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

Never Stop Learning

Summer 2019 Update

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Oh, boy… where to start.
So when I posted last, we’d finished most of the base work in the kitchen and were about to start installing cabinets. What I didn’t know then was that the cabinets we ordered (from Home Depot) were flimsy and cheap, and one of them was damaged in the crate (which we didn’t find out about until we unboxed). Then when Loverly Husband was dry-fitting them in place, we realized that there were many, many issues that would inevitably crop up because of their shoddy, cheap, flimsy construction. So we made the really tough decision to send them all back and have actual, real, hardy, SOLID WOOD cabinets made. That set us back twice the cost and several months, because it was custom work, plus we ended up adding another section of cabinets to the original plan… so though the main cabinets were in mid-March, the final cabinet installation didn’t happen until mid-May.

We were able to have the countertops, sink and appliances put in, and the flooring and door, window and floor trim done throughout the kitchen and living room in by mid-April, and the crown molding and final re-paint at the beginning of June. We still have one tiny section of granite to have cut from our slab for the soon-to-be coffee bar in the kitchen (not pictured), but that will have to wait a few weeks still, because the rest of the slab will be Loverly Husband’s desk top in the office.

Here’s the final before and after:

before-2017

February 2017

 

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June 2019

It’s not the same angle, but I think there’s a marked improvement. It’s hard to see in the top pic because it was taken at night, but we had to replace the glass in the lower right window, so we took the texture off the other one so they’d match. We’re still not sure if we’ll re-texture them all or leave them or what. For now, though, it’s fine.

At the end of January, we also had a carport/porch put on the front of the house (something we haven’t had since Hurricane Rita took ours off back in 2005), and a cover on the back porch (which Hurricane Ike took out in 2008). Stupid hurricanes.

We had most of the trees in the back yard taken out (to hopefully lessen the potential for damage in future hurricanes), but other than that and porches, we haven’t really started on the yard or outside of the house, which needs to be re-painted, and we’re planning on adding a wheelchair ramp so my dad can get into our house. He lives next door, and  the construction on his house was completed at the end of February, so he’s happy to be back in it. It’s so strange going in his house now. It was my childhood home, but it looks SO different now! We talk a lot about how different it would look if my mom were still alive to have a say in the decor. It’s been interesting to see how much my dad’s taste differs from hers.

In terms of actual school stuff, it’s been fairly boring. The boys are still a wee bit behind from Hurricane Harvey, but are on track to start the fall school year on time. I will have a Senior (and a Junior) this year, which I just can’t hardly even believe. Our journey through homeschooling is coming to a close (though we’re not quite there yet), and I find myself feeling all nostalgic as more and more of my friends who have younger kids are starting their journeys with kinders and elementary kiddos. I was so excited to get started, and I enjoyed spending time with my kiddos so much – I’m trying to savor every moment as we move towards graduation.

There are some big hurdles still ahead though. Graduation being one of them. Thankfully, there’s a homeschool group in our area that hosted their first graduation this past spring, and there are seasoned moms willing to help those of us who are new and clueless. I’m excited to work with them, and for LBB to have the chance to participate in ‘senior year’ type activities with other kids his age.

Both of the boys are in driver’s ed, with plans to get their permits just as soon as I figure out the whole process. Honestly, it’s so complicated; I think they do it that way to discourage teenagers from driving. But soon, they’ll be legally permitted on the roads, though it will be a while before either can get their actual licenses.

In other news, therapy continues. Healing is a long and hard process, and in the interests of both transparency and privacy, I wanted to mention it without going into detail. Long story short: parents won’t always be aware of depression in their teens, because depression can be fairly easily hidden and/or mimic other, totally normal teen states. We’re on a learning curve right now, but  self-care in important; getting help is important (for parents and for kids).

I tend to try to go back and post things to catch up from when I last updated, so I’ll stick with that format.

In February, we took the kids to Houston to Dave & Busters just to get some family fun time away from the house. There’s always so much to do that it’s hard to get perspective sometimes. We needed a break and Loverly Husband nailed it with this semi-surprise outing.

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Our homeschool group went to IFly in Houston for a field trip; my sister in law joined us, so I got shots of all the kids doing cool stuff! This was such a fun place. LBB opted out (and so did I, though several parents also flew), but PeaGreen and my niece and nephew tried it. They said it was cool, and fun, but too short – by the time they got the hang of it, their turn was over.

We also tried Bowling Club with another local homeschool group, and you can see from their overjoyed expressions… that didn’t last long. But points for trying, eh? This is something like our 8th summer to do KidsBowlFree, so even though they’re less than enthused, I’m still going to drag them out to play with me some this summer.

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We also saw a performance of Frankenstein at Lutcher theater, which I enjoyed immensely. The boys less so, but I do my best to throw them at culture whenever I have the opportunity. It’s my duty as a parent. We sat center-front-balcony; my favorite spot in the theater, and we had the entire balcony to ourselves, which was most excellent.

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In March, we toured our local TV News station, and the kids got green-screen reaction shots of themselves to create memes with. I don’t have those pictures, but I wanted to document that they actually posed for pictures without being told to. That’s a thing, trust me!

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And April was homeschool prom season…there were two this year that PG went to (LBB opted to stay home), and I guess I only got pictures from one somehow. Luckily, through the power of the internets… I found one from the other prom as well. Yes, my weirdo kid took a ballon-Lila from Futurama as his date. Kids these days, yo.

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April is also Camp NaNoWriMo. I taught a class for one of our local homeschool groups, but both of my kiddos opted out this time. I, however, accomplished my 10K wordcount, even though the story I was working on is far from done. I tried writing a fan-fiction just for fun, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought and since it’s not my own, I probably won’t ever finish it. But it was good practice. It was really fun to hear how excited the kids who participated were for their stories. Several of them completed their April Camp story, and we’re planning on seeing some of them again in November for NaNoWriMo’s real deal.

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In the spring, we found out that the Symphony League of Beaumont was hosting a summer strings camp, and will be hosting music lessons in the fall. It’s been a while since the boys have played with any regularity, but they have two years of orchestra under their belts and I don’t want to let that go to waste, so I signed them up.

That meant daily practice to re-familiarize themselves with their instruments (LBB on cello and Peagreen on violin) for the four weeks of May. This was their first day even holding instruments after probably a year without. The cello has been in storage (inside, climate controlled, for those who might worry), but held up surprisingly well. It only needed minor adjustments to be fully back in tune and ready to play. We ended up buying PG a new violin. His first one was just a cheap-o started one, and got wrecked in the hurricane. He had a replacement, but it was also a beginner, so we upgraded since he’ll be playing with more regularity in the fall.

May also saw us start doing more stuff with our local group as well; the months of March and April were just so filled with work on the house that we didn’t really have a lot of time for other stuff.

We did blackout poetry at the mall one day, and the beach another day (though the boys opted out of going at the last minute). We had a big family dinner at my dad’s, and I started another run-through of The Artist’s Way. I also took a day-trip with some of my friends to Galveston, and we saw some fabulous street art along the way.

The beginning of June saw the kids at string camp…

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… which brings us pretty much up to date!

There are probably a hundred car-selfies that I could share, usually to or from therapy or a grocery run (because curbside grocery service at HEB is my most favoritest thing ever),  but I’ll leave those to Instagram. Other than that, I’ll leave you with the sign we have in our kitchen window:
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**reminder to take your meds**

Until next time!
~h


January 2019 Update

So way back in September, I’d planned on doing a big ‘One year after Harvey’ post. I started it, then life happened and it sat in my drafts folder until now. Well, technically, it’s still there; this is an entirely new post. I say ‘life happened’, but that’s not entirely true; lots of things happened, and I honestly just wasn’t feeling up to writing about and sharing details of the extreme stress going on in my life at the time. Additionally, though we had technically started back to school in the Spring semester last year, it wasn’t until the fall, when I enrolled the kids in an online school, that we really settled into a good, daily, school routine. Though we have been back in our house since October of 2017, we are still mid-construction. Having such a disrupted environment is extremely difficult, and we’re muddling through as best we can.

 

My previous update was nearly a year ago, after PG’s 15th birthday and Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m happy to report that July 2018 was my first NoNoWriMo event win; the minimum word count for Camp is 10K, and I wrote my story at 25K and some change. The actual story I wrote is still not complete; it’s an autobiographical story, and was as much therapy writing as challenge. It may never see the light of day, but it was still the most writing that I’d put into any single project. I went on to participate in the actual 50K NaNoWriMo in November of 2018, and won! I am continuing to write that story, with plans to complete it ready for editing in April.

