Quarter One Done

October 28, 2011

As hard as it is to believe, our first quarter just came to an end. 

It wasn’t a bad quarter.  We’re just about where we should be according to that silly plan that makes my inner school teacher squeal with glee.  Leaving the last 2 weeks of a quarter free for catch-up and review still works beautifully for us.  No idea where I first picked up that tip but so glad I did!  🙂

Integrated Algebra continues to be the most difficult thing to keep up with.  The girls don’t pick it up as quickly as I did as a kid and I admit, I often find that frustrating.  My brain works differently and it’s a challenge to find new and different ways of explaining it all.  I just ‘see’ how it works.  They need clear steps to follow, formulas to use, ….  and lots and lots of practice problems!

I’m soooo glad I bought a large whiteboard.  At the time it seemed like a bit of a splurge but now I can’t imagine how we’d get through this math without it.  Besides being able to clearly show both girls how to solve a problem, I make full use of the different color markers to highlight each individual step on the way to a solution.  They’ve found this helpful and the girls have begun to use colored pencils in their own work as well.

We’ve added a US History trivia contest to help review many of the different topics we’re touching on.  I ask the questions and Dad plays along to keep them motivated.  We’re pulling questions from this book.  They’re challenging but the multiple choice keeps it from being overwhelming.  I hand pick 3-5 questions that relate to the time period we’re studying.  I love that the book has explanations for the answers and an extensive review section so we can easily look up additional information right then and there.  The kids (and Dad too) love the opportunity to win a candy bar. 😛

Zee’s working through second grade.  I still occasionally find myself getting nervous about deficits here and there.  Handwriting is a great example.  Two months ago his hand writing was pretty atrocious.  We didn’t do much writing practice last year at all.  Yikes!  But I kept calm and reminded myself that we’ve got time.  I’m so glad I did.

His handwriting has improved by leaps and bounds these past couple of months with very little effort.  He’s also learning and enjoying cursive writing.   Slowly but surely his fine motor skills are progressing and his hand strength allows for longer and longer periods of writing without getting pooped out.  It’s all worked out.

So we’ll move right into the next quarter plugging along in algebra, picking up history here and there, writing and reading ….and checking off things on the list along the way.  Gotta keep that inner school teacher happy ;). 


This will be the biggie for us this year.  We’ll be inching our way through US history unit-study style.  Covering the birth of our nation through 1960 by looking historical events, period literature, scientific inventions and breakthroughs, the growth of our nation and the role geography played in that, music, art, popular culture, economic and social policies, Presidents, politics, wars and our place in world history.

I’ve been pouring over timelines for weeks now.  Timelines about everything from historical events and literature to scientific inventions and popular culture.   Trying to choose what to cover and what to skip has been the absolute hardest part.  It was, for me, another boom-de-ya-da moment.

What’s a boom-de-ya-da moment, you ask?  Well, you may recall Discovery Channel’s Boom-De-Ya-Da commercials from a while back.  I so totally love those 🙂   It captured perfectly something I’d felt since I first began homeschooling.  The world is an awesome place and there is sooooo much to learn about it.  So much to learn that no one can learn it all.  (Phew!  What a relief!)  We all have our own passions, things we love to learn about.  And that’s the way it should be. 

Anytime I get overwhelmed with all the things I *could* be teaching I try to remember…. Boom-da-ya-da, Carol.  Boom-da-ya-da.  There’s always going to be way more to know than I can possibly teach.  I only need to expose them to enough that they can find those things they’re passionate about.   They can take it from there. 😉

Foolish Fears

April 1, 2008

Home Education Week continues over at Principled Discovery where in honor of April Fool’s Day folks are sharing foolish moments, challenging times and rough days.

My first (of many) brushes with foolishness came before I even started homeschooling officially.  I was committed to it.  I’d told the school I was pulling Bee out and our official start date was about a week away.  Despite the fact that it was such a big step, I was feeling pretty confident that it would all work out.

Well, until a well meaning friend in my moms group said, “I don’t know how you’re going to be with your kids 24/7 like that and not go crazy.”   She meant it as a compliment, I think. But when she said it, I realized I’d not even considered that aspect of homeschooling.  I’d been so busy thinking about curriculum and schedules and plans and official paperwork and teaching methods … I hadn’t even thought about the potentially significant switch to being with my kids all the time without a break – ever!

How foolish of me!  I had made the decision to homeschool and never even considered the reality of the endless hours I’d be with my kids as a result!  Her remark had me worrying about it for the next week or so.  Could I really handle being with my kids that much?

Of course, now I feel a fool for every having given it a second thought.  I love having my kids home with me.  As I explain here, I’ve actually found it easier to be around them now than when they attended public school.

