Category Archives: Homeschooling

My Experience With Working and Homeschooling

For two years I worked as a physician (as a hospitalist, if you know what that is) and homeschooled. It was a crazy time of life for me, and I didn’t like the chaos. Some of my best friends with kids say that working keeps them sane. Or that it makes them better parents. I kind of wondered at first what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I a happy and working mom? Or a happy working and homeschooling mom? Was I somehow weak or flawed? Was I just not capable of being a modern woman?

Nah. I know I’m as capable as the next man or woman. But I didn’t want to do it. Homeschooling, “mommy-ing,” and working concomitantly didn’t make my heart happy. It didn’t add to my life. I don’t like frazzle. I don’t like chronic chaos. I don’t like being spread thin. And, notably, I could not make the transfer from work to kids. In some ways, I feel more “man” in this regard than my husband (who is what I call “all guy”), who can walk in the door and be fully vested in us, granting hugs all around.

Not me! Me? Point me to the nearest man cave! After a 12 hour day of work back in the day, I was like, “I’d prefer it if I didn’t see anyone until the Queen (me) has bathed, fully supped, checked her written correspondence, and then, perhaps then, she’ll grant kisses on chubby little hands on their way to bed.”

WHOA! Who wants that woman for a mom? WHO wants to be that woman? Not me! I didn’t like that me! I’m a good, kind, loving, and compassionate mom, and I needed to create the environment that allowed the real mommy-me to shine.

So when people ask me, “Can you work and homeschool?” My answer is, “Of course you can! I don’t want to, but you sure can!” I thought I’d share myself as a case-study for those exploring this question for themselves. Perchance, by seeing some of yourself–or NOT seeing yourself–in me, you’ll be better prepared to answer the question with awareness of yourself.

Yes, this helps…

First let’s look at the properties of my life that allowed me to feel comfortable homeschooling and working for a while:

  • An exceptionally supportive husband
  • Very flexible hours
  • Kind co-workers
  • Only homeschooling one child at first, who was in her early years (kindergarten through about second grade)
  • I kept the curriculum basic and felt 90% free to adapt it to how she learned (which wasn’t how I wanted her to learn…).
  • Living in a warm climate which allowed lots of outdoor time
  • Good friends already in place for my kids to hang out with on weekends and evenings (These friends went to school and were not homeschooled.)
  • A strong homeschool co-op for activities as we wanted them and where we could (and did!) meet new friends when I wasn’t working
  • I sent one younger sibling to a wonderful morning pre-school which she loved, leaving just the baby who still napped, so we could homeschool during morning nap time on my days off.
  • My daughter was young enough to cooperate with some weekend and evening work if we didn’t get things done.
  • My female doctor friends from medical school encouraging me to follow my heart

Mmm. That doesn’t sound pleasant…

Now let’s look at the other side which really began limiting a positive homeschooling and life experience:

  • I was tired all the time and very forgetful. I physically felt bad and wondered what was wrong with me.
  • The part of me that needs alone time to recover was battered, raped, and abused.
  • Work called more and I could give less. I felt guilty because my co-workers were good people who worked too much themselves, and here I was telling them “no.”
  • My kids needed me more and I felt guilty.
  • My husband wanted me and he was last on the list.
  • Physical messes in my home affect me greatly and with me gone working, there were more physical messes.
  • The schoolwork started requiring more time and effort.
  • It just didn’t feel like there was time for the refrigerator to break, the air conditioning to need fixed, fleas to get in the house, doctor’s appointments, sick days—-in general, no time for life to happen.
  • Schoolwork didn’t happen well without me there to guide it or push it along. (I had a recalcitrant student who has now blossomed incredibly.) A sitter or grandparent just didn’t have the same effect as mom.
  • I had a toddler. Toddlers are very demanding.
  • I had a nursing baby.
  • I was perpetually irritable.

Why do I need this?

When working and homeschooling became more than I wanted to piggyback, then I stopped and looked at WHY I wanted to work:

  • I had loans to pay off.
  • Because I had put SO much effort into getting where I was at! Twelve years of my life and tons of delayed gratification!
  • I liked being a hospitalist doctor a lot. Taking care of hospitalized, acutely ill patients is usually very rewarding.
  • Work offered rhythm, constancy, and community. When I walked into the hospital, I knew exactly what to expect. (Yes, each day and patient was different! But the rhythm of the system was the same.)
  • It worked a whole different part of my brain than child rearing and housework, and that felt good. Kind of like a back rub for the brain!
  • To provide a sense of equality with my husband in our household. (I’m a wee-bit competitive.)
  • I felt respected and well-liked.
  • I felt it was a service still being asked of me by my God.
  • I didn’t want to be “just” a stay-at-home mom.

