Friday, January 21, 2011

How We Manage Homeschooling in the Can

A friend of mine has asked me to answer some questions about homeschooling - she might share the answers with some attachment-parenting friends. 

First of all, let me just say that when I was considering homeschooling, listening to other parents answer homeschooling questions usually only served to increase my misgivings about the whole thing.  There were very few people out there doing the homeschooling lecture circuit who I could identify with AT ALL.  In fact, a good many of them scared the crap out of me. 

For the most part, they set up what were, for me, very unrealistic expectations.  I don't run my household like a well-oiled machine. We float along in what might be called an incredibly leaky ship. It was unlikely I would be able to set up a "school room" and a "school schedule" and initiate any kind of "discipline"....self or otherwise.  I wasn't going to sew uniforms (long skirts for the girls, tailored shirts for the boys) or bake my own bread.  Well, you probably get my point. 

I also wasn't homeschooling to protect my children from secular society, nor did I hold a very limited worldview that I wished to impose.  I wasn't on a mission for Christ nor did I feel that homeschooling would serve to increase the odds that my family would all be in one place should the Rapture occur. While my reasons for homeschooling have evolved (and continue to evolve) over the years, initially, it was simply a reaction to an unacceptable situation.  My learning disabled son was having a wretched time in school.  I needed to get him out, and so I did.  It had reached the point where it didn't matter what I did, his situation could only improve.

It turned out to be a perfect fit for our family - and we have continued to homeschool all 5 of our children. 

Some people want to know about homeschooling gifted children, or children with special needs, or multiple children at once, or teenagers......and so I guess I am the One Stop Shopping Site. Although I don't presume for one minute that my experiences will necessarily be relevant or meaningful or helpful in any way to anyone - one thing about matter how you begin the journey, it ends up being a very personalized trip in the end.  No two families do it the same way - at least not for the long haul, anyway.  You can force yourself to do anything for a year or two, and that is what a lot of people do in regards to homeschooling.  But if you're going to stick it out, it becomes a lifestyle that is as natural as getting dressed in the morning (if, in fact, you do get dressed in the morning and I've learned that not everyone does). 

So, I have homeschooled what might be described as an incredibly gifted child.  I am homeschooling what would be described as a learning disabled child.  I also have an Asperger's child, a pretty Run of the Mill Child (because I deserved one), and a Quirky As Hell Child whose multiple issues are still in the percolating process.....very exciting.  And homeschooling works for all of them, but it is homeschooling done Our Way, which might not be Your Way. Your Way might be a perfect fit between your own natural leanings and the way your kids operate, or it might not be.  The fact is, no matter what people tell you, it doesn't work for everyone because some people are just not comfortable with it.  You won't really know if you're one of those people until you try it.

I am currently homeschooling an 18-year-old who will be starting college in the fall.  So YES I have experience educating and preparing a child for college.  I'm also homeschooling a 1st-grader.  And there are the three in between....and they are all very different from each other, as are their educational journeys.

Now for the Questions:

1. How do you change hats as Mom/Teacher and how does this work with your kids (if that is clear at all.)?

Ummm...well, I try not to wear hats around my kids.  I just am what I am.  I have heard of a family where the mom "becomes Teacher" and the children are required to treat her as they would a school teacher when it is School Time.  That kind of creeps me out a bit, to tell you the truth.  But I guarantee you that if I were to get to know this family - that would probably be the least of the creepout factors.  Anyone who is going to don a school marm outfit and have her children call her Teacher is also sure to break out the baby whip on occasion.  Just sayin'.

We don't have School Time or Time for Learning any more than we have a Time to Be Human or a Time to Love or a Breathing Time.  Learning is a natural human condition, you can't avoid it, and you can probably see where this is headed as we tend to lean towards Unschooling.  The older kids do structured learning because they want or need to, and it doesn't involve me putting on a hat or them treating me any differently.  The younger kids do very little structured learning, so they are unaware of my role as teacher, for the most part.  And I'm not talking about babies - Jasper is technically a 1st-grader and has recently expressed an interest in reading - so we're working on that when it suits us.  Camille is a 3rd-grader, and she is doing math and she reads a lot.  She doesn't HAVE to do the math, but I think she senses that it makes me happy when she does, so for a few minutes a couple of times a week, we get out her book and do some problems.  She's currently learning to tell time and she's actually pretty thrilled about that.  But I don't switch hats to do math with her, anymore than I switch hats when I'm making lunch or doing clothes or driving the is just another thing we do.

