Tag Archives: homeschooling

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. . I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.


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Filed under Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Thank you!

I am very belatedly thanking Sarah, who gave me the Beautiful Blogger award that is going around.

It’s always nice to know someone out there likes to read you! Sarah is another homeschooler of gifted children who weren’t exactly thriving in a traditional school setting — she blogs at Quarks and Quirks, and I’ll be stealing science tips from her going forward.

So this is how it works:

Award requirements:

1. Thank person who gave you the award. (check)

2. Pass it on to 15 favorite bloggers you’ve just recently discovered. I’ve picked three favorites instead — which seems to be the trend. Fifteen bloggers?! — I don’t know if I can keep up with fifteen old blogs, let alone find 15 new ones.

3. Let them know they got the award. As appropriate

4. Share 7 things about yourself. Well, I’ll never pass up that opportunity.

Three Fairly New-To-Me Blogs

1. Fieldwork, subtitled “Science in its natural state.” This is a project launched by Theresa of the venerable blog LaPaz Home Learning. And if you don’t know that one already, you should, if only for the photos!

2. Roger Ebert’s Journal. Sorry to jump on the Ebert bandwagon if you’ve been hearing too much about him lately — but it’s all true. I swear, I started following him well before the Esquire and Oprah business started. You can believe the hype. There is some really good writing — and really interesting community formation — going on over there. Or you could just follow his twitter feed.

3. This one is a super cheat, because Sarah also gave her the award, but I’m trying to do anyone reading this a service. Through Sarah I found the blog Library of Books, Links, and More, which is pretty much what is sounds like and is especially helpful to parents of PGers, PGlets, or whatever you like to call them. Do check it out!

Seven Things About Me

1. I harbor a secret ambition of writing a screenplay about the life of Voltaire.

2. I never planned to be Catholic, or an at-home parent, or a homeschooler, and yet I still entertain the delusion that my planning is essential to how my life will go.

3. Ditto the whole gifted thing — never would have gotten IQ testing for DD10 if we hadn’t basically been forced, did our school searching with the express purpose of not sending our child to the local gifted magnet, intentionally avoided “working with her” (you know, “oh, you must work with her a lot at home.”) Plans, shmans.

4. Love Love Love the Twin Cities and Minnesota. I didn’t grow up here, but as soon as I came here it was so obviously Home.

5. If I won the lottery I would probably spend all my time cooking and learning every foreign language I could make time for. Oh, and playing the piano and learning guitar too.

6. I always thought I liked traveling until I met people who really liked traveling. I just like setting up house in different places, and then returning to Minnesota.

7. My mother told me that the 40s are the best decade because you really don’t care what other people think of you. I gotta say, six months into my 40s — she was right.


Filed under Gifted Ed, I'm Catholic Why?, Oh Mother

Come and See!

Day 3 of no criticizing, and all is well.

I spend a fair amount of time wondering what counts as criticism. We all have overdeveloped sarcasm responses, and I employ mine more than is probably wise for a mother of a six year old. How often do I hide criticism behind a so-called “joke”? Something to ponder over the next month.

In general, I can see that this effort is so far having a positive effect on me. I am not as cross. I don’t feel that I am holding things in and about to explode. On the contrary, my attempts to focus on the positive and on giving direction that doesn’t sound like scolding are generally making me happier.

We’ve had a nice day — a little slower-paced than usual because we’ve been sick and some of our activities are on hold. The girls made a hilarious iPod ad in three languages (sort of). Then as I sat down to work Victoria came running to me, “Come and see! Come and see! Look at the sunset!” So we looked out the back window at the sunset as she said, “Isn’t it so beautiful?”

Then she ran downstairs to Violet and said the same thing: “Come and see! Look at the sunset!” And Violet ran to look at the sunset out the porch door, and then spontaneously turned to hug me.

And as I sat down to type this, my husband called to the girls from the office, “Come upstairs! Come look!” And they did, and they called to me, “Come see! There’s a big full moon rising!”

Is that just homeschooling? Isn’t that, I hope, education in a nutshell: Here’s this cool thing, so cool that I want to share it with you — first you, and especially you.


Filed under Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Secret Project

Shhhh — no one in my house knows what I am doing.

Actually, that is true most of the time, and it includes me.

But I have a secret mission for myself for the next 31 days: No Criticism.

Is it possible? Is it desirable?

I figure 31 days of my best effort will tell me. And, even if people truly need a good criticizing now and then, they can live without mine for that long.

Ground rules:
1. This extends only to my immediate family. I can’t be expected to extend this to everyone.

2. Rhetorical questions generally count as criticism. Here’s the test: Does the question make more sense when you end it “dumb ass” or with a sincere “sweetheart”?
Why did you leave your socks on the coffee table? (dumb ass)
Is that the way your piano teacher told you to practice it? (dumb ass)
Aren’t you just the cutest thing? etc.

3. Instructions are OK. Instructions that begin, ” I TOLD you” are not OK . . . dumb ass.

4. Perfection is not required, either from either the subject or objects of the experiment. (Not sure whether I am a subject or object in this case.)

I’ve stacked the deck in my favor a bit, as we’ll be on vacation for part of the next 31 days. Much easier not to criticize under those circumstances.

Both my girls are such terrible perfectionists, and there is no question from whom they inherited it. (That would be both of their parents.) As Violet gets older and approaches adolescence, I see the toll it is taking more clearly — the increased self-consciousness, the frequent apologizing, the “I’m so stupid!” I am learning to hug her and tell her, “Being a kid is hard. I bet you feel like you can never do enough, like no one will ever be satisfied.”

“Uh-huh” she says, between sniffles.

Can I fix that for her? No, no more than I can fix it for Victoria, who is learning at the feet of not 2 but 3 Masters of Perfectionism.

But I can stand with them and let them know that I know it’s hard. Like most perfectionists I know, they’re well trained in finding fault with themselves just fine without any hints from me.


Filed under Oh Mother, Schoolday Doings

Just a Little Data

Yeah, I don’t make my decisions based on random statistics either, but given the recent hubbub over Robin West’s article in Philosophy and Public Policy, I enjoyed reading these.

Easy to say that the study (from August 2009) is biased because it comes from a pro-homeschool source, of course. But here are some fun findings:

The median income for home-educating families ($75,000 to $79,999) was similar to all married-couple families nationwide with one or more related children under age 18 (median income $74,049 in 2006 dollars; or roughly 78,490 in 2008 dollars).

Homeschool parents have more formal education than parents in the general population; 66.3% of the fathers and 62.5% of the mothers had a college degree (i.e., bachelor’s degree) or a higher educational attainment. In 2007, 29.5% of all adult males nationwide ages 25 and over had finished college and 28.0% of females had done so.

So not quite the uneducated, cycle-of-poverty-perpetuating trailer-dwellers of the West article.

And then this (take with a grain of salt of course):

Homeschool student achievement test scores are exceptionally high. The mean scores for every subtest (which are at least the 80th percentile) are well above those of public school students.

There are no statistically significant differences in achievement by whether the student has been home educated all his or her academic life, whether the student is enrolled in a full-service curriculum, whether the parents knew their student’s test scores before participating in the study, and the degree of state regulation of homeschooling (in three different analyses on the subject). [emphasis mine]

There are statistically significant differences in achievement among homeschool students when classified by gender, amount of money spent on education, family income, whether either parent had ever been a certified teacher (i.e., students of non-certified parents did better), number of children living at home, degree of structure in the homeschooling, amount of time student spends in structured learning, and age at which formal instruction of the student began. However, of these variables, only parent education level explained a noticeable or practically significant amount of variance, 2.5%, in student scores; the other variables explained one-half of 1% or less of the variance.

I don’t want to emphasize the comparative aspects of the findings. The point isn’t that homeschoolers are so much better than non-homeschoolers. (I don’t see, for example, numbers adjusted for economic/parent education variables when comparing achievement scores.) The point is that we are just fine, thank you.

A few more posts on the West article, if you are keeping up:

A Tings Thinking Corner
La opción de educar en casa
Life Learning, by Wendy Prisnitz

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Filed under In the News, Why Homeschool?

A Group of One

Because I am helping with some communications stuff for one of our co-ops, I have been sending notices out about the co-op on the various e-mail lists for homeschoolers in the metro area.

This was an eye-opener — there are even more groups than I had heard of previously. When I searched groups for homeschool in my region, I got a list of 110. That’s just yahoo e-lists!

Many lists purport to be general. Then there are of course several Christian, several Catholic, a Muslim, a politically liberal, a “socially and politically” conservative, general secular, a “night owl” for people who stay up late, Charlotte Mason, people who travel in RVs (which I think could be really fun if we all survived), Thomas Jefferson, chronic illness, part-time homeschool, parents of teens, parents of tweens — in Minnesota.

Also there is a group by a fan of the boy band Hanson especially for homeschooling Hanson fans.

Add to that multiple Yahoo groups for certain types of families, with a certain variation on a theme: natural, holistic, peaceful, gentle, earthy, crunchy. (Among these groups, one interested me because it wasn’t enough to *do* family bed, but you had to *love* doing it. Really? How many nights out of 7?) Out of curiosity, I started looking for other types of parenting: strict, rigid, firm, confrontational. I had a bit of luck with “old-fashioned,” which oddly led to one or two “pro-corporal punishment” groups. One group seemed to be entirely devoted to the defense of spanking!

But I digress.

I began to wonder — what would my group be? Were I seeking to create a group of like-minded travellers, how would I describe it?

The question was a nonstarter. Everything I could think of sounded too stifling or specific, or too general to be meaningful. All I could do is start a group for me and all my internet friends who have complained over the years that we don’t fit well anywhere.

In this vein, I tried “misfit homeschoolers” as a search term. I got exactly one result:

Well-Trained Mind Secular Homeschoolers. (?!)

If these guys are the misfits, you and I, my friends, inhabit an alternate reality.

Which, since it is a pretty good reality, is OK with me.


Filed under Socialization, Why Homeschool?

Roller Coaster Days

Ah, just as we are settling into our home and getting used to some new routines — BOOM! — the holidays hit and those tender shoots draw back until sometime after the first of the year.

Still, learning happens, and it’s interesting to observe what sticks even when I don’t seem to have the energy or mental focus to keep the full schedule going.

Chinese Pod remains a winner. One of these days I will need to get Violet into a real Chinese class, but for the last year this has sustained her interest in Chinese and allowed her to practice a bit. The new writing feature is especially cool.

Life of Fred is going pretty well. I have let that be mainly unsupervised, which means that my child who prefers to live in one of the several storylines surging along in her mind sometimes skips 3 or 4 lessons, and then backtracks, and then jumps ahead, because she’s not sure where she’s supposed to be. On the upside, as I tried to figure out which of the skipped things she should go back and finish, she drew me a diagram to prove the distributive property, and explained the reflexive property, or law, or something like that. So Fred stays.

Our love of John McWhorter and linguistics continues via our Teaching Company DVDs. Violet came to me today and asked that we watch the next lecture sooner than usual, because it sounded really interesting. And it was. Thank you God for giving me a child who hears the phrase “modal particle” and wants to know more. I don’t have that many people in my life who can summon more than 10 minutes of interest for the weird things I find interesting. (And in this case, Violet is the one getting me interested in the subject.)

Victoria sat next to us today as we watched, feeling very impatient to watch Word Girl when we finished. As the video started she said, “I smell the scent of grammar. Or is that just your coffee?” That was a keeper.

Victoria is really liking EPGY. It is not perfect for me, but she really gets something out of feeling like she get some online “school” just like Violet. And I think it helps to involve a neutral 3rd party. 😉

We are still reading Child’s History of the World, somewhat on the Sonlight schedule, but I have been adding here and there. We have been in Greece — which fit well with our current reading of Linnets and Valerians, thanks to Melissa Wiley — and will do a little Eastern detour before getting to Rome. With any luck I will prime them for learning Latin! My hope is that Victoria will want to learn, and I will be able to sneak a little into Violet. You would think that with her love of grammar I could hook her that way!

In any case, our history reading is spotty and slow, but always enjoyable. I wish so much that I could show the “Babylon News” video the girls made, with Violet as Nebuchadnezzer acting like a bull in the backyard and Victoria dressed up in cloth napkins, pretending to cry and saying “What is wrong with our king?” But I am not allowed to post it. Such are the mood changes of preteens.

And I have gushed so much about Online G3 I feel I hardly need say what that has added to our days. I swear my personal affection for Headmistress Guinevere is not the reason I say this! Can’t wait to add mythology and music next semester — I think Victoria will watch these with us as well.

With all that going on, German has fallen by the wayside temporarily, handwriting doesn’t happen, and we rely entirely on our co-op for things related to science. Magic Lens/Word Within the Word is still enjoyable, just a week or 10 days may go by before we remember to pick it up. As we are between parishes, please do not ask about faith formation. Right now the main thing we need to learn is how to get to Mass–any Mass–on time.

I have high hopes for the return of all those things — plus karate and dance! — but not until after Christmas. There are cookies to make, friends to cook for, family to see, ballets to attend, and — what you can’t see through your computer screen — lots and lots of boxes still to unpack.


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Learning Styles, Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?