Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 9

Hello, all! It’s been two months since my last Homeschooling update. (This makes me sound as if I’m at an AA meeting. Well, I guess I’m addicted to homeschooling so perhaps it is an apt comparison.)

Anyhow, I have been remiss lately in both the writing and the homeschooling, but thankfully, the beauty of outsourcing a lot of our homeschooling is that I can personally slack on stuff but the kids will still be educated.

Also, “everything” and “life” is considered “school” so that is also a great “cheat.”

Now, just because I haven’t done a lot of at home teaching doesn’t mean I haven’t learned anything. So then, here are the things I’ve reluctantly learned from homeschooling in February and March 2017:

1) Practice reading every day or there is no momentum.

I swear I constantly forget this. If we practice reading (be it Chinese or English), it is much harder to do it sporadically than to do it consistently. If we continue with the sporadic reading, we have to restart each day and it is super frustrating each time.

However, when I force myself to be disciplined and have the kids read daily, there is a cumulative effect and the kids improve much faster and build their confidence at a greater clip.

This is also the reason why Cookie Monster (7yo) improved at piano once he started practicing daily for 5-15 minutes. And now that he is much better at playing piano, he will play for fun throughout the day.

I suspect (rather, I know) that once their reading hits that highly competent level, they will also want to read for fun on a daily basis. My hope and my dream.

Unfortunately, this leads to my next lesson.

2) Unless I am willing to do the work, my children will never get self-sufficient.

The best part of Cookie Monster playing piano is that he can pretty much do 99% of all his practicing by himself. I only have to help him with his theory homework because that requires reading in English and we have only begun on that.

It was PAINFUL to get Cookie Monster to the point he is at today in piano – but it has been well worth it. I no longer have to sit with him and help him read notes, etc.

Thus, whether it is painfully teaching kids step by step on how to put their bowls and utensils in the dishwasher (which is really a multiple of intuitive steps – but only to grown ups), or teaching them how to slowly cut vegetables with a knife, or even reading so that they can finally read their own instructions, it all takes work on my part.

But then, once that initial pain period is over, I am free.

3) Be kind.

I am a very no nonsense and gruff type of person. I often am exasperated when I teach because I truly don’t remember not knowing how to read English, read music, read zhuyin, or do a lot of things.

But I also know from experience that having someone judge you the entire time you’re doing something new is very hard to feel comfortable enough to risk and make mistakes so that you can actually learn something new.

I need to remember that whenever I am kind and patient, (truly alien concepts to my personality), my children respond so much better. And they end up LIKING the hard thing.

Most recently, I was teaching Cookie Monster how to do division with remainders. He was having a really hard time understanding the concept and he was getting frustrated.

Instead of being exasperated as I am wont to do, I chose to be patient and kind and as a result, after about ten minutes, he understood the concept. He wasn’t perfect, but he got the main idea.

Then, he said, “Thanks, Mama! Remainders are FUN!”

I don’t think I would have ever thought that remainders are fun. But because I was kind, instead of hating something hard, Cookie Monster thought it was fun. And then proceeded to try a lot of the problems because he thought they were fun and that it was fun to apply his new knowledge.

4) Do things not because you benefit but because you are family.

Because the kids are getting older and because quite frankly, I’m lazy and tired, I often tell them to do things that don’t directly benefit them. Or I tell them to pick up things that they didn’t mess up.

Inevitably, I’m asked, “Why do I have to do _____ when I didn’t make the  mess?”

I then proceed to ask them if I should make them food since I’m not the one eating. Or if I should help them bathe because I’m not the one who’s dirty. Or if I should take them to their activities since I’m not the one doing them. Or pretty much, ANYTHING IN THEIR LIVES.

That shuts them up right quick.

5) Turn off the screen. Let the kids play. Don’t interrupt fights.

I put these three together because all too often, I forget that if a screen is on, of COURSE they won’t play. And then, I forget that the only way they can learn  physical as well as emotional boundaries is to let them fight.

And when the screen is off, they go out in the back yard and make mud pies and climb the muddy hill and dig holes and climb stuff. They build elaborate dinosaur and army men war set ups with blocks and then have a great time messing it all up in the game of war. They set up car societies with all their toy cars and play families (which sounds all sweet and lovely until you realize you and Hapa Papa are dead in these scenarios).

They have a fantastic time.

6) My kids need outside/park time.

We had a great run of 2-3 weeks where we met Fleur and Guavarama’s kids’ almost every week day for park play dates. It was particularly welcome because it was coming off of several weeks of nonstop rain and gloom.

Those park days were glorious.

And even my cold, dark heart thawed a bit and was semi-unannoyed.

I forget that kids need sunshine and fresh air. That in turn makes them less wiggly and cranky and that makes ME less cranky.

Oh, and they get to climb trees. Bonus.

Alright. I know these lessons aren’t exclusive to homeschooling, but that’s the context in which I learn them. Have a wonderful weekend!

