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

Posts tagged “balance

10 Months Post Harvey: Early Summer 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How’s things with you?
Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: Back to School, Take II

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

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

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

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

TH THINK High School Co-op Moms!

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

My oldest friends – since we were babies!

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

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

Car selfie on the way to orchestra practice!

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

D&D – ongoing for almost 2 years now!

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

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

 

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

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

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

sneaky selfie at Home Depot

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

Lunch after Park Day

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

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

Kids working hard at co-op

Solitary workers… working together! LOL

Wreck This Journal

running errands – my kids are weird

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


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

How’s your 2018 going?
Warmly,
~h


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!

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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!

#NBPSETX2017

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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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


Summer School 2016

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I have to admit that when I started this post, I was anticipating that there would be more material to work with. But, as I have said in a couple of previous posts, the last month or so has been pretty low-key, so there’s not much to blog about school-wise. That’s not to say that we haven’t been doing things, just that it’s not ‘flashy’ enough for pictures, really. Our summer schedule is fairly light to begin with, but even more-so this year. We really just stuck with math and literature, plus prep and participation in our local homeschooling group’s clubs and field trips.

We did get to go to NOAA labs again this year. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to go! I actually didn’t go in this time; we were supposed to have a full house, so I opted to run errands while the kids went in with the group.

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photo by Heather Mullin

We’ve also been working on our homeschool group’s first ever yearbook. One of our moms suggested the idea earlier this year – like in the spring. We all jumped on the idea with grand plans, but I was worried that it would be too big of a project and we’d lose interest before it ever came about. I have to say that I am so pleasantly surprised that this was not the case! Our group’s school year begins with the annual ‘Not Back to School’ Party (and sometimes a mini-homeschooling conference) at our Park Day in August, and ends with the last field trip before the next NBTS Party, which, for the 2016-2017 school year, falls on August 15th (this coming Monday). Color me shocked to find that we only need a couple of student pictures, some formatting and pictures from 2 events from the school year, plus a few collage pages and we’re ready to publish! Our last yearbook club meeting is actually today (headed there in a couple of hours), and I think we’ll be done with this year’s book by the actual start of the new school year. One of our students designed the cover art, and each family has had a hand in creating different parts of the book. It’s been an incredible group effort, and I can’t wait for it to be published!

TH YB2016 cover sampleTH YB 2016 layout sample

I do have an update for you. Remember me telling you about the article on homeschooling that a local magazine was doing? It’s out, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. We actually got a lot of laughs about the picture he used, because this is so not what homeschooling actually looks like, but they needed something, and I suppose this works. PeaGreen’s reaction was typically melodramatic, “I’m on the cover of a magaZINE!!!!” (a la Mike Wazowski, because his head got covered with the VIP feature bar… even thought it’s not the cover), but they’re both rather pleased with the whole process. They got a lot of mileage out of preparing for their ‘photo shoot’. Here’s the link, and the article starts on page 18.

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Even though I am posting this today, we’re actually not finished with our summer session yet. Because our homeschool co-op starts in September, I am delaying the start of our actual school year until then as well, so they’ll be in sync. So next week begins the official ‘back to school’ madness, with lesson planning, school year pictures, school supplies shopping and all that jazz. There used to be a blog hop called ‘Not Back to School’ on iHomeschoolingNetwork, but I guess they’re not doing it this year. They did a different theme for each week in the month of August leading up to the beginning of the school year, and I used to try to participate (but usually fell behind).

UPDATE: After some digging they said on their FB page that there’s one coming… maybe they haven’t posted it yet. I’ll link to it when they do, but in the meantime, I’ll be working on our NBTS posts for curriculum week and probably ‘day in the life’ week. Or something like that.

Warmly,

~h

 


Sadly, Summer Vacation is Now Over…

 

Untitled2Why, oh, why must vacations end?? This was our last week of vacation, and it is with much sadness and recalcitrance that I obey the dictates of the Bossy Book to get back to school starting Monday. <boo, hiss, boo>

If you know me IRL, then you know how insanely busy my life is. Between general ‘mom & wife’ life; homeschooling the kids (and running our local homeschool group); work and work; maintaining friendships and other relationships; and my SIMS 3 addiction; there’s usually just enough time between all that to eat somewhat properly and shower, with occasional naps (excluding Sundays which are my typical ‘day of rest’ to recuperate from my week). It’s very rare that I actually clear my schedule and just REST. But that’s what I’ve more or less done over the last 4 weeks. Barring a few homeschool/social engagements and meetings that I couldn’t put off (because I host them), most of my time has otherwise been spent home, playing Sims, reading, or binge-watching Bones (srsly – all 10 seasons that are on Netflix).  It’s been *splendid*.

It is with much reluctance that I mentally start getting ready for next week’s return to schoolwork. To be fair, we’re not actually doing a full schedule; this is a continuation of our lighter summer schedule, which will last through the beginning of September when we start our ‘real’ schoolwork – 9th grade for my oldest, LBB (14); and 8th grade for PeaGreen (13). Our summer schedule mostly consists of math and reading and it’s honestly not all that taxing or complicated to prepare or oversee. The boys are both older now, so much of their work is self-directed; I’m there more as a ‘guardian of time’ to make sure they’re managing their time effectively and not skiving off (and honestly, I mostly set a timer and sip a cuppa while they’re working… unless they have questions, of course, then I’m all ‘Activate Homeschool Mom Teacher Mode – GO!!!’)… sorry; I’ve had a lot of caffeine today.

Moving on!
In other news, we’re going to be featured! Well, not ‘featured’ but possibly talked about… or something. I am actually not entirely sure what it is, which makes me nervous. I received an email a few weeks ago from a freelance writer for a local magazine, V.I.P. of Southeast Texas. They’re doing a feature on homeschooling that will be published next month, and wanted to talk to me/us. I went with another mom in our group and talked to the writer for a couple of hours all about homeschooling, from how it’s changed over the years (I was homeschooled way back in the 90’s), and how it looks today, with all the variations and options. I thought that was going to be the end of it, but I was contacted by a photographer for the article and asked to meet, so the boys and I met him at a local library and we sat for some (very staged) photos. I honestly have no idea what direction the story will take, and consequently no clue what it is that I will be putting my face to, all of which makes me very, very anxious – but hopefully it will be something awesome. I’ll post a link when the article comes out so you guys can see/reassure me that it’s not that bad.

