Burnt Toast and Miranda Rights

Oh yeah, it was MONDAY.

So today has been a MONDAY – in every CAPS LOCK sense of the word. There was basic non-descript bickering after breakfast, a staggered start to school work (not really the kids’ fault), more sibling irritation, and finally, a broken vacuum-cleaner that totally derailed the rest of the academic day. But as I was driving my 3 kids, their school work, and my broken vacuum cleaner to the repair shop (again – but that’s another story), I began to think about how few people I could actually tell about my horrible morning. I know that most of the issues I now relate will sound far-fetched and hypothetical, but it has been brewing in my subconscious for a while, so here it is.

I feel like when we decided to homeschool our kids, I signed away my rights to complain. About anything. I am no longer allowed to comment that my kids had a bad day at school. Or that I’m struggling with their schoolwork. I’m not allowed to sigh that no one was able to focus this morning (even me). Or that despite my best efforts, some of the material we covered today probably went right over my 2nd grader’s sweet head.Nope, I'm fine. Nothing to see here!

Why?

Because it is now, officially and forever, and ever amen, MY FAULT if any of these things occur.

Melodrama, much?

OK, let me explain how it works: When parents (with kids attending a traditional-style school) have a hard day with their kid’s homework, they tell other parents (in the same class or school) about their dire situation . . . then the other parents nod and agree about how difficult the work is, how they wish the teacher didn’t assign so many pages, how the tests are too frequent, and how they are frustrated about the whole system. However, now that I’ve gone ahead and ditched the system, I apparently have no one to blame but myself (or my kids?) when things go awry in our day. (I do find this assumption to be both limiting and preposterous, but there you have it.)

It’s as if there is a certain commiseration chip that no one feels compelled to employ with homeschoolers! In fact, the sentiment I find heartily expressed among the general population is that I brought this on myself and my kids with our decision to homeschool and if I don’t like it, I should go back to regular school. No matter that NO ONE would EVER suggest the opposite to a parent complaining about a day in regular school. Ever. Just saying.

This guy? He's for SURE a homeschool parent!If I sound like I’m a tad bitter, I’m really not. It’s more of a sad observation, really. I know I could simply call up one of my homeschooling buddies and share these thoughts with them, but somehow it smacks of deprivation or bias that I can’t just unload on my other friends the way we’re all accustomed to! I miss it, in a way. Not that I NEED to complain, my kids are great and typically I don’t have much to complain about, but when we have a tough moment, I miss the camaraderie.  Also,  it takes time to build up a solid network of local homeschooling peeps to turn to in the throws of this new endeavor; I had over 6 years experience in the other field. 😉

I suppose the other reason I feel more secure in keeping my mouth shut, is that I’m acutely aware of how many pairs of eyes are watching our every move. In very much a “watched piece of toast in the toaster” kind of way. Only instead of waiting for it to pop up, I feel as if all the pairs of eyes are all waiting for the toast to burn. Waiting for me throw my hands up in the air and say “OMG! What was I THINKING?? Why would ANYONE want to do THIS??” In that instant,  there would undoubtedly be throngs of people nodding their heads in agreement and commiserating with me that they had those same fears and how glad they are I’m returning to “they system” so we can all complain about THAT together again.

I should pause to note that I DO have a variety of supporters in both camps (homeschool and traditional school) who have been amazing throughout this journey and done nothing more than their absolute BEST to encourage me no matter the circumstances — and our kids’ closest friends have been amazing too.

Maybe this will silence the naysayers?

But the fact remains – my toast is not burning. The eyes grow increasingly curious as our school year evolves and I’m still not having a melt-down. So I’ll be darned if I let my “Monday” be known to the masses. Not to put on a ‘front’ or anything, but today I’m realizing why I should exercise my right to remain silent. And why there are probably many homeschool Mom’s feeling the same way.

Who likes Fractions?

Half Man, Half Lion . . . All Myth (and apparently part-time superhero!)

So we’ve officially made it 1/6 of the way through our experimental year of homeschooling. The early start we got in August means we’ve now completed 31 days (of the required 180).

