The Average Homeschooler

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Three average homeschoolers tackling a day of school at home.

I have had so many thoughts swirling around in my head lately and I have wanted to post about it for a while now,  though I needed some time to process what I was feeling and what I wanted to say. There is something going on in the homeschool world that is rubbing me the wrong way, and I know I am not the only one struggling with this. The problem is that there no longer seems to be a place in the homeschool community for the average homeschooler. Of course that shouldn’t really matter for we all homeschool alone, but what I am talking about is how homeschoolers portray themselves online.

When I first started homeschooling all those years ago I felt very welcomed and at home in the community. I was a young single mom with very limited funds, and I never felt like I would not be able to do this. Older, experienced moms encouraged me and helped me with homeschooling on a budget. It seemed very doable, and I felt I could meet all of my student’s academic needs very easily at home. If I was starting out today I am not sure I would feel the same.

There is a ton of pressure on all parents today, and this includes homeschooling parents. I believe that social media and the internet are partially to blame, but I also think some of the blame rests squarely on our shoulders. There is this strong drive today to be the best at what you do, to take things to a higher level, to provide your children with the most amazing experiences. It is hard as parents to filter out all of this, and it is hard to not compare ourselves with others. Unfortunately this is what happens, and because the majority of homeschoolers cannot do everything they see online, many are left feeling inadequate or they end up worrying about the fact that they, as parents, are not doing enough for their children.

I know how hard it is to resist these feelings as I have suffered from them too. In addition, I have heard from numerous homeschooling parents who have left various online support groups and in-person groups due to the enormous pressure they feel from the most vocal homeschooling parents. And it does seem that many of these vocal parents are the ones who have the ability to provide their children with wonderful opportunities that many other homeschooling parents cannot.

Of course there is nothing wrong with what these parents do. It is their prerogative to spend their time and money the way they want and to give their child and/or children the education they want. But there needs to be a balance on these forums and in these support groups. Instead of just being a place where a few voices are heard, we need it to be a place where everyone has a voice. Instead of always talking about what our own children are doing, we need to support all the children. I feel a responsibility to the new homeschooling parents, to the struggling homeschooling parents, to the isolated homeschooling parents to show them that it is possible to homeschool successfully with what you have.

I always felt like homeschooling evened the playing field in a way that schools couldn’t. It seemed when I first started that no matter your background, income, or race that you could homeschool your child and succeed. Today it feels like the homeschooling world is starting to pull away from that ideal and becoming more and more competitive. I suppose this was inevitable given the amazing growth that the homeschool world has seen, but I still hate to see it.

Take for example this article that was recently published in Boston Magazine. In it the author asked if homeschooling is “the new model for creating elite kids?” The article discusses one student who homeschooled and was accepted this year into Harvard. This is a great feat, and one that the parents can be proud of, but it also bothered me to no end. Maybe it was the fact that it seemed every homeschooler was sharing the article all over social media (as if to say “look my choice is valid, this kid got into Harvard!”) or maybe it was the fact that this look at homeschooling was a look at how wealthy parents homeschool, or maybe it was the fact that other articles that discuss homeschooling, such as this one, this one, or this one (just to name a few) are not shared or talked about nearly enough.

In hopes to balance out this phenomenon I am calling on all homeschool parents to share more, to support more, to ask questions more, to help more. I know I have sometimes struggled greatly over the years being a single mom on a very limited income with three children who all have some special needs. It has not been easy. I have to think over every decision I make long and hard before I make it due to these reasons. I have also had to make many sacrifices over the years. I would have loved to travel more with my children, I would have loved to have been able to have a tutor or mentor for each of them, I would have loved to have had more opportunities for them, and I would have loved to have had more individual time for them. But that has not always been possible and that is ok.

As my mom says, the children will all grow up. They will all find their way. In the meantime, for this short period that we can call them our own, could we be a little more kind to each other? Could we support each other and try not to be so competitive? Could we take some time each day to be thankful for what we do and have and remember not everyone has the same? Could we pause a moment before we post something online and think is this beneficial to anyone? Could we perhaps humble ourselves for the greater cause?

An Amazing Year

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

Tired after a day of homeschooling.

