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

Posts tagged “methods

10 Months Post Harvey: Early Summer 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

How’s things with you?
Warmly,
~h


Eight Years of Homeschooling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mmmm… coffee ❤

Thanks for reading along!
Warmly,
~h


13 Reasons Controversy

It’s been a while since I’ve come across something in the homeschool world that makes me sit up and take notice, but this is one of those things that compelled me to write about it. There’s a new series on Netflix that you may have seen. It’s called 13 Reasons Why, and it’s based on a YA novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It’s about a high school girl who commits suicide, but leaves behind a series of audiotapes intended to be passed around to the people she holds responsible for her death.

**general spoiler warning** If you haven’t read the book or watched the series and don’t want details, you should probably stop reading this post until after you’re read/watched it. 

Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

Apparently, there are a lot of feelings about this series; A LOT of feelings. From the outset, I’ll say unequivocally that material that sparks discussion about mental health, depression, bullying and other issues that teens (and young adults) face has a place in the public eye, period. Even more-so if it engages teens, who tend to be most at-risk for suicide. Whether you agree, disagree, like it, hate it – whatever: discussion about topics that we, as a culture, tend to file under ‘taboo conversational topics: Do Not Engage!’ is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. And it’s about damn time.

Full disclosure, I’ve watched the series; I have not read the book. My children (13.5 and 15 at the time of this writing) have neither read the book or watched the series*, but both said that they ‘might’. I’ve told them that it’s fine if they do; to let me know if/when they do so we can talk about it. I also gave them a synopsis of what it’s about, gave a warning about graphic rape scenes and drug/alcohol use, and mentioned that there are things that Hannah (the main character) says, thinks and does as a result of disenfranchisement/bullying/potentially undiagnosed and untreated depression that aren’t ‘reality’; and that we need to talk about it during and after they watch it. We don’t generally censor what our kids watch; I’d rather know what they’re watching so we can decide if we need to intervene or talk about it than have them sneak around watching things behind our back. We’ve set standards for them that have gotten more permissive as they’ve gotten older; I don’t think we let them consume anything that isn’t age-appropriate. You may disagree, which is why if my kids come to your house, they’d have to follow your rules (or the lead set by your kids, which may be very different from your ‘rules’… but I digress). And before you lose your mind over that, we a) have developed trust with our kids based on communication and experience and will continue to base our decisions and permissions on that trust; and b) can still monitor when we feel the need to, because parental controls and history/system checks on media are a thing that exists and we reserve the right to record and check as needed. Also, to clarify, I am not advocating either watching or avoiding the series for its own sake. If your child is talking about it; if their friends are watching it, then I absolutely advocate watching it, because chances are your child will see it one way or another.

In any case, my point is that we talk about mental health issues fairly often in our house. I was diagnosed with clinical depression (major depressive disorder) in 2006, and with severe generalized anxiety disorder in 2011. I take medications, supplements, use tools like apps, meditation practice, journaling and a focus on self-care as part of my management plan. They’ve seen me manage my own mental health issues and heard me talking about it with others a lot. Along with some of the other moms in our homeschool group, I went to a teen mental health first aid course and got certified as a ‘teen mental heath first aid practitioner’, and our teens are participating in a semester-long mental health course through our homeschool co-op, using curricula and resources from TeenMentalHealth.org and other similar sources. I say all of that to tell you this very scary fact: seeing and knowing and doing all that doesn’t make my kids suicide-proof. That’s hard to read; it’s hard to admit. But it’s the truth. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The reason I started writing this post is because, like many homeschooling parents, I’m in quite a few internet support groups that focus on homeschooling. It’s generally helpful, and sometimes I learn new things there, or find tidbits of new information that I want to use in our school career. other times, I come across things like this:

 

Okay, fine. You don’t want to watch it, then fine. But let me tell you this: if your kids want to watch it, and their peers are watching it, then even if you think it’s ‘poison’, then you should damn well be watching it, too. If for no other reason than because you should be informed of what’s going on in and around your child’s world. Changes are, if your kids’ peers are recommending it, then your child is going to figure out how to watch it, with or without your approval.

And hear this: if your opinion is so strongly negatively stated, do you think that your kid is going to come to you to talk about what they saw if they watched it without your permission (or in spite of being explicitly told not to watch it)? Nope. So your precious snowflake is going to be left alone to figure it out, or have only the influence of his or her peers to guide how they process the show. Not only that, but as a parent, you’ll miss out on being able to clarify the points that need to be made throughout the series about how Hannah could have made different choices, or how her friends could have, or what your child’s options are in different scenarios.

And then there’s this, which makes my eyes want to roll right out of my head.

ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME?? Also, it’s extremely bad form to tell a parent who literally has experience with this situation that it’s not reality when it is very much their reality. I can’t even imagine how awful it would be to have your child survive a suicide attempt. I can imagine it would be harrowing, and that you’d be on red-alert all the time. To have your child attempt it again? I can’t even imagine that kind of pain and stress and anger and hopelessness.

To their credit, the moderators of that group very quickly deleted that comment thread. The post itself is still up, with decent discussion both for and against allowing/encouraging/discouraging (and some outright forbidding) students to watch, and decent discussion about whether the series addresses teen suicide and bullying appropriately or not. The discussion was relatively civil and productive, with good points on all sides.

From the message thread, the article lists these reasons why ‘not’ to watch (edited for clarity):

  1. This show was overly graphic. …  These rapes are gritty, horrifying and not something your children need to actually witness just in case they need to deal with something like this. They did a good job of showing Hannah (the girl who committed suicide) and how she felt during the rape, but watching her body writhe with each “thrust” was completely unnecessary and not something we needed to watch in order to understand the gravity of the situation.

  2. The suicide toward the end of the series might as well have been a handy dandy how-to graphic for how to kill yourself.

  3. The other big problem I had with the suicide was the build up, the entire series lead up to Hannah killing herself. Which isn’t different than in the books, but for some reason, they made it feel like a big reveal, an event that you were waiting on. Something exciting. Suicide should never EVER be exciting. And I was disappointed that they depicted it as such.

  4. They glamorized Hannah, the girl who killed herself. They made her out to be this big amazing person that everyone remembered and was heartbroken about after she left. ….  the series made this about her, like she left some sort of legacy only a dead girl could leave behind. Why would you want kids to think their lives will only have meaning after they die?

So, obvious warnings are obvious; Netflix rates the show as TV-MA, and included content warnings on the episodes that have the most graphic content. The author of that post’s child is in 6th grade… so, not 17… but she may be mature enough to handle watching the series with her mother nearby; that’s a decision that each parent needs to make. I don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s assertions in the context of her particular child. But to give all parents a ruler by which to measure their own children is ridiculous.

But to take this one point at a time… first, I don’t think it was overly graphic for the audience intended. As mentioned previously, the rating is TV-MA. It’s more subject matter than content that garners the warning. There’s no nudity; they do a damn fine job of conveying the horror of one girl (Jessica) being raped while under the influence of alcohol, and of (Hannah) witnessing it but being unable to say or do anything to prevent it due to her own trauma without being, in my opinion, overly graphic. They didn’t rush through it; they didn’t gloss over it; they didn’t give you an out as a witness to what was happening, either visually or audibly. You, as the viewer, endured it with them. Not only that, but you were flashed back to it at different points – just moments or glimpses – but the trauma is revisited over and over again, unpredictably…. just like in real life. That, to me, is one of the biggest arguments FOR watching it – exactly because of how well-done this particular aspect of it was. Not only that, but in the production commentary (the last episode of the series), they specifically talk about how Hannah never said the words ‘no’, or ‘stop’ or anything, really, when she was raped. It was clear that she did not want to have sex, but she never said no. That makes a conversation about ‘victim blaming’ necessary. Talking about it is one thing. Seeing how it happens is another. Was it rape if she didn’t say no? After seeing it, it’s painfully obvious that she was, in fact, raped. In some religions, because she didn’t scream, or say no, she is considered guilty of fornication. That scene puts an entirely different face on that circumstance, and is fucking *necessary* if you’re a young woman growing up in a religion that teaches that.

Secondly, you don’t need to give kids a ‘how to’ guide to commit suicide. If it’s on their minds, then they’ve already thought of it or imagined it or planned how they’d do it. I was about 12 the first time I ever thought about killing myself, and by 14 I had a concrete plan. I was raised in a pretty strict household as far as what we were allowed to watch – nothing rated R, no horror movies, nothing overly sexual or violent. I never needed anyone else to tell me what to do. I never got as far as an actual attempt, but  I didn’t need to be ‘influenced’ by outside sources. All those thoughts and ideas came from right inside my own head. Showing it isn’t going to ‘give them ideas’ or convince them to ‘give it a try’. That’s a huge myth, and yet it persists because people – parents – don’t ever want to face the reality that kids have very real pressures in their life and may lack the tools to deal effectively with them. A further truth is that some teens have mental health issues that are undiagnosed.

Today’s kids, younger and younger every year, are under an enormous amount of pressure. Their brains do not work the same way that adult brains do; they process information and experiences differently than we do, and they lack both life experience and time to understand that what they feel today isn’t going to last forever. As an adult with depression, I can tell you that in the depths of a depressive episode, even with life experience and the clear understanding that those dark feelings don’t last forever, sometimes forget it. That’s why depression is an illness – because it messes with your brain. Not talking about suicide because you ‘don’t want to put ideas in their head’ is stupid and reckless. By the time I was 18, one classmate and 1 friend had committed suicide, with several others hospitalized after suicide attempts…. and this was back in the 90’s.  Now, there are things like cutting and other forms of self-harm. It’s a real thing. Real kids do it. Your kids might do it. My kid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it. Again – there’s that scary place to think about – that our child might be in pain and in harm’s way. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away; it makes it more dangerous.

