Let’s Hear It For the Dads!

1927610_43638708793_7776_nAfter seventeen years of being a stay-at-home dad in a stay-at-home mom world, I’m used to it now.

Back when I first adopted this role, I would easily get flustered and angry.

But now I just laugh about it.

We were at an end-of-the-year homeschool picnic when one of the organizers started calling up the kids by grade so we could give them a round of applause.

After she finished up with the high schoolers and we clapped, she looked around and said, “And now, let’s hear it for the moms who worked tirelessly all year to teach these wonderful children. Yay moms!”

And that was it. She thanked everyone for coming and told us all to have a good time.

I looked around to see if any other dads were thinking what I was thinking, but then I realized there weren’t any other dads at the picnic.

And rather than get upset, I simply shook my head and smiled. Continue reading

10 Benefits of Homeschooling

10 Benefits Of Homeschooling

1. Our cat never gets lonely waiting for the kids to come home from school. He just curls up right at their feet, and in their lap, and on their desk.

2. The librarian is starting to recognize us from our frequent trips to get more books. Last week she looked the other way on an overdue book.

3. Stockinged feet walking around the house all day means I don’t have to worry about polishing the wood floor.

4. There is no better place to read The History of Colonial America than curled up on the couch in front of a roaring fire.

5. We don’t need permission slips to take field trips. We just go.

6. No bullies, no PTO moms, no drop-off lane, no fashion police, no dumbing down, no fundraising, no harried teachers, no busy work. Nothing but learning.

7. The manager of our favorite deli recognizes us from our frequent lunches out and upgrades our meals with big drinks and free cookies.

8. The quality of handwriting always improves when the incentive is a half-hour morning break to watch an episode of Get Smart.

9. When the kids are asked what they did in school that day, they actually give a clear and detailed answer instead of the standard, “Oh, nothing.”

10. School becomes exciting. Knowledge becomes a treasure. Learning becomes a way of life.

The Kids in the Basement

When we started homeschooling three years ago, my son and I took over a corner of the family room with a couple of desks and a small shelf. That cozy space served its purpose well during those first two years when it was just him and me.

We knew a bigger space would be needed when my daughter joined us at home for second grade last fall, so I turned my attention to the 400 sq. ft unfinished basement that nobody but the cats ever ventured into.

I quickly learned how to frame (thanks YouTube!), install insulation, and hang drywall. It was all rather simple and straightforward once I was familiar with the process and had the right tools at hand, such as the incredibly handy drywall lift. The taping and texturing I left to an expert, so it wouldn’t look like I did it.

For financial reasons, I decided not to put a floor in before the school year. So my next step after painting was to move all the furniture onto the bare cement floor. Desks, shelves, tables, futon, chairs, all went down the narrow stairs and into the almost-finished basement.

Only after I was done moving everything down there did I step back and notice something. That rough cement floor looked and felt horrible. An unsettling chill went up my spine as I realized how uncomfortable we all would be on that dirty gray slab.

With only a week to go before the start of school, I knew I had to act. I wasted no time, and without a word to anyone drove to Home Depot and bought 20 boxes of Dupont Real Touch Red Oak laminate flooring. For three long days I wrestled those planks into place, but when it was done the room was finally transformed into a warm, livable space.

Furniture was moved back down the stairs a second time, and we started the school year on time. Now the kids and I were able to spread out, with bigger desks, a large project table, bulletin boards, and plenty of shelving for books and supplies.

So why didn’t I write about this last fall? Because our basement classroom wasn’t perfect yet. I never completed the baseboards and door molding. And there were larger shelves to build. And you know we needed that whole first year to fiddle with just the right placement of the desks and rugs.

This past summer I finally had the time to finish it, so I can now reveal our homeschool classroom to anyone who might be interested.

My son and daughter each have their own large desks, facing away from each other to dissuade bickering and other distractions. They don’t spend much of their day sitting in one place, though, as they like to read on the futon or recliner, work at the project table, and even spread stuff out on the floor. They also have their own shelves to prevent the mixing of books and supplies. You’d be amazed at the argument that can ensue over the accidental borrowing of a pencil.

So there it is. If you’re thinking of homeschooling, you can do it anywhere. Family room, kitchen table, dining room, basement, backyard. For us, it was better to have a dedicated area for learning. I wanted my kids to have their own space, where books and papers could be left out overnight, and art projects could be worked on a little bit each day until finished.

It was clear from the first day of use that our new classroom made a big difference in how my kids focus and learn. That alone is a satisfying payoff for the time, effort, and cost we put into the project.

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Another year of homeschooling came to a close on Friday. This year was decidedly different because I had two kids at home, and that took some big adjustments on my part. We fell behind with our curriculum as I climbed a steep learning curve during those first few months. Or would that be teaching curve?

