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Where have I been? To the land of More!


I’ve been in the land of high school homeschool. More books, more ideas, more complaints, more laughs. This academic year my younger son joined the older in high school, only in number of grade though. In truth, Owen has been doing high school level work for three grades now- including the 9th grade he is currently in. On a recent bus trip he asked about this.

Owen question: “Mom, have I always been ahead of grade level and Gene at grade level or am I doing what Gene did at my age?’

I had to mull the issue over because what he asked was not clear. It was clear to me but it was not what I thought he thought he was asking. So I asked it back- always the reflective listener.

Mom question: “Owen, are you asking me if are ahead, if you are working at Gene’s level?”

Owen: “Yes and ….” ( I held up my hand to stop him there.)

Mom: “Yes. You are working at the same level as your brother. You always have. ”

Owen: “So I am working ahead of the grade I would be in.”

Mom: “For the most part yes. In high school it doesn’t really change a lot. You are just doing things in a different order than Gene is.”

The conversation went on but that was main concept. Owen was unsure because he, like many younger kids, wanted to do what his older sibling was doing from the beginning. When we started at the Independent Study, Owen would come along with and  “play around” with stuff while Gene has his “class time” with his teacher. Owen caught on early to the alphabet, reading, writing, and numbers. For him, it provided yet another way that he could interact with his older brother. Owen was all about being included at that age.

I let him do what every he wanted. Write, draw, build. I figured that Owen would do what he wanted anyway. I might as well get out of his way. This is a common theme in my writing and talking about homeschooling- getting out of the way. I figured Owen would change when he couldn’t do it or didn’t want to any more. It took a long time but I was right.

Now, in high school, Owen is very differentiated from his brother. He likes to draw representational items as well as his Pokemon and fantasy creatures. He longs to learn a foreign language. He loves to cook. He wants to own a dog but can’t decided between a American Cocker Spaniel or a Poodle. He loves to watch curling.

There is a natural flow to sameness and then a divergence of self. I bring this up because once again, I didn’t trust it. They were so much alike at times, they did appear to be twins- two years apart. I feared Owen would never be different, or be himself. He always had to do what his brother did, when his brother did it. Would he ever be more? Yes.

There is so much more to learning than timing and sequence. There is learning about how we measure up to those around us. Where do we fit in to the peer group on a scale of this or measure of that? Being so far removed form that time of my life I forgot how important it was to know that.  Owen just wanted to see where he fell in the grand scheme of things. Gene never really cared about that and still doesn’t. For Owen it matters. For Owen there is an air of importance around knowing the biggest picture he can fathom. Owen always wants to know more.

In that thought, I see myself, the more-er of my family. I can relate to Owen and his thoughts of scale. Back to our conversation on the bus. I confirm to Owen that he was the keep-up kid. That he has what it takes. Then, like always, he goes Little Buddha on me. “Mom” he says, “it’s for me but it’s not for everyone.”

More deep thoughts too.

 

 

 

A-G for you and me


A recent issue that came up in our household were the infamous A-G requirements. These are preparatory classes that a student takes in high school that are recognized by four year universities. A student must have so many units of math, English, science, foreign language, etc. to meet university acceptance requirements. These were always on the hazy out reaches of my brain. 

When I was in school, this didn’t come up. If it did, I never heard about it. When I went to the local junior college I heard about this and understood it to be the distinction between classes that transferred to universities and  classes that didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal. Now it is this huge looming spectre in the dark shadows of getting things done.

My husband and I saw these in two very different ways. I saw them as optional. These were things that could be handled later in junior college or maybe they didn’t need to happen at all. My husband saw these as essential. These must be met or the kids would most likely not go college at all. For my husband, this is not significant.

We took turns discussing this with our supervising teacher. She was full of suggestions. This muddied the water even more. What was the best option for the y guys? Should we push for A-G classes? Maybe they should take junior college classes until they make up the classes they missed? I want my kids to succeed but sometimes these added requirements seem like busy, money and time sink holes.

