The opposite of regret

In the last two months, we’ve been across the ocean and back, ended one school year while taking baby steps into the next, and – most significantly – we are facing the loss of our children’s great-grandmother.

This is a big deal in our home. Yes, the woman was 94, but she has been a central figure in Kiki’s life since she was a baby – and The Boo’s, as well. She has been here to cuddle them, sing to them, spoil them with snacks and hush them to sleep more effectively than anyone else was able to. As they would get older, she would clean up behind them as they scattered toys around her living room, and she would encourage them to raid her snack closet (as always made sure she had their favorite treats). She would even switch the channel from her beloved soaps to Nick Jr. or the Disney Channel and got to know Dora the Explorer and Curious George as well as we did.

For the past few years, part of Kiki’s evening routine involved heading downstairs to Omi’s place to sit and watch TV with her (Wheel of Fortune, Full House or one of those Disney tween shows). Omi told us many times how much it meant to her, since it was a time of day when she would typically be alone. And I know how much it means to Kiki. While she was in school, sometimes it was a struggle to keep up that ritual because activities and homework would last until it was past bedtime – and bedtime was less negotiable when she had to meet the school bus at 7:30 in the morning.

So our year of homeschooling made a difference here, too. Even on those days Kiki’s activities kept us out past dinner, she still got in her time with Omi. She also got in a lot of bonus daytime visits – often a surprise for Omi, since she kept forgetting that Kiki didn’t go to regular school.

I’ve told her many times that not a lot of kids her age have such close relationships with their great-grandparents, and that she should feel very fortunate. When her grandfather died a few years ago, she felt his absence, but her memories of him aren’t completely clear in her mind. Because of the last year, especially, I think she will have no trouble remembering her time with Omi.

Done! Well, sort of

In our state, homeschoolers have a few different options for annual evaluations; two of the most popular are standardized tests and portfolios showing examples of the student’s work throughout the year – basically a homeschool scrapbook.

Since our vacation is approaching quickly, I decided to go for the cut-and-dry test. I still plan to make a portfolio for our own records and memories, of course, but I don’t want to have to finish it before we go. Also, since we technically don’t have to submit it to the school district, I will have extra time to work on it after our vacation and connect with an evaluator for some feedback. The fact that Kiki doesn’t get too stressed out over tests is another reason we could take this route. I’m also just curious about how she would do when compared to other kids at her level.

Feedback from fellow homeschooling parents at a recent conference led me to the Hewitt PASS test – it’s not timed and can be administered by a parent at home. I also like that students who are getting tested for the first time can take a placement test to ensure that they aren’t taking a test too easy or too hard for them. And it wasn’t too expensive.

Our city school district – and therefore a lot of Kiki’s friends – were on spring break this week, so I decided testing would be a good excuse to keep the school workload light. The test procedure was straightforward, so we found quiet time (ie. sent The Boo to his grandmother) and got through the three sections in three days. On the last day, we took a trip to the post office to mail it away and had a celebratory lunch (grilled cheese, of course).

When I told Kiki she was taking the test, she asked, “Does this mean I’ll be done with school?”

Not exactly. But I did concede one thing. “I think after it’s done, we can say you’re done with fourth grade.” Most of the homeschooling kids we know (the ones who have never been to traditional school) aren’t in a particular grade, so to speak. So, sure, why not let this be what marks the end of the year?

“Yay!” I could see the grand schemes for spending entire days on the swing set in her eyes.

“BUT … that doesn’t mean that we aren’t doing any work. We can keep going!”

To Kiki’s credit, she didn’t deflate too much. After all, it’s not as if we’ve been working at a breakneck pace. Her day-to-day work includes a lot of time on the computer beefing up those math and programming skills, as well as a decent chunk of time on the couch reading and watching documentaries. She also gets frequent breaks, spontaneous trips to the park and no evening homework.

