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

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School’s Out For Summer (but Not Really)

Time for another exciting peek into our little world! Well, okay – maybe not ‘exciting’, and since I tend to be long-winded, maybe ‘little’ isn’t accurate either. Oh well; if you’ve been reading her for a while then you know this already, and if you’re new here then welcome to the chaos!

June has been a month of playing ‘catch-up’ and making adjustments. We’ve had some fun along the way, but I can’t help starting the summer feeling like I am scrambling to get to the miraculous land of ‘should be’. If you’ve been homeschooling for any length of time, then you already probably know that ‘should be’ is a mythical land that doesn’t really exist, but the fact that it’s completely arbitrary and in your own head doesn’t make it a favored destination of basically all homeschooling parents anyway. Before I go on, a little history and explanation so we’re all on the same page.

First off, the image (and title of this post): we homeschool year-round. Rather than the traditional 9 months on/3 months off that ‘regular’ school runs, we do 6 weeks on/1 week off with a couple of 2 or 3-week breaks when we need them during the course of the year.

Ideally.

Along the way, we’ve had deaths or illnesses or other circumstances that have altered that schedule, but for the most part, that’s what we do. So while most kiddos are celebrating the end of the school year, my kids were actually off the last week in May and are back to the books  during the first week of June, and won’t have off again until mid-July, when they’ll have a couple of weeks off in a row before starting our 2017-2018 curriculum.

Secondly, there have been three major factors this year that have affected our schooling schedule: a) my mom was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and died in January (we took a couple of months to spend time with her before she died, and then to grieve and heal after her death); b) my Loverly Husband’s work schedule has changed; whereas he used to have every weekend off work, he now works about half of them, so a change in our schedule is necessary so that he’ll be able to spend ‘weekends’ with the kids (even when his weekend falls during the week); and c) my dad has had two heart surgeries in the last month, which has probably been the least affective issue for us, but it’s not an insignificant source of worry and concern, especially with my mom’s death being so recent. So that’s the ‘why’ of feeling behind and making adjustments.

I wanted to point those two things out for two reasons. One, to illustrate that my life (and homeschooling) isn’t perfect. Though I don’t live and die by our planned schedule, I do spend a significant portion of my time planning each year. When we fall behind schedule, though it isn’t the worst possible thing in the world, it does tend to throw a kink in the plan. At this point, because we took the much-needed, extremely appropriate time off to deal with my mom’s illness and death, it still put us 6-weeks-plus behind where we would normally be in our curriculum. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal; we’ll adjust. That’s one of the (many) perks of homeschooling though – to be able to take time when you need it and school through when you have no real reason to take a break. Two, to point out that even seasoned homeschooling parents fall prey to a lot of the same thoughts and fears and worries that many new homeschooling parents are concerned about. This is my 6th year, and first year of homeschooling high school, but I still worry over the same things every year: are they where they should be? Is this curriculum challenging enough without being too much? Is this curriculum working? Are we doing enough/rigorous enough? etc…. My point here is that if you’re new, and stressing yourself out with those kinds of thoughts: it’s cool – you’re totally normal.

Moving on… June’s been an interesting month. We started with just regular school work: desk work, computer work, music lessons, etc.

Our local orchestra, the Symphony of Southeast Texas, normally hosts a youth concert in the spring. This year, they moved it to late May instead of February, and instead of having it at the Julie Rogers theater (where it’s been held for literally the entire time we’ve been homeschooling), they moved it to the historic Jefferson Theater. It was a cool switch; the Jefferson has seen a lot of action in the last year or so, because they’re doing a lot of revitalization, and Beaumont Events hosts a movie night there almost every week.

The SOST’s theme was all about fantasy scores, so the music began with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and progressed through A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the William Tell Overture, Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, among others. It (as always) was amazing, and didn’t disappoint.

Our homeschool group hosts a ‘mom’s night in’ event every month, which is great (and kid-free!). In May, we had an art night with the Art Sherpa on YouTube. We did her Cosmic Owl painting. This is one of those paintings that really doesn’t ‘come together’ until you;re done with it and let it sit for a while. But the evening was a lot of fun!

As I mentioned above, my dad had two heart surgeries over the past month, one right after the other, so we spent a good deal of time in waiting rooms and with him during his stay. He’s well-recovered now, and better than ever.

My sister and I have been slowly cleaning out my Mom’s rooms and closets and stuff. It’s slow going because she has a LOT of stuff, so we enlisted the kiddos to help. I used to have tons of pictures of Fred with the boys during the summer posts here, but as she’s gotten older, she hasn’t spent quit as much time with the boys. She’s very grown up now. She and LBB both start driver’s ed this summer – more on that at a future date!