Then things calmed down. We’d talked about all sorts of ways to get this done. Things weren’t as heated or urgent. There was a light or two at the end of the tunnel, maybe there was even another tunnel too. The dust seemed to have settled and we had a working plan.  I went back to business as usual. 

Several days later my husband asked when the kids were going to take the classes that met this requirement. What?! In my mind, we had decided not to worry about it. We would do some junior college and get classes done that fit into out schedule.

My husband understood things to be different. More than different. More like the exact opposite. We went from letting things go on as they were to, cramming every darn class they could. Time to get back to the table and iron this flat out, really flat.

After a long and specific discussion, we came to an understanding. I almost made us both say it out loud to be sure we were thinking the same thing. It turns out that wasn’t needed. We are going to get done what we can now and do what we can later. Deep I know but getting us on the same page was essential to moving forward.

When it comes down to it, for homeschoolers, there are not hard and fast rules. Know that A-G requirements are out there and that someone may ask about them. The education system isn’t so fixed that you can’t do things the way that best fits your situation. Honor your learner and your self, do it your way!

When things go wrong


So far our homeschooling journey has been without major incidence. We’ve hit all the major developmental milestones within the normal timelines. The kids, now teenagers, can read, write, and do math. I feel pretty secure in their abilities. However, there are somethings that are required by the charter school we are in. They are the same things one encounters in public school and most independent study programs. These are the required courses- for us the issues are with biology and mathematics.

Our charter school offers several ways to meet these requirements. We can take the kids to the local junior college. Courses are available online via an virtual high school. They can work with a tutor, if they don’t mind not meeting the A-G preparatory guidelines set up by the four year universities. In our case this means the University of California and California State University systems. 

We chose the online high school. This seemed like the most efficient and streamlined way to go. The boys both like computers and are pretty savvy about them. They both like math and science too. Going in it looked like this was a no brainer. It started out that way too. It didn’t stay that way. 

My older son took the first semester of biology before the younger one. The class worked with an online book, power point lectures, and websites. He dug right in and had fun. The instructions were clear and easy to follow. There were a few glitches but they got handled quickly. 

When my younger son started, it was different. The class units were numbered. However, when my son went to work, he found the links for unit work took him to units that were later in the sequence. They even had other unit numbers on their labels. The URLs he was directed to use went to pages with fancy titles and no text. Forms had the wrong number of charts. He reported these shortcoming to me on the verge of tears.

I wondered what had changed from one semester to the next to create this all to real online mess. I decided to take a look for myself. So I sat with my son as he worked on reading unit texts, and watching the lectures. The interactive images were very cool but information was missing. He would go to do the worksheet only to find the sheet was about something else. We ended up doing our own web searches to find the answers.

I felt his frustration ten fold. I’ve taken online classes and never encountered this many problems in a single class. I wrote an email to the administrator of the program and related to her the obstacles and errors in this class and the math they were taking too. It appeared to me to a bigger issue since the math class was little better. 

I was so enthralled about my own success with online learning, that I didn’t consider that my kids may not have the same experience. Granted user error is only part of what is going on, it is a big part when my son’s get ramped up, angry, frustrated, and depressed. We chose to homeschool in part to let learning be a natural and rewarding process with as little stress as possible. This is not the case with out current situation.

The wig-out factor is really high. I spazzed to the max on this. I was pretty hard on myself. What are we going to do? They are ruined for sure!  It felt so desperate to me. What if my kids can’t get into a four year school because of this? 

WHAM! It hit me right in the forebrain. I’d become the high scope pushy parent I never wanted to be. I didn’t want super kids who graduate from college at age 12. I didn’t want kids who felt a constant pressure to succeed academically at all cost. How did I fall back into that old way of thinking? It didn’t matter how I got there. It mattered that I saw it for what it was.

In the calm that follows a significant showing of emotion, I remembered. We are homeschoolers. There is always a new way to do something. We have the ability to change whenever we need to. We can also let go, forgive our mistakes and move on. I spoke to my husband, our kids, and our charter teacher. We came up with a new plan that fits our kids, our choices, and our lives. 