Continuing the work over the summer has always been part of my plan. It won’t be super intensive – probably just math and writing and whatever else we come across that’s interesting. She’ll still play with friends and spend some time at a camp or two and go to the pool. Having something to fall back on at home, though, will give our summer days a little more structure. While The Boo is attending preschool, we will still be a little tied to the rigid academic calendar, but we are gradually moving away to a more fluid learning experience.


Almost-spring cleaning

When so much time goes by between posts (really, I don’t know what happened to all that time), it’s easier to pick a few things to highlight, rather than start a long post about one topic. I know this because I’ve started several posts that ended up rambling about one thing for way too long. So here are the digestible bites of what we’ve been up to:

Coming full circle: Kiki just took part in her first Destination Imagination tournament with a team from the school she attended last year. I helped out at the school’s coordinator and team co-manager (ie. coach). This was an especially emotional day for me, because of my long history with the program. The Headmaster and I were part of it in high school (back when it was still part of Odyssey of the Mind). Now I’ve been part of the organization as a volunteer judge, a school coordinator, a team manager and – for the first time last weekend – a parent of a competing team member.

I loved watching Kiki’s team’s performance – that adrenaline rush brought back memories from my own days as a team member. But my favorite part of the day was in the gym, just before the award ceremony. To keep the kids entertained, the organizers turn on dance music and all the kids competing flood the floor. They are relieved to be finished with their work for the day, and it’s time for pure fun. And I loved seeing Kiki right in there with some of the most creative, hardworking kids in the state. Her team didn’t get to states, but she’s still happy with her experience. I look forward to coming years.

Midwinter slump: Apparently lots of homeschoolers go through the doldrums in February. Actually, I’ve always felt like February and March were hard months, even in brick school. We’re tired of the snow at the point, and we’re waiting to see the first snowdrops and crocuses. For us, the many snow days and the school district’s winter break (when half of the state’s kids escape to Disney World) meant that the Boo was home – and keeping us from doing much active work. We also went through a round of colds and stomach viruses.

We pushed through it – and, yes, I made Kiki do schoolwork on the days most of her traditionally school friends were out. We are hoping to get a few weeks off in May, so we need to work and get through our material now. However, she did manage to get two sleepover and a third playdate out of that time.

Socializing and all that: I don’t buy into the theory that homeschoolers are suffering socially – and I certainly don’t think Kiki has been. She is part of the DI team and a Girl Scout troop (albeit a small one that will probably dissolve at the end of this year), and she consistently takes classes in gymnastics and ice skating, as well as a few homeschool groups that meet about once a month each.

That said, I have seen that her best friends are still girls she knew from school. I have no problem with that, of course. They are good girls (for the most part), and they have developed their friendship over years. Also, they live nearby – just a few minutes’ car ride away. If Kiki ever learns to ride her bike safely, she could probably bike to see them when she gets older.

I would like to see her build some deeper friendships with homeschooled kids, however. To that end, I’m exploring a co-op that is forming for next year. Some of the parents had a meeting over coffee, we shared a lot of good ideas. The hiccup for us will be the meeting time and place, but for the sake of consistent contact with other like-minded folks, we should be able to make it work.

Vacation anticipation: We have started the countdown to our spring getaway, which will take us across the ocean. I’m trying to decide whether to just abandon any semblance of schoolwork for that time (and just relying on occasional teachable moments) or actually plan for some active learning by reading about our destination and creating assignments for Kiki to do. While I don’t want to rain on her parade (or cloud up her vacation), I also see this as an opportunity to enforce that we have started a new type of educational experience, when there’s no set “school time” or “school days,” and we should all keep our eyes and our minds open to learning where ever we happen to be.

Stitches and numbers

Distractions abound! After the holidays go by, it is really hard to settle down and focus, even with all the resolutions and goal setting. Among the things on my mind:

Our late-spring vacation across the ocean. SO looking forward to new experiences and new sights for all of us. Man, I hope I don’t get seasick!

