Monday, August 24, 2015

A Day in the Homeschooling Life

I am asked often, "How do you do it?" I wrote a post about it a few months ago called, what else but How DO Your Do It?!  Today I answer the questions and tell you quite literally how we do it with a 'Day in the life of' kind of post. Much requested, and I'm finally MAKING myself git'er'dun.
   To start: Alarm goes off at 6am. I actually slept until I heard it this morning, which is rare. Usually my youngest has me up already. Get up and at 'em, and start my day with my playlist on my laptop on the kitchen counter. It's all my favorite worship songs, and gets my head in the right place for the day. 

The next most important thing after that: a cup of home-brewed kombucha. It's always the first thing I put in my stomach. Fantastic for both immune and gut health. 

After that, I munch on a bowl of cashews while I get around to unloading and loading the dishwasher, making Husband his breakfast, and packing his lunch(usually leftovers). Today straining kombucha and getting a new batch brewing was added to the list. Yes, a kombucha tutorial is also much-requested by my readers. One of these days I'll make the time to do it.

While I'm puttering around the kitchen and talking to husband about his day, the kiddos begin waking up and doing whatever the mood strikes them. Thankfully, it's usually something quiet. 

Usually. Sometimes they wake up and announce their presence by hissing and growling ferociously from the top of the stairs, letting us know not only are they awake, but they're a rabid raccoon today.

Somewhere around 7am, we all meander out to the front porch(pets included. No joke. They're always there) to give Daddy our hugs and kisses goodbye.

.... Then we stand there and wave, kids screaming, "BYE DADDY! I LOVE YOU! YOU'RE THE MOST AMAZING DADDY IN THE UNIVERSE! BE SAFE! I LOVE YOOOOOOOOU!" until he's out of sight. Undoubtedly, we are the neighbors an acre over's alarm clock. I'm sure of it.

Once he's gone, I make breakfast for the now-awake remainder of the household. Today it was smoothies. One over-ripe banana, 2 cups frozen mixed fruit, 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1 cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 cups organic, pure coconut water makes enough for all four of them. Add a handful of almonds to the side of their cup for more protein, and breakfast is ready in less than 5 minutes. 

While they're eating, I get to thinking about the day's meals, and do any prep I need to. Today I put a roaster chicken rubbed with garlic powder, sea salt, and chili powder in the large crock pot on high, then 2 cups pinto beans, 1/2 a chopped onion, chili powder, and cumin, and 6 cups water into the small crock pot on high. They'll be done for a kind of Tex-Mex flavored lunch with cubed cheese(protein for the poultry-allergic one), grapes, and mixed greens sale. 

Everyone was up early today(usually breakfast is at 8, today it was at 7:30), but regardless of the time, the routine after breakfast is the same: Wash hands and faces, brush teeth, get dressed, come downstairs ready to start school. The goal is by 9, but today we started shortly after 8. Look! I took a selfie so you could see that even I get dressed. Well, you know, if you consider layered tees and my fave LuLaRoe leggings dressed. I do. 

We start with math. It's the hardest for my oldest so it takes her the longest, and since I started teaching her first we've just stuck with that. We get it done and out of the way while her mind is fresh, and the rest of the day is smooth sailing. It works well for everyone else, too, so we don't fix what's not broken. 
Start with #1. She likes to work beside the guinea pig cage. I guess Wilbur helps her focus. We go over her work for the day(review of multiplication in horizontal, vertical, and word-problem forms), and I leave her to it. 

#2 gets to work by himself while I'm working with #1, because he's an excellent reader and can get started by himself. I check in with him to make sure his lesson is going well. 

Before I sit down with #3 to do her math lesson, I hunt down #4 and make sure he's not harming himself or anyone else. Just then he was playing in my bed, laughing, and talking to himself about some imaginary adventure in the blankets and pillows. I leave him to it. 

#3 sits quietly at the table waiting for me. Don't you love her "fashions"(what she calls her outfits and accessories)?

