Homeschooling: Week One

>> Friday, September 11, 2020

So, ready or not . . . we started school this last week. And everyone is still speaking to one another. That's a good thing. I'd say in the four days we've been doing it, I have felt like I was running between my kids like a chicken with its head cut off. It feels exactly like that sometimes. But I realize that this is early days and I still have a lot to learn about my family's unique rhythm.

Ada is in third grade. Eloise is in pre-kindergarten. Their subject material doesn't overlap much at all, or I'd try doing more with them together. Instead, it's writing paragraphs about folk tales and doing Common Core math problems one second and coaching the alphabet and scissor skills the next. Then Eden starts coloring on a wall or swallowing a penny or having a tantrum. 

Later, rinse, repeat, and that's how the days have felt. School generally takes us from approximately 9AM until 2PM. But this isn't all seated bookwork. 

The schedule has gone something like this:

I wake up and do freelance work till around 7 or 7:30AM

Ada wakes up and spends 15 minutes with Stephen before he leaves for school

Ada wakes up slowly, reads from her current novel, watches YouTube Kids

Eloise and Eden wake up. Late, I know -- but it's a wakeup time we've worked hard for, and I'm hesitant to break what isn't broken!

Breakfast and morning chores, getting dressed, etc.

Ada and I do ELA and Social studies work. Lots of reading and writing and cursive practice. Eloise and I read a book on topic with her curriculum (this week it was apples and the letter A), we do a few easy art projects, and sensory stuff. Eloise's school is done in 45 minutes a day. Eden participates or I just give her some little projects of her own . . . at present moment, it's madness. 

Outdoor time, PE, exploring nature/science-y stuff

11-12PM: Ada and I do science and begin math. Math Mammoth is a great curriculum, but it can be somewhat intense. So we just get a handle on what the day's lesson is and usually save the rest for when the younger girls are in nap/quiet time. I'll often squeeze a short science show in here somewhere to get a quick break for myself.

Lunch and music. I play music while they eat and they discuss. This week was bluegrass. Then we kind of just play and have free time.

Little girls down for naps/quiet time. Ada and I spend very focused time on math. Then I let Ada take an hour-long break and then I have her read quietly. I finish up any freelance work that needs to be done, prepare dinner or any baking I want to do, and -- this week -- take a break of my own.

This week Stephen has been getting home at this time, and that was great. But when coaching starts that won't be the case. Boo. We play. I'll do a violin lesson with Ada in this slot or art projects.

5:30PM: Dinner, working out, etc.

It's not an airtight schedule by any means. And it will change when Stephen is coaching. I'd say we spend around 3-3:30 hours a day on school for Ada. 45 minutes for Eloise. What isn't in this schedule are the other specials that we just work in when it makes sense. This week we started Italian, read about the human body for health, and did a study of Monet/painted an impressionist style painting. 

I do like the freedom, but with all the subjects being my responsibility to guide, I can feel pretty overwhelmed at times. Other times, I get a blank and I'm like "WHAT IS NEXT?" So, I'll definitely be sitting down with the curriculum on Sunday afternoon to plan for next week.

Curriculum thoughts:

  • I like the Oak Meadow curriculum, but I am finding that the writing prompts don't have Ada writing nearly as much as she was expected to last year. So, I have made my own lessons to get her writing longer passages and sharing more complex thoughts on the page. We are both writers, so I guess this is something that we both sort of expect at a higher level, and she tends to do pretty well. 
  • Like I said, Math Mammoth is pretty tricky. We are only in review mode right now, but it's higher level than where we left off last year. I think it's a combination of school closing down in March with little work after that point and also I've heard that Math Mammoth tends to be faster than public school. I do think it's organized really well, though!
  • The rest is just stuff we are doing as we go along. I am pleased so far and glad I took so much care in getting it all together. That said, our beautifully organized school closet is a now a complete disaster zone. I feel like I'm always going in there and just tossing around everything as I make up the day as I go along.
  • None of what we are doing incorporates technology. But that wasn't on purpose. We are considering buying a relatively new iPad from a friend, and I would like to incorporate some learning apps because Ada really enjoyed those things when she was in public school.

Overall, not bad. Ada says she loves homeschool and has been really excited and receptive thus far. Eloise really misses being with friends. They both do. I still do not see homeschooling as a long-term thing for our family just because we've had such positive experiences with public school. But I guess we'll see how it goes. 

One benefit I've already seen is that by having my girls on a more routine schedule together, they seem to be getting along really well, playing more, and pitching in more with the housework and such. And on a social note, we are trying to set up more Zoom friend calls and possible outdoor/masked playdates now that the weather isn't repressively hot.