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 8


You know, I really don’t know how I can keep doing this series without repeating the lessons I’ve learned in the past. Quite frankly, it’s because I’m slow and require multiple reminders and lessons before things sink in.

I suppose there is a greater lesson here about having more compassion and understanding for my children when they don’t get things on the first try.

Oh, STOP IT.

Like I’m going to learn that.

Anyhow, I’m not going to worry about if I’m repeating myself. Maybe if I remind myself often enough, it’ll finally sink in (for me, and maybe for you, too).

Here then, are the things I have reluctantly learned while homeschooling in January 2017:

1) Normal life IS an education.

Yes, yes.

Homeschooling sites (and especially UNschoolers) promote this “benefit” endlessly.

“All of life is school!” “Daily life is all the education your children need!”

But who listens to all that stuff without a HUGE grain of salt?

However, I remind myself that back in my day, there were Home Economics classes wherein we learned to cook, bake, sew, etc. (I did not take these classes – nor did I take Woodshop, Cars Shop, etc. classes – to my everlasting regret. Because hey – GUESS WHAT? That stuff is USEFUL. Unlike a lot of other things I learned in high school.)

Anyhow, back to my point.

Which is: teaching our children how to live and function in a family (or on their own) is an education. (And often, one quite neglected.)

Thus, even though this month, we continued to be low-key on me teaching every day, I have been scaling up their practical life skills.

Not in any formal way. But in the course of actual life. It helps that having Sasquatch makes it really hard for me to attend to a lot of my other kids’ “needs.”

It also helps that Cookie Monster is tall enough to reach the microwave on his own now and that Glow Worm is strong enough to open the refrigerator door and that I have rearranged our pantry and fridge and drawers to make all the foods, drinks, and utensils/bowls/plates/cups easily accessible to short people.

Accessibility is the cornerstone for freedom and independence (for ALL parties).

Thus, I take advantage of Cookie Monster being a generally helpful sort, (and as a result, drags Gamera and Glow Worm into his orbit), and they have started helping unloading the dishwasher, folding or putting away some of their laundry, cutting up strawberries, putting away their bowls/plates after eating, peeling carrots, cooking (by helping add spices, etc.), and entertaining Sasquatch.

Yes, yes.

Likely they would have learned this anyway even without homeschooling due to us being a large family and the type of family we are.

Just let me have this win, ok?

2) Breaking things is a learning opportunity.

In the last two weeks, Glow Worm has broken three (yes, THREE) drinking glasses.

Hapa Papa blames me because I have not switched ALL our drinking glasses to plastic ones. (He has since switched to a plastic water bottle.)

However, I refuse to switch. Mainly because I hate plastic glasses, but also because I read somewhere sometime about Montessori using glasses because then children learn to be careful because they now know their actions have consequences and you can’t just drop a glass any damn where you please, etc.

But mostly because I am lazy and hate plastic drinking cups.

Glow Worm does not seem to have learned this lesson.

Also, this is supposed to teach the parents NOT to leave glass drinking glasses on the train table and to be a bit more careful themselves (ahemHapa Papa) and be more aware of where the glasses ARE on the kitchen table.

Hapa Papa blames the latest glass breaking on me because it was my glass. However, it was when HE was on parenting duty.

And I’ll have you note, that in the past SEVEN years of parenting and him leaving his stupid glass everywhere including the train table upon which I have nagged him endlessly to STOP DOING THAT ALREADY, there has NEVER been a broken glass on my watch. (Stitches and broken bones, YES. But not broken glasses!)

He refuses to see reason. Whatever gets him through the day.

Anyhow, whether Glow Worm or Hapa Papa (or I, for that matter) have learned anything is to be determined.

3) I am super passionate about homeschooling.

I think I have almost convinced Pharm Girl to the Dark Side. Her husband seems to be ok with it, and she is seriously contemplating it but of course, has her worries and questions.

I monopolized most of a play date last weekend and just endlessly talked and talked about homeschooling and what it is and what it means and Geez Louise, Pharm Girl is patient and kind and agreeable for listening to me.

Seriously. I wouldn’t stop.

4) I need to find more ways for Cookie Monster to be social with his age group.

Cookie Monster is amazing with kids younger than him and with babies. He’s amazing with babies.

This makes sense because most of the kids his age are in school and when we hang out with other people during school hours, they are usually younger. Also, he spends the majority of his life with his younger siblings.

He’s awesome.

However, he is starting to reach the point where playdates with younger kids has him a little bored, or lonely, and I need to make a better effort at finding either other homeschool kids his age, or make new friends with older kids, or have more playdates with acquaintances with similar aged children.

He has a few classes with kids his age, and while that is helpful, it’s not the same as having unstructured social and play time with kids his age.

I have been waiting for Guavarama and Fleur to come back from Taiwan so we can have regular play dates, but horrors of horrors, they do not revolve their daily/weekly schedules around mine.

