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

Posts tagged “time spent in school

8 Months Post Harvey: Spring

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

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

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

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

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

Music Class at co-op

Teen Social

Moms at the teen social

LBB and our puppers, Max & Honey

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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


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

Line ’em up!

The Teen Troupe

the Puppet Theater

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

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

The ‘official’ at-the-Prom photo

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

 

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

Philosophy 101

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

March Hoops & Wine

April Hoops & Wine

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

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

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

 

Warmly,
~h

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Homeschooling Confessions: When Real Life Interferes with School

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Around the mommy-blog world, there are several versions of the ‘mom confessions’ memes, from ‘bad mommy confessions’ and ‘lazy mommy confessions’ – I tend to think they’re funny, and accurate, which is why they’re so popular. While I am certainly not the first one to do a ‘homeschooling mom confessions’, I thought this was a great one to start off on a subject that always seems to come up… interruptions.

HomeschoolingMommyBot says:
“So my confession is that we do a lot of short homeschool days so we can LIVE LIFE and ENJOY IT. I did not get into this homeschooling gig so I could sit at a table with my 5 kids from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. pounding stuff into their brains.”

I love this confession – the entire idea that education is only valuable if it’s behind a desk or in a classroom, and/or that it has to take place during ‘normal’ schooling hours, is one of the stereotypes that homeschooling families deal with quite often. The idea of homeschooling as a highway to ‘super students’ is also a path fraught with unrealistic expectations and pressure that homeschooling moms often endure, even if that’s not their perspective or approach. Even if you’re a ‘relaxed’ homeschooler, the question still comes up: ‘What happens when real life gets in the way of your homeschooling plans?’

It happens to all of us sooner or later. No matter how well you plan, if you homeschool for any length of time, it’s inevitable – something WILL happen that takes your focus off school for a time. Things will be going well; you’re in a great routine and things couldn’t be better. You’re on-schedule, the kids are engaged, you feel like you finally have a handle on things… only to wake up one morning to find that you’re days or weeks off schedule, and wondering how you got there. Sometimes, the unexpected will be a small blip in your otherwise pristine homeschooling journey and you can jump back in without issue; other times, it’ll be a huge crevasse that will take weeks to finally get across and for things to stabilize again.

We all fall into ruts. My personal tragedy is the monotony of being a grown-up and doing ‘the things’. I’m horrible at over-scheduling myself and getting exhausted because I don’t take into consideration my need for solitude and quiet. I love being busy! But I also need time to re-charge and find my center again. I’m awful at striking balance, and have a really hard time building ‘me time’ into my schedule. I started this post a few weeks ago, having no idea how timely it would actually become. As I write, we’re approximately a week ‘behind’ on school work – partially because my work has recently become a little more time-consuming, but also because I’ve been a little under the weather and just plain tired; by the time I get around to working on desk work with the kids, I’m just not focused enough to keep them (or myself) on-task. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been ‘learning’ taking place. Times like this always present a challenge to my ordered nature – does it count as ‘real’ school if there are no worksheets or written work to prove it? I need quantification; it’s in my nature to want to see the data. But I know that’s not always a good measure of how much they’ve learned – I see it in my kids all the time. But knowing that doesn’t negate the desire to see it on paper.

Other times in the past, we’ve fallen behind our glorious yearly plan and schedule because there’s been some catastrophe or other real life issue that’s come up that I just have to deal with (like an unexpected plumbing nightmare, or illness in the family that takes precedence).  We live in the South, so hurricanes are always a thread during the late summer/early fall season. We’ve thankfully not had to deal with those things recently, but if we did, the naive, ever optimistic homeschooling mom part of me likes to think we’d be prepared. The haggard, more realistic and experienced homeschooling mom part of me scoffs at this comment.

