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

Posts tagged “FAQ

Lesson Planning 2011 Part 2: The Core

I consider ‘core’ the basic three: reading, writing and math; plus language arts (which includes phonics, spelling and grammar), science and history. Our daily schedule usually has all the above daily, with science or history on alternating days.

In my last post on this topic, I wrote about using the ‘complete’ workbooks as a guide. I really liked the math sections for both 2nd and 3rd grade in the HB series, and I think we’re going to go ahead and get them. We’ll still be using MEP as our main math, but the wkbk would be nice to supplement with, especially on days where I need an easy day!

We’ve pretty much given up on Saxon Math. I know some love it, but it’s just too overwhelming for me to use. We’re still using bits and pieces from it like the morning meeting, the daily problems and warm-up, problem or concept of the day – stuff like that, but as our main squeeze, I’m ditching it. We’ll also be using Math Mammoth, Lesson Pathways and Khan Academy videos for new concepts, and plenty of manipulatives for illustration and repetition. We’re still math journaling to keep track of math work and to serve as our weekly review. If you haven’t seen Integer Jim’s math journals, then do check them out – they’re something to aspire to!

The all-in-one workbooks also have spelling and LA, but I don’t know how much of that we’ll really use. We’ll be going back to doing an individual spelling lesson this year; I’ve let it slide as a stand-alone subject in favor of working on it through writing. That’s been going well and I think that my plan for this coming year falls into line with that method rather than the ‘learn this list’. My kids both have a hard time with spelling, so we’re going to go ‘old school’… as in, to the 1960’s. I have Power 2 Spell and Dr. Spello (this is 4th ed.; mine is 2nd edition and from 1968, but the table of contents list is the same). LBB has auditory issues, so I am hoping that going through  this workbook will help him with slowing down his thinking a bit and really listening. Once we’re done with Dr. Spello, we’ll move on to Power to Spell 2. It’s a second grade level book, but I think they’ve ‘dumbed down’ the spelling words over the years. I have a more recent spelling textbook for 3rd grade and the words in it are less challenging than the ones in PtS2. In any case, both books focus on ‘hearing’ sounds and connecting them with the letter that represents that sound. I haven’t been able to find a link to the Power to Spell book that I have, but this is it:

I used printouts from for LA concepts this past year; I’m hoping that the workbook will help provide more direction for this coming year. One of the things I liked about Charlotte Mason style and about Moving Beyond the Page’s ‘year overview’ was that LA, science and history are taught in conjunction with literature; using the reading selections to highlight, illustrate or expound upon the lesson. I’d like to work towards that more this year.

For our main LA curriculum, we’re considering using English Maven in addition to the workbook’s LA section. EM is computer-based, which appeals to my boys, esp LBB. We’ve also been using KISS grammar to some extent, but it is hard to navigate and use without an extensive read-through and exploration before use. Once you’re used to it though, it’s a good (if incomplete for all grades) program. Honestly, I think that the biggest helper for my kids in grammar and LA concepts has simply been reading. The Core Knowledge books also have a good overview of literature and skills by grade, so we’ll make sure to cover those as well.

The boys spend at least half an hour reading every day and when we started homeschooling, I was reading to them every day as well. We’ve gotten away from that, so I really want to focus back on that as well. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in both of the boys’ reading skill since we’ve been homeschooling. We started reviewing basic reading skills and they’re taken off since then. I use some of the reading assessment tools from A-Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling to check their progress. I don’t know how ‘accurate’ they are, but it gives us a starting point at least.

The writing stuff will be a challenge. Both boys are great at dictating their thoughts, not so much at writing them down. This is an age thing, I believe, and we’ll be working on developing and improving both handwriting and writing skills more this year. We started cursive with LBB in M5 last year; PG is still working on D’Nealian print. We’re using  Handwriting Practice books, along with custom-printed worksheets that I make (themed relevant to something we’ve been working on or will do). The boys both have email addresses and blogs for journaling online. We haven’t been as diligent on that as we might have been, but the goal for this coming year will be at least one blog per week. (Contact me for the link to their blogs. If you have a homeschooler who is looking for a pen pal, we can chat about that, too.) Journal prompts and handwriting worksheets also come from SuperTeacherWorksheets and whatever I may think of or they come up with to write about. For 2011′s school year, we will be focusing heavily on handwriting, note-taking and constructing paragraphs and reports in addition to daily practice.