I decided to take a poll at the dinner table tonight because I thought it would be interesting to see how (if at all) everyone’s perspectives and opinions will change throughout the year.

The conversation went like this . . .

M: So, we’re 1/6 of the way through our school year! Can you believe it?

Kids: YAY!

M: How does everyone feel about homeschooling now?

Kids: Umm. Great? (I think perhaps they thought this was a trick question?)

M: OK. So who thinks they might want to go back to (insert name of previous school) next ye. . .

(interrupted by yelling)

Kids: NOOOOOOO!!!!

Well then. I guess our 1/6 of the way through the school year update is that 3/3 of our student body has 0/3 desire to go back to regular school next year. I wonder how they will feel about that closer to Christmas? Or Spring Break? Or Summer? I guess time will tell!

I admit their adamant and unanimous reactions made me very curious about their reasons! So, I did ask why they felt this way.  I received a cacophony of reasons, basically boiling down to the same issue . . .  that (previous school) was too hard.  Hahahaha! (Do what???!!)

Now, I’m especially baffled by this because we are doing almost the exact curriculum as their school counterparts this year (yes, I admit it, I was too gun-shy to veer too far off the beaten path with our curriculum choices).  I pointed this fact out, along with the newsflash that they are actually doing MORE work right now because we have extra time for me to add in subjects they wouldn’t be taking at school right now – like creative writing, art, piano, current events, Lego (yes, that’s right), drama, and coming soon, typing and French – but no matter! They are convinced that this is easier, so for now I’m going to let it slide! It certainly plays to my advantage!! 😉

Or maybe they just feel that way because we did this before school this morning?

Early Morning PE anyone?

Or because they are currently curled up on the couch in their PJs watching “Chicken Run” and eating fudgesicles, instead of racing around getting homework finished or going to bed early for “school” tomorrow?

Either way, it works for right now. Which means so far, 1/6 of the year has been a success.

8 hours x 5

“What did you do with your 8 hours, Mommy?” I laughed out loud but really, this question sucked all the oxygen out of the car the first time I heard it from my 1st grader!

The kids all *loved* school – they loved their 8 hours! (Right??)They enjoyed their friends, had some wonderful teachers, and were making good grades (which = learning, right??). But the more times I heard this question, the more it made me think long and hard about how I really wanted to spend my 8 hours.

Today, I’m really tired. I got up not so early (7:30am, yay, homeschooling!), helped everyone learn something in their 8 (hundred) subjects, ran some errands, cleaned the house, took kids to swim practice, went to the gym  . . . realized it was the wrong class  . . . decided to stay anyway (the jury is out on whether that was wisdom), came home, skyped with one of my relatives in Australia, cooked dinner, helped clean it up,  and fell in a heap. And you know what? I’m so much happier about what I did with my 8 hours today than I was the last time my son asked this question.

Last night I read a blog (yep, I’m not kidding, ALL the time, people. I probably need therapy but so far it mostly has good implications.)  and it commented that this particular blog family had done the math and figured out that they get to spend 1,440 more hours each year with their kids than they would if their children attended school outside the home.

1,440?!!

Oh. My. Word.

Because the next time we do this will be after I next blink.

The “8 hour” question was not the reason we decided to homeschool our children, but I can confidently say that it played a major part in our initial discussions on the matter. Knowing that even our kids noticed how much time we were spending apart and wanted to do something about it? Well . . . let’s just say, I’m happily providing him with an additional 1,440 hours of my time this year.

The Grass isn’t Greener

Same grass and plenty of it!

I heard a quote recently that made me smile:

“The grass on the other side of the fence might be greener but it still has to be mowed!”

I love this! It sums up a lot of my sentiments on homeschooling and life in general, lately. In order to examine it, I think it’s important to note that we didn’t “jump ship” because the grass on our side of the fence WASN’T green. It was. It was very green and we liked it! We miss our friends from our former school a lot. I mean A WHOLE LOT. The only issue with the grass on the other side of our fence, was that our family never had any time to enjoy it.

