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

Posts tagged “balance

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

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Eight Years of Homeschooling

Facebook has this feature whereby it will suggest that you share a ‘memory’; a post or status update that you’d shared previously. Occasionally that’s a knife to the heart if they suggest something you’d rather not relive, but sometimes, the suggested posts are a reminder or evoke a sense of wonder at how far you’ve come.

That was the case this morning, when I got this suggestion:

It’s particularly relevant at this point in my life, because I remember scurrying around to get everything set up so we could start homeschooling. My kids’ last day at school was spent rushing to get their desks set up, doing the final once-over to make sure we were ready with curriculum… and trying to make their last day at school special in some way. That mirrors what’s going on in our life right now, as we’re still mid-transition in the recovery process from hurricane Harvey’s flooding. Our house is getting there, but still not finished, which means that our schooling spaces are not anywhere near as polished as they were when we began this journey. Just because our house (life?!) is in chaos doesn’t mean that school can be on indefinite hold though. So I spent most of last week doing the same thing I did in the beginning – scurrying around trying to make sure I had everything we needed handy. I’m still missing a 3-hole punch. Go figure.

I actually had to take some of my own advice as far as what was strictly ‘needed’ (and I maintain that this is sound advice): a good printer, an electric pencil sharpener, a heavy-duty stapler, and a really nice coffee pot. (That last one started out as an indulgence for Mom, but has slowly warped into a necessary part of everyone’s day).  We’ve moved away from some of the recommended items, so I feel like it’s time to update that list a bit (or at least edit).

Where once I recommended a laser printer (and cheap toner), we’ve since gone back to an inkjet. I’ll be honest: it’s mainly because of the cost of ink/toner. It seems like they flip-flop every few years as to which one is less costly. As I mentioned previously, I print quite a lot, so whatever we have needs to be the most cost effective option. We just bought our second Canon Pixma MX922 with this refill ink from Blake Printing Supply from Amazon and I’m pretty happy with their product. The only advantage of a laser over inkjet is that laser toner doesn’t get ruined with water; inkjet ink runs. That’s not really a problem in most instances, but I craft/art journal and sometimes tea or coffee-stain pages I’ve printed. I can print first, then stain with laser printing; with the inkjet, I have to stain the paper first, then run it through the printer (which can create issues if there is coffee or tea dust on the pages, but I haven’t run into this problem). I also bought a cheap stapler since my Swingline bad boy is in storage – I cannot wait to have my office set up again so I can have my ‘real’ things back (at least; the things that didn’t get ruined in the flood).

The electric pencil sharpener though, I stand by. I recommended the Westcott iPoint Kleenearth Evolution Recycled Electric Pencil Sharpener in 2012 (after a year of use) and I was still using that same pencil sharpener in August 2017 when it got ruined by the flood. I replaced it with the Xacto Vortex 1730 (because that’s the only corded one that was in stock when I went to Office Depot). It remains to be seen if it will hold up as well as the iPoint, but so far, I’m pretty happy with it. It sharpens faster and doesn’t get as bogged down as the iPoint, so we’ll see how it holds up.

Planner-wise, I am using a bullet-style journal/planner this year. For a little while, at least. I’ve been printing and a ‘Bossy Book’ of my own design for years, but since I lost access to my computer after Harvey, and didn’t have access until well into January, I wasn’t able to plan or print my book for this year. I may still print one later, but for now I am enjoying having ‘something different’. I am still planning out the week, and using our ‘Work This Week’ page that I print for myself and the kids each week.

This is a light week (obviously), but you get the idea.

I am leaving a lot of flexibility in the kids’ school schedule right now, because we have so much going on at the house; they need to be able to work or go help with something. I figure that some school is better than none right now, and there’s always time to make it up over the course of the rest of the year. Despite 2017’s many wrenches, we’re not as far off schedule as I’d initially feared; we should be back on-target before the 2018-2019 school year begins, even with a light schedule right now.

Otherwise, favorite schooling things come and go, but those are pretty much my go-to minimums. You can safely add a good, sturdy 3-hole punch to this list, as well. We’re slowly replacing other things we’ve loved and lost. It’s slow-going, but we’re getting there.

Anniversary and birthday posts tend to require some sort of re-cap, or ‘what have we learned’ type of reminiscing, so here’s my .02:

