Monday, August 25, 2014

3 weeks down, 33 more to go

So we have officially finished week 3 of this new school year.   Things are going a lot better than last year, mostly in part to me being a lot more organized and definitely more relaxed about this whole homeschooling thing. 

I decided to do a few things the "easier", less stubborn way this year.  Instead of trying to customize a regular planner as my homeschool one, I purchased the Simple Plan by Mardel. 
This planner is a lifesaver! It has enough room for me to plan for all 3 kids, to make notes about things going on that particular week, and a huge calendar at the beginning of the month to keep up with deadlines.  (and yes, I do try to color code for each kid, but some times get all confused; and end up using pink for all 3, or blue, or whatever pen I have on my hand)

 Each of the kids has their own planner to write down their assignment. I found them at Walmart; and while these are working fine for now, I may need to start researching some for next year that make the whole "writing down assignments" a bit more fun.

Have I mentioned how much I love the science curriculum we are using?  I chose REAL Science Odyssey from Pandia Press this year.  I chose the Life Science for the boys; and Biology 2 for the girl.  We love it.  For the boys, in addition to the curriculum material and the labs (two each week, fun!) we have used books from the library; Magic School bus videos; and Study Jams from Scholastic to supplement.  My boys love science; so they will do as much as the day will allow.  What I love most is they remember what they've learned.  

I have a confession to make:  I never liked Biology in high school.  I took one semester, and when I had a choice, switched to Physics.  It just wasn't my thing.  So this year I'm learning as we go through Biology 2.  It is very complete, and my girl does science every day.  I love this curriculum because it includes 2 labs each week (one that uses a microscope); as well as a section on a famous scientist.  Not only is she learning science, there is history also included.

The last two weeks we were working on cells; so the boys assignment was to make an animal cell model; while the oldest had to work on a model for an animal cell.  So we decided we wanted to make our cells edible; because, well, why not?

The boys had to present on their cells as did my girl.  As she was going over  each part of the cell and its function, I remembered why I didn't like biology all those years ago.  The funky names!  Golgi apparatus??  
Anyway the cake was delicious and she even made the buttercream frosting from scratch.  

We obviously did more than just science in the last 3 weeks, but I think science is the most fun of all the subjects, don't you?  I can't wait til we do chemistry! 

I am very pleased with the curriculum I chose for this year.  I think it's working out a lot better; it is a lot easier for me to  keep up with where they are; and what we need to spend more time on. 

I took advantage of the huge sale going on at Great Products and purchased shirts for my crew.  They loved it.  These three have embraced this homeschool adventure so I rewarded them with these shirts.   

And I purchased this sticker for my car.  Because every homeschooler I know has been asked the dreaded question "what about socialization?".  Well, if you know me, you know this is my sense of humor.  

We are doing a year round schedule this year, so we are on week 4 of 6 before we get our first break.  I think we are going to love this new schedule. Who does not like having a week of vacation every 6 weeks?  Our first week off will find us on the beach; as we are taking a much needed vacation.  

Just two more weeks!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Working and homeschooling, our journey

We began our new year just last week.  The kids did really well, and I think we are off to a great start.  I'm excited to try the new year round schedule, where we school for 6 weeks then take 1 week off.  Yes it is going to take us all into the summer; but summer is hot here and it's hard to plan activities when it's miserably steamy outside.  So I'm excited to give this new arrangement a try.

Most people ask me "how can you work full time, and homeschool?"  No, I'm not a superwoman, I have no special powers.  I don't have a maid, or a laundry person. There are no babysitters ready to step in when we need a break.   It's just my husband, myself, and the kids here.

Once we decided to homeschool, I searched all over cyberspace for blogs from moms who were in the same situation as I, and didn't find many.  There are tons of posts out there about working from home and homeschooling; and I've learned a bit from them.  But our situation is still very different.  

I'm working full time outside of my house, in an office; while the schooling is taking place at my house.  My husband works part time; and although it is from home, it isn't a desk job.  He has to be outside to do his job, and we are thankful he has the flexibility to do most of the schooling.

So what is a mom who works full time away from home to do if she wants to homeschool?  In my personal experience, you need a partner who is committed to making homeschool work.  That person can be your husband, or your mom, or the babysitter who is going to watch the kids while you are at work.  It takes more than one person, at least when the kids are small.

I've found I need to be super organized. I have to keep track of what all three of the kids are doing in school, since I do all the planning and recordkeeping.  I have a planner solely for my homeschool lessons; another one solely for work.  And I keep any appointments that need reminders on my phone.  Would it be easier to keep one with everything?  For someone it may be the case, but for me, I need to keep work and home separately.

The next one seems like a no brainer but supportive friends are one of the top 3 things I've needed.  My friends have cheered me on from day one.  Never questioned my ability to educate my children.  They know me well enough to know I will do the best for my kids.  There will be plenty of so called friends who will withdraw their friendship once the decision to homeschool is made public.  But the good ones? Those will cheer you on and keep you sane.  I'm blessed to have a group of women who, although none of them homeschools, they have been there, ready to hear me out and cheer me on.  

I've also been lucky enough to find a great homeschool group.  Families who are walking in this path, and who can offer support and tips on how to deal with situations unique to homeschool families.  I have gotten some great insight from them, lots of tried and true tips on how to do this; and I'm just glad I found them early enough in this journey.  

Aside from the people in your life, you are going to need great curricula.  Do you need a college degree to homeschool?  Not really.  But you do need great material to make the whole process easier.
I have researched tons of different curricula, to find the ones that not only teach the kids what they will need but it is also easy to use for all of us.  
That doesn't necessarily mean a "box" curriculum; or online one, or an accredited one.  It means the one that works for you, and your kids.  We use a mix of software, textbooks, and even e-books.  I didn't chose a box set; I pieced mine together from different manufacturers to better suit the learning style of my kids.  