Here’s something it’s important to understand about suicide: people don’t do it because they’re healthy and thinking clearly. People who commit suicide see death as the only way out. Out of suffering, of being a disappointment or a burden on others (friends and family), out of the confinement of struggling every day just to live. I also think it’s important to understand that unless you also struggle with depression or anxiety or another mental illness, you can’t know what it’s like to reach that point; to get to the point that thinking or feeling like ending your life is the only way to be free. This is probably one of the best images I’ve ever seen that illustrates that feeling – everything is so awful that death looks peaceful in comparison. But, because of the stigma that depression and mental illness carries, it’s incredibly hard to talk about. That’s okay; talk about that, too. Tell your kids that you’re scared for them. They need to know that.

The third point is an idiotic one, imo. You begin the series knowing that the girl killed herself; but one can hardly tell the story without flashbacks. As the viewer, you get multiple insights to the story – Hannah’s perception as she tells it on the tapes; the recollections of her friends and classmates; and a ‘narrator’ view, which features Hannah in a somewhat less than ‘perfect’ view. I disagree that Hanna’s suicide was built up to in order to sensationalize it; I think the flashbacks gave a fairly well-laid out progression of the deterioration of Hannah’s mental state and circumstances that led to her making the decision to kill herself. Starting off with the suicide scene, or downplaying it wouldn’t make sense. I think showing it the way that they did was appropriate; it was graphic and horrific and terrifying and lonely and sad – everything that suicide is. This feeds into the next point – they didn’t glamorize her; quite the opposite. I saw a bunch of people who gave lip service to mourning a girl they barely paid attention to when she was alive. That’s not glamorization; that’s tragedy. Her life didn’t have meaning after she died; her life ended. That’s what death means – you’re dead. No more life to live; no more chapters to your story.

Here’s what I saw, first and foremost: I saw a lot of kids with a LOT of problems, and mostly absent or distracted parents. I saw a lack of communication; a lack of courage (courage to speak up when you see something that you know is wrong, to defend someone else, to start a conversation, to say the thing you want to say, to have a voice at all); a lack of trust and confidence in the adults in the kids’ lives. I saw obvious warning signs (drinking, drug use, heavily tattooed under-aged teens – you don’t get those from hanging out with fine upstanding citizens… because it’s illegal) that no adult acted on. There are SO MANY things to talk with your kids about… for me to talk with my kids about.

I think Hannah is responsible for her own death. She kept things to herself when she could have talked – at any point – to the people around her. If not peers, then adults. She felt like she didn’t have options, and that’s where the adults in her life failed her. But it wasn’t a one-time thing; it was systematic. It was something that went on and on for a long period of time. Her parents were distracted by real problems, but they were distracted nonetheless. Her friends also had real problems, but each person in Hannah’s life that she sent the tapes to also had options. Not necessarily a responsibility towards Hannah, but options for how they handled their own situations that led them to whatever thing they said or did that Hannah ended up blaming them for. Hannah did a terrible thing… several, actually. Playing the ‘blame game’ helps no one; absolves no one; is fair to no one. Suicide is a tragedy, but ultimately, the person who ended their own life is the one responsible for that decision. There’s a discussion on ‘suicide revenge’ that should probably happen as well. This isn’t a new concept; Marilyn Manson’s Coma Black has the line ‘I kill myself to make everybody pay‘. Hannah left tapes to explain/punish those she held responsible, and ultimately let herself off the hook for her decision in both deed and via the tapes. That was a shitty thing to do.

As a parent: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Tell them that you have issues; that you don’t understand them or their culture, but that you are trying. Let them teach you. Don’t play the disinterested parent-role; don’t let them think that you have all your shit worked out. If you haven’t learned shit-management techniques in your 30+ years on the planet, then you probably didn’t pass any down to your kids, so they’re likely in need of those tools anyway. Let them know that life doesn’t just magically work itself out when you turn 20 or 30 or 40. It’s still a struggle, BUT you learn coping mechanisms on the way that can make it easier. Be an example – take charge of your own issues. If your issues are affecting you kids, then for fuck’s sake, get help, and include them in the process. The other half of this is LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. Trust them when they tell you that their life is horrible (instead of giving in to the righteous anger that we love to fall back on and list all their privileges and blessings so they’ll see how entitled they’re acting and shape up). Getting angry at them for being ‘ungrateful’ instead of listening to what they’re telling you can lead to a teenager who doesn’t feel like you’re a source of support. Trust that they’re using the best vocabulary that they can, and help them find better words to express what they’re feeling. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers without giving in to the temptation to be all judgmental or looking for ways to punish them to opening up to you. You can’t have open, honest communication with a teenager and then censor how they talk, or try to shape their expression into your worldview. Listen to see where they are at and meet them there. Then cover new ground together. It’s okay to be lost, or not know what to say. Tell them that; they need to know that we don’t have everything all figured out either, and that it’s okay to learn new things (like how to handle intrusive or overwhelming negative thoughts). It’s also okay to seek outside, professional help. In fact, that’s something your kids should already have – access to suicide hotlines and a network of adults that they can trust to talk to.

In closing, I think people tend to forget that TV and book characters aren’t ‘real’ people; they’re amalgams of multiple people, or archetypes that real people don’t fit into exactly. Real people are so multi-faceted and multi-layered that no book or TV character could ever get it just right. No real person is as one-dimensional as a character; and no situations are quite as simply laid out as real life scenarios are. This book and series, and others like it, create discussion opportunities for parents to guide their teens., and I believe that’s what the series is intended to do. Whether you allow your child to watch it or not, there are some real-world things that today’s kids face. There are real-world situations brought up in that series that I believe it is entirely worthwhile to talk about with your kids. Whether you choose to use the series as a conversation starter, or some other method is up to you – but have the conversations with your kids. Please.

Warmly,
~h

* When I started this post, they had not. After I asked, I guess that brought it to their attention, and LBB (15) decided to watch it. At the time of this post being published, he’s about halfway through the series, and we’ve had multiple discussions about it – big ones, little ones, talks at the dinner table, talks in the car… sometimes just a comment here or there, sometimes more drawn out.

 


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

curriculum-4
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.


Lapbooking in High School

lapbooking in highschoolWe love lapbooking. It’s one of those cool things that I had seen around the internet on homeschooling sites when I was new to the game that I thought was cool, but had no idea what it was or how to do it. Once I finally got my hands on a few, I fell in love and started helping the kids make them for pretty much everything.

First off, if you’ve never heard of lapbooking, it’s basically a way to organize all the information your students learn about something. They can span a single topic or person, like ‘alligators’ or ‘Queen Elizabeth I’, or cover a resource, like a novel or other book, like ‘Little House in the Big Woods‘, or they can span the length of a subject, like the lapbooks that correspond with Story of the World that were created by a couple of amazing mama-bloggers. Most lapbooks use what’s called a ‘mini book’ to house a piece of information. It may be a flap with a question on it, or a chart with diagrams, or a pocket with vocabulary cards and definitions on them. They’re part ‘open the flap’ book, part book report, part essay-question, part arts-and-crafts… they’re extremely versatile and you end up with a pretty cool way to display what your child has learned or material you’ve covered. As the kids get older, they can play a role in creating and decorating the lapbook as well, which really makes it their own.

If you have kids with sensory issues, or ADHD, lapbooks can also help in a couple of ways. First, for attention issues, lapbooks tend to break a subject or source into small, bite-sized pieces that make it easy to focus on one thing, complete it and move on. without getting overwhelmed with the bulk of material to cover. Additionally, the process of cutting and creating the book gives your child a hands-on way to process the information. If you have a child with sensory issues, then again, the hands-on aspect helps, because each bit of information is contained within a ‘mini book’ or insert that must be unfolded, twisted, opened, turned or otherwise manipulated to get to the information.

We started off with lapbooking and moved more into notebooking, which is similar, but more the ‘grown up’ sibling of lapbooking. Less ‘arts-and-crafts’ and more ‘deeper content’, which is good. But of course, you can make lapbooks more in-depth or focus more closely on a single topic or aspect of your subject matter. We use cheap composition notebooks (which are thankfully on sale right now!) for basically everything. Some, the kids just write their own content in and others, I print a page or template out and they paste it into their book after the work is done. That also creates a really cool product when you come to the end of the project/subject/topic.

If you’re into unit studies, then lapbooking is an excellent tool for that. There are hundreds available online to download for free, including ones I’ve created or found online and shared here, and many more that are more comprehensive from sites like HomeschoolShareTeachersPayTeachers and CurrClick.com. Homeschooling blogs are another great source of finding lapbooks on specific topics or using specific resources. But something I have noticed is that most lapbooks tend to cater to the elementary school crowd. What do you do when your kids ‘age out’ of what’s available online, and how do you incorporate lapbooking into curriculum for an older student?

That’s where I am at right now, and I would love to see what you’ve done with your kids if you kept lapbooking as part their studies. Our homeschool group is studying Russia for our next Social Studies Club meeting, so I am going to be working on helping the kids create something high-school-appropriate for that presentation. I’ll let you know how that turns out!

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

 


Thoughts on “I can’t Homeschool”

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Basically, yes, you can.

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘PATIENCE’

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘I CAN’T BECAUSE I WORK’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T HAVE SPACE’

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

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

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

NEWSFLASH: Your kids are already weird.

Next!

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

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

THOUGHTS ON ‘COLLEGE’

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

CONCLUSION

 

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

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

Warmly,
~h


Juggling Act: Homeschooling & Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We need t work on LBB’s makeup skills…

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


Planning Your Homeschool Year

plan your year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Homeschooling, Day 1

Homeschooling, Day 1 – January 2010

 

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Homeschooling, Beginning of our 6th year – January 2016

How do you plan?
Warmly,
~h

 


Homeschool Regulation

I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.

For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.

We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.

Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.

If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.

The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.

Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.

Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.

To answer the questions I know are coming:

  • Yes, some parents will be lazy.
  • Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
  • Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.