 

 

House-wise, we’re almost done with our kitchen. We gutted it in October and completed electrical, insulation and sheetrock work on all the walls and ceiling in December. Our new cabinets are in, and we’re planning to start installation within the next week or so. Loverly Husband’s work schedule dictates a lot of our home-repair schedule.

kitchen – gutted

kitchen – with new electrical, ceiling, lighting, and sheetrock

In August, I decided to put the kids in an online school. Without storage space and work space, trying to teach myself became more of a challenge than I was up for. Having a third-party doing the bulk of the teaching let me step in where I was needed instead of having to be on-call 100% of the time. As the boys were entering their sophomore and Junior years, it also gave the kids more of a sense of ownership of their education, because they were able to choose some of their classes. PG took an interest in Business Management and Economics, while LBB chose Electrical Technology I as his elective.

In addition to their classes at home, we’ve maintained an active presence in our local homeschool group, of which we have been a part since 2004. There is also a new, inclusive, opt-in homeschooling group that we’ve jumped into with both feet as well. Having two groups to socialize and learn with has been fun, and kept us very busy.

With Triangle Homeschoolers:

 

Not Back to School FroYo Party – August 2018

Teen Social Brunch at IHOP (during the IHOB scandal)

Stark Art Museum – Orange, TX

Start Art Museum Art Class – Orange TX

LBB – Start Art Museum Class

Beaumont Police Museum Tour

Triangle Homeschoolers Christmas Party 2018

With LIFE:

Teen Council – Leadership
PG ran for and was elected TC President for the Fall semester, and recently re-elected for the Spring semester as well. LBB was elected as one of the Communications officers for the fall semester, but opted out for the Spring.

LIFE Teen Council – Fall Semester 2018

The Teen Council organized and hosted a Fall ‘Welcome back to school’ dance for the entire group. The kids had a really great time, and made a lot of new friends.

The fall semester also saw the creation of several teen-oriented classes, including Life Skills with a focus on career planning, and a Speech class to familiarize the students with public speaking. The Life Skills class was great. It was taught by a couple, which is so rare, and was a nice change of pace. At the end of the run of classes, they asked the kids to dress as if they were going to a job interview, and to bring their resume. Afterwards, they gave the students some constructive feedback. The Public Speaking course was also taught by a homeschooling dad, and they’ll be offering their final speeches in a couple of weeks.

One of the things I love about being part of an open, larger group is the availability to organize more rigorous classes. LIFE was able to introduce a beginning American Sign Language course, and so we’re all taking it. The kids often break into little practice groups during class.

The Teen Council also hosted a Winter Semi-Formal (that turned into a casual dance).

 

Other things we did during the fall 2018 Semester:

Fantastic Beasts – The Crimes of Grindlewald

sneak photography while the kids visit with a long-lost friend

the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall when it came to Kountze, TX

Halloween 2018 – PG is a Ginger Bread Man, and LBB is SansUndertale

Labyrinth at Flashback Theater in Baytown

In general life terms, we’ve had an eventful fall. PeaGreen bought himself a guitar and has been working on teaching himself to play. He’s learning by ear, and has gotten some chords down and is beginning to play recognizable tunes.

PG’s new guitar – fall2018

Our holidays were pretty low-key. Thanksgiving was full of tasty food and a littler of puppies. The kids spent most of the day outside underneath 7 mixed-breed pups that were absolutely adorable.

Christmas was much the same, only with a few less pups (who’ve since moved off to homes of their own).

With so many changes over the past couple of years, we decided that it would be a good idea to start the kids in therapy. They’ve been going since September, and we feel like it’s helping.

at therapy in the waiting room

Lunch with LBB and Loverly Husband – Sept 2018

Nov 2018

Dec 2018

Dec 2018

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And last, but not least, this little gem popped up in my Facebook memories a few months ago, so I snagged a picture of the boys that day to compare. What a difference six years makes!

top: 2012; bottom 2018

 

I can’t promise that I’ll be updating with regularity, but I’ll get around to it eventually.
Warmly,
~h


10 Months Post Harvey: Early Summer 2018

Well, spring has well and truly faded into summer. Even though the official start of Summer isn’t until July, in Texas, we all know that summer actually starts in late May. At a certain point, everything gets all melty, and that’s how you know that it’s actual summer, and that there will be no relief for the unbearable heat anytime within the next several months. When you live in Texas, you just have to learn to accept this as fact and move on. It means no more hikes; no more outside anything, really, unless you count the walk between the air conditioned ‘indoors’ to the air conditioned car or any time spent at the pool.

When last I posted, we found our intrepid heroes wrapping up homeschool co-op for the year, going to prom, and (as seems to be, forever) working on repairing our house post-Hurricane Harvey. That was back in April, so I have a couple of months to cover before you’re back up to speed, dear reader.

As ever, we’ve been busy, though not really with a lot of schoolwork of late. We took some time off because I was out of town, and there were a couple of weeks when Loverly Husband was also off work, so house-work became to priority. Although it doesn’t look it, we’ve gotten quite a lot accomplished; most of it is just behind the scenes. We’re about to start on the kitchen, completion of which will put us on the downhill slope towards being totally repaired. All that will be left post-kitchen is the master bedroom, bath and the office. Then we’ll tackle some outside projects, but that’s so not the focus right now. We did remove a wall; our house was built in the 1960’s, when open floor plans weren’t a thing. Our living room was an odd rectangle, but with a door on every wall, making furniture placement frustrating and entertaining impossible. We took the wall between the living room and kitchen out, making the whole center of the house one big room. I’m excited to see it finished. We have finished with texturing and painting, but still have the ceiling fan and vent covers to put back on, and trim work. We’re planning to do the living room and kitchen trim all at once. In any case, it’s definitely coming along.

School-wise, I found that trying to pretend like things were ‘normal’ when we really still aren’t solidly living a normal life in our house was not working. Despite trying to keep up and on a regular schedule, it was really hard to keep the kids on task and myself organized to help them. I have long been an advocate of ‘trying something new’ when whatever you’re currently doing isn’t working out, so I decided to enroll the boys in an online school. We’re using Acellus for the time being. I don’t know if this is permanent yet or not, but it’s going well for now, and lends a little more freedom to me and organization to them, plus they both have said that they like it (for now) and I am very grateful for that. Because our school year for 2017-2018 was so very interrupted, our schedule has been sketchy. In the Spring, we took a few weeks off to accommodate travel, illness, Loverly Husband’s vacation time and other productivity issues, but have been solidly in-session for the last couple of weeks now, and I feel like they’re making good progress.

That said, let’s recap! My last post was in April, so picking up where I left off…
Our homeschool group hosted an outdoor survival class at a local park. One of our families has an older daughter who lives in CA and works as a ranger-type for Girl Scouts or CampFire, I don’t remember which. She’s all about teaching though, and volunteered to take our students for a hike with an outdoor lesson. We had a great turnout, and the kids enjoyed having someone closer to their own age doing the teaching.

Afterwards, we spent some time with family. Spring is crawfish season in the South, and we’re nothing if not slaves to tradition. Unfortunately, my sister and I are allergic to shellfish, including crawfish, so our crawfish boils look a bit different than most people’s. The potatoes and corn and Zummo’s all go into the seasoned water first, then into a cooler once cooked, then the mudbugs go in all alone. My kids are, however, not allergic, and ate their fill. As per the usual, any time we get the kids together, we try to make them all stand still for 5 seconds to get a photo of them. This time, we even got my dad in the mix.

 

 

 

We’ve also logged a couple of teen socials with our homeschool group… the kids are a little older now, so I don’t always get pictures of them, but I do usually get a shot with our little mom’s group. We’ve hit the pool, a couple of local coffee shops with regularity, and our local froyo bar, OrangeLeaf, is another popular spot. We also hit up a burger joint for lunch one day instead of just coffee. They have an area that could generously be called an ‘arcade’, where many shenanigans were enjoyed.

 

We visited the Houston Health Museum in May, complete with Lab time for the kids. We’ve done this before, and it’s always fun. This time, the main exhibit was a series of kinetic sound machines/experiments/tech called BioRhythm… really interesting stuff. There was also a really weird film that was a trio of really bizarre looking people who had musical instruments borg-ed into their flesh. There were 3 separate videos that started off individually but eventually synced to make a ‘band’ of sorts… or st least a cohesive rhythmic noise. It was weird, but probably the thing that’s stuck with me the longest. True art, I’d say… something that someone creates that you just can’t forget about, and really creepy, which I totally dig. It was called BioMen, and was created by Chaja Hertog from the Netherlands. I think the videos are even on YouTube now.

It’s not been all work and no play; Loverly Husband and I slipped away to Houston with some friends for a weekend away. We went to the Death By Natural Causes exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science without the kids, and had dinner at an amazing steakhouse called Fogo de Chao, then stayed at a downtown Houston hotel for the evening. It was a lovely little mini-break!

 

In other news, our homeschool group organized a Marshmallow gun challenge using PVC pipes. We set up an obstacle course for them, then sent them off to play battle games while we watched. It’s gotten so hot out that I’m amazed they had as much energy as they did.