Opinions in regards to homeschooling are like belly buttons.  Everyone has one and everyone thinks they need to share theirs with you.  You are going to need a thick skin if you choose to do this and still work full time.  People have openly doubted my husband's ability to carry on his part of the schooling while I'm at work.  To say I wasn't pleased would be an understatement.  There will be others who will question your ability to do your job because you homeschool.  Does anyone question the professionalism of homeschooling dads?  

Then there is the whole socialization stigma.  You know the one.  People want to know how will the kids be socialized now that they don't attend school.  I never sent my kids to  school so they could have a social life.  I did it to give them a good education, that was my priority.  The same is true for my decision to homeschool. And in case anyone wonders, they get plenty of social time.

Can you homeschool and still work full time?  Gosh I hope so because that's exactly what I'm doing.  During the day I'm an engineer and a manager; but the minute I get home; I'm a homeschooling mom.  We review lessons while I' m cooking, we sit at the table and talk about our days.  We get our planners ready for the next day; work on any science experiments that go with the daily lesson; and we go to bed knowing the next day will be filled with still more adventures.  

We make it work because we are committed to be successful.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  So we will take it one week at a time. 


Monday, August 4, 2014

New School Year has begun!

Buckle your seat belts, put your seats in the upright position, because this plane is taking off!

Today was our first official day of the 2014-2015 year.  My house has officially a 7th grader and two 3rd graders.  To say I'm a little overwhelmed is an understatement.

My day began quite early, because unlike the kids, I am an early riser.  Not by choice, but necessity as I have to be at work early every day. 
I made the kids a special breakfast since it was their first day: Cinnamon rolls.  I wish I had taken a picture, but there wasn't time or any left for that matter.

The kids were eager to start, if only so they could get in their workboxes and dig out the snacks I had placed in there last night after they went to bed.  We started our morning with a prayer and off we went.

The day was long, and it had its moments (meltdowns and tears) but overall we had a much better day than we did a year ago.  We all know what to expect and we all know the work has to get done.

In  a matter of hours, I realized how grateful I am that two of my kids are twins; because I honestly don't know how moms of more than 1 kid homeschool.  Trying to figure out how to schedule time on the computer was the very first hurdle I encountered.  No matter how well planned it was in my planner, one of the boys took his sweet time completing the assignment; while his sister waited to get started on hers.

I finally just sent my husband to buy a laptop because, well, we just need one.  That made the rest of the day go a lot smoother.  It allowed my daughter to do her school work without the constant "get off the computer, it's my turn" chant.

The twins received a reminder that their school work is their responsibility, not mine or their dad's.  If they take all day; well they will have no free time.  So use your time wisely.  This year we are back to using agendas; so they have no excuse for not knowing what they are supposed to do. 

We started with a lighter load this week; which I think made a huge difference today.  We will add geography, art, and history next week, once we have a routine going.  I really need to find an online curriculum for Spanish, because as much as I want to teach them at night, it's just not happening.  Their time around me needs to be so they can practice their Spanish; not for lessons.  Off to find something that will satisfy me.

My 7th grader will also be getting a lesson in time management this year. I have not scheduled her day as I did her brothers.  I've given her assignments that need to be completed each day; and reminded her all has to be done; no exceptions.  I'm here to guide her on how to manage her day but I want to see her try first.  I won't always be there to do it for her; and I've seen my share of people in the real world who have zero time management skills in the workplace.
I'm cautiously optimistic that this year will go a lot smoother than last.  We are doing a year round schedule so we have a lot of flexible time, for those times when life happens; or mom just needs a vacation.

Oh and I leave you with our newly redone study room aka dining room 


Friday, August 1, 2014

Let's get ready to rock! Getting ready for our 2nd year of Homeschool

Can you hear that grumble?  That's the sound of my kids grumbling at the thought school is about to start.  Why can't summer last forever? 

All good things must come to an end and we are getting ready to begin our 2nd year of homeschooling.  Wow.  We actually survived our first one unscathed.  All children are alive, dad didn't run away from home, and mom is still somewhat sane.

This year I have a 7th grader.  Allow me to take a few moments to digest that information.  I have a child who is a 7th grader.  I am beginning to plan for high school and transcripts and college.  When did all this happen?

As if having her entering 7th grade wasn't enough evidence of my aging, I also have 2 boys entering 3rd grade.  They went to camp this summer, and came back in one piece (and with a few extra items of clothing in their bags!).  No longer my tiny twin boys, they are proudly over 4 ft tall and growing every second.

Planning for this year was a lot easier.  For starters, I ordered Cathy Duffy's 101 top picks for homeschool curriculum.  This book was worth every penny.  I read it cover to cover in a weekend.  It helped me to narrow down the curriculum I wanted to further research.  

After weeks of research, and research, and more research; I finally came up with the winners for our 2014-2015 school year.  

Drumroll please....

Singapore Math-Standard edition.  I know there are many great math curriculum out there but I love this one.  The engineer in me can't help but love it.  It actually makes the kids think through the math problems, set up simple equations, and I think it's a great foundation for Algebra, and higher maths.  All 3 of the kids are using it. No complaints!
We also use Khan Academy to supplement.  Not because the curriculum needs it but because my kids like the site, and earning points; and it gives them extra practice.  Can't never have too much math.

Another one we kept this year.  Story of the World Volume 2.  I purchased the activity book this year, and I plan on adding more in depth projects for my 7th grader.  I like that it is engaging for the boys, and they are enjoying learning about different civilizations.

This year I chose Trail Guide to World Geography.  With 3 kids, I needed something that could be used for all 3 and this one can be as simple or as in depth as I want.  

I really had to think this one  through.  Last year we used Spelling City and while I liked it, the kids didn't care for it.  Then we switched to workbooks, and that was just not their thing.  Finally settled on Spelling Power.  I love I can use it with all 3 kids, and also the placement tests.  I know where to begin with each, and it's based on their knowledge and not a set school grade.  The fact is a 15 min per day program makes it a winner in my book!

Instead of using one language art curriculum as we did last year, I broke it into the other pieces.  The all encompassing one was great for me, but the kids do better with separate ones.  Editor-in-Chief, from the Critical Thinking Company, is what we are trying this year.  They offer both workbooks and software, and they all wanted something they could do on the computer; so we chose the software.