I’m still working on getting the ‘homeschool high school’ post finished. If you’re an experienced homeschooler, then you know how lengthy and arduous the planning process can be. If you’re a newbie, well… welcome to your new life! Kidding… mostly. We’re doing a co-op this fall as well, so I will probably be adding a section to that post about how that came about – or maybe I will do a whole post on planning a co-op. If you have a preference, let me know in the comments!

Hopefully your summer is continuing, unimpeded by bossy school-time schedules and other fun things like jobs and stuff, but if you’re on the verge of vacation’s end, I lend you my sympathy and support – we’re gonna get through this – Together!!
Carry on…

Warmly,
~h


How To Be KIND to Yourself When You Clearly Fail At Life

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One of the things I have heard over and over again as a mom is ‘be kind to yourself’. For a while, I truly hated hearing it, because no matter how hard I tried, there were literally  hundred times a day that I thought I have somehow failed at life. I say ‘were’ like something has changed – and something has, but it’s definitely not that part; I still fail at pretty much all the things on a daily basis, and self-care has been my focus over the past few weeks (months? years??) because I am honestly that bad at it. Let’s not even talk about how many times every day I fail at being an adult… a mom… a wife… a daughter… and what does that even mean, ‘be kind to yourself‘? I mean, honestly. I live inside my head; I know what goes on in here and it’s often not deserving of kindness. I think uncharitable thoughts, I yell at my kids, I lose my temper far too often, I have no patience, I suck at keeping in touch with friends, I don’t call my parents as often as I should, I suck at housekeeping and hate cooking… the list of my faults is long and, because I am a writer at heart, very, very detailed.

It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to start understanding and working through my issues to even understand the concept of ‘being kind’ to myself, much less apply it. I’ve written before about homeschooling with depression and anxiety, but as I said in that post, I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard. Despite all of my best-laid plans, self-care is one of the things I have a hard time managing, and even though I know how important it is to my overall health and mood, I still have to fight (with myself) to make me do the things I need to do. When I can’t even remember to eat regularly, or drink water when I am thirsty, it’s really hard to be ‘kind’ to the person who is actively doing the opposite of taking care of me. But I’m working on it, and here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Recognize that you’re doing your best in this moment.

Here’s a visualization exercise for you: Think about the most recent thing you did that you gave yourself a tongue-lashing for. Now take a look inside and find your inner child – that cute, mischievous 5-year-old you that still likes to pop bubble wrap and is still tempted to write on bathroom walls in public. Pretend like she did the thing that you did. Now talk to her like you talk to yourself. Now pretend that she is your sweet baby child, and someone else is talking to her like that. Did Mama Bear come out to kick ass and take names? If so, then you probably need to work on your inner voice.

Here’s the deal – just like we try to remember when dealing with our kids, we’re doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us in this moment. As you learn new and better tools, your inner critic is easier to hush up. I won’t say ‘silence’, because my inner critic will not be silenced even when all is well (which is why I ply her with wine and decent chocolate on occasion), but as you change the atmosphere inside your head, there’s less for your inner critic to latch on to. The learning of new tools isn’t a fast process, so don’t expect all of your changes to take place at one time. Simply recognizing that there are tools out there, even if you don’t yet know what they are, is a huge step in the right direction… which brings me to my next point:

2. You’re an ever-evolving work of art.

You know what? It’s okay not to have your shit together. We’re all learning new skills and tools all the time, and it’s okay to not know them all, or not know how to implement them, or not be sure that they’re the right tools for you. Even if you decide to implement some new things, it’s okay to struggle with getting it going well. Every day is a new day. You have the opportunity to begin again every. single. day. There isn’t a guarantee that every new thing you learn will be implemented forevermore and always. What’s the saying? ‘When you stop learning, you stop living‘. Being ‘in progress’ means that you’re not a static being. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be absolutely dreadful, but others will be phenomenal. Most of them will be somewhere between ‘really good’ and ‘not so great’, but there is opportunity and change in each of them. Some days, you’re going to cope better with the highs or lows than others, and that’s okay, too. It’s not ‘all or nothing’; like a great work of art, it’s a process – the (better, happier, more capable, adultier, better adjusted, successful) person you’re becoming is a work-in-progress. The important thing is that you keep making progress. It can be one step forward, two steps back… but even the Texas Two Step is going to take you all around the dance floor sooner or later. The direction you thought you were going may not be the direction you truly need to move in. As you learn more and make changes, your path will become clearer. It’s okay to resist that process, too! Eventually, you’ll get where you’re supposed to end up.

 3. No one else has their shit together either; some of them just fake it better.

 Don’t believe me? Text your BFF right now and ask her to show you Mt. Laundry, or her kitchen sink full of dishes, or whatever her secret housekeeping shame is. Or maybe it’s not housekeeping that is her (or your) downfall, maybe it’s something else… whatever it is, we all have one (or more) areas of our lives that just don’t ever manage to flow correctly. But, there’s probably an area in your life where you do feel competent and successful and put together, and you can bet that someone out there has seen you do The Thing and assumed from your obvious competence at The Thing that the rest of your life was similarly in order. My ‘thing’ is making it look good on paper. In practice, it’s a hot mess, but damn if I can’t make it spiffy in written format! It’s my gift.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, or something like that… whatever the actual quote, comparing yourself to someone else is never going to end well (unless you’re the obvious winner, in which case, <highfive>). But you know who I’m talking about; the person(s) that you always compare yourself to where you’re not the winner. It’s easy to make comparisons when you only have the visual and not a front row seat to the three-ring circus inside her head. Everybody is struggling; it’s not just you. Even the most zen mama you know has issues (and if she’s that zen, she’d probably be genuinely open to talking with you about hers and yours if you asked her). The point here is don’t let unfair comparisons be another bat that you use to beat yourself up. Use your inner voice for good, not evil… which feeds directly into the next point:

4. Start small… today; Right Now. 

Say something nice to yourself. I mean it – do it even if you think it’s hokey or whatever. If the only thing you hear in your head is negative commentary, then you’re never going to get out of the place you’re in right now. Being KIND to yourself means changing your thought patterns. The change starts with you, with your inner commentary. If you need tools, make affirmation cards – they don’t have to be fancy, they just have to say things that you need to hear. I made my deck in index cards with markers and glitter glue. I looked online and found things I liked and copied them, then printed them out and pasted them on my cards. Simple and effective.