Maybe if…

I often sit around, just for fun, and wonder what would have allowed me to homeschool and work. I think maybe I could have done both if:

  • I had immediate family living in the same town
  • Someone else would have been as good as I was at getting my daughter to do her work
  • If external chaos didn’t faze me so strongly
  • If my life situation necessitated it
  • My husband had a knack for teaching young children
  • The kids weren’t so young
  • I could have lowered expectations in all areas of my life
  • Monkeys flew and unicorns swam

Closing

Many people find my little spot here when they are searching about homeschooling and quitting work. I liked working as a medical doctor, but once I had kids, the same overachieving, perfectionist, benevolent tendencies that allowed me to succeed in medicine are the exact same traits that demanded me to achieve success my way in motherhood. I wish I could have it all: work, kids, homeschooling, a happy me, a happy marriage, exercise, three real-food-meals a day, friends, a clean and tidy house, sleep, a well-decorated house, church, a new kitchen, a dog, a blog, flying monkeys and swimming unicorns.

But I can’t. For me, I decided I didn’t need professional satisfaction or resting on laurels. I did need to keep learning and sharing (so I study and write little articles for this blog on alternative health). I needed to know I could work if necessary or desired (so I keep my licenses up). I needed to know that I was providing safety, security, and a strong psychological, emotional, educational, and spiritual core for my kids (and me!!!!). I needed to have time to foster a relationship with my husband. I needed some semblance of order.

No matter what—I don’t need aeronautical primates or aquatic, horned equines that just don’t exist.

Good luck to you! It’s a “live, studio audience,” so feel free to ask questions or leave comments on your experience.

Terri

Photo attribution:  Sonarpulse. origenal:Huji [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish, Part II

There’s a lot of talk about tolerance in America and how we, in particular our schools, can make people more tolerant. You can’t make people more tolerant from the outside in. It’s more likely to happen from the inside out, and there is a perfectly sound, academically acceptable way to begin to foster tolerance in our schools from the inside out: foreign language instruction beginning in kindergarten. Forget STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). There’s time for that later. (Neither Albert Einstein nor Isaac Newton flourished in their elementary math and science instruction, although I’ve read that Dr. Einstein learned French at a young age, had very little accent in the language, and was invited frequently to lecture in France, where he delivered the information in fluent French.) Foreign language acquisition promotes unity, brain development, and global competence.

In most American schools, learning a foreign language is a bottom priority and doesn’t truly begin until ninth grade (around age 15). So for all this talk about teaching kids tolerance (and for that matter, how to succeed in a global economy), we errantly save something that’s scientifically known to be best learned as a young child (which can promote tolerance and unity early on in an educationally appropriate manner) and shove it into the teenage curriculum. Think. What’s happening in the teenage years? At this time, kids are painstakingly trying NOT to be different! They just want a place to fit in.

Well, anyhow, my homeschooled kids are learning Spanish. It isn’t easy to track down tutors. It isn’t easy to keep them motivated. It isn’t easy to know what to tell the tutor to teach or how to teach it. But, my kids deserve, like most of the rest of the world, to know how to speak a couple of languages or more. I’d encourage the rest of you to call your local schools and start discussing academically legitimate ways to improve tolerance (don’t diss the other ways in any way, shape, or form–that won’t work), and I think early language acquisition is one of them. More rules won’t solve problems.

Okay. Enough on that. I want to share more on how we actually have implemented this Spanish curriculum. This is part two today. For part one, click here.

Where do you find tutors?

We chose the immersion method to teach our kids Spanish, which meant we simply needed a pleasant person who spoke Spanish and could interact with kids well.  My kids loved art, so the tutors would draw and color with them, naming colors, objects, and pictures as they went along. Sometimes, they’d go push them on the swings and describe the parts of the playground (swings, slides, sandbox). Sometimes they’d fly kites. But all of it was in Spanish. I didn’t want Spanish “class.” I wanted Spanish-speaking in life.

I approached many Spanish speakers I saw out and about, but I could see the thought of “teaching” intimidated them. It took persistent seeking to find someone willing to come be our Spanish tutor. Once they figured out all they’d have to do is play with my kids while speaking in Spanish, they didn’t mind.

Here are places and ways I have found Spanish tutors:

  • I have approached bank tellers with those little signs that read: “Se habla español.”
  • I have attended Spanish-speaking Sunday school classes and churches.
  • I have attended English as a Second Language classes that I found signs for at the library. I usually call and see if they need volunteers. If you get your foot in the door, you can meet Spanish-speaking students in the class who may reciprocate language instruction with you.
  • I have called a local university and asked to speak with the Spanish department head about potential students who may want to earn extra money tutoring.
  • I have asked the Spanish tutor we have to help us find another person if they have to leave.
  • Several of our tutors have been members of the local “International Club,” a club for people who move to our community from foreign countries, so this is a good place to ask.
  • I have asked the local Montessori school instructor. (Montessori schools are often multi-cultural.)

What did your Spanish teachers do?

