Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Mom's Life in 7 Quick Takes

We had the flu here this went thru the entire family.  The weather was really nice so it's kind of a pity we were all stuck inside.  Firstborn and Soccer Boy brought it home from church camp last week.  Soccer Boy was sick Saturday, Game Boy on Sunday night, Princess on Monday night and Toddler Boy was sick Monday night and Tuesday night.  By Tuesday night, after three nights of no sleep I finally succumbed and was sick that night and all day Wednesday.  It got pretty bad, but after Mom was totally out of commission for 24 hours my family came to a new appreciation for what, exactly, I do around here all day long.  Because my role in the family is so "behind the scenes" you really don't see it unless I'm totally taken out of the equation.  A mom has to be pretty ill to be totally taken out, here's 7 Quick Takes on what I currently do on the daily...

1.  Meals

One of the bigger things and obvious, someone had to make food for the remaining six people in our family.  Doug went in to the office yesterday morning while the older two kids held down the fort.  They made scrambled eggs for breakfast and Doug came home and made turkey sandwiches for lunch.  I recall him asking me sometime that afternoon what he should make for supper and I suggested just picking up a rotisserie chicken from Schnucks when he was out getting me Gatorade (a red one from the refrigerated section, because I could only gag it down cold).  I think he made baked potatoes to go with it, but since I didn't leave my bed all day I can't be sure.

2.  Home Maintenance

Someone has to do all those dishes the meals are creating!  That person isn't just me, we have a chore system in the house.  I am the one who makes sure the chores are getting done.  The world won't end if the recycling doesn't get taken out for one day.  However if we don't do dishes for a day we won't have any clean ones for the next day.  We have a dishwasher but the cups and plates for seven people will usually take up all the room.  Which means the pots and pans will have to be done by hand or you run another load in the dishwasher.

3.  Calendar

When I went to pick Soccer Boy up from swim practice this morning he mentioned that we missed the team picture.  Whoops, picture day was today, it was on the calendar and they sent out an e-mail reminder at the beginning of the week.  However, my family is not used to checking the calendar.  It seems at this point the calendar exists for my purposes.  I keep the family calendar at home and Doug keeps his at work and we coordinate them every so often.  Today I realized I need to teach my older kids the calendar system so when I'm out of commission they can keep everything on track.

4.  Chauffeur

His first swim meet went until 11:15pm
due to rain delay!
Speaking of swim team, Soccer Boy missed practice yesterday morning because I was just too sick to get out of bed to drive him to the pool.  In a couple years this won't be an issue because Firstborn will have his driver's license, but for now if Dad is at work and I'm sick you're not going.  I guess I could have called one of my girlfriends and asked them to take him but it was just one practice so not worth the inconvenience.  He has a swim meet tonight and our family is scheduled to work.  I had to tell them we wouldn't be able to work it because I'm not up to it and Doug appears to be coming down sick today.

5.  Take care of little ones

Toddler Boy loves his hot dogs!

Soccer Boy:  Toddler Boy wants hot dogs all the time
Me:  Yes
Soccer Boy:  I'd cut one up and heat it
up for him and then 5 minutes later he'd want another one and I'd have to do it all over again!
Me:  Welcome to my world...
Soccer Boy:  Luckily I have skillz so I was totally on top of it.
Me:  You need "skillz" to cut up hot dogs?
Soccer Boy:  (gives thumbs up)

Beyond the whole "getting snacks for the little kids all day long" there is the "taking Toddler Boy to the potty" which ranks a close second.  The youngest two in the house are not nearly self sufficient so a big part of being the mom of little ones is just that.  They need help getting dressed and fixing their hair (I'm pretty sure that didn't happen yesterday).

6.  Homeschooling

If it had been me, I would have let this one drop for the day but Doug wanted to do their math with them...

Princess:  I want to go to school next year.
Doug:  Why, didn't you like doing your math with me?
Princess:  No, you're not a good teacher because you say stuff like "you're            doing it wrong".

7.  Laundry

I guess laundry could have been stuck under home maintenance, but I figured it needed a whole section unto itself.  Because when dealing with the stomach flu we go thru an insane amount of laundry.  Normally I do one or two loads a day, but I need to double that this week.  Plus, Soccer Boy and Firstborn had just come home from a week at camp so I had extra from them.  I know Doug threw in at least two or three loads yesterday, we're running out of clean laundry baskets because he didn't have time to fold or put away any of it.  That's my project for today.