After homeschooling for over ten years I have come to the harsh conclusion that every year is not always going to be great. Sometimes the curriculum is a bad match or a child is going through a hard time. Whatever the reason, some years are definitely better than others.

The twins and I still talk about their third grade year. It was an incredibly rewarding year. Decca and I look back fondly on his second grade year when he worked through a whole level of Moving Beyond the Page. He loved every book we read and enjoyed all the projects. Here at TADTown we haven’t had a wonderful year like that for a few years now. We haven’t had horrible years, but they weren’t amazing by any means.

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This year though is going to be remembered as the Great Homeschooling Year of 2014. It has turned out better than I expected, and I am so happy that everything is going so smoothly for everyone. The twins and I have figured out this high school thing, and they are loving all of their classes. They are doing well in them all, and I don’t have to hold their hands anymore. Last year they were transitioning to independent workers who took control of their education, and this year they are managing their classes on their own and are clearly in the driver’s seat. I still teach them British Literature (and I enjoy it so much as it is our only time that we are actively learning together), but for everything else they are learning in online classes independently of me.

The youngest boy is also having a wonderful year. He even remarked to me the other day that this is his favorite year ever. Some of this is due to the curriculum I choose for him, some of this has to do with his maturity, and some of this has to do to the fact that he underwent more testing at the beginning of the year. This testing helped me see a more complete picture of him which in turn aided my choices for the year. Because of his testing I decided to go back to a charter school for him. In addition to financial support for homeschooling, we have been matched with a wonderful ES who is credentialed in Special Education which is incredibly helpful to both of us.

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The curriculum that is working for my 2E kid is a mix of different resources. For language arts we are working through Bravewriter, and this year we added in our first Bravewriter class, Just So Stories. This was a great success for the boy, and we both are looking forward to more classes with Bravewriter. We will probably do two more this school year and alternate them with issues of the Arrow. In addition to Bravewriter, he continues to write his own stories every day. He is a writer and needs hours a day to write in order to feel successful.

For math I had to re-think my plans after his testing. Everything I thought we would do went out the window and was instead replaced with Math Works, a program I found for kids who are behind their peers in math. It is not overwhelming to the boy and is getting done everyday. To me that makes it a success.

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For science he started out watching all the BrainPop videos (again!) and then we started Ferret Ecology from Royal Fireworks Press. This is another winner here, so much so that we ordered Plague! too. I believe the boy enjoys working through this because it is problem-based learning which allows him to research, which he loves to do, to find answers. There is also a good deal of writing required in the program and because this is his strength he is happy to do it.

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My history plans went out the window within our first week of school. First I thought I would let him study whatever he wanted, following his interests and see where that leads us. That did not work at all. Then I decided we would use History Odyssey and study medieval history. This also did not work, at all. Finally we moved on to American History. I have created my own study for him based on all the previous years that I have taught this to the kids. It is a nice, laid back study which for whatever reason he really likes. We found a timeline app, and he works on it everyday. We read through an encyclopedia and visit various websites for topics related to whatever we are studying. He also reads a book or two a week on various topics.

In addition to the academic work he does, the boy has a good deal of free time everyday to work on his own projects and to listen to audiobooks. He needs this time, for when he has it he does better in the academic work. We probably spend two hours at the most on formal work, the rest of the time is his own. This works for him, and it works for me. It also makes for a great school year. One of the best years we have ever had.

High School Homeschooling

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I have been officially homeschooling two high school students for four weeks now, and I am starting to feel that I have a good handle on it. All my worry over the past six months or so was really for naught, or maybe it served a purpose, as this year is turning out to be one of our best years yet. Regardless of whether all that worry played into our great year, I do feel that there are several other reasons as to why everything is going so swimmingly (And by the way I am knocking on wood through this whole post, as I don’t want to jinx my good luck).

You will learn!!  This is actually a clip from their latest movie, but I thought it went nicely with this post. :)

You will learn!!
This is actually a clip from their latest movie, but I thought it went nicely with this post. 🙂

1. The twins are enrolled in online classes for the first time this year – I felt that high school was the time to branch out into the online world of classes. The twins are enrolled in a french class with a teacher that meets twice a week. They are also in a writing class, and Tru is taking his Algebra 2 class online through CTY.