In the Beginning…

March 30, 2008

It’s Home Education Week over at Principled Discovery and Dana’s asked us to share some personal history… life before homeschooling.  

In the beginning there was my husband.  Of course, back in 9th grade he wasn’t my husband yet.  We were friends.  I enjoyed bugging him while he worked in study hall.  I sat next to him in almost every class.  But neither of us was romantically interested in the other.

Until 10th grade.  Suddenly we looked at each other and thought, “Wait a minute… you’re the one!”  We dated through 10th grade and by the end had a solid relationship.  Which was good since he and his family moved an hour away the summer before our junior year.  We carried on a long distance relationship for the final two years of high school. 

College time came and although we both looked at private schools, we both ended up at the same, much cheaper, state school.  I went into college with the idea that I would become a math teacher.  I hated the math department so I switched to computer science.  It didn’t really matter.  I think I knew all the while I was just killing time waiting for a proposal. 

I think I finally convinced him we didn’t have to wait till we finished school to get married.  So with a year still to go we finally tied the knot.  Then I convinced him we didn’t have to wait for our degrees to have a baby.  We timed it perfectly, the baby was due just as my last semester was scheduled to end.

Thus I began my career in my chosen profession.    For years I worked at part time jobs. Both for the much needed cash and the chance to be productive, the opposite of my full time Mom job.  But when Adrian was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old, I realized that I was going to need to make being Mom my only job.  I gave up the part time job and have been putting all my energy into my career as Mom ever since.

Adrian started at a special preschool as soon as he was diagnosed.  That was a no-brainer given the amount of educational intervention required and my inability to provide it while caring for 6 month old twins.  School is still the best option for him for many reasons.

The girls went to preschool at 4.  The teacher had some concerns and suggested we hold off on sending them to kindergarten.  But we sent them.  In my mind I figured if it didn’t work out I could always homeschool them.  They had a rough time in kindergarten.  Bee had a rough time in first grade too.  But we muddled through all right. 

Then we got to second.  Bee wasn’t muddling through anymore.  She had some ADHDish tendencies and the school was pushing towards diagnosis, medication and educational interventions.  We didn’t think she needed any of those.  She just needed the right learning environment.  The time had come to homeschool.

Hubby wasn’t fully on board back then.  He wasn’t sure I could handle it with a toddler running around too.  I didn’t have time to think about that.  I had to make it work.  And I did.

So here we are, homeschoolers.  What do we miss?  Absolutely NOTHING.  I wouldn’t go back to the school nights full of stress and homework and chaos for anything.  You couldn’t ever convince me to go through school supply shopping, unproductive meetings with teachers and making my kids do work I know is pointless.  Fortunately, the girls and the hubby all feel the same.

What have we gained?  EVERYTHING.  It’s the ultimate freedom to do what works for us as individuals and as a family.  It’s the chance for the kids to learn and grow without labels, medication, boundaries or boxes.  It’s the chance for us to be together and enjoy our family time – all the time. 

Calendars and Clocks

March 5, 2008

 Zee is one of those kids that picks stuff up quickly, effortlessly.  I’ve been taking full advantage of this by giving him two simple tools, a calendar and a clock. 

With the calendar we’ve been crossing off the days each night before bed.  Sometimes we’ll draw in pictures or write simple words about events.  Sometimes we count how many days are left till the end of the month or till an event.  Sometimes we count how many days are in the month or talk about which day of the week it is. In doing this simple thing, he’s improved his number recognition, counting skills, done some addition and is learning the names of the months and days. 

We found a great clock in our Target store.  Just a cheap, digital alarm clock which happened to have each digit light up a different color.  With the clock across the room we could easily talk about the green hour number or the orange tens number or the red minute number.  Just from watching the clock for a few minutes before bed each night he’s learning to read the time properly, read double digit numbers to 59 and understand that the clock says 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock,  9 o’clock…. twice each day.  He’s learned that we get Adrian from school at 2:00, we go up for a bath at 6:00 and it’s time for bed at 7:00. 

Given how quickly he picks all this up, I’m going to have to figure out more small ways we can keep this thirsty little sponge filled up!

Independent Work

October 19, 2007

A mom considering homeschooling asked me about independent work.  She was concerned that with a part time job, she might not have enough time to homeschool her son.

Another mom in the midst of moving asked about independent work.  She wants her son to continue to learn even though she’s pressed for time these days.

So how does independent work fit into our homeschooling? 

Although one of the main benefits of homeschooling is one-to-one teaching, I think another benefit is being able to let our kids take personal responsibility for their learning.  There are many things that are acquired over time, with practice rather than learned once for all.  I think these are ideal places to give them independence in their work.  Writing, reading, spelling, vocabulary and review are all areas where I’m not teaching so much as providing them with the opportunity to improve their skills. 

