Archive for the ‘homeschooling’ Category

Entire books have been written for beginning homeschoolers.  Obviously, what follows is my ideas on a few major questions, not an exhaustive treatment of the subject (which is impossible, anyways, see #1).  But here goes:

1.  If you homeschool, you are not bound by the constraints of how school is “supposed” to be.  This can be the scariest and most liberating aspect of the entire homeschool journey.  What does a homeschool look like?  That’s like asking what a family looks like: it depends on the family!  You need to determine how you want this to look.  Do not let anybody else intimidate or badger you into thinking you have to look like a public school or like that homeschooling mom with the cute blog and the ten kids all running their own businesses already.  Find your normal, but be open to changing it as your children grow.

2.  You really do not need to have a daily planner for every day of the school year; I know some moms do it, but I think it is inadvisable.  When kids are sick, you aren’t going to finish all the planned subjects; you have to be willing to adjust, and I know I wouldn’t be if I had a box that said I must get such-and-such done on March 8th or else!  On unseasonably gorgeous days, we’re likely to be outside studying clouds, or bugs, or taking an impromptu field trip to the botanical gardens or the zoo.  Personally, we generally start school the first Monday of August.  It’s twenty weeks to Christmas, give or take a week, then twenty weeks after Christmas, which has us finishing about when the weather is really getting nice around here.  In between, I just break up the lessons in the books so that we know how much we have to accomplish each week.  English is looser (one spelling unit, one vocabulary unit, some general English), math is stricter (three lessons per week for Diva, three or four for Crash).  History can be even looser.  We are studying the Age of Exploration this year, so we have started an overview book, and checked out a pile of books from the library on pre-Age-of-Exploration explorers (Vikings, Marco Polo, etc.) and early Portuguese figures (Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, etc.).  We have an overarching plan, but we will stay on specific people or periods as they interest the kids.  Be organized enough to stay on track, but not so much that you constantly feel like you’ve failed because you didn’t dot the very last i.  (See #1: this is also a very personal decision, best tackled with your husband, who might be able to help you find that happy medium between OCD and slacking off.)

3.  Curriculum.  Ugh.  I know some people swear by the idea that there is a perfect curriculum out there for everyone.  Personally, I go more on the, “This is what I picked, and we’re going to make it work.”  I don’t have infinite amounts of money to switch math curricula in the middle of the year for each child; they’re all using Saxon.  I tailor the amount of repetition to each child’s needs, but I don’t buy all new courses for each child.  We have a thorough phonics course that all three children have used.  Once I find a book I trust and feel comfortable with, we stick with it.  (And we borrow most of our history and science books from the library.  DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE LIBRARY!)  Figuring it’s going to have to last through at least four kids, I usually buy new; for most books, fill-in-the-blanks can be done outloud or on separate paper.  For Saxon math, the consumable parts come separately for the early grades.  All that said, buy used whenever possible.  Our area is blessed with a wonderful homeschool bookstore, and homeschool conferences frequently have used book sections.  Ask around your homeschooling groups for people who have outgrown levels (or switched mid-year) and are willing to pass them on or sell them to you.  Which brings us to…

4.  Find a homeschooler play group.  The kids get to hang out with other homeschoolers, and you get to talk to other moms.  If you want to, you can even discuss homeschooling.  Do not underestimate the relief of being able to just be normal and not have to even think about explaining yourself to others.  If one group doesn’t work, try another.  We joined a Catholic co-op; it was a really bad fit, simultaneously rigid and disorganized.  We joined a “Christian” play group; better, until the group leader decided to impose a faith statement… designed specifically to exclude certain denominations that aren’t quite Christian (including Mormons), and, apparently, Catholics.  We finally found a Catholic group that meets for children’s adoration (i.e. NOT silent, kids crawling everywhere, rosaries being chewed on, etc.) and play time at the parish playground.

5.  Know how to pick yourself up and try again tomorrow.  Not every day will be perfect.  In fact, not many days will be perfect!  Most will be tiring, many will be frustrating: the child who just doesn’t get math, the trashed house while you were trying to explain math, explaining to your mother for the millionth time that public school would not be better thank you very much, convincing yourself for the millionth time that there are reasons you’re doing this and public school would not be better…  Put them in bed, take a deep breath, straighten up, pray, sleep, and wake up and try again.

I won’t say it’s easy, I won’t claim boundless joy at the thought of teaching grumpy children math in the middle of winter, and I can’t tell you you’re going to love it.

But it IS worth it.


