How I Homeschool with 4 Kids

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Homeschooling can be incredibly rewarding and fun and lovely, but sometimes (okok, OFTENTIMES,) it can be super overwhelming and frustrating.

Even just homeschooling one child can be difficult and hard to find a groove – let alone two kids or more. Factor in age differences and spreads, subject matter, and maturity levels, it’s enough to become a logistic nightmare.

This being our third year homeschooling, (as well as the second year with four kids), I thought I’d share a little bit of how I manage to juggle all the kids and their schedules this year.

In case you don’t have my entire clutch of children and their ages and grades in your short term memory, here’s the rundown of the tiny humans:

Cookie Monster: ~8, boy, 2nd Grade
Gamera: ~6, girl, K
Glow Worm: 4, boy, Pre-K
Sasquatch: 11 months, boy, N/A

I will split the day up into morning, afternoon, and evening chunks. Mostly because that is how my Ink+Volt Planner sets it up and now, my brain is used to it. (Actually, I think most of us think of the day like this. Either that or it’s Wake/Work/Home/Sleep.)

Quick Note: Other than our scheduled classes and activities, I do not plan out minute by minute for the children. That’s because I tend to get derailed easily and it’s too much pressure to keep “on schedule” and too easy to give myself an excuse to give up because it’s 8:30am and we’re already behind.

I have a list of subjects I want the kids to go over at some point during the day and then as long as the kids do them, I don’t really care when they do it.

The picture to the left details what I have planned for each child in terms of classes and what I expect to cover each day with each child.

As long as I hit most of them in a week, I am satisfied. (I look at it like doctors tell you to look at child nutrition: see what they are eating on a weekly vs daily basis.)

Anyhow, here’s a quick rundown of a typical day. I will have another post with my tips for homeschooling multiple children.

Cookie Monster and Gamera playing war games after their lessons. Maybe instead of their lessons

Morning

All the older kids wake up sometime between 6am and 7:30am. They go downstairs after changing clothes and hang out with Hapa Papa. They’re allowed thirty minutes daily of iPad time and that’s when they use it.

Allegedly, they’re supposed to be getting their own breakfast and eating it. Allegedly.

After their screentime is over, they play or read or do whatever – as long as it doesn’t wake the baby.

Whenever the baby wakes up, I hand him over to Hapa Papa until about 7:30am and then Hapa Papa has to get ready for the day. I eventually go downstairs around 8am and we begin the part of the day where I start my “parent” shift.

Glow Worm doing his Chinese homework.

Depending on the day, I either get them ready to leave the house to attend a class or I start them on their daily activities. Since Cookie Monster and Gamera only have a morning class one day a week, I have been experimenting with leaving them home alone for up to an hour while I take Glow Worm to his various preschool classes.

(Therein is my first secret – send your preschool aged children to preschool!!)

I usually ask Cookie Monster and Gamera to either practice piano or do their Chinese homework when I’m out ferrying Glow Worm. Surprisingly, they’re really good sports about it and play through each of their songs five times and then, they typically pick a Chinese book to read. I guess it helps that the bookshelves are right next to the piano.

WHY? How is this safe – let alone comfortable?

Cookie Monster has FINALLY discovered that reading is fun, so now he burns through 2-4 books a day. Not to be left out, Gamera has also started reading because she wants to be like her big brother. They are both obsessed with the Mr. Men and Little Miss series and thankfully, there are 96 books so it’s enough to keep them interested for a good long while.

When I get home, I try to put Sasquatch down for a nap. (That’s my second secret: cram in as much teaching as you can when the baby is napping.) While he is napping, I will work with Cookie Monster and Gamera on topics that require my presence to explain or teach (math and English reading).

For Cookie Monster, we are currently working through Singapore Math 3A, Kumon Division Grade 3, Explode the Code 1and BOB Series 2. For Gamera, we are working through Singapore Math 1B, Explode the Code 1, and BOB Series 2.

Cookie Monster working on Explode the Code.

Cookie Monster loves to blaze through as many pages as possible and we get a lot done every session. He pretty much likes to work until he doesn’t want to do it anymore and I let him because really, he’s so easy going and agreeable, I don’t mind.

Because Gamera is only in Kindergarten, I really don’t care how much we go through for her. She also has less stamina and complains really quickly so we rarely do more than 15 minutes. I am constantly amazed at how little time passes before she sighs and whines that her hand is sore and that she’s soooooo tired.

Gamera working on Explode the Code.