Reading Comprehension
Again, Critical Thinking Company had what I was looking for.  Reading Detective is what my 7th grader will be using.  Considering the college entrance test include so much reading and comprehension; I want to go ahead and begin to get her ready.   I chose not to purchase one of the 3rd graders yet.  I am going to have them read books and then summarize them for me as part of their writing program; and later on move to a more structured format. 
All 3 will be reading and keeping a log of books read.  At least 2 each month for the little ones, one a month for the oldest since she will be reading bigger books.

So writing isn't one of those things that comes easy to my kids.  Telling any of them to write a paper is asking for a lot of whining and complaining and ... you get the idea.
I came across the Writer's Jungle and had one of those aha moments.  Here was a gentle way to get them started before purchasing one of the more rigorous programs.  My focus this year is to get them writing, period.  Yes there will be editing, and correcting grammar but specially for the younger ones, they need to just get used to writing.

I am giddy just thinking about how much fun we are going to have this year.  The boys will be using R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey: Life Science; while my girl will be using R.E.A.L. Science Biology 2.  One thing all 3 had requested for this year was lots of hands on activities; and they wanted to do biology. 
I'm a science girl, but biology wasn't my "thing".  I was a chemistry/physics gal and even though I  took biology and later biochemistry in college, I was nervous about it.  Until I found this curriculum.  It's all laid out for me and I'm sure I'm going to be loving biology by the time we get done.

Of course next year we are doing chemistry because it's my turn!

My oldest is going to use Typing Web this year.  I like that it's free because I don't think she needs a whole lot, she already types.  But she wanted a formal typing lesson, and who am I to argue?

I am not artistic.  I will do watercolor painting because it's relaxing and perfect for stress relief but I'm just not artistic.  My kids are, which makes for an interesting combination.  
Aside from letting them create masterpieces; we are going to study some artists; and expose them to good art with field trips.  I enjoy museums so we go as often as time and funds allow.   

We are continuing copywork this year.  Aside from using literature excerpts and exposing the kids to good writing, we need to get in the habit of writing before we begin cursive writing next semester.  We haven't chosen a curriculum for cursive yet though.   

Aside from all of this, two are continuing with their piano lessons, the other with his Han Mu Do (Korean Martial Arts); and my girl is still taking dance lessons.  We are also doing soccer (one of the boys), and hopefully tennis.  They also want to run 5k so my running shoes will be getting some mileage this fall.

I feel a lot more relaxed this year compared to last.  I guess it's in part because I know what to expect.  Also because we are going to homeschool year round so I don't feel like I have to accomplish everything in a short amount of time (as I felt last year).  

Here is to a great new year!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Things I've discovered after a year of homeschooling

Summer flew by and school is about to start once again.  We are no longer "new" to homeschooling, our first year is behind us.  So I thought I would list the things I have learned and encountered in the last year or so; about myself, my kids, and everyone else we know.

1) Homeschooling is NOT easy.  
Some people believe homeschooling families choose this path out of laziness.  The thought is laughable at best.  All your household chores are still there, and now you have your child's education to focus on.  You may never catch up with your sleep, your laundry, or the rest of the chores.  There are field trips to be taken, lessons to be covered, and guess what?  There are no sick days.
Kids don't play video games all day; and eat junk food while you watch soap operas.  That's a myth.

2)  Kids dread the first day of school, even those who are homeschooled.
This is a sentiment I cannot relate to because I loved school.  Literally.  I was the kid who could not sleep the night before due to the excitement.  It wasn't about seeing my friends again; it was all about what I was going to learn. 
I have heard my kids say "ugh, I'm not ready to start school again".  They sound like any of the regular school kids, don't they?  You know why they feel that way?  See #1 above.

3) Just because you homeschool in your PJs, doesn't mean you are lazy or unable to function in the "normal" world.
Forgive me for a second here, because I'm about to vent and the following is MY personal opinion.  You don't have to agree with it; but you don't get to badger me about it either.
On most days, the kids will do their work in their PJs. We are in our house and I don't want any more laundry than a household of 5 can produce.  I don't make them get up and change clothes in order to do school work because we are NOT recreating school at home; we are homeschooling.  There is a huge difference.  If they want to change clothes, fine.  If they don't, that's fine too. 
My children function just fine in the "real world".  The fact they do their work in their PJs doesn't hinder them from joining the "real" world.  When it's time to join the rest of the human population, my kids know to dress appropriately.  They understand that PJs are not acceptable attire for church, piano lessons, or museum trips.  
I am still trying to figure out why anyone would think the attire you wear while doing schoolwork makes you a "better functioning" human.  I see plenty of people dressed in professional attire every day who can't function in normal society.  I rest my case.

4)  How do I know what to teach, and how do I know my kids are learning?
Well how did I know that they were learning while in regular school?  Truthfully, some things they weren't learning. They memorized it for a test; and it was out of their mind once the test was done.  I know they are learning because my kids have taught my husband and I more about animals in the last year than we even realized they knew; just from watching educational shows about it.  They have read more encyclopedias than most people do in a lifetime.  They have a need to tell me all about something they read in a book at the library; and they are excited about exploring the backyard and looking for "new" species of bugs.  That's how I know they are learning.
As to what to teach, how did I know my kids were learning what they were supposed to learn while in school?  I honestly didn't, I just trusted the school.  Well, I follow the same guidelines the schools do to make sure they learn what they need.  Simple as that.

5) People from the "good school districts", who live in the nice subdivisions, homeschool too.
Most people know I live in a very crappy school district.  My kids attended private school for a long time; and we now homeschool them. I hear often how I need to move to x,y,z town because the school is better; and you guessed it, the kids can go to school there.
Turns out there are families who live in the elite school districts who homeschool.  So I am ok staying in the crappy district and homeschooling too.