But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.

So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.

What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.

What do you think?

Warmly,
~h


Secular Culture’s Attack on Christian Homeschooling

Homeschool World/Practical Homeschooling has an image with a quote, ‘Secular culture is trying to remake homeschooling in its own image. Time to get back to Christian homeschooling!’ I have to admit that it caught me unawares; I recognize that some factions of the Christian sphere like to project the notion that they’re constantly under attack and being persecuted by silly little things like ‘equality’ and ‘civil liberty’, but I hadn’t realized that secular homeschoolers were trying to oust Christian homeschoolers from the scene entirely. I was under the (apparently, grossly mistaken) impression that secular homeschoolers were attempting, with best foot forward, to eek out a small place for themselves within the predominantly faith-based homeschooling world – and not even a separate, ‘atheists only’ (or whatever equally ridiculous segregated dynamic) space, but just to be allowed on the homeschool scene at all.

I’ll admit that much of my commentary on this topic is sarcastic, partially because it baffles me that anyone actually feels this way. I fail to see how this is even a legitimate complaint, but I digress. If you’re offended by my sarcasm, please feel free to refer to the author’s notes in my sidebar for available options for remedying that. The article goes on to state:

In some of the new “secular” homeschooling titles that are beginning to show up, the immense influence of Christianity on the modern homeschool movement is largely ignored. It would be fine if these books were honest enough to challenge the Christian influence in homeschooling, or even attempt to discredit it, but they simply ignore it. No one should be surprised by this – it’s certainly a publisher’s or author’s prerogative to include or
exclude whatever they want. However, we should be concerned.secular

I’m confused about what sort of challenge these people want. Most homeschool material is curriculum and doesn’t cover the history of education and how homeschooling really got its groove on. If you want to look into the history of home education, specifically, then yes, I’d probably agree that Christian homeschoolers had a lot to do with either challenging state laws that made homeschooling illegal or helping to clarify where the law was vague or didn’t address it at all. I just don’t understand what obligation anyone could possibly have to the original (Christian?) political activists from years ago, or what challenge they’re after. No one, to my knowledge, is denying that Christian activists paved the way for homeschooling to become more mainstream. But I don’t go around thanking the descendants of the Revolutionary War for establishing American’s independence (although I could – <looks in mirror> Thank you, Heather, for your ancestor’s service. Why, you’re most welcome, Heather! Cheers!!)  And just who is it sitting around wanting acknowledgement – those who fought those battles likely have grand or great-grandchildren by now – haven’t they moved on to bigger and better things?? I just don’t get it.

And what does that even mean, ‘remake homeschooling in its own image’. Do they mean ‘secular’? Because that doesn’t mean ‘anti-Christian’. Literally, the definition of secular is: denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. You know, like school/education… which can have a spiritual or religious component, but is not, in and of itself, a religious activity. I would love for one of these alarmist articles to use the word ‘secular’ correctly just once! Lots of things are secular – baths…baths are secular. So is mowing the lawn and feeding the cat. Secular doesn’t mean ‘bad’, nor does it mean that you are in any way prohibited from bathing in Holy Water, or asking the Lord’s blessings upon your lawnmower or praying over your cat’s Tuna Delight. It just means that they’re mundane things; not inherently spiritual. And that’s perfectly fine.

But to say that they are an ignored population or imply that they are in any way under attack, is baffling. In my city and surrounding area, for example, at one point there were thirteen homeschooling groups/co-ops. Of those only ONE was secular/inclusive. I also am part of a Texas-wide secular homeschooling group, and there are places where there is an active homeschooling community but only one family that isn’t faith-based for a hundred miles or more. I hardly think that by any stretch of the imagination, the Christian population of homeschoolers is in any way under-served. Not to mention that it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that all homeschoolers are Christian (or white, or mom is the primary teacher, or that the students are her own children – assumptions are bad, m’kay?). Homeschooling has attracted so many more types of people and families since the early days.

The article continues:

Potential or new homeschoolers who pick up the latest secular tome claiming to be the greatest ever guide to homeschooling will receive a distorted picture of the movement that overlooks the enormous impact and influence of Christian culture on homeschooling. Many new and veteran homeschoolers will pick up these books because they have “homeschooling” in the title, and may undiscerningly recommend them to others, tacitly endorsing the secularized viewpoint of these publications. Large bookstore chains will carry these books, often to the exclusion of books published by Christian publishers and authors, throwing the weight of their reputation behind this new and more “PC” brand of homeschooling. This could, potentially, influence public opinion, and even legislation.

The reality, of course, is that this is business as usual in our culture. But the net effect of this in a decade could be the co-opting of the national homeschool movement by secularists. Christian homeschooling would not go away, but in the new institutionalized, culturally acceptable form, it would likely be marginalized.

Again, unless you’re specifically looking into the history of homeschooling, most ‘homeschooling 101’ manuals don’t cover the start of the homeschooling movement. Even if they did, homeschooling has changed so much since the ’70s and ’80s – even the ’90s for that matter. It’s hard enough keeping up with the legal requirements year to year – who has time, and it it even necessary to read up on how homeschooling became a thing? If you’re interested in it – sure; but I’d be willing to bet most people don’t care. Even when I started homeschooling my own kids, researcher that I am, I don’t recall ever feeling like I needed to delve into the history of homeschooling; all I really needed to know about homeschooling was: is it legal? what do I have to do? how do we get started? Short of knowing that the case that made it legal in Texas was TEA v. Leeper 1991, I have literally not looked any deeper into the history of homeschooling than that.

Do Christian homeschoolers get a nod of thanks for the work they did to legalize homeschooling? Sure; maybe. But Christian homeschoolers, despite making up the majority of the homeschooling population overall, aren’t the only ones out there. Their presence is obvious; their impact and influence over the materials isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Take a trip to any homeschool store or convention, and the stacks are overflowing with Christian-based materials – I can’t even say ‘faith-based’ because the overwhelming majority of the material out there is Christian-influenced. So color me very confused when I ask what in the name of Merlin these people are even talking about. Most of us who prefer a secular curriculum have to look long and hard to find resources; and if you’re looking for resources within a particular style of homeschooling (like Charlotte Mason), essentially your only option is to ‘secularize’ a Christian resource.

Of course companies have started capitalizing on homeschool culture, and thank goodness they did or we’d all be trying to adapt other resources still (which sucks). My siblings and I were homeschooled in the early/mid ’90s, and my cousins were homeschooled throughout (so from roughly 1982-1998-ish). I remember my aunt sharing resources with my mom, but most were classroom-designed materials that were adapted for homeschool use. Nowadays, there are myriad resources that start out for homeschool use.  Most are Christian-based, but more and more come out every year that are secular, which is awesome! That doesn’t mean that Christian resources will go away. I dare say that most secular homeschoolers look at some of the models of Christian homeschooling and shudder – their goal being to move in as far opposite a direction from that model as possible. Even some mainstream curriculum options are often shunned by some Christian homeschoolers because it’s based on a 6,000 year old Earth model rather than based in fact. While I disagree with that, personally, I recognize that it is your right to use those materials if you choose to, and I’m not out campaigning for laws to restrict their use. I think it’s a fair application of ‘live and let live’.

Obvious disclaimer is obvious… there are a great many – the majority, even – Christian homeschoolers out there who want nothing to do with this kind of crazy-pants fanaticism. I recognize that the worldview perpetuated by the image that set this post off is a small, but unfortunately vocal, population of faith-based homeschoolers, and that this stereotype is just as damaging to the overall perception of Christianity as terrorists are to Islam and Muslim people and culture. I think most people get that. It certainly isn’t the responsibility of the normal/average Christian to dispel these kinds of perceptions, and I don’t expect the average/normal Christian homeschooler to do that. I can only ever speak from my own experience, and over the last decade, I feel like homeschoolers that aren’t faith-based have finally started to make themselves known. Homeschooling is SO MUCH MORE ACCESSIBLE now, and that is amazing. There are all kinds of people homeschooling – working moms, stay at home dads, single parents, parents who work/school cooperatively with other families, virtual-schoolers, unschoolers, straight parents, queer parents, non-traditional families, faith-based homeschoolers, Christians who use secular resources, and literally every other niche dynamic I can think of… it’s incredible and wonderful and diverse and I am happy to be part of it… and it bothers me that there are still people who want to take that away because it’s not exactly ‘their’ perception of Right™.

Y’all go out and play nice! Follow Jesus’ example of ‘How to be a Compassionate Adult in 1 Easy Step’ (spoiler: Step 1: Don’t be a dick.).

Just food for thought.
Warmly,
~h


The Homeschooling Spectrum

10526176_10152691965351404_1599779552232524066_n If you’re new to homeschooling, you may not realize just how diverse the concept of ‘homeschooling’ can be. This graphic has been popping up on homeschooling boards fairly often lately, and I wanted to share it and talk a bit about it, because I think it is a relatively decent simple breakdown of what homeschooling might look like for individual families.

No two homeschooling families will look exactly alike, even if they’re using the same materials. That whole concept is kind of weird, because schools do look very similar, no matter where you’re at geographically, or what age your kids are, or what materials they’re using. In fact, even with completely different materials, ‘school’ in a brick-and-mortar school often looks practically identical to another B&M school. This generalization excludes ‘alternative’ schools like Montessori, Waldorf and others, which are based in different educational philosophies (in fact, many homeschooling families base their methods on similar concepts), but overall, ‘public’ schools look very, very similar.

I’ve been wanting to talk about the difference between homeschooling and ‘school at home’, which is the Red section on the chart, and encompasses things like ‘virtual academies’ that are hosted by states or local ISDs. I may rustle some feathers for saying this, but if you’re Red, then you’re not really ‘homeschooling’. Hear me out – what I mean by that is that you’re missing out on the entire point of being outside the B&M structure of/and traditional education model. Yes, you might be at home, but you’re still dealing with much of the same stress and hassle of B&M schooling, and getting none of the freedom and enjoyment of ‘real’ homeschooling. Not to mention that in some ways, you’re still buying into the ideas that traditional education have drilled into our culture (like testing and grades and grade-levels, rather than focusing on mastery before progressing).