Hopefully next week will be a bit healthier!  Click over to Jen's to see more 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How I Homeschool

Micaela at California to Korea is doing a link-up series for homeschoolers.  I thought I'd give it a go, so here are the answers to her questions...warning:  long post ahead!

How long have you been homeschooling?

We are coming up on our 7th year homeschooling our oldest child and the 5th year for everyone else.  We started out with the public school system from preschool on up thru 2nd grade.  I had wanted to give homeschooling a try at the end of first grade but Doug wasn't on board until the end of 2nd.  Our boys were struggling readers, so that was the original catalyst to take them out of the traditional school system.  Our oldest took to homeschooling like a duck in water, it naturally fit his personality.  After two years of "living in both worlds" I finally convinced Doug that we needed to bring them all home.  Soccer Boy was going into 3rd grade and Game Boy was entering Kindergarten at that point.  This coming year we will be doing high school at home for the first time with kids in 9/7/4/1 grades.  Now homeschooling is more of a lifestyle choice for our family and I'm very thankful we took the plunge early on in our kids' education.

How were you educated?

My husband and I are both products of the public school system.  Doug comes from a line of great public school teachers, with his mom and grandmother both working in the field.  He went on to get his Bachelor's in Finance and an MBA.  I graduated in the top of my high school class and went on to get a Bachelor's in Accounting.  I worked full time as an accountant for 5 years before I decided to stay home with the kids when Soccer Boy was born.  All these degrees are not necessary to homeschool your kids, but they do come in handy when doing your taxes!

As an aside, I do not think the public school system is "evil".  It is actually necessary, because not everyone has the opportunity or inclination to educate their kids at home.  I was actively involved in our local public school when my kids attended there.  I was a room parent and a parent volunteer, I applaud our teachers because they are doing a fabulous work, it is not an easy job they undertake.  I have come to view homeschooling as more of a "lifestyle".  I like the fact that our school revolves around our family life and not the other way around.

How many kids are in your family?  How are they schooled?  Are any more traditionally schooled?

Guess I sort of answered this questions above.  We have 5 children, the youngest is three so he's not "officially" in our homeschool yet, but it's amazing what he'll pick up just listening in on his siblings' lessons.  We do belong to a very large homeschooling group in our area, which gives us access to a variety of lyceum lessons.  For example, Firstborn did his Apologia Biology class with them.  It was great, he did his reading and homework at home and did the experiments with the group.  Translation - I didn't have to dissect frogs at home!  It was great, and since science is my weak area (due to all the experiments) this helped keep us on track.  Because there is a large network of homeschoolers in our area and there are so many great things offered the temptation is actually to get involved in too much.  I just have to laugh about the socialization question.  We could be out of the house "socializing" almost every day of the week, but then we wouldn't be home to get their homework done!

What laws, if any, are there in your state?  How do you comply?

This is where we are blessed indeed, because we live in Illinois, the most unregulated state of the union.  We have to actively lobby to keep it that way.  Every year there is a homeschool "cherry pie" day in Springfield, where the homeschool families deliver home made pies to all the representatives and speak to them about issues related to home education.  Every time homeschooling regulation comes along homeschoolers show up by the 1,000s at the capital!  It's amazing to see.  Homeschools are considered private schools in our state.  There are no compliance laws, when we decided to homeschool I notified the public school in writing and that was it.  I wasn't even required to do that, but since my kids were in the school system and we were taking them out I wanted something official in their school file.  I administered the CAT test myself when were first brought them home so I had a baseline when we started.  I had Firstborn take the IOWA test offered thru our homeschool group this year because I wanted him to have practice taking standardized tests.  He'll be taking the PSAT and ACT in a few years and we don't normally do those type of tests at home.  Drivers Ed will be coming up in a couple years and our state does regulate that.  My kids will have to take an outside class in order to get their driver's license but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Switching gears here; if you could summarize your homeschooling philosophy in one sentence or mission statement, what would that be?

Wow, digging deep.  The theme bible verse of our homeschool is Colossians 2:2 "that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge"

Ultimately, we want them to come away with a love of God, family and their neighbors.  We also want them to have an excellent education to prepare them for college and life in general.  We think our family does that best thru home education.

What is your homeschooling style?  Do you follow any set curriculum?