  1.  invest in time spent with your kids – book learnin’ is great and all, and necessary to some degree (IMO), but when it comes to what counts, building your family up has to be a priority, otherwise, what’s the point? Among all of the families I know, whether it started out as their priority or not, a side effect of long-term homeschooling is the connection you build, and maintain, with your kids.
  2. invest in your community – I say this from a position of being burned out and taking a step back from almost all commitments that are outside of my house. It has a lot to do with hurricane aftermath, but the burnout was strong before that, too. In every community, there are ‘doers’ and there are ‘takers’. I don’t mean that to be insulting to people who are introverts, or shy or have social anxiety; all I mean is that they take advantage of what’s offered, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The ‘doers’ tend to take the lead, plan things, organize things, make things happen. That’s a good thing; it’s very likely in their nature to do so and they enjoy it the vast majority of the time. But if your ‘doers’ are asking for help, and you tend to be a ‘taker’, then please, honestly evaluate your contributions and step up and take some of the burden off of them. If you want your homeschooling community to thrive, then you HAVE to contribute; you just have to. Otherwise, your doers will get burned out and stop doing all the things and you’ll have nothing to take from. If you’re in a position where you absolutely can’t help, then be a good taker – rsvp when asked to; show up on time; have your necessary supplies; be communicative. There’s nothing worse than organizing a thing and having every last person flake out at the last minute with absolutely no warning or communication. I cannot tell you how many times my kids and I have sat waiting on people who never showed up and didn’t let us know they weren’t coming. Don’t be that guy! That said, ‘doers’ tend to make the world go round, and I am fortunate to have several capable ‘doers’ and equally awesome ‘takers’ in my homeschool group. As I’ve stepped back, others have filled the gap, and it’s lovely to be part of a consistently thriving community.
  3. Be flexible – Dude… life happens. Whatever plans you make, there’s a 50/50 chance that something will happen that will disrupt them. don’t get bent out of shape about it; just flex a little and go with the flow. To illustrate this point (perhaps unnecessarily, but absolutely accurately), the picture above has had not one but TWO major changes to the curriculum since I started working on this post on 1/14. And, thanks to Loverly Husband’s unexpected week off and my getting sick for that same week, the monthly schedule in my planner has also changed. C’est la vie!
  4. Learn to say NO – it’s easy to over-extend yourself when you’re homeschooling. People think that just because you’re ‘home’ that equates to time they can impose upon. Side-note: They can’t, and it’s okay to tell them that. Additionally, without a regular ‘out of the house’ school schedule to follow, sometimes social engagements or extra-curriculars can start poaching on your school hours! I know ‘socialization’ is a big deal in the homeschool world, but for us (and most of the families in our group), it’s more an issue to having too many opportunities to socialize than too few. Being ready and willing to say no when you need to (or want to) is sanity-saving. This also applies to getting caught up in ‘my homeschooler is better than your homeschooler’ type of mommy conversations where everything seems to be a competition. Man… there ain’t enough time in the world, or any student accomplishment so grand that will satisfactorily shut these types up. Unless maybe your kid won a Nobel Prize or something, but even then, I bet they’d just change the topic to something their kid excels in. Just avoid them entirely by saying NO. Furthermore, it also applies to well-intentioned (at best) and nosey homeschool-doubters (at worst) who want to quiz your kids every time they see them. Put those people on the Nope Train with the One-Upers and enjoy your newly discovered peace and quiet.
  5. Try to say YES more – Having said the thing about ‘no’, the opposite is true as well. When opportunity knocks, don’t be so schedule-bound that you can’t take advantage of it! Try new things – co-ops, classes, sports, field trips, travel… give your kids (and yourself) the gift of freedom; take advantage of any and everything that you can. Living life to the fullest is often just as great a teacher as 3 hours behind a desk. Don’t lock yourself into thinking that only ‘formal’ or semi-formal learning is the only way. Lots of kids learn best in a group environment, and group learning can be a fun and valuable addition to your regularly scheduled solitary or family-based book work.
  6. If you’re just starting out, de-school for a bit before committing to anything. We jumped right from school-school to homeschool, and even though we did a ‘light’ version, I wish we’d taken time between the two. All in all, it wasn’t a bad transition for my kids though. Just in hindsight, I’d have done it differently. My kids were young though, so it may not have made much of a difference. For teens though, I’d definitely recommend de-schooling before jumping in. Join a group, meet some people, do some activities… it’s a culture shock for them; give them time to get their feet wet before making a bunch of expectations and requirements.
  7. In the early years, take your time – there’s no rush. Our first year, we only did the basics; 2 R’s, really, plus other crafty stuff. I added in other foundation subjects like history and science in our second year, and still more in the third year and as we went on. There’s plenty of time when you’re homeschooling. Not all kids are bookworms or geniuses, and not all kids are going to be homeschool prodigies; there’s no need to rush them through everything so they can be the ‘best’. It’s totally okay if your kids are just normal kids. Mine are, and they’re still spectacular.
  8. When you (the parent) get burned out, take a break. You will get burned out, trust me. Homeschooling is awesome, but it’s also hella demanding, and takes a lot of time on your part to be successful. When you need a break, it’s totally okay to enroll your kids in an online school, or hire a tutor or otherwise outsource their education for a few months (or years, even). There are some very reputable online schools that do it all… don’t be afraid of giving them a try if you need to be less responsible for a while (or at all). Better yet, plan your year with dedicated breaks so that you can rest as well. But if you plan on homeschooling for several years, know that burnout is real and try to stay ahead of it. It’s easier to take breaks as you need them than it is to power through and end up needing an unplanned  significant rest because you over did it!

Eight years, eight lessons learned; eight bits of homeschool-y advice… seems right, so I’ll end that there. Feel free to chime in with your lessons learned in the comments; I’d love to know what your important bits are!

Looking back, as a newbie homeschooling mom, I was way more eager than I was knowledgeable. I was pretty honest and up front about that in the beginning; my blog served as a place to archive our journey – mostly for my kids. I still keep things updated mostly so they’ll be able to look back and see the kinds of things we did; places we went, memories we created together. I used to scrapbook, but time and Hurricane Harvey took care of that, so I’m glad I transitioned to online documenting. Blog format is just because I enjoy writing. But that blind enthusiasm is what it takes sometimes – just an absolute willingness to jump in with both feet and make it happen. Most of the best things I’ve accomplished in my life have come about because of exactly that kind of determined passion for a thing. If you’re just starting out, don’t let a lack of knowing what you’re doing stop you. Connect with other homeschooling parents, read, research and work with your kids along the way; you’ll figure the rest out as you go.

