, and is so rewarding to see that my work, and the work of my partners and colleagues, is ‘for’ something.

So the question of ‘knowing’ any ‘working’ moms is always somewhat confusing for me. I balance home life and work life well some days, and others it seems like we’re all floundering. Despite the amount of actual work I’ve had on my plate this week, our homeschool work has gone pretty well. Our scheduled field trip to Galveston got rescheduled, so we had an extra day at home, and it was nice to have a bit of a buffer between events.

As for the ‘how’ of making sure everything gets done, we use a variety of pen-and-paper and techno-gadget tools to help me stay on track. For work, our administration team uses Facebook Groups to stay in touch and organized every day. We use Google Drive to share documents, and the group to coordinate events and meetings. We also have a once a week meeting in person to keep on-track.

Homeschooling is similar – our local group utilizes a Facebook group to organize and plan events as well, with multiple meet-ups during the week. Those events fit into our personal homeschooling schedule each week, and I try to organize our home days around those events and work events. That gives me a home-work-home-work-home schedule on a weekly basis (with minor alterations here and there). Our home days are longer schooldays, and more interactive, and my work days are the boys’ independent study days.

As I’ve said a zillion times in the past, my planner is my life. I used to keep multiple planners; one for personal/work, and one for school. Now, I keep them all in one. My homeschool planner is my own design (available for free here), and my personal/work pages are Passion Planner’s free downloadable page. I’ve also included various handouts that help me manage my mental health and mothering, and things like blog planners and other productivity pages. Seriously, it has all the things. Each week, I print out the boys’ lessons, and any worksheets or handouts that they’ll need and they’re responsible for getting it all done and turned in on Friday afternoon. We’ve been using this method for almost 2 years now and it works better than workboxes or any of the other methods I’ve tried. Every day, we consult the Bossy Book to see what needs to be done, or planned for during the course of the week, and make sure it gets done. That’s pretty much my method.

To re-cap the last couple of weeks, I ended January with a bang – a bunch of friends and I went to Junkin’ Gypsies and made pallet-wood signs. There were some truly gorgeous creations crafted that night; I went with a more simplified theme. Our house rules are iconic among our friends and I thought it was time to have them visibly posted.

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This week, we went to the Symphony of Southeast Texas’ Youth Concert, which featured Magic Circle Mime Co. We had a great time, and gathered the kids on the steps of the library for a fantastic group shot.

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Friday was our group’s monthly Teen Social. We had a Scavenger Hunt at Parkdale Mall. We split the kids into two teams, named for their team captains; Team J and Team V. LBB was on Team V, and PeaGreen was on Team J. They had an hour and a half of mall shenanigans, with cameras and video recorders to capture the fun. Afterwards, we went back to our house, loaded up with pizzas and cupcakes to wish one of our kiddos a happy birthday, and loaded all of the evidence onto the computer to see what all the accomplished.

Some of our favorites include the proposals to strangers, getting store clerks to tell them jokes, asking random people if they ‘know the Muffin Man’, and exploring the makeup counters at Ulta and Sephora!

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We need t work on LBB’s makeup skills…

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Not a bad close to our week, I’d say!
Warmly,
~h


Mid-January Update

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It’s crazy how fast time passes by, especially when you’re busy, not that being busy is anything outside of the norm for us. We’ve hit 2016 running, and (as usual) have had one activity after another. I am honestly looking forward already to our break, which is planned for mid-February. After a month with no school responsibilities, getting back to the daily grind has been rough! Don’t get me wrong; it’s been fun, and nice to have the routine again, but still… I think I’m just a lazybones at heart.

One thing I can say that’s been absolutely perfect is the weather! You may have heard the jokes about Texas weather or seen memes that allude to the insane unpredictability: ‘don’t like it? Give it an hour and it will change’; ‘the four seasons of Texas: Summer, Summerer, SummererER, Christmas Day’; etc…. While those aren’t far off, January is always fairly mild, and this year exemplifies that perfectly. Mornings range from 40’s to 50’s, and the highs are in the 60’s and 70’s – this is what I imagine other parts of the US enjoy for Spring or Fall weather. February and March might be cold, but for now, we’re outside as much as possible, soaking up the cool(er) weather.