6) All kids are not created equal.
Well duh.  Everyone knows that, right?  I knew my kids were different from each other from day one. What I didn't realize was how differently they learn.  They process information in a way unique to them.  While textbooks and worksheets work for one, the other needs a more auditory/visual environment.  I don't force them to sit still at a table while we do school. Yes there are things that have to be done while sitting down, like writing for example. But they don't sit through every single lesson.  Some lessons are on the computer, science experiments may take you outside into the woods or into the kitchen.  

7) Dads can homeschool too
Here is a big one for us.  When we made the decision to homeschool; the very first question people had was "are you going to quit your job?".  Imagine the shock when I said no.
You don't have to stop working to homeschool, there are plenty of moms who work from home and outside the home who do it.  I'm one of the lucky ones who has a husband who is willing to do most of the schooling while I'm in the office.  
Most people seem shocked, some ask if I double check after him to make sure the kids are learning.  When did we decide men can't teach?  There are plenty of male teachers in schools right now; and all my professors in engineering school were males.  So why the double standards?

8) Everyone is an expert about what you should be doing; specially those who have never homeschooled.
Everyone.  I've been told what curriculum I should use, how I should teach; etc.  By people who have never done it.

9) Everyone has a horror story about someone who homeschooled and did a horrible job.
I don't know every homeschooling family in the world.  The ones I know are committed to providing the best education for their kids.  Period.  I'm sure there are lazy people out there who use the term homeschooling to allow the kids to run wild while they watch soap operas.  And if you come across one of them, report them.  That's not homeschooling. I'm not entirely sure what's the point of those stories.

10) I have my kids' best interest at heart.
Don't assume that I don't care about the future my kids will have because I homeschool.  That's the reason I do it; because I want the best for them.
I know plenty of graduates from "good" schools who have done zero with their lives.  Going to a regular school doesn't guarantee success in college or anywhere else.  

Homeschooling is a journey.  You will come across people who will support you and some who will do what they can to put you down.  Just remind yourself of the reasons you made the decision and keep going. 

Besides, why worry about what people say?  You were made to be different.

Monday, July 7, 2014

4 miles? No problem. That one time I thought I was a Kenyan

Once upon a time, I was a runner.  I laced up my shoes early every morning and logged in my miles; and I even trained for a marathon.
Then last week I decided it was time to get back to racing and signed up for a 4 mile race.  Piece of cake, right?  I mean, I have logged up to 30+ miles per week; how hard can 4 miles be?

What I seemed to have forgotten is that I had not run in a YEAR.  That's right.  A WHOLE YEAR.  And those 30+ miles per week were logged 7 years ago.  

Somewhere inside this crazy brain, I convinced myself that I was part Kenyan; and since my body has logged that many miles before, it would remember how to do 4 miles easily.  Insane idea?  Absolutely.

I signed up for the race; and told myself even if I didn't finish, the fee went to a worthy cause.  Besides getting on my elliptical machine at home; and taking the stairs at work; I have done no other form of exercise in a whole year.  I know what you are thinking.  She is either crazy; or she certifiably insane.  

I got up early on July 4th and headed out to meet destiny.  I had one goal: to finish.  I didn't care if I was slower than "a stampede of turtles running through peanut butter" (Gotta love that phrase!); I was determined to finish all 4 miles.  Pace was simply not important, just survival.

So the race began.  First half mile and my legs were burning and my shins hurting.  I know the feeling all too well since this is what it feels like every time I get on the elliptical so I pressed on.  I got this, that's what I told myself.

Then I came to the first hill of many and became certain I was either going to die; or going to hurt for a while.  Who knew there were these many hills in our town? I certainly didn't.

First mile was over; and I had gone uphill twice.  Someone was playing a practical joke on me; this was supposed to be an easy 'get back to running' race!  

Mile 2 took me to the lake in town.  Nice setting; how can you not enjoy running around such a placid place?  Let me tell you how:  HILLS.  All around the lake.  At this point, I'm considering calling it quits, calling my husband to come get me, and doing the walk of shame out of there.  

This was the point where I began to talk to myself. Part was motivational, the other half was "what the heck were you thinking, you crazy woman" speech.  I reminded myself of all things I had accomplished in life, including surviving twins; so this was a piece of cake, right?

The struggle continued in my head and soon I had made it to Mile 3.  Can't quit now, I told myself.  You just have one mile left.  Quitting now would really be embarrassing.  That was until I realized this last mile would be UPHILL.  Who designed this course?  Someone who was trying to make a quitter out of me? I was not quitting, I told myself.  I was finishing even if they had to pick me off the ground at the finish line!

Then I saw the most beautiful sight closer to the finish line, my husband and kids cheering me on.  I smiled, almost cried, and kept on because I really couldn't quit now that they were watching, right?

In the end, I finished all 4 miles, and my time was better than I had anticipated.  I crossed the finish line, found my car, and headed home before I got stiff and couldn't drive.  ha!

I learned a few lessons that day.  Sometimes you can't prepare for what life brings.  All you have is willpower; and the desire to overcome your obstacles.  Keep your eyes on the prize and keep on going.  If you are believer, as I am, then you pray for the endurance to finish the race laid out before you.  As I did.  

Now I'm ready for the next race.  Because apparently the insanity stayed, even after the sore muscles.  I'm ready to run again!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mama said there be days like this...

Ever had one of those days when you feel you got it all under control : the laundry, housework, homeschool, work?  Yeah, me either.
Just when I  start to think "I've got this", that nagging voice creeps into my head and it says "no you don't!.  You haven't (insert whatever I haven't done here).

Today was a state holiday so I didn't have to work.  I've been home playing catch up with the laundry all day.  I've lost count of how many loads I've managed to fold and put away.  The size of the mountain has finally been reduced to a molehill.  

A few months ago, I started reading about Charlotte Mason and her philosophy on educating the kids.  I hadn't implemented anything yet, because I've been preoccupied with "finishing" the year.  I'm not sure why I'm doing this to myself, when we have decided to do year round homeschooling.  Maybe because I'm trying to drive myself crazy.