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If affirmation cards are too ‘woo-woo’ for you, then enlist help to focus on the positive things you bring to the table. Make a pact with your best friend where you can only say positive things about each other to each other for the next week, or start a Secret Sisters gift circle in your group of friends that celebrates each others talents and mad skillz. Chances are, she needs it, too.

Whatever your preferred method of getting some positive thoughts knocking around inside your noggin, do it, and make it a daily priority. Self-care is so, so important to your general well-being. Carve out space for you to tend to YOU, and make that time sacrosanct. Be a little bit selfish; you’re worth it. Small steps add up to bigger ones. Taking even 5 minutes to meditate or commune with Nature or whatever your Thing is and making it part of your daily routine – even to the point of helping your children and family to understand that this is ‘Mommy Time’ and to respect it lays the groundwork for you to take bigger self-care steps in the future.

So tell me, what does ‘being kind to yourself’ look like for you?

Warmly,
~h


Thoughts on “I can’t Homeschool”

home school

Basically, yes, you can.

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘PATIENCE’

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘I CAN’T BECAUSE I WORK’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T HAVE SPACE’

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

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

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

NEWSFLASH: Your kids are already weird.

Next!

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘COLLEGE’

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

CONCLUSION

 

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

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

Warmly,
~h


Juggling Act: Homeschooling & Work

juggling act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We need t work on LBB’s makeup skills…

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


What Moms Really Mean by ‘We’re Homeschooling’

 

750x500-ehow-images-a06-e3-ou-requirements-homeschooling-virginia-beach-1.1-800x800I think it’s time that we were finally honest about what we homeschooling moms really mean when we say, ‘Oh, ‘we homeschool’, especially when talking to our non-homeschooling compatriots. I mean, everyone knows that ‘it’s just the best option for us right now’ is too straight-forward and simple to be the truth. It has to be more complicated than that, right? So I thought I’d clear the air, for once and for all, with a list of the top five things that, though unsaid, are clearly lurking just below the surface of our not-so-innocent comment:

5. We’re craftier and better-organized than you.

Just look at our Pinterest boards if you don’t believe me. Or our blogs. Or our Pinterest board filled with pins from our blogs! And while you’re at it, check out our supply cabinets at home. With everything in it’s place, properly labeled, color-coded and alphabetized; it’s plain to see that homeschooling moms out-class you. Not only can we create a lesson plan that includes craft time, we’ve also allotted time for a healthy, organic snack (plated beautifully, or arranged to recreate either a beloved children’s book character or into a bento featuring whatever Disney feature Princess ranks #1 this week).

4.We’re way more patient than you.

We spend every waking moment with our kids. And we LOVE it. Every day, it is our utmost pleasure to not only be in the presence of, but engaging with our children; helping them understand the world and their place in it, and helping them make plans to change it for the betterment of mankind. We lovingly slave over difficult concepts like phonics, and long division, and Latin declensions just to give our blessed spawn a step up in the real world (with which they interact on a daily basis, unlike your child who is in a glorified jail!!). Our cups overfloweth with limitless time and attention to every detail of everything our kids say and do, and we’re never too tired or cranky to be fully supportive of and nurturing to our future leaders of humanity and industry.

We also do crafts with our kids; MESSY crafts, like papier-mache, with our kids. We let, nay, encourage our precious little angels to create messes. In fact, even our messes are better than yours; they’re artfully scattered and arranged in eye-pleasing heaps, so that you actually feel guilty for being judgmental when you read the (hand-home-made chic) sign that says, ‘excuse our mess, the children are making memories’. And we do glitter… WITH the kids.  ‘Nuff said.person you hate is talking

3. We care more about our kids’ education than you care about yours.

Obviously. Because how can you possibly be as involved as we are? And volunteering with your child’s school simply doesn’t compare – how could it? We literally have our fingertips on the very pulse of our children’s education; adding this and excluding that, studying into the wee hours comparing one curriculum with another, spending countless hours reading ahead and creating – not just ‘lesson plans’, but environments that foster total immersion into learning. Nothing can compete with that. NOTHING.

2. Our kids are smarter than yours.

And it’s all due to how much time and effort we’ve put into them. While our kids are solving complex equations by age 5, having in-depth discussions over the literary significance of Harry Potter by 3rd grade, and submitting this year’s next prize-winning science fair project at University level while still in middle school, your precious little pumpkin-head is still eating paste and making mud pies. The fact is, your kids could be this smart if only you invested in them more… which brings us to the number one thing that we’re really saying when we say ‘We’re homeschooling’:

1. We’re better mothers than you are.

That’s really it. I mean, this basically sums up all of the previous points in a nutshell – we are simply better at this whole parenting thing than you are. So suck it, poser!

 

At least, that’s what some people (most notably, non-homeschoolers with an inferiority complex) would have you believe. Obviously, the above is quite cheeky, and not an actual depiction of the unspoken meaning behind such a simple phrase. In reality, probably 90% of us truly are simply doing what’s best for our kids and family right now, and the vast majority of us are fine with changing what we do if/when the need or situation arises. The other 10% are either sanctimommies who give the rest of us a bad name, or have some other reason I can’t account for here. We’re not trying to challenge you or anyone else by homeschooling our kids; it’s just what we’re doing and your mileage may vary. And that’s fine. Honestly.

I’ve been accused of harboring most of the above points at one time or another, either outright or thinly veiled. As a mom who is just doing her best, comments or thoughts like these from ‘friends’ hurt. Especially when we are all supposed to be on ‘Team Mom’ in Solidarity. Just like other moms in various niche environments, I know that as a homeschooling mom, I have to watch things that I say that might be construed badly by the casual listener. I will absolutely admit that there have been times where I’ve said something in reaction that was divisive, or that made it sound like homeschooling is ‘better’ (I mean, it’s what we do, so of course I think it’s better… people don’t do the things they do because they think it’s the worst), but I try very hard to temper my enthusiasm for homeschooling (because most of the time, I actually do really enjoy it) with the slice of reality that is: homeschooling is NOT the right choice for every family. And the fact is, we may not always homeschool. We plan to homeschool throughout, but circumstances change, and if they do, I am not necessarily opposed to having my kids enrolled in a brick and mortar school again. But that doesn’t make one choice or the other ‘better’. The entire concept of ‘better’ is based on so many factors that are unique to each individual child, family, situation, options… a host of factors (most of which are probably unknown in casual conversation).