Thankfully, some time around January, I began to find a rhythm to the school day and became quite adept at switching from 5th grade to 2nd grade, or finding a middle ground from which to teach similar subjects to them both.

But because the first part of the year was so, ummm, leisurely, I was scrambling in the latter months to catch up so I wouldn’t have to sacrifice part of my kids’ carefree summer.

It worked. We made it. My son is moving on to sixth grade, while my daughter is moving on to third grade. Actually, considering their recent State of Idaho Standards Achievement Testing, they should probably both be moving up several grades higher than that. Sorry, public schoolers, my kids blew the curve for you again.

Last year, we celebrated the end of school with a little quiz. I put together an assortment of 100 questions from my son’s lessons and created a 4th Grade Super Test.

I wanted to do it again this year, but kind of put it off until the last minute. The last minute being Thursday, around midnight. I knew I couldn’t postpone it since Friday was our last day, and my son was looking forward to the challenge. So I harkened back to my college days and pulled an all-nighter.

On a positive note, I saw my first sunrise in ten years! Very cool.

Anyway, my goal was to test his memory. Completely. Which means no multiple choice questions. It’s all fill-in-the-blank. No hints. And no review!

Subjects covered are math, science, history, geography, literature, art, social sciences, grammar, and Spanish.

Two sample questions:

What four elements make up most organic compounds?

What do you call a prepositional phrase that modifies a noun or pronoun?

What’s that? You say you’d like to take the test yourself? See if you’re smarter than a 5th grader?

Here you go:

Idaho Dad’s 5th Grade Super Test Printable PDF

It took my son about an hour to complete, and he answered 88 questions correctly.

If you take the test, I’ll be interested in how you do. Have fun with it!

Here are the answers (no peeking beforehand):

Idaho Dad’s 5th Grade Super Test ANSWERS Printable PDF

Time Away

Homeschooling means I spend a lot of time with my kids.

So, when school is done in the afternoon, I like to give them some time and space away from me. And me away from them.

I usually do chores around the house while the kids head for the Wii. Later I’ll sit down at my computer to read email or work on various projects.

Yesterday, about an hour after school ended, my son wandered into my office and plopped down in the armchair.

I asked him, “What do you need?”

“Oh, nothing, I just wanted to see what you’re doing,” he replied.

I told him I was sorting through mail and scanning some photos. “Kind of boring,” I said.

He just sat there, watching. Finally, I said, “Don’t you want to go have some time to yourself? I mean, really, we just spent six hours around each other.”

And then came the unexpectedly profound reply, which I’ll remember forever.

He said, “But that was six hours of you being a teacher. Now I want to spend time with you being a dad.”

Battle of Who Could Care Less

It’s the most asked question of homeschoolers. You know, the one about socialization, and friends, and meeting new people.

I’ve answered it so many times that I now have a standard robotic response: “My kids are out and about all the time, they constantly meet new people, and have plenty of opportunities to interact with kids of all ages.”

But I’ve been leaving something out. A little addendum to my answer that only serves to complicate the issue. Or perhaps it simplifies it. Just depends on how you look at it, I guess.

And here it is… You see, my 10-year-old son just could not care less about those things that seem so important to most critics of homeschooling.

Friends, socialization, hanging out, small talk.

None of those things interest my son in the least. You’d never know it from watching him interact with other kids. He joins in, plays along, engages, and participates.

He can be one of the boys just like, well, one of the boys.

But if he never went on another field trip or play date or birthday party, he’d be perfectly content. While he enjoys those activities, he enjoys his time alone and with family just as much or more.

He’s been this way since he was a toddler. In pre-school, he would pass right by the other kids, beckoning to him to play with blocks and beanbags, to make his own fun with his own agenda. If he suddenly found himself surrounded by other kids, that was okay too, but it was never his first choice.

I used to worry about it, but then I thought that he has a rare gift. He has the ability to get along with all sorts of kids. Boys, girls, and of all ages. Just in the past year, I’ve seen him go from playing Frisbee golf with a group of high schoolers to patiently acting as a jungle gym for a bunch of hyper kindergartners.

At the same time, he is extremely comfortable and content with his own company. Give him a book, or a Wii controller, or a big pile of sand on the beach, and he’s good to go.

He would be no different if he had continued with public school, most of which are brimming with kids just like him. These types of kids see school as a place to learn and grow, not a stage on which to fine-tune their social skills.

Maybe I’ll change my answer to the “homeschool socialization” question and just reply, “He doesn’t care, why do you?”

Let’s Hear It For The Moms!

After ten years of being a stay-at-home dad in a stay-at-home mom world, I’m used to it now.

I mean, ten years ago it made me flustered and angry.

But now I just have to laugh about it.

We were at an end-of-the-year homeschool picnic last week when one of the organizers started calling up the kids by grade so we could give them a round of applause.