Now that I’m a little less trigger happy with the yelling and being easily overwhelmed by noise, I will occasionally have them work on math simultaneously. However, it’s still difficult because there are so many word problems in Singapore Math and neither of them can read yet. So, going through the workbooks still requires a lot of my focused attention for reading and/or translating into Chinese.

We don’t do Explode the Code at the same time despite the pages being pretty self-explanatory and repetitive, I have the kids using the same set of workbooks because I am cheap and refuse to pay that much money for the whole set for FOUR separate children.

Transparency sheet over the workbook pages. This way, I can have 4 kids use them!

Instead, I use transparent sheets and they use dry eraser markers to circle and practice writing. (I laminated ten empty laminate pouches and then clean them with hand-sanitizer gel and a cloth.) Since they are in the same book right now, I can’t teach them at the same time. Once Cookie Monster finishes the first book (he’s over half-way through), I can have them work together.

Now that Cookie Monster and Gamera are older and Glow Worm is at preschool so he doesn’t need entertaining, we’ve cut screentime and whoever is not being worked with at the kitchen table is usually playing, drawing, or reading quietly by themselves. If Sasquatch is awake, the other person is keeping him out of trouble.

At some point in the morning, I put lunch in the Instant Pot so that we can have food to eat. Then I go to pick up Glow Worm from Chinese preschool.

Kids playing blocks. Sasquatch destroying things as usual.

Afternoon

In general, I try to make sure the kids finish their work before lunch because after lunch, they are DONE. The afternoon is reserved for extracurricular activities or play dates or just playing. If we are really behind in doing our work and I actually have mustered up some sense of urgency, I might have the kids do more work.

Once or twice a week, I will go through part of a lesson from Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding Vol. 1 after lunch with the older three kids. They do not enjoy it but seriously, I take up less than fifteen minutes of their time to cram in some science lesson and then they’re back to playing.

I keep intending to pair the lessons with R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey but honestly, I’m lazy. This will take a lot more intentional work on my part.

Then, we’re off to some class or activity and before you know it, it’s dinner time and Hapa Papa has come home and I don’t even greet him before I hand him the baby and run away upstairs to be away from my children.

Evening

I try to prep on a weekly basis (mostly the science portion – which clearly, needs to be worked on a bit more seriously) and I can really only do that in the evenings or on the weekends. Otherwise, this is also when I’m doing research on curriculum or writing.

Ok. I will be honest. By researching curriculum, I really mean search Guavarama’s blog for what her kids are doing. Or if I’m feeling REALLY researchy, I will search the different Facebook Homeschooling groups I belong to for their advice. And then, I start ordering entire sets indiscriminately on Amazon.

Oh, and to clarify. This is not what I do MOST evenings or weekends. That is merely the time I have really free to do so.

Other Stuff of Dubious Interest

Here’s what our homeschooling spaces look like:

Where most of the homework happens. Clearly, I did not tidy for the pic.

 

The Raskog cart (IKEA) I use to store our frequently used homeschooling stuff (eg: workbooks, pencils, erasers, markers, unifix cubes, etc.)

 

Craft room, piano, Chinese books, Legos, and play dough.

Also, I have been asked before what I do when we have either bad days or if we are sick or somehow end up missing a day or two or five of homeschooling. Do we try to make up the missing days and subjects? Do we double up or add work until we are caught up to where we’re “supposed” to be?

Nope. The answer is NOPE.

Look. My kids are in 2nd grade and Kindergarten. I cannot imagine any scenario where they are learning stuff that absolutely requires us to be at a certain point by a certain date.

This is the whole point of homeschooling: to work at your own pace independently from other kids!

And though some folks could argue that my kids are way ahead in Math so that’s why I don’t worry, Cookie Monster is really behind in reading. He’s in 2nd grade and still doesn’t know how to read English.

Despite it being an intentional decision on my part to emphasize Chinese literacy at the expense of his English literacy, I do have bouts of insecurity about my choices when I hear of his peers reading Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Plus I, myself, was reading 5th or 6th grade level books at his age. I have to willfully forget what stuff I was learning as a kid his age. Otherwise, I start freaking out.

At least Cookie Monster’s Chinese tutor says he’s at grade level for kids in China – I have no way of verifying this statement without undue effort on my part so we’ll just have to all take his tutor’s word for it. This is vastly superior to my current abilities so YAY!

Anyhow, what was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Do I “make up” our work?