A couple of our lovely homeschool friends contributed to a local art show, which we absolutely couldn’t miss. The theme was floral related, and the art work was amazing. There’s a tendency to say that our town is ‘boring’, but there is so much to do and see, especially within the art community lately, if you just look for it. It’s always been that way, but more so in the last few years. The city launched a beautification project recently that invites local artists to paint traffic control boxes around town. I have several friends who’ve painted boxes, and a couple more in the works. The city has also opened up some park benches to get the same treatment, and we’re talking about having our homeschool group do one as a group project.

Our Mom’s Night out events are always fun; we’ve been joining a local mothering group for their Hoops & Wine nights lately. It’s been a lot of fun, with a little bonus exercise tossed in for good measure as well. It’s really nice to get to chat with some of the moms in our homeschool group without kids; we have a pretty diverse group of moms in our group, and I always really enjoy spending time with them in a grown-up environment.

For my BFF’s birthday, she wanted to take a road trip, so we did! It was really spur of the moment, and such a great time. I’m not usually a spontaneous person, but I’ve been giving being more laid back a try, and it was really relaxing. We drove through Texas to Colorado, and stayed in Air B’nBs, so we spent 3 nights and 4 days really inexpensively. Last time we made this drive, it was nighttime, and we missed a lot of the scenery across west Texas. This time, it was still light, and we passed Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. I have seen this online before, but thought it was in Arizona or something; I had no idea it was in Texas! We stopped and got pictures. It was wet and muddy, and there was a ton of trash, but it was still pretty cool.

 

PeaGreen shares his birthday day with his BFF, TabasocBoi, so they had a joint pool party to celebrate. PeaGreen is officially 15 now, and TB is 16. They donned Birthday Dictator hats for the duration, and bossed everyone around. They seem to have enjoyed themselves, but this demonstration reminds me that it’s maybe a good thing that my kid doesn’t have any real power (because he might be a terrible person {wink}).

Somewhere in February, back when RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 was still on, my friend Michelle found out that Trixie Mattel was going to be coming to Houston, and tickets were pretty cheap, so we snagged a quad pack. Fast forward to the end of June, and Trixie had won All Stars 3, and was still coming to Houston, but now with a crown. We took a weekend trip, and had a great time, complete with breakfast crepes al fresco at CoCo’s in Midtown.

4th of July has always been a ton of fun for us, since PeaGreen’s birthday is the 5th. Since we’re still not finished with our house, we spent the evening with friends. Once it got dark, the kids took to the streets with Roman Candles and Harry Potter spells, or at least we tried to convince them to use HP spells… they were less enthusiastic about it, but did a couple just to make the moms happy (and we love them for that).

Loverly Husband was on call the week of PG’s actual birthday (and we like to make the celebration last…), so we took PG out for a birthday Dinner at a local Italian eatery. PG is all into pasta these days… making, cooking and eating, and requested that we each get a different pasta dish and share. LBB opted out, but we still ended up with 3 different pasta dishes and more than enough food to bring home.

‘ice cream for breakfast while we have the car serviced’ selfies.

This past weekend, we finally broke ground on the kitchen; we are moving our refrigerator to a recessed closet off to the side so that we have access to our back door again. Our kitchen was TINY, and when we bought our kitchen table set a few years ago, we realized too late that the table was a bit bigger than we’d thought. The configuration of the kitchen meant that the only place to put the refrigerator was in front of the back door, so we blocked it off and the fridge has been there ever since. When we took the wall out between the living room and kitchen post-Harvey, it opened up more possibilities, so we’re taking advantage of that now (and I’ll have a back porch accessible through the kitchen again – yay!). We have the closet framed and sheetrocked; next up is to built in the cabinet overhead, then we can start on pulling the ceiling tiles so we can insulate and do the new lighting, then sheetrock. It’s just the beginning stages of a massive project – probably THE main project since we’ve been doing recovery work, but we’re finally on it and I am so glad!

 

We also saw our friends perform in their summer workshop play with Orange Community Players in Heroes & Villains Too! The Quest for Shmeep.

In other news, July is Camp NaNoWrimo, and I am at 15.8K of 25K words, so I am pleased with myself. I’ve never been this close to hitting a target word-count within the time frame, so I am feeling confident that I will win (for the first time!). If you’re a writer-type, Camp (10K word count) is a good way to get your feet wet in prep for November, which is the big project: 50K words. I have no idea what I am going to write about in November, but I hope it works out as well as this month is going.

That’s pretty much everything for the last couple of months! Just trying to keep up so that I don’t fall completely off the face of the earth between posts.

How’s things with you?
Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: Back to School, Take II

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

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

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

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

TH THINK High School Co-op Moms!

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

My oldest friends – since we were babies!

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

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

Car selfie on the way to orchestra practice!

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

D&D – ongoing for almost 2 years now!

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

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

 

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

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

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

sneaky selfie at Home Depot

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

Lunch after Park Day

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

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

Kids working hard at co-op

Solitary workers… working together! LOL

Wreck This Journal

running errands – my kids are weird

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


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

How’s your 2018 going?
Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

so shiny!!

This is his ‘serious jazz musician’ face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

practice, practice, practice

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

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

#allthegreys

#finalists

 

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

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

Bonus picture of these two weirdos ❤

 

Warmly,
~h

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


It’s Full-on Summer, Y’all

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

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

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

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

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

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

orchestra practice – June2017

Dungeons & Dragons – June 2017

 

Lunch date with my two best guys ❤

 

family car-selfie

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

obligatory car-selfie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

the dining room at the Pompeiian Villa

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h

 

 


13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 


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

 


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


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


Planning Your Homeschool Year

plan your year

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:

 

Homeschooling, Day 1

Homeschooling, Day 1 – January 2010

 

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Homeschooling, Beginning of our 6th year – January 2016

How do you plan?
Warmly,
~h

 


Homeschool Regulation

I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.

For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.

We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.

Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.

If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.

The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.

Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.

Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.

To answer the questions I know are coming:

  • Yes, some parents will be lazy.
  • Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
  • Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.

But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.

So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.

What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.

What do you think?

Warmly,
~h


September Homeschool Book Club

This year is the first year that we’ve been able to really participate in our local library’s homeschool book club. Over the past few years, we’ve had good intentions, but the day of the week they met was always in conflict with our schedule, or I’d forget about it, or we’d end up with other plans the day of the meeting. So I was excited this year to make the planning meeting, and discover that the stars have finally aligned and that we can participate this year.
The first book that we read was for the month of September. Lois Lowry’s ‘The Giver’ was the selection. I read this book a couple of years ago when my friend PBJMom was going through it with her class (she is a former homeschool expert, now amazing public school teacher). With the movie version that came out this year (which my oldest has seen), I figured that was a pretty good choice, especially if/since some of the kids had probably seen it, and would be more familiar with the story.  It’s age-appropriate (middle school, which is my kids’ age, and the age that their book club is designed for), and provocative in that it deals with subjects that I feel are important for kids to consider.
In no way did I think that this was a ‘controversial’ choice, but apparently I was so wrong about that! When we went to discuss the book, I learned that the suitability for this book for this age qroup had been questioned – to the point that rather than selecting a single book to be read and discussed for the month, there is a list of 5 books that the kids can choose from, with a few questions at the discussion that pertain to how the book the student chose affected them, personally. While I don’t think that’s an entirely unworthy pursuit, it’s definitely not what I expected.

In books clubs I’ve previously been part of, the book is chosen and the discussion pertains to that particular book and how it impacts the discussion group members. Ideally, a ‘good’ selection offers something challenging – an idea or viewpoint that the reader hadn’t previously been confronted with, or a situation that broadens the reader’s experience in some way. That’s what I was looking for in a book club for my kids, and I feel like the approach that is being taken in this case is ‘safe’. And by safe, I mean boring, and not challenging, and wrong.

I can’t help but feel like the choice is based on pressures from the conservative and/or religious set in this area. I may be totally off base on that, but I really think that has a lot to do with it. The only ‘objections’ that I’ve been able to find for The Giver come from a conservative and/or ‘fearful’ viewpoint, with questions and concerns about the topics of sexuality, suicide, and rebellion.

Given that the main character is 11/12 years old, I think it’s entirely appropriate for children who are that are to be reading about what a child of a similar age might be seeing, thinking, feeling and dealing with, including the awakening of sexual feelings. A pre-teen is likely dealing with some of those same issues, and struggling to find his or her own identity. Books – especially those that bring new ideas to the table – are essential to their developing sense of morality and individuality. Far better, in my opinion, to read books that a parent finds objectionable with your child than to try to hide it from him.  Reading with your child does several things. It enhances the bond you have with your child. It provides opportunities for discussion and exploration of the ideas presented in the book. Talking about those points can help a parent know their child’s mind, and re-direct his or her thinking if necessary.

Reading books together also provides opportunities to talk with your children about topics that you may find uncomfortable, or hard to bring up. Some things just don’t come up in everyday conversation, and trying to segue into them can be difficult without a catalyst. The Giver has a couple of openings that provide an in-road to a discussion about euthanasia, suicide, end of life decisions, eugenics and selective breeding, and a host of governmental and societal topics that we simply don’t have to deal with in our lives. I think those are valuable discussions to have with your kids!