WHAT THE HELL, PEOPLE?

Selfish. Just selfish.

Also, even though Guavarama has AstroBoy who is about 6-7 months younger than Cookie Monster, there are a lot more girls and though Cookie Monster plays well with both sexes, he REALLY loves to play with boys.

I really need to get on finding more people for him to play with.

Sigh.

I hate making new friends or effort.

* ShakesfistatGuavaramaandFleur *

5) Remember: my children are tiny persons. A little compassion and kindness is OK.

I have been making a more concerted effort to be kind and compassionate to Cookie Monster and especially Gamera because she pushes ALL my buttons. And hopefully, I will prevent smashing their feelings into the ground and negate the need to rebuild them back up.

I am trying to take deep breaths, clench my fists and grind my teeth closed so I STFU already, and if I start to criticize or be mean, to stop and joke and attempt to change course before it gets too bad.

This is hit or miss.

This is gonna come up again and again on these lessons.

Alright. That’s it for this month’s edition of Reluctantly Learned Stuff. Hope you are all doing well on your homeschooling journey (or just life journey in general).

Raising an Advocate

I remember in my high school civics class, our teacher said that in general, children start off with their parents’ political beliefs, become more liberal in college, and then finally, when they make more money and become parents themselves, circle back to conservative.

After all, once you have more money, you are less sanguine about ways to spend that money and once you have children, you are less permissive in your attitudes about sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll – or thus the thinking goes.

It’s the political circle of life.

I don’t know if that is still the case from 22 years ago (OMG HOW HAS IT BEEN THAT LONG?), but for me, that has certainly NOT been my experience.

I find that for most people, they react to having children in one of two ways:

1) Double down and because of fear, circle the wagons and retreat more and more into conservative values – be it on money, religion, sex, drugs, etc.

They worry that the world is going to hell in handbasket and that there is a cultural war going on against “traditional” values and they do all they can to make sure laws stay as conservative as possible.

2) Realize that they want a better future for their children and out of fear (usually because their kids are or might be one of the disenfranchised or oppressed people groups), become more and more liberal and inclusive in their values – be it on money, religion, sex, drugs, etc.

They worry that their children will be oppressed if they don’t happen to fit in the “traditional” boxes and do all they can to make sure laws become as inclusive as possible.

It is no surprise, dear reader, that you will find that I am in the latter group.

As soon as I had Cookie Monster, I began my journey to become ever more inclusive of all peoples.

I want to take credit and say it’s because I’m just that progressive of a person, but truthfully, it was a gradual eye-opening, and a lot of it was born of fear for my child and future children and not so much out of the belief of equality for all.

Isn’t that the way most of us who are not affected by certain types of discrimination begin caring about people who are not like us? When we are all of a sudden, personally affected by a discriminatory law/system/situation? (This is akin to celebrities or people caring only about a disease after it affects them personally. Not a knock – because that is the human condition. Just an observation.)

The thought of my children being treated poorly, mocked, harassed, bullied, whatever because of their sexual identity, their preferences, their abilities or disabilities, their ethnicities, their anything – THAT ENRAGED ME.

This fear and rage at the possibility of my children being mistreated then turned into rage and fear for my friends and then for ALL people.

I evolved.

I admit. Right about the time I had Cookie Monster, I found out that one of my dear, dear college friends was bisexual (which wasn’t really that much of a surprise and I wasn’t really phased about it because hey, I’m progressive like that) as well as polyamorous.

And it’s not that I judged him for being polyamorous, but I judged.

I thought he was going through a mid-life crisis. Promiscuous. Behaving dangerously. Justifying non-commitment.

Which, hey. It’s his life. He should be able to live it however he wanted. I got that and knew that. But still. A hidden part of me (and to be honest, I’m sure it was obvious to him how I felt but he was too kind and merciful to point it out to me) was like, “This is weird and inappropriate and keep it to yourself already.”

And then, a high school acquaintance on Facebook began to share more and more about her life in a poly relationship. She is bisexual and has two husbands and several children and has been very open about her life in her blog (now no longer there for likely, family protection reasons).

She shared how she has been affected and treated and all her family’s suffering and pain as well as their love for each other and just like that – I cared about the poly community (her family in particular), and my mindset was changed.

All because of her bravery and willingness to be vulnerable.

I find her amazing. My heart aches for her. She and her family are so deserving of love and acceptance and the chance to be left alone and just be without commentary. They deserve affirmation of their love and the beautiful family they have created.

And truthfully, I know I was swayed because of their “monogamy” and family values oriented lifestyle.

But you know what?

Even if she was a promiscuous person and her family was “broken,” they deserve to live and love as they choose (or not choose, as this is the case).

And thus, through relationships with people, through reading anti-racism blogs – through reading LOTS of blogs actually – I found myself caring more and more about all types of people. (Even farmers through another friend of mine – which is weird because I never knew about the issues farmers and agricultural people encountered until I read her posts on Facebook and on her blog.)