Moving on…

I find science and history to be both extremely challenging and laughably easy to ‘teach’. I find it very easy to integrate both into the curriculum just through everyday ‘stuff’ – field trips are usually science themed and the world around us presents so many opportunities for delving into both of those subjects. That said, I find it hard to measure where they are because we’re not really using a linear system of learning. Not that that’s a huge issue or anything, but I am considering moving back to a more structured model for this year. Yes, I realize that this is more for my own need to quantify rather than a real ‘need’ for structure in these areas, but that’s how I roll. {wink}

For science, I am considering getting Spectrum’s 3rd grade workbook to use as a spine. I have our ISD’s science text books for 1-3rd grade (I found them at Goodwill), but they’re SO BORING, and quite frankly… simple. My boys are way past that level, so we need something a little more in-depth. I really like Moving Beyond the Page’s idea of integration of science and history into the LA work, so my plan is to work on doing that this year. I’ve also gushed about Super Science Concoctions in the past, and continue to extol its virtues. Fast, easy and fun; we’ve never been disappointed. I also have Jr. Boom Academy, which is similar to SSC and just as fun, as well as a variety of subject specific science books by Rosemary Althouse and Cecil Main (magnets, water, air, food, as we grow, colors) that have experiments and explanations of ‘how this works’ that we can incorporate into lessons this year as needed.

History ‘worked into everyday’ is easy. History as a ‘systematic course of study’ is more challenging. I really like The Well Trained Mind’s idea of history in stages; we’re current with 3rd grade (Late Renaissance – Early Modern (1600-1850) and will continue in that vein. MacroHistory has sectioned links that are great for timeline-making; we’ll be starting our scroll version this year. Mosaic, using SWB’s Story of the World was recommended to me; but SOTW seems to be pretty faith-based and I prefer not to use it. Also, there are three volumes (and several versions) of SOTW, so it’s confusing. Mosaic can also be used with Gombrich’s A Little History of the World; I’m finding that A Short History of the World by Alex Woolfe mostly works too. Again, the Core Knowledge books and the all-in-one will have some contributions to our curriculum this year; it will be as we get started that I determine how much of what we’ll actually use on a regular basis.

Learning Tools

A word about worksheets: they really don’t work for us – not in the traditional sense, anyway. We usually do them together, aloud and on the chalkboard (we have a 5′ long school chalkboard in our schoolroom). I may write the actual problem from the worksheet on the board or re-work it into pictures or symbols, or I may get the kids to write the problem or question out. I use the sheet to record answers and take notes from the lesson, and then file the sheet.

Lapbooks: We’ve been working on lapbooks for the last few months and will continue throughout this year, supplementing almost every subject with lapbooking fun. I love’s lapbook templates and unit studies. They’re easy to combine and mix-and-match as needed. HomeschoolHelperOnline also has a list of lapbooks, and you can’t help but be in awe of the resource list at Eclectic EducationKickButtMama’s master list of free printables is really spiffy, too. Practical Pages Lapbook Pages and  Jimmie’ s Collage Minibooks also have a bunch of nifty templates that you can print, cut and keep handy for lapbooking on the fly.

Manipulatives: we use file folder games I have this book), computer games, diagrams, lapbooks, flash cards, puzzles, math manips (like tiles, geoboards, marbles, playing cards, stones, legos, abacus, fraction tiles, math mini-office, etc.), maps, posters, crafts and projects – literally ANYTHING that I find or the boys show an interest in to make learning fun, exciting, engaging and memorable. Sometimes, we find things that we enjoy, sometimes we decide in the middle of something that this is not for us and chuck it in favor or attacking the lesson from a different perspective. It’s all about trial and error and keeping an open mind.

I’d also like to recommend Topsy’s A Few of My Favorite (Secular Homeschooling) Things article from a few weeks ago at Some of the resources listed there are too old for my boys, but I’m keeping them in mind for later.

Whew! That is a LONG list of stuff! I’ve been working on this post for weeks now and I am glad it’s all lined out. I’m sure I’ll be tweaking this more, adding and shelving things as we go, and I will have an ‘M1 Lesson Planning’ post with more detailed lists for the first 4 weeks going up as well. Up next: Lesson Planning 2011: The Extras!

If you’re lesson planning for next year, feel free to link to your blog in the comments so I can poke around!




Silly Questions

Every once in a while, I come across questions posed to homeschoolers. Sometimes, they’re well thought out questions from people who seem to genuinely want to understand why homeschoolers might make the decisions that they do.

Other times, not so much.

Offering up the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that these questions are in the ‘sincere’ category:

1. Is it worth trading a childs social life for a “better” education?

To put this question into perspective, here’s the author’s position:

Homeschooling is a great way to make a child book smart. The down side is that homeschooling hinders social development. Homeschool kids tend to become brilliantly educated and social retarded. By sheltering your child, you prevent them from learning how to deal with everyday social situations. Homeschoolers are shy for the most part and lack interpersonal skills.

Le sigh.

Honestly, I find this laughably ignorant. This assertion caters to two homeschooling stereotypes, that homeschooled children become some kind of super-students simply by virtue of being ‘home schooled’, and that not growing up in an institutionalized environment somehow creates socially inept citizens. Neither stereotype is true, yet people really seem to enjoy perpetuating them. Other bloggers have clarified the ‘socialization vs. socializing‘ distinction, so rather than re-hash that, I’ll link and let you read Smrt Mama’s post outlining the differences between the two.