Le sigh…

Moving on, the discussion, itself was great! Our librarian is just amazing, and she does a great job at getting the kids engaged in the discussion, even when they’re reluctant to participate, or feel they may not have much to add. She brought popcorn and drinks, and used the game ‘Apples to Apples’ as an ice-breaker to get the kids (and parents) comfortable with talking to each other before she opened the book discussion up. It was a great strategy!

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In any case, I don’t think that  book clubs should be all about deep discussions, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I really am petwarlooking forward to next month’s discussion. The books the kids got to choose from were: Treasure Island, The View from Saturday, Anne of Green Gables, The Book Thief and The Pet War. The boys chose different books originally; PeaGreen was keen to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, while LBB chose The Pet War by Allan Woodrow. After some discussion, PeaGreen decided to switch to The Pet War as well, so we’re working on that at the moment. We’re in chapter 6, and it’s clever, funny and engaging.

We’re notebooking our way through it, using ‘graphic’ note-taking. PeaGreen has really gotten into it, with pictures and charts, while LBB tends to prefer a more linear style of note-taking. It’s odd to me that they’ve ended up taking notes the way they have; I’d have thought they’d be opposite in their styles. Just goes to show that there’s always something to surprise you!

I’ve read The Book Thief already, and I think when we finish this book, we’re going to read that one, too. It can’t hurt them to be prepared with more than one book!

What are your thoughts on book clubs and ‘controversial’ topics in literature for kids?

Warmly,
~h


We Read Banned Books Here

 

Banned Books Week is coming up fast!! To celebrate, we’re reading banned books (and watching films based on banned books). We’re talking about censorship – what that means, what potential good vs. harm it does to society, and more. I made ‘Banned Books stickers to wear and gave some to the kids to pass out when we are about town. (I just printed the pictures and ran them through a sticker maker. – I don’t get paid to hawk their product; I’ve just had it for years and I love it!)

So why do I like banned books week? Well, part of it is rebellion, pure and simple. Tell kids that something is banned, and it immediately piques their interest. They want to know ‘why’, and so they read. I think that banned books week is probably one of the most ingenious ways to get those ideas out there, into the hands and minds of the young – tell them they can’t have it, and they’ll be all over it. This concept is so effective that I wonder sometimes if the banned books thing was created for that exact reason. Either way, I enjoy the concept and am happy to promote it!

I was preparing for this week, and this post and found the top ten most challenged list for last year – I had no idea that Captain Underpants books were the most challenged in 2013. That seems a little absurd to me. Captain Underpants isn’t my personal favorite, but harmful? Probably in the same way that watching Wile E. Coyote repeatedly attempt to murder the Roadrunner was for us. Aren’t we all scarred from that?

For a list of ‘frequently challenged books’, click here.

Hunger Games also came up in the top ten. I kinda-sorta can see why that one might come up, but overall, I think it opens much more of an opportunity for discussion than anything else. I sort of equate a lot of the YA books that have come out (or gotten popular) lately on the same lines – The Giver, Divergence, Hunger Games… they’re all about a dystopian society somewhere in the future. They’re about coming of age in a world where your decisions determine your future in a way that we don’t have to deal with in our reality.

I actually really like these types of books. I know there’s a big deal about adults and YA fiction, but I think those detractors are annoying. YA has come out with some pretty interesting stuff in the last few years! I like storylines, especially as a parent/teacher, that give kids more credit that they get in real life for being intelligent, brave, and capable. Their energy and enthusiasm is an asset that our society doesn’t seem to have a place for very often. It’s really no wonder that the most popular books feature situations where the choice(s) of a few young people affect the whole of their societies.

Scenarios like that, especially in book form where you immerse yourself in the story, that help you get into your child’s brain and see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. I think that’s important, especially with the constant discussion and worry over the parent/child generation gap that the media is constantly warning us of. I experienced a sense of disconnect from my parents in my teen years, and it makes me wonder how much of it is normal; the pulling away from family to establish a personal identity, and how much of it was truly a lack of communication/understanding. I don’t know how much of it is avoidable, but I want to give it my best to lessen the impact.

So what are your favorite banned books? Are you planning on doing anything with your kids for BBW?

Warmly,
~h

 


Homeschooling in Middle School: Lesson Planning

Well, we made it! Both of my boys are officially in Middle School. When we started our homeschooling journey back in 2010, I had a 2nd grader and a 1st grader, and now I have two pre-teens. I can scarcely believe how quickly time has passed.

Things have definitely changed over the years. If you’re new to homeschooling, then please be assured that we all started out right where you are – overwhelmed, questioning if we made the right choice, and wondering how we were going to make this work. And, like you will no doubt find, things just have a way of working out. We’ve tried lots of different things over our course of homeschooling, and some have gotten tossed right out the window while others have become a much-relied-upon staple of our learning day. The continuous theme has been ‘learning’, for me just as much as it has been for the boys.

When we started, I was really drawn to a more classical approach; more structure, more parent-directed. I wanted to make sure that they had a good foundation so that when they started looking into career focused education, they’d have a solid base to work from. Now that the boys are older, we’re moving past the basics and into a more interest-led dynamic, I am really glad that we chose to do things that way.

We recently celebrated our 5th ‘Not Back to School Day’, both at home (in our jammies) and with our homeschool group:

 

 

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Once again, we’re trying some new things this year. We’re already a couple of weeks into the fall semester of our school year (we school January – November, on a 4-weeks on, 1-week off schedule). We ended up taking a month-long break during the summer, so we’ll be doing continuous schooling for the next couple of months with a few days off here and there. One big change is that I am working again. I stopped working when we started homeschooling in 2010. Now that the boys are older and they can work more independently, my schedule is a little more flexible. I work with our local produce co-op once a week, and am taking doula clients again, which means that I am on-call when I have a client who is due to deliver.

One thing that’s helped me keep the kids on-track when I can’t be there is Discovery K-12. DK12 is an online homeschool program that is free. If you know anything about me, then you know that I am all about the free! DK12 is designed to be a stand-alone curriculum for homeschooling students. The student logs in, and there are are daily assignments in all of the basic subjects (including PE and Art/Music). We’re using this as a supplement for days when I am not available to teach our regular curriculum, and it’s been working nicely to fill that void. It’s almost a review of sorts, because it’s different from what we normally do, both in scope and method. For example, we use Story of the World for history, and work chronologically, from ancients to modern. DK12 uses a more traditional, grade-based history program. While we’re in book 3 of SotW (Early Modern Times), LBB (7th grade) is studying Medieval times at the moment and PeaGreen is studying Early Civilizations – both of which we’ve covered before. I like that it revisits those eras; it gives them a different perspective than what we’ve learned in the past. I think the boys like it because they’re learning different things. Since my two are so close in age, I school them together for the most part. DK12 is grade-based, so they both get something different, and I think they like learning about something the other one isn’t privy to. That sounds odd to say, considering that if they were in a different school setting that would be the norm, but homeschooled kids have their own quirks, I guess!

English, which I use as a broad term to encompass Grammar, Language Arts, Writing, Handwriting, Spelling, Reading, Literature, etc…, is always a complicated think to explain, because I do group those subjects together. Right now, we’re working from Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books for reading & lit, and even grammar (using the mentor sentences method). We’re covering some geography as well, mapping out the lives of the Ingalls family as they travel. I would link to specifics, but there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of resources for that series if you Google it. The boys are also reading Tom Sawyer in their DK12 lessons, so we’re working on that as well. We still lapbook, so we’re working on those for both books also.

Other grammar-related work includes sentence diagramming, and various writing assignments. I found a great idea for collecting topics for personal narratives, which we’re adding to our thoughtful journals (which we still make use of, and I LOVE!). Writing,, journaling and note-taking/notebooking are also staples for basically everything. We watch CNN Student News 2-3 times per week, and I have the kids take notes (traditional style or mind-maps). They also take notes for history and for several subjects when they work on DK12 assignments. Essays have gotten longer and more detailed, and research projects are more ‘on your own’ than in class time.

For math, we’re using Khan Academy’s student program. It’s gotten to the point that I am no longer comfortable ‘teaching’ them, so that’s a really good way for them to have expert examples and explanations for complex maths. I created my account, then added the kids. They do the practice and skills assessment assignments (mastery-based) for their grade level and earn badges, awards and energy points. I have my own account and am brushing up on my skills as well. We’re keeping tabs on each other and competing for energy points (and seeing who can upgrade their avatar fastest), which makes it competitive and fun.

We’re also working through Life of Fred this year. It’s more of a supplement at this point, but I am sure it will get more challenging as the kids work through the series. We’ve worked through The Number Devil in the past and are tacking it again this year as a supplement as well, and maybe some tasks in The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math if we need it.

For history, we’re in book 3 of Story of the World, soon to be in book 4. Science this year is focusing on biology. We’re using a text book and working from Khan Academy’s Biology section as well.

