Friday, March 28, 2014


hand wash only
When I started out as a new homeschooler I had a few expectations. I was pretty sure my life was about to get much busier. I felt an immense amount of responsibility to do everything just right or else risk my children never being able to get into college or get a real job. I was very concerned that I keep every piece of paper we generated in order to produce the perfect portfolio to prove I was doing a good job.

I never really thought I'd practically have a science lab in my house.

This week, while cleaning up after another science experiment, I took a look around my laundry room and realized it didn't look like the average person's laundry room with beakers, flasks, and funnels on top of the dryer. That made me start thinking about the other unexpected outcomes of our homeschooling journey.

at least I got a dining room

I have discovered that I spend LOADS of time researching, organizing, finding opportunities, and planning the boys' studies. I did not expect that we'd spend so little time in the classroom we added on the house when we made the decision to homeschool. For the first few years, we did spend more time in the classroom. As the boys have grown older, they have found their own places in the house to do their independent work. Other than the time I spend planning in the classroom, we only spend about two hours a day in there for schooling.

Everyone seems to think that homeschoolers get trapped alone, at home, and never socialize. I expected to feel a little isolated in our new routine, but I was wrong about that one too. We have met many families at homeschooling events, at the library, at state park programs, and through blogging about homeschooling. In fact, I probably have more friends now than I did before homeschooling. The boys have also made many friends both local and across the country via the internet.

The biggest surprise of all has probably been that I am not counting the days until this gig ends. Yes, some days I want to throw them out of the house... and have, on occasion, locked them out to play in the yard so I can take a break... but most of the time we all get along very well. We enjoy one another's company. We laugh at the same jokes. We have many of the same interests. We love to travel together. Way back in 2008, I was sure I'd want that big yellow bus to come take these boys away in just a few months, but the days passed and we adjusted to our routine. We found out we loved the homeschooling lifestyle. I didn't miss the stress of getting reluctant kids out the door before the sun was barely over the horizon. I didn't miss meetings with teachers that turned into yet another issue we had to try to resolve. I didn't even miss the free time I had that allowed me to keep the house clean.

The unexpected results of homeschooling have brought me more joy than all that free time or the cleanest house or that big yellow bus could ever have.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

High School Plan

potential plan
I remember how I felt the first year we brought the boys home for school. I saw years ahead of me, planning what to teach, no end in sight. Now here I am, planning JT's high school years. In fact, I'm nearly half-way through my homeschooling years, assuming EM homeschools through graduation. Realizing how short the time is has made me want to spend considerable time working out a detailed plan for the next four years for JT, and seven years for EM.

Now that we have decided to use PHAA as JT's diploma program, we have a framework to use for our planning. The graduation requirements are 4 years of English, 3 years of mathematics, 3 years of science, 3 years of social studies, 2 years of arts and humanities. My rough plan for his 9th grade year looks like this - English will be primarily covered through tutoring by a former teacher/neighbor with the speech component of the English credit being my responsibility. I'm looking into getting enough kids together to participate in Poetry Out Loud. If that doesn't work out, we'll look for other opportunities. Math will be an Algebra I course through Thinkwell online. We may look into additional tutoring to make sure JT is really absorbing the math. Science next year will be a full course of biology. I'm still researching textbooks. I currently have it narrowed down to two or three possibilities. I am very comfortable teaching biology, so I don't think I'll need any outside help on that one. For social studies, I plan to put together a course consisting of two separate components, half the year covering American government and the other half on world geography. I want to continue our timeline study of American history, but that won't fit into the format for PHAA as well. We will just do that in addition to his credit course. Arts and humanities will be easy to cover in a variety of ways. He will end up with more credits than he needs. For the next two years, he'll be taking Spanish classes from a local private Christian school.  He will also continue taking drum lessons. Either of those activities can count for those credits. He may also take a few Coursera classes that might work as credits. Finally, even though there is no requirement by PHAA for physical education, our state's homeschooling regs do require it. JT will either be playing basketball and/or participating on the track team at the same school where he will take Spanish class.

Starting the planning felt a little overwhelming, but once I really looked at it, I realized it was easier than I thought. I still need to make more thorough plans for EM for next year. Things will be a lot different since JT will need to spend more time per subject, but have fewer subjects to cover than EM. I will probably sit down with EM closer to the end of the year to work out what he'd like to do next year.

One of the most important things I have learned in my years homeschooling is that planning always pays off. Sometimes the plans don't work out, but the process of planning helps me to see where we have been, where we are, and where we are going next. The more data I have about our journey, the better path I can make for the future.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Life Skills

A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was looking into having JT take Spanish class through a local private Christian school. On Tuesday, we met with the school administrator. It looks like the plan is a definite possibility. We will be working out the details over the next few months, and if all goes well, JT will be taking Spanish class in the fall.

When I was getting ready for this meeting the day before, I started imagining JT meeting the administrator. I realized he may need a little prep work in order to know how to handle this bit of social maneuvering. JT practiced how to handle an introduction to a new adult by role-playing with his dad. Handshakes and eye contact were high on the list of practiced components. A lot of silliness happened that evening, but the main ideas were planted.

The whole thing made me start thinking of other aspects of life that we might want to start practicing with the boys, things like; shopping alone, banking, doing their own packing for vacations, asking for help from employees of stores or libraries or other public places, and finding their way in unfamiliar situations. I've seen the whole Free Range Kids idea, but that might be a little more than I'm ready to go for at this point. Right now I'd just like to know that if I asked my boys to go into a store and buy something, they wouldn't get lost trying to find their way back to the checkout. So that's something I want to start building into our regular outings - opportunities for the boys, especially JT at age 13, to start doing.

The meeting went very well. JT did exactly like he practiced. Handshakes for the beginning and end of our time with the administrator went well. And I know, in the blink of an eye, we'll be doing the same thing for college visits.

Friday, March 7, 2014


tomorrow's project
We have lived in the same home for nearly eleven years. In that time, I have painted JT's room once... eleven years ago. Many times in the last few years we have talked about painting it, but other projects took priority, or the idea of trying to shuffle everything around in order to paint felt overwhelming, or I'd convince myself we should wait a little longer so we'd only have to do it once before he grew up and moved out.

We finally reached a point where there was just no more waiting. JT is now 13 and really needs to leave the cars, trucks, and airplanes on his walls behind him. I bought the paint supplies about six weeks ago. I told myself we'd get to it on the next free weekend. So far, a free weekend hasn't appeared, so we'll just squeeze it into a normal weekend.

Cars and trucks and planes, oh my!
I don't really expect JT to help with the actual painting of the room. I want it to be a quick project so teaching a new painter would not help with that goal. But I did expect him to help me clear everything from the room to prepare for painting. Earlier today I had him start going through his room and moving things to the living room for temporary storage. We learned a few things. He has too much stuff. He has TONS of LEGOs. He can't part with things if they have even a slight chance of being useful to him in some way.

mostly LEGOs
This picture is a pile of the stuff we pulled from his room. The LEGOs really are a bit out of control. I'm still hoping that as we move things back in, he'll be able to part with a little more than he did when we moved it out. I may be overly optimistic on this point.

Tomorrow, while I paint, the boys will still be doing school work. I made sure I assigned things that they could, for the most part, do independently. EM will need me to do his spelling test and some help on corrections to work he did earlier in the week. But everything else should be accomplished without mom's input. We'll see how that plays out. I'm picturing myself, covered in paint, chasing kids away from computers and back to work. Or maybe I'm being a little pessimistic about the situation.

JT and EM are both currently working to wrap up our geography unit for the year. We have continued using a book I bought several years ago that teaches world geography, one continent at a time. This year we are studying Africa. We quickly learned that when you use an older text for geography, it is important to check if things are still accurate. Quite a few things changed in Africa since 1998. Even though this can be irritating to deal with, it also provides some great learning opportunities. When I had the boys research the official language of each African nation, they found that the list in the workbook did not match what they found online. When we found a discrepancy, they had to do further research. The final project I assigned is a report on an African country of their choice. EM chose Nigeria, JT is working on The Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. I'm hoping that tomorrow they will wrap up their research and begin putting their reports together. I've really been trying to work more writing projects into the schedule this year. Sometimes that makes more work for me, but I know time is getting short to help them perfect their communication skills.

Tomorrow could turn out to be pretty messy, but thanks to our flexible homeschooling schedule, that's just fine.