Category Archives: Homeschooling

The Friends You Need in Your Tribe

So, now that you have followed my fool-proof 5 step plan to make Homeschool Mommy Friends (read post——> here) you have the skills to make new friends.  It’s time to start building your tribe because one friend here or there is great, but a group of friends is AWESOME!

You may be asking me:  Why do I need a whole tribe?

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The answer is simple: you need a friend to satisfy all of the many facets of your quirky personality and complex life.  Friends are the people you choose to share snippets of your life journey with, so choose friends that fit those snippets.  Each of the friends in your tribe will fulfill a different, but important part of your friendship cup.

Here are the friends I think everyone needs in their tribe…

(***Note to all of my friends:  While I have chosen specific friends to highlight in this post, you are all very valuable to me and most of these categories hold a combination of each of you.***)

The Friend that is Your Best Friend

Of all of the friends in your tribe, the BEST friend is probably the most critical one.  This is the friend you feel most connected with.  For some people, they find a best friend early in life and stick with her through all of the chapters of their lives.  It takes other people longer to find that special friend.  And still others move from best friend to best friend with different chapter of their lives.

Whatever the case, I believe it is absolutely vital to have your one special friend that no matter what, you know that person loves you.  A best friend is the person you feel most yourself with because she accepts the good, the bad, and the ugly in you.  Your best friend still wants to go out for girl’s night with you even when she is the most innocently sweet woman ever, but you take her to see Django because you heard it was good but have no idea what it’s really about.  (Right, Denise?)

We live in a society that is constantly moving so it is very possible that you or your best friend will move away from each other.  The beauty of your best friend is that no amount of distance between you or time between seeing each other will change the strength of your bond.  Talking to your best friend even after months have passed by is like talking to her yesterday.

The Friend That Is Your Cheerleader

We are often our own biggest critic.  A friend that cheers us on as we embark on any life journey will keep us motivated to march on, even when we feel like we might be failing.  Our cheerleader friend is there rooting for us when we try a new hobby, have a new baby, start a new career, or just cook a new dish.  This friend is a positive force in our lives propelling us forward with encouragement.  She reminds us that we are strong, capable women that can accomplish anything (even our craziest ideas) if we set our minds to it.  Your cheerleader friend helps you work through your plan for success and happily promotes you in every way possible.

Hopefully, we are also a cheerleader for this friend because her positive, encouraging force inspires us to reciprocate.

The Friend That is Your Mentor

We all have heroes and people we look up to.  Many times those people are celebrities or famous people.  I mean, we all look up to Ghandi and Mother Teresa, right?  But sometimes it’s someone we know in real life and when we can become friends with that person and get to know them on a more intimate level the inspiration makes more of an impact.

The mentor friend will always be there with experienced words of wisdom.  She is the friend that can tell you all of the tips and tricks because she’s already been there and done that.  You can ask her for her advice and feel confident that the advice she gives you is sound.  She is a fabulous sounding board because she can see the likely path your infantile ideas will take as they come to fruition.  I also love that the mentor friend will give you ideas you might never have considered and suddenly you are embarking on an exciting new journey (like homeschooling) because the idea your friend gave you resonates with you (which she knew it would) (Thank you Dee).

The Friend That Challenges You

This friend is the friend that teaches you tolerance because her spiritual, political, or social beliefs are so different from our own.  Despite our differences, this friend and you share mutual respect and are more able to have open and honest discussions or even arguments without feeling that your friendship could end.  The friend that challenges us gives us the opportunity to learn and grow by questioning our belief system in a loving and respectful way.  We may not change our opinions, but we are more likely to take the time to consider opposing ideas and will do more research into our own ideas to give them more strength.

The Friend to Have Adventures With

Whether your idea of adventure is trying a new restaurant or climbing Mt. Everest, you absolutely must have a friend willing to do it with you because all great adventures are much more fun with someone.  If you are less adventurous, your friend may be the person to draw you out of your comfort zone and try something new like sky diving.  If you are more adventurous, your friend may be the person that fuels your most outlandish ideas with ideas of her own.  I don’t believe that becoming wives and moms marks the end of our adventures in life.  We certainly will take adventures with our spouses and children, but adventures with friends can be self-awakening.  We discover ourselves when we are able to remove the labels that regularly define us (i.e. Mom, wife, teacher, chauffeur, cook, etc.) and we find that we are interesting human beings again.

The Friend to Be Healthy With (Or not)

We are all getting older and with age comes health problems.  The good news is that you can add to your tribe someone that will encourage you to get healthy whether it’s eating a healthier diet or joining the gym and taking classes.  Your healthy friend can give you someone not judgmental to be accountable to when you eat a gallon of ice cream on a bad day (or as I like to call them- a week day.)  She will also tell you how much fun yoga is to trick you into going to yoga class where you will later find out that yoga is soooo boring, but now that you’ve gone you have to keep going with her.  The bad news is that when you and your friend go out, you’ll probably be the “ugly friend” because of course she is all trim and cute and looks good.  So of course, you’ll secretly hate her for how perfect she is.

To balance your healthy friend, you also need a friend that will splurge on all of the forbidden fruits with you.  I mean… within reason…  When you need a scoop or two of ice cream or 5 margaritas, you need a friend that is going to be crawling out the Cantina door with you.  It’s possible that your healthy friend can also be this friend (you’ll hate her a little less this way) or you could be this friend for your healthy friend.  Either way, I always believe in balance and if you have a weight on the side of health and exercise, you should have a weight on the side of junk food and being lazy.

The Friend You Can Be Weird With

We all have an inner weirdo and it takes a special kind of friend that not only accepts you at your weirdest, but can be just as weird as you.  This friend never lets you down when you need to laugh because she always has the perfect thing to say or do that will remind you of your silly side.  In a world where we all feel pressure to be the Pinterest perfect, ideal wife/mother/woman it’s really comforting to have someone in your life that gives you permission to be so much less than perfect.  Because we are not perfect.  And while we can uphold a certain demeanor of perfection for a while, we must have an outlet for the weirdo that is brewing just beneath the surface.

As For Me and My Tribe

When I was young, through high school and nearly all of my young adult life I had few friends, many of which were very negative influences in my life.  Sure, we had fun, but a lot of times it was at the expense of my own growth and self improvement.  There was a moment in my 30’s when I really needed true and good friends the most that I realized how alone I really was.  My “best” friend told me I was one of the most self-centered people she knew, that I was not a good friend, and that I was not worth the effort of working to improve on our 20 year friendship.  She threw our friendship away.

For several years after I hung up the phone from the phone call where she “broke up with me” I really struggled.  I was afraid to be myself.  I worried constantly about being a “good” friend to the point that I couldn’t let people in.  I couldn’t allow myself to be close to people.  I already had a very crumbling self-esteem and that person that was supposed to have been my “BEST” friend for the last 20 years of my life destroyed what was left.

But I’ve come out of the dust stronger.  I’ve realized what it is to be a good friend and what it means to have good friends.  I work hard to be a positive force in my friends’ lives, encouraging them, uplifting them, loving them, and being there for them.  If you read my note at the beginning of my post, I’ve chosen to highlight a few of my friends here, but the reality is that I have filled my life with a huge variety of people.  And I try to be a good friend to each of them, because I need them, and I hope they need me.

Maybe I am spreading myself too thin and losing the connection with these beautiful women, or maybe I’m just so complex that I need so many people to compliment the many facets of my life.  Whatever it is, I have now filled my life with women that are strong, positive, encouraging, and beautiful inside and out.  I feel a connection with these women that is more profound than any connection I have ever had before.  I have true friends that want to give me a shoulder to cry on when I’m sad and celebrate my joys with me when I am happy.

I hope that I can give each of these women a modicum of comfort knowing that I am their friend.  I hope they feel how special they are to me, and know that they have made my life better because they are in it.  I hope that all of them know that I am here to be their friend, even when they may feel alone.  Because my tribe, large as it may be, is filled with women I don’t know how I could ever live without.

Homeschooling Multiple Children

When I started homeschooling I really only had the Princess who was doing school.  Sure, sometimes my Little Man would “sit in” on school work, but my primary focus was on the Princess.  Over the years our family has grown by one more, the Littles have gotten older.  And now I am homeschooling 3 kiddos instead of just one.