I think that an important point in this question is the idea that a child’s social life is or should revolve around peers. My ‘social life’ as an adult is filled with people of all ages. By virtue of being homeschooled, my children’s social circle also includes people of all ages – children both younger and older than they are, and adults of all ages with whom they have little difficulty conversing – much more so than they would have if there were stuck in school for 8+ hours every day. I think that the wider age range of social contacts that most homeschoolers enjoy is far more indicative of ‘real life’ as an adult than the segregated peer groups that most schools employ. I also think that many people place more importance than is due on socializing. Yes, children need to have friends of similar ages, but they’re better socialized when they are not limited to peer groups for social contact. So in short, I don’t think that there is any ‘sacrifice’ involved in the social life of homeschoolers.

2. Are you really qualified to teach your child if you don’t have a teaching degree?

Absolutely. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if I were not fully capable of managing my child’s primary education, then the school systems that educated me (which include both the local public school system and homeschooling) have fallen short of their mark.

Another misconception that I have run into numerous times is that homeschoolers ‘do it all themselves’. Again most, if not all, homeschooling parents I know take full advantage of the bounty of resources available to homeschooling students. From videos and teacher’s manuals to mentors and fully supported online curriculums and local remedial teaching centers, none of us who homeschool are going it ‘alone’. Additionally, many homeschooling parents reach out to the online support communities and local support groups for more hands-on help and encouragement.

I’ve posted about gaps in education before; neither educational system is without gaps. The primary goal of education is to impart basic skills (reading, writing and foundational maths) and the know-how to obtain the information one needs when one needs it. Both the public school system and homeschooling teachers augment those basic skills with a variety of other core information and even among public schools, there is a wide range of what is considered ‘core’. Homeschoolers don’t miss out on that any more than if they moved from one ISD to another during their school career.

3. Which would be better for the child: homeschooling or active parental involvement in public schooling?

The fallacy in this question is assuming that both methods have equal effect for the child. The structure of homeschooling is in no way comparable to a brick-and-mortar classroom setting. In a homeschooling environment, one or two children are the focus of the teacher at all times. Even in larger families, the ratio of student to teacher is still far less than you would ever find in the public education system. No school can compete with that level of individual attention. That alone has tremendous benefit to the student.

Ask yourself this: if you were learning a new skill, how would you learn faster? In a classroom where you will be expected to progress at a set rate regardless of your individual ability, or with a dedicated mentor at your side and ample time to master each step of the process? Homeschooling is in no way a cake walk. It is hours of work and study and preparation on the parent’s part – and that’s before the child even enters the picture. Few parents take on the monumental task of being the primary educator for their children. Those who do are committed and dedicated. When education is free and available for the taking, for a parent to choose another path speaks volumes.

The most dedicated and involved parent in a school is only as effective as the system allows. Even volunteering in parent-teacher groups is only as effective as the system allows. Most schools don’t allow parents in the classroom as regular volunteers; they consider them a distraction. Most teachers are set in their ways, so suggestions or ideas that upset the apple cart are overlooked or disregarded, or impractical in large group settings. Speaking from experience, it was incredibly frustrating to see improvements that could be made, suggest them, be willing to work to implement them, and have those efforts go exactly nowhere. As a homeschooling parent, I feel like my efforts on my children’s behalf are far more effective and worthwhile.

4. How do you plan on developing your childs social skills if you are homeschooling them? Homeschool groups are like social special ed classes and don’t help children develop social skills that can be applied later on in life. defines social skills as: the personal skills needed for successful social communication and interaction. Most children learn ‘social skills’ at home, before they ever school. Basic social skills are reinforced every day – how to wait your turn, how to stand in a queue, to be polite, to be respectful. One need never set foot inside a school to master basic social skills.

Homeschool groups and co-ops are excellent opportunities, though not essential, for both socialization and social growth. Any type of ‘group’ setting is an opportunity for social growth, and an opportunity for bettering your communication skills no matter what your age. Library book clubs, doctor’s office waiting rooms, in line at the grocery store, visiting the park – all are opportunities for social interaction – a venue for practicing one’s social skills, and better at actually exercising them than at a playdate or event where you know everyone there. Improving communication is an ongoing process that should not end. Sad would be the day, indeed, when one feels that s/he hasn’t anything left to learn about communication and interacting with people.

It’s obvious to me that the person posing these question has little interaction with ‘real’ homeschoolers. More likely, he or she is repeating what’s been overheard, or is letting fear speak for them. The heavy focus on social opportunities makes me think that the questioner is a young person as well. From that perspective, I can see how you might fear such a scenario when you’re accustomed to the daily social gathering of ‘school’. I hope that I’ve answered these questions with my usual mix of sass and insight. Feel free to add your own replies in the comments!



Why We Homeschool

I have found that few homeschoolers answer this question honestly. Delving into the real ‘whys’ of why one might homeschool requires that the listener be able to hear what is being said without taking the explanation as a personal attack on them or their choices, which are usually wholly different. Though few homeschoolers are casting judgement simply by doing something different from you, letting one explain why they do what they do it gets into a more tetchy area, I think.

