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

Socialization

8 Months Post Harvey: Spring

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to write something at least once a month, but that didn’t happen in February (or March…or most of April). February is almost a week shorter than the rest of the months, which was my excuse for not posting then. I got nuthin’ for March, and it’s still technically April, so….  I have also been lax about posting because I haven’t been as enthusiastic about writing. Things are pretty much the same as they’ve been for the past few months: working on the house; having school in a construction zone; getting out of the house to go to co-op, music lessons, field trips – whatever – as much as possible… the usual. We’re in a weird sort of limbo with our space being… I don’t even know the words to use. It’s not exactly ‘in transition’; that implies a cute little DIY project that we chose to embark on. This was a completely different sort of thing; one that was forced on us that we’ve been in ‘reaction’ mode to ever since. We’re coming up on eight months post-hurricane Harvey, and though we have definitely made some progress, we’re far from being done, and the daily wear-and-tear on the soul gets overwhelming.

Since I last updated, we actually have made quite a bit of progress on the house. We’re a little over 1/3 finished with repairs, which feels good to say. We have some trim to finish in the hallway, but both of the kids’ rooms are done, and the hall bath is finished except for decor. We briefly had two functioning bathrooms again, but the toilet in our master went wonky right after we finished that hallway bath, so we’re back down to one for our family (which isn’t dire, but is annoying). I have learned that I deeply enjoy not sharing with the kids and am eager to have my own bathroom back again soon (hopefully).

The kids both have desks in their room, which means computers and schoolwork now have a permanent place to live. They’ve also been able to pull most of their personal things from storage. There wasn’t a lot left that was salvageable, but they’re super glad to have back what they do. I can’t say enough about how much of a relief it is to finally have their spaces done, at least. We also had AC people come in and install central air conditioning and heating. That’s a super-nice thing that we have been planning to do for a while; with the forced remodel, since we’re taking out the ceilings in most of the house anyway, this was the ideal time to get that done. Since we have started on the center part of the house (including taking out a wall between the living room and kitchen), my desk and Loverly Husband’s have been relocated to our (already cramped) bedroom. It’s… cozy.  Not having a permanent work-space is really hard, y’all, but we’re getting there! The kids have been a big help, being super tall and all.

It helps that they’re both over 6′ tall.

Early in February, we didn’t do much other than the usual school/co-op/music routine, with a couple of teen socials and other usual shenanigans thrown in for good measure.

Music Class at co-op

Teen Social

Moms at the teen social

LBB and our puppers, Max & Honey

Our group held a Valentine’s Day party, which was fun. We had a really good day, only to have it ruined by news of the Florida school shooting. I can’t imagine how those parents must feel, or how the teachers and students will find a new ‘normal’ after something like that. Not for the first time, it made me incredibly grateful to have circumstances that allow us to homeschool. The party was fun, though only one of my hooligans decided to attend. The little kids made string art crafts; my surly teenager mostly got reprimanded for instigating semi-dangerous tricks (like jumping off picnic tables) for the littles to imitate. There was food and cake and a card-exchange – the usual.

The Houston Aquarium held their homeschool day sometime back in late February, I think. We’ve been before, but it’s been a while; I got lost driving around downtown Houston. You’d think that in an age where GPS is available literally everywhere, getting lost would be a thing of the past, but it was overcast that day and my GPS kept blanking out. We made it barely in time to get registered, but we made it. The kids had classes in the morning and afternoon, and while they were in class, the parents got to do all the rides and stuff!

In other news, we had dinner with my grandmother, who came down from Longview. We haven’t had a family picture in a while, so that was nice.

The children (minus one of ours, and plus a friend)

In March, a couple of the moms in our homeschool group and I took off for a weekend trip to New Orleans. I’d never been as an adult, so getting to do #allthegrownupthings was super fun!. We got there just in time for our walking ghost tour to begin, had a late dinner, then walked down Bourbon Street, stopped at a couple of pubs along the way, and went for coffee and beignets at 3Am at Cafe Du Monde. We spent the next day shopping and sight-seeing, then came home. It was a perfect getaway!