Honestly, I kinda let things go with the Littles long after I should have been working with them.  I was anxious about trying to educate more than one child at a time, and especially THREE at once.  But apparently, I can’t wait until one is graduated to start educating the others.  Who knew?  Hahaha.

Seriously though, this year is my first year with all 3 kiddos officially doing school work.  You can read what curriculum I chose in this post ———> Paterson Academy Curriculum Round Up 2018-2019.  The biggest challenge I have is the large age gap.  The Princess is 11 and in 6th grade while the Littles are 5 and 7 in K and 1st respectively.  That age gap doesn’t seem like a big deal with some things, but educationally speaking, that gap can be more like a canyon.  I approached things with that in mind, and made my primary goal to make things as easy as possible for everyone, especially me.  Here is how I did that:

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Give older students as much independence as possible

Sixth grade is considered Middle School in most standard school systems, and by middle school students have a certain amount of personal responsibility.  Homeschooling shouldn’t reduce the level of personal responsibility just because the kids are home with us.  I don’t personally love telling my daughter what to do every step of the way.  I like to give her a list of things she needs to have accomplished by the end of the day and leave her to it.  Every step of her education is moving towards the next step which means the steps she’s taking now need to prepare her for the steps she will take later.

At this point in her education, I am still making all assignments with daily plans for what should be accomplished.  We are still very much working on “should do” subjects, not just “want to do” subjects.  But there is no reason I can’t give her a daily list of assignments and send her on her way to get them done.  I am always available for her if she has questions, but for the most part, her school work is self-taught.  And of course I take time to check her work and make sure she understands what she’s doing and doing a good job.

Find work that can be done as a group

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we get to spend a lot more time together as a family.  Our Daily Basket is one way we can learn together (you can read more about that here —–> The Daily Basket for the Secular Homeschooler).  The beauty of subjects like history, art, music, poetry, and literature is that they can be taught to kids of a variety of ages and each child will take from it what they are able to for their individual level.  And if you put things on rotation like Shakespeare, poetry, etc. you will find that what children can build on their take away with each round.  So what a child gets from studying Van Gogh in 1st grade will be simple, but when they come back around to Van Gogh in say 4th grade they will build on that simple idea and have something more complex.  Again when they get back him in 7th and 10th.

Field trips are also a fantastic way to get everyone learning together.  As you already know we are on the go A LOT and this is one of the main reasons why.  Everyone learns when we’re at the museum or exploring nature or whatever.  They each learn at their own level, and are better able to find things that interest them specifically.  Sometimes all 3 do go in 3 separate directions so maybe they are not necessarily learning “together” but it’s still better than trying to teach 3 completely different subjects at once.

Get curriculum that matches even if it’s on a different level

This year I bought the Littles the same curriculum for every subject.  The only difference is their Math levels (1 & 2).  This works because the same curriculum usually maintains the same type of schedule which means each child can be doing Lesson 16, but in their own book.  Not only does this make planning easier on me, but also there is no competition between who is doing what.  For kids close in age (like within a couple of years) it is also possible for the kids to be doing the exact same book.  Both of my Littles are doing Handwriting Without Tears and Explode the Code 1.  They work together on it which is convenient because I don’t feel like I have to sit and explain everything twice.  Little Man reads the directions to the Baby who doesn’t read well yet.

Older kids can help guide the younger ones with their work

With one little one that doesn’t read and one little one that doesn’t write there are times that both little ones need me at the same time.  I have yet to perfect my ability to be two places at once (where is that time turner necklace Hermoine had?) so I need the help of The Princess.  It’s really a wonderful opportunity for her to practice patience and kindness when she is working with one of the Littles, and it helps me keep everyone on track.  I do have to pick which little one needs my help most vs. which one just needs something simple.  Even like in the example above, the Little Man will read things to the Baby to help out, although he struggles with not just giving her the answers.

Overall, I believe that pairing older and younger kids is a very good way to help younger ones get through their work.  If I had more children like many wonderful homeschooling families I know, I think this would be something I put into practice quite often.  I believe there is benefit to both age groups through this because they each get to learn from the other.

In the end, I think that homeschooling multiple children is definitely different than just focusing on one, but no more difficult.  I think that you have to plan ahead, considering that those little kids need (and deserve) to be educated as much as the older ones.  Most importantly I think it’s imperative that you consider the ways you can make this easy on yourself while still giving each child a full educational opportunity.  Don’t stress yourself trying to give each child a complete individualized attention.  There’s only one you and 24 hours in a single day and sometime during that 24 hours you still have to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom….  Give yourself the grace to make it easy on yourself and I assure you the kids will also appreciate it.

Confessions of a Homeschool Event Planner

I serve as 1 of 3 activities coordinators for my local homeschool group.  It’s a decent gig since I like to stay busy and it’s my job to keep the calendar filled.  I get a lot of recognition for being “awesome” for all of the things I put on the calendar, and well, let’s face it, I AM pretty awesome.  I really have no shortage of ideas which means in any given year I can put together quite a lineup that is different from previous years.

But I guess I should confess that I’m really not as amazing as I appear to be.  I mean… activity planning really isn’t that difficult.  Any monkey could do it.  I have a few tips and tricks and secrets that help me keep our calendar filled.  And because I want every homeschooler to have the opportunities my kiddos have, I’m going to share my secrets here with you.

(Just don’t tell my homeschool group.  I don’t want them to think I’m replaceable.)

I Steal Ideas From Other Groups

When I first started homeschooling I joined a bunch of groups because I wanted to get involved in activities and classes.  We moved a few times during our first few years so with each move I joined more groups.  I also joined several national and international groups just for ideas.  I’m more settled in one location now, but I still maintain my memberships with all of those other groups.  I also, continue to join new groups as they pop up and pertain to my family.

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What I love about homeschool groups is that they are all trying to build a community for their kids, so they plan activities that get the people in the community together.  And since each group is different, the activities reflect their community and its interests.  So, for example a sweet little preschool group I am a part of, does Show-n-tell playdates.  And a Tween girl group I am part of is doing aerial skills classes.

Sometimes I just want to participate, because let’s face it, being a mindless peon that just shows up can be relaxing.  But sometimes I like the activity so much that I want to do it again or I want to try it with another age group.  That’s when I steal the idea and set it up for my large homeschool group.  If someone else can set it up, chances are good that with a phone call or email I can set it up too.

I Look For Possibilities in Everything

As we go through our day-to-day lives I look for possible activities that can be set up.  A tour, a class, a social opportunity, a volunteering opportunity… any adventure that the kids might enjoy is a possibility.  I also listen to my kids and what they’re interested in.  The Princess was really into pop music and had the radio blasting all day long so I thought, “Hey!  We should tour the radio station!”  A phone call or two later and we did.

I don’t stop there though.  As questions arise from the kids or even from my own mind I think, how would we find out about that straight from the source?   The Princess really loves sewing and she is always wanting new fabric.  One day I set my mind to finding a place that actually *makes* fabric so she could see where her fabric came from and how it was made printed.  Our modern society has really lost touch with the sources of our lives so I love the opportunity to reconnect the kids to those sources.

Nearly every business or facility is willing to give a tour and talk about what they do.  Some places can’t handle large groups and would prefer only a few people, but if you have a large group you can almost always set up multiple tours.  The key is just asking.  Businesses in particular see tours as promotional opportunities for their business so the more people they can filter through, the more potential for business.

In terms of classes, many places offer classes especially for a fee.  Some places will even tailor a class to any specific curriculum or topic you want.  I usually look online at what they offer first, then I decide what I want to learn.  Museums in particular love to get kids in there to learn and they usually have some kind of educational coordinator.  If you come across a museum that doesn’t have classes or someone to put together a class, do it yourself.  You are already putting together an education for your kids so why not go ahead and plan a lesson that can be reinforced by a trip to the museum?

I Add Fluff so the Calendar Looks Full

One thing I am continually commended on is keeping our calendar full, but all of those classes and tours can be too much “going” even for me, not to mention the cost of classes and gas and food that we can eat while running around.  To balance that, I add fluff to our calendar.  I host a monthly Art in the Park, I add park days, I create events for public events that we can meet up at, and I suggest meet ups at random places just because I’m going (like Chick Fil A or to work out).  Sure, a lot of this “fluff” is social which is important, but in the overall scheme of things adding fluff makes our calendar look very full and gives everyone the opportunity to connect at least in some way.