Our homeschool group went out to the Big Thicket National Preserve for a hike last week. Their Visitor’s Center is really nice; it’s one of our favorite stops when we’re in Kountze. We hiked the Sundew Trail, which is famous for its carnivorous plants (sundews and pitcher plants). I think it was a little early in the season though; mostly we saw pines and yaupon underbrush. Last year (or maybe two years ago), we went out there right after they had a prescribed burn. It was really interesting to see the burns on the pines, and to see how quickly the forest bounced back. Most of the new growth was as high as I am tall (5’4ish). It was cool to see how the trees recovered as well.

 

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January is the beginning of our group’s art classes. We’re working from Discovering Great Artists, and our first lesson is on Pablo Picasso. The kids were instructed to paint a self-portrait for use in the project for the class. I wish I’d noticed that the boys were both using such similar colors, but it probably won’t matter in the end since the pictures will be cut up and reassembled, and added to with other supplies to make a collage.

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Here’s the obligatory group shot, and our ‘after’ pictures, Picasso-style!

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This was such a fun project – the kids did a great job on their original portraits, and their after creations ran the gamut from basic cubism to truly eclectic creations. I love art, and as a homeschooling teacher, that’s probably one of the things I regret most – that we don’t spend as much time on actually ‘making’ art as I’d like. It’s been on my mind for a while; I got the kids a ‘wreck it’ style journal, and one for myself for us to go through this year. I did Keri Smith’s ‘Wreck this Journal’ a couple of years ago and found it to be a lot of fun; hopefully the boys will find some inspiration in this journal, too. Rip It, Write It, Draw It is on sale at B&N right now for $3.99 – a great buy if you’ve been wanting to try WTJ but not wanting to spend the dough for a book you’re just going to tear up! (Disclosure – I am not affiliated with B&N nor do I receive kickbacks from them or anyone else – I just have this book and appreciate a good deal.) I’ve already re-covered mine with a quote from this little gem of a book, which I’ve found helpful for everything from personal reminders to boosting notes to the kids and friends.

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We’re wrapping up this week with some advice from the Homeschool Snark Shark… and calling it a half-day today.

 

Hope you have a great weekend!

Warmly,
~h


Planning Your Homeschool Year

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We follow a non-traditional school year. When I originally withdrew my boys from public school, it was just after the winter break. They were mid-semester, so we finished out that 6-week grading period, and then started homeschooling. Ever since then, we’ve started our ‘year’ in January.

Way back when I was a newbie homeschooler, I was anxious to get started. I knew what I wanted, and I was ready to go after it. We jumped in, both feet first and never looked back. The older, wiser, more experienced homeschooling mom in me now looks back on that eager, idealistic mom and thinks, ‘Aww… you sweet, summer child.’ As with so many, many things, I wish I’d known then even half of what I know now. All in all, I don’t think we had that bad of a start. There are things I’d do differently; de-schooling for a while, for one thing, but we didn’t hit the books hard and heavy right off the bat; we got started soon, but we did take it easy, so I don’t have too many regrets. But the pressure I put on myself was enormous. At the time, I had yet to be diagnosed or started treatment for anxiety disorder, and looking back I know that my internal stress-o-rama was partially due to that. Even so, I had no direction, no real clue as to what I really needed to do, so I did all the things. I’d never planned for homeschooling before, so I was making it up as I went along, and like many newbies, got way to ambitious and idealistic. Luckily, I had some really kind and caring guides along the way who helped me reign in my tendencies. Even though some of them no longer blog, Jana, Julie, SmrtMama, Farrar, and many other helped me find my way.