2. How do you homeschool your older kids with babies/toddlers underfoot?

My older kids are pretty much in charge of their own educations.  But still, there were always times (and still are) when they needed my assistance or help or attention and the little kids were just being Major Inconveniences.  You just juggle it like you juggle anything else.  Women are good at multi-tasking and prioritizing, for the most part.   

I think that the more structure you are trying to impose, the more difficult and frustrating your task in regards to babies and little ones.  If you go with the flow, and are able to take a more relaxed approach, trusting that the world will not come to an end if a youngster doesn't do A, B, or C on a certain day or within a specific time frame...your time will be easier.  Seriously, if you take 6 weeks to just be All Schoolish....and you set aside 6 weeks for your alternate selves in the alternate universe to basically just sleep in....I hate to tell you that you're going to end up in about the same place, educationally speaking.  OK - sure, maybe at the end of six weeks one kid will know how to say the word "photosynthesis" and their alternate self won't have a clue as to how to say "photosynthesis." But 10 years down the road?  They're both going to get into college. And one of them will be significantly less traumatized than the other :).

3. What books did you read to help prepare you?

I read a bunch of books I shouldn't have.  Books that tell you what to do and how to do it are to be avoided, I think.  Books that talk about the way human beings learn, the history of compulsory attendance, the workings of the public school system, how people used to learn versus how we learn today.....books about successful people who were self-educated....those are the sorts of topics that are relevant to your decision.  There are lots of books out there about what's wrong with schools (I have my own opinions about this)...eventually you just have to decide to try and do what's right for your own family.  Seriously, I'm not a big believer in Expert Opinions so....

4. Do you combine any subjects for kids of different ages? If so, how well does this work?

Basically, if you're going to follow a curriculum, it is the same dang thing year after year after year and quite easy to combine it all...not a big deal.  Or you could skip it entirely and just go to the park or the library or a museum.  Also - when you're worried about who is getting left out of what, it helps to remember that no college (if that is your destination) gives a rat's ass about what you did in 3rd grade.  And in Texas, there is no Homeschool Police giving a rat's ass, either.  So basically, you don't need to do anything in order to check something off of a need to learn about things that interest you, when they interest you, and in ways that give you joy.  Teaching a 2nd grader American history is fun to do if they want to do is miserable and pointless if they don't.

5. Curriculum: My questions are what did you consider? What one(s) do you select and why? What one(s) did you rejected and why?

I don't believe in purchasing boxed curriculum or bundles because it is everything you hate about school conveniently packed in a box and nothing more.  That said, we use a few things that work for us.

I like Critical Thinking Math when the kids are little, and I like Teaching Textbooks beginning in 5th grade. BTW - my kids have all been able to skip 6th grade math entirely - it is just more fifth grade math or early 7th grade math - why pay for it?  Go straight to 7th.  Ellie has done Teaching Textbooks all the way through Pre-Calculus. 

For Reading, we tried Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons but really, I'd rather have my fingernails ripped out with a pair of rusty pliers.  I much prefer Phonics Pathways if you're going to use something like will teach them to decode words.  What teaches actual reading, however, is being read to.  At least that is how it worked for us.

For American History I like the series, A Story of Us by Joy Hakim.  Ellie began taking college US History in 9th grade through community college, and she was cracking up because it was A Story of Us only more boring :).  World History....I love A Story of the World (Bauer).  I used this series with older kids in a co-op - and they got WAY more out of it than when I've done it with younger kids, even though it is definitely written for the younger kids....they really don't get it in the same way....but that doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to share it if they're interested.