My goal early on was immersion. Have the kids only hear Spanish with this person. What did they do? They played. Often my kids even picked the activity. I watched the kids for boredom or frustration during the “lesson” and guided them to different activities as needed. Many times, I got the tutor started on WHAT to do, letting them take over then as they figured out what I wanted. Some of our tutors have had their own unique ideas and after running it by me, did their own thing, and others liked it better if I told them what was on the agenda that day. I worked with the teacher’s style. Here are things I remember doing:

  • Playing on the swing set
  • Drawing (rooms of the house, gardens, and animals), labeling, and coloring
  • Flying kites
  • Having  tea parties
  • Planting seeds
  • Simple games like “Mother, May I” and “Simon Says”
  • Having competitions in the house among the siblings to see who can find objects fastest
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Classic children songs from the tutor’s childhood
  • Library books in Spanish
  • Flashcards
  • Spanish BINGO
  • Cooking food from the tutor’s homeland
  • Playing Barbies
  • Making plays in Spanish

How often did your tutor come?

Originally, all I could get was someone to come once a week as her work schedule allowed. As the years have passed, we have been able to find tutors able to come at a bare minimum of twice a week for two hours total a week. So my kids heard native Spanish at least two hours weekly in our home. Now, we are super lucky to have a friend who comes each day and speaks in Spanish with the girls.

Didn’t your children get frustrated when the tutor spoke only Spanish?

That was where my job came in. I almost always participated in the lessons. (I always asked the tutor if they preferred me present or not present. Usually they said they didn’t care. So then, I’d try it both ways and see which way my kids did better.) Not as a dictator, but more of an encourager, “Look we are in this together. I’m learning it too. We can do this,” and assistant teacher. If my children were getting frustrated, bored, or overwhelmed, I sensed it and could interpret or redirect as needed. Of course, I also asked the Spanish teacher to do that too, if they needed to. We had the best results when the tutor spoke entirely all in Spanish. My kids expected me to speak English and the tutor to speak Spanish.

How much did you pay?

This was greatly determined by the region of the country that I was living in, the year (prices go up as the years pass!), how much experience the tutor had, how many hours the tutor was going to come each week, how many kids I had at the time, and what the tutor was expected to do. I remember when a tutor asked for a certain price, and I was like, “Whoa! That’s a lot.” Then, I Googled it and saw that I was getting a bargain! Again, I think the price is greatly determined by your region of the United States. Our foreign language instruction does get the biggest chunk of our homeschool budget because I can’t teach it.

Closing

Well, I have more on this topic and will save it for another day. May you all be well and live well.

Terri

Illustration attribution: Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

Teaching Homeschooled Kids Spanish

When my husband really decides to do something, he has a singular focus that only a few people in life can understand. I don’t. I’m slow and steady and persistent. He’s “cut the drivel” and do it now. Can be quite intimidating and abrasive for those who don’t get it. But once you recognize it as a signature style, it’s actually kind of fun to observe! Anyhow, he decided to learn Spanish about ten years ago. That meant if you even looked like you spoke Spanish, he would strike up a conversation with you in Spanish. He had a few fails, especially on people with Latino background who didn’t speak Spanish. (So much for not profiling…) He should have been embarrassed, but the thing is, he didn’t care! He was learning Spanish and wanted to practice whenever he could! Oh, but his wife and kids blushed. I mean, at the Mexican restaurant, people would be looking around for their food, and there would be my husband holding up their server with his Gringo Spanish. Eventually, though, we quit being embarrassed, decided to follow along, and now make friends at every Mexican restaurant we frequent.

I myself started learning Spanish about thirteen years ago during my fourth year of medical school. Fourth year medical school is the best year of your life, as all you do is “fun” rotations that you pick out. Plus, you get travel time to go to interview at residencies. That was the year I asked a Spanish-speaking bank teller if she knew anyone who could help me learn Spanish. I was encountering dozens of patients who only spoke Spanish, and I wanted to bridge that gap a little but didn’t know any Spanish speakers with time to help me learn. She put me in place with a pastor who was teaching his congregation English, and my foot was in the door. I still remember driving to sketchy neighborhoods at night and eating cactus and menudo (tripe; beef stomach).

That’s briefly our Spanish story. Both my husband and I decided that our homeschooled kids needed to learn a foreign language, and Spanish made the most sense. In general, we are very practical people. Being practical, we also know that the best time to learn a language is as a kid. We had moved around and it took a bit of time to find a tutor because, and this is my personal opinion, there is a general distrust between cultures and perceived social classes. But we found a native Spanish speaker to come to our home and spend time with our young children speaking only in Spanish. (She and every single one of our tutors have been amazing people. Each different. But each amazing.)

My oldest has been learning Spanish for about eight years now, and we finally just enrolled her in formal on-line lessons. Up to this point, everything has been done in our home by native speaking Spanish tutors who have had no training in teaching. They were just people who spoke Spanish as a primary language. I’d like to share our homeschooling Spanish experience for others to read who may be embarking on this second language trek.

We have four daughters, the oldest started learning Spanish at five years old. My second daughter was about 3. My third and fourth daughters will have been exposed to Spanish since they were born. I’m not a linguist. I’m not a teacher. I don’t even speak Spanish fluently, probably not even English either, compared to many of you! This is just my story and experience. I’ll run it in several pieces as it gets long.