When we got back from NOLA, my dad went into the hospital to have another stent placed, so we spent some time with him there. The kids both also had checkups; we’ll need to do glasses soon as well.

 

 

One of the moms in our homeschool group organized a tour of the Houston Port, which was super cool. It took about 2 hours, and we got to go on a cruise boat all around the port. It was like driving through a maze to find; the GPS was spotty and confusing, but once we got there, the dock and visitor’s area was really neat. There was an entire section with tiled mural art, as well as bathrooms, picnic tables and a great view.

It was also Pi Day; March 14th. The Houston Children’s Museum hosts a special event, including a Pi-throwing contest with shaving cream pies, so after our boat tour, we made our way there in time to get suited up. our kids were on Team Kickin’ Kiwi, I think it was. They were in green, against the Rockin’ Raspberries in pink. Our team was, sadly, not victorious, but we all got actual pie (donated by a local bakery) anyway. Nothing is so bad that pie can’t help!

We took the kids to the South Texas State Fair, as usual for spring in our area. We went on a Monday evening to avoid the crowds; without little kids, our main goal is to sample as many foods ‘on a stick’ and/or deep-fried as possible. I think we made a pretty good effort this year. I snapped this because I kept getting caught behind the boys; it’s unreal that my ‘babies’ are the size of full-grown, adult men now. That’s Loverly Husband in the center; I wouldn’t normally say that he’s ‘short’, but they make him appear so.


At the end of March, our homeschool group hosted a make-your-own puppet/write your own play Puppet Show. We had a great turn out, and the kids really had some… interesting scripts. Puppets came to life in sock form, with paper bags, wooden/plastic spoons and all kinds of fabrics, plastic bits and bobs, glitter and other craft supplies. They each had to create a backdrop from a roll of craft paper, and come up with their own script. It was an ambitious undertaking, but the kids rose to the challenge and had a great time!

Line ’em up!

The Teen Troupe

the Puppet Theater

My birthday is at the beginning of April, and this year, after trying for the past 3 years, I was able to go to a women’s retreat in North/Central Texas. A couple of my beautiful friends also had birthdays the same week, so we celebrated in high style (and by that, I mean in complete, unwashed camping glory for the entire weekend). We had SUCH a great time! There were structured events, as well as time to just good off; we meant to take a little walk and ended up on a 3 hour hike much, much farther than we planned or realized. We ended up snagging a ride from a couple of girls in a pickup truck to get back where we were supposed to be. It was a really fun weekend.

That same weekend was the Homeschool Prom. LBB elected to spend the weekend at home with his dad while PG stayed with friends so he could go. They had a pre-prom party, and then took off for a night of dancing and fun at a local hotel in the grand ballroom. They looked great, and all the smiles say that they had fun. The theme was old Hollywood glam, and yes, that’s my kiddo with the pipe. There’s a walking stick somewhere as well. He found one of my dad’s canes that was damaged in Harvey and spent the week or so before the prom sanding, repairing, staining and finishing it for a dignified, refined, gentleman-about-town look.

The ‘official’ at-the-Prom photo

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for a guided tour of the Hall of Ancient Egypt. We haven’t been since they opened this permanent exhibition, so I was completely stoked to get to go through with a curator. We also got to tour the Weiss Energy Hall (which is mostly just a fancy way to repackage fracking as a fun, alternative way to drill for oil since it covers all the pros and absolutely none of the dangers or controversy), and the Message in a Bottle exhibit, which was super fascinating.

 

Our co-op is still doing drama; they’ve taken a break from the play they’re working on to do some improv exercises. Last week, it was live-action puppets; one student was the ‘voice’ and the other stood behind the voice to create movement. Some height incompatibilities made it a super fun (and funny) thing to watch them work through. We also switched (temporarily) from our essay class to philosophy 101, which was a nice change of pace.

