Thursday, May 30, 2013

To school year round or not.... that is the question

In homeschooling circles, year-round schooling is pretty common. A lot of families decide to continue schooling, perhaps with a lighter schedule, throughout the summer. There are a lot of great reasons to do so. You have more flexibility throughout the school year; you can take days off when you need or want to, knowing you are getting in plenty of school days each year. And the first weeks of fall aren't spent reviewing what has been forgotten over the summer.

Last year by early June, I was feeling ready to be done. I needed a break more than the kids did - a break from planning and preparing and trying to keep everyone on task. So we wrapped up what we were working on, and commenced summer break.

I planned to begin our new school year in August, rather than waiting until September. It sounded like such a great idea. We'd start four weeks early, giving us lots of leeway with our schedule, and less of a break in between to forget everything and get all lazy and stuff. And then August rolled around, and we were all... um, no. It is gorgeous outside, and we want to plaaaaaay! So we took advantage of one of the great things about homeschooling, and changed plans. School began again in September, and we were all happier for it.

This year, as the school year winds down and June approaches, I'm left with a familiar feeling. I'm a little worn out, ready for a break in the routine, and ready to cast off the regular books and lessons and planning and preparation and take some time off. And yet, there is still a part of me that feels like year-round education is such a great idea.

I don't think my kids agree.

The thing is, right now I'm doing this thing I'm good at doing - thinking about a concept "in theory" and not really thinking about it in terms of "the reality of my family." How silly is that? In theory, it sounds great to continue doing some schoolwork all summer, for the reasons above as well as others. But what about my reality? Not the reality of other families I know, or other homeschoolers with pretty blogs - our family. And the reality of our family is, we like summer break. We like taking time off and playing and running around outside. We like the freedom and free time, even when the weather sucks or we get kind of bored. At this point, I think summers off is still the best policy for us. And if that changes sometime in the future, we have the ability to turn on a dime and make that change as well.

Flexibility? Yes, please.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Five ways in which I do NOT "do it all"

Once in a while, people ask me, "How do you do it all?" My off the cuff response is usually to laugh it off and say I don't really do it all, and it isn't that big of a deal. Or I make some joke about drinking a lot of wine.

Wine is not the answer. Wine is the question. The answer is yes.

The truth is, I do have a lot going on. But that doesn't necessarily mean I do it "all." There are a lot of things I definitely don't do, at least not very well. And lest somebody get the impression that I am one of those crazy supermoms who manages to achieve a perfect zen-like balance in all things in life (who are like R.O.U.S's - I don't think they exist), and in the spirit of keeping my internet personality real, here are five ways in which I suck big time:

1. About 90% of the time, all our clean clothes are in a big heap on the floor. Sometimes there's a basket at the bottom of it, which starts out as just a load or two of clean laundry needing to be folded and put away. But I don't get it done, and then I have to do more loads of laundry, and they get piled up on top. And so it goes until I have this enormous laundry monster that I swear is breeding (although it certainly doesn't breed anything cute in my size), and I'm so overwhelmed by the amount of work it is going to take to get it all put away that I ignore it for about two more days, and several subsequent loads of laundry. More often than not, we spend our mornings sifting through the pile for something clean. The kids actually forget they even have clothes in their closet, because most of the time, they are rooting around on my floor for their underwear. (Points for it being clean though?)

This is a real picture. From my house. Please excuse me while I hang my head in shame.

2. We live with a lot of clutter. I walk by things, think about the fact that they really need to be put away, can't be bothered to do it right that second, and move on. I see the same item (ok, stack of random crap) later, have the same thought and continue to walk by, leaving it there. I remember this one time I got all inspired after reading some article about organizational crap on pinterest and made a focused effort to not do that - to pick up the thing, and put it away, right then. I didn't leave junk on the stairs; I stopped, bent over, and picked it up, and deposited it neatly where it belonged on my way to do something else. It kept my house neater for about two days, then I got lazy again. I like to say my house is "lived in," but I have friends that do the same amount of livin' and their houses don't look like there is a daily tornado.