Having said that, Red isn’t all bad. Red has its place in the homeschooling spectrum, and isn’t without advantages. Red can be a necessary stepping stone towards ideas that more fully encompass what homeschooling can really be like. Red is safe, and provides a lot of structure and reassurance for newbie homeschoolers who are hesitant to take the leap into full-on homeschooling. Red is awesome for kids who need to be outside of the classroom but have parents who genuinely don’t want to homeschool, and for kids who just need a lot of structure. Red is a good option for families who live in areas where there is a lack of support for homeschooling in general. Red is also great for families who encounter a lot of opposition from extended family or friends, or for those who know their own strengths and weaknesses, and despite a genuine desire to be otherwise, know that without such a strict outside structure they would end up ‘not schooling’. And then there are some families who choose Red because that’s what they’re comfortable with, and that’s cool, too.

Orange is pretty similar to Red; I don’t see a lot of difference between the two, really. Maybe the difference is more a mental shift than a visible one. That’s actually a pretty big deal. That’s the first step towards stepping outside the box. Even if it doesn’t show in your day-to-day schooling interactions with your kids, that switch in thinking is key if you want to move into a different color. It can be as simple as switching to a 4 day school week, or starting at 10AM instead of 8. Small steps, but important ones!

Yellow is pretty much the middle. Yellow is still parent-led, which is great for young children who are coming out of B&M schools who are used to a lot of direction, or for children who started out in Indigo or Purple and Mom feels like it’s time to add some structure. Yellow is great for socially active homeschool group participation, and for control-freak parents (like me). We started out in Yellow, and it was a really good place for us when we were there. Yellow requires a bit more parental prep, because you’re not necessarily using a boxed curriculum – you may be researching different resources to use for different subjects, and it takes time to plan. But overall, Yellow is a nice ‘middle of the road’ option.

Green and blue kind of go together in my mind, probably because that’s where we are now. We do a lot of field trips, some project-based learning, a lot of note/lap-booking, and still use some structured curriculum. But we also have more child-led learning (interest-based) than we used to because since my kids are older now, we’re tailoring to career paths and personal interests. We have a lot of flexibility with scheduling, and I trust my kids to do what they need to. For us, this was a system of more parental control, lessened as their responsibility grows. It might look much different for another family.

Indigo and Purple also merge together for me, but that’s very likely because I don’t have a lot of experience with them and have a hard time differentiating between the two. I’ve seen Indigo and Purple very well done, and I’ve seen it as an excuse for no schooling at all. I’m sure that colors my perception of child-led learning (or delight-led) and unschooling (which is what those colors represent) in practice, but I know that it can be a very good option for some kids/families. I’m Unschooled. Yes, I can Write is a blog that I’ve been following for years, and she’s a great example (and advocate) of unschooling as a successful model of education. I also have a couple of friends who successfully employed unschooling, and have seen it work (for both young children and teens/young adults).

I absolutely don’t want to give the impression that the chart is a ladder of sorts that people work their way from Red to Violet – it’s not about that at all. But stepping outside of the Red zone, even into Orange or Yellow, is so liberating! I’m sure people who are in the indigo/violet area would say the same thing to someone like me; it’s all about perspective!

Like I said, we started out in yellow, and have moved into the green/blue area. I am deeply attracted to indigo & violet, but feel equally like I know that they just won’t work for us and am afraid/lack faith or trust in the process. I generally need more structure than that, and I feel like my kids need more direction than those areas provide. I fully reserve the right to change my mind about that, but that’s how I feel right now. The truth is, green/blue is comfortable to me. I don’t feel the need to change it, because it works for us. We still get a ‘backbone’ for things to hinge on, but we also have a lot of freedom. And with my unpredictable work schedule, green/blue lets me work without feeling like I am sacrificing school in the process.

Ultimately, it’s up to each family to figure out where they fall in the spectrum (or, for that matter, if they want to let something like ‘the spectrum’ define them). Many families start out in one color and move to another, either gradually or by circumstance or by deliberate choice. Some families move down the spectrum, while others move up it. Homeschooling is such an individual thing – some families use one method with one kid and another method with their other child(ren).

However you choose to homeschool, make the most of it! Spend time with your kids, stop and see the sights in your town that you have never had time for… make the most out of the time you have with them. It goes by *so* fast! Enjoy it.

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 

 


Homeschooling Isn’t Always Great

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 


We Read Banned Books Here

 

Banned Books Week is coming up fast!! To celebrate, we’re reading banned books (and watching films based on banned books). We’re talking about censorship – what that means, what potential good vs. harm it does to society, and more. I made ‘Banned Books stickers to wear and gave some to the kids to pass out when we are about town. (I just printed the pictures and ran them through a sticker maker. – I don’t get paid to hawk their product; I’ve just had it for years and I love it!)

So why do I like banned books week? Well, part of it is rebellion, pure and simple. Tell kids that something is banned, and it immediately piques their interest. They want to know ‘why’, and so they read. I think that banned books week is probably one of the most ingenious ways to get those ideas out there, into the hands and minds of the young – tell them they can’t have it, and they’ll be all over it. This concept is so effective that I wonder sometimes if the banned books thing was created for that exact reason. Either way, I enjoy the concept and am happy to promote it!

I was preparing for this week, and this post and found the top ten most challenged list for last year – I had no idea that Captain Underpants books were the most challenged in 2013. That seems a little absurd to me. Captain Underpants isn’t my personal favorite, but harmful? Probably in the same way that watching Wile E. Coyote repeatedly attempt to murder the Roadrunner was for us. Aren’t we all scarred from that?

For a list of ‘frequently challenged books’, click here.

Hunger Games also came up in the top ten. I kinda-sorta can see why that one might come up, but overall, I think it opens much more of an opportunity for discussion than anything else. I sort of equate a lot of the YA books that have come out (or gotten popular) lately on the same lines – The Giver, Divergence, Hunger Games… they’re all about a dystopian society somewhere in the future. They’re about coming of age in a world where your decisions determine your future in a way that we don’t have to deal with in our reality.

I actually really like these types of books. I know there’s a big deal about adults and YA fiction, but I think those detractors are annoying. YA has come out with some pretty interesting stuff in the last few years! I like storylines, especially as a parent/teacher, that give kids more credit that they get in real life for being intelligent, brave, and capable. Their energy and enthusiasm is an asset that our society doesn’t seem to have a place for very often. It’s really no wonder that the most popular books feature situations where the choice(s) of a few young people affect the whole of their societies.

Scenarios like that, especially in book form where you immerse yourself in the story, that help you get into your child’s brain and see what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. I think that’s important, especially with the constant discussion and worry over the parent/child generation gap that the media is constantly warning us of. I experienced a sense of disconnect from my parents in my teen years, and it makes me wonder how much of it is normal; the pulling away from family to establish a personal identity, and how much of it was truly a lack of communication/understanding. I don’t know how much of it is avoidable, but I want to give it my best to lessen the impact.

So what are your favorite banned books? Are you planning on doing anything with your kids for BBW?

Warmly,
~h

 


Teach Them to do for Themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warmly,
~h

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

 


Summer 2013 – Week 2

Summer on a beachWeek 2 began nice and slow. Loverly Husband had jury duty, so we were stuck home without a car. Luckily, my mom let us take car, so we went to tennis camp, then came back home for lunch. I had every intention of making the kids do some schoolwork, but other than reading and chores, but that’s pretty much all they got accomplished.

Tuesday was tons of fun though. We went to tennis (again), then picked up Bridey and her boys and met SmurfMom and went to Louisiana to SPAR, which is a local waterpark that was built by their Parks and Recreation department. It’s really fun! I’ve known about this place ever sine the boys were very small, but we didn’t make it out there until last summer. Now, it’s one of our favorite places!  Because of the traffic and just plain organizing that many people, we didn’t make it to karate that evening. PeaGreen was quite disappointed, but we had to bring Bridey and the boys home, too. RedRanger spent the night with LBB. They were up plenty early the next morning, so I imagine they got very little sleep the night before.

Wednesday, we went to … Tennis Camp! in the morning.It was a pretty easy day. Bridey and the boys came over for the afternoon/evening and we grown-ups got some time in the pool sans children, which was niiiiiice while the kids played inside. So, SO relaxing!

Thursday was a bit chaotic. During the night, my phone switched off, so my alarm didn’t go off. I woke up late… LATE. We made it to tennis camp about 15 minutes late. Miss Eileen, one of the kids’ tennis instructors, wanted to work with LBB for a private lesson for a bit, so I didn’t want him to miss that. It’s funny how you look at your kids and see their various differences. Thankfully, the boys can admit their brothers’ strengths and congratulate the on accomplishments and skills without being upset. LBB’s talent really seems to lie in tennis. He’s really showing a lot of interest and picking it up very well. PeaGreen’s strength is definitely in karate!

After tennis, I was supposed to drop PG off with Bridey, and go to ‘work’, but by the time I got to Bridey’s house, it was too late for ‘work’, so we just went back home for lunch and a bit of schooling (and laundry), and then off to karate. We made it on time, and Loverly Husband met us there. This was my first class back in a while. I’ve either been busy or just plain slacking for a while, and it felt good to get back in the dojo.

Friday was another really good day. No tennis camp on Fridays, so we got to sleep in just a tiny bit. But we were still up and at ’em by 10 and ready for company by 11. PBJMom brought her kids and crew, and another mom from our homeschool group came with her husband and 3 kiddos, so we had 11 kids in the pool. Rather than have the kids at each other’s throats fighting for space in the pool, I had them play some games… racing, Goofy, red rover, and some free swimming. By that point, everyone was getting tired and hungry.