So if anyone were to ask me, “is the grass is greener for you now?” Well, it would be a complicated answer, because in many ways we feel that it is. We have more opportunities to enjoy spending time as a family. However,  I would never want the illusion to be that homeschooling is the ‘cure for all that ails the modern family (over) schedule . . .’ because it isn’t! The grass on this side of the fence does indeed require mowing. Lots and LOTS of mowing. But the truth is, I feel like a greater number of families shy away from homeschooling because they are far more in tune with the amount of mowing required (or their perception of the mowing schedule) than they are with how green the grass is.

In some ways it’s like deciding to avoid having babies because you don’t want to change all those diapers (I know, there I go with the baby analogies again! I’ve had 3, what can I say?) –  few people would really do that!! Why? Because they see the bigger picture. They are excited about the little LIFE they could bring into the world! Diapers pale into insignificance beside that, right? But it’s still the reason I’ll spend more time blogging about the grass and less time blogging about the mowing. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s as much of a surprise to me as it is to anyone else!

I may not have shied away from having babies, but I came perilously close to ignoring all my instincts and going with the grass I already knew. Sticking with the safe, green grass on my current side of the fence.  I’m happy we didn’t. I’m happy to be mowing the grass on this side of the fence for now. But it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally look over the fence at my peeps over the there and wonder how they’re enjoying their grass.  I miss them. But we’re happy.

C'mon over! Enjoy the grass and drink my kool-aid while you're at it!

**OH, and my caveat for today is this: I realize this isn’t a “one size fits most” situation because no matter how much you like green grass or are willing to mow it, homeschooling is not a choice that everyone is able to make for reasons ranging from employment constraints to paralyzing fear of failure and everything in between. I’m just holding out the truth as we’re seeing it for the first time from this side . . .

What Every Parent Wants to Hear

As parents we often question the decisions we make. Homeschooling has been a pretty epic example of this in action. From the hours we spent debating, praying, and wondering about whether we could, would, should take this journey, to the even more hours we spent researching, planning, discussing, and paying for the year ahead of us, I have questioned every. single. step. of the way if this was right!

BUT

Today my middle red-head was engrossed in her art project and humming along to a praise CD we had playing in the background . . . suddenly, as if the thought had surprised her, she lifted her head up, looked around and sighed, “I’m just totally content right now.”

Um. WOW.

Can I rewind that and just play it over and over in my head for all those days when I wonder if I’m parenting her in the way she needs, making the right choices for her, showing her enough love, security, boundaries etc etc etc?

I think God speaks through children in many situations. Today he used my daughter to tell me “Good job, Mommy. You’re checking the right boxes for me right now.”

Thanks, God. I’ll take it!

(Oh, and then I took a few pictures to remind myself of the moment whenever the next time is that I REALLY need to be reminded of it!!) 😉

Filling her 'love-o-meter' apparently involves glue and paper (no surprise!)

OMG, it’s a Butterfly Paci!

How will my life ever be complete without one??

When I was about 11 (hundred) months pregnant with our first baby, we were sitting in a church service behind a young couple holding their sweet, 3-month old baby girl. The baby was sleeping soundly on her mother’s shoulder . . . that’s when I saw it. The Butterfly Paci. I turned to my husband and lost my mind. LOST IT. BURST into tears.  We walked out the back of the church where he attempted to console me but I could tell he had NO idea why I was so devastated. I finally managed to choke out that I was hysterical because the baby in front of us had a Butterfly paci. He looked even more stricken.  He really WANTED to get this, but it wasn’t happening. You see, in my head, how could I ever be a decent parent if I didn’t even know such a paci existed, let alone where to purchase one, and forget it! It was too late! We didn’t have one yet and I was due ANY DAY!!! *More tears*

If I’d understood then how much drama our wonderful girls would bring into our lives naturally, I might have tried harder to contain myself and reserve some energy. But as it stood (oh and blah blah blah, hormones etc etc), I was inconsolable. Somehow, in-spite of this epic lack, we managed to successfully raise  3 children past infancy with OUT a butterfly paci. Shocker.

Homeschooling doesn't come with handy signs like this!