Destination Imagination. Helping out with Kiki’s team is absolutely nuts. The kids are crackers (in a good way), and trying to get them to focus feels like herding cats. This is why I never went into teaching. But I can’t wait to see how their solution turns out, and I have high hopes for their tournament day.

Needlework. I don’t know why, but I’ve had the crazy urge to learn how to knit and crochet. I’ve tried to learn both from family members before. I remember getting as far as a chain in crochet – a few times. And I once tried knitting. Usually I can learn with books, but not with anything that has to do with string or yarn or shoelaces. My eyes just can’t follow those diagrams no matter how many arrows they stick in there.

Thank goodness for YouTube! So many tutorials for beginners – and quite a few good ones. The best part is that there’s a pause button. There’s also the fact that I don’t have to feel self-conscious about taking forever to learn a simple stitch like I do when I’m trying to learn in person.

Oh, and there are also tons of videos for the Rainbow Loom that Kiki got for Christmas. I don’t know which of us is having more fun with it – Kiki, The Boo (who just sticks rubber bands on the pegs and calls them bracelets) or me.

Math, specifically on Khan Academy: Video tutorials aren’t just for crafty things. I’m also relearning the math I forgot right after I went to college (yeah, I never had to do much math there, aside from figuring out whether or not I had any money left on my dining hall credit account – yay for English majors). Now that I’m trying to teach math, albeit elementary school math, I’m finding that I need a refresher. In some cases, I need a complete reboot, since math seems to be taught a lot differently nowadays. What the heck are partial products, anyway?

I’m addicted to Khan Academy, actually, and I’ve tried to make sure I get on for at least a few minutes every day. I started out working through what they consider to be fourth-grade work. As I master each level, I tackle the next one. I’m currently in sixth grade, relearning how to divide fractions by fractions and make whisker box plots (I don’t remember EVER doing that before).

Now, what does all this have to do with teaching Kiki? Well, there’s math, of course. But what I really hope she picks up on: Learning doesn’t stop when you grow up, and it isn’t all about what you’re “supposed to” learn; it can be simply following through on the desire to create – or even just the desire to have fun.

In others’ words

… And we’re back – almost.

The post-holiday season blues are here. I’m usually happy for the fresh start, but now I’m just feeling run down. That mostly has to do with The Boo and his current bout of a stomach virus. At least I hope it’s just a virus. When I see my boy actually choosing to lie down and cover himself with a blanket, my overactive paranoid imagination kicks in and comes up with all sorts of gloom-and-doom explanations ranging from a dairy allergy to a bacterial infection.

(I did make a call to the doctor’s office, and the nurse there said it was likely that he had a stomach bug and was having trouble getting rehydrated – get him to drink more or he’ll have to visit the ER).

This hasn’t had a real effect on Kiki and her school work, except that we lost those hours while The Boo is usually at preschool. That and I’m just feeling gloomy and stressed about him being sick, so I’m less patient and more insecure than usual.

What I planned: We would talk and lay out our goals for the rest of the year, tackle fractions together, work on our history timeline binder, make a sunshine collage, organize and date all her notes and vocabulary from Japanese class, and get to all of our activities (skating, gymnastics, etc).

What we actually did: Math lessons on the Internet, read Percy Jackson, worked on a homeschool Minecraft class (on the seven ancient wonders) and some Japanese. We’ve also been trying to cheer up the little brother while dodging whatever germs he’s fighting. We did make it to ice skating (without The Boo), book club and Destination Imagination.

It doesn’t sound that bad when I write it out like that. But this is definitely one of those weeks when I wonder if I’m doing enough to justify taking her out of school. I don’t ever question that it’s the right decision, only whether I’m up to the task.

Looks like I’m not the first one to feel this way. There is no shortage of homeschooling blogs. Unlike this little one, which is mainly for friends and my own edification, a lot of these have been going on for years and have hundreds of followers. It’s not usually hard to find someone who has been through any given particular situation or feeling.