We go through her lesson on simple addition, sequential numbers, and the 40's family at the dining room table, then go to the wall in the school room to practice her counting, by 1's, 10's, and families, to 100. 

While the big kids continue their math, #3 and I work through her reading(practicing letters sounds and basic blends) then phonics workbook. At some point during this, #4 meanders out and does a drawing, adds stickers, then asks to play PBS kids on the laptop. Yep, that sure is smoothie on his forehead and shirt. He's a grazer so he was still sipping on his and I don't bother cleaning him up until he's done. 

#1 comes out and needs help clarifying a concept on a word problem, then goes back to her work. #2 comes out and needs his math checked. Done, and I give him his reading assignment. Off he goes to the floor behind the couch with the dog to read, and #3 and I do her history. We learn about the flag, and how many states are in the USA. After that, draws a picture of the flag, then she practices some lower-case s's for penmanship, before reading a quick paragraph with me about fingernails in science, then she's done and off to play PBS Kids with #4.

 I go over reading comprehension questions with #2, then we get to work on his grammar and phonics work. Also, I'm hungry again. A bowl of mixed greens topped with purple onions, crumbled leftover falafel, feta, and drizzled with tzatziki join our ELA work. #2 plugs his nose while he works. 

#1 comes out with completed math, and today everything's correct. HOORAY! She takes a while(today it was 1.75 hours), but she's thorough, heartfelt, and as long as she's focused she does very well. I give her the day's reading assignment(She's working on Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"), then go through the day's history with #2. By the time #2 is on to penmanship, #1 is moving on to her Language Arts workbook. Before long, I am in the schoolroom breaking up the bickering as #2 bemoans cursive t's and #1 has insulted him by insisting they're "Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy." I got bad with the pictures after this as I played referee between them and tried to help #3 and #4 realize that repeatedly jamming their fingers on the touch screen of the laptop would mean the computer would freak out and NO ONE got their way(compromise-shompromise when you're 2 and 4). #2 finished penmanship so we did his science as #1 did her history reading and wrote in her notebook the answers to the reading comprehension questions. #1 and I review and discuss her history, then she moves on to penmanship as I give #2 his spelling test. 100%!  He's proud, and I'm proud of him. #2 is done for the day and scampers off to build a boys-only fort in his room out of bed sheets, blankets, and the bunk bed. #3 and #4 follow him and do likewise. #1 and I do her science reading together and discuss the various joints of the body after, then I give HER her first spelling test of the year. Out of 25 words, only two wrong. She gets down on herself very easily, because she's a natural-born perfectionist. I try to encourage her that she's AMAZING, pointing out how she spelled much harder words like delightful, disobedience, and Pennsylvania just fine, it's just the easier words(today it was errand and academic) that trip her up because she over-thinks them, expecting them to be much harder than they are. She is her mother's child, to be sure. 

By 11:30am we're done for the day, eat lunch, then run outside to play with the hose on this nearly 100F, stiflingly humid day. Even the puppy partakes! 

Clean and dry clothes followed by 1.5 hours of quiet rest time(the younger ones nap, the older ones or whomever doesn't sleep lay quietly in their beds and read books), and our afternoon is wide open for anything and everything. Today we laid low and played inside, because I was too tired and sweaty for any adventures. The boys pretend to be mummies in their sarcophagus- aka an old box from recycling- and the girls have a birthday party for #3's imaginary friend, Bleh-Bleh, complete with ripped-up paper confetti and a cake made from Styrofoam and colored pencils. Happy 42nd birthday, Bleh-Bleh! Hard to believe you've been around that long. Do you age in months?

That's about it! I'm busy all day. If I'm not teaching, I'm cleaning or doing laundry. Or something. Always something. 

