Tagged: homeschooling

To Everything a Season: Why It's Okay to Stop Homeschooling

If you were reading this blog about four years ago, you would have seen a lot of posts about homeschooling.  It was my first year teaching Lorelei at home, and I was full of plans and eager to share them.
Lorelei spent her first four years of schooling at a parochial school.  It’s an excellent school, and her former classmates seem to have been very happy there.  But Lorelei was showing signs of stress and anxiety from the ever-increasing amount of homework, even in the summer time.  And I wanted to spend more time with my last baby.

Lorelei First Grade

Lorelei’s first day of first grade


Sending her back to “real” school eventually was always my plan:  when we would do it and where she would go were left TBD by needs and circumstances.  All I was sure of was that the transition would occur before high school.
I’ve homeschooled four of my five children for varying amounts of time, and it’s been a different experience with each of them.  I’ve come to realize that homeschooling does not provide the best learning environment for every child.
I am not sorry that I removed Lorelei from an environment that was stressful for her.  At home, we were able to recognize that she suffers from anxiety and take steps to combat that.  I was able to get to know her very well, and to spend time with her, and we are very close.  And she was able to devote extended time to non-academic pursuits.  Lorelei has always loved art, and I’ve been amazed to watch the changes in her pictures over the years.  She also became involved in an online group devoted to making music videos, and I was beyond impressed to see how she navigated the online community and taught herself skills both online and off.  I learned (and I think she did too) how very capable she is.
She also played outside a lot, as children should.  And remained a little girl longer than it seems most girls are allowed to these days.
Lorelei on the rock

Lorelei playing outside


Lorelei 13

Lorelei on her 13th birthday


But the academic side of homeschool was a real struggle.  Part of that was my change in circumstance from the last time I did this. I’m at home, but I’m working several hours each day, and I have to get things done.  But part of it was Lorelei herself.  When I taught Teddy at home, for example, I could read off a list of assignments and he would do them on his own.  Lorelei would complain and resist and insist that she couldn’t understand; she would freak out about possibly putting down the wrong answer even though her mother was the teacher and there were no grades; or she would go off to work and never return for her next assignment, and I wouldn’t even notice because I was so busy.  Every day, every subject, every assignment was fraught.  There were many days when we didn’t even attempt school, and we both felt guilty about it.
I’ve always known Lorelei was smart, of course.  She made high grades when she was enrolled in school.  But I had about decided that although she was a very capable person, she just wasn’t academic.  We all worried about what would happen when she returned to school.
Lorelei started eighth grade at the local public middle school in early August.  And she is thriving.  The transformation has been remarkable.  First progress reports are in and she has straight A’s.  Her Language Arts teacher has commented more than once that Lorelei should be teaching the class.  Her Social Studies teacher asked her if she would like to be in the Honors class.  Her art teacher invited her to apply for Art Club membership.  She joined the Book Club.  She comes home chattering animatedly about her classmates.  She stays on top of her homework without prompting.  And she joined the Youth Group at church to continue her religious education without complaint, and is enjoying that too.
So what happened?  Where did this motivated, happy, energetic, self-directed, intellectually curious student come from?
summer 80

Right after her getting-ready-for-school haircut


The answer, I believe, is that Lorelei is an extrovert.  She is drawing energy from the school environment and applying it to her studies.  It never would have occurred to me that this could be a factor–she wasn’t pining for school by any means; she was happy to have been removed and enjoyed being with me.  But the evidence is clear:  Homeschooling was not an academically good fit for Lorelei; traditional schooling is.
Again, I have no regrets about removing Lorelei from school.  The homeschooling experience may not have been an academic success, but it was valuable in other ways.  And she is quickly making up any ground she may have lost.  But I also have no regrets about putting her back in!
Some people–I was one of them once–are very tied to a certain way of educating their children.  “This is how our family does things,” they think.  For me, it was the ideal of having all my kids graduate from the parochial school attended by my sisters and me, and then going on the be members of the third generation of our family to attended Knoxville Catholic High School.  Family circumstances and the individual needs of my children forced me to rethink and relinquish plans I thought were set in stone, and my kids are the better for it.