3. I basically suck at housework. I know I already covered laundry and clutter, but if I'm being honest, the whole "keeping house" thing tends to fall by the wayside first. Dishes sit in the sink, the only reason things get dusted occasionally is because that is the boys' favorite chore (they love those Swiffer dusters), floors get cleaned only when they are visibly dirty, and don't even get me started on the state of our weed-infested yard. By the afternoon, when I'm feeling burnt out from working with the kids all day, I have a few options - clean something, put something away, do some work stuff or something else reasonably productive -or- sit and veg out in front of my computer wasting time on Facebook and other internet randomness. Is it hard to guess what wins more often than not? I mean hey, we all need a little downtime, I'm not ashamed of that. But sometimes I do feel a little bad when I claim I had "no time" to get something done, when technically speaking, the time is probably there. I just don't use every waking moment being productive. These blog posts aren't going to write themselves, you know.

This is not me.

4. I'm great at big picture planning, and suck at short term preparation. I love making plans. I love excel spreadsheets and lists and bullet points and check boxes. I love researching almost anything, especially if it is something I am thinking about buying or using. It is like crack to me. Homeschooling offers me a myriad of ways to feed my researching/overthinking addiction. Seriously, it is a disease. And I make these marvelous, wonderful plans. They look fantastic. So comprehensive, so carefully thought out and well-researched. I'm excited about them, and can't wait to begin implementing. And then I realize it is Monday morning and I have no idea what we are supposed to be doing that day. We needed copies of that appendix page from the math book, printed on card stock and cut out? Oops, nope, didn't do that. We need a wood ramp and a variety of objects to test the effects of friction? Yeah, I had no idea that was today. What book is it we are reading for history? Shoot, I should have requested that from the library... and actually, you know, picked it up. I'm not always a total mess, but I do tend to forget to do the work of preparing for what we're doing in the short term.

5. I was not blessed with excessive amounts of patience. My husband might disagree; he's often told me I am a very patient person. In some ways I suppose that is true, but I am here to tell you, it is a myth that you have to be some sort of patron saint of patience to homeschool your kids. I'm often very impatient, and frustrated. They push back at me in ways I know they would never do to a teacher at school. I can't even imagine David sitting in a classroom with his arms crossed, brow furrowed, looking at Ms. Secondgradeteacher as if she had sprouted a second head for suggesting he practice his spelling words. She would get easy compliance; I get a kid who occasionally makes me want to tear my hair out in frustration. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I overreact. Sometimes I send them to sit on their bed until they decide they would like to cooperate and I threaten to tie them up with duct tape and lock them in a closet. (I wouldn't actually do that, in case that isn't clear). There are moments in homeschooling, heck in parenting, that are hard, plain and simple, and I don't always do the right thing. Sometimes Mommy has to give herself a time out and apologize.

I doubt anyone suspects me of being a perfect parent or a perfect homeschooler. Like everyone else, I'm just doing the best I can. But I know sometimes it helps to hear these little confessions from others - to help us realize that perfection isn't what we're after. So this is a snapshot of my reality, and how I most certainly don't "do it all."

Monday, May 20, 2013


Our Nature Club recently hosted a ladybug release. We met at a park and several families brought packages of ladybugs. We were able to open them and let the kids gently catch them on little piece of card stock and then release them onto the plants and trees at the park.

There's not much to wax on about this time - mostly a chance for gratuitous pictures of my cute kids. In other words, this post is for you, Mom.

Ella was a little nervous to touch the cards with ladybugs on them, so she made me do it.

David had fun with the ladybugs; he also did a lot of running around with his friends.