2.  Online classes are balanced with parent-led classes at home – The kids and I still enjoy learning together, and I especially treasure this time as I know in a few years it will be gone. It is a joy to discuss history and politics with them, to work through biology labs with them, and to learn Latin with them. Even helping them through Writing with Skill is a joy for me, although some days with Tru’s frustration it may not feel that way.

3. The twins have outside classes that they enjoy – High school is a time to discover and develop one’s passions through classes and lessons in the community. Autry is taking piano lessons and she is in a choir. Tru is getting involved with the local astronomy club. They are both taking guitar lessons, physical training, and they are in a teen book club. These classes also provide them with a social outlet which they both need.

4. The twins have a strong homeschool support group – This is crucial for them, and I am very satisfied with the group we are involved in. There are park days, social outings, and classes available. The teens in the group seem to all get along, and it is a very active and welcoming organization.

5. The twins and I are stressing the joy of learning over the stress of preparing for college – This was an important distinction that I made early on in planning for high school. Yes the kids will eventually head off to college and yes I want them prepared for that, but I also want teens who truly enjoy learning. Teens who find personal joy in reading, teens who feel they are learning because it is important and not so they can score high on a test, teens who are not stressed out by the demands of high school. I know so many parents and teens who are stressed through all four years of high school. I don’t want it to be like that for my kids.

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This is what the high school years look like so far. It will most likely change as they get older, and I am prepared for some teen angst along the way that may change everything. But for now the twins are content with their freshman year, and I am content with our routine. I enjoy having them home, and I enjoy watching them grow up. I am thankful for this opportunity to learn along beside them and to guide them to adulthood.

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This blog post is part of the Let’s Homeschool Highschool blog hop for September.  This month’s theme is Back to School. Would you like to participate? If so link up your blog post through the link below.

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School Pictures Over the Years

Twins at the beginning of their homeschool journey, 2003.

The twins at the beginning of their homeschool journey, 2003.

I knew I wanted to homeschool my kids from day one, and the twins started their first year of homeschool at 4. At that time there were not too many choices for curriculum, but I was lucky enough to stumble onto Tanglewood Homeschooling back in the day when she sold complete packages. I bought her first grade package and remember being so excited to receive it in the mail. It came with Story of the World which I had never heard of before, and I sat down with the kids our first day of school and began reading the book. To my amazement the kids were hooked from the very first page, and as they say, the rest was history.

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2004 – I took a picture of all three of them collecting pill bugs. I think this sums up their year fairly well.

Over the years I have tried to make a point of taking pictures of the kids at the beginning of each year to celebrate our new year. Some years I put a good deal of effort into their pictures, and some years I just took a quick shot and called it a day. I was thinking about the pictures I will take this school year, this year of high school and fifth grade, and I thought about how old the kids seem. In my maudlin moment I decided to look back at our pictures through the years, and I am so grateful that I have all these pics to remember our homeschool years.

The year they discovered Harry Potter.

2005 – The year they discovered Harry Potter.

I wanted to share these pictures, as it helps me feel good about our homeschool journey. Looking through them I am confident about the next years to come. I am not only confident, but I look forward to them. In a few days I hope to post this year’s photos to add to our collection. We may not have the typical school pictures that so many do, but we have are own “school” pics, and I am grateful for that.

2006 – This year I decided to take more formal pics.

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2006 – We incorporated are favorite homeschool book into our school pic.

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Decca's first workbook

Decca’s first workbook

2007 – Outdoor pics at the lake in Woodbridge

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3rd grade – Time for an outdoor pic

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Decca’s school pic at 4

2008 – I call this year the year of the chair.  😉

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4th Grade for the twins

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2009 – I thought it was such a big deal to have two kids in double digits (it was!), and I couldn’t believe Decca was six.

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This was also the year that we went to Disneyland for three nights for the Not Back to School Days. It was the best way to start a school year.

At Disneyland celebrating Not Back to School Days

At Disneyland celebrating Not Back to School Days

2010 brought another year. This time I had two sixth graders and a second grader. The twins started changing and began to look a little older. I decided to take a group photo this year.

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2011 – Autry started at OCHSA, but we still managed to get to Disneyland in September. We had fun with our school pictures this year.