Because I am a slacker mom, I missed out on the NBTS Blog Hop this year, so I am playing catch-up with this all-in-one post. I updated my lesson planner in December last year, but never posted it. I kept some of the same elements, but re-designed the whole thing, and I am really happy with it! Here’s mine:

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And here are downloadable blank versions for you to use if you like:

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As always, we snagged school pictures for this year, although I may re-take them. We normally take pics outside, and it was sunnier that day than in previous years, so both boys have squinty eyes.

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How’s your new homeschool year going? What are your kids using/learning about? What grades are you teaching this year? Share!!
Warmly,
~h


When Life Gets in the Way

It must be a rule that homeschooling bloggers do fine for a while, but inevitably, they seem to get wrapped up in living life and blogging falls to the wayside. That’s certainly true in my case; whereas I used to update regularly, over the last year or so, updates have become sporadic. I’ve made numerous resolutions to myself to get back into the habit of blogging regularly – even have a reminder on my calendar on my phone – and still, somehow time slips past and another day, week, month has gone by without me updating.

But, rather than spend a lot of time making excuses, I’d rather tell you about what we’ve been up to! I last updated in January, and since then, things have really exploded around here! Not literally, thank goodness – actual explosions would be a little bit hard to handle. But schedule-wise, we’ve never been more busy than we have been over the last few months.

One of the biggest changes to our homeschooling life has been the addition of a co-op class to our homeschool group. Some of the group members and I have been talking about it for a year or so; the idea of a co-op has always appealed to me, but we just never had the right dynamic. But about a month ago, we finally got it started! Our co-op meets weekly, and has 3 groups of students: A group (ages 10-13); B group (ages 7-9) and C group (ages 4-6). We also have a nursery group. We have 16 students and 2 babes-in-arms, with 7 families participating.

We’re just wrapping up our first round of classes – Science Lab (in prep for our group Science Fair), French, Art, PE, and ‘Life School’ which is a practical math class. Our second round of classes will include Geography (landforms & maps), Science Lab (experiments) and continue with French, Art and PE.

Here are a couple of pics form our art class:

 

 

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We’ve been hiking in the Big Thicket – we went on a post-burn hike to check out the forest after a prescribed burn. The burn was only in certain sections of the trail so it was really cool to see the difference between the burned sections and the non-nursed sections. There were scorches on the trees higher than we were tall, which was both interesting and kinda scary – I can’t imagine being in the woods during a fire!
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And started a new community service project this year, with a local charity garden, The Giving Field. On our first trip out, we helped harvest a total of 17.5 lbs of various salad greens – kale, lettuce, and spinach. We’ll be working with them throughout this year, which will give the kids a chance to see the garden through the entire year, from preparation, to planting, to growth and harvest, to nurturing the soil and planning for next year’s planting.DSCF0138

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We also visited the San Jacinto Monument and Battleship TEXAS with our homeschool group recently:

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participated in our first college tour:
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PeaGreen is yet to be convinced, but I think LBB would go tomorrow if I let him. He seemed quite take with the idea of dorm living.
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as well as a host of other field trips that I haven’t been diligent in photographing. Thankfully, a new camera has recently found its way into my possession (after the sad demise of my last camera – fully loaded with pictures, mind you – in the watery grave of Village Creek last year), so perhaps I’ll be more motivated to update. No promises though 😉

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Rest assured that we’re still around – LBB is wrapping up his first year of middle school (MIDDLE SCHOOL!!!!) and PeaGreen will start in the fall. It’s so odd how much more self-directed they are becoming as they get older. We do still harp on the basics, but they’re actually interested in pursuing their own studies as well. I’m continually amazed!

It’s spring time, which means that we’ll be getting our garden started soon. Then, summertime is right around the corner. Time flies…

Keep in touch!

Warmly,
~h


Teach Them to do for Themselves

I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in the homeschool community about not measuring up. There was a time when homeschooling was fairly synonymous with genius-level intelligence. Even though that stereotype still gets lip-service, as homeschooling becomes more and more popular, it’s just us normal folks, with normal kids schooling in the kitchen these days (or maybe that shows my own perceptions…).

Not only that, but as my kids get older, we’re coming up on the point in time where we’re moving past the basics and into more future career and interest driven learning – meaning that the boys will have more say in what they learn about.*

One of the mantras that I use is ‘Education isn’t about teaching them everything. It’s about exposing them to as much as possible, and teaching them HOW to find the things they need to know, when they need to know it’.

It’s about teaching them to read directions. I didn’t teach my kids how to cook; I taught them how to read, what measurements are and how to properly read/decipher fractions, fire/heat safety and where the dishes go. Nowadays, they can cook anything they have a recipe for (and clean up the kitchen afterwards, too).

That’s kind of how I approach their education. My main goal is to expose them to as much as possible. We do all of the regular subjects – reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.; and I also cover the arts, health, physical education, and other ‘normal’ things that you’d find in any school. But I also glaze over things that may not hold their attention as well as other things. For example: when we covered Vikings, the kids were crazy into it, so we lingered there. Did a lapbook, build a forge in the backyard so the kids could play at being blacksmiths, read a couple of Viking-centered stories, watched How to Train Your Dragon 3 times, and other fun Viking-related stuff. But now, we’re in 1600’s England, with Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots and King James and the kids are all ‘ Ho-hum… can get skip this and get to the Black Death already??’ In a word, yes. Glazing… it can be a wonderful thing!

Even though this is one of my personal favorite times in history (reformation of the church, splitting off of the Puritans, the reign of Elizabeth I and the powerhouse that was England… so exciting!), the kids aren’t feeling it right now. But, the beauty of history is that it repeats, so in a few years, we can cover this again, and maybe they’ll be more interested in the same parts I am. And, their lack of interest doesn’t keep me from re-reading the things that I enjoy.

Back to how this applies to homeschooling, though… education is meant to be the foundation upon which your life is built. Helping ensure that my kids have a solid knowledge of the basics means that from there, they have the keys to unlock everything set before them. They can then learn about any subject or field that they choose to; their options are limited only by what they believe they can do.

To sum up, I don’t have to be a perfect, rigorous, every-day-8a-3p, scheduled homeschooling mom in order to be successful, and have successful kids, and neither do you. We just have to teach them the basics, and empower them to do for themselves. Because they can. And they will.

Warmly,
~h

*We are eclectic homeschoolers. I like traditional/classical education for the younger years, moving more towards interest/career path learning as they get older.

 


Homeschooling: Where Do I Begin?

One of my favorite homeschooling bloggers (I say ‘blogger’, but she’s on Facebook), The Libertarian Homeschooler, wrote on this topic today. Her answer was long and thought out, and I sincerely encourage you to read her entire answer, and the comments that go with it, but here’s the part that called to me:

“Q: With all the resources and information available, where do you even begin? And how?

A: You begin with relationship. Children don’t come with instruction manuals. You have to seek them out. Many of the instruction manuals will tell you that you don’t have to make any changes to your life to accommodate your children. They sell marvelously well because we, as a culture, really don’t want to have to grow up and make time, space, and accommodations for our children. We want to be selfish and for our children to accommodate us. Be counter cultural. Devote time to understanding the planes of a child’s development. Find out what observation means. Learn to read your child’s actions, cues, and signals. Spend a lot of time doing this. Become intimately acquainted with your child’s communications and gestures. Watch what your child does without interrupting. Observe keenly. Like you’re looking for treasure. Because you are.”

I LOVE that she emphasized that aspect of homeschooling. This applies not only for homeschooling, but for having children in general. Parenting is not easy, but it’s not hard either, provided you treat your children like real people. Because that’s exactly what they are. They’re not clean slates that you start writing on the moment they’re born. They’re people, born with a personality that will develop with or without your help. Yes, you can influence them, but the basic wiring for them to become who they will be is already there. They’re born with feelings, with a sense of justice and fairness, and a thirst for knowledge.

More than that, though, the children that come into your family via birth, circumstance or choice, are entrusted to you so that you can help them grow into the potential that they are born with. Your task is to help them grow into productive members of the society we live in. In order to successfully do that, you need to know them; to be in tune with them. You have to meet them where they are, so that you can guide them on their path. Whether you choose to homeschool or utilize public/private/charter/alternative schooling methods, the point remains the same, and it requires just as much effort no matter how or where your children are educated.

In the context of homeschooling, I found that I lost some of the connections I had to my boys when they started public school. Even though I was at the school a lot of the time, volunteering in their classrooms, chaperoning field trips and doing my best to work with the school to help overall, it wasn’t the same as being accessible to them, and having access to them during their peak hours. Now, some people are going to read that and come to the conclusion that I’m just an overbearing mom, intent on monitoring her kids 24/7. If that’s what you take away from this, then peace be with  you. You needn’t comment, and I’m not here to try to change your mind; you’re not my target audience. But if you ‘get’ this concept, then you know what I am talking about. It’s more than ‘wanting control’; I don’t control my kids. In fact, I am sure that many people I’ve met wished I exercised more control over them. But that’s not my job. My job is to guide. To inform and educate, and trust that I’ve done my job well enough from my kids to make good decisions. At the same time, they are kids, and mistakes will be made, as will lapses in judgement. My job then, is to help them see other paths, other decisions that could have been made, and hope that next time, they choose better.