Now, I know better, but still browse homeschooling blogs to make sure I’m not missing out on anything I haven’t seen before. I do still plan the year, and I do still usually start in January. We take the month of December off – at least we try to. There’s almost always something that interferes with the plan (this year, it was illness) that forces us to play catch-up, but that’s okay – that’s partly why I plan that break. The time off gives me a couple of weeks to catch up anything we were lagging behind on, consider what’s working, what needs to change and come up with a new plan or figure out new material to replace it. I know that we’ll complete this ‘grade’ in the spring/summer and start the next ‘grade’ in the fall, so I plan to do another planning session in the fall, to refine and add new materials I come across during the course of the next six months. There are always new materials coming out, which makes planning difficult sometimes. Throughout the year, I keep notes and use Pinterest to keep track of things I want to look into later in the year. If you use it that way, don’t forget to go back through it and pull resources from your boards when you’re planning!

I usually have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for the year before I start, but I’ve also learned to value flexibility. If something isn’t working, I don’t waste time trying to force it. There are always other materials out there.

This year, we’re starting the One Year Adventure Novel for grammar. We’re doing other things as well, but that’s a new addition. Most of our plans from the fall remain the same, which is nice. Back when we started, I had grand ideas that didn’t work in our life, so things got switched up a lot. I don’t regret it, exactly; it was a huge learning curve and part of the journey that I think helped make this part run more smoothly. It also let me accept that flexibility is okay, and normal, and probably for the best, considering the many options and changes that happen during the year.

When I start planning, I look at several things. Take history, for example. This year, we need to work through the last half of Story of the World IV. We’re on schedule; my plan was to finish that in May-ish, and we’ll make that target. After that, we’ll be either between books, or can start with SOTW I again immediately. At this point, I think I want to take a couple of months and focus on geography, but I know that will play more of a role in our overall journey through the SOTW books this go-round, so we’ll have to see what happens when the time comes. In addition to the regular curriculum, we keep track of a timeline, we have our homeschool group’s social studies club each month, and will hopefully be adding actual travel to the kids’ experiences this coming year. Even though I can’t put those things on the books in exact dates, I know that’s what I want to accomplish this coming year.

I treat the other subjects similarly; I know if we’ve started, where we’re at and what needs to be done. If it’s new, and we’re starting in January, then we have the year to divide the lessons up. The One Year Adventure Novel curriculum is designed to be completed in 9 months, so by the time we break for the year at the end of November, we should be done. That’s about right, counting the various breaks we take through the year.

That brings me to another point – planning the actual school dates. I usually plan for 6 weeks of school, then a one-week break. That’s what we did originally, when we started, but it didn’t work. The kids were too young, I think, and I was too new and stressed. We amended it to 4 weeks of school and one week off, and that worked a lot better. As we’ve progressed, we’ve gone longer and had fewer breaks (or took 2 instead of one week)… depending on what we needed at the time. Regardless of how the actual breakdown of the year happens, I still always plan for a block of school, followed by a mini-break. This year, we’re on a 6-week on, one week off schedule. I also planned for a 2-week break in July, and for school to ‘end’ December 2, 2016. That’s roughly 190 days of school, not accounting for birthdays (which are holidays) or sick days (which we rarely have). That’s comparable to our local ISD’s school calendar, just spread a little differently.

The last part of my planning regimen is my planner, itself. You might say that’s the first part, even. I usually start working on designing my new planning ion November and try to have it completed and printed by mid-December at the latest. Because I also plan events for our homeschool group, I need to be able to see what’s going on months ahead of time. I also get the luxury of planning my kids’ lessons around whatever we have scheduled for the group, if I want to. For comparison sake, I took a couple of pictures of 2015’s planner (end of year) and 2016’s planner (brand new and *so* crisp!!):

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I’ve made changes to my planner every year; last year, I discovered Passion Planner and so I added a page to every week. My weekly layout is 4 pages and I love it! I also added a pocket folder and tabs for the months so I can quickly and easily find my current week. I use both the monthly layout and the weekly/daily formats; this really is the center of my world. Whereas I used to keep my personal planner and my lesson planner separate, I’ve since learned the value in integrating them – everything is in one place and it’s lovely. I have blank, printable versions of my current planner, and every previous version of it, available for free, here. There are also a few other printable pages, including a student planner I designed, but the kids don’t use right now. Every year, I find little tweaks and things that work better, and that’s pretty neat to see. I keep all of my old planners, and it’s fun to look back through them.