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After breathing paint fumes for a few weeks, I took a break to drive up to the IHM Homeschooling Conference for Friday and Saturday.  After a rather posh but difficult site last year, this year’s conference was moved to the Fredericksburg Conference Center, behind a massive swath of strip malls.  (This may sound less than ideal, but it offered plenty of eating options nearby, and I even got to go dress and shoe shopping during lunch break all by myself!  I don’t know when that last happened…)

This shall be merely the teaser post.

Coming this week:

Dr. Ray Guarendi

Prof. Joseph Pearce

Mr. Dale Ahlquist (President, American Chesterton Society)

… and several others!

As always, I’ll tell you that you should get to a conference in person, if at all possible.  Second-best would probably be to order the recordings of the talks from the conference coordinators.  Failing that, maybe I can at least whet your interest in attending next year by providing summaries and descriptions of the highly entertaining, informative, and uplifting talks I attended.

See you tomorrow!

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After a number of deep, thought-provoking posts on death, sin, etc., I scrolled down through Calah’s always-wonderful blog to find…

(After I posted it, I realized you might not be able to read it: “Come the zombie apocalypse, the kids in public schools will wish somebody had taught them melee weapons fighting and small unit tactics.”)

Yeah, that’s my kids, all right.  😀  And you should see how well-armed and camouflaged the rest of the homeschoolers show up at park day, too, so, no, it isn’t just kids whose parents learned most of their parenting skills from Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy.

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7 quick takes sm1 7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 163)

1.  The editors of First Things like to quote their late founder, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, on the nature of public life.  “The first thing to be said about public life is that it is not the first thing.”  Hence, the blog languishes while real life at home is crazy.  I told myself when I started that, even if I didn’t write regularly or influence anyone, the blog would not take over my real life because the blogosphere demanded attention.  At least that’s one first intention about blogging that I’ve kept.  So, when I vanish for a bit, please say a prayer for me; something chaotic is probably happening at home.

Which is my excuse for not posting the cute frog-and-lily-pad cookie photo on Leap Day.  So, belated Happy Leap Day! 🙂

2.  … and in the real world, these children are obviously in danger of starving to death before the first batch of homemade pizza (yes, I make my own dough, with yeast, it isn’t rocket science!) comes out, but aren’t they cute?

3.  Also, unfortunately, occuring in the real world, is the Obamacare contraception mandate debacle, exacerbated today by the thirteen Catholic senators who voted against the Blunt amendment, which would have provided a permanent conscience clause.  Earlier in the mess, I found this by Michael Ramirez, who is, hands down, my favorite political cartoonist ever.  He just “gets it”.

4.  In the chaos of normal life, I entirely missed posting about the Great Backyard Bird Count.  A small local chain of birding stores promotes it strongly, and, apparently, so do other birding stores in other areas.  We took our “usual birds for your area” checklist and counted birds on two days.  They do this every year on the weekend after Valentine’s Day, you only have to count for fifteen minutes, and you can enter your counts online or by dropping off your checklist where you got it.  This year, they added a really cool searchable map, so you could see where all the checklists were submitted from and what birds were reported and in what numbers.  (We saw an odd duck, so we could see our actual dot when we searched for that species!  The whole thing made for some really fun homeschool science lessons.)

My kids thought this was incredibly fun stuff… my DH asked, “Isn’t birdwatching supposed to be a quiet activity?” as children dashed from window to window shrieking about house finches and mallards and coots.

In a house with four kids?   Um, no, “quiet” and “activity” rarely go together.

5.  It isn’t often that I can say something nice about the Chinese government, but they did get something notable right lately.  For some time, many orphanages have named orphans either “State” or “Party” as their family name, then something to do with their finding place as their given name.  So, not only were orphans starting out without a family in a very family-oriented society, they were labelled for life as orphans, because their names were things like “Federal Street Corner.”  Everyone would immediately know that the person was an orphan because of their odd name.  Although my Chinese-born daughter did not have this (her family name was from the name of the county she was born in), my Chinese-born son’s family name was Guo, “country”.  Continuting a positive trend lately, beginning with reports of re-naming ceremonies in India for girls named “unwanted” and such, the Chinese government has told the orphanages to give the children normal names.  Thank God for little victories.

6.  Our local botanical gardens had a special for February: discounted admission and all-day biking.  Woo hoo!  Coupled with some incredibly warm weather for February, it was a big hit with us.  The two little ones are in the bike trailer (which I’m fairly sure is not rated for their combined weight, since the new guy is denser than lead)… which means I got a great workout, in spite of the gardens being rather flat, because I was hauling an extra seventy or so pounds behind me!