The answer is still, “No.” I just continue where we were at our normal pace. It does, however, take a few days to ease back into homeschooling when we take days off. Not because the kids aren’t willing – but because I have completely forgotten the rhythm and how to homeschool my kids and think every day is Saturday.

This year, I also intentionally cut back on their classes and activities. In actuality, I only cut their weekly outdoor education class and combined their twice weekly one hour M2 class into a weekly two hour class. Although now that I think about it, I added kungfu for Glow Worm but since that merely requires us to attend kungfu an hour earlier and Cookie Monster and Gamera work on their reading during Glow Worm’s class, it works out.

In addition, every two weeks, PharmGirl and I trade off teaching sewing or knitting at my house. We just started this so I have no idea how this will work or last. Thus far, Gamera really loves the sewing projects PharmGirl is teaching and is underwhelmed by my attempt to teach her a knit stitch. Cookie Monster has ZERO interest in either subjects so I am only going to force him to learn how to knit with ZERO success.

Just these small adjustments have made a HUGE difference in my stress levels and I no longer feel as if I am always rushing from one thing to the next. Thus, secret number three: consolidate classes into larger blocks of time and/or cut classes to increase time at home.

This way, I also don’t stress about Sasquatch’s nap time because a tired baby is a cranky baby.

I am not completely satisfied with my laziness and I know I need to add more history or social studies – and I mean to. I really wanted to start incorporating the Black History is American History course that I bought but honestly, I am not used to prepping for any lessons quite just yet.

I am barely doing science – I am not sure I can handle prepping history, too. And the course is super easy – but it still requires me to go to the library and borrow books. And read. And teach.

Yes, I know. I am truly mediocre.

But, hey. I do what I can at the moment.

Anyhow, I don’t mention the baby too much because honestly? He’s my fourth child. We ignore Sasquatch a lot and he basically wanders my house and plays with the other three kids when they’re not doing their work.

Like I said, I try to cram everything in during his 2-3 hour nap. On days he’s being difficult and refusing to sleep, we get a lot less done. Or, I am just really ok with letting him do whatever he wants as long as he’s safe.

In terms of actual schooling/teaching that I do at home (vs the kids taking actual classes), it is very minimal. At most an hour per kid. That’s because my kids can finally read. Well, they can read Chinese anyway. And they can read it well enough that I no longer have to sit next to them as they read aloud to me.

Now, because I want to make sure their pronunciation or reading is correct, I will still occasionally have them read aloud to me once every week or two. But for the most part, they have complained that reading the books aloud makes them too thirsty and it takes too long so now, they have started reading silently – AND TO THEMSELVES. It is a beautiful and wondrous thing.

And that’s my last secret: once your kids can read independently, your workload decreases a lot.

Alright. That’s all I can really think of for now. Did I miss something? Is there something you’re dying to know about our daily life that I did not mention or detail enough? Let me know in the comments.

Why I Homeschool

This year marks the beginning of our third year homeschooling and looking back, it seems inevitable that I ended up choosing this for my children.

However, until 3-4 years ago, I fully looked forward to (and expected to) walk my children to our local elementary school, then have them walk or bike to our local middle school, and then walk to our local high school (which is less than a five minute walk away).

I was a little worried about how I would manage the drop-off/pick-up for so many children (even then, I had visions of four kids), not to mention all their extra-curricular activities, but ultimately, I figured that millions of families do it every year. Surely, I would make it work.

But as the years progressed, I got more and more into my kids learning Chinese and wanting them to surpass my own abilities. That, of course, would take up at least a Friday night or a Saturday morning in Chinese school.

Plus, as I learned more about all the untold stories of America, both in terms of rendering peoples invisible as well as the mythologizing of America, I was already anticipating even more supplementing.

And then, of course, because I’m Taiwanese as well as secretly Tiger Mommyish, I firmly believed in my children taking as many extracurricular activities as possible because that is when their brains are most pliable.

So while none of any one of these things were that problematic on their own, the combination of them all was causing me a lot of stress.

And then I heard from my friend, Hotelier, that she was going to be homeschooling – and doing it in Chinese and BOOM!

A whole world opened up.

I stalked a bunch of homeschool Yahoo! groups and read a bunch of books for at least a year before I ultimately decided to homeschool and withdrew Cookie Monster from our local elementary school.

Of course, I didn’t really have these reasons crystallized in my mind when I pulled Cookie Monster out of school, but over the years, I have thought about it some more and distilled my reasons to the following:

1) I have two mutually exclusive beliefs:

a) Children are over-scheduled.

b) Children should learn as many things as possible.

