Big Decision

We’ve been homeschoolers for over five years now. It seems like forever, and I can barely even remember when my kids were in a brick and mortar school.

My kids have thrived at home, learning and growing at a rate beyond my expectations. It’s a real pleasure, and kind of fun as well, to guide them through the education they’ll need to find success as adults.

And yet, despite all of that, I’ve never truly accepted the idea of homeschooling. Not completely, anyway.

I left the door open. The possibility of my kids returning to public school was always there. For years, I’d end homeschooling discussions with statements like, “We’ll do this for a few years, maybe until high school.”

In my own mind, I began to prepare, mulling over the best options for my son as he approached the end of middle school. I wondered how he would adjust to sitting in a classroom with 25 other kids. Or if the honors courses would be challenging enough for him.

So, last summer I started talking with parents whose kids were in the local high schools, including one highly regarded college prep charter school.

I heard a lot of stories and advice, from both parents and teens. It was all good and positive, but it was heavy on the social scene. I learned a lot about clubs, sports, and video games. Not so much about inspiring teachers or challenging coursework.

It was discouraging to me that the schools don’t seem to be so much about learning as they are about hanging out with friends.

One morning, just last week, I was again thinking about our options for returning to public school when I had a sort of epiphany. For the first time, I asked my son what he wanted to do.

His answer was clear and confident. “I want to continue homeschooling.”

The door that I’d left open suddenly started to close. Actually, it was more of a slam.

Just like that, I realized there was an option I hadn’t been considering. And it really is the best option. I mean, look at what we’re doing: one-on-one teaching, creative curriculum, independent learning. Who wants to argue against that?

So, the big decision I’ve made is that I’m finally buying in to homeschooling. Absolute and total acceptance of the system which has been in place in our home for over five years. About time, huh? I am rejecting all other options as inadequate for my children’s educational needs. We’ll take this thing all the way to high school graduation and never doubt if it’s the right choice for us.

My kids are homeschoolers. They don’t just learn different. They learn better.

New Month, Old Stress

It’s a brand new month, but I’m still dealing with the old stresses of May.

School, house projects, bills, clutter, exercise.

Wait, did I say school? But we finished our school year a week ago!

Not quite.

I’m still processing the paperwork. Sorting through nine months of tests, worksheets, and reports is no easy task. I was actually quite organized for the first month of school last fall, but then my system imploded and I’m now dealing with the aftermath.

On top of that, my son is finishing a book review of the Sherlock Holmes novel, A Sign of Four, that he conveniently overlooked during the last week of school.

So, the new month is not yet exciting to me. Because the old month is lingering long past its welcome.

I hope someone out there is enjoying June. I’ll catch up to you in a little while.

Just About To Break

Kid in a tree

Spring break is just around the corner.

I hope you all have fun with yours, because we’ve decided to work right through to the end of the school year.

The kids aren’t too upset about it. I’m probably more disappointed than anyone, as I was hoping to use the week off to finish building garden boxes in our backyard.

But the consensus was to finish school early for a longer summer.

It’s one of those rare things both kids can agree upon. Wrapping up the school year before the Memorial Day weekend is the goal.

I was browsing the calendar of our local school district and was surprised to see that the traditional spring break has grown to a week and a half. They might as well just expand that to two weeks off, as I imagine most kids and teachers are too distracted with spring fever to get much done during those few anxious days before vacation starts.

We don’t need no stinkin’ spring break in our homeschool house!

Well, actually, I do, but it doesn’t make sense to take an entire week off, not when my kids are on a roll. Why would I interrupt that forward momentum?

Don’t worry, though, we’ll take a day off here or there just to have a little fun.

Maybe climb a tree or something.

Homeschool Stereotypes

Over the years, we’ve heard all the negative homeschool stereotypes. You know, like we’re just a bunch of anti-social gun nuts teaching our children that the Earth is 6,000 years old and the President is a Muslim communist.

Okay, so that may actually be true of a few homeschoolers I know, but it’s just not the case for the vast majority of us who are simply trying to give our kids a better education.

I’ve talked with my kids about stereotypes, and how unfair it is to label a person based on misplaced assumptions.

Apparently, I’ll need to have that talk with my daughter again.

After I stop laughing.

Yesterday, we were driving down a residential street when I spotted a group of three or four teenagers throwing rocks at a cat trying to escape up a wooden fence into the safety of someone’s backyard.

I brake for cat abuse, by the way.

Actually, I yanked the steering wheel hard to the left, did a 180 in the street, and roared our van back to the spot where the kids had been.

They scattered like cowardly rats before I could even roll down my window to chew them out.