It’s been a while since I posted here, and I haven’t abandoned my blog; I’ve just been busy devoting time to other pursuits. But you’ll hear from me eventually, when something strikes my fancy and I feel the need to post about it. Y’all have a good day 😉

Warmly,

~h


Lesson Planning – Fall 2013

I am always so excited at this time of the year. It’s LESSON PLANNING TIME!! I have been reading and researching my little heart our and now I am ready to start putting it all together.

It’s been a long time since I have detailed exactly how I got about my lesson planning for the year, and watching a friend of mine who is new to homeschooling trying to find her way has reminded me how difficult lesson planning can be for your first year of homeschooling. There is literally an information overload when you start looking at resources. It gets completely overwhelming, and it’s easy to get stuck.

I will say that for first-years, I really do still stand by what I have always said – don’t buy much (if anything); sample everything you can get your hands on to see what you and your student like best – but most of all, learn to find the FUN in learning again. If that means that for your first year, you only do the 3 r’s, that’s cool. The rest will come. De-school if you need to, but if not, that’s cool, too! Don’t get locked into one mindset or curriculum – and open mind on your first year will help you find your way to what is right for your family.

But if you’re looking for more intense lesson planning, here’s how I got about it (which is in no way saying that mine is the only/best way; this is just how I, personally, do it. There are hundreds of other blogging homeschool moms who are more than willing to share their methods as well).

Fist, I decide what subjects I want to tackle, and how many times I want to cover them each week. For us this year, it’s:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2)
  • English (3)
  • Latin (3)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2)
  • Science (2)
  • Geography (1)
  • Art / Music (2)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

Then, go about refining the weekly classes:

  • Handwriting (Daily)
  • Math (D)
  • Spelling (D)
  • Writing (D)
  • Literature (2), English (3)
  • Latin (3), Art / Music (2)
  • Weekly Research Project (D)
  • History (2), Science (2), Geography (1)
  • an hour of reading (to self/to someone) (D)

That is a much shorter list, because some of my subjects alternate days. Since I am only doing 2 days of Literature, then I can focus more on English the other three, etc…

Next, I can start looking at multi-disciplinary lessons. For example, I taught the boys more individual lessons (a set time for Spelling work, then a set time for English (parts of speech, sentence structure, etc.), then a set time for History, and so on. Now that they’re older, I can lump all of the reading/writing centered lessons into one.

Then, I start going through the books I have on hand, and through my links and Pinterest boards (by subject) to see what I wanted to use. Pinterest can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome for archiving things, but unless you are very conscious about properly categorizing your pins, it can be a big mess when it comes to finding things. I separate my pins by subject. All grades are under the same subject, but I can wade through to find the right grade (or adapt and idea up or down for my kids’ needs). There are so many amazing links on Pinterest; even searching (i.e.: Math 6th grade) pulls up a ton of links that you can use.

This year, we’re trying something I’ve only just read about (on Pinterest), called ‘Thoughtful Journals’. The concept is fairly simple; a composition notebook divided into 5 sections (or 5-subject spiral). Each section is named. The sections are: My Strategies, My Thoughts, Powerful Words and Phrases, Author’s Craft & Genre Learning. As you go through your lessons, the student uses the journal to record notes and other useful tools to help them learn to be better readers and writers. I am paraphrasing, badly, in describing this technique, so I will link you to Life in 4B, which is the awesome blog I found the idea at. In any case, the Thoughtful Journal is where most of our work related to Grammar and Writing will find a home this year.

History, Science and Geography are another area where I smooshed subjects together. We are still going through Story of the World II at the moment; I plan to be finished by December. We are still lapbooking it, thanks to CarrotTopX3. When Alia from ‘Chronicle of the Earth’ was unable to finish the lapbook template for SOTWII, awesome bloggin’ mom Brenda stepped in to fill the gaps (for which homeschooling moms all over the WORLD are eternally grateful!!) – Team Work, yo!! SOTW makes History easy, especially with lapbooking. We try to coordinate our artist and composer study with History, so even though they’re not ‘on the list’, we still work that in. As we finish up SOTWII, I have SOTWIII waiting in the wings. I have already started lapbooking it; hopefully I’ll be able to post it in full when we start on III. We have the activity guide as well, and I am looking forward to digging into that.

Science fills the other two weekdays when we’re not focusing on History. We usually switch them up, but I am considering doing History M/T and Science W/Th so they have two days in succession to focus on one subject this year – dig a little deeper. Then Friday, of course, leaves us time for Geography as it’s own subject. We also tie in Geo. with History, but this gives us extra time to work on land forms or other interesting components of the earth (which is kind of History AND Science).

Math is another one that’s easy to plan; I don’t go off-road much which Math, so I get a grade-level curriculum and go from there. We’re working with Math Advantage this year. Latin is another one that I don’t experiment much with. I don’t know Latin any better than my kids at this point (though I am learning), so I can’t rightly ‘teach’ it to them – we’re learning together. We are still in Book I, but will be moving to Book II later this year.

Once I decide how I am going to plan my lessons, I start looking at the actual curriculum. For the most part, I stick with what I can find that’s grade-level. But, as is wont to happen with homeschoolers, I have found that they naturally fall into their own strengths and weaknesses as they progress. I found a great article discussing Homeschool Misconceptions that touches on this a bit, and is worth reading. For us, it means that this year their curriculum may fall anywhere from 4th to 7th grade. Spelling is a weakness, but Grammar is something they’re both strong in. It balances out! I found that even the school system uses different books for different grades, depending on the school district. I have a copy of the Science book that I used in school in the 6th grade that the manufacturer says is 5th grade level. I’d rather have my kids spelling ‘below’ than keeping up and failing in the classroom. Their spelling skills can be improved. Self-esteem takes longer. Whatever sources or grade levels you choose for your kids, you get the most out of it in whatever way works best for your family.

Once you find your curriculum, it’s time to look back at your schedule. You may want to flip through the books you’ll be using and make some rough outlines of how much material you want to cover each week, or how long you want to spend in one unit before moving on. I usually map out the schedule on notebook paper (Week 1 = Unit 1, Chapter 1; Week 2 =Unit 1 Chapter 2; etc.). This may change during the year, and that’s okay. But having a guide makes it easy to see the pacing of the year a bit better. You can always make adjustments later on.

This year, I am using a binder in addition to my usual lesson planner (homeschool bossy book). We aren’t doing workboxes this year, so I have been using the workbox plans in my planner for scheduling. It works well for that. The binder is a more in-depth, day by day type of lesson planner. I have it divided by subject, and the year’s activities per subject mapped out in each tab. This is also where I am storing printed materials, and unit study/lapbook plans. Having both planners will help make the day’s activity easier to follow, I hope.

We have in the past clocked about 25-30 hours of school per week. That averages out to some longer days and some shorter days. This year, however, I am pushing for more of a set schedule – about 30 per week. That’s on the high end of what we normally do, but I think it’s reasonable for my kids. Mine still need to be led quite a bit, or they lose focus. Not all days will take as long, but some will go over, so again – balance.

The only things left after this point are gathering school supplies and waiting on the first day of school!

… and the second-guessing, and worrying, and reading a blog at 3AM that tells to do do something totally different than what you have newly finished and ready to go… relax. That’s totally normal! Know that you can change any aspect of what you have planned at any time. It’s not a big deal – just go with the flow. The hardest part is getting it all laid out in the first place. There are SO MANY cool things to try, to implement, to experiment with – and each and every bit sounds more exciting and fun than the next.

I read a great blog yesterday that was talking about being ‘inspired’ by someone without re-making yourself in her image. I take that to heart when I read about SuperMoms in the homeschool world who have their crap together far better than I do. Go have a read. It’s at Living Well, Spending Less.

Happy planning!
Warmly,
~h


Summer 2013 – Week 3

summer 3Another week of summer fun down; nine more to go!

You know, I always pack our summer full of stuff, and with other family stuff we’ve taken on (Saturday karate and Sunday Spiral Scouts), the weeks seem to shrink – time flies by!

Monday started off as all the weeks of our summer seem to; with Tennis camp. Afterwards, the moms came back to my house after feeding the horde of children, for a craft day. We all have projects we’re working on, either for etsy stores or for craft fairs, and never time to work on them, so we decided to carve out some productivity time. We’ve dubbed this ‘Mommy Craft Day’ and decided that we should do it most (if not every) Monday.

On mighty Tyrsday, we skipped town for a day in Galveston. We usually take some time during the summer to meet up with some friends of ours in a Houston-area homeschool group for their trip to the beach. Though we missed them there, a trip across the bay is always fun. We were very late because of traffic – we waited for over an hour to get on the ferry. In any case, the kids had a blast.