Do you need a tutor who is a native speaker?

Until a few months ago, all of our Spanish tutors have been native speakers. This was a Spanish tutoring deal breaker for me. They had to be native speakers. Why? Well, our ability to hear language sounds and make our mouth, tongue, and palate reproduce them is strongest in infancy and childhood. As we age, this ability goes away, and any new language sounds that we encounter will be spoken by us with the closest sounds available to us from our own language. The later we learn the language, the greater the guarantee we will speak with an accent.

For example, I’ll never really be able to roll my r’s to say a word like rio; I’ll just consciously soften my r sound and add on some softened, repetitive d‘s (or t’s, both similar English sounds), like we do when we quickly speak the word batter.  As an aside illustrating story, my American aunt married a native German when she was 20. She moved to Germany with him and has lived there exclusively over 50 years. She tells me that Germans still tell her it sounds like she’s speaking with mashed potatoes in her mouth. Accents stick, and sadly, even when I am choosing my Spanish words correctly, some Spanish-speakers simply can’t understand me.

So I demanded a native speaker so my girls would not have a strong accent. Now that my oldest is 13, her Spanish is reported to me to be little accented by native speakers (maybe even “non-accented,” according to some). We have made the leap to transition her to on-line teaching, and the man is not a native speaker. This no longer bothers me because her “Spanish voice” is now ingrained, she continues to hear native speakers routinely, and now she needs to focus on grammar and progressing in her use of verb tenses.

For me, I believed in immersing my children as early as I could and as frequently as I could so they could get the SOUNDS EMBEDDED in the neural pathways of their brain and the CONNECTIONS WIRED to their mouths. Grammar and writing was not important to me early on. That is becoming important now that my oldest is maturing in her Spanish language, and so we have chosen an on-line tutor now who is not native that I know is strong in grammar skills.

For the fact, science-minded people, here’s an excerpt from a neuroscience book that you can read pieces of on-line:

Very young human infants can perceive and discriminate between differences in all human speech sounds, and are not innately biased towards the phonemes characteristic of any particular language. However, this universal appreciation does not persist. For example, adult Japanese speakers cannot reliably distinguish between the /r/ and /l/ sounds in English, presumably because this phonemic distinction is not present in Japanese. Nonetheless, 4-month-old Japanese infants can make this discrimination as reliably as 4-month-olds raised in English-speaking households (as indicated by increased suckling frequency or head turning in the presence of a novel stimulus). By 6 months of age, however, infants show preferences for phonemes in their native language over those in foreign languages, and by the end of their first year no longer respond to phonetic elements peculiar to non-native languages. The ability to perceive these phonemic contrasts evidently persists for several more years, as evidenced by the fact that children can learn to speak a second language without accent and with fluent grammar until about age 7 or 8. After this age, however, performance gradually declines no matter what the extent of practice or exposure.

That’s it for today. I’ll follow with the rest of the Spanish posts in readable bits. Everyone, take care!

Terri

Citations:

Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. The Development of Language: A Critical Period in Humans. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11007/
Illustration: By Juan de la Cuesta (impresor); Miguel de Cervantes (autor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. In public domain, {{PD-1923}} – published before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.

Our Seventh Grade Curriculum

nobg-drown-freebie11Seventh grade sucks. Moods are crazy up and down. Bodies feel either too developed or not developed enough. Friends shift and change; some stab you in the back and you feel so alone. Parents seem mad at you all the time. You just want to lash out at them and hurt their feelings to make yourself feel better, yet really you want rocked like a baby and soothed. You want to fit in somewhere, but not with the younger kids. You know you’re ready to fit in with the high schoolers if they’d drop their airs and stop treating you like a baby. It’s time for a boyfriend. But that’s exciting and scary.

Homeschooling seventh grade students is a tightrope act. But if you can hang with them like a true funambulist (That’s a tightrope walker. Did you know that? I didn’t!), try hard to understand, stop talking, and start really listening and sitting with them, the metamorphosis is truly breathtaking. You’ll find them witty, concerned, compassionate, and raw. Looking back now, my seventh-grade self is probably an accurate portrait of my true self before contorting it to fit what I wanted it to be.

Anyhow, each year, I write a post about the curriculum of my oldest. She gets the test run so I know what I’ll do for the rest. Lucky her. I tend to stick with the same curriculum from year to year as long as it’s working. We work on a rolling schedule. If the book isn’t finished in an academic year, no biggie. If we finish a book before the academic year, we move on to the next one.

Our Curriculum

Saxon Algebra I:

We started this last year in sixth grade, and we will finish it nicely by the end of this seventh grade school year. Last year was kind of rough starting algebra; we really took our time. Because I was raised on Saxon Math myself, I knew that if she could just hang in there, at some point the Saxon Algebra work would seem easy. This year, it clicked and we’ve progressed very nicely. She has requested tests, and so she has been taking tests this year.

An important concept I learned was to teach algebra on our chalk board (chalk wall) and show lots of examples, not skipping any steps that may seem simple to me.