There are a lot of different types of frivolous things that can be added to a calendar to help make it look fuller.  And since homeschool groups, especially large ones like the one I belong to have people coming from all different experiences with age ranges from birth up to grandma it’s important to consider that not everyone can or wants to do more than just get out and play.  Playing is important for kids and sometimes we can all lose sight of that when we’re trying to cram so much education into them.

I Get Frustrated with People

I think to be a successful event planner for any type of situation, you must be a people person.  And I am.  I LOVE to talk to people and help people and listen to people.  I am always connecting with someone, listening to their needs and wants.  And when someone says, “My kid really wants to do [this].”  I immediately start thinking about how I can make that happen.

But I do get frustrated with people.  There’s nothing more annoying than creating an event for people and those people not follow the instructions.  I’ve tried so many different ways of giving direction, but there is almost always a few people that don’t do what they’re supposed to.  I know I can be wordy, but I try to be as clear as I can.

The trouble with people not following directions is that it causes a lot of misunderstanding which can cost me time, money, and a reputation, which is vital to setting up successful events and activities.  Because venues are different, each event/activity will have different procedures that need to be followed.  And sometimes I can choose the wrong way to set something up and have to change it which means different instructions.

For example, I set up 2 tours to a coffee roaster which could only handle a maximum of 20 people per tour.   Of course this tour was extremely popular and within minutes I had 60+ people signed up for the first tour and 30 signed up for the second.  That obviously wasn’t going to work so I had to change the event to limit the number of people per tour and I set up 2 more tours.  I messaged the first 20 people that had RSVP’d for the first tour to let them know and give them the first chance before I opened it up to the other 70 people.  When I opened it up to the remaining people I let them know I had new tour days/times and that once they had sufficient time to sign up I would then re-open the event to the general membership that maybe couldn’t do the original dates/times but could do the new dates/times.

It was a process.  I tried to do it in steps and make it very clear what needed to happen.  Despite my best efforts I had people message me the day before the event saying they signed up for x tour and now they are not signed up.  I had people show up for x tour that put us over the acceptable limit.  I had people take prime spots in the first tour and then bail the last minute.  Yeah… that crap makes me kinda crazy.

I normally don’t harbor any negative feelings towards last minute cancellations.  I get it.  A month before something you’re excited about it, but the day of when you have to get out of bed at the butt crack of dawn, get the kids up, get everyone in the car (hopefully they ate enough last night because you don’t have time for breakfast)… sometimes you just don’t feel like it.  It’s a crappy reason to bail, but I completely understand.

BUT!

  • If you are taking up a space in an activity that had limited space- SHOW UP.
  • If you sign up for an activity that is free to you, but other people have paid money for supplies or curriculum (like the group Easter Egg Hunt where we prepared for over 100 children and had only about 20)- SHOW UP.
  • If you are supposed to be a leader in any activity whether it’s teaching a class or just being the contact person- SHOW UP.

Barring illnesses, deaths, natural disasters, or any regular things out of your control, there is no excuse for bailing on the things above.  You know you.  Be honest with yourself and if you are a chronic NO SHOW, then just sit out completely or assess your situation a few days in advance.  I WILL clarify this to say that if you bail a few days before, but give notice so that your spot can be filled or supplies can be adjusted or a new leader can be found, then you’re all good to bail.  It’s ok.

I Can and Frequently Do Overbook Myself

*This is directed more towards my friends that might read this, but anyone with an awesome homeschool activity/events planner can use this information.

When I am thinking about activities and events for my homeschool group I usually think of what my kids and I want to do first, what friends and their kids want to do second, and then the group at large.  Since it is my job to fill our calendar with amazing and awesome events and activities for our homeschool group, I can get carried away booking this class or that activity or planning this event or that.  Before I know it, the calendar is full and everyone in the group has an awesome selection of opportunities to participate in, but MY Calendar is full.

Now I like to go, go, go.  We work best on the go.  It’s just who we are.

But sometimes I can get overwhelmed with how much going we’re doing.  Sometimes the kids and I need a quiet day (or three) at home.  Most days I need chocolate or caffeine just to get to the next thing.  Sometimes I need someone to step up and say, “I’ve got this for you” and let me sit and just mindlessly participate.  All of the time I need a hug and my narcissistic cup filled with praise of how awesome I am so I can get back to my every day.

For me (and I can only speak for myself) I want to see the flourishing of our homeschool group so nearly everything I’m doing is to put back into the group that I love.  That sometimes means doing things even when it’s not what’s best for my family.  I try not to do that, but like I said, I get carried away.  So yeah, please love on me.  I’ll blush and dismiss all of your gratitude with a modest wave of my hand, but I appreciate your gushing over me and I’ll be all the more motivated to plan more for the group and continue filling our calendar.

 

Drop me a line to let me know your homeschool event planning secrets… maybe we can steal each other’s ideas.  😉

The Daily Basket for the Secular Homeschooler

I was tooling around the internet as I have a habit of doing sometimes and came across a post asking about Morning Baskets.  Hmmm…   I was immediately intrigued with the idea.  So off on a research tangent I went.  There are a lot of posts about morning baskets.  A LOT.  Apparently, I’m not the only one intrigued.  I read through a lot of the posts to get a feel for what exactly is a morning basket and what people put in them.

Morning baskets are very Charlotte Mason-y so a lot of homeschoolers who use the morning basket include Bible verses, morning prayers, and religious reflections.  Of course, that’s not our thing.  While I may dabble here and there with indifference toward religious curriculum, I don’t promote religious studies in our day-to-day schoolwork.  But I do like the idea of including certain tenets as part of our daily routine.  And I like the general concept of the morning basket as a time to come together and study as a group where everyone is kind of on the same level.  Plus, I really like that a morning basket can include a wide variety of educational topics so that if that is all we get done in a day I feel like we accomplished school.

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Now, as you may already know, we are not “morning” people.  We live what I refer to as the Homeschool Rockstar life.  Obviously, a MORNING basket was going to be a misnomer for us, so we just call it our DAILY basket.  I know it’s silly, but when we first started I was always referring to our morning basket, but the name just didn’t feel right since we were starting it at noon… or later.  Eventually, I just started calling it the daily basket and that feels more natural.

I think there are two big questions- What IS a Daily Basket?  and What is IN a Daily Basket?

What IS a Daily Basket

A daily basket is a basket of things that you do each school day.  It’s a time to bring all of the kids together to do school work as a family.  Typically, this is the first thing you do each day as a way to kind of commune together and set the expectation that school is starting.  I think it’s similar to Circle Time that preschools and schools do.

Does it have to be a basket?  No.  But it does help to have something that keeps your daily basket things together, separate from everything else.  The things in your daily basket are not your every day, individual curriculum things.

How much time should I spend my daily basket?  I believe that a daily basket should be worked through in no more than an hour.  If you have little ones, they can usually keep attention for up to an hour and the bigger ones have more school work to do and need to get to it.  I like to spend no more than 10-15 minutes on each item in my daily basket.  I admit, sometimes we do get hung up on one thing or another, but I try to keep it short and sweet.

What if I have a huge age range?  When you have kids with a large age range, it can be difficult to find time to all work together.  Older kids tend to go off and work independently while the little ones need more attention and instruction.  I find that the daily basket can put everyone on a very close playing field because it’s studying topics that are more universal.  Sure, the older ones will get more from it than the younger ones, but everyone will walk away having learned something.  And from my experience, it’s really nice to have everyone together to learn for even a small amount of time.

What is IN a Daily Basket

This can vary tremendously and is only limited by your lack of creativity.  Generally speaking, I think this is the time to get in a lot of those extra subjects that make your kids more culturally aware.  Use daily basket time to fill your kids with the appreciation for things they may not get just doing the 3 R’s.  Here are some things I like to include:

  • Artist Study
  • Musician/Music Genre Study
  • Poetry
  • Folk Songs
  • Philosophical/Inspirational Sayings
  • Geography
  • Foreign Language
  • Shakespeare

Anything I include in my daily basket is usually pretty portable so we can do it at home or in the car.  I also look for things that are quick and easy to do in a short amount of time.  The Daily Basket is a time to spark some interest so you can later go into greater depth with any given topic.  For example, when we do Shakespeare during our Daily Basket time we are just covering the basic story line.  We are not reading the plays in their original format and discussing in great detail the language or literary tactics.  The Princess loved the Shakespeare we’ve done in the past with our Daily Basket and has since done some literary studies for her language arts work.