If you’re at a loss, even a calendar from the dollar store can be effective; I found a video that a woman with small kiddos did on how she plans – not for homeschooling, but the idea was the same. With only a few supplies, she created a color-coded layout that worked for her family. Whatever you use, even a plain spiral notebook, can work! I know a few homeschooling families who don’t pre-plan; instead they write down what they accomplished at the end of the day or week.

Since this is the beginning of the year, I thought I’d share a progress picture – this was our first day of homeschooling way back in 2010, and a shot from this week:

 

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Homeschooling, Day 1 – January 2010

 

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Homeschooling, Beginning of our 6th year – January 2016

How do you plan?
Warmly,
~h

 


Fall 2015 – Book Club, NASA, Shakespeare and more!

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It seems like I am always playing catch-up, especially when it comes to blogging. I’ve pretty much accepted it, but I always feel guilty when I finally get around to updating. It’s not intentional; I usually start a new post draft for everything I want to write about, only to end up with a bunch of stuff that I decide to condense into one post (like this one) because so much time has passed and making individual posts gets to be a daunting task. One sort-of good thing about the last few months is that I’ve been trying to be more ‘in the moment’ rather than behind the camera, so I don’t have as many pictures of things we’ve been doing as I normally would. As great as I think being part of the moment is, I’ve come to the decision that I regret not having the pictures to preserve the memory, so I’m going back to my normal photo-documenting because that makes me happier. I’d like to say that I ‘learned something’ from this experience, but I don’t think I was ‘addicted to the camera’ in the first place, which is what articles of that kind were targeting. In any case lack of photo evidence does not a clearer schedule make, so let there be words!!

Such is the life of a busy mom, right?
In any case, here’s a snapshot of our life over the last few months:

September
Once again, our local library system is hosting a book club for homeschoolers. And, once again, after a very strong start, our schedules never manage to sync up with the book club schedule. <sigh> I LOVE the book club format, I really do. I love that our library, and especially our fantastic Librarian, make the effort to host the book club each month for our homeschoolers, and it pains me that we’re never quite able to make it work for us. That said, I snagged a group shot from the introductory meeting in September, which of course I am posting in November, because #reasons (#excuses).

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There are actually two clubs; one for kids 5-12, and one for 12+, which is awesome since my kids would hardly sit still for another rendition of ‘Goodnight, Moon’. The meeting format for the older kids involves a list of open questions so the kids can share their thoughts and ideas about the books they chose to read. It’s nice to have that variety, rather than limiting the discussion to a single book, but the format took some getting used to, I’ll admit. After the discussion, there’s usually a game and snacks. The first meeting we did an index card ‘getting to know you’ game. Each card held a topic that you were supposed to fill out; things like: top 5 books, 4 musicians, 4 words that describe me, 4 things I like to do… things like that. Then, it 11058577_10153076466066404_3812504784520512969_nwas trivia time with prizes. PeaGreen points out as I am writing this that he won the most M&Ms that day.

We’re doing the ‘choice of books’ format again this year, rather than the standard single book format, and in addition to the books she chooses for the month the kids can choose any book that’s considered ‘classical literature’, or pick a book from the College Board Reading List, which give them plenty of options. For the first month, the kids chose Treasure Island, which we’re currently reading (since we fell behind). November’s option will be 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – we’re working on Literature, too, so this is a great way to cover both. Treasure Island, is, of course, a classic and filled with swashbuckling adventure. One of my favorite adaptations is Disney’s Treasure Planet, but it’s really quite different, so a comparison will be fun. One of the cool things about reading classics is that the book is available online, through Project Gutenberg, and there are options for study guides and teacher’s guides online. Penguin.com has a Teacher’s Guide for Treasure Island, and Tears of Joy Theater offers a guide for 20,000 Leagues.