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2012 – Back to more formal outdoor pictures

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Goals for the Next Four Years

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I haven’t posted on here in a while. I seem to be in a major writing funk, and  one of the major reasons for this funk is that I have been stressing a tad bit (actually a great deal) about the twins and the high school years. I have been having trouble figuring out what I want them to do for the next few years, and I was struggling with what exactly my goals for them are.

I have been researching, reading about different high school curriculum,  looking into colleges, reading different plans that parents have put together, looking at AP classes, and looking at the SAT and ACT tests. Basically I have been over researching and over thinking it all.

During all this crazy, the kids and I went to a homeschool park day, and many of the parents there were discussing high school plans. A friend of mine made the comment that (and I remember it perfectly because it resonated with me) “can’t high school just be about high school?” This one comment started the wheels in my brain turning and had me asking the same question to myself over and over again. Can high school be just about high school? Can the four years that make up this stage in education and development be of any value even if your ultimate goal is not to get into the best college? Is there any value in developing healthy young adults?

I have come to the conclusion that yes there is. So what should the goals be for this stage? Or to put it a different way, what should be accomplished in the years from the early teenager to adulthood. Looking at it this way I have been able to come up with a list of the goals I have for the twins for the next four years. These goals will help my son and daughter make the transition to adulthood smoothly and with confidence. The goals will also help prepare them for whatever they want to move on to, whether that be college or something else.

My goals are:

1. To have young adults who have confidence in themselves, confidence in their decision-making processes, and confidence in their abilities.

2. To have young adults who feel they have a purpose in life and have something to give.

3.  To have young adults who know they will always have something to learn.

4. To have young adults who are well-educated in all aspects of health: physical, mental, sexual, and spiritual.

5. To have young adults who feel they can take risks even if it means they will fail. Failing is as important as succeeding in life.

6. To have young adults who are financially smart.

7. To have young adults who have spent time developing a passion and a weakness.

8. To have young adults that have had the time and space to discover who they are.

9. To have young adults who can write with purpose whether it be academically or creatively.

10. To have young adults who love to read.

11. To have young adults who can converse with other adults of all ages in a mature and articulate way.

12. To have young adults who have traveled extensively and experienced life outside their own comfort zone.

These are my goals for now. I am positive that these will change along the way, but I wanted some sort of framework for myself and the twins for this stage in our lives. I feel that it is so important to raise healthy adults who are equipped for adulthood as opposed to stressed-out teens who are worried about their grades and what college they will get into. Not that college isn’t important, it is. But it should not be the only reason for the high school years.

This post is part of the High School Home School Blog Hop.

Click here to enter your link and to read other entries.

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Homeschooling – The Early Years

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I like to read the boards over at the Well Trained Mind, and every so often I read a post from a mother who is panicked about whether their young child or children are doing enough work. Often the posts will list all the curriculum the child is doing, then list all the curriculum the child is not doing, and then go on to discuss how frustrated both the parent and the child are getting. Sometimes the child becomes grumpy and uncooperative, sometimes the parent feels like all they are doing is yelling at the child, and it is obvious to me that everyone is miserable.

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I understand the feeling, I do. We are raising children today in a highly competitive world where the parent, especially the mother, is often judged for anything and everything. Homeschooling is something that most people have a very strong feeling about, and when someone makes the decision to homeschool, they often want to do it “right”, so that no one will accuse them of making a bad decision.

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But homeschooling can be hard, especially with little ones.  Some days when mine were little I just wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and cry. Or I just wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and take an hour-long shower. Or I wanted to lock myself in the bathroom and read. Basically I just needed an emotional and physical break from my kids. And there was nothing wrong with this.

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Nor is there anything wrong with not spending hours upon hours a day doing work with your little ones. You do not need to re-create school at home. Of course you can if you like, but it is not necessary. Nor is it necessary to make yourself feel miserable by setting both of you up for failure. The first few years of school should be stress-free and full of joy and wonderment. Read books to your kids, introduce phonics in gentle, short lessons, work on math in short bursts, introduce the kids to the joy of audio books, take them on walks, play in the sand, let them play with Legos and dolls, get them working in the kitchen, let their imagination go wild.