Anyway, back to CM and her philosophies.  I've also been looking for a writing curriculum/program to get my oldest to write.  I looked into Brave Writer and have started reading The Writer's Jungle .  Today we started incorporating some of the things in the first chapters.  I really like this book, because it nurtures the kids' natural desire to tell their stories.
So we did copywork today.  Basically the kids get to copy paragraphs from real books, not textbooks.  One is copying form 2,000 leagues under the sea; the other is copying from Robinson Crusoe; and the oldest is doing copywork from my one of my favorite books To Kill a Mockingbird.  
It's a small step in the journey but it's a step.  I was glad there was no complaining about doing this work!  I'm going to assign reading from the same books; so they can start picking out the paragraph they want to copy.

We had plenty of whining when it was time for math.  Why can't they do math without complaining?  Must their torture their engineer mother like this?  We got thru that with a few more gray hairs (mine) and tears (theirs).

Then I sent them outside to observe nature and writer about it in their nature journal.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how much they wanted to write.  I think we will definitely do this as often as the weather permits.

In history we are learning about India and the beginning of Hinduism.  I have to admit, this really brings me back to my childhood.  My father had books about Hinduism around the house and I recall reading about it as a kid.  We discussed their main gods; watched a video and then talked about Ganesha (god of success, destroyer of obstacles) which I have tattooed on my leg; and also about Indra (king of the gods) because my youngest sister bears its name.  

Still need to finish the workboxes; still need to put together the boys' science lesson plans for next year; get the Spanish curriculum, etc, etc, etc.   
Thankful for a day at home to spend with the kids though; talking to them about some of the things I learned as kid.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Chopsticks, Geocaching, Smithsonian Exhibit. Our week in review

This was an unusual week for us.  By us, I mean me.

Husband just had a birthday last week.  His birthday wish was a fishing trip, so I took time off from work while he went fishing.  Or as we called it "teacher development days".

I had great plans for the two days I'd be home with the kids.  We would get up early, have a big breakfast, get our school work done.  You know, it all sounded possible and great.  In theory.  What I didn't anticipate was that I would be the one dragging herself out of bed at 8:30am.  Ooops. I guess my body was trying to tell me it is ok to sleep passed my normal 5am wake up time.

On day one, there was lots of whining because, instead of going outside to explore, they had to do English.  Oh the horror!  Are they always this whiny? Husband says yes.  I just don't know how he handles it daily, because, after 30 minutes, I had enough of the complaining.  I think we are going to get a timer and see how that works.  None of these assignments they are working on should take longer than 30 minutes.

But we did manage to do a lot of things in the two days we were home alone.  

Spent time watching my karate kid do his thing in class.  He is a natural.  I'm convinced he has some Korean blood in him (probably from my father's side of the family) because he has taken to Han Mu Do as a fish to water!
I made some fried rice one night and the kids decided they wanted to learn how to use chopsticks.  So they pulled them out and gave it a try.  I tried to tell them it would be easier to learn if they had something like veggies or meat to grab rather than rice but they wanted to try.  After a few minutes; everyone went back to the western utensils.  

We also started geocaching.  Until recently, I hadn't heard about it.  I asked the kids if they wanted to give it a try, and off we went.  I do think we need to involve dad in our adventures, because some of the caches may be in areas this city girl is hesitant to explore (ie any area where a snake may be). 

After piano lessons, we went to the Smithsonian Traveling exhibit The way we workedIt was very informative, and the kids were surprised to learn, once upon a time, kids their age actually had jobs! Talk about realizing how spoiled they truly are. 

I finally realized that creating my own homeschool planner probably wasn't going to work for me.  As much as I wanted to do it, I wasn't really sure where to start, not to mention all that printing!  So I order the Simple Plan by Mardel.  I'm excited to start using it and have one location to keep up with all the kids are doing.

I also started working on their "workboxes".  I didn't read the book.  I found several ideas on Pinterest and decided to try and implement my own version.  We really don't have room for individual boxes for each kid; so I just bought a big box with folders for each subject.  I'm sure there will be tweaking involved to get them working for us, but isn't that what homeschooling is about? Adjusting and changing to suit our needs?

Planning and choosing curriculum is quite challenging.  I thought laying it all out for my husband was the hardest part of homeschooling.  I now realize, after staying home for a couple of days, how difficult it can be to implement it.  

So, hats off to my husband, who stays home and tries to get the kids motivated every day to learn and do their work.  Thank you!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I've learned this first year of homeschooling

Our first official "year" of homeschooling is fast approaching.  I'm happy to report we have all survived; both C and I are still fairly sane (most of the time) and the kids are thriving and learning.

What have I learn during this year of homeschooling?

1)  No two homeschooling families are alike
We all have different reasons why we chose this path.  There is no "one size fits all"; and that's the best part about it.

2)  Even when the boys are hanging upside down on the couch, they are listening
I used to believe, in order for learning to happen, kids needed to be sitting at a desk, attentively looking at the person teaching the lesson.  A few months into our journey, I discovered this would never be the case at our house.  Making them sit at the table for every single lesson was torture for them.  Eventually we discovered they are actually listening when they are hanging upside, or playing with their cars on the floor.  Their brains are like sponges and they are absorbing everything.  And yes, I do ask questions just to make sure their brains haven't wander off into the land of gigantic spiders and Captain America. 

3) My house will never be clean again
At least not while all three of the kids are still under my roof.  There will always be books out of place, pencils will mysteriously disappear (only to be found in the craziest of places); and  the laundry will multiply in a matter of seconds.

4) Learning just happens
While at the playground, one of the boys asked me if one of the ladders was shaped like the DNA strand.  Did I mention this is the kid who likes to stand on his head?  I was quite proud that my 7 year old announced to all the other parents he knew what DNA was and what it looked like.   

5) Kids want to learn
We have been talking about the Greeks and the Romans in our history lessons.  They were so eager to hear more about the Spartans, and the Gladiators.  Even more so when I found a documentary about ancient Rome.  Who knew kids would watch educational television without being forced?