The last couple of years I chose to do everything on a weekly rotation.  We would do 1 artist, 1 musican, 1 poem, 1 folk song, 1 geographical concept, and 1 Shakespeare story per week.  Then we switch it up the next week.  This worked for us perfectly well, but this year I decided to spend a little more time on each thing.

This year we are doing 1 artist and 1 musician per month with a different music genre per quarter.  We are doing 1 poet and as many poems from that poet as we can for the first half of the year and will do another poet for the second half.  I pulled the geography concepts from Ambleside Online and just kind of go over 1-3 related concepts per week.  And we try to get 1 Shakespeare play done per quarter.

As for foreign language and folk songs, this year I don’t really have a set plan for them yet.  I was trying to work out foreign language classes with a wonderful friend, but we can’t seem to mesh our schedules.  I’ve looked at several online schools, but so far they are all cost-prohibitive.  I need to break down and just buy a folk songs CD, there are several I’ve been looking at, but I only seem to think about it when I’m not able to spend time making the purchase (like driving down the road or when I’m going to sleep).

I am trying to do 10-15 Philosophical/Inspirational Sayings on a daily basis, but rotating through them so the kids hear them again and again, but not in a monotonous kind of way.  I have no specific plan for which saying we do which day, but kind of fly by the seat of my pants on that one.

Paterson Academy Recommendations for Your Daily Basket

So, there are so many resources out there, but I’m going to recommend a few of my favorites from the last 3 years of doing a daily basket that I hope you’ll try.  Definitely let me know what you think if you do.  And I’d love to have some suggestions for new things to try out.

Artist Study:  My favorite book for artist study is Child’s Introduction to Art: The World’s Greatest Paintings and Sculptures.  This book is amazing for a brief summary of an artist’s life as well as one piece of artwork that the book has discussion points on.  Even after years of art school, I still struggle to discuss artwork in a compelling way.  This book also comes with coloring sheets of famous artwork so you can let the kids color their own masterpiece while you read and discuss.  I usually supplement the rest of the week by googling the artist and looking at other pieces that artist did.

Musician/Music Genre Study:  Story of the Orchestra : Listen While You Learn About the Instruments, the Music and the Composers Who Wrote the Music! is a book that I recommend over and over again.  Similar to the book above for artists, Story of the Orchestra provides a brief summary of a composer’s life.  The book comes with a CD with samples of each composer’s work.  The last quarter of the book is dedicated to different instruments within an orchestra.  The kids and I really enjoyed this book, and by the end I was really surprised when the kids recognized some of the composers and instruments when we attended the educational days at the North Carolina Symphony.

Last year, we had finished classical composers and the kids really wanted to learn about the history of Rock N Roll.  I picked up a copy of  What Is Rock and Roll? (What Was?) at the library.  The “What is” and “Who Was” books are really fantastic for studying history and historical figures.  We worked our way through the What is Rock and Roll book one chapter at a time and I not only played music for the kids, but we also looked on YouTube for live performances.  Performers like Jimi Hendrix need to be witnessed.

Poetry:  For the last few years we have worked our way through Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy.  I really love this book because there are so many poems by so many different poets that all speak to things the kids can relate to.  Some of the poems are really short and easy to memorize.  I love that the book is broken into sections like “Family” and “Self” so that we could spend time working on a certain section if we need more encouragement in that area.  There are all kinds of poets from Langston Hughes to Robert Frost to Emily Dickinson to Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky and many, many others.  My kids found that they had favorite poems and from someone who is not adept at studying or teaching poetry, I found the poems to be very easy to talk about.

Folk Songs

Philosophical/Inspirational Sayings:  If you’re religious then this is the perfect opportunity to get some Bible versus or whatever, but if you’re not or if you just want something else, then I have the perfect list for you.  Ecurious wrote a list of 20 Quotes From Children’s Book Every Adult Should Know and it is one of the most profoundly inspirational list I have found to date.  Like, seriously, I want to print this list and put it up in our house somewhere.  These should be daily mantras for kids.

But hey, credit where credit is due.  Bright Drops has a lot of great lists of inspirational quotes from some pretty famous people like Albert Einstein and Natalie Portman so I mean, you could always check out their 25 Inspirational Quotes All Kids Should Hear and let those quotes be a part of your rotation.  I like to use quotes as copy work too.  We don’t do much copy work, but if the kids are going to copy random things, I want them to feel inspired by it.

Geography:  As I said above, I cycle through the geography concepts found in each level on Ambleside Online.  Since I don’t want our Daily Basket time to take too long and we get plenty of geography through our history studies and just general questions about where things are, I don’t stress too much about this part.  I really just want to make sure the kids have a basis for the overall concepts.

Foreign Language:  In the past when we’ve done this, I used flash cards and 52 Weeks of Family French: Bite Sized Weekly Lessons.  Understand that this time is not the time to learn a language.  This is just a time to practice the language that you’re learning.  I liked the 52 weeks of family french book because each week we could put into practice the use of a few every day french phrases.  The book also gives a very brief culture lesson to help the kids learn about France and the french speaking areas of the world.

Shakespeare:  There are some great Shakespeare for kids books out there.  The kids really enjoyed Twenty Shakespeare Children’s Stories.  These 20 stories cover all of the major Shakespearean plays like Hamlet, Macbeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, etc.Sometimes I would copy the drawings and let the kids color the pictures while I read.  Another book that we have enjoyed is Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers by E. Nesbit which has a few different stories and is told differently than the 20.  I usually mixed it up and would read one story from the 20 and then a different story from Nesbit’s book.  Eventually, we read both versions of all of the stories, but with Shakespeare I believe that you should have many different takes on the stories.

One surprising source for studying Shakespeare are movies.  I was completely shocked when I was researching movies that are based on Shakespearean plays.  There are the obvious ones like Gnomeo and Juliet, but did you know that 10 Things I Hate About You was based on The Taming of the Shrew?  Ok.  We’re not showing our kids 10 Things I Hate About You unless your kids are teenagers.  But what about The Lion King?  When I read that it was based on Hamlet it made perfect sense, but I had never put the two together until then.  Point is, check out movies based on Shakespeare because after a month long study of a play, a movie day is a great way to reinforce what they’ve learned.

What is Paterson Academy doing this year

I guess it would be unfair of me to leave  you with all of this and not give you the basic layout of our plan for this coming year.  I know sometimes it can be challenging to come up with your own ideas of what to study when there are so many things out there to study.  Most of my recommendations above are things we’ve used the last few years that we’ve been doing our Daily Basket, but as I said earlier I decided to change things up this year.  I’ll give you my basic plan and you can try it out if you want.

The Joy of Day Trips

When Zoë was little I was a single mom supporting us on a minimum wage income.  Money was definitely tight.  One thing that I really wanted to do, but that was waaaaay outside of our budget was taking traditional summer vacations.  There was no way I could drop a couple thousand dollars (or more, if we’re being realistic) on a full week vacation.  Despite my lack of funds I was determined to give Zoë the experiences that a vacation would bring.  So, every payday or so we would take little day trips or overnight trips.

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We basically went where ever one full tank of gas could get us in any direction from home.  At that time we lived in Knoxville, TN and went to the Smoky Mountains (Cades Cove), Atlanta, Asheville, Nashville, Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Chattanooga, Lexington, KY and many, many places in between.  We often had friends that lived nearby so for overnight trips we’d crash on their couches.  We could often eat pretty cheap since it was just the two of us and we were not above McDonald’s dollar menu 3 meals a day.

Sometimes we would splurge and get a hotel room.  I remember this one time that a friend of mine worked at a hotel booking center for Gatlinburg.  She hooked us up with an insane discount for a pretty decent hotel.  Of course I also remember a time we slept on top of the covers at a hotel in West Virginia because we were afraid to sleep on the sheets.  Whatever the experience, we were always ready for the next trip.