Look at me blathering all over the place today.

I’m not sure I have a main point or lots of tiny points all pointing toward a bigger point in their pointiness, but this is just to say that all this liberalness, all this gradual awakening and anti-racism and inclusive parenting – that is a direct result out of fear.

I fear giving my children a world wherein who they are, at their very core, is not accepted and not allowed to thrive and live and be.

I fear that to this day, even though I would love my child and accept them if they happen to be LGBTQ, I secretly hope they aren’t because life will be SO HARD for them if they are and I worry that my mother, who is super conservative, may reject them or try to “convert” them to “straightness” and then I will have to cut off my mother, too.

I don’t want to live in a world where I have these fears. I don’t want to be a person who has these fears.

And I certainly do not want these things for my children.

I want my children to be be shameless – in the sense that they are nothing to be ashamed of – regardless of who they are.

And thus, I have become ever more and more liberal. More radical. More everything.

I am grateful for friends who are further along the advocacy road so I can model myself after them and join my voice with theirs.

I am grateful for these same friends (Hi, Mamademics!) creating curriculum celebrating black history as well as creating Raising an Advocate series for me to join and Facebook Stalk and over-post in. (Can you tell that I lifted the name of this post from her series? It’s because she is awesome and her series is awesome and I REALLY WANT YOU ALL TO JOIN.)

I am grateful that I am homeschooling and can thus apply these things that I am learning so that my children can be brainwashed into advocates themselves. (I bought the first twelve months of Black History is American History and am looking forward to teaching it to my kids.)

Won’t you join me in this journey of self-discovery and dismantling what we have accepted for so long (and often, obliviously)?

Let’s create the world in which ALL our children are loved and accepted no matter who they are.

Brainwashing My Kids

“Papa, you look like a girl,” laughed Cookie Monster.

“Why?” replied Hapa Papa. “Is it because I have Sasquatch in an Ergo*?”

“Yeah!”

I had to interject. “Remember, Cookie Monster, there are no boy clothes or girl clothes. Just clothes. Just like there are no boy things or girl things. Just things.”

“Oh, yeah!”

“Do you know what the only difference between girls and boys is?” I continue.

“What?”

“A boy has a penis and a girl has a vagina.” I pause, because technically, that is not always true. “Actually, sometimes, girls are born without penises but their brains feel like they are boys, so they don’t have penises but are still boys.”

“Some boys are born with penises but they are actually girls so they also are girls,” Hapa Papa continued, surprising me.

“How does that happen?” Cookie Monster giggled.

“Some people just change the way they dress for awhile, or they take special medicines to change their bodies,” I replied.

“People just want to be happy,” continued Hapa Papa.

And then I left to go write.

As I was driving, it occurred to me that if I were to post the interaction on Facebook, folks who disagreed with me would likely accuse me of brainwashing my children.

But you know what?

All parenting is brainwashing our children. ALL OF IT.

No matter what you do as a parent, you are brainwashing your children with how you think they should view, participate, and interact with the world.

Whether it is something as mundane as how to load the dishwasher or something more “radical” (but hopefully, just as mundane in the future) as normalizing transgendered people, we brainwash our kids by imprinting our values upon them.

That’s our job as parents.

Whether or not our kids choose to continue with these beliefs in the future, that is up to them as people.

And thus, Hapa Papa and I try to normalize things that we ourselves did not grow up learning. We don’t make a big deal out of it. We just point things out consistently and gently remind our kids every time they state something that is the current norm (eg: dancing is for girls or trains are for boys).

This is how Glow Worm dresses up as Elsa or a mermaid or wears heels and sparkly shoes and necklaces. Cookie Monster went through this phase as well and grew out of it. If Glow Worm never does, that is perfectly fine, too.

Or this is why, when Cookie Monster once asked me if two men could have a baby, I said something to the effect of a baby could have two daddies, but making a baby required a sperm and an egg. (Hey, biological fact is also important.) I’m not really sure what the conversation entailed due to the vagaries of time, but that was the gist.

After all, we offer them unfettered access to YouTube which reflects mainstream views about what is supposed to interest boys or girls. I know it is impossible for us to catch and “correct” them all. And even if we did, they exist in this world and this reality and they are not stupid.

My kids are bound to absorb the unconscious messages they receive from media, family, and friends.

But hopefully, with years of repetition, my children will grow up thinking that people and families come in all shapes and sizes, abilities, colors, talents, loves, and desires. Some families have two fathers. Some have more. Some have only one mother. Some have none. Some have brothers and sisters. Some do not.

It is really that simple.

And mostly, people just want to live, love, and be without explanation and fear. That people want to just be who they are, when and where they are.

Yes, yes. Of course not every body can be who they are, when and where they are, because pedophiles and bad people.

TRANSGENDERED PEOPLE ARE NOT PEDOPHILES.