We have done some truly awesome things over the years – maybe not so much in terms of individual events, but certainly in terms of the cumulative value. Field trips are totally my jam; there are long stretches of time where we literally went on a field trip of some sort every single week. Camping trips, behind the scenes access, travel, exotic animals (outside of a zoo)… it’s been a great time. That’s the kind of thing I hope my kids remember. Now that they’re older, we do less educationally aligned field tripping and more socialization with their friends (per their request), and the trips are more future-oriented than ‘discover the world’ in focus, but with no less enthusiasm. I am so grateful that we’ve had circumstances that allowed for, and intentionally worked to create and sustain, this kind of life for our kids and family. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it.

Both of my kids are in high school now; officially, there are only 3 more school years left in my journey. That’s absolutely crazy to write and read and think about… my oldest is 16 now, and will be starting his junior year of high school this fall. I don’t even understand how that’s possible, but it is, nonetheless true. Having a definite deadline makes me realize how much we have left to do, and how little time there is to accomplish it all. But whatever happens, I’ll very likely still be writing about it. So, here’s to another few years!

IMG_20180123_130429_509

Mmmm… coffee ❤

Thanks for reading along!
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.

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2014 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK Co-op

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

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

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

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

2016-2017 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK High School Co-op

Starting a Co-op

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

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

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

 

 


Spring 2017

Today is the first day of our break week. If you’re a longtime reader, then you’re familiar with our school year schedule. We have 6 weeks of lessons, followed by a one week break. Normally, this would be our second break, but with my mom’s illness and death in January, we took time off, so this is actually the end of our first full six weeks of school this year (we also school from January – November, year-round, rather than the traditional Sept. – May schedule).

As much as I’d love to say that we’re going to be productive this week, that’s unlikely. It’s almost 2 in the afternoon at the time of this writing, and here’s what my kids are doing at this exact moment. Not that I blame them; if not for a meeting this morning, I would probably have stated in bed until noon, at least.

At the beginning of last month, I was so ready to fall back into normal routines, and now, I’m so ready for this week’s break! Life feels mostly back to normal, which is both a good feeling and a sad one. I’m still grieving the loss of my mother; do you ever not once she’s gone? I feel like the loss will get more and more poignant as time passes, especially with milestones and life events that I know she would have wanted to be there for. Even silly things, like my new-to-me patio situation I’m adding photos of in this post. I don’t believe in hiding from grief, so be warned that my posts will very likely mention my mother and how her loss has and continues to affect me, my kids and our lives from this point on. I am a proponent of Caitlin Doughty’s ‘death positivity’ advocacy movement in a big way, so if that bothers you, well… tough. <wink> If you’re into it, check out her book, and the one forthcoming in October, and her YouTube Channel that talks about all kinds of death and death-related things.

Moving on, even though we’ve been supposedly ‘back to normal’ (whatever that means), we actually have had kind of a light schedule, especially in the first couple of weeks. There were a couple of field trips that I wanted to take the kids on, so days in Houston meant limited time for desk-lessons. I’m okay with that; the value in spending time around art and culture a couple of days has value for them. LBB (15) asked why I take them to art museums and make them go see live music and stuff. I told him that art exposes you to a different way of looking at the world, and gives you insight into how people of the past viewed the world. You never know what your ‘thing’ is; taking advantage of every possible experience will help you explore possibilities that you never knew existed. Even if you hate it, it’s still an experience that you have a definite opinion about now, because you’ve personally experienced it.

I’ve been a fan of Ron Mueck for years, and when we saw that his art was on display at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (through August 13, 2017), I knew we HAD to go. It was AH-MAY-ZING. Of course, we saw the big, giant head and the enormous newborn, but those get so much attention, I wanted to focus on other pieces. These are some of my favorite pieces.

probably my favorite. The detail in their skin and clothing is incredibly fine.

 

I am fascinated by the indents of fingertips in flesh. That, combined with the aging skin, complete with wrinkles, droops and sags is beautiful.

 

This is so graphic and lovely. Her expression and body language is familiar to me as a woman who experienced an exhausting birth, and dealt with depression afterwards. Who is this creature? What now?

I haven’t been to the MFAH in a long time; it was lovely to go again. The kids walked around without me, which left me and my friend Jenise to wander around sans childish commentary… so we had to come up with our own. I’m sure if we were overheard, people thought we were being disrespectful or whatever – but there are only so many ‘hallelujah’ moments that one can experience in a days’ time. My phone’s battery died mid-visit, so I didn’t get pictures of some of the other paintings that made an impression, but we had a blast!

Mid-March saw vision appointments, with new glasses for LBB, and glasses for PeaGreen for the first time. We knew it was coming; his doctor told us last year that he’d very likely need them soon, and he was right. I don’t think he could have escaped it though; Loverly Husband and I both wear corrective lenses, so it was probably inevitable.

March 16th was a homeschool co-op day. That was the last day of their sculpture assignment; they all made final touch-ups and set their pieces aside to dry. PeaGreen went with a butt sculpture, and LBB opted for a hand. It was interesting working with a group of teens without any particular boundaries. I told them they could sculpt whatever body part they wanted to, as long as it was accurate (or as near-to as possible). After a lot of jokes about sculpting penises, I truly expected to see at least one student follow through with it, but they actually ended up sculpting a set of shoulders, a foot, an eye, a head, 3 students chose to sculpt a hand, a butt, and a bust (head and shoulders). For three 1-hour class periods (and minor work at home), their work didn’t turn out half bad.