For me, homeschooling has to do with my philosophy and outlook as the person who bears primary responsibility for the education, socialization and upbringing of my contribution to the next generation. It has to do with how I perceive the best way to turn our productive members of and for the society we live in. I don’t want mere ‘members’, I want leaders. That doesn’t mean that I want my kids in to politics, or to be corporate fat cats – but I do want them to understand how society and civilization work and to be able to work within that system when feasible, but also to know when and how, and how to inspire others, to buck it when necessary.

I feel that homeschooling is the best way to accomplish that. Not the only way, certainly, and if our situation were different or changes in the future, it may not even be the only way for us, but I do think that homeschooling is the best way, the easiest way to accomplish those goals. Through homeschooling, I am teaching, allowing for and encouraging my children to think outside the box, to stick with something until they’ve mastered it, to explore and expand their interests and follow them until they’re satisfied. I encourage them to learn through all the senses, and to learn through non-traditional (or ultra-traditional if you’re talking about mentoring or apprenticeship) means.

Homeschooling allows my children the luxury of living in the real world versus the artificial world of a schoolroom, where they would be subject to forced segregation by age for most of their formative years. I prefer the real-world setting, where leadership and status symbols tend to be internal markers such as strength of character or higher intelligence instead of superficial ones like wealth or beauty*. My children get to see and hear and interact with people of all ages, lifestyles, income brackets, ethnicities and religious persuasions, learning that there is something to be experienced or gleaned from virtually everyone, and though we certainly could have and would have done that regardless of where they were being educated, homeschooling allows to live without needing to counter the effects of the classroom. Such interactions are the norm for them.

Homeschooling is also what is best for my children, both emotionally and academically. With one child who needs special attention, the only way to achieve that in the classroom is for him to sit with an aide. While that is what is best for him academically, the emotional toll of being ‘different’ in an environment where ‘different’ is generally cast in a negative light was quite high and starting to become apparent. Homeschooling allows for both factors to be taken into consideration. The environment is set up in such a way that his particular needs can be met without disrupting the classroom setting. Lessons can be tailored to his learning style – both learning styles – and individual needs instantly, rather than forcing them into a mold that does not fit.

There is also constancy in homeschooling that is not ensured in a public school setting. I used to work in childcare, and the turnover rate among childcare workers is staggering. Many children saw upwards of 5 ‘primary’ caregivers before they ever started school. Research has shown again and again that children both need and fare better when there is continuity of care. It makes me wonder how much of today’s social issues (like higher divorce rates) have come about with a decrease in continuity of care in young children; if we’re not training them to expect and survive on short-term relationships.

Our decision to homeschool encompasses all of this and more. What factors play a key role in our decision often depend on the day and activities that we’re currently doing. At this precise moment, the fact that I am awake and my children are still blissfully snoozing the morning away is a really important factor! Having time to myself without waking up before the sun comes up definitely has its perks. We’re eschewing ‘formal’ lessons today in favor of seeing the  Momix Dance Company perform ‘Botanica‘. From the video, its breathtaking, and there is something to be learned from seeing such a thing that cannot be duplicated in the classroom. That’s yet another reason ‘why’ we homeschool.

There’s a whole wide world out there to be experienced, and I think that sitting in a classroom for 12 years teaches one to disregard much of it. While academic pursuits are a grand and wonderful thing, there is more to life than academia, and while we certainly put emphasis on learning, we also put emphasis on living. Homeschooling accomplishes that for us.



*yes, it could be argued that wealth and beauty are status symbols in the ‘real world’ as well, but that’s not true in our lives. I define ‘real world’ as the atmosphere and environment that my children live and grow up in. At school, the majority of their waking hours and thus their perceptions are formed by that cliquish environment, governed by children. At home, the power-structure and relationship dynamic is completely different; more natural and more representative of what life as an adult is like. As attachment style parents, our philosophy is governed by the desire to have an inter-dependent relationship with our children, not control their every move and thought. Homeschooling fits that ideal better than institutionalized schooling, in my opinion.


Social Circles

A question that I saw asked to secular homeschoolers in Facebook the other day was, ‘How do you overcome feeling like an outcast in your social circles?’

This is an interesting question to me. I see the same question asked to natural-minded mamas, too – ‘how do you fit in when everyone around you is so different?’ when it comes to breastfeeding or co-sleeping or sling-wearing… like those things aren’t ‘normal’. Weird.

Truthfully, it’s been so long since I wasn’t surrounded by a group of like-minded mamas that when I am confronted with someone who is ‘different’, it’s just such an odd feeling when I notice them noticing that I am different. When I was a new mom, I purposely sought out other moms who did the same things I did or had the same idea of how to raise kids that I did. That search led me to La Leche League, which was a gathering place for moms who did things outside the norm. Eventually, I started a playgroup with an emphasis on attachment parenting and natural mothering and so my social circle as a mom really grew from that foundation. Homeschooling was then and seems to be now an extension of that ‘type’ of parenting philosophy, and I am still friends with many of the mothers that I met through those avenues.