So we dried off, cleaned up and went to the library to see The Bard of the South.

Ricky Pittman is a storyteller: singer, songwriter and author. He roams the south telling stories of the Civil War and the people who lived then; often the lost stories, bringing once again to life the lives and experiences of people long forgotten. He brought a lot of things with him: a candle lantern (complete with ‘Lucifers’ – candles!, a courting candle, a parasol and fan (and talked a bit and demonstrated the ‘language of the fan‘). He also had a few of the boys (PeaGreen and RedRanger included) to talk about some of the uniforms of Confederate soldiers. Specifically, he compared Texas Confederate uniforms and Louisiana Confederate uniforms to Union uniforms. He talked about what the colors of the trim meant, the equipment a soldier would carry, the artillery that soldiers were issued and the shoes.

He also showed a blow gun (child sized) and talked about the various parts and the making of a blow gun, and talked about the uses for them as well. He said that the boy would use a piece of coal to hollow the inside of the cane. I am thinking that this might be a cool project for the boys to try soon. He talked some about Sam ‘The Raven’ Houston, and about orphan Jim Limber Davis and his relationship with President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis and First LadyVarina Davis and their family, about which he wrote a book entitled Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House

Now we’re winding down into the weekend. My boys went to spend the night with Bridey and her crew, and Loverly Husband and I went out for a ‘date night’. Overall, I’d say this has been a pretty productive week!

Hope your summer is going along swimmingly! Next week, my niece Appleberry will be with us, and a long-lost friend of mine will (finally) be moving back to Texas. I can’t wait!!

Before I go, I’d like to dedicate this video to my BFF, Amy:

Warmly,

~h


An Atmosphere of Learning

I’ve been thinking lately about the atmosphere of learning in our house and I feel like we could use some improvements.

When we first started homeschooling, I was much more relaxed about what we ‘needed’ to do. Since we were just starting out, I felt like there was all the time in the world, and we could take things easy. Homeschooling was really fun. We did a lot of hands-on stuff, and there was much less resistance from the kids (which may very well be chalked up to the novelty of homeschooling after leaving a desk).

Over the course of the last few years though, I feel like there’s been more and more pressure on me to ‘get it right’; to be more rigorous and push the kids harder. I try to combat that feeling, but I am not sure where it comes from, so it’s hard to fight. I’m sure there is outside pressure, but I’d wager that the majority of it is internal, and that can be really difficult to overcome. My post last week was partially about working through that feeling, so I don’t want to dwell on that aspect too much this week; instead, I want to talk about the overall environment that we create in our home as homeschooling parents.

When we first started, it was very important to me to have a ‘school space’. We’re fortunate to have the room to dedicate to school, even though at present, it’s become more of a storage space and we’ve moved school to the kitchen table. I think that this is something I need to work our way back into. I felt more ‘together’ when we were working in a dedicated space, and more like we were altogether more focused. The school room also has less distraction, and the kids both have their own spaces to work in (which means that they annoy each other less). The other aspect to this is our style of teaching/learning. One of the things I have always liked about Montessori style education was that it was uncluttered and accessible. Things were laid out in such a way as to encourage the child to experiment and choose their own path. I do still agree with that, but I also feel like there needs to be a good, solid foundation of the basics before a child can really move on into learning what he or she likes or needs. But, if I left it up to my kids right now, everything would be about video games. It’s hard to find balance between those two philosophies, but in my plan for next week (when we’re off) is to de-clutter as much as possible and get us back into our school room.

Another area I’d like to work on is my tendency to lapse into ‘teacher’ mode. I struggle with finding the balance between lecture and encouragement. I’m a talker, so what I tend to think of as inspiration or helping foster ideas tends to come across as nagging or droning on. I also tend to jump the gun when it comes to offering help or going

on a new direction or way of thinking about something, instead of giving them the time to really consider what’s already been said. That’s one of the reasons that I used the picture above with Holt’s quote, because I need to learn when to shut up!

Something else I want to continue working on is ‘learning by teaching’. Teaching others is the most effective way to ‘know’ something. I want the boys to work more on helping each other, either when one grasps a concept first, or by working independently on different parts of something and teaching what they know. I think this will also help me keep my mouth shut and let them find opportunities to shine.

We have an anchor chart similar to this one that we use when we start something new. I have found that learning where they are in this journey helps relieve frustration when they don’t grasp something right away.

Another area where ‘learning by teaching’ comes into play is in our extra curricular activities.

We have become involved in scouting recently, and one of the things I like about it is that it encourages leadership and mentoring. We have a split scouting troupe – one group of kids who are in the 8-13 age group, and another in the 3-5 year old age group. This is an excellent opportunity for the older kids to be actively mentoring the younger kids.  This concept is also reinforced through their karate classes. Our sensei regularly pairs up more advanced students with newer ones to give them the opportunity to teach, which bolsters the students’ confidence in themselves. You can’t teach it unless you know it. I want to get to my kids on every level so that they really understand and know what it is to be adept at their skills. 

Other than those areas that need work, overall I am pretty happy with the learning environment we’ve fostered in our home. The kids have access to board/card/video games, art supplies, research materials (both in print and online), books, magazines and other printed media, mechanical things to take apart and reassemble or create something new, science craft books and materials, quick & healthy snacks to fuel up when the need arises, and a variety of different modes of learning pretty much all the time. They have plenty of outdoor space (including 10 acres to roam, bikes and a mile radius to ride, skateboards, a pool, a garden and a pond to explore). We also regularly meet with our homeschool group in person, and the kids have an online chat list and can play video games online with each other. We also engage in regular community service activity and have scouting 1x per month (soon to be more often) and karate classes 3x per week with a ton of other homeschooled kids.

It really does help sometimes to write down the positive aspects instead of the negative ones.

Additional Sources:

This is an excellent ebook by Brenda Sain called Creating an Atmosphere of Learning.

Warmly,
~h


Note to Self: You’re Doing Just Fine

This is a reminder that I need every few weeks, it seems. We’ve now successfully completed almost half of our fourth year of homeschooling, and STILL, I go through phases where I have these doubts.

Most recently, it’s come to my attention that my father is under the impression that LBB (now 11.5 years old and in 5th grade) does not know his multiplication facts. Nevermind that he’s been working on division for the past few months, and doing beautifully at it (including fractions and decimals). My dad asked LBB what 5×5 was, and LBB said ‘I don’t know’. When my dad told him to figure it out, LBB made like he didn’t understand what he meant or how to go about doing that. So this, of course, prompted a call to me with concern about his math skills.

Le sigh.

This prompts several responses on my part. On the one hand, towards LBB: “WTF, man? Really? 5×5? You’re having trouble with FIVE TIMES FIVE? That’s arguably the easiest of times tables and you’re going to choke on that one?? Dude. C’mon – you know this. Just take a minute, think about it and answer the question. No big deal.”

Then again, I totally get the ‘on the spot’ freak out. If someone asked me, my initial response would be to freeze; like if I was still enough, they won’t remember what it was that they asked and I can get out of the situation without answering the math question.

Towards my dad, I get this mama-bear, ‘Hey man! Not cool! Don’t test my kids!’ sort of feeling. I understand that it was a reasonable question. I know that some of my homeschooling compatriots have unsupportive families, and a question like that would come from a negative place, but my family is very supportive and I don’t think there was anything untoward or sneaky meant by it, but still, I get a little twitchy when I feel judged. I feel like my kid’s lack of willingness to answer a question is a reflection on my teaching ability (because that is what got called into question – not his attitude or interest, but *my* part in it).

Honestly, could he be stronger in math? Yes. Am I drilling him on basic multiplication tables? Daily; and this in addition to our regular math lesson. Do we do ‘math bingo’, Timez Attack, flash cards, and other ‘fun’ math things to help cement those concepts? Yes. Are those things going to make him pop out with the answer to a random math question? Meh … maybe. Maybe not. The thing is, I can’t separate his interest or cooperation with others from their perception of my ability to teach. I understand that it’s not my job to correct this perception, but it still affects me when I see/hear/feel it in action and directed towards me.

My kids are not babies anymore. They’re young men, and though they do still have to do the work assigned to them, I can’t learn it for them. I have said this before and I still think it’s true: One of the hardest parts about homeschooling is that no matter what you do, the blame rests firmly on your shoulders. When your kids are in school, to a certain extent, if they don’t get good grades or learn what they need to, then you can cast off some of the blame onto the school system. The school, in turn, can shove off some of their responsibility onto the parents – they weren’t involved enough, or didn’t give the child support/encouragement/motivation – whatever. But as a homeschooling parent, ALL of the ‘blame’ rests squarely on your shoulders… which is wrong, I think, to a point. Some of the blame rests with the child, himself, and I think that it is this point that many people forget or don’t realize, especially in homeschooling.

We see this in reverse and don’t question it. When a homeschooled child excels, we say how smart s/he must be, and congratulate them for persevering and working so hard. We don’t pat the parent on the back and say, ‘Way to go, Mom! What a great teacher you must be!’ So why do we blame the parent when the child’s ability doesn’t match up to what our perception of where s/he ‘should be’?

Children are not ‘babies’ forever. At some point, they do grow up. In fact, we have years between baby and adult that we should use to teach them to be responsible for themselves. This is a gradual teaching and learning – not something that they master all in one day or by whatever grade. If we want them to grow up into productive members of society, then we as parents must allow them a certain amount of responsibility, gradually, and offer them the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merit.

Over the past few years, my kids have taken on more responsibility for contributing to the overall running of our household. Their chores are divided into either ‘dishes’ or ‘laundry’, and they switch every month.