I have these visions of what a childhood should look like. We all do (though they be different). For me, I see childhood as huge swaths of empty space. Plenty of time to play, read, laze about, watch TV, and daydream.

The idea of a childhood full of being shuttled from school to after school programs to home to homework to sleep to wake only to do it all again – that makes me feel claustrophobic.

How stifling.

And yet.

How else can I prepare my kids for the pending zombie apocalypse? (Or more realistically, their future?)

How else can they be well-rounded humans unless they take music lessons? Play sports? Learn coding? Survive the wilderness? Carve their own Davids? Perform calculus in their heads faster than a computer?

How else can they do these things unless they take classes? And if they are in “regular” school, how can we do these classes unless they are after school? And if every moment is filled with classes, when will we be a family? When will they be children? When will they live?

I have four children. Let’s just assume my kids each take two classes. That’s eight classes a week. Since there is an age spread of seven years between the oldest and the youngest, they cannot all be shoved into the same classes – assuming they even have the same interests.

I WOULD ONLY SEE MY CHILDREN IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR OF MY MINIVAN.

This was not acceptable to me.

2) Chinese language retention.

Everyone knows that once kids who were previously fluent in Chinese (or any language, really) starts full time school, their Chinese immediately takes a nose-dive and their English improves by leaps and bounds.

Of course it does.

It’s not some giant conspiracy (although it often seems to be). It’s just math.

There are only so many waking hours in a day. And if the majority of those hours are in English dominant spaces, how could our children not eventually become English dominant?

From what I recall as a child, though I didn’t exactly resent speaking and understanding Chinese, I certainly did not enjoy giving up every Saturday morning to weekly Chinese schools for my entire pre-college education.

Who is to say my children would be equally un-resentful?

Plus, having been a product of those weekly Saturday schools and finding them to be unequal to the task of what I personally would like for my own children, I knew it would require even more effort on my part (and thereby, my children). That would require even more of the already limited free time my kids would theoretically have.

3) I fundamentally disagree with how and what schools teach – particularly in areas of history and social studies.

This is the one that took the longest for me to eventually realize.

I mean, where to start?

Personally, I find that school teaches our kids information (and not always good information) but don’t actually teach our kids how to learn. Like, how to best read a textbook in order to retain information. Or how to take good notes. Or how to study.

And all those tests! What is the point of tests, really? I mean, even as a hyper-competitive person, I recognize the futility of tests.

When in life are you, as an adult, in a situation where you absolutely have to have everything memorized without access to a calculator or Google or a reference book? I mean, you obviously are required to be competent. But ultimately, if you don’t know something or cannot recall some random fact, you can find out.

Also, just like I have a huge problem with Sunday School, I have a huge problem with regular school.

It turns out, the older I am, the more anti-establishment I have become. (Not entirely, I do enjoy my creature comforts.)

But I was particularly disillusioned with how our children are inculcated with the Myth of America (from when they are very small and first learn of the pilgrims and Squanto and the first Thanksgiving) and how even in college, they may never be shaken out of their myths or confronted with the horrible realization that everything they learned about in school was a lie.

Isn’t that how we ended up with Trump?

Isn’t that how we have people who deny the Holocaust?

I distinctly recall a moment in 7th grade World History class. In a textbook of several THOUSAND pages, there were exactly two pages on the histories of China, Japan, Africa, and South America.

China, in all its 5,000 years of history was reduced to a few paragraphs.

China, a country that invented paper, gunpowder, and the compass, among other things, was explained in half a page. Of World History.

I was enraged. (Mostly because I was Chinese and wanted to learn more about my people.)

Clearly, World History meant the only world that the publishers thought mattered: the Western European World.

Fuck these people.

I realized that a lot of this “corrected” or expanded view of history is what we go to college for – but why? Why waste so much time teaching our children such a fictionalization of our world only to perhaps knock it down in college when they’re older?

Oh, right. Because white supremacy and patriarchy.

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to support white supremacy and patriarchy.

My kids are going to be woke, y’all. They’re going to be woke as fuck.

There are other reasons why I am pleased to be homeschooling despite the obvious disadvantage of having to be with my children for so much of the day, but these are the main driving forces.

I’m sure if you ask even one hundred other homeschooling families, you will get an additional one hundred reasons.

But you will find, that like all things, these families all end up looking like what works for the main homeschooling parent and their children. It is the ultimate in a customized education – for better or for worse.

Thanks for reading, friends. I would love to hear why you do or do not homeschool in the comments.

 

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).

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!