Overall, I’m not a big ‘joiner’ of things. I know that sounds like a contradiction when clearly I do join things: La Leche League, my local playgroup, my local homeschooling group… but I’m not just a member of those groups; I volunteer in a leadership capacity. I don’t usually set out to be a leader, but if there’s a position open in an organization that I believe in, I’m willing to step up for the chance to do something worthwhile. There have been times when I sought out to fill a role; LLL comes to mind, but only because they had training that I needed in order to accomplish a goal. Other times, there’s been a void that no one else was interested in filling, so I volunteered. In other instances, I set out to start something and worked to make it successful.

But that’s really only part of the picture. Being the leader in a group makes it easier to ‘set the tone’ of a circle, but it’s not easy to find people to fill it. Stepping into a leadership role in an established organization is challenging, but easier because you already have the framework ready-made. Starting something from the ground up takes a lot more… moxie, as hockeymom at says. I call it ‘fake it till ya make it’. There’s a great deal of presentation involved, and confidence. In effect, you’re selling an idea, so making something look appealing is a big part of what goes into making a group successful.

I recently advised another mom seeking friends to not let the lack of a social circle prevent her from doing things – to go out and do things with her kids and just pretend like the other moms in her group couldn’t make it that day. In essence, that’s exactly what I did when I started a local playgroup, and again when I started homeschooling. It wasn’t a lie; the other moms weren’t in my group yet, so they really couldn’t make it that day {wink}

This to me is at the core of the ‘socialization for Mom’ issue… feeling confident enough in ourselves. People like being around people who are confident; who seem like they know what they’re doing. If you can project that image, then you’re ahead of the game! I’m not confident a lot of the time, but you probably wouldn’t know it. I was a painfully shy kid, and missed out on SO MUCH that I really, really wanted to do. I’m just not willing to let life pass me by anymore.

One of our local libraries hosts a homeschoolers book club that just got started for this school year, so I took the boys. I started talking with one of the other moms after the book club and found out that she is one of the chairpersons for another, faith-based group in town. She was super sweet and really nice and I am looking forward to chatting with her as the book club progresses, but as far as joining in with the groups for stuff? Probably not. I don’t think anyone would be comfortable with that – but that’s not a ‘loss’. I’m not willing to fake who I am in order to try to fit into a mold that does not fit me. I don’t see that as setting a good example for my kids, or as netting anything of worth to me.

So the short answer to the question is that I don’t want to ‘fit in’. I want an environment in which I am comfortable being myself and am willing to completely re-vamp my entire social circle in order to accomplish this. I hope that you will be, too. You deserve it!



Tricks of the Trade

I have seen several lists of “homeschooling rules”, and while I found them interesting, I have yet to come across a list that covers the points that *I* find relevant. So rather than continue to search, I decided to write my own. This isn’t necessarily a list of ‘rules’ to follow, but more tips and tricks that I think make homeschooling (no matter what your style) more successful – or at least a little bit easier.

Homeschooling Rules, Tips and Tricks of the Trade (by a bona fide homeschooling mom):