Have any more questions on how we do our homeschool day, how we teach, or our curriculum? Ask away! I know every family is different, and I'm happy to share what works for us. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Trap of Imaginary Enemies

    With the new school year comes the onslaught of technical questions and discussions about state
requirements. Inevitably, with those discussions comes the avalanche of ignorance. As outliers of the mainstream, we as homeschoolers deal with a lot of criticism and judgement. Neighbors, cashiers, friends, family, and strangers everywhere have preconceived notions and ignorant questions("But how will the learn how to stand in line or make friends?!") about how we do things, so we tend to spend a lot of time sticking up for ourselves, our legal rights, and our kids. Unfortunately this means we're often going in with our dukes up, so to speak, with certain people, especially administrators in the public school district.
   When I first began homeschooling we were in New York state, one of the most demanding and difficult for homeschoolers. Not only does the state require a Notice of Intent to homeschool, but when they respond to your NOI, you then have 15 days to respond with a complete IHIP- Individualized Home Instruction Plan- which is a plan for how you intend to meet the requirements for each subject(specific curriculum book names, co-ops, community classes, etc) for each individual child. Throughout the year you must also send in quarterly reports, which are detailed write-ups on what you covered in every subject that quarter, and the student's grade for said work. At the end of the year you must provide an approved form of evaluation, whether it be an annual review(acceptable every other year for the elementary school ages) or standardized test grade report. This load of reporting, on top of the responsibility of teaching the kids was really intimidating! I did my fair share of asking questions. After several years, though, I realized it was pretty simple. Tedious, but homeschool coordinators in all the various districts we were in were helpful, flexible, and understanding of life's circumstances.
   Despite this kindness and flexibility, I found there was a constant undercurrent of tension between the district personnel and the homeschoolers, and the source was surprising. It was the homeschoolers! Always ready for a fight, always assuming the district personnel were 'glaring' at the homeschoolers, so to speak, in their paperwork and conversations. The homeschoolers were constantly inferring this from the district without the personnel doing anything. When I stated on several discussion groups the reminder that the district was just following state requirements and weren't actually the enemy I was always met with two extremes: profound agreement or outrage. OF COURSE THEY'RE THE ENEMY! THEY WANT TO CONTROL US! When asked for proof of this in either in word or deed, there's nothing. Ever. Just a perceived notion.
   One example was when a former friend(she became so angry with me as a result of this discussion that she eventually cuts ties with me) was attempting to obtain speech therapy for her child through the school district, but balked when they approved the therapy but asked for the child to be registered with the school district. The other homeschoolers in the discussion on Facebook pulled out their dukes and proclaimed the district was trying to control what she could teach her child. When I, who actually had a child receiving such services from the district so I knew from experience pointed out that registered was different than enrolled and all they wanted was their home address, child's date of birth and social security number so they could prove to the state where the funding was going as well as that the child was a legal citizen residing in their district, the commenters and mother of the student in question turned on me with mob force. SURELY I WAS WRONG, BECAUSE ALL THE DISTRICT WANTS IS EVERY CHILD UNDER THEIR CONTROL!!! When I asked what proof they had of this idea, what the interactions with the district had been thus far? Oh, nothing but pleasant, were all the responses, but they just know that's how the districts and state work. So just your ignorance and seeking offense? Gotcha'.
   Because there is so little required reporting here in Virginia, I expected it'd be different here. I was wrong. All that's required here in VA is a Notice of Intent to Homeschool and a copy of a GED or high school diploma to prove you are equipped to teach your child. Then at the end of the year you supply the district with some sort of evaluation showing your child has adequately progressed in Math and Language Arts. VERY simple and very respectful of parents' rights. But no. They find beef here. And by "they" I mean the homeschoolers. Just today there was an uproar about the minuscule semantics of the wording of various districts' responses to NOI's. One poster said, "They're trying to insert some power over us with their wording." Another said, "They should have said they ACKNOWLEDGED receipt of our NOI instead of 'accepted'. I don't need their approval, thank you very much." Seriously, one word's difference, and 30 women were in literal outrage over the abuse of imaginary power the schools were trying to infer over them and their children. They're kidding, right? But no. The indignation over minute semantics was pathetic. I took the time and wrote out a very thoughtfully-worded post reminding the moms that the district was not our enemy, that they're just printing off copies of the same letter and sending them to everyone who sends in an NOI as recognition for their records. There's no ill will, no contempt, no assertion of power. While MORE than 30 'like'd my comment, many more turned on me with that mob force and told me I knew nothing.