I keep a file of my favorite posts for when I need a boost of “You’re doing the right thing!” Or at least “You’re not screwing up too badly!” Here are three favorites:

“I Want to Homeschool but I Don’t Want the Responsibility at Simple Homeschool. Not because I don’t want the responsibility, but because in conversations with parents whose kids attend traditional school, “I’d be too nervous to bear ALL the responsibility for my kid’s education” is the No. 2 reason I’ve heard for not homeschooling. (No. 1 is “I could NEVER spend that much time with my kids! We would hate each other.”) This post points out, rightfully so, that you are responsible for your children’s education no matter where they get the main part of their instruction.

And Then I Realized I was Doing It All Wrong at Living Well, Spending Less: This post is about how homeschooling parents don’t have to separate and juggle their different roles – mother, housekeeper, teacher, cook. Instead, we can involve them in more of our daily activities and simply enjoy our time together.

10 Things You Should Know About Homeschool Moms at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers (one of my favorite names for a homeschooling blog, by the way): I came across this post on a friend’s newsfeed just before I went public with our plan to teach Kiki at home this year. It definitely made me feel better because, like this writer, I don’t have superhuman patience or a teaching degree, and I do sometimes lie awake at night wondering if I’m ruining my kid.

Whatever ups and downs we are going through, it’s nice to know that we’re not alone and that we’re OK.


Slow going

Everything takes longer than I think it will.

We’ve been at this for a month and a half, and I can probably count on one hand the number of days we completed the day’s agenda exactly as I planned it. Sometimes we just aren’t feeling the science, so we continue history. We’ve used up two days of language arts to write thank you notes for birthday gifts. During a week Kiki needed to catch up on her Japanese work, she spent almost two hours every day working on transcribing and drilling. Between her subjects and her activities, things get passed over or delayed. And then there are days when she decides that she wants to bake banana bread or spend a big chunk of the day drawing a chibi family portrait for her uncle’s birthday.

I’ll admit that there’s a small part of me that a little anxious about falling behind where we should be. Shouldn’t we be learning about ancient Egypt already? Aren’t we done with multiplication yet? Have we made any progress at all on her writing? This is the part of me that was brought up taking the traditional path through school, college and career (until I stopped to take care of the kiddos).

It’s also part of my desire to prove that my decision to take Kiki out of school was the right one – and to prove it by showing that she’s doing better than she was at school or that she’s ahead of where she would be now at school. We are still in touch with our friends from school, and I can’t help but be curious about what her former classmates are up to and how Kiki is doing in relation to them.

But then I remember that those types of comparisons are what I wanted to escape when we decided to homeschool. They can be poisonous. If your kid isn’t coming off well, it’s easy to get bitter and jealous and resentful – and then you get cranky at your kid, often unfairly. When your kid is the shining star, of course you’re going to be proud. However, that pride can easily turn into smugness and a sense of superiority, which isn’t good either. Comparisons aren’t all bad; they can give me perspective and reveal ideas I may not have otherwise considered. However, I have to remember that every child is different, and I have to focus on how to best help my own.

To be honest, I don’t mind that things take a long time. I don’t mind the little detours we take, like coming across the Crash Course in World History on YouTube. I was curious about them so I turned on the first one (and took a chance, hoping that it wasn’t totally inappropriate for kids); Kiki was entertained enough by it that she wanted to keep watching more. I don’t think she’ll be able to answer any questions about dates and names, but this is probably the first time she’s even been exposed to Alexander the Great and the ancient people of the Indus Valley. Since this is our first year out of traditional school, our main goal is to show her the rest of the world – and take our time doing it!

Dressing down and dressing up

Note: If this seems a little disjointed, it’s because I’ve challenged myself to write and post before my computer runs out of charge – about 30 minutes from now. It might not be pretty or make much sense, but it will be done!

