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!

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 5

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Can you believe that it’s almost September and that I’ve been back at homeschooling for three weeks already? And that I’m actually starting on a second year with TWO kids that I’m homeschooling as well as a new baby arriving in about a month’s time?

Sometimes, I think I have actually lost my proverbial mind. Who voluntarily does this to themselves?

Only sick people, my friends. Only sick people.

And now, I bring to you, my reluctantly learned homeschooling lessons, edition August 2016.

1) Slow Down.

For this year, I got the feeling that The Universe was telling me to slow the fuck down. Like for realz.

One of my preschool teachers for Glow Worm decided to take the year off so she could spend more time with her ill father. Some other random circumstances conspired against me and I finally decided to NOT schedule every second and minute of my three kids because, HEY, NEW BABY IS INEVITABLE.

So, this year, I’ve decided to pull back a lot – which when I think about it, we are still doing quite a LOT. There just seems to be a lot more space and I will have to resist the urge to fill everything up entirely.

It’s really difficult for me. I loathe empty space.

2) If the kids are having trouble understanding a concept, it’s usually my fault.

I swear, every time I re-start teaching my kids after a hiatus, I have to re-learn the lesson.

I got so frustrated with Cookie Monster to the point of screaming at him and him crying for forgetting how to do borrowing as well as word problems in subtraction. (Yes, yes, yes… excellent teaching method and great for learning new things.)

After stopping myself from devolving into a worse spiral (took at least 15 minutes for me to STFU), I realized Cookie Monster was having trouble because he fundamentally didn’t understand the concept of borrowing and what it actually represented, nor did he understand the concept of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands.

So, once I realized that, I made him use manipulatives instead of doing math problems in a workbook.

I started super simple with unifix cubes and then moved onto the Base Ten Blocks that come in units, tens, and hundreds. (I don’t have the thousands, but I am thinking of buying them.) (Amazon affiliate links used.)

It helped a lot and we eventually worked up to the workbook problems. (I even used our whiteboard!)

I then decided to not push the workbook as much and just work on reinforcing the concept of borrowing and word problems to Cookie Monster over the course of the next few days to really hammer home the concept and then go back to the workbook pages.

And once again, I realized that Cookie Monster wants nothing more than to please me by picking up a concept quickly and feeling smart and validated. But if he isn’t answering correctly, it’s because he fundamentally doesn’t understand something – and that’s MY FAULT because I am the teacher.

So, if I am mad at someone, it should be ME.

3) Teach kids one at a time.

I know this. Yet, I fall victim to all the kids wanting to learn something at the same time (including Glow Worm who doesn’t want to be left out). And it drives me insane because how can one person possibly explain three separate concepts to three separate children at the same time?

They can’t. That’s why I was frazzled and cranky.

So, I was quickly reminded to have firmer boundaries.

4) I actually have to prep ahead of time.

Gone are the days that I can just wing it and do whatever and just do the next pages in Singapore Math workbooks.

The concepts are a little harder now so now that I know that I totally missed Cookie Monster not having fundamentals down and only focused on how many pages he finished that I was doing him a huge disservice.

So, I started prepping for the week and listing loosely what concepts I wanted him to grasp that particular week.

This also applied to Chinese reading comprehension. I had to be more strategic in what I had him read and when. This year, I am emphasizing both reading with zhuyin as well as testing his reading comprehension by using different workbooks and textbooks. On top of that, I also want to up his new character recognition.

And, because I should technically learn from my mistakes, I am also being more thoughtful with Gamera’s curriculum even though she’s way ahead of where Cookie Monster was at her age and personally, it doesn’t really matter what she does this year because she’s only in TK.

But, why waste a year? So, she gets to benefit from my mistakes with Cookie Monster. I get to make all new mistakes with her.

I’m going to go slower with her in terms of math and reading and focus more on mastery and comprehension vs. finishing pages or learning new characters.

Also, instead of working with her for 30 minutes per subject, I’m only going to work 15 minutes with her. She doesn’t have the sustained concentration for any longer.

5) Mastery over progress.