    

     

We were out there making memories and enjoying her childhood.  I got to watch Zoë develop a passion for history through touring historical landmarks like The Hermitage in Nashville.  We bonded over a mutual love 70’s and 80’s music especially The Cars and Def Leopard.  At the time, I was just in it to have fun, but looking back from a older and wiser perspective I think those trips exemplified the future homeschooler in me coming out and sharing a wonderful education with my daughter.

Fast forward 15+ years.  We still love day and overnight trips.

I’m definitely not as spontaneous with the kids now as I was when Zoë was little.  But I do have more available income and much more freedom.  And while Zoë almost always learned things on our trips, I am much more purposeful now in what I plan for us to do to make sure that the kids get the most from the trip.  Plus, now I almost never stay in a hotel that I’m afraid to sleep on the sheets.

I still love to pick up and decide to go on a day trip or quick overnight trip.  I love exploring with the kids like I did with Zoë.  I’m not in my 20’s anymore and I don’t have as much energy or as much childish curiosity, but in those moments when the kids and I are exploring I can feel that youthful me coming out.  As we are exploring I can see that THESE are the moments that foster a real love of learning.  These are the moments that I can look at my kids and see real joy in their faces as they explore, learn, and grow.

     

      

We are lucky in that we live in a country where we can drive 2-4 hours in any direction and explore something completely new.  We are lucky in our country that there are so many different opportunities to learn and grow.  We cherish our history and preserve at least parts of it in every town.  We believe in the natural beauty of our land and keep parts of it pristine, untarnished by the modernization of mankind.  We value the hustle and bustle of a growing economy and have huge cities with everything you could possibly want to do available within the walking distance of a block or two.  Plus, there are all of these little unexpected gems that we find in between.

And if all I need to do to give the kids the chance to experience all of these possibilities is drive a few hours, then isn’t it worth it?

I think so.

Paterson Academy Curriculum Round Up 2018-2019

I wasn’t going to write this post.  Really, I wasn’t.  I mean, curriculum is such an individual thing.  But to be honest, I’ve had a little bit of writer’s block, so I thought maybe writing this would get those more creative juices flowing.  And maybe it will help someone else find some inspiration for their curriculum.  So, without further ado…  Paterson Academy Curriculum Round Up 2018-2019.

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As you hopefully already know I have 3 kiddos in about the equivalent of grades 6, 1, and K.  My personal attitude toward education is to cover the basic R’s (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic) through curriculum.  Other subjects like history, science, art, etc. we get through a variety of ways including some curriculum, our daily basket, and outside classes.  I will lay out our 3 R’s for the Princess and a combined for the Littles and then lay out our extra subjects by subject.

The Princess – 6th Grade:

Reading:  If you follow my blog at all, then you know I am a very big fan of Sonlight reading lists.  For the Princess we are reading our way through American History.  You can find this program here: American History Sonlight 100.  As a secular homeschooler, I follow the History & Geography books as well as the Readers/Literature.  If you are secular I recommend that you preview the books.  While most are secular, there are always a few that are Christian.

I like these books because they are almost always quality reading material, they are often books she would not necessarily choose, and they give her a lot of historical information.  I honestly don’t do a lot more than assign her to read the books.  I like for her to read an average of 1 book a week, but some of the books (especially the history books) can be long and not as much fun for her.  And you know how it goes… when it’s not as much fun she reads slower

Writing:  I have a three-pronged plan for writing.  First I piecked up a copy of Teaching the Classics on a whim when I went by the local homeschool book store.  Wow.  Good choice for me.  Not only is this a great resource for teaching literature, but also for encouraging writing about literature.

My second plan is to do essay writing.  And what better way to do essay writing than to enter essay contests.  I will first have her read through the winning essays from past contests to get a feel for what is a quality essay.  I don’t care if she wins, but I do think that it’s a good start to studying essays and writing in general.

Last, but not least, I picked up a copy of Can-Do Cursive, Handwriting Without Tears Student Workbook for Older Students Learning Or Mastering Cursive just to beef up her cursive writing.  We did cursive a while back, but I thought she could use some practice.  Her handwriting isn’t atrocious, but it could definitely be improved.  Plus, she kept claiming she couldn’t read my notes because I write in cursive so I wanted to make sure she could read my notes.

Arithmetic:  The online program we’ve been using stopped being available as of June 30th which left me scrambling to decide on what next to use.  I had picked up a copy of Math Detective and a copy of 6th Grade Math both by Creative Thinking Company last year and they were both pretty good so I decided to give their Algebra a shot.  I picked up a copy of Understanding Algebra I to use for the Princess.  I am not sure if it’s a good fit or not.  We shall see.

The Littles – 1st Grade and Kindergarten:

Reading:  So, Little Man is a fluent reader, but the Baby is not, which makes this section a little complicated.  Like the Princess I am doing Sonlight readers with the Littles.  The difference is that I am reading the books to them.  I chose to do Intro to World History for them.  Some of the book list is a little simple for Little Man and he could read the books himself, but I decided that we would just fit these into our bedtime reading list.  Again, I like that this list is almost always good quality reading and it gives the kids some living history learning opportunities.

For independent reading, Little Man is reading an assigned 20 minutes of various chapter books.  Unlike the Princess, he’s not a voracious reader… yet.  In hopes of encouraging him to enjoy reading, I first looked up a reading list for 2nd grade boys, then I talked to my local librarian.  I was looking for something that was challenging, but would also retain his interest.  I picked up some books for him like Nate the Great, Geronimo Stilton Spacemice books, and Star Wars Jedi Academy books.  I wanted to try a variety of different books to see what he would enjoy.  So far, to hear him tell it, he doesn’t enjoy any of them, but he’s reading them and retelling them so I guess that’s a start.

                  

The Baby is still learning to read so I’m back to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.  I have found that people either love or hate this book.  For us, it works so I love it.  It has been more challenging with the Baby than for Little Man, but we’re muddling through and she *is* learning to read.

Writing:  Both kiddos are doing Handwriting Without Tears to learn to write.  We are currently only doing the basic letter formation books, but HWOT has more books that go into language arts and sentence structure so I think as we move forward we will pick up some of those books.  I only assign 1-2 pages per day which is more than enough for their shortened attention spans although some days they both want to do more.

     

I also picked up 2 copies of Explode the Code 1 to work on phonics, writing, and reading.  I didn’t realize that the book was broken into “Lessons” so I was only assigning a couple pages a day, but my friend Sandi showed me how it was broken up and now I’m trying to make sure we do 1 lesson a week.  In terms of the reading/phonics this book is way too easy for the Little Man, but he needs the handwriting help and I like that the Littles can do it together.

Arithmetic:  Again, I was scrambling for a math program for the Littles since our online program ended.  With Little Man not writing, I was really flummoxed on what to use.  Ultimately, I decided to go with an old faithful that I used with the Princess.  I picked up copies of Abeka Arithmetic 1 and 2 for the Littles.  Abeka is NOT secular, but as I’ve said in the past- adding Jesus’ disciples and adding Joe’s friends is the same to me.  For the record, Abeka is not filled with religious things.  We are not adding Jesus’ disciples.  It’s very sweet and colorful with jungle animals and farm animals.

        

Arithmetic 1 has practice writing the numbers and the Baby enjoys writing so I just let her work through a lesson a day on her own.  I do read her the directions, but she can do the work once she knows what to do.  Little Man works through Arithmetic 2, reading the directions and doing the math but I am writing the answers.  I write what he says even if the answer is wrong, but make him rework the wrong ones.  He does all of the simple writing things like circling things or drawing connection lines.

Extra Subjects

I think a lot of times we, as homeschoolers, can get hung up on these “extra” subjects.  I find that unless your child is really interested in a subject, putting a lot of emphasis on trying to get everything in can just be stressful and counterproductive to fostering a love of learning.  I think ultimately when we are trying to fit these extra subjects in for the sake of covering them we have in mind these worldly and knowledgeable children.  Honestly though, I think that we all gain worldliness and culture through experience much more than drilling historical dates or art genres into our minds.