 

March 18th was the 3rd annual Normalize Breastfeeding Project. This is a project that Whole Mothering Center, the organization I work for (and co-founded) puts together each year to celebrate breastfeeding as a cultural norm. The final photo turned out really pretty!

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The rest of March kind of passed in a blur. We had a couple more co-op classes in our homeschool group, which is on the same schedule our personal school schedule is on, so we;’re actually out this week. We start our last 6 weeks for this school year next week – I cannot believe how quickly it has passed! We’re planning on doing another round next year, and are in the process of planning classes and things now. I’m excited about it; it’s been such a great experience for my kids and I am looking forward to next year’s classes. In art, they started watercolor – sounds fun (and is, in a way), but watercolor is so difficult to work with competently; I wish I;d scheduled more time to play with it. We start mixed media next week though, and I am SUPER excited about that.

The kids had a teen social that was at The Art Studio; they had a live band night and the kids went with a group of teens from our group. That was their first ‘no parents’ outing. It’s so weird to see them growing up and being old enough for these kinds of experiences. I’m glad for them, and it makes me nostalgic. I loved going out with friends at their age, and I hope they’re making memories. I didn’t get pictures, because I wasn’t there, but I hope that they took some to share in their little friend group.

At the end of March, my friend Leia of Gentle Strength Yoga hosted an Ayurveda basics class that I was able to attend. I am so glad I went! More than just reading about it, having someone explain it and bring it to life was fantastic. I don’t practice it, but it was interesting to me that across almost all spiritual and wellness paths, there are some threads that are consistent: the connectivity of mind and body; a focus on nutrition, rest and movement; and mindful attention to your body and actions and thoughts. I attend to those things in other ways, but I really appreciated how those threads of similarity tie health and wellness together and was glad to learn about it.

April 4th was my 40th birthday. I started a photo project last year after seeing a similar one online. It was supposed to be ‘a year of selfies’ for things like positivity in growing older, appreciating your aging body, and that kind of thing. I only ended up with about 80 pictures, but I’m pretty happy with the result. Because I lived it, I can definitely see things reflected in the pictures that I didn’t realize would be; my mom’s illness and passing are obvious to me, but I wonder if it’s visible to anyone else if you didn’t know. I wasn’t going to share the video slideshow originally, but a couple of people who knew about it were asking, so here it is.

Before you dissect it with negative commentary, some pictures are edited, others are not; it was meant to be a personal project, not necessarily one for public consumption. So, if you need to say something nasty, just… don’t. One thing I have come to discover about pictures is that there are never enough of Mom. We’ve gone through the thousands of pictures my mom took and put in albums, but there are only a handful ‘of’ her. So, if you’re a mom, take a damn picture of yourself. Take lots! Your kids will want them one day – good, bad, edited, raw, color-corrected, too dark – it won’t matter to them. They’ll want them all. Along the way, especially after my mom died, this project became more about that than anything else – just having pictures for my kids.

April also marks the return of the South TX State Fair. This was the first year that I let the kids run around with their friends without me – again; it’s so weird to see them old enough to do stuff like this. I remember being this age and wanting nothing more than to roam the fairgrounds with my friends. We’d have spent hours just walking and talking and people-watching. Our kids were ready to head out after a mere two hours. We took them to a local coffee shop for a while to hang since they weren’t quite done visiting with each other.

The children… off on an adventure!

Jenise, Heather, and Kandi – 2017 TX State Fair

I absolutely LOVE this picture! It looks like a still from a movie.

In other news, I’ve been spending time out-of-doors, Summer Crafting (even though it’s not technically summer yet). I rescued a very sad patio set from my grandmother’s house and re-painted it a lovely sky blue. While the kids were at their music lessons, I went to Home depot and roamed the garden department, picking up herbs and plants and pots, and got filthy dirty planting a little herb garden for my little table. The addition of a canopy and pillows (made from Dollar Tree place mats) makes for a happy little outdoor spot… at least until the temperature climbs into the high 90’s and the mosquitoes come out.

this years newly potted herb garden

manicure by Mother Nature

sky blue patio furniture, topped with a bright yellow canopy. My mom would have loved it!

coordinating pillows to tie the color scheme together!

Our plans for the coming month include the kids’ first formal dance, a trip to the beach, the Health Museum in Houston, another visit to see my Grandmother in Longview, and (as always), school, school, school. We’ll see how that works out when I check in next time!

Warmly,
~h

 


Happy Halloween – October 2016

happy-halloween-from-improveit-360Another month gone, y’all. I honestly don’t know how time passes so quickly. At this point, my plan to update each week is just completely out the window; I’m barely able to get in the once-a-moth gig at this point. Once you read through this post, you’ll see why though. The additions to our normal busy schedule have basically made ‘free time’ a thing of pure fantasy.

We’re still taking #alltheclasses – the boys started an aquatic science course with one of the moms in our homeschool group and are 8 classes in at this point. They’re enjoying it. The course is project-based, which I absolutely love, because I feel like they’re getting more out of it than they were with traditional book-work. This is the kind of science-y stuff that I have always wanted to offer my kids, but never got around to doing. They’ve made models, maps, used all kinds of cool tools and worked in larger groups, which has been a really neat dynamic for them. That can be one of the failings of homeschooling – missing out on group learning environments. It’s not an essential element to education, but I’m glad that my kids get to experience it. Since it’s a small group, and the kids that are there actually want to be there, I feel like this is a really good opportunity for them. Their next lesson involves building a wave pool thingy. I don’t know a lot about it, but I can’t wait to see it!