We will start geometry when we are finished, but I doubt I will keep the Saxon curriculum for geometry. I want something with proofs to develop logic. We will come back to Saxon for Algebra II.

Easy Grammar: Plus and Daily Grams Grade 7:

Nothing fancy. Just good, solid, easy explanations and black and white worksheets. There is no (little) practice with writing. Just grammatical skills.

Drawing Sentences:

This is a diagraming (or diagramming) book that I use to supplement the grammar curriculum, although it is not from the same author. It helps to logically break sentences down into all that has been learned from the grammar book. It reinforces the grammar in a different way, and I feel it develops logic. We do about 1-2 lessons a week, and this book will be rolled over into our eighth grade curriculum because we won’t get it finished.

How to Spell Workbook 4:

We continue to work through How to Spell Workbook 4 slowly and thoroughly. My daughter requested weekly spelling tests this year, so we have implemented those using words from the book. We will probably finish this book by the end of the year.

LivelyLatin:

This is a live, interactive on-line course taught by the instructor of the LivelyLatin book that I tried to go through with my daughter in fifth and sixth grade. The class is great, and my daughter loves it. She enjoys interacting both with the teacher and the other students. It does a good job covering history too. She is assigned homework and tests.

Spanish:

A good friend whose primary language is Spanish helps teach. Our goal is conversational Spanish at this time.

US Geography:

I found this PDF which I used as a guideline: Geography of the United States. We worked hard to cover this thoroughly and also review states and capitals.

Science:

Unschooled. I don’t see much point in starting formal science until kids have figured out how to logically sort, categorize, and start making connections. Until then, science should be fun and led by fascination with the world around. Memorizing the number of bones in the body is fun, but the fact that bones act as repositories for minerals, immune cells, and function as levers is productive information. About the time kids have mastered algebra seems to be the ripe time for formal biology and chemistry.

We keep lots of fun books around that the kids can pick up and learn from on their own. When they ask questions, we make sure and provide the answers we know. If we don’t know, they look it up. Curiously, their science scores on standardized tests seem to be their highest.

Art:

Our local homeschool co-op offers an amazing, monthly class through our town’s museum.

Physical education: Dance and volleyball

Music: Violin

Literature: Abundant, mostly self-selected books.

That’s it! Best wishes with your seventh grader! Hang in there, know when to push, watch when to pull back. Ask when it’s okay to hug them and then squeeze them tight!

Terri

Homeschooling With Kids of Diverse Ages, Part 2

a sassy lookOkay. So your hands are strapped and you are going about bat-crazy. You vacillate among laughter, yelling, and tears. On the one hand, you realize you’re ridiculous for taking this all so seriously. I mean, come on! It’s just homeschooling! It’s just kids! It’s just a messy house. So you chill and smile. “Oh, they’re so dog-gone awesome. They’re growing up so fast. I need to savor these moments.” Then–nothing gets done. You panic. Why aren’t they doing their school? You yell. One bristles. One cries. You cry. Then you laugh; it’ll be okay. And it starts all over again.

(This post is continued from part 1.)

The Dilemma

Here is the dilemma I found myself in last year. I had three kids at three levels in school and a toddler. The toddler bombed the school, no matter what we all tried. The older two kids are old enough that it’s time for school work to move into real. As far as their abilities and personalities will allow, I’d like this homeschool to provide my children an exceptional science and math education aimed at completing calculus and physics, fluency in one foreign language, and solid composition skills. I keep the pressure light on my kids, but the need to move along is there.

I read all the homeschooling sites for advice on managing a homeschool with kids from toddlers to tweens. Their answers just didn’t satisfy me based on my homeschool goals. I could not “give up” my math curriculum for the three years it would take my toddler to grow up. My kids, although responsible and helpful, didn’t enter this world to be their siblings’ babysitters. Cleaning toilets and folding laundry does not come before school. I had to find a way to keep all of my kids engaged, learning, and content again; provide real food for meals; and find a path through the laundry.

The Attempted Solutions

1. Get help.  Any help will help! 

When I found someone to come babysit in the mornings, I seized them. (They often told me to let go of their neck so they could breathe.)  Then, the older girls and I could at least get some good, solid math instruction in.  Even if this was only a couple of mornings a week, it helped immensely.  My older girls appreciated it so much when I could help them “like a teacher” with school!  (And that’s why I homeschooled!)

This ended up being my best solution, and I therefore found a very good friend who keeps the toddler every morning this year and is just helpful and gracious in every way imaginable. This was what we needed.

2. Remember Abe Lincoln would not have had math every day.

Abe had hunting and log splitting to do before reading and math. His education would have come in spurts.  I’ve got the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-most idea of school in my head, and sometimes I just need to spit it out.  Learning doesn’t make it school.  And school does not make it learning. Learning is learning, and it is everywhere!

This attitude is still helpful, but luckily, we’re getting some good, solid school in each morning now! This attitude was easier for me to adopt for my younger elementary kids, but I’m not so flexible with my older ones. Perhaps I should be, but I am not.