So the next time you hear a mom say, “We homeschool”, and you’re inclined to take that as some sort of slur or attack, check that urge and try listening to what they’re probably saying, which might be any number of things, including (but not limited to):

  • we had issues with our child’s school/teacher/other students that weren’t getting resolved and this is what’s best for us right now
  • my child has learning disabilities or other special education needs that weren’t being addressed or handled by the school and this is what’s best for us right now
  • we have odd scheduling or other family/situational factors that make this the best choice for our family right now
  • we have fundamental issues with the public education system and thankfully, we’re in a situation that means that this is what’s best for us right now
  • I/my spouse/my child or other person in our life has medical issues that make this the best option for us right now
  • I’d love an alternative, but our options are limited, and so based on available options, this is what’s best for us right now
  • my child has athletic or other area of study/expertise that require a non-traditional educational schedule, which makes this the best choice for us right now
  • We travel a lot, or are only in this area for a limited time due to work or other factors, which makes this the best option for us right now
  • I didn’t realize this was a competition; you do you and we’ll do what’s best for us right now

(This post was inspired by Rants From Mommyland’s ‘Domestic Enemies’ series.)

Warmly,
~h


Planning Your Homeschool Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Homeschooling, Day 1 – January 2010

 

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Homeschooling, Beginning of our 6th year – January 2016

How do you plan?
Warmly,
~h

 


Happy Holidays 2015

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The last couple of weeks have been packed to the gills with ‘end of the year’ goings-on. I generally have a rule of sorts – I am a doula, but I don’t take birth clients who are due during the month of December, but I talked to the sweetest mama back in the summer and when we signed her contract, it didn’t occur to me that her due-date was smack in the middle of the month – usually my busiest month of the year. We purposely plan for December to be school-free just because it’s always SO busy. But, it all worked out – she had her beautiful sweet new baby a week before her due date, so that made the rest of the month stress-free. I celebrated with a glass of red – and a toast to the last baby of the year for Whole Mothering Center!

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Next up was our homeschool group’s Christmas Party. We’ve had quite a few of our group parties at the same park, and the pictures always turn out great. We had a nice-sized crowd, and tons of food. Each family brought a game, and the kids played the game where they got to steal a prezzie, or open a new one. The older kids loved it; some of the littles had a hard time with the concept, poor things. But it all worked out, and everyone left happy.

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The big event last week was, of course, the premiere of STAR WARS VII! No spoilers – but it was really good; surprisingly so. I was pleased. My Loverly Husband decided we should go at the last minute, and I was so worried the we’d get there to find tickets sold out, but we waltzed right in, got great seats and enjoyed it immensely. My other fear was that fellow movie-goers would be talkish or otherwise obnoxious during the film, but the theater was quiet and it was an all-round excellent experience.
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Over the weekend, my friends and I got together for what we call ‘Friendsmas’ – another gift exchange with the stealing game; I left with a plum colored scarf and gloves set, and PeaGreen left with a game called Exploding Kittens, which is a game ‘for people who are into explosions and kittens and laser beams’, apparently. It’s created, in part, by the guy who writes The Oatmeal, which we love, so I anticipate great fun to be had by all at our next Family Game Night.

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This week has been just as busy. We started off with a bang – Monday was our homeschool group’s monthly Park Day, and we are starting an art history/art class in 2016, so we had a planning session for that while we were together. I’m really excited about that; we’re basing the outline on Discovering Great Artists, and holding class every 6 weeks. We’ll cover history, biography and create a work of art based on that artist’s style.

We try to do Family Game Night a couple of times a month. We got to try out Exploding Kittens, which made PeaGreen’s night. We had a mixed bag of reactions; PG, of course, loved it. LBB was iffy (only because he lost a round) and Loverly Husband and I both give it 3 out of 5 stars. It was fun, easy to play (after you got the hang of it, and a few rounds under your belt).

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Christmas Day was great – lots of smiles and happy kiddos. After prezzies, we went to visit family, then the kids and I met up with some friends from our homeschool group and other volunteers with South East Texas Atheists Helping the Homeless for their Christmas Day Caravan. We loaded up blankets, coats, hats, gloves, scarves and personal items, along with bagged lunches, hot chocolate (and lots of iced bottled water since it was 80 degrees out), gift cards and wrapped presents to hand out. We had 10 cars, with nearly 30 volunteers and drove to several places where the homeless in our community gather to hand everything out. It was a great experience!

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SETX – AHH Caravan

We had a great week, and a lovely holiday – hope you did, too!

 

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Happy New Year!
Warmly,
~h

secthurs


Homeschooling with Depression

homeschooling depressionDepression and anxiety are issues I deal with on a daily basis, and have for many years now. I rarely mention it, because I tend to think that most of the posts about depression disorders are along the lines of ‘hey, I have depression, too, but I got better and you will, too!!’, which is both annoying to me and completely unrealistic. Or maybe my perspective is off; maybe their depression was situational, or seasonal and they got over it – which is great for them, but really annoying when you’re dealing with the kind of long-term, cyclical, never-ending depression that I’ve been dealing with for years. I wanted to write about it, because I don’t see depression talked about often in homeschool blogs, either.

Homeschooling parents deal with a lot of stereotypes. There’s the martyr, who sacrifices everything (including her sense of style) for her kids; the saint, who has many, many children, and just blesses each and every one of their little mischievous hearts without ever losing her cool (or mind); the overachiever, with only two or three kids, but all of them play a sport, a musical instrument, have each started a charity or their own business by the age of 10, and have private riding and fencing lessons twice weekly… and the rest of us, who just muddle through each day trying not to lose our minds. But chief among all of them, across the board, is the idea that homeschooling moms are, first and foremost, happy all the time. They are endless paragons of patience and bastions of knowledge and kindness and absolutely satisfied with every aspect of their life.

Oh, that it were so, but it’s definitely not. Here are some of the areas that I find to be challenging:

Motivation

Motivation is a huge issue for me – probably the main one I struggle with as a homeschooling mom. There are days when I just can’t. get. out. of. bed. Or just can’t manage to get it together and actually get the kids started on their work. It’s not that I didn’t plan well, or that we don’t have things to do – we absolutely have things to do, and I often find myself scrambling at the last minute to get ready to go, even for things I really want to do. It’s frustrating.