I also like Easy Grammar and The Great Books Foundation.  There.  That's about it.  Oh! And we rent and purchase series from The Teaching Company...and yes, we actually listed these courses on Ellie's high school transcript, as do many homeschoolers.  Astronomy, History of Tudors and Stuarts, Greek Mythology.....just to name a few.

6. How do you schedule your day for those of you with a curriculum? What about all the other things that come up during the's appointments, grocery shopping, etc? Do you plan one day a week for these or do them as you have time?

I have made schedule after schedule after schedule....and they all get shot to hell within a couple of days by unexpected events or Life In General and that is just how it is.  Somehow, my kids seem to know all the things they need to know when they need to know them.  And then some.

7. How many days a week do you participate in homeschool co-ops and/or homeschool park days? Do you find these very beneficial?

These were very important to me in the beginning.  After awhile, as the kids got older, their activities took over and my youngest have not have much participation in co-ops or homeschool groups the way their older siblings did.  They have grown up at Odyssey of the Mind meetings, Readers' Theater rehearsals, piano recitals, and Tae Kwon Do tournaments.  And they don't seem to have suffered for the lack of organized art activities.  I think those things were mainly for me, you know?  Not that that makes them unimportant.  As the kids get older, you find you simply can't fit it all in, and park day gets replaced by team meetings and lessons....when things become unbalanced, you generally know it and then it's a matter of deciding what to cut back on.
8. How many extracurricular activities does your children do per week? (Scouts, karate, gymnastics, dance, etc)

This totally depends on the kid.  I have one NON-JOINER...God Love Him.....but the rest have at least one activity each.  I don't consider them to be extracurricular activities anymore than my own interests and activities are considered extracurricular. These are just parts of their lives that offer unique educational experiences.  I think the number of activities depends on the child and the family.  Some of my kids have craved lots of activities and social interactions, and a couple haven't.  When life becomes stressed, you know it.  When a kid becomes stressed, you know it. 

My life, at the moment, is completely overwhelming.  I have two kids who are very intensely involved in time-consuming activities, and combined with the other two who manage to exercise a bit of moderation in their goings on, but who have things going on, nonetheless, it is a lot for one mom. But the first one will be moving out in a matter of months and I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And it devastates me.  So yeah. Keep on keepin' on.  Also - as long as Jasper remains devoted to anti-socialism (and I'm not talking Tea Party - I'm talking total anti-social behavior), there is hope that I will not get completely overloaded to the point that I just used up my last minute in my last day. The minute he becomes interested in something, however, I'm done for. 

9. Where do you find "me" time for yourself or get other adult interaction?

Ha!  My idea of Me Time, much like my idea of homeschooling, has significantly evolved over the years.  For one thing, I don't crave it as much as I used to.  Probably because the co-sleeping has mostly ended and the breastfeeding definitely has, and the kids themselves, now that they're older, are actually pretty dang good company.  I do, however, get the occasional wild hair and you can read the previous blog post to see how well that works out for me :).

OK - off to jump back into the fray....


  1. Great Post!
    So far, knock on wood, John's new school is working out for him. However, if all falls to pieces, Fred and I have talked about the Homeschooling idea. I think that it might be good for John and possibly Joshua. Jacob and Claire thrive on School. We'll see. And with John being in public school, and a good one, we basically have to stay in the township. When they were all in private school, we could move anywhere we wanted. I know for sure that I will never be a Homeschooling Mom. I wouldn't be able to concentrate on teaching the kids knowing that there is laundry to fold. I'm nuts that way. I don't know how you can teach and keep a perfectly spotless house. You're amazing!!!
    Your Friend, m.

  2. I have to agree, great post!! I enjoyed reading every word of it.

  3. Mark, you are a funny, funny man. Seriously. Sitting over there in your neurotically spotless house...there is no homeschooling in your future that doesn't come with a pretty heavy-duty prescription. Just kidding - you'd find your groove, I'm sure. Or Fred would. Somebody would. And if not, there's always wine. And if you lived in California there would also be medical marijuana.