We Are Still Homeschooling

I haven’t written a post on homeschooling in a while, probably because I’m too busy doing it to write about it–or about anything.  Last time I homeschooled, John worked in an office and had a full-time staff.  This time, the office is the house and the staff is me.  Mostly this works out fine, with me getting Lorelei started on a task, which she can work on here in the office with me while I attend to my own work.  But sometimes, involved in whatever I am doing, I lose track of her and how long (very very long) it is taking to do her math or whatever.  She has been known to even wander away while I am otherwise occupied.  So I need to work on that. [This was an ongoing problem that I am happy to say has improved a lot in this, our last homeschooling year.]
Another challenge is that I have had to leave the house during the school day more frequently lately.  Jake’s injury [A tendon in his pinky severed by a box cutter while cutting drywall to patch a hole in our basement] means twice weekly therapy appointments as well as doctor visits.  If Emily isn’t home, Lorelei has to come along.  We don’t do well with disruptions to the routine.
Still, at the moment I would call homeschooling a qualified success.  Lorelei is certainly happy!  She has no desire to go back to school (judging from how she acts when I threaten her with it when she is bad!).  I’ve already written about some of the fringe benefits of homeschooling.
Here’s what’s going well:
We are going to Mass once a week, on Wednesday mornings.  There’s a 9:00 a.m. Mass at All Saints, just five minutes away from us.  Lorelei looks forward to going, and that makes me happy.  She actually suggested we should go on First Fridays too, so we are going to start doing that this month.   After Mass we walk on the walking trail and Lorelei plays on the playground.
We are on track with our spelling program, and Lorelei never misses more than one word.  She’s never going to be a spelling bee champ and thank God for that.
We’ve finished two reading books already!
We’ve memorized the Beatitudes and the Corporal Works of Mercy and are almost finished with the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
We are exactly where we should be in the English book.
We went on a great field trip to the symphony last week.
Here’s where we could use improvement:
Lorelei does not like math, and since we were doing it toward the end of our day, it sometimes got skipped.  In the second quarter, we’ve moved it earlier in our school day to combat that tendency. [Math remains a struggle.]
We need to move faster in Social Studies.  We’ve only done half the states, and I want to have the whole state part of Social Studies finished by Christmas so that we can do Presidents the second half of the year.
Another thing Lorelei hates is Penmanship.  I’m trying not to stress out about this too much–I still want her to learn cursive, but my goal of doing all work in cursive isn’t going to happen this year. [Never happened, never will.]
I want to incorporate more field trips.  Originally I had hoped to take one every week, or at least every other week, but all the interruptions for doctor appointments have made that difficult.
So that’s where we are, almost three months in.  And having written it out, as so often happens, I feel even better about it. 🙂

Homeschooling Fringe Benefits

When I told everyone I wanted to homeschool Lorelei this year, they said, “How will you possibly find the time to do that?”
See, even though I am at home, I am not strictly what the internets call a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom), terminology which implies that I don’t work.  (LOL.  No one works harder than a stay-at-home-mom.)  I am a WAHM (work-at-home-mom) only since what I do is act as my husband’s legal assistant/secretary/office manager, I don’t even get paid!
Over the past four years, what started out as me answering the phone while I went about my usual business has morphed into a job that keeps me at my desk from 8:30 to 1:30 or so most days, and let’s not even discuss nights and weekends.  I’m not complaining about this sweet deal which allows me to pretty much structure my own time and take care of my family the way I want to, but I guess it was reasonable for people to wonder how I was going to fit teaching school into that.
But it hasn’t been difficult at all, really.  We start by reading about the saint of the day and saying a prayer around 8:30, and then I get her started on her first assignment and I start on my work.  When she finishes we take a minute to talk about the next thing she’s doing, and then we both return to our solitary labors.  She sits right in the office with me at John’s desk, since he’s usually at court.  By 1:30 p.m., she’s done.
Instead of making my life harder, homeschooling has made it easier.  Last year, I had to get up around 6:00 a.m., wake up two kids, fix two breakfasts and two lunches, and make sure two kids were dressed and ready to leave the house on time.  This year, I get to sleep until 7:00 a.m., probably what John and I would both agree is the number one best change homeschooling has occasioned.  It is daylight when we wake up and getting out of bed is easy.  No more that awful first-day-of-school feeling where you think, “Oh my God, do I really have to do this every day for the next nine months?”  And the effects last all day–I rarely feel like I need to nap in the afternoon, and I always felt that way last year whether there was time to do so or not.
Last year, I had to get dressed every morning and drive William to school while John took Lorelei.  This year, I can stay in my pajamas all day if I want, because John takes William and Lorelei stays right here.
Last year, I had to stop working no later than 2:00 p.m. to shower and dress for the school pick up odyssey, which started with the 20-minute drive to Sacred Heart, followed by the drive back to Cedar Bluff to get William.  With one thing or another, I was in the car for about 1.5 hours, and I was usually struggling to stay awake.  It was miserable, and I dreaded it.  This year, we pop out at 3:30 p.m. to get William from school five minutes down the road.  Lorelei doesn’t even have to come along if she doesn’t want to.  And there have been many days when pickup time coincides with John’s return from court, so I don’t have to leave the house all day!
Last year, while fighting over homework with William, I also had to deal with Lorelei’s chronic homework stress.  I had to discipline her when she didn’t start her work until close to bedtime.  I had to help with awful torturous activities like constructing dioramas and making saints out of Pepsi bottles and styrofoam balls.  No more.  This year, I choose the school work around here, and there is no homework at all.
Last year, there were school meetings to attend, and folders to sign, and papers to review and return.  This year, we still have these things, but only for one child and one school.  We have more free time and more family time in the evenings.
Last year we were stressed out.  This year we are still stressed out, but not about school.  Lorelei is happy, and so am I.
All Saints 10
 