Our homeschool co-op is still going strong. I can honestly say that this has been the best part of our school year. Having something to break up the monotony of the week has been really nice. We’re 10 weeks in, and will be taking a break next week for Thanksgiving, then have the last 2 weeks of the fall semester before breaking for the rest of the year. We’ll pick back up in January, at which time I think we’ll all be ready for it to start up again! Our schedule for co-op runs in 6-week segments; we’re in the second 6-weeks right now. We started home economics (which I think is called family and consumer sciences in schools now) this 6 weeks, and the kids are learning how to crochet, along with literature (still Romeo & Juliet, which they elected to continue), debate and orchestra. We got our music for our homeschool group’s Christmas Pageant coming up in December (a community service event where we visit a local nursing home and sing carols and play for the residents), so we’ve been practicing Christmas carols and learning tab music.
The last month has been full of activities. We went to Johnson Space Center’s Homeschool Day in Houston the first week of October. This was our third trip, I think, and as always, we had a blast! (no pun intended). This was the first year that we’ve gone with friends who were older; the moms and I sent the kids off with a couple of assignments and we got to go on our own tours. We met back up with the kids at lunch, then sent them on the tram tours while we caught a couple of the inside demonstrations and then toured the Space Shuttle. Because they kinda did their own thing, I don’t think I have any pictures of the boys from this year’s trip!

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Each month, our group hosts a teen social for the group’s ‘tweens and teens to get together for some older-age appropriate socialization. In October, we brought games to a local coffee shop and let the kids hang out while the moms had their own table.

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We also have Social Studies club every 6 weeks where we focus on one country at a time. Each student does a project of some sort based on that country. October’s country was Iraq. My kids chose a culture project; LBB did a recreation of a painting by Faeq Hassan, and PeaGreen did a recreation of one of calligraphic artist Hassan Massoudy’s pieces.

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Mid October, I helped host WMC’s Nurture & Nourish Retreat at Crystal Beach. We rented a beach cabin, and spent Friday through Sunday working really hard on the mental aspects of good self-care. We spent some time learning how to stop the negative self-talk spiral, work through anxiety and depressive episodes that sneak up on us, and quite a bit of time learning some watercolor letting techniques and creating some artsy affirmation cards. It was such a great weekend! I came home refreshed and although it took a few days to recoup from my retreat, once I settled in, I feel renewed.

We’re hosting another retreat in April, and I am so excited for it!

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October is always my favorite month of the year – so several reasons: 1) It’s fall (supposedly), which is my favorite season; 2) pumpkin spice; 3) Halloween season; and 4) it’s time for our first week-long break of this school year – yay! This time, our break fell the week of Oct 17-21, which was the same week after my retreat. I needed to take some time off to ease back into real life, and having the week off from school was perfect timing.

We had a couple of things planned for that week that we ended up missing. The kids prepared for several weeks for their Public Speaking (part II of persuasive speeches) class. PeaGreen went to visit his cousins, but LBB and I were going to go without him. I tried, but I just couldn’t make myself take LBB. I needed the break! Taking full advantage of the time off so we could start back strong the next week was a priority for me.

During my off week, I didn’t just laze about – I was productive! I spent a couple of afternoons painting with a friend (who shall now be called ScienceMom since she’s the one who teaches the kids’ science class as well). We found a really cool Harry Potter/Starry Night mash-up picture online and I wanted to attempt a recreating. It didn’t turn out too bad! I also found a YouTube channel called Painting with Jane. I did one of her tutorials a month or so ago, and I loved her ‘Squishy’s Embrace’ picture, so I did that one as well. I actually had to go out and buy new canvases! I’ve had the same 4 sitting around for a while now, but they’re finally painted, so I got new ones.
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We decided back in the summer that our homeschool group should do a haunted house for our Halloween party this year. That was ambitious, and as the month started winding down, I think we all got more and more nervous about how it was going to work out. The last week of the month was full of decorating and setting up – I think we spent more time at ScienceMom’s house than we did our own! This is from the day before the party, after a long day of moving furniture and decorating. We didn’t want to wait until the very last-minute, so the bulk of the work was done the day before.

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Vampire’s Lair

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Zombie Maze with the projection screen in the background

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zombies in the window

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LBB’s very simple – but absolutely terrifying – costume

The end of the month was really exciting. We had the Halloween Party, and started the second 6-weeks of co-op. Due to a strange set of last-minute goings-on, I ended up hosting at my house, which was kinda nice. My house is tiny, so it was somewhat less comfortable for everyone, but we did get to do orchestra outside, which was amazing! All music should be played outside, I think.

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After setting up the party, we went to see the annual screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Jefferson Theater in downtown Beaumont. I love going there – it’s such a cool old 20’s style theater. They’ve been hosting classic movie night over the last year or so, and it’s been great to see fun old movies and neat to hang out in that theater. I had planned on taking my kids to see it, but LBB elected to stay home, so PeaGreen and I went and met some friends to see it.

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

(c) Beaumont Enterprise

We also moved my grandmother’s piano from her house to ours. She’ll be moving in a few weeks, and the piano was not going to be able to go with her, so it’s now comfortably in place in our living room – and getting regular use as well. The boys took piano lessons from her for a couple of years, but they slacked off as they got older. Loverly HUsband and I both want to learn, and PeaGReen is interested in taking lessons again, so the plan is to start in January. Right now, we’re just focusing on violin and cello. cam05015

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I bought a bike! A pretty, pink cruiser with a nice, wide seat. It’s been fun to ride again!