6) Everyone has an opinion.  Pay no attention
Everyone has an opinion about homeschooling; specially those closest to you.  Listen to no one.  You are doing what's best for you and your family.  You have to please no one.  Yes, their comments (no matter how well intended) will sting but keep reminding yourself you are responsible for your kids; and you know what's best for them.  

7) There is no need to socialize the kids
This was the #1 question we received: what about socialization.  Unless you are a hermit, you will encounter more people than just those under your roof.  My kids make friends at the playground, at church, at the grocery store; anywhere they encounter another human.  Their social calendar is busier than mine.

8) No curriculum will ever completely satisfy me
Don't get me wrong, there are some great resources out there.  But even the best ones are going to require some adaptation.  My kids are unique (as are everyone else's) so I may have to get creative in order to get the information to them in a manner they can process it and absorb it.

9)  There are days you will wonder if your kids would be better served at school
Those days will come and will take you by surprise.  I have doubted my decision, stayed up at night feeling like the worst mother in the world.  But after the clouds have passed, the sky is always brighter.  The kids will sit on the couch happily reading an encyclopedia; or they will be outside looking for bugs they can later match with the pictures in their bug book, or my daughter will be in the kitchen happily cooking.  Then I realize they are fine; and this is where we need to be.  Right in this moment.  

10) My kids are amazing human beings
I watched my kids smile at the homeless man we encountered last weekend.  They were worried he had no food; and that no one was stopping.  We gave him some money; and they asked that we put together more "care bags" so next time we could give more.  Their hearts are big and filled with love and compassion for other humans, regardless of their stage in life.  I have been able to see their caring hearts at work more often now that our life has slowed down some and we can spend more time doing the things that count.  

Linked to weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Living to tell about it, our week in review

This was one busy week at our house.  Actually it was close to a typical week.  I guess all our weeks these days are busy.

Hubby had a birthday at the beginning of the week.  We went out to eat at a local steakhouse.  This is a fairly new restaurant and we had no idea there was karaoke there; and on the night we decided to visit.  
Towards the end of our meal, my daughter decided to serenade her dad by singing Happy Birthday to him in front of everyone!  He was quite touched (I may have cried a little too ;-) ).  It was the perfect ending to a birthday, if you asked me.

My favorite author died this week.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I discovered his most famous book One Hundred Years of Solitude as a teenager.  My sister had to read it for school and I decided I wanted to read it too.  I was immediately drawn into the life of the Buendias and the town of Macondo.  I was captivated by the sounds and hardships of the jungle, and the melancholy of the protagonists in the story.  I was hooked for life. 
I've read many more of his books; both in our native tongue; and also in English.  I'm pretty certain I've read One Hundred Years at least five times in the span of my life in both languages.  I am not sure what drew me to his work; but I know the world has lost a literary giant.  

We had a chance to visit with some of our homeschool group.  So thankful for these families!  They have been so supportive of our journey; and they may not know how grateful I am for this group.

I have narrowed down the curriculum we are using for my oldest who will be starting 7th grade.  The more I research, the more confused I get with the multiple choices.  I have finally decided to use R.E.A.L Science Odyssey Biology 2.  I like the lab components; science without labs is just reading, in my opinion.

Also going to use Brave Writer to get her writing jump started again this year. I like what I've read so far, and I think it will work for both of us.

Spelling Power will be our spelling curriculum; gotta get those kids spelling right!

Still making decisions on other curriculum but we are getting there! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Of plants and worms?

Why are weekends never long enough?  It seems time speeds up during the weekends and creeps along during the week.  

Saturday the kids had a chance to help their uncle K build a swing set.  They love visiting because he lets them help out in whatever project he is working on around the house.  They had shovels, and drills and  left numerous holes in my sister's yard, much to their delight (and her horror!).  They dug for worms, they made mud; and learn how to build something.  Who said learning only happens inside?

They now have a new project at home.  Mimi has given each of them a potted plant to take care of.  I guess I should confess I do not have a green thumb.  Many of the women in my family (abuela, mom, sisters) have been blessed with the ability to grow anything.  A plant may be brown and almost dead and these women will resuscitate it and bring it back to life!  I, on the other hand, have been known for killing a cactus (or two) in my life.  

So the kids have to depend on my mom to learn all about taking care of plants.  She gave each of them plant they are to take care of from now on.  Let's hope their thumbs are greener than mine!  They are so excited to watch these plants grow and I'm excited for them.  What better way to learn about plants, photosynthesis, etc?  I can't think of one.

We have set the plants by the window, on a bench my uncle built for me when I was 3 years old.  This bench has traveled thousand miles or more to be here today.  For many years, Abuelo (my mom's dad) kept it at his house, while my family moved to two different countries.  A few years back, before he passed, he sent it to me.  He said I should have it so one day I could pass it on the kids.  It holds such a special place in my heart.  It ties me to my childhood, to my roots back in Panama, to my grandfather, and my uncle and all those who had such an important place in my life as a kid.

Now the kids get to use to watch their plants grown.  I am sure Abuelo is smiling down on them.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

A week of planning and learning

The end of our very first year of homeschooling is fast approaching.  This has been quite the ride!  I have learned a lot about the kids, not to mention about myself.  

I've learned that old habits die hard.  I've had to let go of the "do school at home" idea I had in my head and learn to be FLEXIBLE.  If you know me, you are probably laughing.  Engineers don't do flexible well; at least this one doesn't.  

I've found myself thinking outside the box; finding new ways to engage the kids in learning without them actually knowing that's what I'm doing.  I am a "stay in the box" person; but making sure the kids don't get discouraged when they don't grasp something has catapulted me outside the box and into a realm I am not very familiar with.   
With our first year coming to an end it is time to plan for the upcoming year.  Planning is something I do well.  As my poor husband will tell you (and my friends will attest) I can research anything ad nauseum.  I have been evaluating what we used this year, determining what worked, what didn't and looking at new curriculum for the upcoming year.