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

Welcome to my Sunday Snippets post, and thanks to RAnn for hosting and for inviting me to the linkup!

Question of the week: Introduce yourself. Some of us have been participating for a long time; others are relative newcomers. Take a minute and briefly tell us about yourself and your blog.

I’m Leslie. 🙂  I’ve been married to John for 23 years, and we have five children:  Emily (23), Jake (20), Teddy (19), William (13), and Lorelei (9).  We live in Knoxville, Tennessee, which is my hometown.  John is an attorney who works from home, and I’m his assistant.  I also do some contracting work for a non-profit my mother is the community organizer for, and this year I am homeschooling Lorelei.  I therefore do not have as much time as I would like to write in this blog, which I started four years ago as a new avenue for my writing after my long-time stint as a columnist for the local Catholic paper came to an end.  I write about pretty much anything I feel like:  parenting, marriage, Catholicism, life issues, politics, education, homeschooling, recipes, books . . . you’ll find it all here.  Thanks for visiting!

This week I started as I always do with Catholic All Year’s Answer Me This linkup.

Next I linked up with What We’re Reading Wednesday.

I wrote about books again the next day, writing about five books that changed my life.

I continued my series on my homemade homeschool curriculum.

And finally I finished up with an update on my family’s adventures with Obamacare.

I hope you’ll check out some of these posts and come back to see me again if you enjoy them!

 

 