Philosophy 101

Our homeschool group hosts a Mom’s Night Out once a month or so, and lately, we’ve been joining a local resource group called Welcome Earthside for their Hoops & Wine MNO events. I can’t hula hoop well, but it’s fun anyway! We’ve had a couple of them so far, and it seems to be gaining popularity. If you can find something like that in your area, I highly recommend giving it a shot.

March Hoops & Wine

April Hoops & Wine

April H&W – we ended up in the parking lot!

We’ve also continued playing D&D; sometimes the same game we started way back a couple of years ago, and just recently, a one-off game to introduce a few newbies to the game. I’ve also been playing D&D with my local NaNoWriMo group (when I can go), and have started playing Vampire with some friends. PG also has a new game with some of his friends… I have always been fascinated by the concept of D&D and have enjoyed learning to play very much!

That pretty much brings you up to speed! Hope your spring is…. spring-y! (Sorry; that was lame. It’s been a long day.)

 

Warmly,
~h

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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


Homeschool Co-ops: Yea or Nay?

You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. As parents, we are often left wondering where this mythical village is, and why we weren’t invited. As new parents, we’re consistently offered help, and told to just let friends and family know what we need, as if telling will magically translate into having. But when you decide to start homeschooling, most of those offers of help disappear. Along the way, homeschooling families seem to have noticed this trend, and voila! – the homeschool co-op was born.

A homeschool co-op, generally speaking, is an organized group of homeschooling families who choose to educate their kids together (cooperatively, thus the name), in small-group settings. Co-ops can be formal or informal; focus on ‘core’ subjects (language arts, math, science and history), electives (art, music, labs, etc.) or a combination of the two; organized through a church, local homeschool group, and or just a group of interested parents.  Co-ops use the same subject or text for teaching the students while they are at co-op, so they’re usually sorted into similarly aged groups for classes and may or may not assign ‘homework’ to students for completion outside of co-op days. Co-ops can have all kinds of arrangements, but usually meet one day each week. Some co-ops follow a more traditional school schedule; others only run seasonally or follow an altogether unique schedule. In most co-ops, the parents of the students are the teachers. This allows the parents to pool their strengths, and can offer some really fantastic opportunities to the kids. Others have a few dedicated teachers (who may or may actually be teachers) while the other parents in the co-op take on other tasks.

I’ve seen parents on either end of the spectrum, from brand new homeschoolers to experienced homeschoolers, look into co-ops for a variety of reasons. My kids and I have participated in 2 co-ops; one was not so great, but the one we are in now (our second year) is fantastic. Just like any other endeavor, some things fit and some don’t. There can be a bit of trial and error, and sometimes forging your own path to find (or create) what works best for your family. Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages that co-ops present.

Co-op Pros & Cons:

Advantages:

  • better use of your time – Homeschooling is time consuming and can be difficult. Sharing the work with other parents can be a really attractive option! Cooperative schooling means that you don’t have to fit in every. single. thing. to your schedule. If you co-op is core-focused, then you don’t have to worry about what to use, because the co-op will tell you. If your co-op is elective-focused, then you can focus your home days on core and not worry about fitting in art and music.
  • regularly scheduled social opportunities/away from home opportunities for kids and parents – Socialization is still (still? STILL.) a hot-button topic for newbies or those uninitiated into the homeschooling world. Since co-ops offer education in a group setting, it has a more familiar ‘feel’ to it than it might otherwise because your students are going to regularly be in a ‘class’ with other kids. If you or your children are social butterflies, having a dedicated day of the week where you know you’re going to be with other people for the majority of the day can be a good thing for your sanity. Actual *adult* conversation, folks!
  • allows you to take advantage of other parents’ strengths/knowledge – This is one of the primary factors in the ‘pros’ column, in my opinion. Every parent has the subject that they can knock out of the park, and another that they dread tackling each day. Co-op allows you to pool your knowledge, skills and strengths with other parents so that you can stick to what you do best. This helps the kids, too! I firmly believe that a teacher’s passion for a subject helps engage students. I would much rather have a parent who loves biology teach my kids rather than push myself to plod through it alone. Additionally, your co-op may offer something that you just flat don’t have access to. Last year, my kids were able to start violin lessons through our co-op. I didn’t play strings at the time, so this was something that would have otherwise been unavailable to my children. This year, I am teaching and essay class – something all of our kids need help with, but that the other parents dread. Since I love writing, it works out.
  • small group learning – kids with learning disabilities/anxiety or developmental delays may benefit from small group environments; they aren’t isolated like they would be at home, but aren’t overwhelmed with a large group of kids and noise like they would be in a traditional classroom. I’ve found that my kids have more closely knit friendships with their co-op classmates than they did when we weren’t participating in group classes every week. Since well run co-ops function like mini schools, the students (and often parents as well) are able to establish intimate friendships with their peers. Small, close-knit groups also offer opportunities for healthy competition among peers. Last year, during a seat testing day for orchestra, the teacher had to use 2 decimal places to determine seat placement – that’s how close the grades were!
  • cost – this one goes in the pros and the cons list. Participating in a co-op can allow you a little more room in your homeschooling budget. Some things, like science labs and art projects, tend to be costly if you have to buy a kit for only one student. Splitting the cost between a group may mean that you get a discounted rate, or can split the cost of a kit with several other families.
  • group-specific opportunities – some classes are harder to accomplish in a one-on-one setting. PE is often more fun when you have a group to play games with. Public speaking is more challenging (and arguably more beneficial) when your audience is real, live people instead of a room full of stuffed animals, your mom and baby sister. We often talk about the advantages that one-on-one homeschooling can provide, but there are some things that just work better in a group.
  • motivation and accountability – this one is iffy; if your co-op is core-focused, then having to meet up each week and keep pace with the other students is a nice incentive to stay on track during non-co-op days. However, if your co-op isn’t core-focused, then this may not apply. However, having a regularly scheduled time to ‘talk shop’ with other homeschooling parents can help keep you motivated to stay on track with your lesson plans, and help troubleshoot when things aren’t going well. Students can also energize each other; hearing what their friends are studying or learning about can help spark interest in your child, too.

Disadvantages:

  • time  – there are several time factors to discuss: one is the amount of time that co-ops can take to organize and plan. Because they’re usually run by parents, that means that, at the very least, you will have to pitch in to help plan, organize or contribute to the smooth running of the effort. If you’re teaching, factor in curriculum research, lesson planning, and grading or evaluation. Consider if the time investment is worth it based on what your kids are getting out of it. Another time factor is the schedule: homeschoolers jokingly operate on ‘homeschool time’, which can mean a variety of different things but usually indicates that start/arrival time is negotiable. For a group to run smoothly, that may mean altering your normal homeschool schedule to fall in line with ‘real world’ time again (at least on co-op days). The last time factor is the amount of time that the co-op takes out of your normal weekly homeschooling routine. If you already have a pretty tight schedule, then you may need to evaluate if you have time to devote to co-op and still have your normal course load. This is less important if you have younger children, follow a more delight-led or unschooling path, or if your children are very independently motivated. Our normal personal homeschool day is a minimum of 4 hours (that’s the *minimum*). Our co-op last year was from 9-3 (this year it’s 10-2), and we also have music lessons 2x per week. We only have one day each week that is fully ‘at home’, so co-op HAS to be worth it for us. Co-op schedules vary, so make sure you consider your students’ work load outside of co-op classes if you’re considering joining or starting a co-op.
  • cost – costs can vary dramatically depending on what classes are being offered. The good thing is that co-op parents are generally pretty conservative, so you aren’t spending money on ‘generic’ supplies; what your co-op asks of you is exactly what the student needs. Some co-ops factor in administrative cost, which may include venue fees or pay a coordinator; others may trade cleaning services or lawn maintenance or some other service that should be factored into your tuition fee/time commitment. There may also be costs associated with co-op that aren’t factored into the tuition fee, like clothing, lunch or event admission fees (if your co-op has field trips). Last year, our co-op began a student orchestra, so the cost of our students’ instruments was on top of the tuition fee.
  • distance – This may also be a disadvantage for some. In our area, there are quite a few co-ops to choose from. Some are very near (the closest to me is literally less than 5 minutes away from my house), but the co-op we participate in sometimes requires a 45+ minute drive on co-op day because we rotate participants’ homes. I put this in the ‘disadvantage’ column, because let’s face it: for most homeschoolers, any location that isn’t our couch or kitchen table is probably farther than we want to go for homeschool. Again, this is just one factor that may make participation in co-op more or less feasible for your family.
  • students may not get what they need from the co-op – Ideally, you will have some input into the classes offered by your co-op. But some co-ops are formed with only a small planning committee or you may have joined after the classes had been set. Depending on how the co-op is structured, your student may be older or younger than the other students, or may be farther ahead or behind the skills and lessons the class is teaching. Class/curriculum planning is one of the harder aspects of organizing a co-op for this reason. It’s a good idea to find out what the co-op’s policy is on dropping out before you commit to the year, for both yourself as a teacher and your student.
  • no/less individualized education – one of the main advantages of homeschooling in my opinion is the ability to customize your student’s education, from philosophy and approach to curriculum and accommodations. You lose some of that autonomy when you choose to educate in a group setting. It’s not as limited as it would be in a traditional classroom, but you’re not as free to make changes like you would be otherwise.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but I think it touches on some of the more pertinent points. As with anything you decide to try with your kids, it may work and you may love it. It may be okay, so you continue doing it because you already committed to it. It may be a flop, and you want out asap! Good communication with your co-op group goes a long way towards clearing up any misunderstanding and alleviating any mishaps.