Instead of paper/pen; I have a spreadsheet with a tab for each of the kids; with all the subjects I want to cover in the upcoming year and the materials that can possibly work for us; where to purchase it, how much it will cost.  Have I mentioned I'm a planner?
During the endless hours I've spent researching while the laundry tumbles in the dryer; I've come to realize there is no curriculum that will ever fully satisfy me.  Even the ones we bought that I was certain I could just pull out of the box and implement, I have tweaked to fit us.  I'm guessing most homeschool families do the tweaking because that's the whole point of homeschooling.  Being able to customize the material to fit your needs is one of the reasons we do this.

I have narrowed down math, language arts and history and found materials I'm happy with.  I'm sure there will be tweaking; and adding other sources to make it more complete.  Art and Music is one I'm going to venture out and plan on my own.  Shouldn't be that hard, right?  I'm going to try and follow our history curriculum and discuss art/music from that period; so at least I have a road map.
However, when it comes to science; the engineer in me simply isn't satisfied with what I've found.  Either it is outrageously expensive; too simplistic in its approach, too boring.  I want the kids to be excited about science as I was when I was their age.  Science has to be experienced.  Yes, there are terms to learn, and plenty of reading; but it has to be fun!  That is the only way they will want to stick with it (and I'm secretly hoping to be raising future scientists but that's a post for another day).
So I think I will be putting together this year's curriculum for the boys at least.  They want to learn about animals/bugs (I'm guessing this is universal for boys?).  I've found a few books to help me piece together something fun and still complete for them.  

As for my girl, 7th grade is tough (in all possible ways).  I have found a few resources I'm still researching.  I want to build a foundation for the high school science and still make it fun.  This is my artsy child (dance and piano are her passions) so I have a bigger challenge selling her to science and math. 

So that's what's been happening in my world.  We have been schooling at home, schooling on the road, going to the movies, attending concerts, breathing tons of pollen while enjoying some time at the park.  It seems we are endlessly on the road, even more so now that when the kids were in regular school!  They have been making new friends, spending time with old ones; and adjusting beautifully to this homeschooling adventure.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Six months into our homeschooling journey

We've only been homeschooling for six months?  Really?  It seems like we've been doing this a lot longer.

I've been asked often how things are going for us.  I'm never quite sure how to answer this.  Do they really want to know about our struggles, are they hoping we'll answer something like "not going so well" so they can convince me I need to send the kids back to "real school"?

My answer is simply "things are going well" unless I'm talking to another homeschool mom and then I just feel the need to confess all of my worries and concerns.  Notice I said "my worries".

Truth is, things are going better than I would have guessed.  My family seems to have adapted to this new chapter in our lives a lot better than I.  They have learned to do lessons in the car, to use Netflix documentaries to supplement curriculum; to research topics they like on their own, and to adjust learning times during full moons (when my boys seem to turn into banshees).

Me, on the other hand, I'm plagued with doubt every single week.  Are they learning enough? Did I pick the right curriculum? Are they being motivated to learn? Are they retaining what they are learning? Are we doing enough?  The list goes on and on.

It has been six months and I can now honestly say Homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.  Unless you believe you are truly doing what's best for your family, it's best not to attempt this journey.  Because you are going to have to remind yourself often that this is meant to be, and that no one, no school and no teacher, will ever love and understand your kids better than you.

In these six months, I've had to change some of the curriculum we had picked.  I had read all about other families changing theirs, I was even told by some homeschool veterans that it happens.  Naive as I was, I figured I would pick the right curriculum the first time and wouldn't have to change a thing.  Go ahead, laugh.

The fact is my kids just hate some of the curriculum I chose.  It is boring to them.  It doesn't excite them, or inspire them to learn more.  The twins asked me to please get them another science book because they were tired of coloring pages and boring books.  They wanted to do experiments and collect bugs, and all the other things that are not on this 2nd grade book.  

My husband has done a great job finding a way to do the lessons using what we have at hand.  I didn't run off and buy more stuff because, well, I'm not made of money, and I wasn't sure what to buy this time around.

Mind you, I did my research.  My husband will tell you how many countless hours I spent looking and researching and comparing before I chose this curriculum.  I didn't want a boxed set, so I pieced together what I thought would be best for my kids.  Turns out, I picked the curriculum with the correct content and the wrong delivery method.

Textbooks/worksheets/assignments/tests is how I was educated.  One of my earliest memories of school comes from reading all my 1st grade textbooks before the first day of school (back in the school I attended in Panama, parents had to purchase the books).  I couldn't wait for the day my parents went to buy the textbooks, so I could read them!  So I ended up getting that type of material for my kids.  Don't get me wrong, the curriculum is good, and very complete, but  it's not for my kids.  

So I'm starting over.  I bought a book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.  I probably should have invested in this book before we started but it's never too late.  I finally figured out that my children learn very differently from me, so the curriculum I love and would thrive using would frustrate them beyond belief (lesson learned!).

Still, six months into this journey, I'm more confident in my decision to homeschool.  I've watched my kids truly enjoy learning.  We have stumbled, we have had moments when we wondered "what in the world have we done?",  we have gotten on each others' nerves and wished we could just send them back to school so we could get a break.  

But we have not regret it.  We have watched our kids be happy, learning at home.  We have become closer as a family.  No more sitting at the table, while someone cries because they are exhausted and do not want to do any more homework.  No more mom crying because the kids are crying and frustrated.

So we march on with the rest of this school year, doing the best we can with the materials we have; while I search and research for new materials for next year.  And those new ones do not work; I won't feel like I've failed the kids.  Because the beauty of homeschooling is we can make changes and adjust as we need to do.  And as principal of this school, what I say usually goes.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Bucket List- In reverse

Today is the big day.  The big 40.  As I looked around my office (tastefully decorated with items from my Bucket List); it occurred to me that the list of things I've done  in 40 years is a lot longer than the list of things I have yet to do.

So here is my Bucket list in reverse, a list of things I've done/accomplished in 40 years:  Actually it's a list of things I remember I've done. 

1)  Lived in Panama for 15 years.

2)  Won an award in Oratory in 5th grade.  I was quite proud.

3)  Have seen the Hallie comet (remember that?)

4)  Took my first trip abroad in 6th grade: to San Jose, Costa Rica.