I only recently remembered this ridiculous turn of events when I was reading another homeschooling mom’s blog. I do this far more than I should. I think it’s an attempt to connect with other moms in the “same boat” as me. The problem is, they aren’t in MY boat. No. They’re in their own boat – a far more seasoned, advance model, with ALL the answers (or so I tell myself). However, one of the most helpful blogs I’ve read recently (scroll down to Sat. August 11) stressed the concept of NOT trying to compare your homeschooling journey to anyone else’s (or their boat).  She referenced a popular idiom from the Appalachian Trail that says to: Hike Your Own Hike “It  . . . means simply, follow your own path, in your own way, at your own pace.” I wish all blogs came with this in big CAUTION-STYLE lettering at the top of each post because I apparently need to be reminded of this. Daily.

You see, had I been reminded of this (or even known about it!) during the infamous Butterfly Paci-spotting incident, I might have been able to apply some perspective. Instead, 11 years later, I’m now attempting to apply this perspective to our homeschooling journey. Specifically with regards to curriculum. It’s no secret that I found the curriculum-selection process overwhelming, daunting, etc etc etc (insert dramatic word of choice) . . . but the reason I found it so, was because I was totally convinced that it was out there. The Butterfly Paci of curriculum! The one I WOULDN’T KNOW EXISTED until it was too late for me to choose it! And because I didn’t know about it, our kids would somehow be stunted in their educational development, or I’d be a horrible teacher or or or?

I should be clear – I’m fairly confident both of these options are still possible! However, I’m choosing to believe they are not tied to my curriculum selection and thus this phobia can only increase my prayer-life. Why? Because no matter what I select, it can be changed! I can do this because *I* am now calling the shots. I’m the mother, the teacher, the curriculum advisory committee – all me. Yes, I have help (thank GOD, I have help!), but I can do something about it if I feel it’s somehow not meeting our needs, or if I feel there is something that would serve us better. The key is to not be too quick to jump ship.  a.) Because that would be expensive and b.) Because my kids might never graduate to the next grade level if I never actually finish teaching them something!

So as I comb through the internet I’m going to refrain from googling every new curriculum choice I come across in the plethora of homeschooling blogs out there. I’m going to try to remember one of the BEST pieces of advice I’ve heard along this road so far. I’m going to attempt to just HIKE MY OWN HIKE.

What we’re NOT doing

Lots of people have been asking me what we’ve been doing lately and how the homeschooling is going. While I blogged a few weeks ago about how I really thought it was too soon to tell (and in some ways, it still is), I thought I’d share some things we’re NOT doing during this season of home education.

So here is my TOP 10 list, if you will . . .

Top 10 Things We’re NOT doing while Homeschooling

#10. Getting up at 6:30 am. Ever.

#9. Going to bed really, really early (like, before the sun sets). Why? Because we don’t have to. (See #10!)

#8. Carpool. (Epic)

#7. Saying NO to every extracurricular activity that comes along. Why? Because we have time now to do them! (See #9?)

#6. Writing checks for $2 – $10 every 5 minutes. Yes, it’s true! Why? Because there are NO candle sales, fundraisers, or wrapping paper catalogs involved in homeschooling.

#5. Saying NO to playing outside. Or playing in general. Playing happens here a greater % of the time than it has since probably all 3 of these kids were in diapers. I love it.

#4. “Wogging” in 100* heat. This lovely PE ritual will soon be a part of our homeschool day, but not until the temps dip into the 70’s.  Why? Because I don’t approve of heat stroke. And I said so.

#3. Building life-sized models of amphibious creatures, 3-D models of South American terrain, or writing 10 page research papers ON THE WEEKENDS. Why? Because that’s not what we want to do on weekends.

#2. Homework. All work is homework now – and yet, we’re all down with that. Why? Because it’s over before 1 pm most days!

And the number ONE thing we’re NOT doing while homeschooling is . . .

(drumroll please) . . .

#1. Missing out on LIFE because we’re too busy to enjoy it!!

To that end,  here are some of the things we’ve been busy doing instead:

Field Trip to Moundville, AL. Why?

Because Daddy had a business trip nearby and we thought it would be fun! It was.

We climbed Mound B. It was WAY better than wogging for PE!

Do not adjust your screen, this is NOT the Smithsonian. But it was fun!