Our Experiences

We are in our 7th year of homeschooling, and have been in 2 co-ops (organized through the same local homeschool group). Our first go-round was when my kids were in middle school. My two were among the oldest in the class, and we had about 8 families participating. We had 3 age groups, with 4 classes plus lunch. The kids were separate for most classes, then we lunched together and had a big group art class. I taught geography, history and art. It had… issues. Overall, it was a good experience, but there were some things that were problematic. First was time vs. value. Originally I wrote new lesson plans, which was very time-consuming. Unfortunately, as the other older kids dropped out and my two were the oldest, I needed to shift into a lower gear for my classes. I ended up using materials that my kids had already gone through, so my kids weren’t benefiting from my classes. They still had French and a science craft/lab class that they really enjoyed, so it wasn’t a total loss, but overall, the value wasn’t worth the time investment. We also has issues with switching location; originally our co-op was held in a church with several classrooms and a large communal space (both indoors and out), but when that fell through and we moved into a home, there as more tensions since we were all on top of each other all day long. Ultimately, we cut the experiment short by several weeks.

CAM00116

2014 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK Co-op

Our second co-op started last year. We limited it to high schoolers, which was one of the reasons I think it was so successful. Previous experience taught me that a small co-op with several age groups didn’t work. With several different age ranges, it’s more stressful because as a teacher (especially if your don’t have kids of your own in those ages) you have to switch gears mentally to teach up or down to the age of your class. With the high school co-op, we kept the 4 classes plus lunch structure, but since we only had 9 students, we only had one class going at a time instead of 3. That was great, because when I wasn’t teaching, I could chat with the other moms or take care of work things.

We had our co-op in someone’s home both times; the first time, it wasn’t ideal, because we were shuffling kids into bedrooms and the kitchen and living room. Space was crowded, and there was nowhere quiet the entire day. For the second go-round, we had class in the living room or kitchen, and had an office (or outside patio space) that was kid-free during classes. Again, this had to do with limiting the age range.

We tend to favor a 6-weeks on/1-week off schedule for our co-op classes. A lot of the families in our homeschool group follow that type of schedule for their personal homeschool, too which is nice. The first co-op we participated in lasted through one 6-weeks and petered out somewhere in the second (maybe third). We’d only planned for three 6-week sessions, but it wasn’t working, so we cut it short. When we started up again, our group actually had a high school co-op (which had five 6-week sessions) and an elementary co-op (which had two 6-week sessions). The high school co-op ran August – May, and the elementary co-op had a fall session and a spring session (both only 6 weeks long).