Another big deal for me was a paid writing project – my first! I worked with a good friend of mine to complete a CPR & First Aid manual/training course for an online school. It was a 20K word-count project with a week-long deadline, and we aced it! Unfortunately, it was the week before NaNoWriMo, which means that my brain hasn’t recovered enough to make NaNo happen yet. At this point, it’s halfway through the month and I am still on the outline. That makes me sad, but I’m not giving up yet. If you’re writing, too, then Happy NaNoWriMo to you!

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That’s pretty much it for October. Because I’m 2 weeks late with this post, I’ve talked about some stuff that’s happening in November already, but for the full story on what’s current, you’ll have to wait a couple more weeks for the full November update post (unless I get around to updating before the month is out… but don’t hold your breath). <wink>

Hope you’re enjoying the cooler weather – I know I am!
Warmly,
~h

 

 


Co-op and Field Trips and Fall, oh my!

co-opfieldtrip-fallsept2016I know I always say this, but holy Toledo – I cannot believe how quickly this month has passed! We’re officially into #allthethings now, and somehow that makes time pass even faster. On the one hand, I guess it’s good that we’ve been busy living life, but blogging helps me focus on the positive and awesome stuff that happened, so I have missed not posting regularly. I see a lot of bloggers get accused of glossing over the bad stuff, and that’s fair. I tend to focus on the positive because I am prone to depression and having a place to ‘store’ the memory of what we’ve been doing fixes that in my mind instead of all the other, stressful and negative stuff that’s been going on. So if that’s been something you’ve wondered about, please know that it’s not that it’s not my intent to misrepresent what my life looks like, but more that I want to keep my brain occupied with things that make me happy, which at this point is still pretty focused on the kids and homeschooling and all the associated business of being a mom.

In the interests of ‘keeping it real’, the past month has been filled with stress related to my aging and infirm grandmother and parents (all of whom live next door to me); anxiety over work and finances and the direction of my career; existential anxiety over realizing that with the progression to ‘high school’, my days and identity as a ‘homeschooling mom’ are coming to an end in a mere 4 or 5 years, with the associated “what does that mean? What do I do? Who am I, if not that?” types of thought processes; frustration over getting the kids to do their freaking work and all the worry that goes with ‘am I doing enough to prepare them for the real world and life as an adult?’; and a host of other things, many of which involve negative thought-spirals that I’d rather not dwell on. Despite those issues, life moves on, and now that we’re (mostly) fully settled into this school year, I can breathe a bit and play a bit of catch-up here to remind myself that in between pockets of ‘bad’ are a hell of a lot of ‘good’.

The biggest new thing we were anticipating was the start of our homeschool group’s high school cooperative group. We’re now 4 weeks in, and it’s *so amazing*.  Classes for this semester are: Life Skills, (which covers practical math skills like paying bills, balancing a bank account, planning for large purchases and managing credit, in addition to finding an apartment, buying a car, and things like that). Debate (Lincoln Douglas, which I freely admit I know nothing about and am thrilled to have someone offer this to my kids); Literature (Shakespeare; Romeo & Juliet and something else I haven’t decided yet, because I am teaching this one); and, of course, Orchestra. The boys are both playing violin, and I am playing cello. We have 10 students and 4 parents taking lessons along with the kids. Never too old to start a new hobby, right? The spring semester will have a couple of different classes, including a mental health for teen course that I am very excited about.

Overall, I am super happy with how co-op is organized and how things are progressing this time. The co-op we were part of last time had a wider age range of kids, and it was chaotic and stressful. Though this is tiring, it’s not ‘stressful’ in that way. I am really enjoying this smaller age group, and that it’s teens in particular. We’ve made a couple of changes to our original plan and moved some things around, but I really couldn’t ask for it to be better. The kids all seem to mesh well, and the class is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough for them to bounce idea off of each other and appreciate their classmate’s insights. Though it’s not ‘competitive’ in the way of classroom education, they do bring out the best in each other, and that healthy competition is really nice to see emerging.
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For everyone freaking out over posture and form, worry not – we’ve since moved to proper seating and standing for the violins. These pictures were from our first day when everyone was just getting acquainted with their instruments. We’ve also moved to a different room, with cellos seated in front and violins and viola standing in the back. We’ve progressed from pizzicato to bowing now, and about a third of the class has moved up from ‘baby bow’ to ‘teen bow’ as of today. We still sound like cats dying when we play, but there’s definite progress! Exciting!

In addition to music instruction during co-op, their music teacher also offers a bumper lesson every Monday (see? Standing!). Currently, they’re practicing with a rolled up tee shirt under their arm and a shoulder rest to correct posture and hold. It’s been a long time since I took any sort of music lessons, but it’s amazing how quickly things come back, and how important PRACTICE is. When I was in school, I was a lackadaisical student – practice was definitely not a priority (but I also had band every school day, so many it balances out?)…  however, because we’re only getting actual instruction time twice a week, an hour-long practice is part of the daily school plan, which means that I can actually see their improvement from week to week. cam04653

Our homeschool group hosts a public speaking class every 6 weeks. We started doing this last school year, and this year, we changed the format a bit so that it’s less ‘presentation only’ and more actual development and skill in presenting. During our most recent class, we focused on developing and delivering a persuasive speech, and the kids had to use an outline and note cards to help with delivery. They did fairly well, but there was a lot of room for improvement, so our next class will stay on persuasive speeches, but focus on Presidential candidates’ speeches and their considerable powers of persuasion. It’s been interesting listening to the kids talk with each other, especially after the Presidential Debates the other night – I never thought my kids would engage in thoughtful political dialogue, but I am both glad they are, and proud that they can do so somewhat intelligently. How this will translate to their speech class presentation remains to be seen, but at least they’re not as blind to the world as I was at their age.