3. Make like a real teacher and do lesson plans. 

I didn’t lesson plan. I have good books in each school subject, and we had heretofore progressed through them nicely. If I had good vibes from the kids, I made them do 20 pages of grammar a day; if a brick wall had more vibes than their little pinkie, I knew to skip it entirely. Same with math. How much were they capable of that day? That’s how much we did!

But, this required a very close teacher-student relationship daily. I wasn’t close to anything except losing my temper hourly last year. Ha! So I finally broke down, did what legitimate teachers do, and wrote up a rigid, daily assignment sheet. Bummer. I couldn’t trick them into doing more work or give them the luxury of skipping math anymore.

This helped a lot. We’ve kept it, but it is a little more fluid.

4. Home 101: Remember that I choose to raise real citizens here.

Laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, diapers, getting along, being independent–that’s the real deal, people! Every society on earth has needed these skills, so of course I know it’s wise to call that a part of the educational process, Home 101. I’m considering making it an e-book, with lessons like “The Best Way to Load the Dishwasher” and “The Best Way to Put the Toddler in Time-Out” and “How Moms Get Through the Day on Not Enough Sleep.” Yes, my kids did learn a lot about managing kids and a house. A lot. They really learned to pick up the slack. I’m glad. But I’m also glad now that it isn’t at the expense of learning how to do math and write a report anymore.

5. Give up the curriculum.

Latin verb declension, Dickinson and Yeats poetry recitation, Shakespeare play-acting, Spanish, German, French, debate, music theory, philosophy, religion, and, and, and. . . Oh, my homeschooling ideas were glorious! Well, reality check. I had to accept that this was and is not all going to happen. I let go of my disappointment about it.

However, being a science-minded and science-trained woman, I can’t completely give up my curriculum. I can give it up in some areas, sure! But not in the core areas. I have a feeling that my kids would make up for it later, but I refuse to take that chance. But I have defined my top, necessary priorities for our homeschool curriculum and will keep those in focus. For my youngest student, yes, curriculum is kept to bare minimum.

6. What about a substitute teacher? Enter The Computer. 

True to form, our substitute teacher (a.k.a. “The Computer”) stint was a fiasco. The WiFi was down. The computer was updating. The website was not connecting. The printer wouldn’t connect.  The laptop had a virus. The CD wouldn’t load. We couldn’t find the charger. If I wanted to depend on a computer to teach our homeschooling, I was going to have to find a full-time computer support specialist.

Needless to say, the computer didn’t work for us. Too many technical glitches, and the lesson planning required that I be on the computer too much. I’m personally on the computer too much already, my family says.

So, this year, I scrapped the internet, except for my oldest, who uses it for an on-line, live, interactive Latin class, which has gone very well. I think that when I do use the internet for school classes, it will be as they get older and enrolled in live classes that I can’t teach.

7. Anyone? Anyone? Emotional sharing. 

Has anyone else noticed a paucity of homeschooling moms with high school kids in their local homeschooling groups? I think they’re like, “Whoa. Made it through the toddler days and elementary stages, I’m outta’ here. Kid can drive himself.” That means I look around, and it’s me and other moms just like me. We shrug our shoulders, give each other high fives and coffee, and hope for the best. Their encouragement and support is a tremendous help. I highly suggest opening up and sharing with your comrades in boot camp. You’ll learn you’re not alone! Which may not help math and grammar, but it will help your smile.

8. Don’t get attached to a schedule.

Always, once it starts feeling right, something is guaranteed to change. In general, I learned that no two days are the same. Ever. Even now with help with the toddler.

9. Meet with your students several times a week.

I used to sit with my kids during school. During the toughest part of the toddler period, there was no-way, no-how that was possible, but I did try to meet with each of them one-on-one for a little block of time. I liked to do it when I “graded” their papers, then I’d just point out suggestions and errors on the spot right.

Closing:

Well, that’s how we muddled through last year and have worked to make this year better and more gracefully productive! I don’t think it’s fair to be flippant about it and say that it will all work out. Maybe it will. But I have talked to grown homeschoolers who were disappointed in their parents and their home education, particularly in the math and science realms. I’d say it took us all last year to find our groove and decide what we really needed to get school rolling again this year. However, I don’t think it would have been fair to my middle school kids to wait two more years for the toddler to quit pestering and hollering!

Wishing you the best! No two homeschools are the same! Good luck!

Terri

Homeschooling With Different Ages and a Toddler

a sassy lookAbout a year ago, every single day–I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the toddler screaming from atop the piano while the oldest was glaring at me for help with math factoring while my third was wistfully saying, “Read to me, Mommy. Will you read to me?” while I was running to turn the timer off from the second’s timed test — there was this point I would reach where I’d say, “I can’t do this!”

Ha! Why did I say this? Who I was talking to? I mean, I couldn’t tell you what I thought my option was. Seriously, there’s never been a Plan B in sight. I’ll wake up tomorrow, next month, next year, next ten years—and I’ll still be homeschooling! (But thank you, Sweet Jesus–not in 20 years! Wee-haw!)