So far, I’ve found that, surprise! Nothing helps. This is a matter that I deal with on almost a daily basis. Some days to a lesser extent than others, but getting out of bed is a daily struggle. Homeschooling has been a double-edged sword in that we’re not tied to anyone else’s time table, which is great, because it means that I can adjust when we start and stop the school day. On the other hand, I’m not tied to any particular time table, which means that it’s entirely up to me to make it happen. So, I do what I’ve always done and complain about it in my head and just do it anyway. Some days, I manage it fairly well. Other days, school runs later into the day than I’d planned. It’s helped a lot that the kids are able to work independently more and more as they get older, but someone still has to plan the plans and keep track of things and be dressed when it’s time to go do the thing. I wish I could end this with a platitude or strategy, but I haven’t found one yet. The search continues, which is something, I guess.

Dealing with Bad Days

Bad days are bound to happen, depression or not. But with depression, bad days seem to linger. It’s almost like depression is a tangible fog or miasma that infects everything. The kids aren’t immune to my mood, either. As the mom/teacher, when you’re homeschooling, you often set the tone for the day. If I wake up in a bad mood, my kids will inevitably follow. If I wake up with a (forced) song in my heart, then they’ll likewise, generally follow suit.

As we all know, exercise helps. Having an exercise routine is a good thing – sticking to it is difficult. When a bad day peaks, movement can help get you out of the funk. If I am anxious, sometimes physically getting up and walking away from my problem (or the source of my stress) can put the problem back into proper perspective. If inside is gloomy and doomy, then hitting the sunshine and connecting with Mother Earth does wonders for my mental state. We school ‘on the go’ quite a bit, because staring at the same four walls would drive anyone crazy. Schoolwork outside has always, always been a great thing.

Meditation is a good way to re-center and re-charge also. We have mind jars that are between 5-10 minutes of glittery peace. Mindful movement is another non-stressful way to integrate movement and exercise into your day. A friend of mine has turned me on to ‘restorative yoga‘ – it’s amazeballs. Dance is another good one – a silly way to move your body, get out of a funk and connect with the kids. We favor Latin dance music for housekeeping – I recommend it.

Getting Overwhelmed

As a homeschooling parent, everything rests on your shoulders. All of the responsibility of educating your children – their successes and failures all reflect on you. What’s crazy about that is that even if they excel in several areas, if they fail in even one area that someone who feels they’re more qualified than you to decide what’s important, you’re still cast in a bad light. Maybe that’s my anxiety talkin’, but I’d wager most homeschooling parents would agree with that to some extent. As the sole arbiter of education, that’s a tremendous responsibility. Depression already casts the weight of the world onto your shoulders, it seems like adding the burden of homeschooling on top of that is insanity. There are days that ‘The Worry’ gets me, and I have a hard time snapping out of it.

Managing anxiety and depression are key in those moments. I use a few apps that help. My favorite is Mood Tools. I use it every time my anxiety starts getting high, and it honest-to-goodness helps. My most-used tool in that app is the Thought Diary. It takes you through rating your initial state, works you through your cognitive distortions, gives you a place to verbalize your fears and thoughts, and evaluate them, then re-evaluate your anxiety levels and I almost always am able to get a reality check and control it.

In a homeschooling context, the best tool I have is ‘some is better than none’. That’s not a crutch or an excuse not to do the thing… even public school teachers have days where they bring in the video cart and let the kids watch movies all day. What it does is release some of the pressure for getting things done today. Tomorrow is a whole new day, and things may be very different then – my mood may be better (or the kids’ moods); the sun may be shining…. brand new day.

When you homeschool, sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s room for ‘real life’, so housework can get shuffled to the side. I like the idea of making everyone who is capable of physically doing the job responsible for his or her own messes/cleaning and care of personal spaces. That way, my workload is diminished, and the kids learn to do for themselves – win/win! Community spaces are community responsibility – just like in real life.

Stuck in a Rut

Homeschooling can be tedious, especially when, for whatever reason and despite your considerable effort, your kiddo just isn’t getting it. Or maybe things are going along as normal, and you just feel ‘blah’ because every day is routine. It doesn’t happen here very often, thanks to my ever-increasing sphere of interests and willingness to experiment, but when it does, how do you break it? For me, personally, I am prone to restructuring from the ground up. I can only handle doing the same task for so long before I go cuckoo-bananas, so we get a remodel of pretty much everything maybe once every other year or so. I make smaller changes about every few months – simple things like colors and fonts on printed materials, or shelving something that’s gotten dreary in favor of something with more pizzazz for a while.

In a larger sense, I plan our year so that I have different areas of focus at different times of the year. We plan for the fall semester to be the bulk of the text work, while the winter is more literary-based, leaving spring for unit studies. Summer is a mixed bag of catch-up and prep for the fall. I structure things so that I don’t have too long to focus on one thing. We also schedule our year so that there are built-in breaks every 4-6 weeks or so, rather than one long break.

When I need a quick fix though, even just a change of scenery for the day can do the trick. An impromptu field trip, or going to visit my brother for a couple of days – anything to break the monotony.

Asking for Help

Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do, especially when you’re ‘supposed to’ have it all together. Combine that with the stigma of mental health issues, and it’s no wonder that people suffer silently. But I know there are more moms out there who are making it work, every day, step-by-painful-step. If you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you.

I hate platitudes, especially ‘it gets better’, because it doesn’t always. I’m a rather pragmatic sort, and  one of the best, most practical things I’ve seen is the ‘Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: Questions to ask before giving up‘ list. I have it in my planner, I gave copies to my kids. It’s on the bulletin board in our kitchen. I like it because it’s something to help me focus ‘small’. Depression is ‘big’ – it looms over me; it takes up a lot of space in my head, in the room, in my life. It’s overwhelming and ever-present. The list is ‘small’. It’s useful. It’s something I can focus on right here, right now, that helps keep the despair at bay.

So, like I said, this isn’t one of those ‘and now I’m all fixed’ posts. I’m not; I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard.

 

Warmly,
~h


Halloween Fun

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Halloween really is my favorite time of year. Unfortunately, this Halloween has sucked, because we’ve all been sick. We never get sick – like, seriously – NEVER. But this year, PeaGreen got a cold, then Loverly Husband had the flu, and LBB and I both have been feeling off-and-on sickly for the past couple of weeks. I’ve felt so drained and not holiday-spirit-ish that I didn’t even decorate the house for Halloween like I normally do. Boo to that (and not in the fun, scary way).