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I have no idea what this face is about…

 

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we call this the ‘anime grin’

We’re also still participating in our homeschool group’s Art Guild, which is based on the book Discovering Great Artists. We meet every 6 weeks, and both learn about an artist and create a work of our own in that style. This month was Georgia O’Keefe in watercolor. For those of you inexperienced at watercolor, let me just say that it’s a hard thing to master, especially with 15 kids in the room! They made a valiant attempt, but we may need to refine our technique a bit more.
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Another addition to our schedule this year has been an Aquatic Science class, taught by one of the moms in our group who is a former science teacher. She’s using a really cool project-based approach which is giving the kids a lot of hands-on exposure that I am just in love with. This is the kids of thing that I have wanted to do as a homeschooling mom and always seemed to fall short of it. Their teacher is amazingly patient, and keeps them focused during class time and sends them home with follow-up work. This was from a couple of weeks ago – they were using an orange to map a globe, continent and island, and transfer the ‘globe’ onto a flat surface. Last week, they worked on land-forms, and made a contour map from construction paper and an elevation map from cardboard stacked and painted. We’ve been having classes every week, and in tomorrow’s class they’ll be using their models to work on ‘sounding’ the ocean floor.

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With all of these additional classes and clubs, we’ve had to put actual field trips on the back burner this year! Our most recent was this week’s trip to Galveston to Seawolf Park. They have a battleship and a submarine open to tour, so we spent the afternoon on a lovely day trip. Ferry rides are always the highlight of our trip; there are dolphins in the bay and fat seagulls that follow the ferry looking for food offered by the passengers. You can see Seawolf from the ferry and it looks like it’s fairly close by, but it’s a 20 minute drive that I wasn’t expecting. Hurricane Ike destroyed the building that used to be the park’s eye-catching landmark; it’s still there, but disconnected from patrons by a huge fence. Apparently, there’s a proposal for renovation of the park, but it’s not underway yet. In any case, we still had a good time. LBB is somewhat afraid of heights, so he and I spent the majority of the time working on getting over that (without success this time), which was at times funny and others frustrating, for both of us. Afterwards, we spent the latter part of the evening on Crystal Beach, soaking up some sun before heading home (to practice our instruments, of course).

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In other news, FALL IS HERE – finally! The weather is forecasting 60’s most mornings this week and I am over the moon about it. We left for co-op this morning and it was cooler outside than it was inside (with the AC on). I am so beyond ready for sweaters and boots! Speaking of ‘favorite things’, we have gotten some awesome mail this week – our PhysicsQuest science kit, and the kids’ homeschool yearbooks arrived! This is our first experience with both of these companies, and I am thrilled with both. I’m not an affiliate; these are resources we’re actually using by choice with my very own monies. The PhysicsQuest kit (which was free), I learned about in a homeschool group. They sent a kit for each kid, with the book and most of the materials (everything except household things like water and paper) to work through the problems presented in the story (comic book). We haven’t started on it yet, so I’ll get around to updating that when we do.2016-09-26_10-10-12

The yearbooks are from Picaboo, and I am ENTIRELY pleased with. If you’re in the market for either a personal yearbook for your kids’ school year, or an option that works for your homeschool group, I HIGHLY recommend Picaboo. The quality and options for the price are incredible. After some tinkering to figure out their site, it’s super user-friendly to create the books, and the free customization option is really cool. My boys both got  their names and pictures on the back/flip cover, with pictures of ‘just them’ in the flip section, in addition to the main book. I am really considering creating a book to cover our entire homeschool journey as part of the boys’ graduation gifts. We’re still a few years away from having to think about that, but wouldn’t that be something?
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To sum up… we’re busier than ever this year. With just math, music and literature, the boys have a minimum of 3 hours of school work per day, not including the rest of their subjects. With clubs, lessons and classes, plus co-op, their time and mine are extremely limited this year. I enjoy being busy for sure, but I am maxed out by the end of the week. To combat that, I’m focused on self-care in a big way. Music practice is part of that for me – learning something new that has to potential for creative expression in such a beautiful way is extremely satisfying. I recently went to a weekend retreat with some very close friends, and spent a lot of time just focusing on my connection to life and nature and it was glorious. I have another retreat in a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to it as well. At home, I am nurturing my creativity with art. I always forget how much I need art in my life when I get stressed out. Our homeschool group is hosting a ‘mom’s night in’ every month, and this month, we decided to do a paint-along with The Art Sherpa on Youtube. We did the dragonflies with the Kevin modification, and it was so much fun! I also created my own version of Paint with Jane’s ‘A Walk in the Rain‘ that I am pretty happy with. I didn’t know that painting along with someone was a thing, but I am making it part of my routine now that I do!

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This one lives in my bathroom now.

 

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This is a pretty long post, so if you stuck with me through to the end, thanks for reading! My plan is to get back into updating weekly, so hopefully there won’t be so much to cover at once. So now that we’re all caught up on me, how about you – how’s your year going so far? Doing anything new?