I would say eclectic.  When we first started I used a boxed curriculum that did all the grading for you.  Since I was teaching a 3rd grader, it didn't take long to stop sending the bubble tests in to be graded when I could grade them myself instantaneously.  The curriculum didn't work for us because I had a child who was ahead in some stuff and behind in other areas and I was constantly substituting what he needed.  What's the point of homeschooling if you can't tailor it to the particular child's needs?  That's one of the biggest benefits of this educational choice.  The second year I did more research and started piecing together our curriculum from different sources.  I still do that today.  I review what is working for us and what isn't and go from there.

We currently use Tapestry of Grace, which is an all inclusive type curriculum.  It encompasses everything but math and science.  I like it because it teaches all age levels the same subject at the same time.  This means when we're studying Ancient Egypt, everyone in the family is studying it at their own level.  So the kindergartner may be studying the pyramids while the older students are writing papers on the Egyptian legal system.  However, I'm still doing what works for our family.  Even though art can be included in the lessons I'm considering using the Meet the Masters curriculum next year.  You make the curriculum and schedule work for you, not the other way around.  I also started using All About Reading last year with my younger kids and really liked it.  I'm thinking about adding All About Spelling this year.  We've been doing Saxton math for a couple years now but next year I may move to Alpha Omega's SOS on-line math course because I need math to be more independent so I can spend more time on reading and phonics with the younger ones.  We love Apologia for science, we've used that for years.  Last year I discovered Donna Young, which practically gives you lesson plans for Apologia for the entire year, a great resource.

What do your best homeschooling moments look like?  What do your not-so-good moments look like?  How do you stay on track?

Staying on track can be difficult, especially when juggling 5 kids!  I make a broad yearly schedule at the beginning of the year and then I do a weekly lesson plan at the beginning of every week.  The Tapestry curriculum almost requires that, because of all the reading involved I have to plan a few weeks out to get the books we need ordered from the library.  If a book is used a lot or looks really good we might just buy it to have on hand for a resource.  One of the benefits of the lyceum classes is that it keeps us on task.  My kids make sure they have their homework and reading done for those classes because they don't want to show up unprepared!  There have been years we didn't finish in May and had to work thru the summer months.  Regardless, I have found that we at least need to keep up reading and math in those months.  We still "do" school in the summer, it's just way more relaxed.  This is where the library's summer reading program comes in handy.  During the school year we use the Six Flag reading program, Raging Rivers reading program, and Book It program as incentives too.

Baby sea turtles!!
Some of our best homeschooling moments...when the kids look forward to and get excited about what they're learning (like studying a certain subject, or doing certain experiments).  When I see the older kids spontaneously read their favorite books to their younger siblings.  Field trips always make great family memories.  Using our family vacations as learning tools, like visiting the Mote Aquarium in Florida after we did a science study on marine animals the semester before.  We even scheduled our vacation around the time the sea turtles hatched, so the kids got to see sea turtle nests and baby sea turtles!  Being able to explore in detail the kids current interest (like when Firstborn went thru a fascination with the Red Baron, which led to many studies about WWI and WWII, aviation, the industrial age, morality and theological implications, the list goes on).  Because he was interested in the subject he soaked up all this information like a sponge and retains it to this day.

Not so good moments, when you have a plan and the kids don't cooperate.  Yesterday, I made a sand pudding dessert for a meeting the younger kids and I were attending.  I chose that dessert specifically because the younger kids could help me with it, a fun dessert that involves some measuring of ingredients.  I figured having fun and giving the kids some hands on math practice at the same time.  After breaking up the third or fourth argument, the last one fighting over "who gets to get the butter out of the fridge" (like, really, this is worth arguing about??) I exiled my kids from the kitchen and finished the pudding myself.  You can set everything up and still the kids might not cooperate.  On an everyday basis, our days are usually more average.  You have the awesome days and terrible days, most days fall in between.  When you're dealing with six people chances are someone is not in a good mood.  You have to press thru despite a negative attitude here or there, then get up and start fresh the next day.  It takes discipline, perseverance, and prayer...homeschooling has forced me to develop and abundance of all three.

How do you keep any non-school aged kids busy?

Caught writing on brother's homework!
This is a biggie!  I do have some activities for them that I keep put up unless we are doing school.  Stuff like a small water table that we set up in our kitchen (which always buys me an hour but then I have to mop my floor afterwards).  Play dough, stuff I only get out to buy quiet time.  If I get really desperate there is always educational videos he can watch.  If an older kid has scheduled free time I might assign them to keep an eye on the little one so I could finish a phonic lesson or make lunch.  This is something that is always evolving because little ones grow so fast.  The most difficult time for me is the under 1 time because they need me to nurse so frequently.  I've never been able to master the "read a book to another child while nursing" thing.  Around age 1 I would set up a playpen in whatever room we were schooling in, but that may only buy you 1/2 hour to 45 minutes.  On those subjects you need large, uninterrupted blocks of time...nap time is your friend.