Overall, both experiences were good to have, but our second experience (limited to high school) was much better; so good in fact, that we have already started our co-op schedule for the 2017-2018 school year. We started earlier so we could have six 6-week sessions for the year. Not everyone who was in the high school co-op returned for this year’s classes, but enough did to make it worthwhile.

2016-2017 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK High School Co-op

Starting a Co-op

I don’t know how popular homeschool co-op classes are in other areas, but a couple of years ago, we had 13 co-op groups in Southeast Texas. We have a population of about 388,745, with somewhere around 1,500-2,000 homeschooling families; I don’t know how that compares to other areas. Most of the co-ops in my area are faith-based. Actually, all of them are, except the one we belong to. Since I wasn’t willing to sign a statement of faith, we didn’t qualify for membership in most of the groups and co-ops in my area, which is what led me to starting our local homeschool group in the first place. As the group grew, possibilities opened up, which is what led to us deciding to give co-op a try.

Honestly, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how a co-op ‘should’ be organized. Since it’s a cooperative effort between homeschooling parents (and students), you have a lot of freedom to create and customize it to whatever your community in interested in. But if you are thinking of taking on the task of creating a co-op, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • choose a coordinator for a very small group, or committee of 3-5, depending on the size of your co-op – every ship needs a captain, and someone needs to have the final say-so when it comes to decision-making for your co-op. Choose wisely; the coordinator needs to be someone who is organize and can handle both stress and communication well. Additionally you may want to have someone in charge of the treasury (collecting tuition, ordering supplies, reimbursing expenses, etc.). Keeping a cash box or money bag is fine; no need to open a checking account unless you want to go a more formal route.
  • ask for input from your group – homeschoolers like options! They like to be included and have a say in what’s happening with their kids (as they rightfully should). Ask for input or feedback on policies, plans, classes; ask what parents want to teach (or what their strengths are), and ask students what they want to learn about. Your co-op will only be as successful as the interest your group holds in participating, so input from your membership is vital to your staying power. We usually ask parents/teachers to list their class name and a brief description of their class, the created a poll and let the students vote on which classes they prefer. Once classes have been chosen, you can move on.
  • create a handbook – communication is so important when you’re organizing a group of people. Creating a handbook can get a lot of the questions out of the way, ensure that everyone (parents, teachers, and students) knows what to expect and what their responsibilities are, and serve as a reference point when communication gets sticky. Your handbook is where you’ll lay out everything about how your co-op operates, and should address most of the questions that you have as you’re looking into co-op: how does it work? what does it cost? how are the students graded? what if I want to teach/don’t want to teach? what about younger/older kids?, etc.
  • determine location – where will your co-op meet? Some options include: someone’s home (same place every time, or on a rotating schedule?); library; city or town community room; church; park (though outdoors can get distracting or be problematic when the weather is bad); restaurant (possibly negotiate a deal for lunch)… your city likely has some unique possibilities – think outside the box! Cost is usually a factor when it comes to location. Some venues will work with your and allow you to meet without a fee, or at  discounted rate, or even in trade (with your group offering cleaning or lawn maintenance or some other task in exchange for space). Storage is another consideration – will you tote school supplies back and forth, or is there space to store things on site? Other considerations include: table or desk space for the students, computer and wifi access, chalk or white board/projector/screen access; parking; lunch facilities – will everyone need to bring lunch or can you cook on site?
  • have the teachers decide on their curriculum, create lesson plans, and price supplies – be sure to factor in printing costs and coordinate with other teachers to use the same supplies where possible so you don’t over-estimate supplies costs. Supply cost estimates are usually needed before tuition can be decided, or you can set a flat fee. Be sure to ask parents what they have on hand that can be donated to co-op to help keep costs down! What you choose to include in your tuition fees is up to you.
  • decide how non-teaching parents will contribute – it’s not ‘cooperative’ unless everyone participating has a role. There’s plenty to do; ideally everyone takes a turn doing all the things, but if the same parents seem to enjoy teaching and you’re content to let them do it, make lunch or snacks or childcare for younger siblings the responsibility of non-teaching parents. The larger your group is, the more jobs there are. No one should feel taken advantage of.
  • decide on your schedule, and how the classes will be broken up – Some classes only take 4 or 6 weeks to complete; others last a full semester or even longer. Your schedule will depend on what your co-op is planning to do, and will require someone organized to create a schedule that works. You’ll need to know when you want classes to begin so that you can set your tuition due date in time to order supplies. Be sure to add in field trips, special events or other things like that so you’re well-planned. You can add things like ‘morning meditation’ or ‘lunch chat’ or something else clever to address the specific needs of your group. It’s also a good idea to plan a ‘state of the union’ assembly at some point to see how things are working for the group.
  • decide on tuition fees and due date – If your location carries a fee or built-in obligation in trade, that will need to be factored into your tuition cost. Decide when you need tuition paid by so that you can order supplies in time for classes to begin. A savvy shopper will check online stores, shop for wholesale options and look at price-matching options to keep costs as low as possible. Consider additional costs as well, and make parents aware of things that the co-op will not supply (like musical instruments, lunch, literature books or things like folders/pencils/etc.).
  • have a great first day! Keep the coffee flowing, bring mimosas sometimes, let the kids cook lunch, have class outside one day, bring in a guest speaker …. co-op can be amazing and fun and just the thing you need to get you out of a rut. If what you want or need isn’t available in your area, then create it. If you want it, chances are someone else does, too.
Image result for if you build it they will come