Grayson let them crawl all over him. He actually spent the most time with the ladybugs; the other two finished up and headed for the playground before Grayson was done.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homeschooling myths: socialization

Homeschooling is a growing movement, but even if the highest numbers I've seen are accurate, with 2 million homeschooled kids in the U.S. this year, that still means most kids go to regular school. That puts us in the position of being a bit... different. We stray from the norm a little, and take our own path. We're cool with that, but it does raise questions, the most common of which is, what about socialization?

The reality of homeschooling is that most of us aren't at home all day, every day. We're out on field trips, at co-ops, attending scouts and sports practices and games. We're members of playgroups and social groups and meetup groups. We tend to spend an inordinate amount of time concerned about our kids' social lives - setting up get-togethers, connecting with other families, finding clubs, classes and activities for our kids so they have opportunities not only to pursue their interests, but develop friendships as well.

Are there weird homeschooled kids? Sure. There are weird kids everywhere, in every school setting. C'mon, you remember from your school days, right? That quiet kid who always sat in the back of class, with his hair hanging in his eyes? The one who never looked anyone in the eye, or the one who said weird things at awkward times and just didn't seem to understand how to talk to other humans? Remember that kid? He was in school. Yes there are weird homeschooled kids, but it is highly likely they would be weird no matter where they went to school. Homeschooling doesn't mean kids will be weird and unsocialized. It might mean they have the chance to be themselves and thrive without the pressure to be something they aren't; to fit in with kids who pick on them. What does make homeschooled kids weird is that they have fewer people around them telling them who they should be.

(And that weird kid from your school? He probably works as a computer programmer making serious bank. Just sayin'.)

Homeschooled kids get to hang out with kids of various ages, as well as other adults - not just kids their own age. They aren't split into grade levels and put into a room with other kids who have a birthday in the same time window as theirs. They tend to have friends who are older and younger, as well as their own age. They have opportunities to interact with adults in various settings, and not just settings in which the adult is solely an authority figure.

Research backs us up as well. Studies have shown that homeschooled kids have fewer behavior problems, have well developed self concept (at least on par with that of comparable private school students), and are more involved in their communities as adults. More homeschool grads vote and volunteer in their communities than publicly or privately educated students. This article, while clearly written from a very pro-homeschooling perspective, does do a nice job of summarizing the available research on how homeschooled kids do socially. The bottom line there? Homeschooled kids do just fine.

I admit, the socialization question was one of my big hangups when I started thinking about homeschooling. It is easy to picture a group of kids clinging to their mom's apron, terrified of the world and those scary public school kids. What ever will they do when they get older? How will they know how to interact with other people? I can tell you, in our case and in the case of quite literally all the other homeschooling families I know, our kids get out in the world and hang out with other humans all the time. Are they a little different from other kids? Yeah, they probably are. My kids are weird in the sense that they have no idea there is some set of criteria to "fit in" to, and the longer I can keep that their reality, the better as far as I'm concerned. Now, I'm not knocking my public school friends in any way. (I feel like I need that disclaimer any time I talk or write from a pro-homeschooling perspective.) I'm not putting down anyone else's choices. I'm simply making the case that this idea that homeschooled kids are bound to be weird and unsocialized is definitely a myth. :)

Homeschooling does mean that my kids' world is different from that of the kids in the school up the street. There are certainly things they aren't accustomed to, and if I were to enroll them in school tomorrow, there would certainly be some adjusting. But when you think about what socialization really means - learning how to interact and get along with others in an appropriate way - homeschooling offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. It might not occur in the same way as kids in a classroom, but it happens just the same.

And if my kids turn out to be super weird, I'll just blame Daddy's genetics and obsession with Lego building, rather than homeschooling :).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tacoma Art Museum: Eric Carle Exhibit

Today we had a fun field trip with our homeschool group to the Tacoma Art Museum to see the exhibit, Eric Carle: Books and Beyond. Anyone with kids is probably familiar with Eric Carle (The Very Hungry Caterpillar and numerous others). The exhibit featured some art from his books, as well as other art he's done for personal use. He calls the two either his "book art," or his "art art," - art for his books or art simply for art's sake.