I will have to do a post on the photos from that day; I kept snapping neat shots, thinking, “Hey, I could put this on the blog… if I ever get back to posting regularly…”


7.  And finally, a cheery sign of spring.  The photo doesn’t do them justice; they were a gorgeous, deep purple that my little digital camera didn’t quite catch.

As always, many thaks to Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday, and don’t forget to go check out everyone else’s Friday musings at Conversion Diary!

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Ok, I already talked about the North Carolina preschooler with the non-USDA approved lunch that failed inspection and got replaced by chicken nuggets.  Stupid, yes, but probably not widespread, right?

Actually, it seems that the lunch inspection was part of a national points system that affected the school’s public perception.  Another parent has come forward to complain that her daughter’s lunch was also set aside in favor of a mostly fried lunch from the cafeteria.  Possibly the funniest thing was the letter sent home to parents to explain this.

North Carolina Mother Diane Zambrano Says Her Daughters Homemade School Lunch Wasnt Healthy Enough | West Hoke Elementary

The entire memo is disturbing.  The lunches children bring from home are part of the grading system for the “NC Star Rated License”?  Why is the school responsible for that?  How was the school lunch that was condescendingly substituted in compliance with these guidelines?

Just as glaring a problem, however, was the grammar.  My DH forwarded the link to our home account under the subject line, “Principals of Elementary Grammar.”  Yes, the pun is intended; the principal signed this thing, probably after multiple people theoretically proofread it, but doesn’t understand principles of grammar that a grade schooler should know.

She is the principal of a public school, one of those eminently qualified “experts” we’re supposed to hand our children over to for schooling, and, yet, there are commas where they obviously don’t belong, missing commas, an incomplete sentence, missing words, and sentences that fail to communicate what she meant.  This is “High Expectations from…”?

It reminds me of the two women at the cutting counter of our local fabric store who couldn’t figure out how many inches are in a foot or how to fulfill my request for, “A foot and a half of this, please.”  The experienced woman explained to the new hire that there are nine inches in a foot (I quietly corrected her).  Then they couldn’t figure out how to enter it into the computer by inches instead of fractions of a foot.  There was a clearly labelled ruler glued to the edge of the cutting table which showed that 18 inches lined up with precisely half a yard, but, of course, they’d miscomputed what a foot and a half was (I think they’d decided on sixteen inches).  I had gone over this little math problem on the way in with my second grader and was just hoping he wouldn’t loudly blurt out the explanation of the correct solution while they struggled.  He had gotten it right, but these two women who probably graduated from public high school and worked in a freaking fabric store couldn’t remember how many inches are in a foot or how to figure out “half”.  I worried a bit less about how homeschooling had gone that week.

Of course, the problem with schooling today (in addition to the horrible hazard that is bag lunches!) is those awful, dangerous, unsocialized homeschoolers!  Those parents might not really care at all about what their kids are learning!  Who’s checking up on them?  What standards are they fulfilling?  What if they *gasp* teach the children to embrace a rigid sense of right and wrong?!?  What if they become moralizing grammar police and write blogs laughing at our self-righteous memos about the necessity of inspected bag lunches for our point system when we’re turning out graduates who can’t read, principals who can’t use commas, and people who don’t know how many inches are in a foot?  We won’t get a pretty silver star on our progress chart!!!  *sniff*  *sob*  I need to go sit in the “hurt feelings” corner until my self esteem comes back…

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Mr. Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, had the last speaking slot.

He looked a bit tired; I’m not surprised, given that he’d been manning the table over at the ACS, selling books and chatting about Chesterton, for two and a half days by this point.  Heck, I didn’t have to talk to hundreds of people a day, and I was about done by this point in the conference.

So, Ahlquist opened with a string of Chesterton quotes.  Certainly not a bad thing…

An open mind is a mark of foolishness, as is an open mouth.  The purpose of an open mind, as of an open mouth, is to close it again on something solid.

Thinking does sometimes lead to the truth… all men are dogmatic.

There are those who are dogmatic and know it… and those who are dogmatic and don’t know it.

We are struggling in a fallen language like men struggle in a fallen tent.

Ahlquist then defined a couple of popular words today:

  • “Whatever” means “I’m not going to think about it.”
  • “You know” means “I don’t know, and I’m hoping you do, ’cause I’m not sure what I mean…”

We have no words because we have no thoughts because we don’t know how to think.  And, as Chesterton said, “If you think wrong, you go wrong.”

So, how does one think?