At this time, I homeschooled with four kids in the house, a sixth grader (12), a fourth grader (10), a first grader (7), and an 18 month-old toddler, Little Tank, who liked to stick her finger in the electric pencil sharpener when I wasn’t looking. (Pointer fingers fit nicely.) Our homeschool days felt like a free-for-all, holy mess! Chaos is not my chosen style, but I swear Little Tank, who stops at nothing and fires at will, invited Curly and Mo over to wreck my orderly home and homeschool every day.  Tank disrupted school worse than a fire drill.  I could have locked her in the basement, and she would still have found a way to disrupt school!

The Family Makes the Homeschool

I really felt like I needed some moral support for homeschooling with diverse ages–yet with the oldest children not yet being old enough to teach themselves. So I turned to some experienced homeschoolers’ blogs.  Others have traveled this path before me! Here’s the gist of the encouraging words I found on most blogs (well, it seemed like most blogs):

“Don’t worry about it.  You’re building family relationships and teaching housekeeping skills.”

Grrrr-eat! But unless every one of my girls aspired to be a housekeeper or nanny, I had to get my act together, because, unfortunately, those didn’t seem to be my kids’ answers when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”! The intended encouraging words didn’t help cheer me up, so I kept “looking for love in all the wrong places” and searching the internet for some cheerleading.

Next words up: The quality of a homeschool education depends almost entirely on the parent…

Uh.  Oh.  That’s me.  Parent. I am TOAST. I guess since I like a good spank every now and then, I kept reading:

…Homeschooling is a large responsibility and may overwhelm a homeschool parent, even though they have the best intentions, because things like illness and the demands of a large family may arise.  Hmm.  That could be me too, if four kids equates with large.  (Somehow going from three kids to four felt like three kids plus A HUNDRED.)

My reading finished with the discussion: Older kids may have to put their education on the back burner as they are called to help with housework, childcare, or educating siblings.

Hello, no!  THAT is NOT what I had in mind for my daughters’ education.  No.  No.  No. And no. Back burner?

Dang.  If I needed hope and encouragement, it looked like I was going to have to turn to my inner-coach. Grand.  Get out the bun-huggers and pom-poms.

Tomorrow I Will Loosen Up

Each day was frustrating.  No matter that I went to bed feeding my subconscious positive affirmations:  “I am loose.  I laugh at chaos.  Tomorrow I will entertain the toddler so she doesn’t keep the older kids from doing Spanish and long division.  Tomorrow will be a new, shiny, bright day!”  The sad truth was, even if I had gotten that positivity-schmivity stuff down and smiled like Cinderella every day, that still didn’t mean that our school days would go any better.

Couldn’t I acquire both a positive attitude AND a decent day’s worth of homeschooling?

Well, I tried a lot of things. I don’t give up till I find the path that fits. We have finally found that path, and our school days and home life are wonderful again. What we finally arranged will not work or even be feasible for everyone. But for us, it’s just the ticket. I want to share with you all the things I can remember that we tried and the thoughts I thought, so maybe you can find your way too. Or at least know someone has the same concerns you do.

Tips for Homeschooling With Many Kids of Diverse Ages

Get help.  Any help will help!  When I could find someone to come babysit in the mornings, I seized them. (They often told me to let go of their neck so they could breathe.)  Then, the older girls and I could at least get some good, solid math instruction in.  Even if this was only a couple of mornings a week, it helped immensely.  My older girls appreciated it so much when I helped them “like a teacher” with school!  (And that’s why I homeschooled!)

Abe Lincoln would not have had math every day.  Abe had hunting and log splitting to do before reading and math. His education would have come in spurts.  I’ve got the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-most idea of school in my head, and sometimes I just need to spit it out.  Learning doesn’t make it school.  And school does not make it learning. Learning is learning, and it is everywhere! Remember a lot of brilliant men and women throughout history didn’t have the privilege of sitting in school for eight hours a day. (Probably a good thing, too!)

To be continued…

 

12 Math Tips For Teaching Non-Math Minded Kids

Saxon MathNumbers are not my thing. In fourth grade, I couldn’t understand why they were telling stories in math. In sixth-grade, the teacher called my mom in to tell her it was time I stopped counting on my fingers. In seventh grade, math meant counting the minutes till I could bolt out of that classroom and start talking again, preferably to the blue-eyed basketball hunk coming out of the classroom across the hall. And my senior year, business math blew my 4.0 in high school. Business math.

Just because your son swears he’s going to be a missionary, your daughter swears she’s going to be the first US female president, or your kid can draw like Michelangelo is no reason to skip math. If my dad had said, “Math isn’t your thing. Go fry an egg,” or my teacher would have said, “You’ll never get this stuff. Stick to hairspray,” I would have persevered with my plan to be a beautician instead of a pharmacist then medical doctor.

So how can a non-math minded student be helped to succeed in math? For three years of high school math, I had an amazing teacher by the name of Mrs. Jackson; she determined my career course by teaching this air-headed girl advanced math. I’d like to share some tips I use in my homeschool today that I learned from her. Most of them will work for parents wanting to help their traditionally schooled children as well. Please, look at their math papers.

