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!