What happens when your attention is honestly focused elsewhere? For myself, there’s definitely a tendency to start with the self-blame and doubt – thinking that ‘if the kids were in school, they wouldn’t be falling behind’. But is that really true? I don’t think so; in fact, I am more prone to just skating by when there’s a stressful situation brewing. Think about it: as an adult, how much of your time is spent on autopilot; doing the bare minimum to get by that you absolutely have to do, without truly absorbing what you’re doing? Kids are no different; a move will be stressful – maybe even more so if they’re in school. An illness or sick relative will still be on their mind – what if it’s during a testing year/month? Are they going to be up to par if they’re worried and stressed about both things? I’d rather take the time necessary to deal with whatever needs handling, and return to our normal schedule when the distraction has passed that force a half-effort just to ‘get through the material’.

That said, there may genuinely be times where ‘getting through the material’ is called for, especially in cases where the distraction or situation is projected to be a long-term one, or something that isn’t quickly or easily resolved. In that case, doing the best we can with the options available is still the way to go, which may include considering options that wouldn’t otherwise be agreeable. I’ve said many times that I am not ‘anti-school’; if that was the best option for my kids, then I’d consider it.

But for most of us, distractions and interruptions are a part of life. They come and go. Relax-Mama-posters-LR-Cover-1288x984-1748x984I’ve learned to accept them, and roll with them as best I am able. Depression and anxiety are issues that I deal with on a regular basis, so when I need to take time out, I do. Even though doubts still prey on my mind and my anxiety can get the better of me at times, I try ‘use my tools’, relax, and remind myself of the truths that I’ve come to know about homeschooling, especially in times of distraction or interruption:

  1. Learning doesn’t always have to happen at a desk.
  2. ‘Doing work’ doesn’t always mean that actual learning is taking place.
  3. I have time; this interruption will pass and we’ll get back to normal.
  4. We’re not in competition with anyone or any organization and are thus never truly ‘behind’.
  5. Our goals are for the kids to know how to study and learn; that’s not something that can be taught via worksheet.
  6. Our year-round schedule allows for ‘distractions’ and ‘interruptions’; we’re not off-track (even if the schedule says so – just fix it!)
  7. School isn’t limited to weekdays or daytime hours; we can make-up work on the weekend or in the evening if necessary.

What are your reminders that get you through distractions and back on schedule?
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


Go With The Flow

When it comes to establishing habits and patterns in your life, experts will say that you have to do it consistently for anywhere from 2 weeks to one month for it to become your new normal. While there may be some grain of truth to that, I think there’s more to it than just committing to something new for a while and expecting the new thing(s) to magically become ‘how you are’. Particularly  when it comes to making changes to habits that you’re pre-disposed to having or that you’ve had for years, or doing something totally new in your life that also works against your nature.

For example, homeschooling.

For many of us, taking on the full responsibility of educating our kids is a new thing. If you had a child in school, then going from being the mom who gets the kids up, fed, packed and out the door to school everyday, to being the parent who gets to revel in the first (or third) cuppa long before the kids get out of bed seems like a luxury. And it is, don’t get me wrong! But all too easily, in even the strictest of homeschooling homes, ‘relaxing’ can go too far. To be fair, so can rigidity – but this post isn’t really about how relaxed or rigid your homeschooling style is. It’s about moving from your reality to a space that is more in line with your ideal (provided your ideal is at least somewhat realistic).

Lots of parents, when they first start homeschooling, have this vision of educational perfection in their heads. I am not excluded from this misty-eyed vision of homeschool naiveté; it’s such a great fantasy! But that fantasy rarely takes into account your level of introductory excitement vs. your maintained enthusiasm. It also rarely takes into account the family’s routines and patterns.

‘What is she talking about?!’, you’re probably wondering. Hang in there – I’m getting to the point, I promise!

So, as a new homeschooling parent, you may have this vision of greeting the sun, coffee in hand, with snuggly children all around you. The sun rises, the birds sing, the children yawn and stretch and get ready for the day. While you gather your materials, they brush teeth and finish breakfast and everyone gathers at your knee to  start their daily lessons, while you (indulgently) pat them on the head and offer gentle re-directions and instructions as needed. The little darlings are blissed out, understanding their privileged state of learning at home, and showing deep respect and appreciation for the time and effort that their dear mother puts into finding the right curriculum and materials and blah, blah, blah… you get the picture.