How do you organize your day?  Your year?

We currently run on a 9 month calendar, with 3 months off in summer (although we still do light homeschooling all summer).  We always plan our vacations in the off seasons, so we take time off for that and holidays.  Because Fridays are our lyceum days the other four days of the week are front loaded, we do more homework on those days so we can take Fridays off to go to classes.

What is your strongest subject area?  Your weakest?

History and math are my strong areas.  I really love teaching those subjects.  I like science to a point, I just don't like doing all the experiments (because I'm not a fun mom).  One of the great things about older students is teaching them how to think logically and make rational arguments.  I love being able to have deep discussions with them on current events, to be able to debate with them.  To see them form their own opinions about issues and be able to explain their position.

Although I love to read I don't particularly like to teach phonics.  I think my first year attempting phonics with Firstborn did me in.  I recall looking at the 3rd grade phonics book and trying to figure out what sound matched the picture (then asking Doug who also couldn't figure it out).  That first year curriculum was challenging!  I just don't have the patience, but there's no other options for it because they have to learn to read somehow.  So I "occasionally" grit my teeth thru phonics lessons.  Art is not high on my list either.  I'm basically a stick figure person and I have a love/hate relationship with glitter (I love seeing it on their projects but not on my floor).

Looking back, what are you glad you did?

In the early years, one of my favorite times of day was the early morning.  Everyone would still be asleep and I would be sitting in my bathrobe drinking a cup of coffee when I would see the schoolbus drive by out my window.  I would always think "I am SO glad we're homeschooling" in that moment as I not so fondly remembered how crazy hectic our mornings were to get everyone ready to head out the door!  I'm glad we brought them home while they were still young, I think the adjustment would have been harder if they were older, for both them and us.  I'm also glad we got plugged in with other homeschoolers right away.  The support is so critical, because there are days when you think that school bus looks like a really good option.

And what do you wish you could change?

I wish I would have pushed the phonics lessons harder, we brought home struggling readers and I had to do a lot of remedial work with them.  Occasionally we will still come across some basic stuff that needs fixed.  We thought in the beginning that bringing them home would automatically correct some of these issues, because they would be getting one on one attention.  However, if they struggled with it in a school setting they may continue to struggle with it in a homeschool setting.  Just because your child is homeschooled that does not mean he's going to be 2 grade levels above his public school peers.  I wish I jumped on some of those learning glitches faster instead of taking the advice that it was a maturity issue.  I heard that when they were in public school too because Firstborn was one of the youngest boys in his class.  It's easier to correct the issue from the get go than to fix a bad habit.

Firstborn's 8th Grade Graduation
If you could give any advice to a new mom starting out, what would it be?

Pray about it and make sure your husband and you are on the same page because you'll need his support.  Even if you start on the same page you could discover you have different homeschooling philosophies.  Working out these differences is what makes marriage interesting!  Find common ground and work on compromising, give and take.

If there is a local homeschool group get connected.  If not, find some homeschoolers in your area or at the very least join an on-line group.

Practical advice...math curriculum can either be "mastery" or "cyclical".  We've used both, be careful when switching between the two or you could end up with gaps.

There is no "perfect" curriculum, the key is consistency.  Making time to do the homework day in and day out.  Do your research, make an educated choice at the beginning of the year and run with it.  However, don't be afraid to change something that is definitely not working for you, even if it is mid year.

Consider joining HSLDA.  Even though we live in a free homeschooling state we still join because it helps keep us up to date on current homeschooling legislation.  Plus it provides legal backup in case your neighbors decide to call a truancy officer because your kids are taking a recess outside during school hours (I've not had this happen, but it's the kind of thing every homeschool mom worries about).

If you think this is the route your family should take just try it.  You will probably never feel like you are totally ready to undertake this, prepare the best you can and then jump in and learn as you go.  Our family continues to make the decision whether or not to home educate on a year by year basis.  You'll find your rhythm and some day years later you'll find yourself writing a ridiculously long post about the ins and outs of life as a homeschooling family.  Many blessings as you start your journey!