Neither are gays, lesbians, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

If I were really worried about pedophiles and bad people, I would tell them to avoid middle-aged white men who are religious leaders. (Don’t get mad at me for stating facts. Get mad at the white men doing bad things.)

At any rate, I am hopeful, in the era of 45 (I refuse to call him President because it hurts my brain and I am still unwilling to acknowledge reality), that the more of us who teach our children that all peoples are deserving of the freedom to live and love how they choose, the less likely another 45 will come into being.

Incidentally, that’s also why I wanted more kids. The super conservatives are outbreeding us liberals. (Kidding!! Kidding! I wanted lots of kids because of other reasons – but this doesn’t hurt!)

How are you brainwashing your kids?

 


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Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 7

Wow. Has it really been 3+ months since my last post about what lessons I’ve learned from homeschooling?

Since most of it was a blur, I’m not sure how much I will have to say about 2016Q4. But since I’m a completist, I will give it a go. Here then, (with my shortest preamble yet!) are the lessons I reluctantly learned while Homeschooling for October – December 2016.

1) When the kids are having a hard time listening and following directions, it’s best for everyone to take a break. Even if the break lasts a month (or two).

(ie: Mommy needs a time out.)

You see, few things infuriate me as much as children who don’t listen or follow directions.

Also I hate sloppiness. And the fidgets.

And I particularly hate when they look at me instead of the zhuyin (Chinese phonetic system) when they are reading and aren’t sure if they are reading correctly.

I mean, do I look like I have zhuyin and can tell you how the word is pronounced?

Friends, pregnancy makes me really pissy. 

My poor, poor children.

I was so mean to them and so impatient and quick to anger and scream.

I cut short many a lesson due to me completely losing it and yelling at full blast on their every stumble or perceived imperfection.

Nothing encourages language retention and making mistakes and learning for fun like a mean dragon fire-breathing mommy.

I have since learned (and re-learned) to just take a break. And to repeatedly tell Cookie Monster and Gamera that it’s not their fault that Mommy feels awful and that they are wonderful and beautiful and smart and that the time out is for me and not because they are bad.

But mostly, I broke my children and tried to put them back together after they burst into tears because they couldn’t please their mean mommy.

Trust me when I say that everyone is glad that Sasquatch is out instead of in.

Apparently no longer being in constant pain makes me a much more pleasant person.

2) Accept help.

I am a control freak. Everyone knows this. But even us control freaks need to acknowledge their desperate need for help and assistance sometimes.

Thus, it was with great relief that on rare occasion, my mom would listen to the kids read in Chinese (I’m talking on ONE occurrence – but it was still appreciated!!), or Hapa Papa would have the kids do math.

It was especially easy because I wanted Cookie Monster to do repetitive drills/workbooks to make sure he not only understood the concept of addition/subtraction/multiplication/division but to do them so often they became automatic.

Gamera was a little more difficult since she can’t read and her Singapore Math books require a lot more reading than Cookie Monster’s rows and rows of math problems. So, that required more effort on the part of Hapa Papa but hey, it’s not like I had to do the work.

3) Outsourcing homeschooling is AWESOME.

I mean, this is really why most people do NOT homeschool and send their kids to either public or private school, right? Having someone else do the teaching is fantastic!

Of course, I prefer the flexibility homeschooling allows. But my willingness to also hire private tutors or have them attend small classes is a great way for my kids to make friends with other kids (albeit, few of them), as well as give me a break from at least some of my children.

4) Paying for things in advance is a great way to force your kids to persevere in classes.

My kids were less than enthused about attending outdoor education classes. But after me telling them they had no choice because we already paid for these classes and HFS they were expensive – my kids grumbled for weeks.

But they went and had a good time.

They had such a good time that after awhile, the real reason they hated going no longer was as much of an issue. It just became something they had to do. (They didn’t like the fact that we had to leave before 8am to get to class on time and drive a long time because it cut down on their morning iPad time. Spoiled little brats.)

Now, they very much enjoy class and even don’t mind going to class in the rain. (They’ve even been brainwashed because Cookie Monster told me that rainy days are the best because then Mother Earth gets her water. Also, he gets to jump in mud puddles.)

This even applied to my kids and their kungfu lessons. Since they took such a long break from kungfu in the summer, it was hard for them to get back in the swing of things. Their muscles were sore after classes and because they were more advanced than they used to be, the forms were harder and it required more effort.

So, of course, they complained.

They complained because since we missed so many weeks in the summer due to our Taiwan Trip, we had to make up the sessions and often went to kungfu 3-4 times a week. Apparently, that is too much for them.

Well, again, the fact that we had already pre-paid came in handy and I brooked no dissent. After awhile, they again got used to the new reality and their bodies adjusted and they are happy about kungfu again. (It helps that they just got their yellow-black belts and have upgraded to a more advanced class.)

5) Homeschooling is flexible enough to withstand a lot of disruption.