We did have some friends over for pumpkin carving though. Much fun was had by all:

Costuming went well; well enough, anyway. I think the kids are kinda getting out of the ‘let’s dress up’ phase and into the ‘I want to look cool’ phase. There are some aspects of growing up that aren’t worth it, I think. But they did turn out rather well, despite the last-minute-ness of it all. Our homeschool group had their Halloween party this week, and so that’s where the bulk of our costume effort went. We had company all Friday afternoon, and neither LBB or I felt up to ToT’ing, so we ended up grabbing pizza and bags of candy from the store and staying in to watch a scary movie this year (Cabin in the Woods, if you must know). CAM00907

Other than Halloween mini-goodness, we’ve been hard at work on the school front as well. I started making up a list of all their work for the week and giving it to them on Mondays, with more freedom to choose the order they want to work in. If they want to work ahead, that’s their call (though the must finish the day’s assignments each day).

I know there’s a lot of debate about this, and we’ve taken a long time to finally decide if it was right for us, but we attached monetary incentive to their work (both schoolwork and chores).  Overall, our kids are pretty fortunate/spoiled – they have always had chores to do (which they have to do as part of their contribution to our family), and when they want something, we pretty much buy it for them or give it to them. But lately, they’ve been asking for either money, or larger things that we don’t necessarily want to spend money on. So after much thought, we decided that a job well-done is worth rewarding. For schoolwork, we decided on 10 cents per completed assignment, plus $1 per day for completed chores, and instituted a savings plan on money earned. They put a minimum of 20% in their primary saving account (which we match), a minimum of 10% in their secondary savings (which is a shadow box frame with a picture of an item they are saving for, and a dollar amount to reach before they’re allowed to open it), and a minimum of 5% to be donated to a charity (or put in savings towards a larger donation later in the year).

We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been interesting to see how they feel about it and how it’s affected their willingness to work, and has brought into question ‘work for reward’ and all that jazz. Interestingly enough, it hasn’t really affected their willingness to work all that much, either on school assignments or chores. They are still required to do their same lessons, and same chores, and *if* they complete them, they earn their money. If they don’t, then they still have to complete the lesson/chore, but haven’t earned their money. The good thing (for me, at least) is that they’re not constantly asking *me* to buy them things, which is awesome.

Another thing we’ve been working on again pretty hard-core is labooking. We were pretty gung-ho about it for a while, but then kinda slacked off because it seemed too ‘young’. After the workshop at NASA, and taking a look at some of TheBusyMom’s lapbooks, I got inspired, and took out some of the older lapbooks we started but never finished and have been working on them again. I also helped the boys start new ones, lapbooking their research project instead of writing it all out in a form like we had been. They are enjoying it – maybe just for the switch in format if nothing else. For my own assignment, I’m working on a lapbook for the Waverly Hills Sanitorium, which is one of my favorite places to read about. I haven’t been, but I plan to go one day!

I will post each book on my ‘Lapbooks’ page, and on its own page with links when they’re finished, but I wanted to give you a sneak-peek.

Something I also wanted to mention is that we’ve been schooling pretty consistently now since mid-August. Normally, we school for 4 weeks, then take a week-long break, then repeat. After about 4 weeks, we all seem to lose focus, and get grouchy and tired, and the week break is revitalizing and gets us back on track. This is the first time since we started homeschooling that we’ve gone this long without a break, and I am pretty impressed with that! I don’t know if it’s because we took a longer break during the summer, or if the boys are just older and better able to concentrate/focus for a longer period of time, but I am pretty thrilled with it. We have another 4 weeks to go and we’ll break for December (at least that’s the plan now – we may school into December this year). That puts us ahead of schedule for the school year, which is great.

Till next time!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Homeschooling Isn’t Always Great

Anyone who tells you that homeschooling is awesome 24/7 is lying to you. There are definitely days that make a homeschooling parent question her self, her sanity – her decision to have children in the first place (just like non-homeschooling parents, I’m sure).

Yesterday was one of those days. A running joke among our homeschool group’s moms is the mantra ‘Good mothers don’t eat their children’, or something to that effect. It’s a good mantra.

Of course, there’s always that voice of reason that chimes in with perfect clarity and reminds us all that as the mother and leader, our children’s attitudes and feelings are likely influenced by our own. It’s 100% true, but not what I wanted to hear at that moment because that shifted the blame squarely to my own shoulders, which is always uncomfortably where it belongs most of the time. Le sigh. There are days where being a real grown-up just doesn’t pay.

In checking myself, I’ve been looking for other ‘bad day at homeschool’ stories, and have come to the not-so-startling realization that I am (thankfully) not alone. It seems that other homeschooling moms deal with the same lackluster attitudes and non-cooperative stubbornness that I do. While somewhat comforting, it’s not really helpful in figuring out how to get out of that funk, or change those attitudes.

So, in light of yesterday’s shenanigans, I’ve been forced to do some evaluation of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. I was going through some old schoolwork that the boys did and I was struck with the feeling that ‘I used to be so much better at this homeschooling thing’, and wondering where along the way I’d gone wrong. In doing some honest seeking, I’ve not been devoting the time and effort that I used to out into homeschooling that I did in the beginning. That’s a hard thing to admit, but it’s true.

I feel a bit discouraged right now, even having an action plan to put into place, I still feel that little pin-prick of failure. We’re a month into the school year, and are already falling apart, it seems. We just took a break from school to relax and regroup so we could start fresh, but it seems that break wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped it’d be. Over the last 9 months or so, I’ve been working more, which has limited my schedule and time at home. We’ve always been active out of the house, but our home days were much more structured than they have been lately. Partially, this is my own fault – I’ve been staying up late and sleeping in later, which means that we’re getting started later and the kids aren’t as focused as they are when we start earlier in the day.

They’re also left to their own devices more. Rather than doing the same sorts of hands-on schooling that we’ve been doing, I’ve been offering them more independent study. While I feel like this ‘should’ be appropriate, I guess ‘should’ in one hand and ‘spit’ in the other and see which fills up first is the game of the day, here. As much as I would love for them to be more independent when it comes to schoolwork, they still need direction. I see that now, and despite my best attempts to prod them, I can’t force them to do something out of their depth.

With this scrutiny comes the realization that I have to do better. I’ve known this, but have been reluctant to admit it. As the mom, and the teacher, I have to get my priorities in order so that I can effectively lead my children. I’ve notices that some of the things we used to do on a regular basis that were ‘centering’ and ‘grounding’ activities have slid to the wayside. We used to meditate, to stretch and take time to connect with each other before school started in the mornings. We’re rushed now, all the time, it seems. As our schedule as gotten busier (work, karate, soccer, volunteering, field trips, errands, visiting, etc.), that practice has been squished out of the schedule. Isn’t that the way it goes? The things you need the most are the first things to get put on the back-burner when you get busy.