Watching them flee, my feline-worshiping daughter piped up from the back seat: “That was really mean of them. They must go to public school.”

Photo Friday – Destroyer of TVs

Goodbye, old friend

Our beloved 20-year-old TV set finally stopped working a few months ago. As its picture tube quietly flickered into nothingness, the RCA Color Trak 2000 graciously offered itself up to us for one last moment of entertainment.

We dissected its innards and spread them all over the family room.

So it was also educational, which was appropriate considering the many hours of Mister Rogers, Reading Rainbow, and Zoboomafoo we watched together on that old television.

Now my kids kind of know how TVs work, or at least how they can be taken apart.

The gorey innards

The Electric Mayhem

The electric mayhem of a hectic homeschool schedule has descended upon us.

Usually I don’t feel the stress of “gotta get it done” until late April when the promise of summer vacation is looming on the calendar. But this year it’s come early.

It’s all because of writing.

Of course.

Both kids have research reports they’ve been working on for the past month and, as in past years, it’s been agonizingly slow and painful for everyone involved.

The trouble is that they are both good writers. Beyond competent, even bordering on advanced. But the molasses-like pace at which they tackle these writing assignments just adds up to frustration for them and me.

I can encourage, then cajole, then plead, then yell. This process gets the desired results, but not in a timely manner.

And I always end up saying the same thing to them: “Why didn’t you just write like that in the first place?”

Some days I feel like Lou Grant barking at Joe Rossi and Billie Newman that they better not miss another deadline.

The good news is their reports will be done by Friday. Maybe Saturday. Sunday, most likely.

The bad news is we’re behind in math, literature, and science.

The worse news is they begin book reports next week.

It’s All Well and Good

How was I supposed to know that a simple remark to my kids would trigger a slow descent into madness?

It all began during one of my daughter’s 3rd grade grammar lessons. I was teaching her the difference between the words well and good.

This is easy to explain to an 8-year-old. Good is an adjective. Well is an adverb.

Examples: “This is good ice cream,” and “The girl performed well on her test.”

There’s a slight exception for well when it concerns describing a person’s health, such as “Dad is not feeling well,” but other than that, this is a straightforward grammar lesson.

I should’ve just stopped there, but no, I had to say it to both my kids: “A common mistake that some people make is to use good as an adverb. Next time you’re around a group of people, listen for how they mix up these words.”

That did it. Because now I started listening. At the store, in friendly conversations, watching TV and movies, on the phone… I had my radar on and I didn’t know how to turn it off.

Across the board, regardless of education or age, we are unbelievably bad about using the word good as an adverb. Now, I’m not the grammar police, and there is a part of me that doesn’t much care how you want to talk or write.

But I’m trying to teach my kids that the English language does have some hard and fast rules, and this is one of the easy ones to remember.

I never realized just how many instances of this abuse would reach my ears until I started paying attention. My son says I am now having a noticeable physical reaction, like a twitch, when I hear someone say, “You did good,” or “The team played good,” or some other example.

In the interest of my mental health, I might have to lower my standards and accept this new use of the word.

Someday maybe I can talk good like everyone else.

Second Year

After a long summer of not thinking about classwork and teaching, my son and I picked up right where we left off in June. Only this time, with one year under my belt, I consider myself a homeschooling veteran.

Our first week of fourth grade was easy for both of us. I’m better organized and, most importantly, I think I’m better able to read my son’s moods and abilities. I already know that he eats up spelling and vocabulary like candy. I know that he needs more time with math. He views history as a treat, so I use it as such: “Finish up those math problems and we can learn about Benjamin Franklin.”

One big change this year was a major furniture rearrangement. Our classroom is at one end of the family room. Last year we had two large desks that stretched from one wall to the other. My wife then found an old school desk, with attached chair, for five dollars at a thrift shop. My son loves that desk, and all last year he sat at it by the window. It was in an awkward place, though. And we had no shelf for his books, so they ended up in a pile on the floor. Plus, one of the big desks became a repository for all sorts of clutter.

A few weeks ago I removed that big desk and used the space for a bookshelf and my son’s little school desk. He’s still near the window, but not so close that it’s a distraction, and now he has easy access to his workbooks and notebooks. Behind him is a couch, where he goes to read, and above him is the kitchen table, where we sometimes spread out his math work.

My son likes the fact that he has various options for his learning environment. Big desk, little desk, couch, kitchen table, backyard, floor. Oh yes, sometimes he likes to sit on the floor and work. Only he has to share it with Basil the cat, who has been planting himself in the same spot in the middle of the family room for his morning nap. He lays there until we break for lunch. He’s our school mascot.