Five Homeschooling Favorites

Just a quick Five Favorites post today because 1) I’m late and 2) I’ve got too much to do today!
five favorites
I’ve got homeschooling on the brain these days, what with school starting (UGH!) on Monday, so today I’ll share five favorite things about homeschooling.  Not necessarily THE favorites, but the ones that rise to mind at this time of year when I am only having to get one kid ready for school instead of two.
1.  No uniforms.
Don’t misunderstand–I’m all for uniforms.  But normally this time of year would involve trips to Educational Outfitters to check sizes, and then a trip to the school Swap Shop to check what used things are available (and also trying them all on because sizes vary), and then a trip BACK to the uniform store to supplement the cheap stuff, and then possibly the agony of finding someone to hem things.  And of course I didn’t mention lots and lots of money.  This year, the only uniform rule will be no pajamas.
Lorelei at Target
2.  Pajamas
Didn’t I just say no pajamas?  Well, that rule is for Lorelei, not for me.  This year John will be taking William to school (which used to be my job while he took Lorelei).  So I don’t have to go out of the house and I plan to take full advantage of that by continuing my lazy summer habit of working in my pajamas until noon.  Or even later.
3.  I pick the school supplies.
I am not subject to the tyranny of the supply list, with its strange requirement for green pens which I can never find and its endless demands for things like scissors which ought to stay at school and be reused from year to year.  I won’t have to brave the madding crowds at Wal-Mart!  Lorelei’s supply list this year included pencils, markers, paper, and folders.  And I ordered it (along with William’s) online so that 1) I wouldn’t have to go to Wal-Mart and 2) so I could use my PayPal balance!
4.  No meetings.
I am a firm believer that even when meetings at school are stupid or boring or when you’ve heard it all a thousand times before (and if you have five kids, that goes without saying) it’s important to attend them.  So we go to them all, and the novelty wore off long ago.  I won’t miss them this year.
5.  No homework or projects.
Believe me, having to supervise William’s homework is cross enough to bear.  Not having to deal with Lorelei’s stressed out meltdowns is going to be sooooo nice.  And the projects?  Last year for All Saints we had to make a saint out of a two-liter Coke bottle.  The year before that we had to dress up a pumpkin.  I kid you not.  This year, maybe I’ll have her write a paragraph about her favorite saint.  If I feel like it.  Last year, book reports involved things like dioramas.  This year, they will involve writing a report.  Maybe drawing a picture too.
Umm . . . there are other reasons for homeschooling, of course.  Reasons that benefit Lorelei and not just me. 🙂  But y’all knew that already, right?
For more favorites, visit the linkup at Mama Knows, Honeychild.

I Was, in Fact, an English Major . . .

. . . so it stands to reason that I would be excited about teaching Lorelei English this year.  And I’m especially excited about this:
voyages in english
This book is sort of vintage and sort of not.  What do I mean?  Well, it’s a reprint of a book that was published in 1962.  I would rather have an actual copy from 1962, but those are harder to find and more expensive.
The Voyages in English series is a relic of the golden era of Catholic education.  The textbooks my kids used in their parochial schools were devoid of religion, except, of course, for their religion books.  Not so in the 60s and earlier, when English texts and readers presented our faith alongside academic concepts.
But I wouldn’t pick a textbook just for that.  This series is acknowledged as an excellent one.  This will be my first time using the fourth grade book.  For William and Teddy, I used a third grade book because I couldn’t find the fourth grade book at that time, and it was plenty advanced for fourth grade, believe me!  Sadly, it was lost in the fire.  Jake did pages from my own third grade English workbook, which was from a different, but still Catholic, series.  I also used to have the eighth grade grammar book, which I used for homeschooling Jake in seventh grade.  That book was AMAZING.  There were grammar concepts in there I had never even heard of.  Jake and I both love grammar so we thoroughly enjoyed that book.
Besides the Catholic content, this book is full of old-fashioned concepts like courtesy and citizenship.  While the presentation may seem a little dated, the concepts aren’t–or at least they shouldn’t be.  And explaining “vintage” ideas to Lorelei will make English a mini-history lesson as well.
The first chapter is called Fun with Our Pets, and it begins: “St. Francis of Assisi was a friend to all the animals and the birds.  They raised his thoughts to God, who was their Father as well as his Father.”  I love that!  One of the first things Lorelei will learn in this chapter is how to write a letter correctly.  I’m not sure that’s something they teach in schools anymore, but we are going to do it, and we are going to write actual letters to people and mail them! [Update: Once or twice, anyway.]
Chapter Two, Adventures in Bookland, starts thus: “All of us have many friends . . . There are also other friends whose companionship means much to us–the books that we read.”  Isn’t that awesome?  This is where we start learning how to write good paragraphs.
I won’t go crazy and tell you about every single chapter but there’s one that focuses on courtesy, and boy does Lorelei need that after a steady summer diet of the brats on the Disney Channel.
Anyway, I’m excited.  And I’m going to teach her how to diagram sentences too. 🙂 [Update: Maybe this year.]
 