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Wednesday, we went to a library presentation for the SBC. The featured guest was musician Ray Simien, who was with Young Audiences. I used to LOVE when YA would come to our school and do a music class. ONe of the ones I remember most was when a lady in a fabulous salsa dress to explain the finer points of ‘La Bamba’ to us. I guess that raised my expectations, but this (though he was talented) was in no way comparable. For one thing, the age group was way lower than my kids are. My mistake, maybe, but the room was filled with pre-schoolers, while the SBC was billed for 6-12 year olds. In any case, the kids were pretty cute. Mr. Simien asked for volunteers to sing with him, but they had to guess the song first. Thanks to this, ‘Baby’ by Justin Bieber has basically been stuck in my head for a week. We are less than thrilled.  My crew elected to visit the library instead of continue the YA program, so we checked out some books and made plans for home, lunch, and then swimming.

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On Thursday, I was teased mercilessly by Loverly Husband for saying, when we were discussing plans for the day while lazing in bed, that I was going to ‘drop the children off at tennis and go to the salon to get my nails done, then grab some coffee and pick them back up’. Apparently, that’s a very West-End Wanda (what we call the high-falootin’ bitches in my town) thing to say and he thought it was hi-lar-i-ous. In any case, that’s what I did, then took the kids to lunch, did some shopping at the local Goodwill (which isn’t very WEW at all), then we met some friends at the bookstore (and I got my coffee that I’d missed earlier). Then we hit the library for their Lego Club. The kids learned about castles, castle construction out of Lego’s, and got to build catapults out of craft sticks and launch marshmallows. LBB shot his off the mat, which was the record so far out of all the classes the teacher had done previously.

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Friday was our homeschool group’s Humane Society volunteering day, and we had SUCH a great turn-out! We had a total of 6 adults and 12 kids. One of ours even got to be in a photo-session with one of the dogs up for adoption. Afterwards, we picked up Happy Meals & met PBJMom for some swimming. After such a long day, I ended up bringing a few extras home to spend the night; the addition of Red Ranger, Huckleberry Pie and Red Butler made it a sleep-over party.

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Hope your summer is coming along swimmingly! (sorry, with all the swimming we’re doing, that seemed appropriate, if a bit cheesy)

Warmly,
~h


Summer 2013 – Week 2

Summer on a beachWeek 2 began nice and slow. Loverly Husband had jury duty, so we were stuck home without a car. Luckily, my mom let us take car, so we went to tennis camp, then came back home for lunch. I had every intention of making the kids do some schoolwork, but other than reading and chores, but that’s pretty much all they got accomplished.

Tuesday was tons of fun though. We went to tennis (again), then picked up Bridey and her boys and met SmurfMom and went to Louisiana to SPAR, which is a local waterpark that was built by their Parks and Recreation department. It’s really fun! I’ve known about this place ever sine the boys were very small, but we didn’t make it out there until last summer. Now, it’s one of our favorite places!  Because of the traffic and just plain organizing that many people, we didn’t make it to karate that evening. PeaGreen was quite disappointed, but we had to bring Bridey and the boys home, too. RedRanger spent the night with LBB. They were up plenty early the next morning, so I imagine they got very little sleep the night before.

Wednesday, we went to … Tennis Camp! in the morning.It was a pretty easy day. Bridey and the boys came over for the afternoon/evening and we grown-ups got some time in the pool sans children, which was niiiiiice while the kids played inside. So, SO relaxing!

Thursday was a bit chaotic. During the night, my phone switched off, so my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up late… LATE. We made it to tennis camp about 15 minutes late. Miss Eileen, one of the kids’ tennis instructors, wanted to work with LBB for a private lesson for a bit, so I didn’t want him to miss that. It’s funny how you look at your kids and see their various differences. Thankfully, the boys can admit their brothers’ strengths and congratulate the on accomplishments and skills without being upset. LBB’s talent really seems to lie in tennis. He’s really showing a lot of interest and picking it up very well. PeaGreen’s strength is definitely in karate!

After tennis, I was supposed to drop PG off with Bridey, and go to ‘work’, but by the time I got to Bridey’s house, it was too late for ‘work’, so we just went back home for lunch and a bit of schooling (and laundry), and then off to karate. We made it on time, and Loverly Husband met us there. This was my first class back in a while. I’ve either been busy or just plain slacking for a while, and it felt good to get back in the dojo.

Friday was another really good day. No tennis camp on Fridays, so we got to sleep in just a tiny bit. But we were still up and at ’em by 10 and ready for company by 11. PBJMom brought her kids and crew, and another mom from our homeschool group came with her husband and 3 kiddos, so we had 11 kids in the pool. Rather than have the kids at each other’s throats fighting for space in the pool, I had them play some games… racing, Goofy, red rover, and some free swimming. By that point, everyone was getting tired and hungry.

So we dried off, cleaned up and went to the library to see The Bard of the South.

Ricky Pittman is a storyteller: singer, songwriter and author. He roams the south telling stories of the Civil War and the people who lived then; often the lost stories, bringing once again to life the lives and experiences of people long forgotten. He brought a lot of things with him: a candle lantern (complete with ‘Lucifers’ – candles!, a courting candle, a parasol and fan (and talked a bit and demonstrated the ‘language of the fan‘). He also had a few of the boys (PeaGreen and RedRanger included) to talk about some of the uniforms of Confederate soldiers. Specifically, he compared Texas Confederate uniforms and Louisiana Confederate uniforms to Union uniforms. He talked about what the colors of the trim meant, the equipment a soldier would carry, the artillery that soldiers were issued and the shoes.

He also showed a blow gun (child sized) and talked about the various parts and the making of a blow gun, and talked about the uses for them as well. He said that the boy would use a piece of coal to hollow the inside of the cane. I am thinking that this might be a cool project for the boys to try soon. He talked some about Sam ‘The Raven’ Houston, and about orphan Jim Limber Davis and his relationship with President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis and First LadyVarina Davis and their family, about which he wrote a book entitled Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House

Now we’re winding down into the weekend. My boys went to spend the night with Bridey and her crew, and Loverly Husband and I went out for a ‘date night’. Overall, I’d say this has been a pretty productive week!

Hope your summer is going along swimmingly! Next week, my niece Appleberry will be with us, and a long-lost friend of mine will (finally) be moving back to Texas. I can’t wait!!

Before I go, I’d like to dedicate this video to my BFF, Amy:

Warmly,

~h


Summer Plans!

Like for many families (homeschooling or not) summer is always one of the busiest times of the year for us. My niece, Appleberry, comes to stay with us, and all of the kids’ friends are out of school (except for the homeschooling ones; some of them school year-round like we do). We have friends who come in from out-of-state for the summer, so our social calendar is packed.

We also have activities with our homeschool group all summer; since so many school year-round, our group stays active, and we take a few opportunities during the summer to meet with a Houston area homeschooling group. Additionally, we participate in the Summer Reading Club through our local library, have Tennis Camp for 10 weeks, a 3-day long Historical Day Camp at a local museum… my calendar is looking full and summer is just now starting!

If this is your first year homeschooling, you may be wondering where I found all this cool stuff (most of which is free) to do in our city. Now, by ‘city’, we’re not a big city – not at all. 2 movie theaters, 2-3 bowling alleys, a single story mall, and 9,784 churches, 2-3 mini-golf places, 5 libraries and 5 McDonalds’… to give you a frame of reference. We’re also smack-dab in the middle of quite a few smaller cities, so within 30 minutes of most of them is the ‘city’. (Whereas Houston is the ‘big city’. Savvy?) So, while we don’t have things going on every day, there is enough for the need to pick and choose what you want to participate in.

There are some things that happen that are on a national scale, or that are fairly commonplace and are easy to find out information on – summer reading clubs, sleep-away camp, day camp, vacation bible school, and the like. Other things may not be advertised as widely, and can be easy to miss if you don’t seek them out. Be sure to check your city’s website under summer recreation programs. They may have things like outdoor concerts, movie nights, or other city-wide events. Our city offers a free tennis camp, an inexpensive day camp, a free lunch program, and things like that, but I only found out about them a couple of years ago. I heard about the club in winter, so I wrote it down and started looking for information on it in the spring. Often, when you find one camp or club hidden away like that, it leads to more.

Check your local bowling alley and skating rink, mini-golf or game center, One of our bowling alleys offers 1 free game per kid, per weekday all summer long. Our skating rink has ‘family night’ so we can get in cheap and rent skates for a couple bucks each. Some restaurants have a ‘family night’ as well (free kids meal with adult meal purchase). Kids Meal Deals.com is a search engine that can tell you who has deals near you.

Local museums may also have summer day camps – one of ours offers a ‘pioneer life’ camp that lets kids experience life in the late 1800’s for a few days. There’s also a gardening camp, art camp at the art museum, and several restaurants offer cooking camps (but those can get kinda spendy).  Our local newspaper has a section called ‘Summer Camp Guide’ that comes out right before school lets out for the summer; if yours doesn’t, it may be worth it to request that they look into something like that for next year.