We’ve been playing our Dungeons & Dragons campaign for almost a year and a half now. It’s not something I thought I’d be into, but it’s been a lot of fun (despite the seeming otherwise expressions on both of my kids’ faces below).

Our homeschool group hosted a Spring Orchestra Concert & Talent Show the first week of June. We had quite a few rehearsal dates so the kids could get all the practice they could before the show.

 

These are from a fellow homeschooled student’s graduation party.

And a couple of action-shots from our Talent Show & Spring Concert

Our co-op classes are over (at least until the summer semester begins), so Thursdays have become ‘beach day’ for the foreseeable future. Our first week post-co-op was over to Holly Beach in Louisiana, which is just over the border from Pleasure Island. LBB stayed home because he doesn’t like the sand… or the sun…or the water.

Another post-co-op change is that LBB has officially switched from violin to cello. His expression says it all – he’s much happier in a bigger instrument.

Music lessons are still on Mondays and Fridays; this is from LBB’s second ‘official’ cello lesson. He’s taken to it very well. He went up to song 88 during this class, which is impressive considering that it took the group orchestra all year to get through the book. He’s going to catch up really (really) quickly. PeaGreen is still on violin (and piano), and is considering a switch to the french horn. We’ll have to see about that though since brass is so totally different from strings.

I haven’t given up my practice, either. It’s been 10 months now, and I still love it! Daily practice is going to be more fun with another cello player to work with, and even moreso when we get LBB’s cello.

This week, we spent Thursday at another beach; Sea Rim State Park this time.

And wrapping up with today’s (very long, very active) events… music lessons & car selfies this morning, teen social on Adams Bayou & at Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange, TX this afternoon (followed by dipped ice cream cones at Dairy Queen) and another mom’s night in with facials and wine. Not a bad way to end the week!

 

Hope your summer is off to a great start! Until next time,

Warmly,

~h

 

 

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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.

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES for this school year:

 

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

Warmly,
~h

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


Mid-December Update

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This week, I am happy to report that the illness has finally left the building. It touched the kids briefly (thank you, 3 years of breastfeeding), so we were able to carry on with what we had planned. That was a huge relief because, in addition to a full week’s calendar, it was LBB’s birthday Thursday, and Loverly Husband’s birthday on Saturday.

Moving on…

Social Studies Club – Each month, our homeschool group hosts a social studies club. We choose a new country/state/territory as the focus for each month. The kids all do a project of their choice. I love this format, because it means that all the kids can participate; it’s not limited to any grade level or ability. They also get to choose whatever area of study they want to work in, so the projects can be whatever strikes their fancy. We opted to do a group project, on Japanese culture; Kabuki theater/performance. We outlined the history of Kabuki, with a timeline for the project; discussed the finer points of a kabuki theater design with visual aids; and discussed elements of style and play structure with models of kabuki masks. The boys and I all worked on each part of the project together, and then presented a different piece of it for the oral presentation. It was a fun project!

Monday was spent putting the finishing touches on our social studies club projects. Lots of painting and crafting, and we got them finished with time to spare. We had originally planned on making a model of a kabuki stage, but that got to be too complex, so we we went with a diagram and an art piece instead. The projects turned out well, and I am really pleased with them. Now that the boys are done with them, I am going to have the masks framed with the timeline in the background for the living room. We don’t have a ton of ‘good’ art, but this is interesting and will make a good conversation piece!

Every year, our homeschool group chooses a charity to work with. Currently, we’re working with Southeast Texas Atheists Helping the Homeless. Every month, they collect items to give out at a local park. We haven’t been able to go yet due to scheduling conflicts, but this month, we got together with our group and made scarves. The process was super easy – we made about 40 scarves in about 2 hours. Even the littlest kids got to help, from cutting fabric to coloring tags – everyone had a job to do, and we had quite the assembly line going!
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After scarf-making, we went to the library for the Homeschool Teen Book Club meeting. LBB read Dave Barry’s ‘The Worst Class Trip Ever‘, and PeaGreen read, Corrie Ten Boom’s ‘The Hiding Place’. (The Hiding Place study guide) The other students read a variety of books, including: The House on Mango Street, Huckleberry Finn, and The Prisoner of Cell 23. We played a few rounds of Mad Gab, and then had a great discussion over cheesecake and cookies.
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After book club, we went for haircuts (finally)… they were looking like shaggy dogs for a while there!

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Thursday was LBB’s 14th birthday. He got Fallout 4, which he’s been wanting since it came out. We’d originally planned on surprising him in the evening, but he chose to wake up super early and caught Loverly Husband on his way to work, so before we left for the day’s activities, he got a pretty good start on his game. I made aphoto collage for another project, but I thought it turned out pretty well, so I thought I’d share it here. These are some of my favorite pictures of this kiddo!