I briefly touched upon this in the previous points, but seriously. I was worried about how being miserably pregnant and then happily unpregnant but with a newborn was going to affect homeschooling.

I need not have worried.

Yes, yes. We skipped a lot of actual schooling at home because I had a baby and all. But you know what? They played a lot with each other, still had their other classes, and in general, we took things slowly.

And because we adjusted our rhythm and tempo, my kids did not suffer really and since they’re pretty far ahead on math and yes, even Chinese reading, I wasn’t really worried.

Also, despite the fact that I still had to shuttle them to a lot of classes, it was STILL a lot easier than shuttling the kids to and from “regular” school. The thought of dealing with pick up/drop off and the traffic and rush in the early mornings hurts me.

Our laid back lifestyle was MUCH better and much preferred.

Plus, kids learned a lot about babies, helping with cooking, and home responsibilities. That is also learning. 

Alright. I think that’s the gist of the last three months. Here’s to another month of homeschooling! Happy 2017!

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 6

I really cannot believe September is mostly over already. I mean, that is both good (because I’m closer to birth), and bad (because I’m closer to birth). Whichever it is (likely a mix of both), it’s time for another round of what I reluctantly learned from homeschooling for September 2016.

1) Provide enough time and space for the kids to work.

This way, there is plenty of time and physical room for the children to work out a problem or figure something out. No one likes to be crowded or cornered in, figuratively or literally.

I also won’t be constantly looking at the clock, worrying that we have to leave in X minutes and harping on them for not moving faster. I have learned to just forget starting any type of homeschooling if there are about 15-30 minutes before we have to leave. Some of you might still be cool and calm and relaxed within that time frame. I am not that person.

2) Schedules (loosely held) are good. Too rigid: not good. Too lax: also not good.

I used to vacillate between the extremes of rigidly adhering to a schedule and then, if it gets blown in any minor way, just give up and completely blow off the schedules entirely and do nothing.

Apparently, there is a middle ground!

To bastardize a Bible verse about the Sabbath, the Schedule is made for your family, you are not made for the Schedule.

If it helps you to be as closely aligned to the schedule as possible, do that! But know that if life happens and you have to readjust your schedule or even blow it for a day/week/month, you will be okay.

Alternatively, having NO schedule whatsoever is also not helpful (at least for me). I think kids benefit from knowing generally what happens day to day isn’t going to be constantly shifting (or at least, certain days of the week follow a certain schedule). This type of stability is grounding and provides “sign posts” throughout the day/week.

It also mimics real life, to a certain extent. The majority of life is repetitive and scheduled. (That is, unless you are the most interesting man alive, a super hero, or on a reality TV show.) It’s good to get used to keeping to some sort of schedule.

3) What is the hurry anyway?

My brother says there is no point in rushing to be finished first at anything because it’s not like you gain anything by learning addition faster than everyone else.

Eventually, you will learn addition. So what’s the big deal?

I agree to a certain extent. I think at least in homeschooling, if you finish and learn something early and young, it frees you up to learn the things you truly want to learn.

Anyhow, I do like my brother’s point, though. There really is no hurry and no huge change in life changing events or abilities if you go slower than the norm. Eventually, your child will get it.

Right now, the way I apply this is if I or my kids get frustrated, I just stop. I either personally walk away (or tell my kids to go away) and either come back to the subject later or just stop altogether.

This is especially helpful if my kid is no longer listening to me.

There is no hurry. Chill out.

4) Keep mornings, Mondays, and Tuesdays as empty as possible.

I get the most work done early in the morning and early in the week. If I don’t get it done during that time, I feel a LOT of stress because I just feel all our unfinished business judging me.

I feel as if I’m a bad parent. Especially a bad homeschooling parent.

Thus, I find it better just to get things done and out of the way. I tend to slack off in the afternoons (hey, I’m exhausted all the time) and near the end of the week.

It’s almost as if my brain just freezes and says, “Nope. All done. Brain full. No room.”

Anyhow, I take advantage of my higher energy levels in the mornings and have the kids get as much as possible done.

5) Few things nip complaining about doing homeschool work in the bud like threatening the kids to go to regular school.

My kids, at most, have 1-2 hours of homeschooling instruction a day. I tell them if they complain and hate me teaching so much, they can go to school ALL day at our local school.

This terrifies them.

After all, I have spelled out, in great detail, how little free time they will have (my kids have SCADS of free time chasing after each other and watching screen times), and what types of things they have to do to “earn” video game and screen privileges.

They usually get back to work quickly when I threaten them with “Real” school.

Alright. This about sums up my latest homeschooling lessons for this past month. Good luck with everything else, my dear readers. (I’m about to keel over right now so I will be off to bed.)

Happy Monday!

What Our Homeschooling Looks Like

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When I first started seriously considering homeschooling, I had a really hard time visualizing what the day to day life would be like.