1. We’ll start off easy. First, teach kids to use their paper properly. This is no time to be saving trees.

  • When kids transition to using lined paper, teach them to fold the paper in half lengthwise (skinny-wise). Have students work problems vertically down the left half first, using the red line as their margin. Then, they work down the right-half column, with the fold-crease functioning as the left hand margin. When that side is filled up, flip the paper over and carry on.
  • Teach students to take AS MANY LINES as they need to show all their work. NO SQUEEZING or smooshing stuff in. If one algebra problem takes 3/4 of one side of the paper, then that’s what it takes.
  • Leave at least one space between problems, including long division problems.

2. Math needs a plumb-line. Enforce meticulous lining up of addition problems, subtraction problems, and decimal points.

  • Places must be lined up exactly under each other. Ones’ places under ones’ places. Tens’ places under tens’ places. Hundreds’ places under hundreds’. Not a hair out of line.
  • Decimal points must be perfectly aligned one under the other. Not a hair out of line.

3. To erase means to erase. Please–show some good erasing effort, and for Pete’s sake, never do math in pen.

Stray marks can look like decimal points or negative signs and cause errors.

4. Misery loves company. Show them how it’s done.

Mrs. Jackson always taught the new lesson on the chalk board. When she worked a problem, she never skipped any steps. She never worked it half-way and said, “Oh, you get it from here.” Never. Ever. I believe this was important for two reasons, First, when kids learn new concepts, for some reason, they tend to lose focus of older, easier concepts that they should know. Secondly, sometimes kids make it through topics with knowledge gaps. Showing all steps of the problem, including the easy, mundane parts, helps reinforce any gaps that may persist (such as canceling, reducing, dividing fractions, and so on).

She also didn’t skimp on the number of problems she did with us on the chalk board. I’d say she did about 5-10 problems a day on the board with us, mostly the new topic but also a little bit of the old ones as well.

Can you hand kids the book and a CD-ROM and say, “Go.”? Yes, you can. But I have my doubts that non-math minds will flourish this way. If you can’t teach it, I suggest finding a lively friend, tutor, local high school or community college, or a live internet class (and verify the teacher is kind and available to offer help before signing them up) who can.

And lastly on this suggestion, I’ve taken to using our chalk wall to teach math. It has been very helpful.

5. Have them copy the original problem down nearly every time.

6. Don’t allow skipping any steps when solving a problem.

Kids buck at this one, especially when the answer is obvious or if they’re especially math-minded, but Mrs. Jackson was firm. No skipping steps. (As they advance in math, eventually yes, more steps are skipped.)

7. Teachers and parents, remember, we have done more math problems in our lives than we’ve eaten meals. Don’t be condescending. Don’t let your frustration show. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage.

Twelve times twelve is not at instant recall for kids. Long division sucks. Do not become angry when the kids can’t seem to get it. When they make the SAME mistake over and over again, like dropping a negative sign or adding fraction denominators. It is VERY easy to call it lazy, careless, stupid, etc. I wouldn’t do it. Okay. I’ve done it. But I always apologize, call hard to my inner child to help me remember what it was like, and then encourage. No child ever wants to fail. And all your belittling and criticism does is lead them to anger and/or feelings of failure. Is that really what you want?

8. Calculators don’t come until you hit real algebra I.

9. Check their work daily and give feedback.

10. Math must be done regularly.

11. Math takes from about one to two hours a day.

Don’t try to rush it. Yeah, that’s a long time, especially for a homeschooler who thinks school should be done by noon.

12. Push students to their edge, and change it up or slow down when you meet resistance (meaning they think it’s too hard or they start missing too many problems). How can you change it up or slow down? 

  • Spend two or three days on a problem set instead of one.
  • Skip mundane, easy-for-them problems.
  • If they keep missing the same kinds of problems, then find supplemental problems for them to work on instead of moving forward in the book.
  • Do math only 2-3 times per week for a while.
  • Take a week off or two.
  • Do lots of problems on the chalk board together. Maybe see if they can do the work on their paper faster than you can on the board. Or have them do the work on the board while you watch.
  • Somehow expose them to other kids doing the same kind of work. Often, homeschooled kids who take extra-curricular activities can hear their public school comrades complain about math, and somehow, this make the homeschooled kid feel better.
  • Give them a test.

Closing

You don’t have to view your kids’ education as your job. You don’t. Throw your hands up in the air and say, “Enough’s enough. It’s not my problem. Nobody needs algebra in the real world anyway.” But take it from someone whose non-college educated parents gave it all they had to make sure that their daughter was doing as well as she could in math. How parents handle their kids’ education leaves a lasting impression. How will your kids remember you on this matter? School is the BIGGEST part of their lives right now. Are you showing them you’re interested in it?

Non-math minded kids can succeed at advanced math. And I feel they contribute such a unique aspect to the science and medical fields. So get them going!

Terri