Only to find out, disturbingly, that instead of this beautiful fantasy, you end up with a life that looks more like the after picture in this equation and wondering what the heck you did wrong.

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So what’s the trick? How do you go from your frazzled reality to a more peaceful new world? More importantly, how do you get started in such a way that you don’t automatically fail after a week?

The answer to both questions is ‘go with the flow’. What I mean by that, is to plan on a routine or schedule that flows within your already established patterns. If you’re not a morning person, then creating a schedule that requires you to be up with the sun is probably not going to be realistic. It’s easy to plan on paper – but when we have an ideal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our lives, instead of making adjustments and keeping that momentum going, all too often, we chalk it up to failure and nothing gets done that day….or week, or month. While ‘try again tomorrow’ is a good theory, it only works if tomorrow’s plan is better than today’s, and being creatures of habit, we rarely take the time to analyze what went wrong today and make changes (that we implement) for tomorrow.  

If your patterns run toward more productivity in the afternoon, it may be wise to schedule a lazier morning and have your more in-depth studies later in the day. However, if you notice that your precious little darlings work better in the mornings, it may be necessary to work towards making an earlier start. This may take some time to accomplish, but it’s worth it if it’s what your kids need.

I notice that, in my family, none of us are ‘morning people’, however when it comes to schoolwork, if we are up by 8AM and start school by 9AM, the day seems to be more productive overall. If we wait until 10 or 11 to get started, then it’s like pulling teeth all day to get their work accomplished. This sucks for me, because I could win sleep marathons if there was such a thing; no time is better for sleeping, in my opinion, than between 4AM and 11AM. MY most productive time is typically between about 11PM and 2AM. But my kids are not that way, so I’ve had to make adjustments to ensure that we get at least a couple of days during the week where we are up early and working earlier in the day.

So how do you make those changes? Small steps add up to big ones. Start small – it may be a matter of slowly adjusting your schedule over the course of weeks or months to get where you want to be. You could take a different approach and designate one or two days as ‘this’ schedule, and one or two days as ‘that’ schedule. We tend to take the second approach; one day home, one day out. One day early, one day later. It works for us because it doesn’t require the odious task of making a permanent change that contradicts my personal needs (or desires, if you wanna get technical about it. Habits… how’s that?).

Another facet of ‘going with the flow’ is your ability to put in the time and effort – meaning, in short, homeschooling is hard. And time-consuming. And HARD for the parent. It’s much more-so if you choose to construct your syllabus, rather than rely on a boxed curriculum. Much of your free time is eaten up with school planning and studying so that you can provide for your kids. Realistically, after a couple of years, that gets old. Your eventual need for a break can outweigh your intent, and there’s no shame in acknowledging that. Implementing a change that helps the situation is better than dealing with burnout (which can last a long time).

I’m talking about getting help with school. If you can outsource in any way – whether that’s just having Dad (or Mom if you’re a homeschooling Pop), or Grandma or Grandpa or a homeschooling friend or co-op or community lessons or a tutoring center … if you can lighten your load, then don’t be afraid to take advantage of those resources. Some of them are costly, and for many (us, included) that takes them off the table – but some solutions just take effort to implement! A mini-co-op, for example: choose one or two days a week and one or two friends who have strengths in subjects you’re weaker in and school together. There are many free online resources that can lighten your load as well.

This year is the first year that I am out-sourcing some of the kids’ work – and ‘lo, it is *glorious*.  Math is not my favorite subject, and it’s my weakest subject, both for my own skills and my ability and confidence to teach, so we outsourced it this year. Having Maths off my plate to plan and teach has relived SO MUCH of my stress – I can’t even tell you. I’m not totally un-involved; we’re using Khan Academy, and we all have accounts. I ‘play’ too, and we compete. I brush up on my skills, learn new things, have my finger on the pulse of their lesson and it’s fun, too. But being able to oversee, rather than instruct has made this year so much more enjoyable for me (and less stressful).