5)  Two years later, I moved to San Jose, Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

6)  Attended my first symphony concert at the Teatro Nacional in Costa Rica.

7)  Moved to the USA a month shy of 17

9)  A year and few months later, I moved 3 hours away to attend College           (Hotty Toddy!)

10)  Graduated college with a degree in Chemical Engineering.
11)  Got my first job a month later

12)  Decided to enroll in graduate school (at night) while working full time

13)  Got married (after swearing I would never marry)

14)  Had my beautiful daughter (after saying I'd never have kids).

15)  Passed the Professional Engineer exam, with a 6 month old baby at home. I wasn't sleeping much, might as well study, right?

16)  Moved to Oak Ridge TN. 

17)  Finally finished my Master's degree.  My daughter was 1 the day of graduation and ran around the Grove at Ole Miss while I got my diploma.

18)  Moved back to MS

19)  Found out we were having twins.

20)  Became the mother of two gorgeous boys, and life has never been the same.

21)  Decided that training for a marathon while the twins were babies was a great idea.

22)  Made it to the Chicago Marathon in 2007.  Wonderful experience. 
23)  Thought I could be an artist.  Started painting in watercolors.

24)  Somewhere along these times, started this blog.

25)  Places I've visited:  Denver, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Austin TX; New Orleans, LA; Memphis TN, Knoxville TN, Chattanooga TN, Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH; Louisville, KY; Tallahasee FL, Charleston, SC; Navarre Beach, FL; Pensacola, FL; Orlando, FL, Kennedy Space Center, FL; Washington DC; Niagara Falls;  Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  

26)  Became a homeschool mom

27)  Learned to drive a manual transmission car.

28)  Flown in a helicopter.  Rode on a boat in the MS Gulf.

29)  Been to Disney World (Senior Year trip).

30)  Got a TATTOO!

The first 40 have been great.  Looking forward to the next 40.

Friday, January 17, 2014

It's a wonderful life

As my 40th birthday approaches, I've found myself wondering what pearls of wisdom I'd like to share with my kids, and nieces and nephews.  
Then I realized that wisdom is relative.  I think it is wise to study engineering and most people would consider major surgery without anesthesia a lot more appealing.  So wisdom, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.
So, instead of imparting wisdom, I  thought I just share the things I've learned, and discovered in the last four decades. There may be some wisdom in these life experiences, maybe there will be a good story or two, but there are absolutely lots of life lessons wrapped up in 40 years.

These are the things I'd probably tell my younger self if I could travel back in time.  Or maybe not.  Life is an adventure.

1)  Dream the impossible dream.  No matter how absurd it may sound to others.  Dreams are what life is made of.

2) You are beautiful, simply because you exist.  No one needs blue eyes and blond hair to be beautiful.  

3) Don't tell your mom you will never study anything that has to do with math. You will.  

4) Hard times will come.  That's how character is built.  You will survive the storms.  Keep your eyes on the horizon.

5) There is nothing your sisters won't do for you.  Even when you've pulled their hair and fought with them; and thought you couldn't wait to get away from them, you love them and will forever want them near.

6)  1989 will bring heartache.  Don't shy from it.  It will make you stronger.  It will teach you compassion, and will show you God is never far away when we need him.  

7)  You don't have all the answers.  Not at 15, not at 18, not even at 40.   You may think you do, but really, you have no idea what your life is going to look like tomorrow, much less a few years down the road.

8) Reconsider that hairdo for the prom, I beg of you.  One day your kids will see the pictures and wonder why there is a poodle on your head.

9) Reconsider that prom date.  You probably won't (see #7 above) but you should.

10) Go to Ole Miss.  Don't even bother looking at any other school.  You will forever think of those years as the best of your young adult life.  And you will make friends that will last a lifetime.

11)  Don't tell people you will never marry or have kids.  You will.  See #7 again.

12) You will have your heart broken more than once. You are going to think you'll never get over it.  You will.

13)  The right guy will come along, and in 6 weeks time, you will know he is the one.  And everyone who thought you were never getting married will think you've lost your mind.  Refer to #11 again.

14) You will eventually get that Latina body you wanted growing up.  It may come after 3 kids but it will come.  Embrace it.  

15) Niagara Falls will take your breath away.  And standing there, you will call your mom and tell her how one of your childhood dreams has come true.  

15) Travel every time you get the chance.  See the world.  

16)  Join that wedding planning board online.  You will find lifetime friends there.  And yes, people are going to think you are crazy when you talk about these friends you've met online, but who cares what people think?

17)  Wear a bikini every time you get a chance before kids.  Because one day you will have to work hard for a bikini worthy body.   Trust me on this.

18) Remember as a kid, how you used to sit at the table for hours because you didn't want to eat your vegetables?  Your kids will do the same thing, if you try to implement that method of persuasion.  

19)  No matter what you say, you will tell your kids "because I said so".  One cannot reason with 4 year old kids, don't even try.  

20)  You will get a tattoo one day.  Your younger self may be horrified at the idea, but your older self will embrace it.  

21)  You don't need to diet.  Ever.  Just eat in moderation and stay active. 

22)  Your body at 39 will look very different from your body at 25.  It's called growing up.  Embrace it, and love it.  Your daughter will learn  to love her body by watching you love yours.

23)  Always, always be proud of your roots, and your heritage.  Teach your kids to be proud of their heritage too.  

24)  There is more good than evil in the world.  There will be times it will seem the opposite is true.  But if you ever need a reminder, look at those around you: family, friends, church.  It will make you see the good in the world.

25)  Have NO regrets.  Zero.  None.  Even the hard times bring lessons.  Learn the lesson, and move on.  You will make mistakes; you are only human.  Learn from the mistakes and grow from them.  There is no point in spending life regretting the decisions you've made.  Move on.

I can see 40 shining brightly from here.  I'm not dreading it, I'm ready to embrace it.  So many people don't make it to 40, I owe to all of them to be happy I made it this far.  And in the words of my grandfather, age is just a number.  Your attitude towards life is what counts Make yours count.