But anyway, I do try to expose the kids to these extra subjects as much as possible.  One way we get a lot of these topics is through our homeschool group’s fall and spring 5 week co-op.  There are almost always classes offered on the extra subjects that my kids LOVE.

Beyond that, here is what I do:

Science:  I am fortunate to live in an area surrounded by a lot of opportunities for learning.  One of our favorite ways to get science is through our local parks system.  We joined the Junior Naturalist program through one of our county parks system that requires us to take 2 classes at each of the parks in the system.  There are also city parks and several other counties with park systems around us so for our science we are doing a lot of classes.  What I really love about these classes is they are usually only a few dollars and they are very interactive learning.  We are also doing science classes at the local museums.  These can be more expensive, but if you can get a group together the museums will often set classes up for a group at one price that can be split between people to be more reasonable.

We will participate in our homeschool group’s annual science fair this year as well.

History:  Of course we learn some history through our Sonlight reading lists, we also enjoy history classes through the local history museum and homeschool days that are sponsored through several of the local historical landmarks/homesteads.  We love watching Netflix’s “Who Was” series and Hulu has “Horrible Histories” which is like Monty Python for kids.  These shows are entertaining and filled with historical information- some of which is really useless, but great conversation starters.

            

The Princess is reading her way through A History of Us which coincides with her Sonlight Readers and seems to be a relatively thorough U.S. history program.  The Littles are starting Story of the World so this will be my 2nd round of SOTW, but it’s such a good little introduction to history with a lot of great activities if you pick up the activity book.  I’ve seen debates on whether or not SOTW is truly secular and honestly, I can’t say.  I think it depends on your view of historical truth as it relates to the Biblical stories since Susan Wise Bauer does refer to some Biblical stories as history.  Geography is covered in both of these books (A History of Us and Story of the World) so we get some geography there as well as we will participate in our homeschool group’s annual Geography Fair for the 4th year.

Art:  I host a monthly Art in the Park for my homeschool group and have been using the Art Explorers book series by Joyce Raimondo which I really like because I think that by studying the techniques and styles of famous artists you can learn to experiment with your own techniques and styles.  These books are by artistic genre like Impressionism, Expressionism, Pop Art, etc. and cover a lot of different artists with some great activities to go right along.  Younger kids can easily do the artwork at their level and you can add some more instruction for older students.

We also study one artist a month in our daily basket.  I was doing one artist a week, but I thought we should spend more time covering the artist so we could get in a little more depth.

Music:  The Princess is taking piano lessons from a dear sweet friend and I try to make sure she practices once a day in addition to her weekly piano lessons.  Eventually the Littles will do piano as well, but right now they are still too young.  We also study one musician a month in our daily basket and I have tried to group musicians into genres per quarter.  We’ve already covered classical music and Rock and Roll.  The Princess was really interested in Jazz so we started with Jazz and John Coltrane.  There is surprisingly few books on teaching Jazz music, the history of Jazz or many of the Jazz musicians for kids so we’re piecing things together from the internet and wherever we can find it.  Fortunately, our Amazon dot has access to so much music that we never have trouble listening to the music of our chosen musician.

Any Other Subjects:  If any of the kids show a particular interest in a subject I try to set up some kind of learning opportunity for them.  The Princess has wanted to learn French for so long and we’ve done it off and on, but I’m always looking for classes and this year I’m looking at online classes through Outschool or Funcation Academy.  The kids get plenty of Physical Education with playing at the park and stuff, but the girls are both taking dance classes and the boy wants to do parkour classes.

Between classes and activities we will be staying as busy as always, but hopefully by the end of the school year we will all be smarter.  Oh, and I forgot to mention about my curriculum choices that I really love that it’s all portable.  The last couple of years with our online programs we’ve been kind of tethered so it will be nice that the kids (especially the Princess) can do school work in the car on the way to classes and activities.

Have you used any of this curriculum?  Any words of advice or ideas to make it more fun?  What are you using this year?  Drop me a line and let me know!

Year-Round Homeschooling

I vividly remember my first *real* job.  At 22 I had secured an office job working in accounts payable for a national magazine distribution company.  I had my own office space (well, cubicle), benefits like health insurance and a 401k, and I got paid vacation time.  This was exciting!  A real grown up job experience.  I was a far cry from my past work experiences like McDonald’s.

I started in October.  Winter came and went.  As spring approached I started getting spring fever.  It was that time of year when the weather started getting warmer and I started thinking about summer.  Except

Except that summer when you’re an adult doesn’t mean the same thing as it did when you were a kid.  There’s no summer break from being an adult.  You don’t get to take 3 months off to hang out with your friends or go camping at the lake or go to the beach.  Nope.  Bills still have to get paid, so adults still have to work.

Dang.  Adulting is hard.

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Fast forward to today.  Adulting can still be kinda sucky, but I guess I’ve gotten used to it.  It’s just that thing I do.

So, what does this have to do with year-round homeschooling?  It’s about preparing our kids to be adults.  My friend Kristie says to me all of the time, “We are not raising children, we are raising adults.”  In other words, the end game is to have adults, not children.  (She’s pretty brilliant like that.)  Year-round schooling is preparing our kids to be adults that function all year.

I gotta be honest.  It’s more than that though…

A 1996 study done showed that students lost an average of one month’s worth of instruction over the course of a summer break, particularly in the area of math.  I found this article done by the Institute of Education Science to be interesting with regards to Summer Learning Loss.  I also found this article a good article —> Summer learning loss: What is it, and what can we do about it?

Consider that schooling year round is a relatively new idea.  Compulsory education was on a seasonal schedule allowing kids to take time off to work in the fields during planting and harvesting times.  This was when the majority of school-aged children were living in rural/farming communities.  As compulsory education became more regulated, schools worked on a 9 month schedule to accommodate for lack of means to regulate the building temperature especially during the summer months.

We all know that our education system is one of the slowest systems to change and adjust for new studies.  Lack of funding I guess?  Anyway, year round schools have become more popular over the last decade.  School systems are finding that year-round schedules allow for better use of school resources.  Staggered schedules reduce over-crowding as more children are funneled through the school system.  And of course, with shorter breaks between sessions, test scores are more stable across the board.

So, what about us?  I think for us, I find that the kids do better with the consistency of continued learning.  Not keeping to a 9 month schedule means we can spread our breaks out more.  We have more opportunity to participate in our local homeschool group’s 5 week co-op in spring and fall.  When family visits for the holidays or just because, we have the freedom to take a little extra time off.  And I never feel like we’re behind because the noro-virus makes a round through the family wiping us out for a week.

School seems to just flow from one week to the next, one month to the next, and one year to the next.  The kids don’t lose their momentum as they are moving through their subjects.  There may be some plateau in learning, but never back-pedaling.  Plus… did I mention all of the awesome learning opportunities summer brings?  Ocean studies?  Water science… in the pool?  Yes please!

And in the end, the kids will be better for expecting to work all year long.

So, do you homeschool year-round?  Why or why not?

Don’t Bring My Kid A Birthday Present; I’m Not Bringing One for Yours

Last year between April and May I spent over $100 on birthday gifts.  Of course I used recycled bags from prior birthday parties, and homemade cards to save money, but 3 kids, each with their own sets of friends, we get invited to A LOT of birthday parties.

At the same time as we were partying it up, I was also spring cleaning the house.  I was completely overwhelmed by all of the *stuff* we owned.  To put it in perspective:  Our playroom is 300 square feet filled with over 20 years and 4 kids’ worth of toys.  And do you think my kids play with all of these toys?

No.

The only time my kids go into the playroom is when I ban electronics.  In those times when they go into the playroom, it seems that the fun thing to do is to dump every bin, bucket, and tub into the middle of the room.  And do they clean it up?

No.

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At some point last year as I was drowning in toys that were never played with and as I was buying yet another birthday present… I had a revelation:  what a waste.  What a waste of money.  What a waste of time.  What a waste of space!  I decided right then and there that I was not buying anymore presents.  And more importantly, I did not want anyone buying presents for my kids.  I didn’t want another thing I would store away in the playroom to be forgotten and collect dust.