Nail painting after dinner. On a school night. Why?

Because who doesn’t want lime green and silver crackle at 7:30 pm?

(Oh, and because *whispering* we’re not doing anything else . . . like homework!)

Oh yes we di'id.

Spontaneous dinner guests. On a school night. *gasp*

Playing outside around sunset and taking cool pictures of the cloud formations – while discussing what type they are and how it is NOT a funnel cloud.

Woah. Nice artwork, God! :)

“Back-to-School” Movie Night with our main peeps! Why?

Because we miss them, and we want everyone to remember that we’re just homeschooling,  and have not, in fact, relocated to Mars.

Yo, yo, the gang's all here!

I know there will be days when I blog about “the darker side of homeschooling”, but for today  I ‘m admitting that even with the emotional peaks and valleys of this journey, choosing this road less traveled by is indeed making all the difference.

P.S. For anyone new to our blog, I tag our photos – I find it more secretive and sneaky and delightful than captions. Plus I just like to make you all hover over the images. And then I know you’re really looking at them and not just scrolling past them! Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work if you’re viewing the post on an iPad. So you’ll miss out if you use one of those. But I won’t feel badly for you, because, after-all,  you’ve got an iPad! Geesh!

Things that made me happy today . . .

(Just in case anyone thinks all we do is homeschool!)

The fact that everyone is looking is picture-worth in itself!!

My son and his peeps. Aren’t they adorable?!!!

I’m sure they’d rather be almost any other adjective, but the giant #8 on top of his red velvet cupcakes almost finished me off, so he gets whatever adjective I choose tonight!!

Can you beat that expression?!!!

His face? Are you kidding me here? *LOVE*

Can we play now?!

Happy 8th Birthday, (not so) small boy!

I can hardly stand it that you’re already 8, but you’re one cool dude so I guess it’s ok. Just maybe stay a tiny bit little, even if it’s just on the inside, for me, OK?  OK.

We love you!! 🙂

“C” is for “Cytoplasm” – and it’s good enough for me!

This week my middle red-head asked me if I thought she was learning anything. As I’ve been candid about in previous posts, I wonder the same thing – although I don’t share this with my students!!

I felt better last weekend, when my data-guru hubby helped me set up the mother of all grade-books. Yes, I understand why many homeschooling families choose not to keep grades – but, I’m sorry, my metamorphosis or assimilation or something must not yet be complete, because I still very much need to see grades for my kids! They need to be online, broken down by subject, and look pretty.

The last part is essential 😉

Anyhoo . . . once I could see the grades, realize they were all taking tests, passing them and moving forward, I began to breathe a little easier about the whole “are they learning anything” bit. I mean, even if they’re not, we know they’re not learning any LESS than their school peers, since we chose to stick with several of the same core curriculum texts as our previous school – at least for this year.

Oooh, who's this smart little cookie? Must be one of mine!

One subject where we jumped a little off the deep end was science. During my initial homeschool research, I came across the term “spiral” in reference to teaching similar concepts over a period of time (like the elementary school years). It’s basically a fancy way of saying you learn the same things every year, just in more detail each time around. This spiral approach is how all of my children have been learning science for several years now. The oldest often expressed total boredom with this approach and groaned when we looked at any textbooks following a spiral approach. Her books have been similar for 5 years now, I could see her point. And honestly, if I had to help her review anything to do with clouds, chlorophyll, birds, or sea creatures one more time I might just have pulled out my hair. Don’t judge. Everyone with a 6th grader on a spiral science curriculum has felt this way before! Admit it!

At the other end of the pole there is what is known as the  “immersion” approach. Who doesn’t love a fabulous invention called the immersion blender, right? It rocks! Especially for soup. Apparently this approach also rocks for things like science. It allows a full year (or semester, if you prefer) to fully immerse the students in a subject that would normally be covered by a few paragraphs (every. single. year).The topics are similar but more in-depth, avoiding the whole “jack of all sciences, master of none” conundrum.