Another way to ‘go with the flow’ involves maintaining the connection and relationship and communication you have with your child(ren). Successful homeschooling is a two-way street; it involves the kids just as much as the parents. Some days, the vibe is just ‘off’ and as any seasoned homeschooling parent can tell you, it’s far better to reschedule the day than it is to try to force something that’s going to make everyone miserable. I tend to build in ‘slacker’ days on our schedule so that we can either take that day with a lighter load, or play catch up if we needed that slack earlier. It all evens out in the end, and makes for much more harmonious days as we go.

So what are your tips and tricks for ‘going withe the flow’?
Warmly,
~h


Halloween Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time!

Warmly,
~h

 

 


Lesson Planning – Fall 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, go about refining the weekly classes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy planning!
Warmly,
~h


Secular Homeschool Conference

Today, our homeschool group sponsored a mini-conference for people who are, and who are thinking about, or planning on homeschooling their kids in this area. The closest homeschool conference or ‘open event’ is in Houston. I’d go, but the only issue I have with it is that they tend to be heavy on the faith-based thing. That’s cool and all, but really not my bag. We’re secular homeschoolers, so I thought that hosting an ‘informational’ mini-con might work. I created a public event on Facebook, and sent out invitations to all of the homeschoolers I knew, and invited them to share the event and invite their friends. I was expecting only 1 mom outside of our group.

Color me speechless to find out that more people came than I was expecting! We had 3 soon-to-be homeschoolers, one who wasn’t able to make it, and four who are already in our group and are actively homeschooling. For our first event of this kind, I think it went pretty well, especially considering that we didn’t really advertise or anything. I’m fine with that, and having this one finished opens up a lot of possibility and ideas for future events.

So, I wanted to talk about organizing one, and make some notes and share some thoughts if you might like to put on a homeschooling mini-con of sorts for your community. Here are somethings I learned and wish I’d had on-hand:

1. an identifying banner of some sort – I didn’t realize that some of the ladies who were there waiting were there for us and if we’d had a sign of some sort, we would have been easy to identify. I priced a 1′ x 3′ banner at the UPS store and it was less than $30 for a vinyl sign with grommets at each corner. There are lots of times that may be a good thing to have, so I am considering getting one.  www.VistaPrint.com carries banners similar in size for $16.00.

2. name tags – helpful! Since it was a small group, I think I remember everyone’s name, but I am SO BAD at names! So having name tags would be good. Also, being able to address everyone by name creates a sense of intimacy that most people respond well to.

3. a sign-in sheet – also helpful! – since there was only one woman that had not already contacted me, and she was friends with another mom in our group already, I can pretty easily get in touch with them. Had we had a bigger turnout, then I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk to each of them individually (which is a perk of having only a small group).

5. Handouts – I really should have written up a hand-out or something for everyone to take home – a welcome kit… something. I’ve done them before by calling different companies and asking for samples (things pencils from office-supply stores, other swag from school supply stores, coupons for local kid’s places (jump zone, OrangeLeaf, bowling or skating, etc.), a list of resources, a pamphlet about our group, etc. If I’d thought about it a month ago, I’d have had time to pull that together. Maybe even a gift certificate for dinner or something and do a ‘just for fun’ raffle. A lot of places are wiling to donate stuff like that if only you ask.

4. I think next time, if we do this again, I’d like to do a bit more promotion. Our group is already on our local Library resource list, and is on several ‘group databases’ online, but local advertisement for local homeschoolers would make more sense and probably be more helpful at attracting locals.

5. Explain to my homeschool group members better what kinds of audience we’re targeting with this project, and break it down into small, specific jobs so that my group moms have a better idea of what’s happening and how they can help. I asked for help a couple of times, but, only to find out today that I wasn’t explaining myself very well. I’d love to make this a yearly thing, and many hands make light work, so I’ll need to work on that for next year (if we do this again).