  1. Plan, plan, plan! Planning is key in making sure that you accomplish what you wanted to get done. That’s not to say that you can’t be flexible (allowing for fun or life’s little ‘extras’ that we all must factor in at times), but it does give you a clear starting point, place to stop and evaluate and a goal. That need not be anything ‘major’ – we’re not after little Einsteins with perfect moms or anything, but the last thing you want is to wake up 2 months from now and realize that you’re still in the first few lessons or pages of a workbook (or whatever your primary guide is). You’ll need a planner of some sort – preferably not a slip of paper, but something more substantial. They make planning books for teachers that you can adjust for your own use, or you can make one that you like. If your money or creativity are on a shoestring, even a plain spiral notebook can be used. Planning also allows you to keep track of special events dates (like holidays with special themed lessons, or field trips) and making sure that you set aside a specific time to plan your next (week? month? six-weeks?) will help you to use/try all those neat homeschooling resources that you bookmarked and never got back around to using.
  2. Establish a routine. They say it takes 20+ days to establish a new ‘habit’. I think it’s more of an individual thing. Whatever your daily grind is, make it simple and easy to remember (or follow at the very least). The cool thing about homeschooling is that you can include prayer/spiritual reflection/meditation/devotions in the morning or whenever it suits you – other things, too – literature readings, poetry – whatever strikes your fancy as being ‘important’ to you and your family. We have a weekly routine that includes some lessons on specific days (history on M&W, science on T&Th, tests on Th, library on W…) and activities on certain days (playgroup on Wednesday, for the summer, we’ll be doing the summer movie club at a couple of local theaters – can’t beat $1.00 tickets!!). That helps keep us on-task during the week, and breaks things up as we go.
  3. Keep ‘harder’ lessons in the early hours – interspersed liberally with out-of-seat activities. We normally start out with math or spelling, then english/reading and then centers (playtime), and then follow with math or spelling (whichever we didn’t do earlier) and history. No one wants to be trapped at a desk all morning. Doing something that keeps their minds engaged for a bit, then shifting gears so that their body is engaged for a while helps break up the tedium of desk-work (or couch-work as the case may be) and lets them get some energy out. The same rule applies for after lunch, too. You don’t want those full tummies inducing sleepiness when they’re supposed to be concentrating, so plenty of action and movement keeps their energy up and restless little bodies from driving you insane when they’re supposed to be paying attention!
  4. Just say ‘NO!’ – to people who want to infringe upon your homeschool day, that is. I’m not saying that special allowances can’t be made for special people or occasions. I’m talking about people who think that just because you’re ‘home’ all day means that you have time to do whatever it is that they want you to do. Most people don’t see that – all they see is a mom at home all day with kids underfoot, which for some reason in their minds, means that you’re available for errand-running, volunteering, and whatever else that they deem worthy of your time. Few people realize just how time-consuming and taxing homeschooling can be on a mama. Not only does she have to (on some level; peripherally though it may be) make sure that her kiddos are learning at a similar level (a bit behind, right on-target or a bit (or a lot) ahead), but she also has to familiarize herself with the material she’ll be helping her kids to understand, find said material (if she didn’t buy a boxed curriculum) and break it up into suitable lessons… for EACH SUBJECT – and for EACH CHILD if she has more than one and in separate grades! It’s no small task! So safeguard your homeschooling days/hours of the day. Your priority as a homeschooling parent is to provide/guide/enhance/facilitate your children’s education, not to be the neighborhood go-to girl.
  5. Play to your strengths as a homeschooling parent. Use what you have and don’t stress over the qualities that you don’t have – focus instead on the awesome qualities that make you (and your homeschooling environment) unique! Sure Janie may (seem to) have more patience, and Sarah is ever so much more organized, and Susan always finds the coolest things to do where ever they go – and it totally counts as “school”… some of that, you can cultivate, but if you’re not Miss Record Keeper 5000, then don’t stress about it! Your kids benefit in different ways from theirs. If it bothers you overmuch, ask your friend to plan a day with you to let you observe, and offer the reverse as well – chances are that the Super Mom you’re admiring is looking in your window with the same envies.
  6. Don’t be too rigid. Yes, I advocate planning and routines, but isn’t one of the reasons you chose to homeschool in the first place so that you could better LIVE your life, rather than be constantly at the mercy of arbitrary schedules and tasks? It was for us – being able to live OUR life and not the school administration’s was a huge plus. Being able to work our real-life happenings into our learning has been such an added bonus for us – and makes it more applicable for the kids. They see the correlation and it clicks for them. There’s no need to be strictly bound to plans or schedules. When the mood strikes (or tempers flare), taking the day off from planned lessons and exploring the world around you is a great way to re-focus and perhaps more importantly, to re-connect with your kids. I find that when things start feeling too “schoolish” around here, it’s definitely time for an unplanned outing.
  7. Make time in your schedule for extracurriculars and ‘fun stuff’ like art. Yes, this adds a significant additional time allowance, but it’s worth it! Most large-scale facilities offer group rates or special rates for homeschooling families. If you have a few friends (or even if they’re not ‘friends’ – if they’re willing to GO, then all you really need is bodies…) who can share the fun (and the discounted pricing), then go for it!
  8. Take time for MOM (or DAD if you’re a daddy-shaped homeschool teacher). One of the drawbacks to homeschooling is that whoever the ‘teacher’ is rarely gets a break – and almost never one that is spontaneous. So take advantage of any and every minute that you can get to yourself. Yes, we all know how absolutely wonderful our little students are, but even full-time teachers get hours each day to re-charge, re-group and re-fresh. Just because you’re uber-committed to your children’s education doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to neglect your own interests.
  9. Let the kids help with house and yard-work; it’s called “home economics”. Another drawback to homeschooling is housekeeping. Trying to be mom and teacher and housekeeper makes for a long day. Let those little ones do their fair share. I noticed that once we were home more, there seemed to double (at least) the amount of housework that needed to happen every day. Once I lightened my load by letting the kids take over things that they were capable of doing (like sorting and folding and putting away their laundry, sharing dish-duty (which is also a great time for a one-on-one convo with the kid sharing this chore with me)… it made things a lot easier – and help my kids learn how to start taking care of their own things.
  10. I was going for an even ten, but my mind fizzled out… so you’re only getting nine. Feel free to chime into the comments section with your own best-loved rules!



How do you choose?

One of the most overwhelming decisions to make as a new homeschooling mom is what style of education best fits your family, followed closely by which curriculum to use. There are so many options and comparing one style to the next, one method to another, can leave your head spinning. Then, there is the debate between what works best for Mom vs. what will work best for the kids (a debate that gets even more complicated when you have more than one child’s needs to consider).

As I mentioned before, I have always wanted to homeschool, planned on it even. So I started looking into methods and materials several years ago. At the time, I could just go with what appealed to me. My kids were still young and had yet to demonstrate any particular learning styles that would apply. Since they weren’t old enough for ‘real’ school, we could focus on basic information (alphabet, colors, shapes, counting, etc.) and not worry too much with curriculum.