After she finished up with the high schoolers and we clapped, she looked around and said, “And now, let’s hear it for the moms who worked tirelessly all year to teach these wonderful children. Yay moms!”

And that was it. She thanked everyone for coming and told us all to have a good time.

I looked around to see if any other dads were thinking what I was thinking, but then I realized there weren’t any other dads at the picnic.

And rather than get upset, I simply shook my head and chuckled.

Which made the moms move even further away, convinced now that I was crazier than they had assumed.

So, I gave myself a round of applause.

Quietly.

“Let’s hear it for the dad! Yay dad!”

Are You Smarter Than A 4th Grader?

My son finished his school year last Friday.

He ended his 4th grade career with a little quiz.

Okay, so maybe it was a big quiz. A really big quiz.

I went back through all the lessons, books, worksheets, and web sites that we’ve covered over the past year and came up with a hundred questions that every 4th grader should know.

The subjects covered are math, science, history, geography, literature, art, social sciences, and grammar.

My goal was to test his memory. Completely. Which means no multiple choice questions. It’s all fill-in-the-blank. No hints. And no review!

Two examples:

What do you call rocks that have been changed by pressure or heat?

In which two hemispheres is Australia located?

What’s that? You say you’d like to take the test yourself? See if you’re smarter than a 4th grader?

Here you go:

Phil’s 4th Grade Super Test Printable PDF

It took my son about an hour to complete, and he answered 89 questions correctly.

So, I’m very happy. He’s very happy (and smart!). His knowledge and understanding of these subjects is a testament to the job we’re doing with homeschooling.

If you take the test, I’ll be interested in how you do. Give it to your kids, too. Have fun with it!

Here are the answers (no peeking beforehand):

Phil’s 4th Grade Super Test ANSWERS Printable PDF

Comment Love

I get comments! Oh yes, I do. Like this one, on an old post from last May:

I Hate Homeschoolers said…
you homeschool parents make me sick. You believe that your kids are so much better than other kids that go to public schools. You are all doing your kids a disserves by trying to teach them yourselves. They will never have a normal teenage life. Many of you will probably say that you do not want your kids to be normal. Well, your right they won’t be normal they will all be freaks that only hang out with other homeschool freaks and will never experience the real world.

I don’t know what to say. Do I point out the fallacies in his argument? Do I debate the myth of socialization? Do I correct his grammar and spelling?!

On a positive note, it’s nice to see my relatives commenting on my blog. See you at the next reunion!

Calling It Quits

There are many reasons why people decide to start homeschooling their kids. But what prompts a family to stop homeschooling?

Last summer some friends of ours decided to pull their two boys out of public school because they were frustrated with the quality of teaching and worried about the negative influences of certain bullies on the playground.

The parents were enthusiastic about homeschooling and the possibilities for learning. I warned the mom, who would be the primary teacher, that the first year was a tough time of adjustment to a new and very busy schedule.

She had it under control, she told me. She was organized and ready.

Within the first month she voiced her first minor complaint to us, about how much time it was taking her older boy to finish some of the assignments. My main piece of advice to her was to relax and be flexible about the work. Homeschooling shouldn’t be rigid. I like to encourage fun learning and discovery.

We heard from our friend off and on over the months, and it was always the same refrain. “They’re falling behind,” she’d say. “We work from morning until night and the boys are starting to hate school.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just offered simple words of encouragement and continued to tell her, “The first year is difficult. You’re learning how to be a teacher, and your kids are figuring out what’s expected of them. Most of all, you have to learn how to be flexible.”

I thought she’d turned a corner in the new year when we didn’t hear anything negative for the first two months. Then, out of nowhere, I get an email from her. Not only has she completely soured on homeschooling, but she won’t even finish the year. She marched her boys down to the local school and re-enrolled them with just two months left in the semester.

In her letter, she explained to me why they were quitting:

“I’m VERY burnt out. I am so tired of spending every day going over teacher manual after teacher manual (on and off the computer) and trying to keep up with the boys’ work. I’ve gotten so burnt out that I’ve decided that we are not going to continue homeschooling.

I’m also missing having some time at home without the kids. I’ve just found that everything I do is for someone else and it’s exhausting. I have been stretched so far in so many directions that something had to change, and quickly.

I finally had to admit that I can’t do it all. Not unless I could figure out how to get more hours into a day, and I don’t know anyone who can do that.”

Let her reasons serve as a warning to you if you’re thinking of homeschooling. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Taking on the role of teacher to your kids is a major life changer. You have to give up a lot of personal time.

For some people, that’s just asking too much.

For me, it’s a privilege and a joy to be my son’s teacher. I can’t wait until next year, when I’ll have my daughter at home as well. We’re going to have the best learning environment possible. It will be challenging and fun for all of us. You won’t be hearing anything about me calling it quits.