The feedback was good – that what was presented was helpful, and the experiences shared by the more seasoned homeschooling moms (especially about their ‘getting started’ experience) was reassuring and worth hearing. Our group has been growing by leaps and bounds since January, and from what I’ve heard lately, we can expect more.

For our topics today, we covered:

*Homeschooling and Texas Law*

Homeschooling Law in TX  (synopsis)

HSLDA website

  • In Texas, homeschool families are considered private school and as such, are are not subject to regulation by the school district or state (this includes standardized testing and compulsory attendance edicts), and are exempt from school-time curfews (with identification).
  • Since homeschooling is legal in Texas and operate independently from a school district, you do not have to allow the school district representatives to ‘review’ or ‘approve’ your child’s curriculum.
  • The only the requirement for legal homeschooling in Texas is to homeschool in a bona fide manner, with a written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship. This can be as simple as a sheet of paper with these subjects written on it.

*Methods and Philosophy*

The method an philosophy has to do with how you think that children (your children) learn best, and what you think school should be. We all start out with preconceived notions about these things, and sometimes, we find that we were right all along. Other times, we may need to choose a new direction. Reading about the various styles of homeschooling that are out there gives you a ‘niche’ for what you are already thinking. For the most part, why re-invent the wheel? Homeschooling has been around for generations. Though each new generation adds a new twist on an old idea, when you’re just starting out, knowing where you fall in the ‘structured…. unstructured’ scale can help find resources that will be closer to what you’re looking for and makes a good place to begin your research. Here are overviews of some of the more well-known methods and philosophies out there:


*Learning Styles and What they Mean to You*

Everyone gathers information about the world through three sensory receivers: visual (sight), auditory (sound), and kinesthetic (movement). Some people rely most on visual cues, others prefer auditory input, and still others learn best through movement. Educators refer to these differences as learning styles. How does knowing your child’s learning style help? By identifying your child’s dominant learning style you can tailor their education to lean heavily in that direction so that they learn best. Public schools tend to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ in their approach. Homeschooling with an eye toward your child’s learning style will help make schooling more enjoyable for you and the, and maximize their learning potential.

Learning Styles

  • Auditory – listeners: They may learn to talk early on, and may enjoy listening to tapes and playing musical instruments. Auditory learners are often talkative. They may like to read aloud, recall commercials word for word, or do tongue twisters. In school, they may memorize math facts much more easily in a song or poem than from flash cards.
  • Kinesthetic – hands-on: Kids who love taking things apart to see how they work, or who are obsessed with building toys may be kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic kids are often in constant motion, their movements are well coordinated, and they are anxious to crawl and walk as quickly as possible. In a classroom, kinesthetic learners can be fidgety. They’ll often be the first to volunteer to do something —anything—active. They want to do an experiment not watch it or read about it.
  • Visual – watchers: As babies, they are often drawn to lights, colors, and movement. They revel in colorful toys and piles of picture books. Visual learners enjoy and learn easily from pictures, handouts, videos, and films. In school, they can learn science principles by watching a science experiment rather than having to conduct the experiment themselves.

Not leaving the teacher out, there are different teaching styles, too. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is the ability to tailor-make your education program. Everything is yours to try, tinker with or discard in favor of a new or changing idea or need. As a teacher, you’re interacting with your child in a different way than as a parent. The two are closely related, of course,  but what you want for your child may be different at an age, o what they need from you may call for more or less structure. So learning your teaching style is also helpful. I am sure there are more, but the way I like it explained best is Directive, Guide and Facilitator. All of these can work with basically any schooling philosophy or method, though it might take some finagling.

Teaching stylesTeaching Styles

  • Director – had total control over all aspects of the child’s education. Parent sets mood, tone, lessons, materials, and every aspect of what the child learns. I see this as more of an elementary level style of teaching, though some children who tend to be easily distracted may work better having everything laid out for them.
  • Guidance – Parent still sets most tone, but has slightly more input from the child. Parent helps guide the child to subjects, activities and research that are in-line with his/her interests and goals. I see this as more of a middle-school style of teaching, though may work for independent children who work well alone.
  • Facilitator – Parent is solely there to facilitate – to learn about and promote learning through the child’s interests. And/Or the parent is there to help, but the child’s education is largely self-directed. I see this more of a high-school age style of teaching, but also works well for children who are very self-motivated and who need little by way of encouragement.

