Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 5


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!

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 4

Okie dokes! It’s another edition of my reluctantly learned lessons and quite frankly, even though these were mostly for the month of March 2016, since I did nothing for April  and May 2016, they get lumped into this group as well. Yay for efficiency!

So, because I’m on a rare brevity roll, let’s get straight to it!

1) Homeschooling can withstand a LOT of “nothing.”

Ever since I got pregnant in February, the life energy just got sucked out of me and all I did for the first trimester was lay on the couch and not move much except change the channel on the TV.

This, of course, rightly concerned Hapa Papa, but honestly, I wasn’t too worried. Cookie Monster was up to 3rd grade math. He knew all his letters and I wasn’t going to teach him to read in English this year anyway. And he finished Sagebooks earlier than I anticipated and I was OK with coasting.

So, we coasted. For months. It has worked out just fine.

2) Classes help when you feel awful.

It’s fantastic that I am a lazy sort of person in general and outsourced most of our homeschooling anyway with classes. Thus, even when I dropped off the face of the earth, it’s not as if I were teaching a ton of subjects at home to Cookie Monster, anyway.

So, I continued shuttling him to all his classes and he still learned math, science, Chinese, Chinese calligraphy, art, kungfu, soccer, and basketball. This child was NOT deprived. I’m pretty sure he still ended up learning stuff.

3) Cutting screen time increased play time.

This seems so obvious once you type it out, but I am amazed at how often I have to re-learn this tidbit. Yes, yes. We all hear how screen time is the devil incarnate and we should cut it out. Blah, blah, blah.

But I always worry that the kids won’t know what to do with themselves. And always, it’s a baseless worry.

Here’s what my kids did with less screen time: they played.

A lot.

With toys. With each other. With Minecraft swords and light sabers. With dolls. With sand and play dough. With art. And stickers. With friends. With dress up. With fighting. With whining. With books. With pillows and couch cushions (to my never-ending dismay). With the outside. With chalk. With blocks. With Magnatiles. With cars. With trains. With EVERYTHING they ignored for years.

It was beautiful.

I just took away the screens and gave them zero options and they would come back and forth to the kitchen to graze on fruit or snacks I left out. They would whine. And then they would proceed to beat the crap out of each other.

They are really into beating the crap out of each other.

Then they would play some made up game they learned from watching Minecraft or YouTube videos and all three of them would alternate between screaming at each other in frustration and then joy.

It was awesome.

4) Use real life circumstances as teachable moments.

Truly, I hate the term, “teachable moments.” It’s so trite and stupid. However, it is useful so I guess I’m using it.

Anyhow, once I told the kids I was pregnant, they were very curious how the baby could grow and live in my tummy. So, I found YouTube videos that show the baby growing from conception to birth. The kids were fascinated and still remember. And now they know how babies grow.

Yay, internet!

Alright. I will likely take a break from this series until we start up again in August/September. This time, with Gamera officially starting TK homeschooling! Whoooo!

Stuff I Reluctantly Learned from Homeschooling, Vol. 3

Man, it’s a good thing that I keep a notebook with notes on what I want to blog about. Otherwise, there is no way I could remember what I learned in February (however reluctantly). I mean, I can’t really recall what I did yesterday so casting back to February 2016 would have been an exercise in futility.

So, without further ado, here are some of the lessons I learned in February 2016.

1) It’s OK to quit things.

Cookie Monster was super discouraged at swimming because it took him over two months to earn the last sticker he needed to get a ribbon (something about arm strokes) and even after several extra private lessons during the winter break, he still didn’t get his ribbon so making him go to swimming lessons every Monday afternoon was starting to break my poor boy down.

Wow, that was quite the run-on sentence.

He would cry after every class and sit dejected in his car seat. He begged to stop going. For months, he begged.

Finally, I told him he didn’t have to continue swimming lessons after the winter session ended and his whole face lit up. Even now, he still doesn’t want to re-start swimming lessons for the fall. I told him he wouldn’t have to take lessons again until the start of January 2017.

For a long time, I made Cookie Monster go to the lessons because hey, I already paid for them and persevering through things that are hard is good for you. That’s a huge lesson we’ve been teaching him for the last year through kungfu classes, different sports classes, and piano lessons.

But after a few months, I realized that yes, persevering through hard stuff is a good thing. However, it’s also okay to quit things.

Knowing when to stop and take a break is also a lesson that needs to be learned. And knowing that you’re not a bad person or a failure despite quitting, that is also a good thing to learn – especially early in life.

After all, isn’t life just a fine balance between saying Yes and No to different things until you somehow muddle into the life you have now?

Obviously, I don’t want my children to quit at the first sign of difficulty. But I don’t want them to stay and continue in things they don’t enjoy, aren’t good at, and are making them feel like utter crap just for some arbitrary notion about “quitters being losers,” either.

2) I put some Mandarin posters up at eye-level for my kids and it made a big difference. You can read more about that here.

3) I started the Read 100 Challenge for Cookie Monster to motivate him to read for Minecraft minutes. We’ve fallen off the wagon since then, but it was fun at the time. You can read more about that here.

4) We stopped doing Singapore math and I know we really need to re-start that up. Mostly because like all things, if you stop practicing, you forget. (And this has definitely happened to Cookie Monster.)

I didn’t end up re-starting math in February. Or March. Or April. I kind of restarted in May, and I will post more on that later.

Alright. Short post because guess what? Since I got pregnant, I’ve done almost zero “homeschooling.” The only reason my children are learning anything is because I outsource a lot of their education and have them signed up for a lot of classes.

Ok. That’s it for today. Short but sweet. Don’t get used to it (unless it’s for these Homeschooling Lesson posts specifically. Because again, laziness.)