Then, my oldest started Kindergarten at a local charter school. That was not in our plan, but as a mom, the one thing I have learned is to be flexible! Things change every day, and what works now may not work next month or year. Such is the case that we found ourselves in – now we’re a homeschooling family once again, and the decision-making process hasn’t gotten easier!

I can say that before school started, my boys were blank slates in a way. Obviously, they developed learning styles and individuality by that point, but in Kindergarten, everything is still so new and the experience is so different from everything that had come before that to some extent, they’re willing to put up with a less-than-idea situation to enjoy the environment at school. I think that’s what happened with my oldest. Once the work started getting harder, he had more difficulties paying attention – the work mattered more, and his inability to focus really started to work against him.

Then, there’s my youngest. PeaGreen is a great student. He loves math and reading and has met or exceeded all the expectations that the school tested for, and he loves the environment. He enjoys being around the other kids and showing off his skills for his teachers. Everyone always tells me how polite and how cooperative he is – and part of me hates to take him out of an environment where he is doing so well. But, there is the fact that he has interests that are not being developed in the classroom. And though he is doing well, I wouldn’t necessarily equate that with thriving.

That is the bottom line – that’s what I want for my kids. I want them to thrive, to really get the most out of the educational opportunities presented to them. I also need to find a way to make sure that my needs are being met in this process. I am a very scheduled, organized person. My youngest is like me in that regard, but LittleBoyBlue has no sense of urgency or timetable that he lives by. So how do you go about finding balance?

As far as method goes, I am deeply drawn to unschooling. I love Holt’s take on the mind of a child and just the philosophy in general. It fits very well with my own personal philosophies on child-rearing and on the surface, seems like it would be a good fit. There are many “takes” on unschooling, but basically, unschooling promotes the idea that children will learn what they need to know when they are ready and want to learn it. Like with walking and feeding themselves, when there is interest and need, there is motivation. You cannot motivate someone – motivation comes from within. In my life, I have experienced that validity of this assertion.

My mom never pressured me to read. When I was little, she always had a book snuggled into a leather book cover. It was in her purse, by her bed, in the living room, by the pool – it went everywhere. For a long time, I didn’t realize that she replaced the book; I thought it was the same book. It was the constant presence of the book that piqued my interest and made me want to learn to read. It was a struggle, but by 4th grade, I had blazed through the entire Nancy Drew collection at the school library and found the beginning of a life-long love affair. Books are my passion, and all because my mom never forced me to learn to read.

However, as much as I love this method, and however much it calls to me, as a highly scheduled person I know in my heart that this method will not work for me. My kids might take to it like ducks to water, but I would feel frazzled and constantly be worrying that they were falling behind (although I suppose that in unschooling philosophy, there is no “behind”).  My husband and I both are adamant that the boys have some form of secondary education…well, that’s not entirely accurate. We want that door open to them if they choose to step through it. That means that on some level, we need to be conscious of the standards and expectations for the state. That doesn’t mean that we need to start college prep now, in elementary school, but it does mean that I feel like we need to lay a good foundation. Central to that,  I believe,  is to instill a love of learning. So although unschooling is in my heart, we will most likely not be a pure unschooling family.

Moving right along, I am also drawn to child-led styles of learning, such a Montessori style education. There is so much beauty in childhood, and too much time spent behind a desk really interferes with the child’s ability to bask in it. I think that traditional schooling focuses so much on academic achievement that they lose sight of educating the whole person. As Winnie the Pooh says, “There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.” And if your child has any kind of learning disability, developmental delay or other factor that affects their ability to learn in the box, then his self-confidence comes under constant fire. Even a gifted child who cannot learn in a classroom full of distractions will start to believe that he is dumb if his grades are consistently low. Dr. Maria Montessori in her book, “Secret of Childhood”  asserts that it is in a child’s nature to learn when allowed to take part  freely in activities of their own choice within a well-ordered physical environment. Montessori method appeals to my sense of order and like unschooling, allows the child to direct his learning. This method has a great deal to do with my current project of preparing our homeschooling space. I want an inviting, child-friendly space that is warm and that they want to be in. If the past few days of me constantly reminding them, “Stay out of the room unless Mommy is with you! It’s not ready yet!”  are any indication, then  am well on my way to meeting that goal!

Waldorf education is another method that appeals to me deeply. As a highly scheduled person, the rhythms and seasons of Waldorf education feel right. I loved the natural rhythms and routines that my boys and I had before they started school, and it feels good to be able to connect with them in that way again. Not that school didn’t have its own rhythm, but it was one that was created for a group and left little room for individuality or flexibility. Additionally, the focus on art and building of one’s sense of connection to his own creativity wrapped up in nice, neat unity study-type lessons works for me. I used to write unity studies based on themes and literature when my kids were in preschool. It was challenging, and incorporated my kids interests in our learning. Though true Waldorf style schools are not what one would call traditionally “child-led”, that’s the feel that Waldorf style has always invoked in me.

