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

Posts tagged “benefits of homeschooling

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.
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

 

 

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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

 


17 Days… and One Month Later

This year started out as one might expect – Christmas is over, and we extended our vacation by a week into January because we ended up continuing our school year into December. We spent Twelfth Night as we always do, taking down our Christmas decorations and storing them carefully for next year. We cleaned up the pine needles and got rid of our couch (since there are so many instruments taking up space in our living room now), leaving room for music practice and a couple of chairs that we rescued from my grandmother’s house.

We joined our friends one evening to continue our D&D campaign, had our regular round of music lessons, and spent the first Teen Social of this year with a LOTR marathon before taking a trip to Longview to visit my grandmother in her new house.

The first weekend of 2017 was winding down, and we were preparing to get ready for school when my dad called and said that he thought we needed to bring my mom to the emergency room. She’d been sick for a couple of months and no one could figure out why. Tests were clear, but she was getting sicker and weaker every week. When my dad called, she was very dehydrated, so we brought her to the emergency room and, after some testing, they admitted her to ICU.

 

On day 2 or 3 in ICU, she was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and so we mobilized the family and between me, my dad, my sister, my brother and sister-in-law, we stayed with her round the clock. She was moved out of ICU to a regular room after a couple of days when her numbers started to improve, but because her cancer was so advanced, she decided to opt out of treatment options and move to hospice care. 17 days later, she was dead.

It’s amazing how quickly your priorities, your ideas about what’s necessary today, you entire world, can shift. Just like that, this year’s school plans fizzed into a holding pattern so I could focus on my parents. It happened so quickly that I don’t think that I’ve truly processed it even a month later. We spent so much time at the hospital and hospice center. School obviously took a back seat for a while – we only made it 2 weeks into the first 6 weeks of this school year before my entire being was focused on my mom. The first couple of weeks, we tried to maintain normalcy. We went to co-op; the kids and I all did our first round of chair testing; we even took instruments to the hospice center and the boys played for my mom and dad.

our last ‘family picture’ – January 2017

But it was a downhill battle, and she slipped away all too quickly. My siblings and I spent hours debating what the ‘right’ thing to do was – should we go to work, should we stay close? How long do we have? When should we bring the kids up to see her? So many, many questions and no real way to get good answers. It was a lot of ‘do the thing’ and hope for the best.

We were with her when she died. My dad on one side of her, my sister at the foot of her bed and me on the other side of her. Our brother had left that morning after being with her all night, and had to rush back once it was clear that she was in rapid decline.

I’m not good with grief; no one is, I’m sure. I (thankfully) haven’t had a lot of experience with loss. I’ve lost great grandparents when I was young, and 3 of my grandparents. I’ve lost my father in law, and my husband’s grandmother, and in 2009, lost a baby that we desperately wanted. Each loss has been different, and I guess nothing can prepare you for the feelings that come when you lose your mom. Even though she and I had a strained relationship, it’s been really difficult.

We spent the days immediately after her death going through all of the pictures, pulling ones we wanted to use for a slide show at her memorial service. There were so many pictures… and yet never enough.

 

We had a memorial service for her 3 weeks after she died, and are getting together this weekend to bring her ashes to our dad. The boys all wore yellow ties, because yellow was her favorite color.

PeaGreen, my niece, and LBB

me and my sister

My amazing sister-in-law and my brother

 

It’s been a month and a half now, and we’re in our third week of school. I’m glad we took the time off that we did, but am also glad to be getting back to our normal routines. We had another round of chair testing in orchestra, and the kids have been hard at work both at home and at classes and co-op.

They went to their Aquatic Science class in either February or March 2017 – I can’t remember off the top of my head. They had several water lab stations set up. It was pretty cool!


February 2017 – LBB is not thrilled about being at his music lesson today.

For our March teen social with our homeschool group, the kids painted the Galaxy Unicorn along with The Art Sherpa. They made their works their own; instead of a unicorn, PeaGreen chose to draw a weenie-dog with an inflatable unicorn horn. I think he pretty much nailed it.

March 2017 teen social

Seat testing again! The entire class stepped their game up so much this round! It was SUPER competitive this time, and they both did an awesome job – all the kids did!

I love their pre-test looks of intense concentration as they practice and hope they don’t get called next….

 

March 2017 – 2nd chair (tied with another girl in his class) – Grade: 99.6

 

March 2017 – 4th chair – Grade: 98.16

Once testing was over, they had lunch and we started our art lesson – sculpture.

sculpture – art class in co-op – March 2017

 

Even though things are ‘back to normal’, in some ways, things will never be ‘normal’ again. Or maybe it’s just a new normal. It’s really hard to sort through my feelings, but I needed a space to do that, so I started a new, less topic-focused blog. I’ll link to in eventually, but for now I’m keeping it to myself.

I bought an urn necklace with her birthstone in it and put some of her ashes inside. I wear her jewelry, and listen to songs she loved. For now, it’s helping me feel connected to her as I figure the rest out.

This is the last moment I had with her. Her hand was still warm, and I try every day to remember the feel of her skin. I know I’ll forget one day, and that hurts more than anything.

Until next time,

Warmly,
~h

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES for this school year:

 

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

Warmly,
~h

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


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


Bridging the Gaps: Is Homeschooling Enough?

bridging-the-gap-1aI’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.

Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.

Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.

My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.

I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.

If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.

Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.

Warmly,
~h

 


June Update

juneThe last week has been a hard one for our family. My Loverly Husband’s grandmother passed away the day before Memorial Day, which pretty much brought our world to a stand-still over the last couple of weeks. Like many deaths, this was both expected, and sudden. She had been on hospice care for the last few months, but her decline went from gradual over the last year or so to a very sudden couple of days, and then she was gone.

This is, in many ways, new territory for my kids, and has been difficult to navigate as a parent, and even more difficult to navigate as a wife. She was the matriarch of my husband’s family, and the touchstone for all of his extended family on weekends and at holidays. I have no idea what the holiday season will look like this year without her there for the family to flock around.

The kids are adjusting well, for the most part. We like to stay busy, so this week has seen a return to relative normalcy, though I know they are still grieving. We’re taking it easy, but back to school again. We finished up our ‘school year’ work and started our ‘summer work’ this week. If you’re a new reader here, welcome! We school all year through rather than the traditional 9-months of school with summers off. Our schedule runs from January-November, with 6 weeks of school, followed by a one-week break. Even though we don’t follow a traditional schedule, the boys still fall into their proper grades (more or less; for convenience sake) beginning in the fall and ending in May. That means that LBB will start high school in the fall – eek! Stay tuned for a post soon about planning for high school and the associated stresses and headaches and anxiety that causes me. Our summer program is lighter than ‘school year’ work, partly because there’s more to do during the summer, and partly because I use summers to let them focus on strengthening whatever is weakest. This summer is all about math and spelling wound in and around trips to the beach, visiting friends who are out for the summer, birthday parties, summer reading club at our library and other goings-on.

The last few weeks have been pretty low-key. We’ve been home a lot, just sort of ‘nesting’ as a family, so this will be a shorter update on what we’ve done. This week has been the first time we’ve really gotten back into our regularly scheduled activities; today we met with our homeschool group’s yearbook committee, then the kids went to a friend’s house to swim – nothing fancy, which is a nice way to ease back into our normally packed routine.

I love this picture, because it shows the integration across ages that’s so great in our group, from pre-school through high school, they all hang out together. In this case, they got out the giant chess set and had a very intense round of games.

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Hope your summer is off to a smooth start!
Warmly,
~h