When things go wrong don’t worry. Look at the situation, really see it. Come to a consensus on a solution. Put that solution to work and let go of the rest. Be sure to forgive yourself and anyone else who you feel you need to, then move on. Wrong isn’t bad, it’s just something that isn’t working for us. Nothing more, nothing less.

Failing, falling, growing, and time travel


I hate to see my kids fail. I feel crushed, with my sails cut from the mast, flying away and leaving my ship to drift uselessly on whatever current it may find itself in. That was probably a run-on sentence. The important thing here is that all those feelings are mine. I have noticed over and over how my kids just get, dust off, and move on. What a great skill!

I’m not saying that they don’t learn from mistakes. My neurosis about falling behind drives the discussion of what didn’t work and why for longer than interest dictates. So I know they get what happened. They are forever willing to do the next great thing on their minds. Taking ideas of the last iteration and weaving them into the next. 

Each story they write is more complex. The characters have increased depth. The plot thickens in ways that never would occur to me. I become riveted to thoughts of going to other realms or times or celestial locations. Then out of nowhere they are done. The move on and make another newer version.

I am writing about this because I am the opposite. I am so enamored with what is in my hand leftover from yesterday, the last coolest line I wrote. I am so afraid about letting go of what I think is “good” to get to what is truly great. It could be writing a story, changing the garden, the time of day I get up. I hold on.

How did I stop? More importantly, how can I help my kids keep going or knowing that there is a time and place to fail or let go of something and a time to keep what was good and save that. I want them to have the rich mix of past, present, and future, rather than just past and present- like me.

Who am I kidding? I want to know that for myself. I want to see them and raise them to a behavior I can observe and adopt for myself. I want to know this before they are grown up the rest of the way and they move on. I want that carefree part of them to be a part of me. Then I will have that part of them forever and part of me for the future.

The Cutting Edge


So many times I open mail, the paper, see a pop-up add, or commercial on TV for something so new and perfect that I will not only be incomplete if I don’t use this, I could actually be diminishing the potential of myself or someone in my family. I think I’m a pretty well rounded person. I’ve been to college, kids play dates, made cookies with the boys, read about farts, and crashed a few Hot Wheels into a volcano of goo. However, there are these edutainment or informercials or whatever, that leave me feeling like I missed every opportunity to help my kids succeed.

People these days are teaching their babies to read. Babies, infants, like months old, when you count their ages in months. My kids are 12 and 14 and they learned to read the old fashioned way. I hope that was enough. Not to worry, I can still Hook them on Phonics. Whew, that was close.

Think about it, teaching a baby to read. What’s wrong with just letting a baby crawl around and suck on their feet? Rattle keys, hide the remote, all those great things babies do! How much play do we have to remove from life? The impact this has on the rest of development is something I’d like to know. What do we create when we make little adults instead of block stacking toddlers?

This isn’t right. Products like these can create the feeling that if one doesn’t partake of these they are doing their children a disservice. When I was young, we played outside. I had Breyer horses and Barbie dolls. Things went pretty well on the Rainbow Drive front yard ranch. I went to school when it was time and came home when school was over. I got my work done at school so I never had much homework. I did have loads of play time and we used it!

Now, students have on average 180 +/- school days. They have homework starting in kindergarten. Yet, students are learning less. All this focus on hours in seats, and time on task hasn’t made schools perform better. At the same time children are doing less and less of what they should be doing, play.

My boys Judo teacher says “Play is your attitude.” Play is what we all need to do to be healthy in our minds and our bodies. When we played more, we weighed less and had more rigorous curriculum. We valued play because we knew what work was. We valued work because we we knew what play was.

Today, our perspective is lost. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and educational theorists tell us all these new things will bring our schools to a competitive level with other countries. I disagree. These other countries not only play, they have it worked in school and employment schedules, even maternity leave. A woman in my birthing class had her child in France, she was on vacation and delivered early. She had 9 days of support and care for her and her baby. 9 days was what every mother got. 