1.  All proofs begin with something that can’t be proved but can only be perceived or accepted (an axiom).

2.  No argument can be held unless people agree on first principles.  (example: if I view adoption as a healing of a family who can’t have children and a child who needs a home, but someone else views adoption purely as powerful rich people forcing poor moms to sell their children, who will be psychologically destroyed by the process… well, we really can’t have a discussion about how adoption law should or should not be changed, can we?  We don’t even agree if adoption should be legal or a felony.)

3.  An act can only be judged by defining its object.  Progress, success, and efficiency sound great… but in what direction?

The whole of modern civilization does not know what it is trying to find, and, so, does not find it.

Every modern philosophy wants to blame our problems on something else.  Class oppression, parental inadequacies, gender bias, racism… “It’s not your fault, it’s because those people over there were insufficiently nice to you!”  This takes away both responsibility and free will.  The only logical conclusion, Ahlquist said, is madness and destruction.

Or that scene from Farenheit 451, where the main character’s wife is so engrossed in her TV shows that she ignores anything that might almost pass as real life, and dies in the massive war she was utterly oblivious to.

But never mind, what we really care about is what Lindsay Lohan did at her latest court appearance, and nobody actually requires students to read old books, especially by white men like Bradbury.  And certainly not Chesterton.

Which, again, brings us to why we homeschool.

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The title was “Keys to Overcoming Stress and Burnout.”  I’m not sure I expected it to be as good and helpful as it turned out to be.  (The previous talk of a similar title turned into an extended infomercial; you could’ve spent hundreds of dollars, easily, if you’d followed the “how to thrive” advice.)

Mrs. Billing is a homeschooling mom and part-time professional organizer.  So, she presented her talk in nice, neat outline format.

I.  Spiritual Life

    A.  Make your own spiritual life your #1 priority; only God gives us strength.  We do not get our meaning from gardening, crafts, politics, etc.  (Hey!  Wait a minute…)

      1.  Commit to time of personal prayer.  Put it on the schedule.  Do what you feel works for you, not what you “should” be doing.  (At which point I muttered something about how the not-so-great speaker, who said, “You aren’t really a Catholic homeschooler if you aren’t doing a whole rosary a day!”, needed to come to this talk.)

      2.  Create a sacred space in your home.  Some kind of prayer corner, etc.

      3.  Three non-negotiables: prayer every day, weekly prayer (mass plus ?), and regular adoration

   B.  Sacraments: frequently!  “Grace is a natural, free, organic stress buster!”

       1.  Seek what you’re being asked to do.  (Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all spirituality.)

       2.  Daily mass: it’s hard, but try; we go for the grace, not the “perfect” experience or sermon.

       3.  Confession: at least monthly?

       4.  Marriage: (it’s an on-going sacrament, remember?)  “Spiritual life yields energy, yields *ahem* graces for marriage.  And maybe they’ll let me give that talk someday…”

   C.  Gossip: dump it.  The fact that it’s true does not mean that it’s something that needs to be said.

   D.  Fasting: mentioned 86 times in Scripture.  The Church recommends Wednesdays and Fridays.  It helps us detach from the world and stress, and reattach to God (and not chocolate).

II.  Eat more nutritiously

   A.  Plan meals and shop with the list in mind

   B.  Five things we shouldn’t eat regularly:

  • High fructose corn syrup (Americans eat 63 lbs a year!)
  • Sugar
  • Anything that says “enriched,” because it means they took something out first
  • Transfats
  • Saturated fats

   C.  We need 80-100 g of protein per day, and 30-35 g fiber (12 g is average)

   D.  Leafy greens, 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies

   E.  Omega-3: 3g/day.  It fights inflammation.  From salmon, walnuts, and flax seeds.

   F.  Raw olive oil (1 Tbsp per day)

  G.  Regular multi-vitamin, chocolate and wine in moderation

Start with small changes, and remember that eating well is a gift to ourselves, not just another option.

And eat at home: the average American buys 2/3 of their food outside the home.  (i.e. not home-cooked meals)

III.  Exercise

   A.  It eases anxieties and tension while releasing endorphines.  Insulin levels drop, which lowers stress and leads to less eating.

   B.  Try to sweat at least sixty minutes a week, including thirty minutes of weight training for bone density.  Longer sessions are better than short.  90% of regular exercisers do it before 9 am.


So, did I follow her advice?  No, except for the “wine and chocolate in moderation” part; I’m good at that part.  But that’s part of why I type these up for the blog: to remind myself what I learned and what sounded like really good advice when I heard it (but then forgot about).

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