I think the previous point already explains this in detail, but it is good to have it be its own point.

Mastery over a particular subject is far more important than how quickly we are progressing. There is no race. With whom are we competing?

 6) Take a hint from preschools and pull out 3 activities for the children to focus on each morning. 

Obviously, the kids don’t have to play with the toys that I bring out, but it’s nice for them to see the stuff they could play with instead of defaulting to the iPad or what they naturally gravitate to.

Alright, perhaps it won’t do much to fend off the Almighty iPad, but when I eventually kick the kids off their screens, they have things they can do.

Plus, it rotates my toys in and out of their consciousness.

Thus far, they have enthusiastically partaken in the activities – even if it isn’t for long. I think most important part is that they remember they enjoy playing with our toys so they even bring out more toys.

7) Rearrange fridge and pantry to be even more kid-friendly.

This year, because I will soon be occupied with a new baby, (I am hoping that the more I mention it, the more it will actually sink into my brain. I’m still quite deeply entrenched in denial.) I want to train all three of my kids to be even more independent.

But, in order for them to do that, the pantry, fridge, and drawers need to be arranged in a clear, easy to access manner.

So, before I left for Taiwan, I purged my pantry, fridge, and several of my cabinets. I am determined to refuse to give into the urge to fill all the empty space. (There’s that recurring theme again.)

Instead, I make it very easy for my kids to see what food items we have, have all the foods they can fix for themselves at a level they can reach (including in the fridge). Thus everything for the children is on the lower three levels of the side and center of the fridge.

8) Rearrange books in a kid-friendly way.

In the same way that the pantry and fridge will be more utilized when the children can clearly see the food items and can easily reach them, so with books.

The incomparable Guavarama came over one night and rearranged all my Chinese books in a way for both me and my children to easily find books, understand what we are getting, and put them away.

She arranged all the picture books together (books that either require me to read to the kids or for them to read by themselves), and then arranged all the other books by levels.

Thus, if I wanted to, I could easily just go down the line of my bookshelves and go from Left to Right and Cookie Monster and Gamera would be assured of reading books appropriate to their abilities and gradually upping their difficulty level.

Very exciting.

I even labelled the shelves. (I mean, how else was I going to remember how Guavarama arranged things?)

9) Sometimes, it’s cheaper just to buy new workbooks than to laminate or use pouches for reuse. 

I bought a bunch of cute and fun Chinese workbooks (for math, general fun, etc.) for the kids for about $2USD per book. I made the executive decision that since I will be going back to Taiwan next summer, I don’t need to worry about re-use and just buy them again next year.

Because quite frankly, the materials I would use to laminate or put in sleeves cost more than the actual workbooks (not to mention the time it wastes).

10) Amazing what my kids will do when I turn off the screens. 

Seriously, why do I never remember this?

I think this year, I really want to emphasize valuing empty space (including in the schedules and iPads).

At any rate, this has done wonders for their playing with our other toys, playing with each other, and just figuring out what things to do when they’re bored.

Cookie Monster gets bored a lot. I have offered to give him more homework. Somehow, he doesn’t seem to appreciate that very much.

Anyhow, those are some of the lessons I’ve bumbled and ruined for August. It’s been exciting (and humbling) to see how even though it’s our second year of homeschooling, I’m still making the same mistakes.

Clearly, I learn from past experiences.

Have a great Monday, friends!

Subtraction Woes


I’d like to think I’m pretty good at math. I did well on my AP exams and took Calculus for a few quarters at UCLA and in general, did a lot of math for chemistry and physics and my other science courses. I still remember a lot of useless geometric formulas for calculating the areas of triangles and circles and a ton of other crap.

So, you know. I thought, hey, teaching Cookie Monster math shouldn’t be hard. Last year was Kindergarten and we went through several books of Singapore math and ended the year somewhere in 3rd grade math around subtracting hundreds and borrowing/carrying, etc.

We took quite a few months off of subtraction and when we picked up where we left off, I was surprised to see how little Cookie Monster seemed to have retained or understood of even the THEORY of subtraction.