We also hit our local JumpingWorldUSA, which is a pretty awesome place. I grew up with a big rectangular trampoline, and my kids had a round one when they were little, but nothing compares to a ROOM full of trampolines – floors made of bounce!! Our JW also has a dodge ball court, which is super cool. The kids always end up sweaty and tired when we leave.

October:

Our homeschool group’s teen social for October was at a local comic book shop, the Book Stan. They set up, and brought in some people to teach the kids how to play Magic: the Gathering, which I thought was pretty cool. The kids have collectively taken to calling it ‘nerd cards’, which I find both funny and appropriate. I got to bee the ‘cool mom’ for a half second, because I used to play and still have a collection of cards from way back in the 90’s (that my kids still can’t have). Their collections quickly surpassed mine though and they’re the experts on ‘nerd cards’ now. In addition to playing cards that they’re collecting, the boys both play Hearthstone, which is an online card game similar (in some ways) to M:tG.
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Our homeschool group put together a Shakespeare Party in October, too. The kids made paper dolls with the intent of acting out a play, but that got tossed in favor of using the Shakespeare Insult Kit to come up with inventive and bawdy insults to roast each other. Fun was had by all, but I think next time we’ll have to come up with a more organized plan and maybe get a little more actual learning in. We did have some printable paper dolls and a Globe Theater (and don’t you dare laugh at my little theater – those suckers are harder than they look to put together!!)

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Moving on…

October is also when NASA and the Johnson Space Center host their annual Homeschool Day, which is ALWAYS awesome. We had an action-packed day, with classes from 9AM to 3PM. The kids worked on several really cool projects; they built an app for a smartphone, programmed a robot to compete in a mission with other robots, and got to design and 3D-print a keychain with their initials in Morse code. Between classes, we sat in on a STEM presentation, and LBB went through the ‘missions’ in the center of the Space Center’s visitor area. Of all the homeschool day programs, NASA’s is one of the best for kids in middle/high school.
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We also had the opportunity to tour our local college campus and spend the day checking out college life.

November:

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In November, we had another teen social – this time at a local coffee shop for nerd cards and hanging out like the college klids do. We have a couple of coffeeshops that are the gathering place for teens and various groups in our area. Our local Secular HUmanist group meets here, and NaNoWriMo’s local group as well. It’s a comfy spot with free wifi and the best coffee… what’s not to love?

Other than that, it’s pretty much the same old routine around here. Lately, it feels like we’re just consumed with pre-algebra (which I still hate but am learning to appreciate… begrudgingly). Math continues to be the bane of my very existence. As a homeschooling parent who has issues with certain subjects, it’s really difficult to be conscious of how my attitude towards those subjects can affect my kids’ learning. Math and I just don’t mesh, but so much of that is instinctive, and based in perceived insufficiency that comes from years of poor teaching/poor learning in school. As I go through the lessons to prepare, I have consistently found that, while math is still not my strongest instinctive subject, it’s not anywhere near as difficult or incomprehensible as it’s always seemed in my mind.

I did find a pretty cool project for science – Element Brochures. The boys are still working on their first set, but I made a template that you can use if you’d like to create your own.

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We just had our speech class this month (no pictures), and we’re getting ready for our Thanksgiving Food Drive next week with our homeschool group.

I do have a request for my lovely readers. Yesterday morning, a very dear friend of mine lost her house and everything in it in a fire. She and her partner and their two little girls are currently homeless, relying on the generosity of friends and family for all of their needs right now. Unfortunately, they were not insured, and so getting back on their feet will be a struggle. We’ve created a GoFundMe account for them to help. If you’re in a position to donate, even a dollar, every bit helps. Thank you!!❤

Happy Thanksgiving!!:)  (I know it’s a little early, but who knows when I’ll update next, LOL)
~h

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