Play is more than soccer, football, or tennis. Play is living life and the moments of life. It’s gazing at clouds. Running out kite string. Holding an infant. Singing in choir. Without a fair amount of play, the balance in life is lost. We teeter and then get stuck with our butt grounded on the work side and no way to totter back to the middle. It’s fine to be cutting edge but don’t stay there. You might just cut yourself on it.

Thin is for pizza crust and body weight


Have you ever spread yourself a little too thin? I recently did a bit to much and failed at most of it. I spend the last month or two looking for a job, doing laundry, walking dogs, writing a novella, two blogs,teaching ESL to my neighbors, gardening, and so much more. Yes is good but too much yes is bad.

The danger is that I have Fibromyalgia and chronic pain (resulting form arthritis, and spin things). I did very well going to classes in pain management. Then like with many other things, I stopped doing my routine. I didn’t need to pace myself. I was feeling great! I could a few more things. The few more things turned into a lot more. 

I was so thin I tore apart. Great holes in my energy level developed. I ended up with pain so bad I spent three days in bed. This was not good and not necessary. I know what makes me feel good and stay on track. It occureed to me that I do the same with homeschooling.

We would get into these trends of doing things every day. High energy learning weeks followed by weeks of blah. Pacing is for more than chronic pain treatment. It is for life and living fully. I know what I need to add to our curriculum, spreading out the work not the person. For now, I’m thinking thin about pizza crust and body weight.

How did we choose our homeschool method?


I get this question often. I finally wrote an answer to someone and decided to share it here. It’s a very organic process of research, observation, change, experience, and mistakes. The answer here is a bit of an overview. The details are tedious and not as necessary as the general idea of the very dynamic and living process of learning. For those who want to know, here it is!

 

In the beginning we used our local school district Independent Study Program (ISP). It gave us a lot of support and any structure that we needed. They also do ALL the state required paperwork. I don’t like paperwork and at that time this was a major factor. We did that from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. We moved that year and couldn’t get a transfer back into that district.,

 

At this time, I think we tried Merryhill Private School. It is a Nobel Learning Environment. That was a bust. They said they would support my older son getting up to speed. They expected him to get there in one week. He was also one of two boys in the class. The other ten students were girls. The teacher had just gotten her credential and was very flexible.

 

 

We used the  school district ISP in our new city. This started to not work for us when the teacher expected us to recreate the public school style in our home as the guys went up in grade level. She had very strict expectations for my older son who has. This was a big clash of ideas. She expected them to better than public school kids in achievement. My expectation was that they  liked who they are. At the same time, I had many friends who did the affidavit method and loved it. They used to be called R-4, I forget what they are called now. We left that program.

 

 

Next, we chose a different public charter school. It was in a district in the next county and was allowed to service our county as well. This was worse. They wanted my son to get evaluated for learning disabilities because he couldn’t write all the math problems and solve them on one sheet of paper. He did about 8 a page. I was very angry that they wanted to call a meeting with the school psychologist, special ed. person, principal. I got that this teacher didn’t have a lot of knowledge about learning as a process and was very into what learning “should” look like, which is more than 8 math problems on a sheet of paper.

 

 

We left that program mid year and filed an R-4. We did that for the remainder of the year. The next school year we joined a public charter school and we have been very happy. Our teacher homeschooled her  own daughters. There were so many conversations that we didn’t need to have because she new the whole homeshooling thing.

 

 

We researched Waldorf and didn’t like the approach to how science was taught. The “free the spirit from the wood by burning it” was a no go for my physicist husband. I also didn’t like the set schedule. Often children were expected to be quiet and do . Those things come later for boys than they do for girls. It felt very controlled and not very inline with child development. I admit, I am a Piaget/Vygotsky/Montessori kind of gal. My husband supported my research into things. 

 

 

For us it is a constant process of evaluation. Is what we are doing working for the guys? How can we make it better? In this way, it is always the most relevant to the interests and passions of the guys. I won’t kid you and say it’s a cake walk. It takes time and energy to always be analyzing what we are doing  and looking for new ways to keep the brain fires burning. This is the kind of parent I wanted to be, engaged, supportive, and loving to my children. 