One back-to-school ritual I didn’t miss was the rush to buy new clothes for the fall. While we don’t spend the day in our pajamas, we are more concerned with comfort than looking polished or fashionable.

Aw, who am I kidding? I’ve always been that way. As least as far as my own clothes are concerned.

But I do usually visit the back-to-school sales with everyone else to look for a few outfits that are kind of current and are flexible enough to mix and match. I have never been a sharp dresser and spent a lot of my childhood coveting the clothes (and fashion sense) of my classmates. As a result, I compensate by overbuying clothes for my own kids, especially my daughter (boys – peh! Shirts, pants, shoes and you’re all done).

This year, in an effort to save money, I decided to avoid the clothes stores altogether during the big rush. She still fit into last year’s clothes (barely, but enough to wear them), and we weren’t going anywhere fancy. Besides, she has a TON of T-shirts from school, dance, vacations and other places that she still fits into. Jeans and T-shirts – we don’t need anything else. And I think I did save money.

But now Kiki wants to get into cosplay – basically wearing costumes that go beyond your typical Halloween efforts. She’s hoping to dress up as a character from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. While she does want to learn to sew and make her own costumes, I pointed out if she wants something in time for trick-or-treat (or other related events), she might want to try putting together an outfit from off-the-rack clothes for a first effort. I am all for her learning to sew, of course, and I want to learn along with her. But maybe we should start with pillowcases or curtains or things that don’t involve cutting curves.

This cosplay interest ties into some other things Kiki has pursued – manga (basically Japanese style comics) and learning Japanese. This is an area where we are trying to give her some space to follow her own interests. She has joined a local group for fans of manga/anime and is taking lessons in Japanese from tutor. Those lessons are a lot of work, so we’ve adjusted our daily schedule to include time to work on that (and I’m learning some, as a result), but I feel like she’s more motivated to do this than almost anything else. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a heck of a language to pick for a first foreign language, a contrast from my more typical French classes.

We’ve made some other adjustments based on her preferences, as well. I’ve found her a curriculum that is largely based online, especially in math. My plan is to let her go through the lessons and test her with the worksheets as she gets through topics, just to make sure she’s truly understanding them. What’s nice is that she can test out of topics I know she has already covered well in the past. This is also true for the language arts topics, which include a good dose of grammar. We will continue with our original writing curriculum. The program also include science and social studies (including ancient history, government and U.S. history). I’ve been freewheeling those areas, so it’s nice to have a little structure to fall back on. I plan to emphasize the ancient history more than the rest for this year, and I have plenty of supplemental materials and activities.


Get out!

In my last post, I think I mentioned how relaxing our mornings have become since we started homeschooling, with the ability to sleep past 6 and enjoy a breakfast that’s not rushed before easing our way into the work with a little couch reading.

Well, today didn’t exactly go that way. It’s Tuesday, and ever since Kiki was a baby, we have tried to spend a least part of each Tuesday with Grandma. I really want to try to keep this up, even though The Boo’s afternoon school schedule complicates things. Also, Kiki had TWO activities on the docket for today – a monthly Nerf Club session about 40 minutes away and a theater class downtown. Of course, there was also actual school work to be done.

I’m not yet so well-planned that I can just pull out a folder with the day’s assignments all set up, but I took about 10 minutes to get enough stuff together to take to Grandma’s house. Some of it was online, so we just packed up a laptop and The Boo and headed over. Once Kiki found a quiet place to focus on her work (and a math program she particularly enjoyed), she was happy on her own. She was actually so enthusiastic about that math program that I’m considering adding it to our curriculum to break up the workbook tedium.

The best part about going to Grandma’s house, of course, is that she insists on feeding us lunch while we’re there. And today she actually sent home some food for our dinner, too. Thanks, Mom!