Word of mouth is also a good way to find out what’s going on in your community. ‘Liking’ local pages on Facebook can give you a heads-up on things in your town. Many of them have events posted, so you can add them to your calendar. Check out your local playgroups, homeschool groups, mom’s clubs and parks for other moms and their plans. Mommy-networking can be invaluable, especially if you’ve recently moved to an area.

If all else fails, there are always things like hiking at national or state parks, biking, canoeing, geo-caching letterboxing, and postcrossing. In Texas, the state Parks & Wildlife service has Texas Outdoor Family, which is a ‘family camping 101’ teaching event. They also sponsor Junior Ranger Program that offers explorer packs that the kids can use. Park clean-up days here finish up with a complimentary canoe trip for the volunteers – a great way to keep parks clean, and enjoy a free trip, too. Most of those kinds of events are free or inexpensive ways to keep busy during the summer. Just get out there and do ’em!

Any other tips for a fun summer?

Warmly,
~h


Religion and Education

This is a topic that I have been meaning to write about for a long time – that of having to learn Science and History in order to teach Science and History to my children.

One of the problems that I have with my religious upbringing is the complexity of the mis-information that I was exposed to in the church about science and history, even to the point of being told to ignore or devalue what was taught in school. It’s not so much what was taught; anything that is learned can be revised or corrected with further education; it was more the method – the implication that what is being taught is absolute truth because it comes from Divine Inspiration.

I can specifically remember hearing in sermons and discourses, and reading in publications by the church that address such topics as Darwin, evolution, age of the earth, Biblical ‘historical’ events – things that I believed that I had a complete education about. I grew up confident that thing things I learned about those subjects were both  factual and superior to those published by professionals in those fields because we had Divine Guidance and they were ‘just’ scientists, historians, anthropologists, and other professionals in those fields, who, even with all their fancy education, lacked Divine Guidance to see the to the Truth of things.

This is a fallacy. I have suffered because of it, and were I less contentious parent, my children would have, also.

This reasoning, ‘we know because we have God’; is indicative of the arrogance that Christianity breeds, and it is this arrogance that I feel is utterly detrimental to the processes of education. The ideas that: God has chosen you and your religious counterparts to receive ‘special’ knowledge; that your understanding of a subject is superior regardless of the current accepted factual understanding of research, physics or nature may say;  that your education about such matters is complete because you have God on your side, essentially absolves the individual of the need to study, learn, seek, and to find out for themselves. It imbues them with a false sense of expertise on subjects that they are piteously ignorant of. Worse, it leads vastly under-educated individuals to perpetuate misinformation based on a woefully lacking basic understanding of historical events and the way the universe works. Detriment sets in when these same dreadfully under-educated children grow up with that false expertise and become the next generation of teachers and law-makers.

I use words like ‘woefully’, ‘piteously’ and ‘dreadfully’, because it is! I had literally had no idea how much I didn’t know until I started having to contemplate teaching my children. I was left without so much as a rudimentary understanding of what the theory of evolution is because of how badly Darwin’s work is misrepresented by my parents’ religion. It wasn’t until I started homeschooling that I realized exactly how misguided and even maliciously under-educated the churches want their subjects. If for nothing else, then the possibility that their ‘have a building, obviously need a builder’ analogy is utterly irrelevant ; the possibility that evolution ‘might’ be true would, in effect, erase the need for a Creator. It’s not like God (in whatever form or concept you wish it) couldn’t exist for other reasons – but once you start exploring the possibility that life didn’t have, doesn’t need an intentional beginning… that opens the door to so may other questions that religion cannot answer.

One of the things I heard over and over as a child was that secondary education was, at the least, unnecessary and at the worst, actually harmful to God’s People. First of all, because we’re ‘living in the last days’, and so occupations like Doctor or Lawyer, which require many years of schooling that take away from the task assigned all True Christians, to ‘preach the Word’, would be irrelevant after Armageddon (or God’s Righteous Cleansing of the Earth of all Wickedness) because people will be perfectly healthy and sin-less (so no disease, death or injustice). Why waste all that time in school when you could be out there preaching?!

Secondly, beware! Exposure to too much thinking can ‘educate’ God right out of you! The more you’re exposed to other faiths (because mixing with ‘The World’ is bad), and philosophical ideas (which just confuse a good, God-Fearing mind), the farther away from being ‘sheep-like’, meek and mild one becomes. My answer to that was always, ‘Yeah… and? Sheep are stupid creatures. They’re not intelligent enough to save themselves even if the herd is leading them to their ultimate demise. Who in their right mind wants to emulate sheep?!’. But we’re supposed to be sheep, with Jesus as our Shepherd, following along, doing what we’re told.

I also grew up to eschew the concept of ‘independent thinking’. After all, that’s what got us into this mess – Eve decided to think for herself and eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad instead of blindly following what God told her. If she had remained innocent and ignorant, then she wouldn’t have doomed mankind to sin and death. That idea/teaching has always bothered me, because without full disclosure, educated decision making is absent. Eve didn’t have full disclosure. She was asked to choose to remain ignorant or educate herself. And human nature, the desire we were CREATED with according to creationism, was her downfall. That smacks of being set up to fail. Oh, sure – arguments can be made that Eve was told what would happen, but how many of us have a baby who just has to touch the pretty flame before learning that it is, indeed hot, just as mommy has always warned? Do we doom the child to die for fulfilling the need to find that out for himself? Of course not.

As an adult, when I realized just how badly misinformed I was, it put me in the unique position of finding out for myself what the facts say. I am not an unintelligent person. I enjoy reading, research, writing, history – all fun things for me. Unfortunately, physics and biology and history are very, very complex subjects, with literally millions of years of information to wade through. So even though I have done my level best (and continue to) read and watch and listened to books, videos, and lectures, there does come a point where I have to defer to the experts. I choose to defer those who have devoted their lives to learning, understanding and teaching such things, and I gladly defer to their superior knowledge of their subject.  After all, if they’ve devoted their lives to these fields of study, then they know infinitely more about them that I could learn as either an individual seeking to further my own education, or as a homeschool teacher. Deferring to their superior knowledge in no way absolves my responsibility to continue learning.

But at no point would/should/could I defer to religious amateurs who have absolutely no professional training in that field and claim ‘Divine Guidance’ for their take on things, and yet that’s what millions of people do on a daily basis – probably without even realizing it. Religious leaders generally have training from a seminary school, and if they have historical and/or scientific training, it comes from a theological viewpoint, which is to say, not unbiased. This is especially true in my parents’ religion, where the pinnacle of achievement is to devote your life to God’s Service, putting whatever skills you possess at the disposal of the church leaders. However, coupled with aforementioned aversion to secondary schooling, what you end up with is a bunch of ignorant, but sincere, people with zero educational or scientific expertise to lend to the validity of the religion’s claims on such matters. Claims which, with any depth of examination are easily discredited.

While I was writing this, I was searching for images, and came across this one called ‘A Matrix of Science and Religion by Colleen Scheck. It’s interesting to me; I don’t classify myself as an atheist; if anything I suppose I might be considered agnostic by some, though I purposefully do not claim any religious labels here.

I enjoy the ideas set forth by Humanist organizations, and enjoy learning about native and historical religions with their various deities and ceremonies… these enjoyments make me a hodge-podge of spiritual influences that I choose not to define. Suffice it to say that I am happy with my current state of spirituality and religious practice and it really shouldn’t mater to anyone else what I believe or how I express those beliefs, but I do find this image very interesting. I tend to fall somewhere in the ‘potentially co-existing’ area. I was raised in the opposite spectrum – that religion is set, and science is an ever-changing process (the oft-spoken ideal was that eventually science would ‘catch up’ to our religion), and therefore the two were in constant conflict. Concepts and events like: the age of the earth, the existence and time-frame of dinosaurs, whether or not the Exodus account is true, or the Great Flood happened as the Bible describes it; for individuals who accept the bible as a collection of stories that loosely ‘document’ one part of the world and culture of that time, there is plenty of room for modern science. But having the narrow-minded view that the bible is literal and factual on all counts – means that you must – MUST – at some point choose to blindly disregard things that can be proven.

Knowledge is always preferable to ignorance. Knowledge has the unique task of shaping reality. Things that you know to be true have a profound impact on how you live; on the decisions that you make; on how you spend your money or raise your children. I don’t want my children growing up believing something just because they ‘heard’ it, or ‘read’ it or ‘saw’ it. I want them to believe things because they heard it, AND read it, AND saw it. I want their information to come from various sources, with various agendas pushing that viewpoint. I want them to gather information and make informed decisions based on facts, not blindly follow. When facts from those various sources agree, then – and only then – can something be known. And even then, it may be subject to change as we learn more.

One of my favorite quotes is this, and I thought it would be a fitting close to this article:

“Knowledge is power. Power corrupts. Study hard; be Evil.”

~anonymous

Warmly,

~h