  4. As I sit here at 5:01 PM Eastern time, drinking my Merlot and "feeling it", I'm thinking that, you're right, I am neurotic. Luckily, I'm comfortable with it.
    And even though I am three sheets to the wind, I do think that you are amazing. I need a wife just like you. But I would insist on a clean house, dinner promptly at 6PM, and kids showered and in bed by 8PM. If Joel ever leaves you, keep me in mind. Your Friend, m.
    p.s., I'm sorry if you are losing Homeschooling moms/followers because of me. m.

  5. Mark - even with your being gay (and drunk) I really think it could work!! There are some details to work out...for one thing...Joel is my son, not my husband (I'll give that mistake to the wine)...Also - there is that business with the clean house and dinner at 6:00 - also, you wouldn't be bringing your four kids would you? I'm assuming you'll leave them with Fred? I have a problem being fond of other people's children, even the very cute ones....oh well, nothing we can't overcome.

  6. I loved this post so much. It was wonderful to read what worked for your family! And you are SO right. No college in the world gives a flying fig about the special math curriculum your kid used in the 3rd grade. I love your attitude. I am tweeting this immediately : )

  7. What kind of nut homeschools?

    Aren't you worried about the prom?

    What about drugs? Don't you want your children to learn how to say no? They need to be offered drugs so they will understand.

    And... here's my personal favorite... "If you were more involved in your child's education, you wouldn't have to homeschool."


    I would just like to see people evaluate educational options based on the needs of the individual children. And do what's right for each kid.

    I can dream, can't I?

  8. Hey kiddo.

    This reminded find and return your Great Books Foundation from last year. Uhmm..let me clean my room first. (we all know I'm NOT as clean as Mark)

    Also? How about some us time? Maybe I'll see you at the Odyssey tournament? Too crazy. We'll figure something out.

  9. Gay/drunk friends just make you more exotic.

    I loved this post. After three years, I am steadily becoming more and more relaxed in my approach to homeschooling. In fact, since November, I've been saying that we are on Winter Break... until Spring Break.
    More and more I am placing the responsibility for becoming an educated person where it belongs: with my daughter. I could force her to memorize and write papers (and hate me and learning), but what good would that do? I feel my job is to teach her how to access the information she wants to have and inspire her to want it.

    If you do another post like this, could you answer these questions?
    What have you done to create a learning environment in your home?
    Are there things that you limit, such at tv or video game time?
    How do you inspire and motivate your children to learn, or do you feel that that is not your role?

    Thanks again!

  10. I loved all of this, so now I am thinking any comment I write will sound, oh, what's the word—um—it's there somewhere—I've got it—notnearlyorremotelyasgoodasyourwholewonderfulpost. Yeah, that's the word :)

    I love that you admit life is overwhelming. I love that you are unabashedly you (and I love that I just wrote unabashedly in a comment). I love all the resources you've listed. I love your homeschool/life philosophy. I love that you wrote "rat's ass" in your post. I love your conversation with Mark. I love that when I read your posts I always smile.

    I just love the whole thing. As I said earlier!

  11. Mark - never mind. If Jeff leaves me I'm marrying Helena.

  12. If we still have country by the time our politicians find "a compromise", can someone come over and tell them to introduce the possibility of homeschooling your way? I've actually just become a teacher, in a school, and well, I'd rather stay home (to pretend it will get cleanish one day) and take care of my children and their schooling. Jeff can always come and stay in our place if he needs a new home...
    Kind regards, Jade
    (drinking rooibos, 'cause still breastfeeding when little miss claims a little something and also to stay awake so I can prepare my lessons for tomorrow!)

  13. ROFLAO!!! I didn't realize being together for the rapture was a reason to homeschool. I will have to use that one next time a random stranger asks me why I homeschool. Thanks!

    And thank you for writing this post. I've only been homeschooling 3 years so I still get those panicky phases where I think I need to "buckle down." I'm in one now, and I needed to be reminded that: My kids learn, even math, despite my lack of discipline, schedule, or anything remotely like formal instruction.