The 45 minutes before bedtime is set aside for reading independently.  The girls choose their own, age appropriate books and are free to read at whatever speed they’re comfortable with.  Occasionally they read to one another or I’ll read with them but mostly it’s silent reading.  Through this independent reading the girls have improved their reading skills, discovered new genres and experienced a base of literature that they can draw on to further their own writing skills and understanding of various other topics including history and science.

Spelling is another area where the girls work independently.  Most weeks I give them a list of words and ask them to type definitions and example sentences.  The goal is to increase their ability to look up words alphabetically, get more practice typing and using a word processor, increase their vocabulary and, of course, improve their spelling accuracy.  I often include words in the spelling list from topics we’re studying to make this exercise as meaningful as possible.  Back when the girls were still working on improving their handwriting, spelling work let us work toward that goal as well.

Writing is a perfect example of a skill that can only be improved with practice.  Most of our unit studies produce at least one report, essay, short story or other piece of writing.  They take notes, write outlines and rough drafts on their own.  I  help them with the editing process and then they type the final draft.  I always allow the girls to choose what aspect of our unit study they want to write about.  Sometimes I offer them a choice of writing style as well. 

Review is a touchy subject for me.  I hated it when I was in school.  It was almost always done in class to prepare us for a test and it was sooooo boring.  I don’t want to subject my kids to the same torture but I recognize the value of reviewing things we’ve previously covered.  With twins, I have the benefit of having two students in the same grade, learning the same things.  So for us, review almost always comes in the form of games.  I maintain an index card box full of questions and answers drawn from our previous studies.  Sometimes the girls take turns asking one another questions and sometimes they use a trivia pursuit board game, substituting their questions for the ones included with the game.  I suppose if you had students learning different things you could simply have a seperate box of questions for each.  We also have some homemade math board games that review math facts and those BrainQuest cards that are kept in the car so they can quiz each other on the road.

The end goal, of course, is to end up with kids who can learn whatever they need or want to completely independently.  With this in mind, I think independent work has an important role to play in homeschooling.  As the girls get older, I’ll continue to look for ways to increase the work they complete on their own.

The Daily Groan

October 18, 2007

Since we began homeschooling the girls midway through the second grade, nearly every school day has come with a groan at one point or another. 

I think some of it comes from their experience in public school.  I suspect that part of the kindergarten curriculum is  to teach kids that learning is painful and boring. About half way through that first year of school the groan made it’s appearance.  I’ve heard the same has happened to other parents.

Then there’s the ‘kid’ factor. Kids are famous for wanting to avoid work, right?  Well, in many respects I think mine are the exception.  The privilege of washing pots and pans is actually a highly motivating reward in my house.  But still, they’re kids and avoiding work is part of the creed, right?

So the daily groan continues in my house (although, I have noticed that as time goes on, it is less and less)…. So – what to do about it?!

I’ve tried to be nothing short of honest with the girls about the way things are. 

  1. I am committed to giving them the best education I can in the most interesting and fun way I can. 
  2. They have choices – including the choice to go back to public school and the choice to not complete the work required therby forfeiting advancement to the next grade.

Most of what I do to counter the groan is only to remind them of these facts.  For example:

  • To prove that some things they need to know cannot easily be made into a game or fun activity, I gave the girls each a week of being the teacher.  I told them what needed to be learned, they decided for themselves and their ‘student’ how best to teach it.  Suddenly with the pressure on, they realized that I really was doing my best to make things fun and meaningful.   In the end, they both developed an appreciation for my efforts. 
  • Along these same lines, I regularly offer the opportunity to improve my plans.  Sometimes they can’t think of a better way and simply stop groaning.  Other times they find a different path they like better …which I happily let them take.  Of course, it’s usually things I don’t think are fun or interesting….. but then they think washing pots and pans is fun and interesting!
  • I remind them I’m a person with feelings too.  When they groan, it’s kinda like telling me I’m not doing my job well.  It’s ok to be less than thrilled about the work, but they still need to be considerate of my efforts. Reminded that ultimately I do what I do because I care about them, they usually double their efforts.
  • Choices are built in.  They make the choice daily to do the work or not. In the short term, not working means they can’t play school games.  Long term, they know they can’t proceed to the next grade until they’ve finished the work for that grade.  There are days they simply choose not to work and therefore forfeit their school games.  They’re ok with that and so am I.  So far they haven’t been willing to consider not advancing on schedule, but if they did, I’d be ok with that too. 

In the end, the daily groan has little effect on our schooling.  Much of what they learn, they really enjoy learning even if the initial reaction was to groan.  Still, I’d rather eliminate the habit all together.  Until we do, it’s back to the daily groan!