Oh, sure… they meant baseball fields, but this totally applies to homeschool co-ops, too.

Other Options

Of course, co-ops aren’t the only option for parents who aren’t sure they want to take on homeschooling all on their own. Many areas have local homeschool groups that serve as a supplement to your personal homeschooling plan. While they may not all offer a co-op, they often do offer support and a shoulder to lean on as you’re finding your way.

More recently, there is a trend towards part-time private schools, where the kids attend a brick-and-mortar school a couple of days each week and homeschool the other days, which is a neat option. Unfortunately, the only ‘schools’ I am aware of that offer this option are costly which takes it off the table as an option for many homeschooling families. Another movement on the rise is ‘democratic schooling’, like the Sudbury School model. Great in concept, but if you’re a working homeschool family living on one income, it can be cost prohibitive.

Online academies also offer an option, but that’s not a great option if your interest is in homeschooling and not just ‘school at home’. Those programs are run by the state and you end up with none of the benefits that homeschooling provides, like (depending on your state’s laws): full control over what your child is learning; opting out of standardized testing; endless personalization and customization options for your student; and liberation from the 8-3 school day/week and mandatory attendance schedule. Still, some families find it to be a good option, either as an intermediate step towards more independent homeschooling or because it just works for them.

You can also look into workshops or classes held by stores, restaurants, or other local businesses. Colleges, museums, and other places may offer summer camps or classes, or may be willing to work with your local homeschool group to hold a class with enough participation. Private music classes, art classes, gym, dance or other sports are usually available to homeschoolers, and you can always look into hiring a tutor if you feel like you’re not able to help your student get where he or she needs to be.

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Hopefully, this will give you some things to think about, whether you decide to join a co-op (or start one) or try something else. I am a firm believer in being open to trying new things, and if it doesn’t end up working out trying something else… and even trying something again that didn’t work out before. Our first co-op was a learning experience, and that led to a success story the next time we gave it a shot. Remember: nothing you choose in homeschooling is so permanent that you can’t stop and choose something  else.

If you have the opportunity, give a co-op a try!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


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

 

 


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

 

 


May Flowers – Spring 2017

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

LBB’s echevarria variant with moss and glass beads

PeaGreen’s cactus and succulent with Zelda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h


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.