Dishes includes (but is not limited to):

  • loading and unloading the dishwasher
  • hand-washing anything that can’t go into the dishwasher
  • sweeping the kitchen floor
  • clearing and wiping the table and counter tops
  • helping Mom & Dad; doing whatever else is asked when needed

Laundry includes (but is not limited to):

  • loading washer and dryer
  • putting towels into the towel basket
  • putting kids’ laundry into their baskets and taking them to the correct room
  • taking out the trash (kitchen, bathroom and schoolroom)
  • taking the big trash can to the road if Dad forgets
  • Cleaning the hallway bathroom
  • picking up the living room & sweeping
  • helping Mom & Dad; doing whatever else is asked when needed

It’s a little un-balanced, but they both agree that dishes is the most onerous of the two, and so gladly will take on more work in order to not do dishes. Loverly Husband and I also have chores; in addition to helping the kids, we both do our own laundry, clean the fridge, clean all the stainless, blah, blah, blah…  everyone has chores.

My point in laying all that out is to say that where we used to step in and pick up the slack if the kids forgot their chores, now, we don’t as much. If they slack, then dinner has to wait until they’re done, or they don’t have the right clothes, or, or, or. It’s not just mom or dad ‘nagging’ – it’s the whole family who is irritated at you for not pulling your weight. It’s been a slow process, but one that’s starting to pay off. They’re more likely to step up and say, “Oh, I forgot to do that. Give me just a minute and I will get it done.” It doesn’t always happen, but it is happening now whereas before it wasn’t. They see more now how each person plays a role, and if they don’t do their part then the whole family suffers.

I think learning and education are the same way. Though I play a role in their education (especially right now), as they get older, I will play more of a guide role and less of a participant role. It will be up to them to choose a career path and go after the skills and education necessary to meet those goals. It will be my job to encourage and support and help guide them to appropriate courses, but ultimately, especially though high school, their education becomes more and more a product of their own efforts.

LBB is starting middle school in the fall. Middle school! I don’t want him to reply on me so thoroughly to ensure that he’s applying himself that he can’t work independently. Of course, I will be watching and making sure he is doing the work, but my goal isn’t for him to ‘just do the work’. That’s not real education. Based on what I know of my kids, and of children in general, this type of responsibility is years in the making for some kids, and that’s okay. 

Contrary to what we tend to believe, there is no rule that says kids have to do or know XYZ by Xth grade or by age N. Children aren’t programmable robots. They learn at different rates. They have different interests and what motivates one child may do the opposite for another. Knowing this, and repeating this is what keeps me from throwing the towel in some days.

And then there are days like yesterday, where we got into a discussion about the origin of life, and the boys both had fun schooling Mom on which came first, the chicken or the egg. Apparently, they are much more well-versed in this conundrum than I am, and though we both used the same bit of research (located independently, I might add), it was applied in different ways. They were so excited to showcase their knowledge, and that’s something that can’t be taught.

So yeah. We’re doing just fine.

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 


Back in the Groove

 And so we embark on our fourth year of homeschooling. Looking back, I just can’t believe that we’ve been at this for three solid years. Time has just FLOWN by. It’s amazing to me how much we’ve accomplished over the last three years.

We took off the month of December, as is our normal schedule. We use a four weeks on/one week off schedule throughout the whole year; that gives us roughly the same number of school days that your average public or private school has (following a traditional schedule) – we just get our breaks spread out through the year instead of clumped together during the summer.

I spent our first day ‘back to school’ doing some assessment testing with the boys, mainly in reading, and was impressed with their progress. I don’t do much testing as we go; we’re mastery focused, so we don’t move on until the concept is learned, so there’s not a need for testing in the same way that educational institutions use testing. If you’re interested, I use a couple of reading assessments; there are several listed here that are free and easy to use. It may not be totally comprehensive, but it’s good enough to get an idea; plus, they read all the time, so I hear them reading aloud and already have an idea of their ability; this just gives me a quantifiable number for my records.

I thought that I posted a ‘lesson planning’ post for this year, but I must have overlooked it. I know that I updated our ‘curriculum’ page, but I’ll reference some of that here for good measure, rather than posting a lesson planning post. We’re pretty much set at this point; we’re not making a lot of changes the way that we were in the beginning. I’ve kind of found the things that work for us, so we don’t need as much trial and error!

One of the things that i kinda wanna brag about for a minute is ‘grade level’. I have said over and over again that we don’t really do ‘grade level’ – it’s somewhat of an arbitrary concept, in my opinion. However… even though I’d love to get rid of the concept entirely, we can’t really escape it. The boys have friends in school, my niece is in school – so the topic comes up whether I like it or not. Since we pulled the boys out of school mid-year, and started our school year in January, we’ve been in the middle of a grade for homeschool. My goal has been to get the boys and the school year’s start on the same page – without letting the boys lag behind their schooled peers – and it’s taken three years, but we’re finally there! That’s a silly thing to be proud of, but I am!

That said, we’re actually not starting the next grade. Technically, they’re both done with this grade level’s work (4th for PeaGreen, and 5th for LBB), but one of the benefits of not having to jump into the next grade is that we have time to play around with unit studies and some of the other things that I’ve been wanting to do that we just haven’t had time for because we were busy getting the basics out of the way. I’ve really been wanting to get back to Mason style, literature-based lessons, and with the boys having their grade-level work completed, I finally feel like we can delve into those things.

When the boys were small, we pre-homeschooled with Before Five in A Row and Five In A Row. Then, when the boys started school-school, I sold our copies of those guides and books – but when we had them, we loved them. So, I bought Beyond five In A Row, Volume I to work on over the next few months. I had forgotten how multi-disciplinary the lessons were. I don’t feel that they’re necessarily complete, but using them as a base and supplementing with other materials will work quite well, I think.

The first book in BYFIAR I is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. We do lapbooks, so I decided to lapbook the lessons. I posted them a few weeks ago here: The Boxcar Children Lapbook for Beyond Five In A Row Vol I, and we got started on them yesterday. So far, so good! This is a different ‘style’ lapbook than we’ve done previously; usually the mini-books are all on the same theme. In this case, because the lesson plan pulls so many different aspects into it, I’ve had to re-think lapbook organization. Truthfully, the lapbook probably won’t make much sense without the lesson guide, but feel free to use them if you like.

On the schedule for this year are:

  • continuing with karate – Loverly Husband and PeaGreen are both orange belts; LBB and I are both yellow belts. We’re completed a year of training, and participated in our dojo’s New Year’s Day tradition of Hatsu Geiko, or 1,000 Kicks, to re-commit ourselves to our training for the coming year.

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  • Spanish Lessons – our local library has organized a children’s conversational Spanish course to be held once a month with a group of volunteer teachers. We went to the first class this evening, and it sounds like they’re going to have a lot of hands-on type things. It sounded interesting and can’t wait to get started! The theme for the next class is ‘food’, so we can interpret that how we like, I suppose. 
  • Spiral Scouts – we’re starting a new Spiral Scouts group in our area. I have issues with Boy Scouts, so that was out, but scouting always sounded like so much fun! There’s just nothing like that in this area; we’ve been in need of a more inclusive scouting program here for years. I’ve known about SS for a while, and am glad to be getting started with it.
  • I don’t have a main curriculum for math right now; we’re going to work on solidifying some of the core concepts before picking up again and moving forward. LBB is working on division with decimals, and PeaGreen is working on division with remainders at the moment; I’m content to work on that and multiplication tables for a few weeks. We used Timez Attack for a while last year so I think we’re going to use that a bit more for a while.
  • The boys both got tablets for Christmas and already, two days int the new year, they’re getting quite a bit of actual school-use from them. We’ve been working on research projects each week, so that laid a good foundation for them to be able to do independent research. Already, they’ve been asked to and successfully located information about Gertrude Chandler Warner for a research paper on her, and several bits of information for their Viking Adventure lapbook, and definitions for vocabulary. I am loving that I don’t have to give up my computer for them to do their work!
  • Something new I want to try this year is visual writing prompts. I found an article by Rosina Lippi  a while back on Pinterest where she was talking about using them, and it made me start a pin board for interesting  pictures that we might use for writing prompts. We haven’t started that yet (only 2 days in), but I am looking forward to using them.
  • Science is another area that I am not set on yet. I am thinking that we may go ahead and do REAL Science Odyssey. I am thinking Level I Chemistry and then Level 2 Biology in a few months… we’ll see. I have science textbooks for days, so we may stick with those.
  • We’re doing Story of the World III this year, but aren’t starting it just yet. We’re in the middle of II, and are taking a break to pursue Vikings at the moment; I found a lapbook that corresponds with Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla, so we just got started in that. We were/are doing the SoTW lapbook from Chronicle of the Earth at RunOfTheMillFamily’s blog, but she’s on hold for now; we may or may not be ready to start SoTWIII by the time she has started posting new minibooks… that’s a  ‘wait and see’ game. In the mean time, I have started working on lapbooking components for III just in case.
  • We are still doing Latin; still Cambridge I. Hopefully we will get into II sometime this year.
  • Science Fair is coming up in the spring, with the Texas Regional Homeschool Science Fair in March/April. We’re going to go this year, I think – maybe not compete in the TRHSF, but at least go to get the kids excited about next year.
  • And, of course, our local homeschool group is active, as ever. We just updated our calendar for the group’s activities through June and we have a ton of fun stuff planned.

So… that’s a look at what we’re doing/thinking about for the coming year. We’re off to a really good start, and I look forward to sharing our continued journey with you!

Warmly,
~h


The Boxcar Children BYFIAR Lapbook

 Beginning in January, we will be working on literature-based unit studies for our spring semester. When my kids were younger, we worked through the Five in A Row series, and we loved it. We’ve gotten away from it, so I thought that with the plan to go back to literature units, it might be a good time to revisit FIAR.

We’re using Beyond Five in A Row, which uses chapter books instead of picture books. Volume I starts with Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. Though we have the activity guide, I thought it would be fun to work the activities lapbook-style, and so have created lapbook templates for each chapter, based on the activities in Beyond Five in A Row, Volume I. You can likely do the lapbook without the activity guide, but it is my recommendation that you have BYFIAR I as these templates are intended to complement, not replace the BYFIAR activities. Also, there are some activities that would not have translated into a mini-book.