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photographs of the exhibit, but we saw some familiar favorites - the ladybug and butterfly, brown bear, and a blue horse from one of his newer books. He has also done a lot of beautiful abstract art, utilizing a lot of the same techniques and vibrant colors that makes his work unique. I'm not usually a huge fan of modern or abstract art, but his work was very beautiful. He does wonderful things with color and texture that bring his work to life.

Afterwards, the museum staff led the students in an art lesson in Eric Carle-inspired collage making. The kids used tissue paper to create their own works of art. Some used templates provided, and others free-formed it with blank paper. My kids enjoyed making theirs, although Grayson found it a little tedious to cut tissue paper and try to paste it where he wanted it.

David went to work with gusto, and found that crumpling the tissue paper gave his work a different texture.

Ella was engaged and focused on hers for a really long time. It is great when something captures her attention for a long span of time, given she's only 3.

All in all, they were happy with their work and asked to get some tissue paper so we can make more collage art at home.

David's artwork


Ella's art - her template was a dog as well, but she covered it pretty thoroughly with tissue paper

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Project work: dinosaurs!

Part of our day typically includes what we refer to as "project time." I'm implementing ideas from the book Project Based Homeschooling, by Lori Pickert. I was a bit hesitant to read the book initially, because I was afraid it would leave me feeling like I needed to overhaul everything we were doing, or ignore the ideas in the book completely. The reality has been quite different; I found the book very inspiring and the kids have responded with tons of enthusiasm. We still have our regular school work we do each day, but we've added in "project time" and so far, we all really love it.

The idea is simple - they have time, space and materials to focus on something they are interested in. The work they do is entirely their own. I don't assign anything or require anything specific. I am there less as a teacher, and more as a mentor and guide (or as David says, "You're my money and transportation."). This is very much self-directed learning, and what they get out if it is a lot more than content. This is meta-learning - learning how to learn. I don't step in and figure things out, tell them what to do, etc. I help by asking questions, reminding them of things they wanted to accomplish, suggesting ideas, helping them search the internet or read their books aloud. They decide what they make or do with their topic. And the making, well that has been abundant so far!

Currently, both boys are working on dinosaurs. This is no huge surprise - dinos are a perennial favorite around here. We pulled out all the books we already own on dinosaurs, and they have been referring to them pretty often. Then we hit the library and checked out just about every book we could find on dinosaurs (so if you're looking for dino books at our library... sorry). Right away, they both started drawing and making things. We've had salt dough dinosaur nests with eggs, dinosaur drawings, dinosaur posters, and attempts at dinosaur skeletons made from pipe cleaners, just to get things started.

David wanted to know how fast a Tyrannosaurus Rex could run, so he looked it up in our big dinosaur encyclopedia (20 mph). Then he decided to test whether he could ride that fast on his bike (he couldn't).
A handy-dandy speedometer app made this little experiment easy

He also measured the length of a T-Rex's stride on the street and marked it with sidewalk chalk; then he drew feet on either side so we could see how big the stride would have been. Pretty impressive.

Grayson set to work making dinosaur posters to put all over our house. This one is, "A plant eater who lives in that cave, eating a plant. There aren't too many leaves left because he eats a lot. And there is a volcano over there." Man, I love that kid.

David watched a dinosaur video (that he has probably watched at least 800 times since he was about four), and it reminded him of tar pits. So they made their own tar pits and trapped dinosaurs in them. David wanted to remake a "slime" recipe we made a couple of years ago, but tint it black with food coloring to make it look like dark mud or tar. Grayson went for the cornstarch and water goop, often known as "oobleck". The black of the slime was pretty neat, but the cornstarch goop was much more authentic. It is neat stuff, actually - it acts like both a solid or a liquid, depending on how you handle it. So the dinosaurs got stuck and sank into it, much like they would have in a real mud or tar pit. I think David mostly wanted an excuse to make slime.