Just wanted to share how it went! I hope you are all having a good school year so far. I do not think a single parent I know is having an easy go of things right now. Like, all the choices we were given were problematic for some reason. Similarly, all had different perks. I am literally with all my kids all day long all week long. It's a joy. But I'd be lying if I said I don't miss breaks. Now we just roll with it. Fingers crossed things continue on a good note.

Happy Friday!


Year of Opportunity

>> Saturday, August 1, 2020

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I'm currently on day 4 of a mandatory two-week quarantine due to "close exposure" to COVID at a necessary physical therapy appointment. I figured since I have the time, I'll start cranking out a few blog posts on what's going through my mind about homeschooling next year, what we're planning to do, and different thoughts/feelings I have about it all.

So, first I think it's important to address the fact that there's a great divide in homeschooling and homeschooling due to COVID. What we are doing isn't remote learning through our district. But it also isn't intentional homeschooling in the traditional sense. From all the many Facebook groups I'm on right now, I think those long-time homeschooling parents would like to wave a flag to show they were there first and haven't been tossing together their plans as some type of Plan B. And I get it. (And I sympathize with their frustrations as those of us have flocked to their groups and asked the same questions about letters of intent, IHIPs, and other pressing concerns a million times over.)

I guess where I'm at . . . is that I had considered homeschooling before, yet I have a public school teacher husband. I have had only positive experiences in the public school setting. We were happy to go that route, so -- while I did know some stuff going into my own research (like the philosophy I wanted to seek out) -- this is most certainly a temporary thing for us.

At least I think it is. I may continue with Eloise for another year or two. Not sure yet.

Ada is entering third grade this year. Eloise was slated to start pre-kindergarten. I have chosen the Oak Meadow curriculum for Ada and the Playing Preschool curriculum for Eloise. Eden will chill and do some activities with Eloise for fun. Do I feel 100 percent confident in my choices? Not really. But in the limited time I've had to plan, I think I made the right choices for my family. That's the key with this stuff, you have to do the research on your own and decide what will work for your circumstances. And then you have to be prepared if you need to pivot for any reason.

Oak Meadow is Waldorf-inspired but somewhat mainstream. So, I think it will give us room for much creativity and exploration -- all while staying the course with our eventual desire to return to public school. I have decided I'll need to supplement the math piece with Common Core-based materials available free through my state (Eureka, for example) and a few Brain Quest workbooks. Otherwise, we're reading a few novels, taking violin lessons, doing Cursive Without Tears, and piecing together other subject areas as desired.

I was waiting for my state to announce the overall plan on August 7th, but my quarantine pushed me over the edge into sending my letter of intent yesterday morning. I got a response four minutes later via email. Now I just wait to receive the paperwork I'll fill out with all our plans, like when we'll submit quarterly reports and what materials we're using. School for us will start August 31. I picked it out of the blue sky. Do I know what I'm doing? No. Do I feel confident I'll be ready by this date? Also no.

I know many of you are in a similar position to me. And many  states are starting school way sooner than we are. Schools are trying their best to come out with plans, but as I read through our own district's plan yesterday . . . I was struck with the craziness of it all. Can you imagine the administrators trying to adhere to guidelines, take in vastly opposing parent/community opinions, and then take into account their limited budgets, facilities, etc.?

It's madness.

I see a lot of parents angry at school districts and even teachers right now. This isn't their fault. There's no good solution for all families. And keep in mind that the teachers going back to work are anxious and doing way more work than normal to prep for what seems like a lot of hybrid schedules with both in-person and remote learning.

So, today I guess I just wanted to simply share that I took the plunge. We're really doing this. I am using my quarantine as a time to get my act together and plan for what our first quarter will look like. I still don't really know what I'm doing, but veteran homeschooling parents have assured me that school at home doesn't at all need to look like a public school classroom. It sounds like it requires some flexible thinking and a lot of grace.

I'm looking at this year not as one in which we're choosing to be hermits, afraid to go out into the world. Instead, I see it as a year of opportunity. At least that's how I'm trying to frame it in my mind. I get to have a whole year with my kids and to be their teacher. We get to explore together and learn new things. I get to see how that process of learning takes place for them. They may even teach me a few things. We will certainly be focusing on the academics, but with so much more time . . . there's sure to be plenty of opportunity to find new ways to connect and appreciate each other.

Obviously, this is the idealized version running through my mind. But I haven't forgotten about not having a break from the kids since March. Seeing our parents only a couple times for brief visits. Canceling our summer vacations. Doing nothing. Getting together with nobody. And still being "closely" exposed to COVID and now not able to leave my house even to jog at 5:30AM.

It's been REAL. Each night, we click through photos of people we know -- friends and neighbors -- in large groups, out to restaurants . . . without masks on . . . having all their kids pile into a backyard pool, play-dates, etc. This is why we're homeschooling. It's not out of fear. It's out of common sense.