Another aspect that I am missing for myself is attention to myself. Yesterday was the autumn equinox, and where over the past few years, taking time to observe the changing of the seasons has played a dominant role in my life, this year has been rather busy, and so I’ve let it slide. My favorite season, Autumn, is already here and I barely took time to notice it. So that’s another thing that I need to focus on – getting myself back on an even keel. Life’s all about the act of balance, right?

So here’s to turning over a new leaf (which is appropriate, because it’s Fall)!

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 


Teach Them to do for Themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h

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

 


Embarking on Year 5 of Homeschooling

Wow – I can’t believe that we’re about to start our 5th year of homeschooling. It’s mind-blowing! It definitely doesn’t seem like that long, but neither I, nor the kids are planning to stop or go back to more traditional school anytime soon. Homeschooling has really become more than ‘something we do’; more than ever, it’s how we live.

I was looking back over some of the first blog posts I made, and it surprises me how much we’ve changed over the years – and what remains the same. Some of the traditions we started observing way back then are still part of our routine today. Tea time stands out as a big one (though admittedly, tea happens more than once during the day now, but we still gather in the kitchen for a cuppa). Field trips are still on Tuesdays, and we still mostly have school in our jammies.

Other things have changed. We have dramatically increased the amount of work assigned over the years. Back when we first started, I only focused on math, reading, handwriting and grammar. We did a bit of history (mostly pre-history – dinos and hunter-gatherer societies) and some literature (which Mommy read). But as we finished our first year, I added more – spelling, history (formally; Story of the World I) and science, along with lapbooking and notebooking, to what was already on our plate. By the next year (year 3), I added even more – research projects, science fair, public speaking, community service,  individualized science, and geography. This past year (year 4) brought journaling (notebooking’s larger, more intimidating cousin), pre-algebra and even more critical thinking work into the mix. I bring this up because I see some of my friends and other newbies playing the comparison game. I get called ‘rigorous’ all the time, but I’m not, really – just really focused with the kids on college. They’re comparing where they are (just beginning to homeschool – some not even a full 6 months in) to where we are, four years past that. It’s not a fair comparison! If you’re one of those people, I say to you, “Don’t be so hard on yourselves, newbies!! Chillax for a minute. There’s plenty of time yet.”

LBB is in middle school now. In the fall, both of my boys will be in jr. high. I’m shocked at how very grown up my babies are now. They’re coming out with full-on developed concepts now; theories about *things* that they’ve learned about independently. It’s lovely to see, and to hear that their thinking process is balanced with a healthy dose of freethinking and skepticism, along with wise-eyed wonder, creativity and pure child-like fantasy. 

We have big plans for this year, including LBB’s introduction to the Civil Air Patrol. We looked into it a few years ago, bt you have to be 12 to participate, and with LBB’s recent birthday, he’s finally old enough. Loverly Husband expressed interest in joining their adult program, so maybe this will be something they can do together. We’ve kinda slacked off on karate. I keep dabbling with the thought of getting back into it, but the motivation remains to be seen. LBB expressed interest in taking tennis lessons (continued interest from this past summer), so we may be looking into that instead. PeaGreen is still taking karate lessons, but only occasionally.

Curric-wise, much of what we’re using will remain the same as when we started ‘seat work’ back in August.

  • Math – Everyday Math 5 & 6 plus workbooks & journaling
  • Spelling – Dr. Spello, word bank, workbook lessons
  • Grammar – DOL/ HM English & Thoughtful Journals
  • History – Story of the World III & Activity Guide & Lapbook; composer/artist study
  • Science – Journaling/Nature Study/ text for 5th & 6th grade / gardening
  • Current Events – Morning Board/ CNN student news / community service
  • Weekly research project
  • Writing – creative writing/narrative/non-fiction/ picture-prompts
  • handwriting practice
  • reading/literature
  • PE/Health – FLASH
  • Spiral Scouts

Our homeschool group is planning to begin a co-op in mid-January that will offer classes in art, science labs and some electives. If not, then we’ll have to add all that stuff in as well.

On the homefront, we got a puppy a few months ago. He’s a chi-weenie (half chihuahua, half dachshund) and he’s adorable!

That’s about it for now. I plan to update more regularly this year – it’s one of my NYR’s, which will be posted in the next week or so. Until then, enjoy the rest of your holiday time!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Homeschooling: Where Do I Begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,

~h


Lesson Planning – Fall 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, go about refining the weekly classes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy planning!
Warmly,
~h


I Allow My Kids to Play Violent Video Games

Hi there. I’m a parent, and I play violent video games. I have never killed anyone,  mugged anyone, maimed or raped anyone, robbed a bank or knocked over any convenience stores, or lived through the Zombie Apocalypse or fought in any Alien Wars. I also allow my kids to play violent video games. 

I consider myself an AP parent, with all of the lovey-dovey concepts that go along with it in full practice.  I also consider myself a  ‘crunchy’ mom (scoring 157 on the crunch scale), and I do not find these lifestyles incompatible with allowing my children to experience and participate in video game violence. I thought that I would start off with that clarification so as to give you, dear reader, an idea of where I stand on this issue. 

This topic comes up quite a bit in my group of homeschool friends. Most of us have gaming kids, and they often play together online. The confession of which games our kids play is almost always admitted with a shy smile, ducked head and almost shameful countenance, like we’re divulging some horrible secret. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny (of sarcastic, cross-dressing fame) and Daffy Duck/Elmer Fudd/Yosemite Sam trick and try to kill each other with horrifying regularity. Then there was Wile E. Coyote, with his unlimited spending account at Acme. Co., try, and fail (often with self-destructive consequence) to off the Roadrunner. Other cartoons, Captain Caveman, Tom & Jerry, Ren & Stimpy, the terminal stupidity of Beavis and Butthead… all had their share of cartoon mayhem and violence. I grew up with video games, like Super Mario Brothers (where the Mario Brothers begin their reign of murder and 8-bit violence on the animal population of Mario World within the very first frame), Contra (where there is nuthin’ but killin’, especially with the ‘up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start’ cheat code, which allowed a wholesale killing spree virtually without consequence). Though the graphics have improved, the violence in video games nowadays is more often in story format now (movie format, even) and in many, you can choose your path to be less or more violent.