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Do anything or do nothing, either way it will be ok. There will be plenty of time for learning all they need to know for school, but they will never be little again, and they will never know the joy of learning if you do not teach it to them. This is what I have learned over the years. I look at my kids, the ones who seem so old now. I am happy to have teenagers. I love conversing with them, I love seeing them discover their passions, I love seeing glimpses of the adults they will become. But I miss those days that we did nothing, those days we all enjoyed so much. Days of parks and ducks, of swimming and laughing, of mud and sand, of Harry Potter dress-up and Little House audiobooks. It was so simple and yet so effective. It was wonderful.

Writing – A Family Affair

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The kids have been writing stories together lately, which is pretty awesome. The twins started working on a story first using Google Drive, and they seem to enjoy this format. One will write a few lines, then the other will add to it. If someone doesn’t like what the other writes, the two will debate it, and then revisions take place. Soon Decca joined in.

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The kids don’t consider it writing. To them it is a game, a game they have named and written down the rules too. It’s a collaborative game they play, and it turns into a story at the end. They create pictures and character background info. They choose a setting for the story. They grammar check and spell check each other’s work.

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The rules to this game are simple. Each person can only write down four sentences at a time, nothing crazy is allowed  (I think this rule was added when Decca joined in), and you have to take turns. The kids tell me that it improves their story-writing skills and their spelling. They also say it is fun. So much fun that they seem to spend a great deal of their free time lately writing.

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Writing on their computers, writing using Google Drive, writing as a family. Editing and spell checking each other’s work. Being critics to each other, discussing ideas with each other.

I love this “game” that they created. I love when learning happens naturally.

Decca

I have this wonderful son, and his name is Decca. Quite a unique name, but it fits him perfectly because in many ways he is unique. He loves music, the piano, making movies, doing math, and making people laugh.

He is defined by all these things. But he is also defined by many as the boy who does not talk. You see Decca has selective mutism, and he is so terrified by many situations that he deals with this anxiety by not talking.

His selective mutism was brought on by a very traumatic event. When he was four years old, I went away for a night, and even though I prepared him and family was with him, something happened. He woke up on the morning I was gone, and he couldn’t find me. He was scared and very frightened and, in his mind, he thought I had died. He stopped talking right then, and for six months he didn’t speak one word to anyone but the twins. My wonderful twins, who at seven, took on so much to help their little brother.

Needless to say, Decca was in therapy, mostly play therapy, for months, and it helped. He began talking to some family members and me, which made me so happy. But he couldn’t talk outside the home to anyone, not friends, not extended family members, and certainly not strangers.

Decca at four.

Along with his selective mutism, Decca stopped calling people by their names. He could no longer say his friends names, he stopped calling my parents Grandma and Grampa, he no longer referred to his Uncles, and he stopped calling me mom. It broke my heart, and I am sure it broke his heart too.

For over three years my son has not called me mom, but I never gave up hope that one day I would hear it again.

I tried so many things and nothing worked. Decca had his own way of referring to people though. Grandma and Grampa became Old Man and Old Lady (and it didn’t bother them). Uncle Jesse became “my movie maker” because they make movies together, and I was known as “the one I love the most”. It was very sweet.

Recently though Decca has begun using names. Not the same names he used before, but new names. First my brother Jesse, who has a special bond with Decca, taught him to call him Tío Chuy. I didn’t think it would work, but it did, and I saw a joy in Decca that I had not seen is a long time.

Decca with Tío Chuy

He then started referring to Grandma as Babushka. We use to go to a park where we would always see this wonderful lady and her grandson. She was Russian and her grandson would call her Babushka. I always remembered that, and I often will use that word. Decca began to use it a few weeks ago, and Grandma is now Babushka.

Decca with Babushka

Up until this week though, Decca still wasn’t calling me anything. Every name we tried sounded too much like mom (mater, ama, mere) and so he couldn’t use them. Then my step-dad told me that in German some people call their mothers mutti. I told Decca about this name, and he liked it. He was comfortable with it. And he uses it, all the time.

Decca and Mutti

The first day he started calling me mutti, he must have said it over a hundred times. I think he was in as much pain as I was, and he really wanted to call me mom. For the last week I have heard “I love you mutti” so many times to which I always respond by telling him “I love you too Decca”.

And I do, so much.

And he loves me, his mutti.