The Princess’s birthday was in July so I decided that was the perfect time to lay out my “No Presents” plan.  Of course the Husband and Princess balked at my plan, but I stood my ground.  We invited 15 of the Princess’s friends to a pool party one afternoon at our favorite YMCA:

Come out to celebrate Sophia’s 10th birthday with us doing what tweenagers do best- SWIM!

We will have food and birthday brownies (in lieu of cake) and drinks.

PLEASE NO BIRTHDAY PRESENTS!!!

Instead of gifts we invite parents and siblings to stay and play.

Of course there were some that refused to come empty handed so they brought presents.  One of my dear friends tried to compromise between her desire to bring a present and my stand against presents and brought a “present” of candy.  There were also many friends that commended me on my no present request, and asked why I was taking that stance.

The answer is pretty short and sweet.

  1.  I don’t want anyone spending money they don’t have or that could otherwise be contributing to their families to buy things for my kids.
  2. I don’t want more things that are going to clutter up my house.

But there’s a more complicated answer too.  An answer that became much clearer when Christmas came around and grandparents were involved.  The grandparents were going to have to let go of their preconceived notions about present-giving being a thing and consider that present-giving should be more about presence.

The Gift of Presence

What I mean is that the best present a grandparent (or any of us) can give is the gift of being present in the lives of our loved ones.  Experiencing life with us every opportunity.  Maybe that experience is as tangible as living with us and being an active part of our day-to-day lives, or maybe that experience is less available and it’s just being there vicariously through the experiences we have and share on social media.

Ok… I know you’re probably thinking, “You want me to not buy a present and just watch you through Facebook?”

Not exactly.

I want you to take the money you would spend on a thing and put it toward an experience.  Maybe that experience is an extended visit with grandma and/or grandpa.  Maybe that experience is a family vacation.  Or maybe it’s a membership to the museum or music or dance lessons.  Whatever it is, let it be something the kids will truly remember.  Let it be something that allows the kids to connect to you in a meaningful way.

For example, one of the best gifts my Dad has bought the kids is a guitar for each of them.  Well, technically, he got the Princess a guitar, Little Man a ukulele and the Baby got a Moana toy guitar.  Not only are these gifts wonderful experiences because the kids are all learning to play their instruments and enjoy music, but these are apropos coming from my father who is a very talented musician.

My mother-in-law, who is still sending gifts galore, has gotten us science museum memberships the last two years in a row.  These memberships have been wonderful gifts that keep on giving throughout the year.  Not only do we use these memberships regularly to get in free, but we also use them for discounts in other museums, classes, and experiences that we might not otherwise do.  And every time I break out that membership card, I have the kids say “Thank you Nana and Granddad!” out loud to remind the kids that the fun we are about to have came from Nana and Granddad.  I always send photos to Nana of our experience.  Plus, when Nana and Granddad get to come visit, they can go to the museum and experience the fun with us.

 

As for birthday parties, and where our friends are concerned, experiencing life with us is just as important.  I don’t expect (or want) friends to get us museum memberships or musical instruments.  I do expect (and want) our friends to experience celebrating our birthday with us.  I want our friends to go do fun things with us that we will remember long after the things that fit in gift bags have been lost to the dust in the corners.  I want our friends to save their money and give us a gift far more valuable- their time.  And in return, I want to save my money and give you something more important- MY time.

It’s not easy to say no to presents

Somewhere in our history we have become obligated to adhere to this societal expectation.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve felt guilty about not bringing a present.  Especially for those parties where the kids take the time to open gifts and read the card.  Do they notice they didn’t get a gift from my kids?  And I’ve caved in and bought presents, especially for new friends that don’t yet know me.

Last year, when we were invited to birthday parties, I took the time to explain to friends that we would love to come, but we would not be bringing presents.  No one uninvited us.  Very few of them asked me why, although I did feel compelled to explain sometimes.  Usually when I explained, they said it was brilliant and they agreed with me.  (I don’t speak for their true feelings, just what they said out loud.)  But I still worry people will think badly of me and of my kids.  I still worry that we won’t be invited back; that we will lose friends.

But I have to stand my ground.  This is important.  I have to break the cycle of ridiculous gift giving and start a cycle of fulfillment.  I stress to my kids that they need to appreciate the time someone gives to them.  I want my kids to recognize that they can fill their homes with things or they can fill their lives with experiences.

Guess what?  I doubt my kids will remember in 10 or 20 or 50 years from now, the Mr. Potato Head they played with for less than an hour on Christmas, but they will remember the trip to the indoor water park with Aunt Anna when Uncle Tyler, Daddy, and Sophia raced down the slide.  They won’t remember that they got 4 nerf guns, but they will remember that homemade pinata I made that no one could break open so Sean had finally beat the thing off the line.  They won’t remember the 5 t-shirts Nana sent, but we’ll be talking about Nana needing “thongs” in Florida for years to come.

So yeah… don’t buy my kids birthday presents.  Just be present in their lives.  Celebrate their lives with time and love and support.

The Homeschool Culture

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon a question that grabbed my attention.  The writer asked if there were other homeschool moms out there that did not subscribe to the “homeschool culture.”

My first reaction was curiosity about what others’ responses were.  As I looked through the comments I became aware that a lot of the responders echoed my second reaction:  What does “homeschool culture” mean?  What exactly is this person asking?  Of course, I started thinking…

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Anthropologically speaking, a culture is the social behaviors and norms found in a society.  This includes values, customs, and traditions of a societal group.  When I think of culture, I think of lederhosen-wearing Germans or the geisha wearing the traditional kimono.  These are symbolic of “culture” to me.  But as I was writing this, I realized that I was thinking of culture in a very broad definition as pertaining to a country or a major religion.  Culture can really be much more narrow relating to smaller communities and groups.

So, how does this idea correlate to homeschoolers?

Julie Bogart at Braverwriter wrote an interesting blog post about Changing the Homeschool Culture that I think helped clarify this idea for me a little, but I’m still not sure that there is one overlying homeschool culture.  Even from Julie’s post, it seems to me that the culture one might subscribe to is really one of various subset cultures.

Perhaps instead of the question, “Do you subscribe to the homeschool culture?” the better questions is, “Do you subscribe to the crunchy homeschool culture?”  Or “religious homeschool culture,” or “Classical conversations homeschool culture,” or “Charlotte Mason homeschool culture,” etc. etc.  Because honestly, my experience with homeschoolers is that we are all individuals.  We are as different from each other as public school families or private school families.  I’m just not seeing this one idea of who we are with the outliers that don’t fit in.

But maybe it’s just me.

I read through the responses to the post to get a feel for how other people interpretted this question.  The responses were as varied as the people themselves.  Some people viewed it from the standpoint of religious vs. secular while others considered it to be lifestyle and still others saw it as a question about their social lives.  Most people who felt they did not subscribe to the homeschool culture seemed proud that they were outliers.

But it felt kind of…. judgmental.  Comments like:

“We hate cliques.  We do not associate with coops nor the culture.”

“We definitely don’t fit into the “love having the kids home 24/7,” need no breaks, public school bad mouthing I see from some homeschoolers.”

“I often get a “look” when I mention that we homeschool “for now” and I won’t commit to homeschooling through all of high school. Or I get a different look when they say, “Homeschooling is great, you can avoid all the brainwashing from the general population and school system” and I reply with, “We do what is right for each child at that time.” 

“Yeah, I don’t make my own kombucha, do vaccinate my kids, and stopped breastfeeding long before my kids turned 3, so that makes me the odd woman out in a lot of co-op conversations.”

You get the idea…  I don’t think these moms meant to be judgmental, or maybe they did…. but whatever their intention, comments like these felt generalized to all homeschoolers, not the few.

And a lot of the comments seemed more about making friends, even when the original poster clarified her question with the comment:

“It’s open to individual interpretation on purpose, but there’s a trend with homeschoolers to look down on and demonized other types of education, to need to humble brag about their kids (more than average), and to make the kids the focus of all conversation. I’m HSing because it’s in my child’s best interest at the moment and in his specific situation, not because of ideology. Even secular homeschooling seems to take on an almost religious fervor for some people (not to pick on anyone, but lots of posts here about being devastated kids want to go to traditional schooling). I join FB groups for good ideas and tips, not because “these are my people “. Like, I HS, but I don’t feel any different than I did as a traditional school parent. It can make it difficult to plan things and makes friends when you aren’t SUPER WAY INTO THIS THING…”

Maybe the original poster needs to read my suggestions on Making Homeschool Mommy Friends.  While I’m certainly comical, there’s some truth to finding and making friends, and not judging people based on generalizations is a pretty good start.