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TBC_BYFIAR_Ch2

TBC_BYFIAR_Ch3

TBC_BYFIAR_CH4

TBC_BYFIAR_CH5

TBC_BYFIAR_CH6

TBC_BYFIAR_CH7

TBC_BYFIAR_CH8

TBC_BYFIAR_CH9

TBC_BYFIAR_CH10

TBC_BYFIAR_CH11

TBC_BYFIAR_CH12

TBC_BYFIAR_CH13

If you enjoy these templates, please feel free to link back to this page! I’d love to see pictures of your lapbooks.

Warmly,
~h

(disclaimer: no copyright infringement is intended in any way; these templates are for personal use only.)


NBTSBH Curriculum Week: Planning 4th and 5th grade

So as of today, we’re officially ‘back to school’ – yay!!

That means that it’s time to play ‘Not Back to School Blog Hop‘! Yay!! I love this time of year – it’s so… exciting. Everything is all hustle and bustle and getting ready for doing things! This past summer was the first time since we started homeschooling that we’ve taken a lengthy break (not that we’ve been idle), and even the kids are actually looking forward to school starting up again.

Rather than be frustrated with the school year not working out the way I’d envisioned, with a few changes to the fall programme I am quite happy with the way that she summer has worked out. We’ve had a full 8 weeks of summery-time fun, and spent tons of quality time with friends. The kids have gotten to attend some pretty awesome classes and even though it wasn’t structured, got plenty of learning in as well. Now that all that is past, it’s time to drag out the books, clean out the files and start fresh.

Some ideas that I’ve played with over the last few years that I want to put fully into practice again:

  • workboxes – I am a fan of workboxes. We’ve struggled to find the exact right method of ‘box’, and are trying out one more . Eventually, I think I’d like to have this style:

This isn’t my picture, but this is the style I want to use. Everything is open and visible at a glance – I can see what’s inside the boxes at any time without having to mess with them. But for now, we’re using the file box system. I did print out some workbox tags from HeartofWisdom (and some from HomeschoolCreations as well) to help the kids see ‘at a glance’ what they have in their files for the day.

We have 12 boxes; we’ve been talking about this already for a while now. We started preparing for the ‘first day of school’ about 3 weeks out; I wanted them well-prepared with what to expect this year. I am putting the onus on them to get their work and chores done – with everything spelled out and in their boxes, as long as they follow the next box, they shouldn’t have any trouble – or get into trouble – for not fullfilling their responsibilities.

With middle school on the horizon in the fall of next year, I need to see more than a little independent work from them, especially LittleBoyBlue (who will be 11 in December). He has ADHD and SPD – but he also has a large repertoire of coping strategies to help him stay focused; there’s no reason I cannot expect him to handle this level of responsibility. After all, this is what we’ve been working towards! And I will still be there to offer reminders.

  • meditation/quiet time/reflection time – some sort of similar idea Mind jar

W"I Am In Charge Of How I Feel And Today I Am Choosing Happiness."e’ve been using our mind jars for quite some time now, though probably not as often as we could, and I have noticed that the boys are more easily able to contain themselves when we make meditation practice a more regular part of their days.

I have also been attending group meditation at the local Buddhist temple and Unity church, and find that in addition to my own formal private meditation practice, these group meditations are useful. I think that we’re going to start incorporating some sort of mindful meditation as part of our school schedule this year, even if it’s only 15 minutes or so a couple of times each week, with an eye towards having the kids attend in the near future. We’re not ‘religious’, but this sort of consideration for the needs of the spirit/soul/inner self/mind – whatever you want to call it, are helpful, I think.

Another area we’ve been slacking in is organized group charity work. AT one point, we had a HEARTS group, but that kind of fizzled out.  Coyote Communications has a lot of great suggestions for community service work, and we’re planning our homeschool group’s calendar tomorrow at our weekly meet-up, so I am bringing a list and getting some plans on the books. 

In addition to the regular subjects, math, grammar, handwriting (yes, still), spelling, geography, science, history and the like, I want to work on extra-curriculars. We’ve talked for a while about doing ‘adventure scouts’ with our local homeschool group – a scouting group that is completely secular and utterly non-discriminatory – for our kids to participate in, but we’ve never gotten it off the ground. I’d like to work on that this year. The kids’ hiking vests have gotten too small, so it looks like we’ll be getting new ones in the near future, too! (Oy… do I move all the patches, or just start getting new ones??)

As for some of the resources we’ll be using this year, I decided to go with a different big workbook than we have been using. I decided on American Education Publishing’s 4th and 5th grade Comprehensive Curriculum books to try out. There are actually 2 versions of these books; one is older and one is newer. I think I like the older version better, but both seem a little more challenging than the Harcourt books. The 5th grade books has a section called ‘citizenship’ that I am using as a guide for both boys, and there’s an ‘environmental science’ section as well with projects and activities that they can both do. These workbooks are pretty much our guide for covering basic skills in reading comprehension, math, grammar and phonics. I supplement that with activities like journaling, copywork, narration, dictation and reading aloud. We’re implementing a ‘student teacher’ section on Fridays where instead of the boys doing their reading lesson, they can teach it to me and their brother (the idea being that when you can teach it, then you know it).

I haven’t gotten the 5th grade Core Knowledge book yet, but I do have the standards for 4th and 5th grade printed out. (It’s the ‘download the sequence’ tab in the menu here. Although I like the ‘What Your X Grader Needs to Know’ books, we don’t use them for much past the checklist of skills. I may get it later, but I don’t need it right now. This is one reason why I like the big workbooks – it’s covering the basic skills for each grade level without much fuss.

For History, we’re still using Story of the World II and the lapbook from Run of the Mill Family (which is *awesome*). There isn’t a lapbook for Volume III, so I may be writing one! I am loosely using Mosaic’s activity guide for year II, but in January we will have to find a new activity resource. I may end up getting the actual SotW III book and guide. So far, between our timeline, the lapbook and additional reading and video watching, history has been pretty well-rounded, though I would like to add some more hands-on activities this year.

We’re doing a composer study each month; starting this month, our composer is Ludwig Von Beethoven. Miss Music has a great page with some basic info for different composers, and notebooking pages from Practical Pages (and their composer of the month wall chart as well). We’re only hitting composer study once or twice each week, so a month-long lesson on each composer (and possibly a lapbook) seems much more doable than one each week. I’d like to do an artist study as well… but one thing at a time, I think.

We’re using Seterra for geography, as well as some Practical Pages geography lapbooking. I am considering making just one big geography lapbook instead of breaking each thing up into smaller sections, but I am not decided just yet. Seterra has some nifty little flash games that help with identifying geographical features; the boys like games, so  that worked out well.

Great way to get the kids to evaluate themselves and their learning.Another idea I came across (on Pinterest) was to give the kids self-assesment tools, such as this poster, rather than rely on my interpretation of how they’re doing. We’re going to play with this a bit and see how we can incorporate it into their space. I am thinking that maybe we’ll talk about some of the assignments before they get started and see where they think they are, then afterwards, review again and see if they feel like they learned it. Not on everything, obviously – that would take a LONG time! – but when they seem to get ‘stuck’, maybe… idaknow… I’m still working on that.

So there you have it… a pretty good look at what we’re going to be doing and using over the next few months. To see more homeschool planning goodness, check out Heart of the Matter Online for their Not Back to School Blog Hop!

Warmly,

~h


Summertime: Week 7

<—- Yes, THIS, exactly.

If you know anything about me at all, then you know that I don’t like to stay home. I will do just about anything to get out of the house, but most days, like ‘good moms’ the world over, I take into consideration the needs of my kids when I go out. In fact, I would say that I go above and beyond with finding fun things for the kids to do that isn’t stuck at home 90% of the time.

So when I start fielding ‘I’m bored’ – no, ‘I’m booooooooooored!!!!’, it makes me a little…. twitchy.

Add to that constant drone of whine the behaviour of my children during a class that I was taking on Sunday evening; I go once every 2 weeks; in this particular (rare) case, silence was of utmost importance and to help with that, they had 2 laptops playing different movies, PLUS a gameboy each, PLUS all the art supplies any kid could possibly want, PLUS books – manga – not even books with chapters or anything!! I totally set them up to succeed in that environment and they were horrendous – making messes, being loud, running in the building, being a nuisance in general – and this mommy has HAD. IT.

I don’t ask a lot from my children; I really don’t. They have schoolwork and chores and even that is kept to the minimum and tailored to their individual needs and abilities. We just had a week full of birthday fun, during which one child’s preferences were met for the most part (when feasible – we’re not that saintly… er … stupid?) and the other was given special treatment to compensate (because we wouldn’t want things to be unfair now, would we? {/sarcasm})… and so the only thing I asked was that they chill out and give me my class time to enjoy.

Aaaaaand, No.

So this week, instead of our schedule looking like this:

  • Monday: session II of Tennis Camp
  • Tuesday – hike w/ homeschool peeps, SRC Art to Go at AMSET, karate
  • Wednesday – BEACH
  • Thursday –  movie & karate
  • Friday – Big Thicket Summer Camp Class

it looks more like this:

  • Monday – playing outside
  • Tuesday – playing outside
  • Wednesday – playing outside
  • Thursday – playing outside
  • Friday – playing outside – and then writing a paper on ‘why we *all* prefer to have Mom in the Best Mood Possible so she doesn’t go all 1987 on our asses’. (We are a homeschooling family, after all.)

No TV, no computer, no movies, no gameboy, no field trips… just a whole lot of good, old-fashioned YARD to help them appreciate exactly how good they have it (and probably some sneaking off to Grammie’s next door to look pitiful and beg for snacks – she’s been warned though – no TV!!).