Also, it seemed like he didn’t understand ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, and columns and “borrowing” and what not.

I spent our first math session mostly yelling at him and then feeling bad because I know that his failure to understand the foundation of subtraction and units and anything was actually my failure. It’s not his fault he doesn’t understand something if I never actually taught it to him in a way that he integrated into his brain.

Eventually, I switched to manipulatives and I started super simple with unifix cubes and then moved onto the Base Ten Blocks that come in units, tens, and hundreds. (I don’t have the thousands, but I am thinking of buying them.) (Amazon affiliate links used.)

I had all these lofty thoughts of this magically changing how Cookie Monster understood math and subtraction and borrowing, etc.

Nope.

I mean, I don’t think it hurt him. But I don’t think it translated.

Anyhow, on the first day of our official homeschooling, I spent 30-40 minutes with him on subtraction and I nearly died of frustration. As a result, I had a long conversation with Guavarama (and also a separate conversation with my other mama friends) and the result was something I found terribly interesting (particularly since it affects my life AT THIS MOMENT).

So, I asked for permission to reproduce our text conversation in full. Perhaps it will help you if you find yourself in a similar situation.

MM: Cookie Monster does subtraction SO WEIRD that it makes me want to die. Took me over 30 minutes to figure out that he does the math in his head. He just uses the wrong terminology [when he explains to me what he is doing].

So he doesn’t think in terms of borrowing, etc. I was using manipulatives to do it and he was kinda getting it but not relating it to the way he does the problem.

And then he started pissing me off on purpose.

The problem was: 653 – 85 = ?

I asked him what he has to minus. He’s like, 2. No, 5. No, 4.

I’m like, LOOK AT THE FUCKING PROBLEM!! IT TELLS YOU!!

Then he finally decides he doesn’t want to use the manipulatives so he just stares a the problem and comes up with the wrong answer the first time (it was really close) and then the right answer the second time.

I make him explain to me how does it and somehow, he finally tells it to me in a way I understand.

He did: 653 – 5 = 648 then 648 – 80 = 568.

He got the right answer so clearly, that’s the way his brain works. But I don’t know what to do. Shouldn’t he know how to use borrowing? And carrying?

But his way is kinda faster?

I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO.

But he isn’t wrong.

Sorry to be blabbing. I’m just kinda at my wit’s end because I don’t want to change his brain – but there might be murder.

GR: Definitely don’t say borrowing. Use the word exchange. Because that’s what you’re doing concept-wise. You’re not borrowing anything.

MM: I think we use the word, 換 (huan4/exchange), like swapping.

GR: And hahaha on the not looking at problem. I swear they do it on purpose!

MM: (I just use the term borrowing because that’s the term I learned as a kid.)

GR: And no. He’s actually doing common core math the way he comes up with these answers. It is correct. That is how it’s taught in Montessori Math and I’m guessing Singapore Math.

MM: Singapore Math has them split up the 53 into 40 + 13.

I mean, obviously, there is more than one way to do math.

GR: What he’s doing is actually breaking the steps down when he does it, in his head. But that is exactly how you’re solving for the problem.

MM: So do I just let him stare at the problem and answer it? It seems to work ok when it’s a straight up question like 653 – 85 = ?

But doesn’t seem to work as well in word problems.

This explains why he doesn’t care if the problem is written vertically or horizontally.

GR: 53 into 40 + 13 IS borrowing. They’re telling him, “Exchange 10 in the 5 and now the 10 is added to the 3, hence 13. That’s Montessori Math.”

MM: Right, but he isn’t doing that. He’s splitting the thing that is being subtracted, which is how Hapa Papa does it, I think.

He’s splitting the 85 into 80 + 5. And subtracting the 5 first then the 80. So he’s doing two subtraction problems.

GR: But that IS what you do.

MM: Lol. Ok.

GR: 653 – 85 right? You said, he did 653 – 5 = 648 then 648 – 80.

So that’s right. He’s subtracting 5 from 3. But he’s learned to exchange so he did 13 – 5, which is how he got 648.