Happy Fall, y’all!
~h

Weekly Wrap-Up

 


Summer’s Over! August 2016 Update

summer is overWell, kids, Summer is well and truly over. I mean this is a more ‘school year’ context and less of a ‘seasonal’ context. Let’s be honest here; we live in Texas, so summer is never ‘well and truly’ anything other than Really. Effing. Hot. That being said, it’s been raining so much lately that we’ve hardly had the opportunity to spend much time outside. This is a vast improvement over the last couple of years, as we’ve had droughts – so rain is kind of a nice change. But, enough about the weather – that’s not why you’re here!

Today is Friday (well, it was when I started writing this – today is actually Monday), and as such is also the last day of our lighter, more carefree ‘summer schedule’, when work goes from looking like a half-page list to a full-page list. We took quite a decent break earlier in the summer, and for the past seven weeks have been on a lighter, less crowded work schedule. The main areas of study I have insisted upon have been math and literature. The kids have done really well with that, and reading about 3 chapters per day, they’ve been able to move through Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, and finishing The Great Gatsby last week. They’ve also finished their math work daily (for the most part). We’ve kept up with some of the academic parts of our homeschool group’s field trips – others, not so much. We totally flaked on our social studies club this week – Russia was the topic, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Next week is our Public Speaking class; they did informative speeches last month, and have persuasive speeches coming up.

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Tomorrow we start our regular school schedule again, adding all the ‘normal’ core subjects back to the work for the week. We took care of all the ‘back to school’ business last week – new ID cards for this year, and the boys’ official ‘school pictures’. Can you believe how much they’ve changed this year?? It’s really starling to see their pictures compared to last year. *th grade, especially, seems to be the year that they go from looking like little kids to actual teenagers. It’s so weird!

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Seth - 9th grade final

We also have a new addition to our schedule this year: co-op! That’s right – we’re participating in a co-op class again this year. If you’ve been around for a while, then you may remember the last time our homeschool group had a cooperative class a couple of years ago. It was a really cool experience, but ultimately one that didn’t work for us. My boys were the oldest in the group, and between the focus being on younger kids and the time it was taking us weighed against the benefits, it just didn’t measure up for us. I’m glad we did it though – we learned a lot, and it was a lot of fun. Pulling from that experience though, made planning the current co-op easier. The moms in our group decided to put together two separate co-ops, with a focus for one on elementary students that is more play-based, and one for our high schoolers that is more academically based. We’re in the high school co-op, and the absolute best part, IMO is that they get to take orchestra! We have a very talented music teacher who will be guiding the kids towards musical competency – and the moms, too! The boys are learning violin, and I am learning cello.

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Another group activity that our homeschool group offers is called Art Guild. We’re going through a book called ‘Discovering Art in the Style of the Great Masters’, and though it’s aimed at younger students, it’s been a really fun way to introduce a wide range of art and art styles to all o our students. Oddly enough, it’s been mostly the older kids who are consistently participating. This month, we studied Louise Nevelson and her monochromatic found art sculptures. The kids each made an individual box piece in the style of her sculpture ‘Sky Cathedral’, then we put them together to form a larger sculpture. It would have been really neat if we’d had all black paint, but our options were somewhat limited. Still, the final piece was pretty neat looking, and it really gave the kids the opportunity to create both a small thing that was personal to each of them, and contribute to the making of a much larger thing, which was a lot of fun.

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Our first ‘official’ event for our homeschool group each year is our ‘Not Back to School’ party. This was our 7th, and we had a great turn out! We also hosted a mini-conference for newbie homeschoolers. This is the second mini-conference we’ve hosted, and we had a pretty decent turnout. I think next year I want to coordinate with the local library and plan a bigger event. Around the beginning of the school year there is always an influx of new members to our group, so having an ‘orientation’ day might help quite a bit.

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We also started our Yearbook Club meetings for this school year. This will be our second yearbook for our homeschool group – the first one turned out absolutely amazing! I haven’t gotten mine in the mail yet, but when I do you can be sure I will update here. I did see a friend’s though, and I am just SO pleased with it. If your group, or even if you just want one for yourself, I highly recommend Picaboo’s yearbook services. This isn’t a sponsored post – this is what we’re using this year, and it is so very easy to use and order from – I can’t imagine it being any more simple to create publish and distribute a quality yearbook!

We’re offering a couple of options to our students – a full elective class for those who ant or need it as a credit, and a ‘just for fun’ participation level for those who just want to be involved. This was our first structured class/club meeting.

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In other news, the moms in our homeschool group planned a ‘mom’s night in’ event – a mystery dinner! Our theme was a bachelorette party, and our characters were all in the fashion industry. I was ‘Holly Hott’, a fashion model who works for the bride-to-be (and who also is in love with her fiance). Cue the drama! I wasn’t the murderer though I did win the ‘Diva of Drama’ award. Apparently I know how to lay it on thick. We had SUCH a great time!

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Last but not least, we’re counting down to co-op – only 2 days to go! I am teaching Literature for the first term; Shakespeare/Romeo & Juliet. I finally have my lesson plan finished, and the kids’ folders and handouts ready. I also got in the HUGE order from Amazon with our co-op supplies. Now, I am only waiting for my cello, which should be here tomorrow, and I have a box coming with some art supplies and another box to pick up at the craft store and we’re all set!

Best of luck for your new school year!
Cheers!
~h