I'm sure we have a lot of rocky times ahead, but what homeschooling will give me this year is peace of mind. It will give my kids some stability. It will certainly challenge of finances (as I won't be able to ramp up working as much as I had hoped) and perhaps my sanity, at times. But I feel good about our decision. Here's to a good 2020/2021 academic year!

Are you homeschooling this year? What made the decision for you? What curriculums are you excited about? What are your concerns? I'd love to connect with others who are having similar thoughts.


The Season

>> Sunday, July 12, 2020

My friend Lindsey and I were recently chatting through our masks at a local ice cream shop. She said that her younger son refers to what we're all going through right now with COVID as "the season". I like looking at it that way because it means that it will pass. In this moment, it feels like this big question mark with no end date and with endless battles still left to be waged.

I started to write myself a note on my phone. I haven't felt inspired to write or journal for, well, years (I mean, look at the last time I updated this blog!).

I wrote:

Weekends aren't weekends.
Nothing feels like a break.
Life is beyond hard.
And it gets harder when you realize you aren't appreciating any of it anymore.
I dreamed for years of being a mom.
And I'm not appreciating my children.
This time is fleeting.
Now it all feels like work.
Work that I resent.
I want my life back.
I want their lives back.
I'm sick with indecision and uncertainty.
I can't do this anymore.
I want this to end.
When will this end?

It sounds like a dramatic cry for help. It's really not. I'm mentally fine -- chugging along -- but I'll get these moments where it feels like . . . A LOT. Because LIFE IS HARD normally. Right now? It's just not something I ever imagined.

I was hit by a car while walking in November. that was very difficult both physically and emotionally for me. I'm still dealing with issues on both sides. Beyond that (and like many of you), we have had basically no breaks from our kids since COVID started. We love them, but it's too much togetherness for all of us. On top of it, we canceled summer vacations. We now agonize over trips to the store. We have worn deep paths at local parks and trails. We are running out of steam. We're . . . over it.

Yet we're not anxious to return to normal life. We dutifully wear our masks everywhere we go, and we believe it's a small thing we can do to help. Still, we have trouble with the idea of going to in-person dining at restaurants. We have sheepishly ducked out of playdates and social invites.

Maybe we're too strict? I don't know. If you aren't, don't feel too judged. While I don't agree, I understand the desire to just get back what we have lost on some level. And I fully acknowledge and appreciate our privilege to lay so very low. What we're up against is invisible. What we know about the disease and how to deal with it seems to change on the daily. Our numbers here in NY state are low. It's easy to think we crossed some hurdle or milestone. In reality, it's just not so.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I am considering homeschooling. I wish I could tell you I'm a homeschool mom who is LIVING for the idea of teaching my children from home. In the past, it was a fantasy of mine. I've written posts about it or shared some things I was doing with my kids to teach them. Like many bloggers, I was trying on a persona. One that just doesn't fit who I really am. I can admit that now that I'm weeks away from turning 37 and have given up trying to be someone I'm not.

So, while I wish I could tell you I have confidence in my ability to be that kind of mom -- I'm not. But my desire to homeschool now more out of necessity. I also feel like taking more kids out of the schools might help those people who don't have it as an option. Fewer kids will lower risks. At least that's my hope.

My own mom knows me quite well, and she has asked me: "What would it take for you NOT to homeschool (because she knows it would drive me bonkers)?"

And, honestly, I couldn't think of a scenario.

That said, we value public education. It's our livelihood. I was planning to start freelance work at a higher level this year with two kids in school. (Eloise is slated to start pre-kindergarten!) We wonder if Stephen will be forced to teach in-person classes and to coach. Or will he be forced to gather together an online curriculum at the very last minute? And will we lose coaching income we depend on -- especially now that our grocery bills are out of control with being home 100% of the time?

I wonder if homeschooling will redirect funds from our school district. Funds they desperately need to operate, especially in these times. We have every intention of returning to public school . . . and there's also this feeling of sadness for leaving a community. We just moved in March to a new district and Ada never had the opportunity to start at her new school. It has felt odd to be in a new neighborhood with people we don't know. We've had some waves here and some short conversations there. I can't tell if I am mourning leaving our old community or mourning the life we used to have before this all began.

In the end, I don't know what we'll end up doing. In the immediate future, we're just anxiously awaiting the state guidelines. From there, we wait for Cuomo's decision in early August as to whether or not the physical buildings will open.

If you made it this far. Hi! It's been a long while. I felt compelled to come on here and just say hello. I hope you are faring well in the season. If you aren't, I assure you that you're not alone. This morning, in fact, I chatted online with three different real life friends of mine who cried (me too!) mulling over all the possibilities in the coming year. I'm sure those won't be the last tears we'll all have over these matters.

BTW: This photo was taken of us in the first days of the shutdown for the Front Porch Project. It feels like an eternity ago. But, hello!

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