 

 

A friend told me once that she could pinpoint the time in her life when she lost that sparkle in her eyes. She saw it in a family photo when she started school. Her eyes were just there, open, and looking at the camera. The essence of her was broken. She told me that the most important thing was never letting that spark get lost. When I look at pictures of my boys, I can still see it and I know they like who they are.

The More Things Change


Hands off. That is what I get a lot now that I have a teen and a tween. It is so difficult to give that up. I remember them being little and needing me to be there to see them, help them, listen to them. Now they want me make the snacks and then go do something else.

While this bothered me for a long time, it was a long time on the horizon. I see it now from another perspective. They are so confident and comfortable that they can handle things on their own. I started to see them as these capable young men. I am in a new sense of awe around them. 

When I mulled over things in my mind, they’ve always been this way. “Mom, mom, look at me.” I look. “Now go do something else.” Over and over an now what they do is so much more than stack blocks, or climb a ladder. Now they solve complex equations, write comics, use the computer create animated art.

I always think it’s new. How silly. They are just more. As always, the more my hands are off, the more they are working on it. The it evolves over time. It changes but it stays the same. I will always have those two little boys and I can see them in the young men they are becoming. They may be changing but some part is still the same, I love that.

What you plan to learn and what you actually learn


There is a saying, I’m not sure by who, that goes something like this “Life is what happens when you make plans.” I think learning is the same way. We make schedules, evaluate curriculum, find classes, and so many other things. All the while, learning hasn’t stopped. This year is a perfect example.

My oldest is in high school. This is his first year and to fill some gaps where we didn’t have a subject matter expert (SME), we enrolled him in an online high school. We spent so much time focusing the content. Was he getting all the support he needed from his cyber teacher? Did all the links work? Was he online for enough time? In the end, we spent more time discussing pacing.

It turns out that the real lesson was making sure the work load was spread evenly over the entire semester. My son learned how much he could do in a day before he was overdone. He learned that sometimes nothing online works so you have to go back to the actual book and write things down, OH NO!

I learned that handing over responsibility for something doesn’t mean I’m not off the hook. This semester, the teacher graded things so slowly that often we had no idea what concepts needed more work and what were okay. We are still waiting for some scores to come back.

While I know some biology A and pre-algebra B made it in his brain, what my son really took away from the term is that doing what you can when you can makes a difference. I learned that too. What can I do to support him? What can I do to encourage him over time and not berating him when things fall behind? Once again, my son is the designated student but we all have access to the learning, and we didn’t even need to plan it.

Summer fun, I can hear it now!


People always ask me if we school through the summer. The answer is yes but differently. In the summer it’s a passion free for all. We use our time “off” to really dig deep into where the guys have the most interest. For us it’s art. My mother is an artist and instructor at a State university. Needless, they have grown up drawing, painting, creating with abandoned.

My son Owen has his own comic strip Mr. Mushroom. It follows our fungus formed magical paint brush toting hero as he confronts bad dreams, monsters, and heat waves. He came up with this on his own during the Homeschool Association of California Conference last August. Since then he has gone on many adventures and is currently facing off with a squirrel that is trying to take is home, a giant acorn.

Gene is the Manga master. He started drawing from the get go. I still have a green marker on blue paper that he drew at age two. He spends these days creating his own supplemental characters to his favorite video games, anime cartoons, and his own stories. He is now so picky, that he regularly goes through his works and takes out items that are now non standard. I think they are all great. 

They do so much more than drawing, or painting. The talk, plan, write, and think. It’s that last one that is so important. Really using their brains, getting into story arcs, character development, motivation, all kinds of things that make stories engaging and relevant. 

Over the years I’ve heard their growing up in the words that they say. It is wonderful to be near by listening. From the early days of Pokémon catching fruit and robots finding missing parts, to the rise of Mario, and now Meerkats as warriors. I am so proud of their creativity, self direction, and humor. They are birds set free to fly. I love to watch them soar.