Then there are highly regimented, hard-core styles like Well Trained Mind and Thomas Jefferson Education. As much as I love the ideas there, I don’t know that I have the confidence or the necessary self-discipline to really make such intensive styles work for our family at this time. I have The Well Trained Mind – I love this book! I want to BE that mom when I grow up.

I only learned about TJE right before LittleBoyBlue started Kindergarten, and by then, we were not planning on homeschooling, so I didn’t look very far into it. But it’s an option that I know comes highly recommended and I hear is particularly good for boys. TJE also promotes the idea that you cannot be responsible for making someone else learn. It promotes “leadership education“, and that is appealing to me. I want my kids to be leaders!

Then, you have curriculum… from boxed methods like Abeka and Sonlight, which offer everything you need – “school in a box”.  You can make your own, pulling from here and there, or you can buy boxed curriculum by subject (useful when you lack confidence in a particular area).

So what’s a mom to do? How can you be sure that you’re providing the best for your children?

For us, it came down to starting with knowing what didn’t or wouldn’t work for our family and knowing what aspects of homeschooling appealed to us most. For me, I need a schedule or routine or rhythm – whatever you call it, I need a plan of some sort to follow and be organized. I know that LittleBoyBlue needs freedom to move around during lessons. Being tied to a desk will not work for him. He also needs short lessons that are engaging so that he can excel. PeaGreen needs to be able to follow his heart. He also needs his accomplishments recognized. In school he’s a good student, but is passed over because he is neither gifted nor a disruption. He needs space to shine.

My plan is to take from here and there and create our own method. We’re following Ambleside Online’s Charlotte Mason curriculum for the most part, but will tweak where necessary. Mason doesn’t favor unit studies, but I do and will use them where they fit. I don’t follow all the religious methodology that is so central to CM’s style, and so we will omit much of that in favor of our own spirituality. I do like her divisions by year instead of by grade, and so we will adopt and adapt that for our use.

That may seem like a lot of work, especially when all of these methods and materials are available already put together and ready to use. But one of the greatest benefits to homeschooling is that you can customize and pick and choose bits and pieces from everything out there to create an individual method and style that fits your needs. Just as no one school is right for every child, no one homeschooling method is going to be right for every family. Being flexible is a key component to my method. I believe in giving something a good try, but ultimately, if it doesn’t work out, then I want to remain open to the next adventure.



A New Adventure Begins

Today, we pulled our 2 boys out of school. On one hand, that seems like such an easy thing to say, to do. On the other hand, that is an overwhelming position to find myself in.

I always knew that I wanted to homeschool my children. I was homeschooled during high school and it was a great experience. Though I wasn’t always the most cooperative student, my mom rocked the homeschooling scene. She singlehandedly organized field trips, playdates, outings and other creative learning opportunities for several homeschooling families that she found. Socialization was never an issue – with over 300 people crowding our home for my graduation party, I think it’s safe to say that with effort, homeschooling can yield just as many social opportunities as public school!

We had always planned on homeschooling. Our plan changed when a new charter school system opened a branch in our city. With a focus on math, science and technology, small class sizes and a mentoring program, we felt that it would be foolish to deny our children what they were promising. We told ourselves that it was an experiment; I honestly did not think that we would last through the first week. But things went surprisingly well, and though it was not without problems, it was a good environment for my boys… at first.

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that proved true in this case. With my oldest becoming increasingly more discouraged and my youngest just coasting by in a school that made big promises and little evidence of follow through, we decided that we’ve had enough and instituted a change. I want to see my kids happy to learn. I want things to move at their pace, not because a book says this is next, or it’s time to move on or because all the other kids have either still not grasped that concept or have already mastered it. I want to let their interests guide them and cultivate their desire to find out more.

We always said that we would “do” school for as long as school worked. If and when it stopped working for us or for them, we would have no problem pulling them out and going back to our original plan to homeschool. So it was surprising to me to feel nervous at the prospect of pulling them out of school. The show of support from my friends has been tremendous. Their confidence in my ability to successfully meet my children’s educational needs is both humbling and encouraging. Since we made our decision and made that public knowledge, and now that we’ve actually withdrawn the boys from school, I guess now it’s time to put up or shut up, right?

So, over the past week, we’ve sacrificed the laundry room/game room to create a dedicated space for learning. We’re very fortunate to have space in our home to accommodate a dedicated space. We’re still not quite done, but we’re almost there. We will be sharing our journey as a new homeschooling family with you here. Our plan is to begin classes on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. We’re following an eclectic path, with heavy influence by Charlotte Mason and Well Trained Mind, and some Holt and Waldorf style thrown in for good measure. Our “school year” is a year-round plan, beginning in January. We will have class for 6 weeks, then take a one week break. That will give us 7 six-week grading periods and leave room to take the month of December off. We’re not going to stick with traditional grade levels. We’re following Ambleside Online’s CM style curriculum and we’re beginning with Year 1.

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you!