 

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Social Studies Club  was also Thursday, and our lovely hostess organized a surprise party for LBB. The boys presented their projects (somewhat less enthusiastically than I’d envisioned) and did a great job. We decided that next month’s country is going to be Australia, so I am excited about getting started on that.
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When we got home, there was a new treat for Mommy waiting at the mailbox…

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I am SUPER EXCITED to dig into this! Participating in NaNoWriMo this year has me all fired up for writing again. I found this set on eBay, which was a pretty good deal – about half of what it cost new. I’ll still need to get the consumable workbook for both boys, but still a very good deal. Our homeschool group is also starting an art group based on Discovering Great Artists. I’m looking forward to that, also.

Home Alone at The Jefferson Theater – I thought I was going to have to work, so we nixed this idea and stayed home instead. We got caught up on Big Bang Theory and watched another episode of Man in the High Castle instead. I’m a big fan of alternate history/reality stories, and I so wanted this to be really good, and it kinda is (if you can overlook multiple glaring idiotic decisions and things that wouldn’t happen in a real-life similar situation). I am enjoying it, with reservations. I haven’t read the book, and am afraid to start it now because of spoilers… once we get through the series, it’ll go on my ‘to-read’ list.

The weekend is filled with birthday shenanigans for Loverly Husband, who turns 39 today, and uncertainty with plans as he and I are both on-call this weekend. Tomorrow’s regularly scheduled events are on hold, too – we would have been handing out our scarves and things with SETXAHH, but it got cancelled due to the weather so we’re planning to go next month.

All in all, a pretty good week!

Warmly,
~h

Filing this under ‘Secular Thursday’ as well. I was going to link it to Smrt Mama’s original post and Secular Thursday community, but her blog appears to have been taken down. It had been inactive for a while, so that’s not entirely surprising, but I am very sad to see it go, especially the list of other secular homeschooling bloggers.
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Penmanship & Writing Helpers

Handwriting is one of those things that I’ve gone round and round with my kids over, for basically the entire time we’ve been homeschooling. It’s not that they aren’t capable of writing neatly; more that they get in a hurry and rush through it. I’m a stickler for legibility, and we focus pretty heavily on writing, especially now that they’re in middle school, so I really do need it to be a skill they master.

Over the years, we’ve tried various methods for improving penmanship, none being particularly helpful (other than the old standard of ‘practice, practice’ practice’). We’ve gone through 2 workbooks of Handwriting Without Tears, tried pre-writing hand warm-up exercises, ‘ZOOM‘ technique, and used tons of practice worksheets, used grid paper and Mead’s Redi-Space notebooks, tried note-taking in various forms – I think we’ve done fairly well at ferreting out all of the tricks of the trade, and to give credit where credit is due, all of these things have helped. I have definitely seen improvements – vast improvements over when we first started – but nothing that is an ‘a-ha! moment’ where it just ‘clicks’ for them. But homeschooling is nothing if not try, try, try again, and so the search continues. I found something new that I will be implementing with the boys when we start again in January and I thought I’d share.

It is actually an idea that I found in a video, from a Pinterest pin on writing and hand-lettering for art journal purposes. The video used Photoshop and a purchased font to create what is essentially a worksheet for the author to print and trace in order to learn a new style of hand-lettering. But I thought the same technique would work well for improving handwriting (only simplified quite a bit). For example, you can create a new MSWord.docx or other word processing program and use a very light font color. That would be the easiest way to achieve the same effect.

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What you end up with is a page they can trace over. This picture is a sample of what that can look like; for ‘real’ use, I’d probably either type it or have them type it first, then trace. The font in this sample page is called Architect’s Daughter, and I downloaded it from DaFont.com (free for personal use). I also like a script font called Gruenewald VA – it is visually similar to what my boys are used to from HWT.

The reason I an sharing this is because I wanted to reassure other moms with older homeschooled kids (especially boys) out there that you’re not the only ones that struggle with legible handwriting! It’s something I am constantly harping on. If you’ve read here before, I often refer to myself as a ‘mean’ homeschooling mom, because I do make my kids erase and re-write thing that are hard to read. Our rule is, ‘If I can’t read it, I can’t assess your progress; ergo, you must re-write it’. Also, “Mom’s not going to go blind trying to decode these marks into words. Just NO.” And, “Are these words?!? In English??” and “Are you kidding me??? O_o” Sometimes, I change the wording.

In any case, I have dreams of one day having beautifully hand-written notebooks from my kids, but for now, I will settle for ‘legible’ and call it progress well-done!

Care to share your tips for handwriting help?

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