Why yes, Ella is still in her night gown. At least she's dressed.
"Ahhh! I'm an herbivore stuck in muck and a carnivore will come eat me and get stuck too!"

David also wanted to make a pterodactyl kite. He looked up instructions for making a simple homemade kite, and modified them to make it pterodactyl shaped. Or maybe it was supposed to be a pteranodon, I don't know. It seems like half the dinosaur names we learned as kids aren't really what they are called anymore. In any case, he took matters into his own hands with this one - found instructions, made a supply list, gathered what he needed, and built the whole thing by himself. It didn't really fly, and we guessed that was likely due to it being rather small. But true to my goals for "project time," I didn't step in and tell him it wouldn't work; I let him figure it out by himself. Now, if he wants to redesign the kite, he is welcome to. If not, that's fine as well. I suspect he's onto more dino-related fun at this point, so we'll see if the kite idea comes back.

Obligatory shot with his kite

Testing it out in the backyard - there wasn't much wind, but it did whip around behind him pretty nicely

The challenging thing for me, with regard to project time, is that they aren't usually doing what I would have had them do. My first instinct with the pterodactyl kite was something along the lines of, "What on earth does that teach him about dinosaurs?" But stepping back, I realize he learned a great deal; he gained experience researching, pulling together and organizing materials, testing ideas, and building something he envisioned in his mind. My goal for their project time is not so much the content of what they learn. I don't expect them to emerge from this topic understanding each era on the timeline, or able to name X number of dinosaurs and on what continent their fossils are found. I do want them to learn more about how to find things out, how to learn something they want to know, and how to use that information in a way that is meaningful to them. And so far, I think we're hitting that one out of the park.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

First Holy Communion

Last night we celebrated David's First Holy Communion! Such a special day for our biggest little man, and for our family.  This year his faith formation class at church has been focused on preparation for first communion, and we've done a fair bit of reading and study on it at home as well.

It was a wonderful mass, and although it was extra long (we had 55 children receiving communion - what a blessing!), all three kids were very well behaved. They earned those post-church chocolate cupcakes, that's for sure! We were joined by family and friends to share the evening with us.

David looked amazing, if I do say so myself. He looked so grown up and sweet in his suit. I admit, I got a little teary as he stepped forward to receive communion for the first time. He is such a wonderful little soul, and he was so excited. It is a lovely milestone, to begin receiving this Sacrament. My heart was full.

Looking so sweet in his little suit
Our family

Friday, May 3, 2013

Gettin' Our Nature On - Mima Mounds Nature Preserve

One of our favorite group activities has become our Nature Club - part of our local homeschool group. About twice a month, we get together at various locations and take a hike or explore, often with a theme. We've done bark rubbings, salmon sighting, low tide explorations, and more. Today we took a trip to Mima Mounds, a nature preserve south of Olympia. It is a prairie environment, but rather than being more or less flat, it is full of small hills, or mounds. I find it neat that the origins of the mounds is still not fully understood. They are likely the product of glacial retreat at the end of the last ice age, but there is still a bit of mystery to them. Today, it is a vast, grassy area that looks like it could be a mini-Hobbiton, and this time of year it is peppered with wild flowers.

Lots of pretty purple Camas flowers

The kids had a good time wandering along the trails. When we got them to slow down enough to pay attention, we saw some butterflies. Personally, I was curious as to why there were so few bees, even with all the flowers. I wonder if the decline in the bee population is to blame. We identified some of the wildflowers, and David was a little nervous at the news that there were poisonous flowers (we didn't see any of them).

We're the kings of the hill!

The weather was amazing, and all in all, it was a great way to end our week.

You can't really tell from the angle, but she's on top of one of the mounds

Looking out over the prairie

He was all decked out in his "nature explorer" stuff