So, here’s the thing… all of the homeschoolers I know are very different.  They homeschool for different reasons, in different ways, with different ideology.  There are some that are completely anti-“other types of education” and some that are kombucha drinking, anti-vaccinating proponents.  There are some that love and adore every precious moment with the beautiful little beings they breathed into existence.  But there are just as many that support all kinds of other educational types.  There are some that enjoy Coca-Cola and Jack Daniels, sometimes together.  There are some that recognize their kids can be assholes.  And no two of them is alike.

In many ways, doesn’t this attitude of a singular “homeschool culture” reflect a generalized view of homeschoolers at large?  We are already fighting the perception that we are all broom-skirt wearing, religious extremists holed up on our farm, sheltering our children from the evils of the world while abusing our children reciting Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”

Do we really need more generalizations pressed upon us?

Let me give credit where is credit is due.

  • Maybe I have this expansive view of homeschoolers because I’m lucky enough to live in a pretty urban area with a huge diverse homeschool community.  We have secular homeschoolers, religious homeschoolers, multi-cultural homeschoolers, crunchy homeschoolers, unschoolers….  every type of homeschooler you could think of.
  • Maybe I feel differently because I have a lot of wonderful non-homeschooling friends as well as many, many fantastic homeschooling friends.
  • Maybe I feel differently because I have a child that went to private school and public school and was successful and had an overall good experience.
  • Maybe I feel differently because I don’t subscribe to any one specific ideology myself.  I believe that there are many different ways to approach anything in life and that one way may be right now and not later or right for me and wrong for you.

And maybe if my situation were different, I would see that a “homeschool culture” is a pejorative thing.

But for now, I guess my answer is YES.  I belong to a homeschool culture.  I am a homeschooling mom with other homeschooling friends.  We do classes and co-ops.  I’m proud of my kids.  I spend a crap-ton of time with my kids so sometimes, they’re all I have to talk about.  Maybe I am SUPER WAY INTO THIS.  I guess you’d have to ask my non-homeschooling friends.  Ask them if it’s difficult to be friends with me because “homeschooling is my life.”  Whatever their answer, they still seek me out for friendship so I guess I’m worth it.  And I guess since I do subscribe to the homeschool culture and am announcing it to the world, I can say I’m proud to be a part of a culture so ecclectic and interesting and generally wonderful.

The Homeschool Planner

I know I’ve said that Schedules are for Losers ( <—– you can read that post here) but I have to admit my deep dark secret…  are you ready for it?

I LOVE to plan.

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In fact, it’s almost an obsession.  I get my planner and fill in all of the amazing activities and events and classes and birthdays and holidays and field trips and…  FUN that we are going to have for the year.  Then, I spend hours planning and re-planning the work we are going to do for the month before I ever write it down into my pristine and perfect planner.

Crazy, right?

Actually, I think I’m pretty normal.  I think planning the homeschool year out is actually a favorite part of homeschooling for a lot of homeschool moms.  It’s like all of the potential is right there waiting for us to grab it right up!

But in order to effectively plan, you need just the right planner.  And just the right planner differs for everyone.  So, how do you find what’s best for you?  Well, you have to know what you want from a planner.  I’ll explain what I look for and maybe that will help you.

What I Look For in a Planner

First, I like something tangible.  There are a lot of great online programs and apps out there that you can use to plan your life, but I really like holding my calendar in my hands, physically writing down my plans, and being able to flip ahead or back.  I’ve used Google calendar, and it’s convenient since it can link to my phone which I always have with me, but I find that its convenience really lends itself only to appointments or events.  And I need more from my planner.  I’m homeschooling 3 kiddos so I have lesson plans to make, social and academic lives to manage, and a pretty active social life of my own to keep up with.

Another thing I look for in a planner is: what does it plan?  The Well Planned Day homeschool planner allows you to plan every aspect of your life from your lessons, classes, and activities to your money/budget, meals, and health.  That’s incredible!  My friend Paula picked one of these planners up and it was a hoss.  She loved it.  But it’s just too much for me.  You know I’m kinda loosey goosey here, so I really don’t need (or want) that kind of planner.  I’ve also tried those cute little pocket calendar things, and while super convenient to carry around, there’s just not enough room to write everything.

That kind of brings me to the next thing I look for.  I really want something with enough space to write things out.  I can get kind of wordy (you didn’t notice that did you?)  Something that allows me room to write lessons, but also maybe explain parts of the lessons to myself is really most useful for me.

The last thing I look for is how the planner is laid out.  I really prefer to have a month-at-a-glance spread and then also a weekly spread.  The month spread is best for the bigger events/classes, birthdays, field trips, etc.  Things that don’t happen on the regular.  The weekly spread is where all of the real planning goes.  Since we homeschool any day of the week, I really hate those planners who make Saturday and Sunday smaller or leave them off altogether like a lot of teacher planners do.

So which planner do I use?

I’ve used a lot of different planners over the years, but I have found that the Happy Planner is the best planner for me.  I like the Big happy planner with 8.5″ x 11″ pages.  I’m sure that the smaller size would be more portable, but as I get older I find that I need written things to be larger.  Plus, ya know… all of those words I have.

What do I like about the Big Happy Planner?

As I’ve already said, I like the size.  It’s the perfect size for me to have plenty of room to write all of the information I want in it.  I can easily plan lessons for all 3 kids, and also have room to write down any combo lessons I want.  Plus, some weeks or months I feel more determined to stick to a little more regimen in my life so I also have room for meal planning, exercise planning, etc.

I really love that the Big Happy Planner is expandable.  The planner is a ring binder.  You can buy a hole punch that can put holes into any paper to fit the rings.  I keep our school attendance records in the front of my planner.  My friend Kristie keeps blank paper in the back of hers for notes and thoughts.  Another friend of mine, Kay, uses just the punch and rings and creates on-the-go school work packets.  (I’ll save that genius idea for another post.)  If you’re like me, you don’t want to have to find another planner every 12-18 months.  Don’t worry!  The Happy Planner company has 12 and 18 month extender packs so you really only ever have to buy the one planner.  (Just be sure to check the extender page sizes if you’re shopping online.  Twice now I’ve purchased the wrong size and had to return them.)

As if that’s not cool enough, the Big Happy Planner is also completely customizable.  The company has a huge variety of printed additions you can get for your planner including a diet and exercise plan, to do lists, grocery lists, more detailed daily planning pages, budget plans, etc.  If you can’t find what you want in the pre-printed materials, you can just print your own and hole punch away.  I keep some blog planning pages that I printed in my planner so I remember to write, post, and share all of this fabulous content.  I also have some project planning pages I printed to help me keep up with web design projects I’m working on.

The first Big Happy Planner I bought was a kit with blank calendar and weekly pages (find it here).  The kit came with stickers for the months for the tabs, months for the month-at-a-glance pages, and dates, plus a lot of extra decorative stickers.  A lot of people would despise having to put all of those stickers on, but it took me back to my (ahem) 80’s childhood and one of my favorite things- sticker books!!!  I think the husband and kids lost me for a full day while I was stickering that book up.

My first planner also came with a pocket folder which is absolutely an ingenious thing to add to a planner.  You can buy a pack of folders (check here), but so far, I’ve only needed the one.  I keep my laminated homeschool registration card, our Junior Naturalist cards, a library card, and a pen in the folder.  That way, I always have those things with me.

Some other cool things you can get for your Big Happy Planner are:

                      

I have recently switched from my first planner to a new already printed planner.  I guess I’ll have to buy some stickers to put in it for fun, plus I’m really eyeing that cover.  My new planner is the “Happiness Blooms from Within” planner.  Isn’t that such a beautiful quote?  All of their products are filled with empowering, positive quotes.  And can’t we all use a lot more positivity in our lives?  I can’t say I’m not open to another planner if I find one I like better, but so far (for 2 years now) The Happy Planner has been exactly the right planner for me.  It truly makes me happy to see my life all planned, however loosey goosey.

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