I also envisioned Kiki doing some of her work during the trip to and from Nerf Club, but she wasn’t into that idea, preferring instead to play Minecraft. Whatever (or as Kiki has been saying lately, “Whatevs.”). I just reminded her that she still had to finish whatever work was left before getting to watch TV at night. She was OK with that.

Nerf Club was quite an operation. The lady who runs it is in her fourth year (and she runs some other big homeschool groups, as well), so she has this down to a science. Between 40 and 50 kids ages 8 to 18 play organized games, such as Capture the Flag or Last Man Standing, with their assorted foam dart guns. And there was a huge assortment – of kids and their toys. There were strict rules about which brands you can use (all the darts need to match, since the club operates from a single pool) and there could be no modifications other than purely cosmetic ones. While watching from the observation room, I worried a little that Kiki would feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids, but she seemed to do just fine, even talking to a couple kids that I saw.

I like that it was such a varied group age-wise and it was a good boy-girl ratio – more even than one might predict. There were times when the gameplay seemed chaotic, but the organizer had them all listening when she rang her cowbell and everyone did a great job helping clean up the gym afterward.

The best part to watch was just before cleanup, when a small group of kids was called into the center – kids with September birthdays (including Kiki) – for a small recognition. They got candy necklaces with a foam dart charm, and then everyone sang them the happy birthday song … just before opening fire on them with every available dart. The kids loved it. It was a nice little thing, and I think it helped Kiki feel like a real part of this huge group.

We got home just in time to get The Boo off his bus. There was just enough time for a quick break (Kiki squeezed in today’s copy work) before we took off again for theater class. Kiki has been wanting to take a class like this for a long time, so she was very excited about it. And I enjoy the fact that it’s a very short walk away from the library. I got in some steps on my pedometer and some chapters in my book club book. Kiki was extremely bouncy when she got out of class, which means she had a good time. She said they did some improv today and get to be animals from Disney movies next week. She chattered all the way home about what she’d like to be (some kind of cat – duh).

After dinner, she finished up today’s work – except for history, which we’ll do tomorrow – in enough time to enjoy a nice TV session with her great-grandmother before bed.

Right now I’m enjoying how flexible we can be. I wonder if I’ll feel a little insecure about not getting stuff done later on. If I get that way, I’ll just have to come back and read this post to remind myself that we’re not competing with anyone. With five weekly activities and at least three monthly homeschool groups (for now), we’re building up plenty of XP – and raising our fun score while we’re at it.

Ready or not

If we have to declare an official first day of school, it would be tomorrow.

Am I ready? I don’t know. I have a fairly detailed set of plans for this week, as well as rough sketches of what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks. Our former scrapbooking/exercise/office/junk room is now mostly converted into a functioning study and teaching room – one that happens to have an exercise bike in tucked in one corner. That might be good for those fidgety times – when she needs a little extra sensory input. We even set up our electronic keyboard for music lessons.

Kiki is ready. Just before going to bed, she asked, “So what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?” I gave her a quick rundown. Then she asked if we could go play with other homeschoolers … tomorrow. Well, that wasn’t exactly in our plans. You see, The Boo starts preschool tomorrow afternoon, and he’s going to be riding a school bus for the first time, so we need to be home to put him on the bus and take him off when he comes back. Preschool is only a couple of hours, so that doesn’t give us much time to go out in between.

I actually think that The Boo is what will make this year most tricky. We have to work around his school schedule (with some help from his dad and grandmother, we can still go to activities), and when he’s home in the morning, we have to include him in our school – either that or distract him. This is where most of our flexibility will need to happen.

I wonder if Kiki is already feeling lonely and left out, now that her friends have all gone back to school. Also, we were isolated for much of the week because of illness. Well, we won’t be by ourselves for long. This week’s schedule does include a homeschool book club meeting, as well as a homeschool gathering at a park. And then we have a family wedding reception and a theater/fondue date with friends over the weekend. With all these activities and both kids’ birthdays, our September calendar is just as packed as any other year.

Let the adventure begin!