Articulating why I allow my children to play such games is often elusive. Being able to pinpoint exactly why I don’t find them as threatening as Media portrays them is very difficult. But I came across this article on The Escapist by Shamus Young called ‘Violent Video Games are Awesome‘ that does a wonderful job explaining what I haven’t been able to. Katie Couric apparently brought this topic into the limelight yet again(with a beautiful critique by Chris Person on Kotaku), and tweeted for the public to respond with the positive side of video game violence, and Mr. Young’s reply was, in part, thus:

“This is a really pernicious way to continue the conversation. Imagine if I argued that nose piercings caused brain cancer. To support my argument, I talk about two people (there’s a robust data set for you) who had pierced noses and who also had cancer. And then I ask everyone if there’s anything positive about nose piercings. Instead of defending my ridiculous and shoddy argument, I’ve put the opposition in a spot where they somehow have to justify the existence of the thing I’m attacking.

It’s hard to give the positive side of lots of things: Celebrity gossip shows, greasy food, rock music about sex and drugs, trashy romance novels, and shallow Bejeweled knockoffs for Facebook. You can’t show the societal benefit of this stuff. That doesn’t matter. In any kind of civilized world, you shouldn’t need to prove that your entertainment benefits society. That’s not why we make or consume entertainment.

The argument is taking the angle of, “since these games [maybe] cause violence, and since they have no redeeming social value…” and then letting the audience take over from there. Couric doesn’t need to dirty her hands arguing that violent games should be banned. She can just construct a narrative where that’s the obvious conclusion and let nature take its course.”

I’ve only quoted a small section of his rebuttal, and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety. His assessment of Ms. Couric’s methods are spot-on, and his reasoning is quite sound. Many of the points that he makes, including that of the regulation and compliance of video game manufacturers to  appropriately label their products being far superior to other warning labels, are points that never seem to get brought up in the ‘great debate’.

Another issue lacking in the ‘great debate’ is parental supervision. Aside from the fact that these are MY KIDS and I am the one who gets to decide what they are able to handle and allowed to do, the push to ban video games wrests this decision from my hands and puts it into the hands of a one-size-fits-all government. It implies that I, as a parent, am incapable of making the decision as to what my child should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

As their parents, Loverly Husband and I have what we consider reasonable rules about video game violence. For one, our kids are not allowed to play games in which you are killing people. So, no ‘Call of Duty’, no ‘Rainbow Six’ – most realistic ‘war games’ are out. However, killing fictional monsters? A-OK. ‘Halo’,’ Gears of War’, and cartoon video game violence (Mario, Sonic, Ratchet & Clank, and the like are all fine). When they are allowed to play games with a more mature ESRB rating, they do so with language and gore off, so no huge blood spatters and gratuitous swearing. This is far less ‘violent’ than movies like even Harry Potter, where people start getting killed by kids in the first movie, and get tortured by wicked adults more or less throughout the franchise, or Chronicles of Narnia, where a sibling group of children lead a war of men and fantasy creatures alike, or Avatar, where an entire civilization is razed in grand American fashion for land and money, then rises up to kill their oppressors (which is what the Native Americans are still being punished for… and the American government is totally fine with that, even to the point of celebrating and revering the perpetrator of this horrific injustice with a national holiday). I dare say that’s done more to desensitize people to real violence and atrocity than killing off fictional invading aliens in a video game.

Another rule for us is that Loverly Husband usually plays it first. There are definitely games that they are not allowed to play – my personal favorite ‘grown up game’ is the Dead Rising franchise; zombie killin’ sprees all around. Games like  Alan Wake and L.A. Noir are off the table for the kids. Resident Evil, BioShock, DeadSpace, Grand Theft Auto, Saint’s Row… all are off limits to our kids.

I realize that other parents have different rules for their kids, violent video games or not, and that’s fine. That’s as it should be. When my kids go to friends’ homes that have more restrictive rules, they abide by them. When they visit friends who have less restrictive rules, they are required to follow house rules where they’re at (which means that occasionally, they may play video games that we don’t allow, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay with us).

One aspect of this argument is woefully ill-addressed. The constant assumption in this debate is that given the opportunity, kids will always choose violent video games just because they’re available, over others. That’s certainly not true in our house. PeaGreen plays Minecraft on creative with no mobs (no killing at all) more than any other game, ever. LBB’s favorite franchise is Halo, but it’s not just limited to the games. He reads the novels, instruction guides, watches videos of game strategy – it’s more than ‘just a game’ for him. Do they get carried away with it sometimes? Absolutely. They’re both focused, intense kids. When the game gets too consuming, we will either cut back of go for a full media ban for a while (which we’re currently doing in prep for summertime). The same could be said of any recreational activity. Balance in all things, right?

The bottom line is that I don’t think that there is a correlation between kids playing video games and being violent. That logic is post hoc ergo propter hoc. Violence is far more likely in children with underlying issues: depression, behavioural problems, un-diagnosed food sensitivities, developmental disorders, family issues and the like. But these issues are almost never brought up as the reason a child exhibits violent behaviour; instead video games are used as a scapegoats because we want something/someone to blame, and a ‘quick fix’ solution, even if it’s entirely mis-directed. We conveniently tend to forget that:

“Violence is (and always has been) a part of the human condition. From war to child abuse, murder to school-yard bullying, violence takes its toll, often with children being the innocent victims (or occasionally the not-so-innocent perpetrators).”

http://www.public.asu.edu/~dbodman/

Loverly Husband and I use common sense and knowledge of our kids, and communication with them to determine when something is within their ability to handle, and to help them understand the difference between entertainment/fantasy and reality. They’re not stupid. They understand that what may be acceptable in a video game is not how one would act in real life. They’re old enough to get that what they do and experience in an entertainment format is vastly different than real life, and we have done our best to ensure that with communication and supervision.

Allowing them to play violent video games does not make me an uninvolved or unconcerned parent, nor do I believe that it increases my children’s tendency to act in a violent manner. On the contrary, we are extremely involved in our children’s lives, and have been told to have an enviable relationship with them. Judge me if you will, but make no mistake about our interest in their welfare.

But if you need more ammo in order to cast me in the role of ‘bad mother’, I also let them listen to heavy metal and rock music, never used a trampoline net, allow them to play near a snake-infested pond, shoot guns and own archery equipment, and occasionally buy them a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go teach my kids about evolution and sex.
Warmly,
~h