Did they all sit around a kitchen table and a white board and have a Little House on the Prairie type one-room classroom for all ages moment? (I really envisioned Mennonites with their little white caps and old style dresses.)

Were they all avidly doing unit projects where the mom did all this meticulous research and thus ended up teaching the same topic at different depths for each child (and for all subjects)?

How did they arrange their days? Was each day the same? Was the day fully packed? How did they manage teaching multiple children? How did they manage different interests?

And seriously, WHAT ON EARTH DID THEY DO ALL DAY AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT EVERYTHING IS CONSIDERED SCHOOL?

Oh. Ahem. I may or may not have freaked out about it internally when I started out.

Anyhow, what helped the most was searching for and seeing examples of people’s daily/weekly schedules. I LOVED the people who posted their excel spreadsheets or their planners. LOVED them.

I saw so many examples that I finally just sucked it up and made my own spreadsheet instead of buying the sample sheets and special homeschooling planners.

Turns out, even though I loved MS Excel, I hated working off a spreadsheet schedule. It made me so angry and frustrated. I decided paper would be better.

I put a printed sheet in a sleeve protector and used a dry erase marker to mark off each day. Then I would take a pic as a "record."

I put a printed sheet in a sleeve protector and used a dry erase marker to mark off each day. Then I would take a pic as a “record.”

Also, I made a checklist of all the stuff I wanted the kids to do/achieve each day that I would regularly check off each day so I could make sure I was hitting the things I wanted to get done during the week. I kept it up a few months, but then I stopped using them because it was no longer useful.

I also started off with pictures of things I wanted Cookie Monster to accomplish each day and have him choose which things he wants to do from those pictures. That lasted about a week.

In fact, if you are just brainstorming or considering homeschooling, know that you will likely come up with all sorts of great ideas on paper – but that you just don’t end up doing in real life. Not because they aren’t great ideas (because truly, they really might be great ideas). But because the ideas don’t fit into how you live your life.

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(Left) Pictures of things to do that day (Right) Pictures of things that are done or not in use.

That’s ok. Totally normal.

Because really, how will you know if something will work for your family unless you try it?

You can’t.

So don’t feel bad if you had planned on doing something and then you dropped it after several days/weeks/months. (Or shoot, sometimes, you just KNOW it won’t work and after several minutes, you’re like, NOPE.)

Anyhow, I think this September, I finally got the way I plan things down (as well as scheduling wise). So, I’m very pleased to let you know the nitty gritty details until you beg me to just STAHP it already and go away.

So, here is how I keep my life and schedule in order now (so that I can be sane).

1) I make a paper master schedule for the entire week.

I only reference this master schedule during the beginning of the school year when I’m still trying to plan the classes and nail down timing. It is helpful for me to see the big picture and have a general idea of which days will be free and which days will be full.

After this initial planning phase, unless I am adding another class or activity, I rarely refer to this page anymore.

Now, I’m going to be annoying because I hate posting full schedules for my kids because I do not think it is good internet security to have people know where we are at any given time of day. (Even if they are abbreviations or otherwise cryptically encoded.)

However, I hope you know how to draw up a weekly schedule in general and don’t really need my help. But just in case, I have the time down the left side (in hourly increments) and days across the top. Then I draw tiny blocks of time for each kid and class.

For simplicity’s sake, I try to lump my kids together as much as possible so I rarely have to just take ONE kid to a class.

2) Once I know my schedule, I input every formal class into my Google calendar. 

And because I am scatterbrained and can barely remember what day it is, I have alarms and timers to tell me when to leave for class and when to pick up my kids. It’s a sad, regimented life wherein I live and die by the timers, but otherwise, my children miss class or are stranded.

3) For subjects I teach at home, I just have a list of the things I want to hit on a given day and write them down in a planner. 

Then, I cross them off when I do them. For Cookie Monster, I spend about 30 minutes per subject. For Gamera, I spend about 15-20 minutes because she has a MUCH lower attention span. (And quite frankly, it is to keep me sane.)

The following pic is a mock up of what I write in my planner. I particularly like how the planner is separated by chunks of the day without actual times so that I have more space that it is not anal retentive and I can just write down what I would like to accomplish during that block of time. (I use the Spark and Volt planner and I HIGHLY recommend it.)

You’ll note that I do not write down the timing or schedule of the classes and what I plan on teaching. That’s because if it’s a scheduled thing, it’s already in my phone and if it’s not, I want the freedom to just get it done sometime during the day. (Preferably by 1pm because otherwise, it’s really not happening.)

Mock up of a weekly schedule. I cross off the items I have covered.

Mock up of a weekly schedule. I cross off the items I have covered. I guarantee you it is not normally this neat.

4) This year, I have found that the less I plan for the day, the more likely it will get done.

I try to cram in as much teaching from me as possible on Mondays and Tuesdays since we have most of those days free. I have also found that I work better in the mornings – so the more I can get done in the morning, the better. After lunch, it is usually much harder for the kids to want to do anything, let alone me.