Then he subtracted 40 – 80, which then he has to exchange again.

You have to make the link between what he’s doing in his head and paper.

MM: ok.

GR: From the math theory I’ve read, basically there is the concept of mathematical mind and constructivist math, which is that people arrive at answers multiple ways. And that’s fine.

And paper is just something we use to help us keep track of what our brain is thinking as it works it out. Because the equations get more complicated.

MM: Ok. So how do I teach him? Or help him if he gets the wrong answer?

GR: So he’s doing it right, but to write down what he’s doing in his head onto paper, he has to take note of what he did. This also helps him when he’s doing like 10 digit – 9 digit… and he gets it wrong. He can backtrack and see where he got it wrong.

I have to tell you though, this concept they’re not happy with. They just want to arrive at the answer and that’s that.

Took me a long time to convince Thumper that she needs to write out what she’s doing. Astroboy, on the other hand, had no problem. Shrug.

MM: *weeps*

GR: So for your equation, 653 – 85, he did 3 – 5, but point out what he did was to make it 13 – 5, which meant he made the 5 into a 4 in his head. Then he should, in his first step, cross out the 5 and make that into a 4… for note taking purposes, to remind himself what he did.

MM: *thumbs up*

GR: Basically, Montessori Math has the kids do concrete, and then mapped the concrete to writing.

So now you have 648 – 80, which you again have to exchange so you should cross out the 6 and turn that into a 5. Now you have 140 – 80, which gives you 60, and you write down the 6.

And you just carry down the 5.

MM: Ok.

GR: So, I would say, if he’s giving you the right answers, don’t make him work it out. Because he sees no point.

That’s one option.

MM: Hahahahahah. Ok.

GR: But, when he starts getting them wrong – and he will as you add more digits – then point out this is WHY you write it down and note what you’re doing.

MM: Ok.

GR: Cuz that’s why we do math this way. That was an “Aha!” moment for me when I read that. We calculate on paper this way because it’s just note-taking. It isn’t the only way.

MM: I like this option because it requires me to do nothing until something happens.

GR: Cuz as an adult, I don’t calculate this way anymore. hahahahah.

MM: It’s true. BECAUSE I HAVE A CALCULATOR. Lol. Which really isn’t true, but you know what I mean.

GR: hahahah. I mean, in my head, I would do strange things like 653 – 85 is the same as 650 – 85 + 3.

MM: Yes. That is how Hapa Papa would do it. He is super fast at math. I usually ask him instead of using a calculator.

Maybe I should make Hapa Papa teach subtraction. Hahahahah.

And, because I really like to belabor a point, here’s part of my discussion with Irish Twins as I was discussing it with Guavarama.

ITWait, I actually looked a the problems you give him and that’s how I would do it. How do you do it???

MM: Hahahaha. I actually would’ve subtracted 80 first then the 5.

But that’s how I do math NOW. Not how I learned to do math, if that makes sense.

So, I’m not against the way he does math. I’m just not sure how to help him.

Guavarama suggested that I do nothing until he gets lots of things wrong which will happen when you add more and more numbers. And then explain why we take notes with the borrowing and carrying notations.

IT: Actually, weirdly enough, if you present it horizontally, I would probably take 53 off each side.

MM: hahahahahah.

IT: I like nice, flat numbers.

Who knew I would have not one, but TWO conversations all on subtraction? 

When I had this conversation again with Hapa Papa, I had him read my conversation with Guavarama vs tell him the same story. He mentioned that Cookie Monster does math the same way he does. 

And then there was a TWIST. 

Hapa Papa didn’t know what borrowing was. 

WHAT?!?

I had to explain it to him and he was like, what? I was like, this is how they used to teach math. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. 

He must have already figured out how to do math and ignored his teachers. 

Is this what happens to homeschooling parents? We talk about theory and pedagogies?

How did this become my life?

Ah well. I do enjoy nerding out, even if I am clearly unworthy to do math around Cookie Monster.

Hope these conversational glimpses were helpful (or at the very least, not boring). Have a great day!