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

Posts tagged “benefits of homeschooling

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

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8 Months Post Harvey: Spring

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

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

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

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

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

Music Class at co-op

Teen Social

Moms at the teen social

LBB and our puppers, Max & Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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


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

Line ’em up!

The Teen Troupe

the Puppet Theater

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

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

The ‘official’ at-the-Prom photo

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

 

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

Philosophy 101

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

March Hoops & Wine

April Hoops & Wine

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

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

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

 

Warmly,
~h


Eight Years of Homeschooling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_20180123_130429_509

Mmmm… coffee ❤

Thanks for reading along!
Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: End of the Year Update

Well, 2017 has pretty much been a trash fire. I am sincerely hoping that 2018 has better things in store! It’s been a while since I updated, but since this is primarily a homeschooling blog and we have been out of school over the past couple of months, there hasn’t really been much to report in that vein. That’s not to say we’ve been idle; in fact, I have been feeling rather ‘stuck’ on house progress lately, but looking back over my last post made me feel much better because I can see the progress we’ve managed to accomplish.

Rebuilding is slow going, but I suppose that’s to be expected when it’s all DIY. We’re fortunate, I realize, in that we actually are able to do most of the repair work ourselves. That cuts down on cost, but learning as you go isn’t exactly ideal. We’re going to contract out a couple of jobs, but most of it has been/is going to be a family effort, with the help of a couple of extended family members and friends here and there. So far, our biggest hold-ups have been waiting for supplies that we’ve ordered to come in or be delivered, and Loverly Husband’s work schedule. We waited for several weeks for the vanity and sink for the hallway bathroom to come in; apparently a plain, white, 2-drawer, open-top cabinet with 2 doors is a ‘specialty item’, as is the very plain white sink that goes into it. It did eventually (finally) arrive, and has now been installed. We were waiting on that so we could add the tile and finish the walls. We’ve added the main part of the tile; now we’re waiting on the deco tile to come in. Our flooring has been delivered though, so I feel like once the deco tile is in, we’ll make quite a bit of progress rather quickly. The kids have both painted their rooms; this week will be a second coat of paint, finishing the texture in the bathroom and doing the ceilings in the hall and bath, and painting the kids’ ceilings. Here are a few progress pics:

One downside to not updating weekly is that it’s hard to know what order to post things in to catch up. This week is Christmas, so that’s what’s mostly on my mind right now; documenting for the kids. Our homeschool group had its annual Christmas party earlier in December, and PeaGreen elected to wear footie pajamas instead of actual clothes, which was fun. We had a good time and met a few new people. Hopefully our group will continue to grow and prosper this year. Our teen group is still really strong, and there are a couple of kids who’ve aged up into the ‘tween’ group this past year as well, so we’ll have some fresh ideas and interests to fuel the group.

At home, we did minimal decorating this year since we’re in the middle of construction, but we did find a lovely little tinsel tree that is quite festive. We were fortunate that our Christmas decor boxes weren’t damaged in the flood, so next year we should be back to normal. I’m really glad we didn’t lose all of the kids’ hand-made ornaments from school and other crafting! I’ll miss seeing them this season, but next year, we’re planning on getting a real tree again and things will be back to normal.

We actually had a snow day this year! The last one was in 2008, I think. It didn’t last long; only a few hours, but PeaGreen and I got to catch snowflakes on our tongues, so it totally counts! Our family ornament this year is a quad of gold and glitter elves. I haven’t done personal ornaments yet, but that will likely happen this week. Every year I do a themed ‘family’ ornament, and a personal ornament for each of us. One day, the plan is to gift the kids their ornaments for their own trees, along with a ‘story of our ornaments’ booklet that I’ve been keeping for them.

Backing up a bit, we spent Thanksgiving with Loverly Husband’s family as well. The matriarch of the family died in May of 2016, so it’s been a strange thing to figure out where to host holiday family stuff, but I think they figured it out. Loverly Husband’s uncle has a great place, and all of the kids love going there.

Like most hardcore fans, we saw Star Wars with my dad. It was good! I liked it, but I won’t bore you with a review. There are some glaring issues that I feel like they exploit ‘because it’s Star Wars’, but overall, I was pleased.

In other news, we finally got our dryer in (so no more laundromat trips – yay!!), and took a ton of car selfies, as usual.

Star Wars selfie with Gramps!

We are slowly getting back into the groove, homeschool wise. It’s been nice talking to the other moms more; now that the kids are older they don’t need to be entertained/supervised quite as much, and I am really enjoying getting to know them better. We had a homeschool group teen social at the coffee shop, and one of our moms, Michelle’s, birthday dinner out was really fun.

Since we haven’t been having lessons, the kids have totally taken advantage of being free-range. PeaGreen and his friend Jack have been scavenging the neighborhood for lumber in the trash piles and found enough to build a decent-sized tree house at my dad’s. They’ve made quite a bit of progress since this picture; I think it has walls and a roof now. They’re pretty proud of it.

One thing I didn’t think about was that I normally create my new planner in November and have it printed in December so that I can spend our month off filling everything in and planning for the new year. Since the flood, I don’t have my computer (I’m using one a friend gave to us) so I don’t have access to some of the software and files I would normally use. So I decided to give a bullet journal/traveler’s notebook/midori style planner a try.  I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and I am still undecided as to how I feel about it. Pros and cons for sure, and it’s working for now. I have a space created in it to plan school, but we haven’t started back yet so I don’t know how it’s going to work, but I am going to stick with it for a while longer and see how it works for me.

My planner is definitely one of my self-care tools, so not having it (and having to make adjustments) is a challenge. Fortunately, I have others as well! My friend (and self-care guru) Leia issued a ‘legs up the wall’ challenge for the holidays. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) is a restorative yoga staple, and doing it every day (or nearly so) has been a great way to stop and breathe and relax for a moment. New hair and Black Friday makeup purchases help, too.

 

… and to wrap this post up, here’s our Christmas card, complete with pictures from today (Christmas day, 2017) this year.

Happy Holidays!

Warmly,
~h


Post Harvey: Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

so shiny!!

This is his ‘serious jazz musician’ face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

practice, practice, practice

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

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

#allthegreys

#finalists

 

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

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

Bonus picture of these two weirdos ❤

 

Warmly,
~h

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


Homeschool Co-ops: Yea or Nay?

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

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

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

Co-op Pros & Cons:

Advantages:

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

Disadvantages:

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

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

Our Experiences

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

CAM00116

2014 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK Co-op

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

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

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

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

2016-2017 Triangle Homeschoolers THINK High School Co-op

Starting a Co-op

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

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

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

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

Other Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h

 

 


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