This year, we opted off the treadmill of spiral science and jumped into an immersion study of Anatomy and Physiology. My reasoning was that it would be a great prep class for our oldest (6th grade) as she heads for the upper-level sciences in a year or two, including biology etc; our middle student (4th grade) is obsessed with all things related to anatomy; and our youngest, well, he’d probably be fine learning about the clouds. He’s only in 2nd grade so he hasn’t had time to be tired of the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of the ‘other’ books. So we purchased the other science curriculum too.  He’s currently using it as a reader. He informed me the other day that he had finished it and sweetly asked could he have something else now, please?  (Ummmm, glad I wasn’t planning to use it for an entire year!)

Over the years I’ve known many homeschooling families. They always seemed to do the most FUN and CREATIVE projects, and I’d think to myself, “I could TOTALLY never homeschool, I’m in no way crafty enough for that!” But . . . I’ll let you in on yet another super-secret part of the Secret Double Life of a Homeschool Family . . . they don’t always come up with those projects on their own! In fact, not to brag, but absolutely NONE of my crafts or projects have come out of my own head. Yet. 😉 Part of what makes a curriculum a good fit for me, is that it needs to include things to make the learning FUN for my kids – but not fun in a “build a scale replica of Mt. Zion in your yard using pipe-cleaners and plaster of Paris” kind of way, you know?

*gulp*

Enter the ‘Edible Cells’ Project. This one was not only enjoyable, but the kids actually got to EAT the project once it was completed. Tell me that isn’t the best idea yet??? Learning and food and no project storage/display once it’s completed?! Win, win, win. And I have to admit, it was hysterical to hear them saying things like “hey, pass me some of that mitochondria, please,” (pieces of laffy taffy cut into strips) or “umm, I’m not sure where to put my ribosomes,” (sprinkles!) or “Mmm, this cytoplasm tastes like pineapple!” (pineapple jello) – very fun.

Kids are like Jello - gotta get the good stuff in before they set!

Mmm, cytoplasm!!

Edible cells - way better than spiral clouds!

So, I guess they are learning something after all? Even though I flung myself fully off the reservation on this one. I figured hey, if it’s a bust and we send them back next year, they’ll have the opportunity to learn everything they missed all over again, right? 😉

Homeschooling in the Forest

We’re all familiar with the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

What I’m wondering, is how many other homeschooling families feel like their lives in many ways resemble this remark? I don’t mean that I’m lonely. In fact,  I’m not currently struggling with ‘missing out’ on the hustle and bustle of being in the school parking lot by 7:25 am  (altho’ I’m missing my early-morning peeps something terrible). BUT, I have to admit, it lends a tinge of “unreality” to this whole situation knowing that no one other than my spouse and our young students will notice if I don’t roll out of bed and show up for ‘morning duty’.

The fact is, we DO get up, we finish our work, we take recess, we work some more, we eat lunch, we go to our activities – but by week 2, it’s beginning to feel a little bit like we’re actually homeschooling secret agents leading a mysterious double-life: Relatively normal mom + kids by afternoon/evening . . . Fringy, off-grid mom + unsocialized kids by day!

*GASP*

Agent P probably homeschools - but we'd never know . . .

The irony is, it’s not nearly that secretive! In fact, we are out and about, for errands, hair-cuts, dr. appointments, grocery store runs, trips to the gym etc., more than even I thought we would be, simply because we have the flexibility to do things when they work for US (Woah! Novel! Score one more for homeschooling! Is anyone keeping up with my tally or should I be doing that?!).

We’re also about to jump headlong into our fall activities, which will include an unprecedented line-up of swimming, dance, and soccer . . . because we can. Our afternoons and evenings are free now that we aren’t spending them doing homework. I’m grateful, but the “secret” schooling thing still has me feeling a tad metaphysical.

As it turns out, I’m probably not the best candidate for moving to one of those towns in Alaska where they film amazing documentaries about things like The Iditarod Race. (Altho, I’d say they definitely get more press than homeschooling.)   And maybe it would make a difference if I simply let someone know – “Hey! Yes, we’re here, in the forest, doing our work, I promise!”

I don’t know.

But since I don’t have a ready solution to this quandary, I’ll end by offering to anyone out there feeling the same way, gimme a heads up and I promise to take note of your trees falling!