Obviously, this list is not complete, but may help you determine what your style is, and what your child may need from you. Often, if you have more than one child, each of your children may need something different from you.

*Curricula – Finding What Works*

Finding the exact right curricula can be absolutely overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of options, and often many options associated with different methods. Finding what fits your family can be challenging at best. First, knowing what fits in line with your personal philosophy and what method you want to use is important. That will eliminate may curriculum options right off the bat. Identifying your student’s learning style and your teaching style will further narrow the options. Once you have those things out of the way, there are several places you can begin.

Grade level (or age/peer group) can be a good place to start. If your child is being pulled from school, unless you know they were behind, you should be able to pick up with that grade level work. If your child was consistently getting lower scores, it might be worth it to drop down a grade and work on cementing the previous foundations before moving on. Don’t feel bad if you need to do that; your student will soon catch up and even surpass his peers.

Many parents feel that it’s a good idea to have a ‘spine’ – a framework that tells you what your child ‘should be’ learning. This is often found in the scope & sequence. What is ‘scope & sequence’? A couple of options are:

Core Knowledge K-8th Grade Sequence 

Texas Education Agency Scope & Sequence

You also want to figure out your schedule. Many homeschoolers take more frequent, shorter breaks than public schools. We school for 4 weeks, then have a week break, then pick up again. Others have different schedules; you’ll find out your own. That may be closely aligned to the ISD, or may be totally different. Do what works for your family.

*Getting Started – Homeschooling, Year One*

Tip #1: Don’t buy anything ‘big’ the first year – no curricula, don’t re-model your house. There are PLENTY of free homeschooling resources that you can use the first year. The last thing you want to be is locked into an expensive curriculum that both/either you and/or your child hate(s).

Tip #2: Look at your first year as an ‘exploratory’ year. Try different styles, experiment with times and days, try out different methods. See what works and what doesn’t. After a fully year, you’ll have a much better idea of your teaching style, and of your child(ren)’s learning style. You’ll be able to spend that whole year trying new things and ideas and will have a much better idea of how YOUR homeschool will work when you start planning for Year 2.

For me, setting up our space helped get me in the frame of mind. Having our school space separate from the ‘home’ seems to help us all focus a little better. That’s not to say that we’re trapped in here during school. We’re just as likely to work on the living room floor, retreat to their own bedrooms, have school on mom’s bed, have school outside, pack up and head to the park… all totally valid options. But just having that space helps me out a lot.  Of course, that’s not practical for every family, and many families just don’t want that. Again, do what works for you! There are so many options – if you don’t know what you want right off the bat, start with one thing, then change it if it doesn’t work. Flexibility is one of your greatest ‘teaching tools’.

Another tip is to join a homeschooling group. If there’s not one in your area, start one and you can learn together with the other newbies. If there is absolutely nothing in your area, find a good forum or group to join online. Having someone you can talk to to vent, praise your children bounce ideas off of, share resources, talk about your latest field trip, gripe about your non-supportive family or in-laws… whatever – having that support is absolutely essential in my opinion.

The blogosphere is awesome, too. I have learned so much from reading other blogs! Moms that inspire, Moms that I am in awe of, Moms that make me laugh, Moms that really make me think… there are SO MANY homeschooling moms of every variety, of every style and method – it’s truly amazing how much these bloggin’ mamas share. Feel free to check out my sidebar – there are tons of links!

***

If you were able to be with us today, THANK YOU for coming out! If you’re planning a mini-con for your community, I’d love to hear about it! I’d also love to hear what kinds of things that you, as homeschooling parents, would want to get out of a small-scale conference.

Warmly,

~h