At most, I teach Cookie Monster about 1.5 hours a day and Gamera about 45 minutes a day (I focus on two things: math and Chinese literacy). Then there is about another 15-30 minutes of them doing Chinese homework for their tutor and piano practice for Cookie Monster.

I do NOT teach them at the same time because that only causes me anger and I get frazzled and overwhelmed easily. I have them take turns being taught. If Glow Worm is home, I have them take turns playing with him. If he isn’t, I have them take turns playing whatever they want. The only rule is no screen time during the sessions because that really distracts the kid I’m supposed to be teaching at the time.

We watch 1-2 Chinese science videos during lunch time about twice a week. I even count the kids watching TF Boys music videos as Chinese and homeschooling. (Hey, it’s CULTURE!)

5) The rest of the time, they play. 

I don’t care what they play. I try to limit screen time so the majority of the time, they are making a mess of the house with each other. (I also try to make them clean up, too. That has varying levels of success.)

Left to their own devices, my children actually play really well with each other. They even beg to play in the back yard. I usually try to have them play outside in the afternoons since that is when my yard has the most shade.

Sometimes, they do a ton of art and water color stuff. Sometimes, they dress up. Sometimes, they play with dolls. Most of the time, they pretend to shoot and beat the crap out of each other. I honestly try to interfere as little as possible because I truly hate playing with children.

Their playing is super handy, too. I often nap during this time (although I have been known to blog, too).

6) Ok, that’s not true. They also go to classes.

As you probably have surmised, I outsource a LOT of my kids’ schooling. After I did all that research on Unit Studies and all sorts of homeschooling curriculum, I realized that I hated doing that stuff. I liked the idea of it, just hated the application.

So, I solved my problems the way I solve ALL my problems. I threw money at it.

I realize that YMMV on this type of solution depending on your financial situation. However, just know that if you are part of a charter, they usually provide funds and you can always use those funds (for us, we get about $2500 per kid this school year) and ONLY those funds for classes.

For my kids, I have them taking classes with a Chinese tutor, piano, kung fu, math class, and outdoor education/science class. And yes, I submit these all to my charter school for reimbursement.

So, that’s what homeschooling looks like at our house. Because I am lazy and impatient, I limit the number of things I expect to teach my kids during a given day. If a particular day has a lot of scheduled classes, I tend not to schedule anything from my part.

There is nothing that crushes my spirit quite like high expectations. So, I find that the less I put on myself, the more likely the things I really want will happen.

I’m sure as the kids get older and their subjects get more complicated, I will outsource less and less. But by then, they will be able to read so I can just have them read their texts in English or Chinese and then we can discuss. Or they can write. I don’t know – I imagine I will go through huge growing pains at that point.

One bridge at a time.

For now, this is what is working for us. I’m sure it will all be shot to hell when Baby 4 arrives in 4-5 weeks.

Oh, just remembered. You would probably like to know what our homeschooling space looks like. I have made a few changes from last year, so this is still a work in progress.

My front room has all the arts and crafts stuff as well as all our books and materials. I originally saw this room as the main homeschooling room, but that is not what happened. This room is now where the kids play and do arts and crafts and I oversee very little because I’m lazy. Everything is out or within reach (and often a mess) but they have a great time.

In fact, as you probably surmised, our kitchen table is where all the magic happens. It used to look like this:

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All the markers and pencils and stuff my kids would need sat permanently on our kitchen table.

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Somewhere buried under all that crap are their workbooks and things they should be using.

If your kitchen table is like mine, it’s where things go to die and be buried under stacks and stacks of mail for months at a time until we have guests or a party. Then everything gets thrown into a bag and hidden in the laundry room and finally, after a year or so, I finally go through them and throw things away for reals.

In other words, even though I ostensibly had the homeschool stuff within easy reach, it was really hard to identify and find the stuff we needed.

Finally, I gave in and re-purposed my Raskog cart I was originally using in my dress up closet (I bought a similar cart to replace it) and since I like this color more than the boring beige I got and I didn’t want to wait the two days for Amazon Prime to deliver to my front door, I reorganized everything the other day.

I got two cheapo magazine holders that I stole from somewhere else and put the kids’ workbooks and activity books in them. I also put all the pens and pencils and miscellaneous materials in the cart. Now my kids can easily find their books and often, Gamera will just go to the cart and get out what she wants to work on without my prompting. (She particularly likes to work on mazes and connect the dot workbooks.)

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Top: workbooks and activity books, pens, pencils Middle: more coloring materials Bottom: unifix cubes for math

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Ideally, what my kitchen table should look like. It does not look like that right now. It has only been two days. However, the kids work on the side with the watermelon. I usually sit with them as they work on math and I write or surf the web.

Anyhow, hopefully that covers most of what we do. If I missed something you are particularly interested in, let me know in the comments and I will try to answer there or address it in a later post. I hope this helped!