Yep. You're right. I know nothing.
Select "Turn off notifications."
Don't return to the conversation. 

   If you're a homeschooler I beg you to remember this: The district is not your enemy. You likely know the laws far better than ANYONE in the district, because all they do is perform lip service to the position for which they're trained. YOU know the laws because you've done the hard work for the sake of your children. Know the laws for your state. Be informed so that should you actually encounter a need, you are able to advocate for your family. Acknowledge that the homeschool coordinators did not create the paperwork themselves, they're simply handing out what was created in response to the creation of homeschool laws decades ago. They're not trying to make things hard for you. They're not trying to control you. In reality, they're all probably very nice humans just doing their jobs to earn a paycheck for their own families. The only reason district personnel have a bad attitude toward homeschoolers in my experience is because of the bad attitude of homeschoolers before you. Don't let the ignorance of others push a bad attitude into you. Fulfill your state-mandated requirements, and enjoy teaching your kids. End of story.

Post publishing note: Since writing this I have received a huge outpouring of kudos and messages of gratefulness for writing this. There are MANY of us who agree here. It's hard to say if we're the minority or not. The din of ignorance is so deafening, are they just the squeaky wheels? If so it's certainly time for those of us who disagree with their animosity to speak up. If you're silent in the face of ignorance then you're promoting their message by default. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Why I Love Back-to-School Season

It's the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeeear!
I really do sing that about the start of a new school year. Every year my Facebook feed is filled with mothers posting variations of, "I cannot wait for school to start and get these kids out from under foot!" Some aspects of that I can understand. How much could I actually accomplish if my older three got on the bus at 7:30am and didn't return until 3:15pm?! My house could be clean, my meals more thoughtfully prepared, my gardens less neglected, the laundry done, and I might even actually have time to sew more than once a month, not to mention the quality one-on-one time I could have with my toddler. But the very thought of not having my babies with me for the greater part of their waking hours 5 days a week 10 months out of the year is heart-wrenching! I know there are plenty of mamas who do have to send their kids to school and still feel identically to me, so I know it's not just a homeschooler thing. It's just a thing. A thing that forces me to be much better at time management, or else much better at prioritizing. 
   So why is this the most wonderful time of the year? Well for starters, the smells of fresh books, right off the press, a brand new box of real wood pencils, and brand new chubby crayons are delicious. 
   Secondly, I don't have to spend time keeping my kids busy, or at the very least supervising the littler ones to make sure they're not endangering anyone or themselves in their creative play, or planning regular outings to keep people from getting stir-crazy. Instead, we have a very structured day for everyone through lunch time, then we have quiet time while the toddler naps, and after everyone's awake it's a free-for-all play time until dinner. The kids appreciate their play time so much more when they've had that structured, task-filled morning. I rarely hear the dreaded phrase, "I'm bored," during the school year. It's amazing. 
   Thirdly and most important of all to me is the time spent focused on each child individually and connecting with them instead of just supervising them while I try to get my to-do list done. Sure, we have one-on-one time during the summer as well, but there's just nothing like the time spent with each child, several minutes at a time during each subject, explaining, connecting, learning their language, that helps you understand them each as individual human beings. Watching them struggle with a concept is frustrating, to be sure, but growing relationship with each child and learning how to teach it in their unique language, then watching their eyes light up and their pride well up inside their chests is just unlike anything else. It chokes me up every time- every single time- and I've been doing this for six years now. Those little moments every day can never be underestimated. They MAKE my life as a homeschooling mom. When people say, "You homeschool? Oh wow, I don't know how you do it." All I can think is how lucky I am to be able to do it. 

My sweet crew on Monday, the start of our 2015-2016 school year: