Friday, November 10, 2017

Considering Options

As EM approaches the half-way point of his first high school year, I'm feeling like something new might be in order. A few weeks ago, we received an advertisement for a local cyber school in the mail. My usual response to such mailings is to toss it in the trash as soon as I get in the house. This time, I read through the information and later checked their website for more.

When we began homeschooling, all those years ago, we started the journey with JT enrolled in a cyberschool. It quickly became apparent that it wasn't the best fit for JT. EM spent one year in a private Kindergarten, one year in that cyber, then the rest of the time as a traditional homeschooler. It was always obvious that the homeschooling path has been the perfect method for JT, but not necessarily for EM. While he is still testing at or above grade level, I often feel like he could be getting more out of his schooling if we tried something different.

When considering the other options, I am certain that traditional public schooling would not be a good fit. EM is a very unique kid with the kinds of quirks that could easily be targeted by bullies. Knowing that so many parents are turning to homescooling and cybers to get out of that kind of environment, I am not ready to put my kid into a potentially harmful situation just to see if it would work. I have also considered private schools, even the one he attended for his year of Kindergarten. However, being a boy who has a difficult time with sitting still do his work, preferring to bounce around the room while learning, I think that such a rigid environment would result in its own list of problems.

This leaves cyber as our only real other option. I hesitate to sign up with any school that has requirements for live lessons that mean we need to log in at very specific times. Our life is reaching a point where we can travel and have new experiences while schooling and we don't want to lose that option. Talking with a friend who has knowledge of most of the cybers in Pennsylvania, I have a list of those that have limited requirements for live lessons; allowing their students to work at their own pace. I plan to spend some time looking into these schools, talking with EM about the possibility, and really exploring if it would be a good fit for him and our family.

I know even if we do decide to sign up with a school, there would be no reason we couldn't pull him back out if it doesn't work. Hopefully we can find the best fit for him. If we find that none of the cybers are a good fit, we will know that our homeschooling is the best option for him. Nothing will be lost in the exploration of other possibilities.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Best Path

JT will be wrapping up his homeschooling journey in May. Some days it's hard to believe I've been doing this for so many years, some days it feels like I've been doing it forever. As he reaches the end, many decisions need to be made for his next step.

When May rolls around, JT will have taken all of the general ed classes to meet the requirements for the associates degree he plans to complete through the community college. Because he takes classes at the community college satellite, and not the main campus where they have the recording studio, he has not been able to take any of the music specific courses. What remains amounts to a very light course load for his two years at the main campus. The first two semesters he would have three classes, in the final two semesters, only two, although one is an internship that would take up more time than a regular class. From what we can figure, he can't really double up any semester since everything builds on previous course work. We are planning a trip to the college to verify that. So even though he could physically complete this program faster he won't be able to due to the way it has to be organized. Add to this problem the fact that the main campus is a 90 minute drive from our home. Also, there is no on campus housing. Final problem, JT will only be 17 when the fall semester rolls around, so renting an apartment might be difficult. And honestly, I'm not sure if he's ready to live on his own, even though it's not that far from home.

Our initial idea was to have him take a year off and work to save money before starting the program. This would be nice to allow him a chance to experience life, gain responsibility, and save money for expenses while schooling. A few potential problems with this plan would be that he might never start college if he gets into a routine, it delays the time until he can work in the field he wants, and we're not sure how scholarship money options might be affected. Even with the possible problems, he and I were fairly set on going with this option.

Then I spent some time looking at the class schedule for the fall semester. It turns out all three classes meet on just two days of the week. Driving that 90 minutes felt like too much when it was many days a week; two doesn't seem to bad. Another plus is that the earliest class starts around noon, so he wouldn't even have to drag himself out of bed at the crack of dawn to get there in time. Because of what we have learned, this option is starting to be seriously considered. The biggest concern we have would be if he has a lot of project work, would he need to complete it in the recording studio on campus? If that's the case it might not be doable. I'm planning to set up a campus visit so we can talk about both options and find out what will work best.

For so many years I've been working towards these goals, it feels so strange that we are so close to the end. The far away is suddenly coming near!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Homeschooling in Pennsylvania

Before we began our homeschooling journey JT was a student in our local public school. There were many issues during those years and I often ended up in conflict with the district. When we decided to leave the district we moved to a public cyber-charter school for two years before we finally found our place as homeschoolers. Since becoming homeschoolers, we have had little interaction with our district and no conflict. Lately I have been hearing from some homeschoolers in other districts that are running into serious issues with their schools and I realize how conflict free our years have been.

If you are considering homeschooling in Pennsylvania, I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the PA homeschool regulations. People who have homeschooled in states other than PA often find our regulations to be too strict. Maybe that is true, but because I have never worked under another system, I don't feel that way. Knowing the regs helps me to feel confident in my rights and be aware of what I need to do to satisfy the requirements.

I am thankful to work under a district that has never asked for more than I have provided. In the situations I have been reading about in the PA homeschool Facebook page, many parents are reporting districts that are requesting far more than is required by the regulations. Many times those districts seem to have little knowledge of the regs. Suggestions were made to attempt to educate the districts in a non-confrontational way. But my own experience working to educate the 'experts', from the days when we were sending our son to public school, tells me that they will probably meet much resistance in that attempt. For those parents, I can only say, know the regs, try to be factual when discussing issues with the district, look for help from homeschooling legal organizations, and stand your ground. When parents give in to districts' demands for compliance to their own rules versus the legal guidelines, other parents find it harder to resist these extraneous requests.

As someone who finds rules made for no good reason infuriating and people who push their own ideas of the 'right way to do things' down my throat the most irritating people to deal with, I feel the anxiety and frustration these families are dealing with in their situations. One mom told how the school had sent an attendance officer to her home because she hadn't filed paperwork for her son to homeschool. The son is not yet of compulsory school age, so she is well within her rights not having submitted the forms. When she wasn't at home for the visit, the officer left a business card in her mailbox, a clear violation of federal law! As I read about this, I wanted to march down to her district and slap a copy of the regs on someone's desk. Many made comments on the post with advice to sign up with homeschooling legal groups for help. However, the mom expressed her resistance to do so since the group recommended had a system of beliefs she did not follow. She seemed so sure and in control as she shared how she planned to deal with the district's improper requests. I was happy to see someone so confident ready to fight for her rights, and in a way, my own.

It is good to be a member of a tribe that works as one to protect our right to educate our children in whatever way works best for each us. If you are dealing with issues in your own district, remember to reach out to your community. And remember that your fight is not your own. It is ours together.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why Can't More People Be Non-Conformists?

JT is wrapping up his third week of his community college classes with a nasty virus. We assumed he was exposed at school and had near certain verification when a girl sitting next to him in math class last night told him she had been sick with the same mess for the last week. Assuming she was the source of the initial contact, we are speculating three things: it's airborne, has about a week incubation, and we are all doomed to sickness in the next seven days.

As homeschoolers we have gone against the norm for years in many ways. One of those ways is that if we see any sign of sickness we cancel activities and stay home to stop the spread of infection. I always felt this was common courtesy. I found it ridiculous that schools expected kids to come to school when contagious. I thought work places where working through sickness was required to be brutal to both the sick and the soon to be sick. I have always believed that workplaces encourage vaccination for the flu not because they are concerned for the health of their employees but for their bottom line. Because my husband works from home, unless he is in bed with a sickness, he can safely work without dragging his germs with him to share with co-workers.

But now, we have a problem. JT is attending three college classes this year. The instructors handle attendance in a variety of ways. One instructor wants a doctor's excuse for absences. So, sickness that is contagious, but not warranting a doctor visit, is no excuse to stay home. Now everyone can get sick instead. Am I just weird to consider this utterly ridiculous? I guess it is if you define weird as a logical thinker who doesn't stand a chance against the work-your-butt-off-despite-sickness-or-you-are-not-a-good-American-citizen standard we all live under. JT first felt sick Wednesday evening, with full-blown sore throat, chills, and severe congestion by Thursday morning. He had two classes on the schedule for the day, Art Appreciation at 1:15 and Survey of Math at 6pm. I suggested he contact his art teacher, tell her he'd be out sick, and ask what was going to be covered in class. He did that and she gave him the information. But he was going to have to attend math class because they were having a test. I had him stuff his pockets with tissues, take a Sudafed, and sent him on his way. I couldn't help but feel guilty for putting him out there to spread this to more victims. But hey, America!

There are many times I wish we lived in a more primitive time. Back in the day when snow forced things to come to a stop, when sunset meant it was time to sleep and dawn meant the start of a day, when sickness was a sign that you should stop and let your body heal. Sure those days had many bigger problems, but every now and then I'd just like to be able to feel like the pace of life could be more in line with what I aim to create in our home. I just want to have time to stop and smell the roses... with no nasal congestion.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Favorite Things

Mommy Fuel
I was looking around our classroom recently, thinking about the items I use most often to make our learning experience a success, and thought I should write a post to share some of them. Maybe these are things you are already using as a homeschooler and maybe they are things you can add to make your homeschooling better.

Number one ingredient of successful homeschooling in my life? Coffee. A great quantity of coffee has fuelled our homeschooling years.

classroom 2009
classroom 2014

Many homeschoolers spend their days at a kitchen table, or moving about the house to find a place to work. When we first made the decision to homeschool, we decided to add an addition on the house with a dedicated space for homeschooling.

white board
When we first built the classroom, we used chalkboard paint on a large portion of one wall. I quickly found that the chalk dust was getting out of control in our new room. My parents bought a large white board for us and we installed in over the chalkboard paint. The white board has been an essential part of our daily routine since the beginning. We've used it for almost every subject, practice for spelling tests, drawing for fun, and I use it for my planning. The giant surface is great for laying out the plans for next year each summer.

classroom map
I love looking at maps. We have two large maps in our classroom, one world and one USA. We also have a map of the National Parks. There are numerous atlases and books of other maps on our shelves as well. I keep an atlas in each car, even in this world of GPS, Google maps, and Siri.  And everyone knows all of the best books have a map in the front cover. The boys have used our maps many times over the years for both school work and just to satisfy their curiosity.

note the presence of coffee

Our printer has been an essential part of our school for the boys. I have made countless copies of things I found on the Internet; tests I made on Easytestmaker, Thinkwell worksheets, BrainPOP quizzes, to name a few. We've used it for art projects, reports, and in JT's board game designing years. Most important, we've used it to create the portfolios that were not only necessary to meet Pennsylvania's homeschool regulations, but also to have a record of our schooling, that the boys will be able to keep and enjoy when they are older.

just a few books
Finally, the most important tool we use in homeschooling is our books. Last count there was something in the neighborhood of 1,100 books in this house. Not all are used specifically for homeschooling, but the presence of this quantity of books shows how essential they are to our daily lives. The boys and I don't go a day without reading from a book. I am so glad that they have inherited my love for reading.

We enjoy using all of the tools we have for homeschooling, but if all we had was access to a library, nothing else would be necessary to gain a complete education.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The New Routine

Our 2017-2018 school year is now in full swing. We usually start our year in July, slowly working our way up to full time schooling. With the start of JT's college classes on Monday, we are now working with a packed schedule.

My week looks like this:

      JT's Wellness & Nutrition class 9:45-11:10 (35 min drive each way)
      Piano lesson 11:30-12:30
      Home again for a few hours of work with EM
      Fencing for JT 7pm-8:30pm (30 min drive each way)

     Every other week, 10:30-12pm JT's private music theory class (45 min drive)
     JT's Art Appreciation class 1:15-2:30 (35 min drive home)
     Work at home with EM

     JT's Wellness & Nutrition 9:45-11:10
     JT to library for volunteering, 1-4pm
     Bible class at church 7pm

     JT's Art Appreciation class 1:15-2:30
     Home for work with EM
     JT's Survey of Mathematics 6pm-8:45pm

    EM's homeschool gym class 10:00-11:30 (35 min drive each way)
    Lots of work at home together, American History for both with me

Again this year, I spend a great deal of time driving. The plan had been for JT to have his license by now, but we haven't done enough driving instruction to get him to the point that he can take his test for the license. In PA, you need to wait 6 months after receiving the permit to even apply to take the test. He also needs to log 60 hours of driving practice. Hopefully by the spring semester he will have that license. Then I will have more time to work at home with EM. Luckily he's the kind of kid who will work independently when I'm not there. It's also fortunate that his dad works from home so someone is there with him when he has questions.

In order to save me some driving time, we are allowing JT to hang out at the school between his classes on Thursday. That is freeing me up to come home and work with EM. On Thursday, JT finished his first class at 2:30, then walked 6 blocks to Wendy's to eat his early dinner. He spent about 30 minutes there, then walked back to the school and read until his evening class started. This might not seem like a big deal, but it's a new experience for him. We live in a rural area, so JT hasn't had much opportunity to walk in a city and find his way around. Earlier in the week, we walked to the Wendy's together so he knew where to go. One of the intersections is especially busy, so I was a bit worried about him. Yes, I know he's 16, but it's something new for all of us, so don't judge. Everything went smoothly for him and I was happy to not need to make a second drive to the school that day. We will continue with the same plan as long as the weather permits. Hopefully we'll have mild weather through the end of the semester in December. If not, I'll go back to my excessive driving routine. Or maybe, if things work out, he'll be a licensed driver by then. I'll just have something new to worry about then...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Coolest Field Trip Ever

Diamond Ring Effect

Our family joined the millions of other people heading to the band of totality for the Great American Eclipse. Traffic was horrendous both there and back, but we'd do it again in a minute. Even though I took pictures, including the one above to remember the day, nothing can compare to the moment the sun was completely covered and things went dark.

We left our home in Central PA early Saturday morning, destination Gatlinburg, Tennessee. On a usual day, the drive would take about 9-10 hours. Before we even got to Virginia we hit slowing traffic. Even using some alternate routes, our trip ended up taking 14 hours. It was especially irritating since we had planned to cook dinner at the house we rented instead of paying to eat out.

Sunday morning we went to an early church service, ate a quick lunch, then JT and I went out to hike the Jump Off trail in Smoky Mountain National Park. The hike was listed as moderate, but it was certainly a challenge for me. This Jump Off is reached by hiking from the Newfound Gap parking area on the Appalachian Trail, about 2 miles, taking the Boulevard Trail, then the Jump Off trail. The trail is a steady 1,275 foot climb over approximately 3 miles to the end of the trail at 6,000 feet. We ran into a couple coming down who said, "It's rough, but it's worth it. I've never seen anything like it!" Boy was he right!

The view was stunning. You could walk right up to the edge of a sheer drop off. When we got to the top, JT says, "Maybe you don't know, but I'm afraid of heights."

So I stood close to the edge to take pictures while he stood back a bit and told me I was standing too close. It felt like a serious role reversal. Another young man was up there taking pictures when we arrived and he said he was waiting on friends behind him to catch up. I was feeling all proud of myself for being a middle-aged, chubby woman able to get up on the mountain, that is, until his friends arrived. One was a 20 something girl, wearing a skirt, and a BABY! Suddenly, I didn't feel quite so amazing. She won that trophy for sure!

The total hike is about 6.25 miles, there and back, and we did it in 4 hours. I felt that was pretty good time considering the difficulty of the trail and the fact that I had a minor ankle injury going into it. We thought that gave us a pretty good idea of our ability and speed for our future hiking.

The next day was the one we were waiting for... eclipse 2017! We were staying in Gatlinburg, but planned to travel to the other side of the mountain to the Oconaluftee visitor center in the North Carolina portion of the Smoky Mountain National Park. The weather forecast was calling for the chance of a thunderstorm during the eclipse hour, so I was feeling a bit worried that our day would be ruined. As we drove through the park, we saw loads of people camped out in every parking area facing the direction the sun would be for the eclipse. We were driving around 10am, eclipse time was 2:30, and every parking lot was full! We chose our location because we would have things to do while waiting and access to restrooms and drinks. We parked in the lot, took a short walk, did a little shopping in the visitor center shop, ate lunch, and set up our cameras.

I used the lens from one of the solar eclipse glasses to cover my camera lens and take pictures leading up to the totality. Not exactly high-tech, but it did the job well. The only problem was that my camera likes to close the lens when it's been inactive for a minute, so someone had to take a picture every 60 seconds to keep the tape out of my retracting lens. I spent the next hour or so tracking the sun with the camera and waiting for the big moment.

At one point I went to the edge of the field to find some trees to look for an effect I had read about online. The shadows of the leaves would have little crescents from the eclipse. A large group of high school students had come in busses to the park. They were all sitting in the shade of the trees. When I found what I was looking for, I showed the kids who were sitting there. They were excited to see it. Suddenly, I was in the role of teacher. I wondered where their teachers were and why they weren't sharing this with the students. Funny how as a homeschool mom, it just seems natural to me to point out the cool things to any available kid.

Finally the moment we were waiting for arrived. We all agreed it was the most incredible thing we ever experienced. The park set off an airhorn when it was safe to remove our glasses during the totality and again when it was time to put them back on. It felt far too short. I wanted to continue to see this amazing moment. As soon as it started to get light out again, people started packing up and leaving. I thought that was funny since the other half of the eclipse would continue for quite some time. We stayed and continued taking pictures for nearly the entire event. Driving back to the cabin, I would open the sun roof on the van and look at the sun with my glasses to see when it was fully over.

As far as our homeschooling goes... did we take this trip as part of our homeschooling plan? Yes and no. EM is studying Earth Science this year and that does include a unit of astronomy. An eclipse fits perfectly for that purpose. But when I planned this trip, I did not plan for it to be part of 'schooling'. Our lives are just geared towards doing things like that because we enjoy learning new things. We like having new experiences. Homeschooling doesn't have to be so structured that every activity that even seems educational gets documented and called schooling. Learning should be a daily activity for every person, homeschooler or not.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Assigning Grades

Now that EM is a high school student, possibly enrolling in PHAA's diploma program, I feel obligated to grade his work. Until now I only graded his spelling tests. He also received grades when doing quizzes and tests in the Thinkwell math courses he took. Now I need to assign a grade for all of his subjects that will be on a transcript. Receiving grades makes our homeschooling environment a little different than usual.

In the past when EM completed work, if there were mistakes, we would work together to figure out why he got something wrong, then he would make corrections, or have additional assignments, until he understood whatever concept was being taught. Now things feel more final when he completes an assignment. I know we can still redo work that he has trouble understanding, but it just feels different. For example, last week he completed a lesson in grammar with a worksheet/quiz that I wanted to grade. He had problems with the assignment, with quite a few errors. Because of that, I assigned an online activity, covering some core concepts that would help him understand what he did wrong with the first assignment. He completed the online work perfectly. Now as a teacher in a traditional setting, I wouldn't change anything about that initial graded assignment. As a homeschooling mom, I want to reward him for figuring it out and give him a better grade.

What is the correct way to handle this?

I can see that a traditional teacher would have far too many students to customize their learning and allow them to work towards mastery in the same way that I can with my one child. It's just not feasible. But shouldn't I take advantage of my special circumstances and allow that? Is that somehow cheating the system? Does grading school work really show us how a student is doing? Does it encourage students to work harder? Learn more?

I guess it would be a good idea for me to figure all of that out before I grade any more work from EM. I'll add that to my list of things to do when we get home from our eclipse trip. I'll tell you all about it next week!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Attaining Expert Status

I am a member of a Pennsylvania homeschooling group on Facebook. Just about every day a mom, usually new to homeschooling, posts a question, and more often than not, I realize I know the answer. Sometimes it's a question I remember asking all those years ago when I was new to the world of schooling at home. Many times it's something I struggled to find on my own before I was fully plugged into the homeschooling community. I often comment on these posts with things I have learned or links to sites that I found helpful. After helping one mom I realized I am no longer new to this, in fact, I may now be an expert.

I know it has been debunked with a study, but I still hold to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour theory when it comes to defining an expert. If I count 8 years of homeschooling, 180 days each, for approximately 8 hours a day, I'm well over that threshold. The thing about being an expert in this particular facet of life is that no two homeschooling lives are the same. So even if I am an expert here in my own home, that makes my realm of expertise very narrow. For example, my two boys are very different personalities with very different learning styles. So even within my own home my expertise is often useless. Out there in the larger community, the place where I can help most of the time is with questions concerning regulations. Pennsylvania is considered by some to be a heavily regulated homeschooling state. I have never really felt that myself, but then again, I have never homeschooled in another state to see the difference.

When I start thinking about all the time I have invested in homeschooling, it makes me wonder if this investment is going to pay off. Why spend all of this time if it won't be worth it? While I still can't see if their years of homeschooling will allow the boys to be successful in the sense of employment or financial gain, there are some more intangible benefits I can see they have received by spending their childhoods this way.

First, they had so much more freedom at home than they would have in any traditional school setting. Their schedules were not rigid, no one dictated the most basic things in their day, such as when they can use the bathroom. They also had the freedom to learn what they found interesting. While we did attempt to cover the things most kids cover in school, I tried to make sure to spend considerable time on their interests, as well as to allow them enough free time to explore those interests independently.

They also were free from the more negative aspects of spending time with peers. Now before anyone freaks out and cries, 'But... socialization?!' My boys spent plenty of time with other kids their age, kids of other ages, and adults of all ages. They were involved in our church, basketball, scouts for a time, homeschool groups, book clubs, fencing clubs, on and on and on... So they had plenty of socialization. What they didn't have was bullying, peer pressure,and the majority of their time spent with people their own age. I believe that their self-esteem has been preserved when that outcome would have been questionable in a public school setting. Both of my boys are quirky, geeky, interested in odd things boys who don't always dress like the crowd. They would more than likely have been targets of abuse and suffered in that environment. 

Yes, there were also things they missed out on by being at home, but overall, the benefits have outweighed the negatives. I am thankful that I have the ability to spend the time I have homeschooling. Becoming an expert in this has been well worth the effort. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Few Changes

As of tomorrow, the boys will have two weeks of schooling under their belts for their 9th and 12th grade year. EM has completed some work in every subject  with the exception of music. Both his gym and music will be only a half credit course, so he is starting the year working on completing 60 days in gym and will switch to music when he has finished. JT is a little more complicated.

While JT needs to complete the 180 days of instruction required by the Pennsylvania homeschool regulations, his summer schooling days are not as involved as the ones he will experience during the fall and spring semesters of the community college. I posted last week about how he will be doing most of his instruction through outside sources. One thing has changed since that post; he will now be completing his required English credit from home. PHAA's diploma program requires four credits in English to graduate. There are two ways to complete that requirement; the student can do the work at home by reading 25 books, three classics, writing one 2500 word paper and three smaller ones, giving a five minute speech, and completing 45 lessons in grammar; or the student can take two college level English courses. Last year JT chose the college option. This year he was planning to do the same. Then we really started to look at the pros and cons of that decision. The classes he took last year filled both the PHAA requirement and fulfilled some of the gen eds he needed for his degree. The courses this year would only meet the PHAA needs, but have no use for his degree. And of course, going to class at the college would cost money. So, we decided to have him drop the courses and meet the requirements through work at home.

Until those classes start, he is working on a few things at home. He continues to do his private music theory instruction and his piano lessons. He's also doing volunteer work, as a staff member for a week at Susquehanna University Kids' College and weekly at the library. This week he started working on his English requirements by reading Dante's Inferno. He is also doing some research for our hiking trip next summer.

I've been doing some planning this week. We are going to the Smoky Mountains to view the solar eclipse on August 21st. I picked up our eclipse glasses from our local library. I also dug through our supply of maps and brochures from previous trips and found a large collection of Smoky Mountains information. Less than a month to go! 

Friday, July 21, 2017

In the Limelight

EM has started his 9th grade year of schooling. He will be getting much more of my attention this year than he has in the past few now that JT is more independent in his studies. Our first day was Monday. Even though this seems like an early start, we are actually one week behind from last year's starting day. JT will be mostly on his own this year, taking four community college classes in the fall, three in the spring, and continuing his music and fencing lessons. The only thing he will learn from me will be American history and driver's education.

EM's plan is one of the most involved I have made for him in the last few years. Even though we haven't decided yet if he's going to register with PHAA's diploma program, we will work as if he will, and see how it goes. If you are curious what PHAA's program involves, I blogged about it back in 2015, here. EM will be working towards earning seven credits for his freshmen year; English, algebra 2, Earth science, world geography, Spanish 1, health, 1/2 credit in music, and 1/2 credit in physical education. The only subject I am not teaching him this year is the algebra 2. He will be using Thinkwell for his math credit. For music, we are using the Great Courses dvds and some other activities. His PE credit will involve using the couch to 5k program to work towards running in a 5k this fall. Everything else will be text book based instruction, with me guiding his work.

The last few years, EM has been left to do quite a bit of his work independently. This year we are going to be working more closely together since my instruction time with JT will be much less. For our first week, EM began his Thinkwell course, started taking walks and logging the time and distance, and we started our Spanish 1 instruction. We are using the text Mosaicos. EM did learn a small amount of Spanish a few years ago. He used Mango through our library's website. I was happy to see that he does remember a few things, like his numbers and greetings. We will be alternating the number of days he has Spanish work to do, four some weeks, three the next, until we reach 120 days of instruction. Next week we'll add in some science and English work slowly working up to a full schedule.

I know I have made promises in the past that I will regularly post, so you might not believe me when I say I plan to keep up with this much better this year. We'll have to see if I keep my promises. In my next post, I'm going to tell you about our exciting plans for the solar eclipse coming on August 21st.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Making Sure

JT has had a problem finding the perfect fit in a college program for what he wants to do with his life. Actually, the perfect program does exist, at Berklee, which is well beyond the range of what we, and he, can afford for a college education. The Bachelor of Music in Contemporary Writing and Production with a minor in Video Game Scoring would be fantastic, but... money.

Since he doesn't want to be in debt for the rest of his life, we have come up with an alternative plan. He will get an associates degree from Luzerne Community College. While Music Recording technology is not quite what he's looking for, we think it will allow him to start on the path to where he wants to be. Yesterday at JT's music theory lesson his teacher suggested he look into the music program at Bloomsburg University. They do offer a B.A. in music with an audio/video recording track. But as we looked over the program requirements, we saw that like most music programs he has looked at, this one is more focused on performance than the composition component. The audio/video track does offer a few courses in music production, but honestly, the community college has a much more robust program for that. Even though he won't have any music composition classes there, we can continue with private lessons to develop those skills further. Once again, we are assembling our own education plan.

I feel like I've spent so much of my energy on JT's future, that sometimes it feels like poor EM has been left in the dust. But I know he will eventually be in the limelight as we work on his plan. Next year he'll be a 9th grader; it will be time to begin researching his options. For now, I just want to get JT's plan fully developed. If only I could have the confidence to know he is making the best choice.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Snowed In

You might have heard about winter storm Stella. She came to visit this week and dumped a ton of snow on us. I definitely got my exercise this week!

Last week was spring break for JT's community college. We decided to take the week off for our work at home as well. Unfortunately for JT, all of his instructors gave him projects to complete during his week off, so in the end, he did more work on his week off than he had the rest of the semester. Monday he returned to class, but that was the only day of school he had this week. The snow started Monday night, and by the time it was over, we had 20 inches of snow, plus drifts up to 5 feet. The college has been closed since Tuesday.

We didn't get out of our house until Thursday because of the drifting. This picture shows our township snow plow trying to clear the windiest corner on our road. I never mind being trapped at home so it wasn't a problem for me.

We completed JT's registration for the fall semester. In the end, we added one more class than we had planned. He decided to get the survey of math class out of the way in the fall semester so he'd be able to take a money management class in the spring. He will have 4 classes, for a total of 11 credits in the fall. This will be the most classes he has ever taken at once - very nearly a full time course load. He's been doing a good job keeping up with the work (with some nagging from mom) so I think he'll be fine.

The countdown is on for the end of the year. As of today, we have 31 days of school left for 2016-2017. JT will continue a few weeks beyond that with his college courses and finals, but our 180 will be finished on May 1. Then I have a couple weeks to wrap up portfolios and pack for our vacation to the beach. When I made it out of the driveway yesterday I did a little shopping while JT was volunteering at the library. I bought two new beach chairs. Just a little summer dreaming during the snowy mess!

Friday, March 3, 2017

What next?

Registration for the fall 2017 semester has just opened for JT's community college. We spent some time this week looking over what will be available and making a plan for his senior year of high school. The end is so near!

We have a few things to consider when choosing classes for JT. First, he needs to meet the requirements for his high school diploma program through PHAA. In order to meet those for his senior year, he needs to take two semester of English courses, choosing from composition, speech, or literature courses. We are running into a problem for next year because the satellite location he attends for the community college only offers three English courses. He has taken two this year, so he only has one left. We think we can solve this problem by adding a distance learning course the college offers in the spring of 2018. He will also need an art course to meet the last of his high school diploma requirements.

The other thing he needs to consider will be the program he plans to enter when he officially begins his college years. He's trying to take as many of the courses in that program as he can while still in high school. The remaining courses offered at the satellite that fit those requirements would include a math, sociology, and health course.

Our plan for fall will be that he take art appreciation, advanced composition-contemporary issues, and nutrition and wellness. In the spring semester he will take survey of mathematics, cultural anthropology, and the distance course, western lit. At the end of his senior year, he should have no remaining general ed classes for his associate's program remaining. If we lived closer to the main campus, he would be able to get some of the other courses out of the way, but it's just not going to work that way until he is going to the main campus full time. As is stands he will graduate from high school with 32 college credits under his belt. He still hasn't decided if he will go straight to college after he graduates or if he's going to take a year between to work and save some money. Those are decisions for the future. Right now I'm just happy that his first year taking college classes has gone so well for him. 4.0 grade point average in the fall semester and classes this semester seem to be going just as well so far. The future is looking bright!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Proposed Legislation

Some homeschoolers consider Pennsylvania to have too many regulations about the way they can teach their children at home. I can see that compared to some states, we do have a few more hoops to jump through, but overall I feel the state allows us to homeschool in a way that works for us. Up until now, I had never given much thought to what the federal government had to say about my homeschooling. But now new legislation has been proposed that brings it to my attention.

HB 610 was introduced on January 23 by three congressmen. This bill called The Choices in Education Act, presents a plan to offer vouchers to families who choose to send their children to private schools or to offset the cost of homeschooling. The bill also slips in the repeal of some of the school nutrition standards that were established during President Obama's time in office. While the idea of someone handing me money to pay the costs of homeschooling seems like a lovely gift, I am not so sure this will work out to be beneficial to the homeschooling community.

From what I understand reading the bill, if I wanted to accept a voucher, the amount of the voucher would not be allowed to be for more than the amount it cost me to homeschool. I'm assuming this means I would have to record and prove how much it cost me to teach my children. And who would decide what was an appropriate thing to buy? In the past, I counted one of our vacations to the ocean to be part of our marine biology unit. Will I get reimbursed for that? Call me paranoid, but I don't want the government nitpicking my homeschooling plans to tell me if what I'm doing counts as education. More oversight is not a good thing when things are already working just fine the way they are.

There are other things to be concerned about in this bill. The bill wipes out past legislation with no replacement for essential things. I see nothing covering identification of learning disabilities or giftedness, yet this bill proposes to repeal the legislation that established that practice. I don't like big government, but I also don't believe in trashing the system with no way to take care of issues that exist.

I don't usually use this blog as a place to rant about my political beliefs but I thought this was important to share with those who homeschool or are considering it as an option. You can read the text of the bill here. I am not a member of HSDLA, but an article their leadership shared was where I first became aware of this proposed legislation. You can read that article here. If you feel the way I do, contact the authors of the bill and your own member of congress to express your concerns.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cruising Along

Last week our ISP was down for five days. Although I love living where we do, I get really tired of the service issues we have with our Internet access. I'm glad that so much of our schooling is outsourced now so the boys were not too affected by the outage.

JT has been dealing with cancellations of his classes due to winter weather. His speech class has been called off at least three times since it started in mid-January. Because of that, he still hasn't given his first speech. Hopefully Tuesday he will finally have the opportunity. He is enjoying his WWII and Music Appreciation classes. WWII is his favorite. He's read most of the text book already. If only he could make real money with a history degree; that would be the perfect fit for his interests.

With our snowy weather this week I've been dreaming of our spring vacation to the beach. We have already booked a beach house for the week after JT's finals wrap up. In addition, we are looking at leaving two days early and making a stop in the Shenandoah National Park so JT and I can work on our plan to hike 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail after his graduation next May. We are looking at the portion of the trail that runs parallel to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP. On the trip this May, we can hike a short portion of the trail and get some idea of how things will work next year when it's just the two of us.

EM is starting to do some computer programming as well as getting back to working on his electronics projects.He also started a pottery wheel class this week. He doesn't like doing much art work, but he does love the pottery. I'm sure I'll be adding to my collection of cool bowls when class ends this year.

Today I am going to pick up a copy of the PA driver's manual for JT to start studying for his driving permit test. He turned 16 last month, but wasn't in much of a hurry to start driving. We figure if he gets it by summer he can get in a lot of practice during the drives to his classes in the fall semester. I'm not sure I'm ready for this next step in his life. I don't mind teaching science, history, literature, but driving? That's something out of my league. Dad will be taking on that job.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Back to Class

We started full-time schooling at home again on January 9th and JT's college classes started on the 17th. Less than 70 days remain until we have met our required 180 of schooling for this year. Time has really been flying, probably because more and more of JT's school is outsourced and EM is mostly independent in his work.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try out Amazon's textbook rental this semester. We purchased the music appreciation book used, because I figured JT would want to keep it for future use, but rented the other two. First day of speech class his instructor tells the students, "The school doesn't want me to tell you not to buy the book, but, don't buy the book." Thanks. At least I didn't buy it. After he goes to his first WWII class, and we find out if he needs that book, I'll be deciding if I'm shipping one or both back for a full refund. Thankfully, Amazon has that option if we do it within 30 days of receiving them.

At home we have been continuing our study of American history, now reading a book about the Persian Gulf War together. When we have finished it, we will move on to Bill Clinton's presidency. I think if we keep our pace at what it has been, we will reach current day in America by the time JT graduates. Hopefully the boys will keep up their study of current events when their years of learning with me have finished. I know that I have learned so many things I did not know over the span of our studies. Today I told JT, "You do realize that you probably know more history than most adults in America, right?" He was surprised by that.

This week I also registered him to take the SAT in June. Now we just need to figure out how to link his results from the PSAT with Khan Academy so he can get customized practice problems.

In the next few weeks, JT will wrap up his study of geography for the year and move on to spending more time learning to use software to transcribe his music compositions. In order to get an A in music composition this year, I expect three of his original songs to be in written format, playable by someone other than himself, by the end of the school year. Once he learns how to use the software, he should be able to meet that goal and share his music with others. Finally I feel like we are working on a skill that will be useful for his plans for his future!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Babies Growing Up

JT turned 16 over the holiday break. We usually only have family parties for birthdays, but this year, he had a party with his friends too. The party was basically one big Nerf gun battle. We used our church fellowship hall to set up the war zone. The picture is the bin of darts used by his nine party-goers. I was happy to one was permanently injured and all had fun.

Now that he has turned 16, we need to start thinking about driving. He isn't in a big hurry to get a license, mostly because he will be paying his own insurance and that will require him to get a job. In PA, drivers can have a permit without carrying their own insurance, so he will go for the permit test later this spring and then spend the summer logging the hours necessary to apply for a license. We found a few online helps to study for the permit, but I'm going old school and driving out to the license center to get a study book. I know having him drive will make my life easier in some ways, mostly I won't need to sit around and wait while he's in classes anymore, but the cost involved in having insurance for a 16 year old male driver is a little more than I can take. We'll see how things go once he has his permit and then make a decision on the license.

On Tuesday, the book list for his spring classes became available to access online. I can't believe that people are willing to pay full price for these new text books. If I had bought his three books from the school store, it would have cost me over $300. Instead, I bought a used copy of the music appreciation text from Amazon for $10. I couldn't find the other two books for less than $70 each used, so I decided to give Amazon's textbook rental program a try. For about $15 a book, he can have the books until the end of the semester. As long as we have them postmarked by May 29th, we will have no additional costs, and they pay return shipping. Seems like a great deal to me! JT is pretty careful with books, so I think this will go well.

Today I am waiting for EM while he is at his homeschool gym class. The new session started today and will continue for 12 weeks. He really enjoys the time spent with the other kids. I really enjoy hanging out in the coffee shop drinking my latte. Next week we start back to schooling full time. This weekend will be spent getting things organized in the classroom again. It became the gift wrapping, holiday prep center over Christmas break, and I need to get things back to normal before Monday. I'm looking forward to the second half of our school year. I know it will be over in a blink of the eye.