In addition to that, one of the things we will be undertaking in a serious way this year will be charity work. Our community has a soup kitchen that I only recently learned about, and I am thinking that we will be organizing and participating some food and toy drives around the holidays. I love them, I really, really do… but so help me, by all that is Holy, I will be extremely disappointed in them  END THEM if they don’t straighten out of this ‘entitlement’ crap and learn to show some appreciation!

Brats.

Warmly,
~h

 

 

 

 


Anchor Charts

Have you heard about anchor charts? An anchor chart is a chart that you make with your kids/students to help illustrate a concept. Once it’s created, the chart/poster is placed in an area so that it can be seen and referred to as needed.

I have seen many, many examples of anchor charts, and differing views on how they’re made. I’ve implemented a couple of techniques – from making them up before hand and presenting them to the kids, to working out a concept with the kids, taking notes and then making the final chart for display purposes. That seems to work better – making the chart together. I do admit to going online and finding an example of the chart I want to make and guiding the conversation in the right direction though!

A few months ago, I found a large wall chart pad at a school supplies store on clearance about bought it. Anchor chart pads are usually larger, but in a homeschool setting, this size creates smaller, more manageable sized charts that are idea for our space. The pad I use is a Bemiss Jason 24″ x 16″, 1.5″ ruled notepad, similar to this one at Amazon. We have a chalkboard on one wall and I just open the pad to the right chart and lean it against the board in the chalk tray.

Since we’ve been using anchor charts, I do think it’s helped. Most of them have some sort of catchy phrase to them that make the concept easy to remember. Some of our charts include:

  • Reading Aloud (reading fluency chart)
  • Reading Fluency (similar to our Reading Aloud chart, but less rhyme-ish. I actually like the Reading Aloud chart, used with the hand signs, better)
  • Rounding Numbers
  • Math Doubles (‘If you don’t know your doubles, you’re in ‘Double Trouble’)
  • Math Strategies for Adding and Subtracting (8 ways to add and subtract: fingers, number line, abacus, tallies, memorize it, use a grid, count objects, put one number in your head and ‘add on’ or count the difference)
  • Plot (like a roller coaster – beginning, middle (highest point), ending)
  • Math Phrases (what phrases mean ‘to add’ – like ‘how many, altogether, plus… ‘subtract’ – remaining, left, take away, difference between… etc.)
  • Math Fact Families
The ones we use most often are the Reading Aloud chart, and the Rounding chart.
The Reading Aloud chart is based on this reading fluency exercise video by YouTube user TeachinginRoom6.
This is our actual chart:
This is our Rounding chart, base doff of many similar ones I’ve seen on the web, and the rhyme, ‘FOUR or less, let it rest; FIVE or more, raise the score’ and the concept of ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ numbers:
I have seen many others that I think we’ll eventually incorporate – charts for ‘good writers’ or a ‘writing lab’ for different types of writing assignments, charts for the periodic table and scientific procedure/ lab safety – lots of fun things to use! Do you use anchor charts in your homeschool?

Warmly,
~h


Educate the Children

All over Facebook recently, I’ve seen pictures with a topic, like ‘Stay at Home Mom‘ and ‘Home Birthing Parents‘, and ‘Doulas‘ with 6 pictures that reflect the different attitudes and perceptions of what the parents/people who subscribe to the beliefs of the topic are like. I looked around for one on homeschooling, but couldn’t find one, so I made one:

And I thought I’d write about how homeschooling (or homeschoolers) seem to be viewed by the outside world.

I think one of the main perceptions I get from local society is that I don’t fit in with their ideal of what a homeschooling mother ‘should’ look like. I don’t own a denim jumper, I only have 2 kids, and though I drive a mini-van, it’s just your average-sized grocery-getter (or chariot, as one of my friends lovingly describes the transportation of choice for busy families). That’s not true for all areas, of course, but here there are definitely more than a few denim-jumper/quiver-full families.  If it’s not the denim dress uniform, then it’s khaki and twin-sets (the less-than-stylish around here call this brand of woman a ‘West End Wanda’); another group that belong not to. My standard uniform is a black tee-shirt, jeans and whichever shoes I feel like putting on (which can range from Doc Martens, to wedge heels, to flip flops, depending on the day’s activities), which puts me firmly in the ‘impostor’ – or worse, ‘secular’ – category, according to the homeschooling majority in my area.

Then you have homeschooling as portrayed in the media. Over and over, I’ve seen stories about how abusive homeschooling is, and/or that the only reason people homeschool is to indoctrinate their kids into religion. While I do know plenty of homeschoolers who do so for religious reasons, most don’t fall anywhere near that crazy tree. For most Christian homeschoolers, their goal is to raise their kids with their family’s values at the forefront, including the need and desire to be faithful ministers of their god. Though I disagree with that approach, I do understand it and think that it’s dishonest to link homeschooling – even if the primary goal is religious in nature – with abuse, neglect or other acts of parents who would find some other way to harm their kids if religion was taken out of the picture. Those people are mentally ill and that does not describe the vast majority of homeschooling parents.

Up next is the perception that teachers have of homeschoolers. This one also gets an unfair rap in my opinion. I think that this perception is perpetuated by children who, for whatever reason, go back into the classroom after homeschooling for a while. Many times, the child is classified as ‘behind’ when that’s only part of the picture. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is that you can tailor your child’s education to your individual child. In Texas, we’re not required to follow the school’s curriculum, so we have a lot of room to truly match what we’re teaching to where our child is at. We can also go about education in an entirely different manner (mastery-focused instead of covering X amount of material this week; or take history chronologically while the school starts with your family and branches out from there). We can use unconventional methods – from educational philosophy or theory to using non-standard materials or classroom environments. Since we don’t follow the same method and curriculum as classroom teachers, that means that there are areas where our child may be behind and there are usually also areas where our kids have a more well-rounded education than his classroom counterparts. But too often, it’s not the whole of education that shows, only the areas where your child is not ‘up to standards’ and thus, the myth continues.

After that, we come to how non-homeschooling people see homeschooling (not all of them, obviously – but some, certainly). I think that the perception (not necessarily of ‘me’, but of homeschooling parents in general) is that homeschooling parents see their kids as genius-level potential, and that with enough early learning and constant fact-drilling, it will be enough to bring that potential into reality. I know that I speak for plenty of homeschooling parents when I say that our kids don’t hold any more potential than yours, nor are they smarter than your kids. The difference is how we go about  accessing that potential. Homeschooling, again, allows us to tailor every aspect of our child’s education to that child. Even if we have several children, we can adapt how or what they’re learning to address that specific child’s needs. If we have a child with ADHD, we can do spelling words or math while the child is on a trampoline or yoga ball. If we have a child who is a night owl, we can start our school hours later in the day (or even have school at night). If we have one child who prefers reading and another who is adept in math, we can cater to those strengths while taking the other subjects a little slower to ensure that the foundation is solid before moving on. Give any student that level of personal attention and you’re going to get better results.

Next, there’s my perception. Since the comic is not my own creation and yet I identify with it wholeheartedly, I dare say that other homeschooling mothers feel similarly at least part of the time. If the text is too small, it reads, ‘5 minutes after Mindy died trying, Brice finally understood fractions‘. It seems like there are days, especially when we start something new, that I explain and explain and explain and yet still it seems like nothing gets through. We’ve been doing this for over 2 years now, and I can see the pattern… all the sudden, one day it clicks. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, but it’s happened over and over again. Then we start something new; rinse, repeat. As frustrating as it is to get the idea through my kids’ head that they’re learning something – they’re not experts yet and mistakes are okay; expected, even – the poor dears are blessed with enough aspects of my personality to ensure that failure is a big deal. They’d rather not do it at all than fail. But the other side of the coin is the gratification and exhilaration on their faces when they do finally get it and can do it like a pro.

Then there’s the reality of what it is that I, and homeschooling parents all over the world like me, actually do, and that is educate our children. We’re not experts, we’re not perfect. We have good days and bad, ups and downs and yes, there are days when we want to throw in the towel. It’s not about being superior or thinking we’re better or can do a better job than you; we don’t homeschool to judge you or your educational choices. In fact, we don’t care one bit what you do with your kids; we’re too busy doing stuff with our own kids

The long and the short of it is that homeschooling parents come in a variety of packages, and no two are exactly similar. Now that I think about it, I’m may have a tee-shirt made that says ‘Homeschooler: Contents May Vary‘ to wear when we’re out and about. Like non-homeschooling parents, we do the things we think are best for our kids. Any contentious parent homeschools with genuine intent, and with their children’s best interests at the forefront of their lives. They’re not abusive, they’re not fanatics; they’re just regular people who feel like homeschooling is the best educational path for their kids. We’re not raising geniuses; we don’t think our kids are prodigies, but neither do we let them bum around all the time without seeing to their education. Our methods may look lackadaisical to you, but until you live in our home and see what we do, how we do it and what the results are, then we respectfully suggest that you keep your nose occupied elsewhere. We’re human; we get frustrated just like anyone would, but we’re also in a unique position of seeing our child’s mind expand on a daily basis – and taking pride on the role that we play in helping them learn.

Even with all our differences, homeschooling parents have one goal: educate the children.

Warmly,
~h

Photo credits:

homeschooling family: http://www.recycledpolyfurniture.com/about.php

religious indoctrination as child abuse: http://jesusmustbestopped.blogspot.com/2011/08/childhood-religious-indoctrination.html

kids playing video games: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/822769/are-your-kids-addicted-to-video-games

reading baby: http://ladyhazard.tumblr.com/post/372126132/aashawn-cristina-awesome-reading-baby-im

Mindy comic ( (c)Todd Wilson): http://extrememakeover-homeschooledition.blogspot.com/2011/07/year-two.html

Homeschool outside: http://thepioneerwoman.com/homeschooling/2011/03/how-long-will-you-homeschool-your-children/