No Textbook, No Problem

I can’t remember, way back when I decided to homeschool Jake for 4th grade, how I came up with my social studies curriculum.  But it’s a simple one, and we don’t use a textbook.
The theme of the year is States and Presidents.  Lorelei will learn all 50 states and their capitals.  She’ll also learn their postal abbreviations and will be able to fill them in on a map of the United States.  Copying the list of states will provide handwriting practice while also aiding learning.  Of course it won’t be all rote memorization–we will discuss facts about each state as we go.  And then she’ll get to pick one and do a report on it.
We will also memorize all the Presidents, in order.  Again, as we do that, we’ll be learning a few important things about each one.  And we will discuss the events in American History that were happening during each administration.  We won’t be using a textbook because we have numerous books about the states and the presidents that Lorelei can read selections from.  And again, she will pick her favorite President and write a report about him.
Every time I studied American History in school–which I think happened in 4th, 7th, and 11th grades (at least), we’d start off strong, with the discovery of America, maybe, or perhaps the 13 colonies.  But we always ran out of time before we reached the present day.  I think we might have made it to World War II one time!  I used to page ahead in the book to pictures of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter and the Vietnam War and the moon landing and wonder if we’d ever read those parts, but alas.
So our method probably lacks a little depth but at least we will cover it all!

A Dying Art

That would be penmanship, but it’s going to be a daily subject in our homeschool this year. [Update: This dream died halfway through the first year, I am ashamed to say.]
In my eight years of Catholic grade school, we had handwriting practice EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Yes, every single day for eight years.  At first, this was a sorry trial for me.  I struggled to print neatly in first grade.  My teacher had a set of rubber stamps she used to mark our papers.  The Excellent stamp was unattainable.  There were only two people in the class who EVER earned an Excellent.  I only hoped for a Very Good stamp.  But day after day my papers came back marked Try Harder, when I promise you I was already trying as hard as I could!
We moved on to cursive in the middle of second grade, and from third grade on, all work had to be completed in cursive.  Because my mind moved faster than my hand, my writing was messy and full of scribbled out words.  My handwriting can still be very messy today, if I’m in a hurry.  But when I try, I can write legible and attractive cursive.  I worked hard to achieve this result.  And I use it every day, because in this law office, all envelopes are addressed, by hand, in cursive, by me.
Even so, my writing is far from the elegant script we find in old letters.  That kind of cursive is already a lost art.  But in just a couple of generations, no one may be able to write in cursive at all!  My three big kids, a product of 13 years of Catholic education, did learn cursive.  But after a couple of years, they never had to use it again.  They were allowed to keep right on printing and then eventually started using computers for everything.  They never write in cursive and sometimes I think they might have forgotten how.  The only time I see any cursive coming from their pens is when they have to sign their names to something.
William was still being homeschooled at the time he would have started learning cursive, and I was more concerned about making sure he could print legibly at that point.  While they do at the moment still teach cursive in our public schools, he basically missed it, and since he’s getting to the age where it’s all typing all the time, he may never learn more than how to sign his name, unless he wants to.  And he probably won’t, because most kids seem to think cursive is an old-fashioned waste of time.
When I was little, cursive was a Big Deal.  It was like a code.  All the grownups wrote in it, and none of the kids could read it.  The Lunch Ladies at St. Joseph School used to write out the menu for the week in cursive and tape in on the wall in the hallway.  I remember my delight when at some point during first grade I taught myself to decipher it.  I also remember how eager I was to learn how to write, so eager that I got my grandmother to show me how so I had a head start before second grade.  I was already writing my name in cursive on everything,
Lorelei learned to write her name in cursive early too, and I don’t expect any resistance from her when it comes to this subject.  [HOW WRONG I WAS] And I’m glad, because I think it’s a shame that most kids never learn to write cursive well, and that many school districts are doing away with it all together.  I’m sad not only because good handwriting is beautiful to see, but also because learning to write in cursive stimulates different parts of the brain.  It helps kids learn.  And some kids who have great difficulty with printing don’t have that same difficulty with cursive.
So handwriting practice is going to be a daily part of our homeschooling curriculum.  We are going to do a page from our book every day.  I chose a book that combines religious instruction with handwriting instruction, but we won’t rely on this alone.  For example, when Lorelei is learning the Beatitudes this year, her handwriting work for the day will be to write them in her best handwriting.  The same will go for the Ten Commandments, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, the Stations of the Cross, and other religious concepts.  But we won’t only be linking handwriting to religion.  In Social Studies, it will be state capitals, or the names of the Presidents.  And writing neatly will be important in every subject. [This did work for Jake and Teddy, at least.]
What do you think?  Is it too late to save cursive?  Does it matter?  How often do you use cursive?

Math IS Fun

See, I think I misspoke (miswrote?) when I titled my last homeschooling post Math Doesn’t Have to Be Fun.  It was catchy, which is a good quality for a title, but I probably should have said something like Math Books Don’t Need to Be Fun.
Because I happen to believe that Math IS fun, and the people who are desperately trying to make the textbooks colorful and exciting are missing the point:  it’s all about the numbers, folks.
Have you ever seen someone getting really excited about Math?  My high school Algebra II/Advanced Math teacher, a sweet, wonderful, energetic Sister of Mercy named Sister Albertine, was like that.  I remember her explaining things to us on the blackboard, calling numbers “cute little creatures.”  I vividly recall the way she taught us about hyperbolas always approaching but never quite reaching the axis, which she demonstrated by taking tinier and tinier steps toward the classroom door.

Sister Albertine in recent years – photo credit: Tennova website


I mentioned in the last post that I love fractions.  I thought it was so cool that to divide them you turn them upside down and multiply them.  I love algebra too, and still enjoy solving a good complicated equation.   Most kids like number puzzles and patterns if they haven’t already been convinced that Math is hard and boring.
What’s needed to demonstrate that Math is fun, though, is not an illustrated textbook–it’s a good teacher with a love of the subject.  For fourth grade math, I hope I qualify! [edit: apparently not. 🙁]

Math Doesn't Have to Be Fun

Have you looked at your kid’s math book lately?  Besides being outrageously large and heavy, you’ll find that’s it’s colorful and has photographs on almost every page!  Also little boxes with things like “fun math facts” in them.  It makes my head swim to look in these books.  Sometimes it’s hard to find the math.
Contrast this with a really old math book, if you can find one.  I have some vintage ones that I’ve picked up here and there.  They are tiny–small enough to fit in a coat pocket.  But that doesn’t stop them from being full of really hard math.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I open a math book all I need to see are rows of math problems.  (Well, a little explanation is nice, too.)  When I was a kid, our math books were somewhat larger and more colorful than the vintage kind, but smaller and less distracting than those of today.  I would have been happy to use the series we used most of the way through grade school for homeschooling, as I have reused other books from my own school days, but you don’t get to keep your math book.
When I began homeschooling, I kept reading about something called the Saxon math program that homeschoolers all seemed to love.  So that’s what I got and used for Teddy and Jake, and I will be using the same thing for Lorelei.  Besides being full of math problems and devoid of color photography, the Saxon series also just does a good job at teaching math.  Subtitled “an incremental development,” the series starts each new lesson by reviewing what you’ve learned in the lesson just before.  Concepts build on concepts, and nothing is forgotten from lack of use.  Each set of exercises is preceded by a clear explanation with examples, so you can work through it and teach it to your kid (and perhaps remember how to do it yourself if you’ve happened to forget!).
math 1
math 2
math 3
math 4
You can buy the Saxon series direct from the manufacturer, or you can do what I did and get it on eBay way cheaper.  Now, you won’t get a workbook or a teacher’s manual or manipulatives if you do it that way, but I do homeschooling on the cheap.  It’s a drag not to have an answer key, although not such a big deal for me since I’m pretty sure I can still handle fourth grade math.
So is the approach effective?  Does it work?  I homeschooled my big boys for fourth grade, then sent them back to St. Joseph School.  Well, Jake was close to failing math in third grade.  He had no problem with the Saxon method.  I sat with him and wrote the problems for him because he has dysgraphia and he’d make a mess and get all frustrated before it was even time to start solving the problem.  When he took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills later in the year, he was ahead of his grade level.  Math never became his favorite subject, but he never struggled too much with grade school math again.  Teddy is basically a math genius.  He was already a year ahead when we started, and I think we got part of the way into a second book.  He went on to complete Algebra I AND Geometry before he even started high school.
Math isn’t Lorelei’s favorite subject, but she doesn’t have any particular problem with it.  I’m looking forward to using this book to help her become even more confident in her math skills.  And we get to do fractions!  I love fractions. [edit: Lorelei does NOT love fractions.  Or math of any kind.  I still love the Saxon series, but have had to resort to other means to get her past the mental block she has set up for herself.]

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