Portfolios, Logs, reflections
Sunday June 02nd 2013, 7:41 am
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I am having a lot of anxiety right now. It’s the end of the school year for us, in many ways. If it were only one school, that would be easy. But no, it’s really 4 different directions, or maybe more, that things are wrapping up. Consequently, I’m going a little bit mad.

It’s all going to be fine, though. I keep mentioning that to myself.

Foremost on my mind is putting together A’s portfolio. This is a set of different examples of her work, together with some lists, attendance information, etc., that shows that we didn’t just set her down in front of the the TV all year. Well, we certainly didn’t do that– she worked hard and I want to showcase that accordingly. If nothing else, I would like to have something nice to show family who always ask in a concerned way “Is she GETTING all the STUFF she is SUPPOSED to get from school?”

Well the school year is out just about for her. A few more days, really, and that’s all. Her writing is amazing. She’s done mostly 7th grade social studies and science, but not many hand-on projects that I can really point to and say, “Observe the awesomeness of what this child did in science this year!”

Wait– let me take that back. I did take pictures along the way. I just got an idea. What if I include a bunch of photos showing her hand-stitched plant cell pillow; a photo of her squinting at microscopic organisms through the microscope; a photo of her getting covered in newspaper to estimate the amount of skin that cover the human body? We also baked a cake and decorated it with frosting in the shapes of animal cell organelles.

In social studies, first we studied the ancient worlds of Sumer, Indus Valley, Egypt and China, then later the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas of Central and South America. We visited the Museum of Archaeology, and saw mummies which really creeped A out. Then we turned our focus to modern times and studies North and South America geography and cultures.

Much of our material for that came from C’s cyber schoools.  I am so proud of how things turned out for C this year. Our first half of the year, we were enrolled in PA Virtual Charter School, which provide a K12 curriculum, and we didn’t care for it very much.  So we switched midyear, and are now in a different cyber school, 0ne which uses a Pearson / National Geographic curriculum (except we enjoyed that ancient world part). The difference in cohesiveness, in educational tools, teachers, even in community, is amazing. I am beyond pleased to see how her classes challenged her. Now we’re at the end of a year long cyber school journey and I am so relieved to see my child as a thriving, happy person with some kick-ass writing skills.

Finishing up alongside of  C’s cyber school and A’s home school efforts  is our dear home school co-op. The homeschooling co-op was our main group learning experience of the year, and it was delightful for both girls. It was also so much to me, with new friends to be made among the parents, and so many experienced minds who were happy to share with me.  The variety of classes, the sweetness of the kids, all contributed greatly to our family’s well being as we transitioned into homeschooling for the first time.

As an end of year celebration, I am excited to be helping to plan the home school co-op’s camping trip. Of course, it has to end up right now in my face as a competitor to finishing A’s portfolio, right?  Busy busy busy…. but I feel happy to give some energy to the coop, because it meant a lot to me, and this camping trip is an important part of it. I love camping and I am sure it will make for a wonderful way to really connect and firm up the new friendships I and the girls have started.

I am not entirely comfortable in social groups, but I like to have friends. It’s been very good for me to feel accepted into the group at home school co-op. At the school where I work, by contrast, I have been feeling very much at a remove, especially since my kids are no longer enrolled. I felt like I was marginalized last year, but this year, even more so. It is painful, but I can’t help feeling like I am viewed as a kind of outside helper, not a true member of the staff. This year, especially, when I was so thoroughly overloaded, to have the home school co-op provide some level of comfort and social acceptance, it was a real asset.  I could over look or at least avoid, the social pain of my work place.

Speaking of the workplace… yes this week is the last week of school there, and after that I am to run my two week long camp. I am filled with anxiety about the camp’s finances now.  I can’t believe it, but my enrollment is not full yet. I sincerely hope some last minute people show up! I am kind of kicking myself to not have advertised more and earlier in the year. If I had a time machine I’d go back and try to drum up more business that way!

But freaking out over camp is going to have to wait. I have other things to freak out about.  Or, maybe not really freak out, I just have to Get It Done. Specifically, for A’s end of un-school or home school, or whatever, I have to come up with a portfolio that kind of summarizes her entire year. I know we’ve done a lot of work, so it’s not like I have anything to really worry about.  It is just hard to come up with a clear, concise document that shows what we’ve done. Actually, this blog post was my way of starting to tackle that.

This past year was a busy one for me, no doubt. I have now three weeks to finish up everything including camp. I am sure it will happen in whatever way it has to happen. Here’s to summer!



Break! YES!
Tuesday December 18th 2012, 10:31 pm
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I am breathing a double sigh of relief. I am on break now. From work, and from home schooling.

As of Friday, we completed 76 days of school. I only know this because each school day is counted by the online school.

So here’s to surviving through 76 days of home schooling.

Interestingly, my children are both still very smart.

We are waiting for Santa anxiously, and watching Star Trek Next Generation. What fun!



Day 25? Or something?
Wednesday October 03rd 2012, 11:40 pm
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Okay, so Khan Academy is awesome. Annie has decided to challenge herself and build up her knowledge using Khan Academy’s online math problems.  It’s a pretty cool website and you should check it out: http://www.khanacademy.org/ There’s a lot there in addition to math (no pun intended.)

I had a pretty good day of home schooling with my kids. I find that every day that includes art seems to be more lively and productive and they are more cooperative and passionate about learning in general. Art! Yes!

The weird thing for me about being a homeschooling parent is that I really never thought I would go down this path. I love schools. I am a big believer in “the school experience” and in sharing your life with your friends, and in the social scene of school.  So when family members ask me, over and over, whether my kids are getting any social interaction, I know where they are coming from.

Now I know.  Asking a homeschooling parent whether their kids are getting enough social interaction is like asking a pregnant woman when’s she’s due.  Apparently it’s the first and only thing you can think of, other than, “how are you feeling?”  The answer is “I feel pregnant, you stupid swine, and I’m still due on Febuguster the 28th.” And the answer to the question about social interaction is, “Yes, you dumb fuck, my kids still like playing with other kids, and we do so plenty, just not always between 9 am and 3 pm.”

I think I’m a little bit of a crankypants tonight. I just watched the Candidates Debate.  BORING! Waste of my time. Carla and Annie tried watching with me for quite a while. Carla, 12 now, is starting to experiment with the power and the glory of expletives and cursing, so she kept giving Mr. Smarmney the finger. Annie, too, made fun of his smirky arrogance. They are not huge fans of the President, but they prefer him over Mitt and his phony baloney blather. Frankly, I thought the whole thing was severely annoying.

I’d let the two kids stay up and watch, you know, history in action.  They came away disappointed and pointing out that the two guys just kept repeating the same stuff again and again.  There was no listening to each other. There was no common ground, really, just a lot of smirking and boring talk.  Well, I agree, though a few interesting bits came up which I will try to work into homeschooling discussions some time soon.

1) My kids don’t know what Wall Street is.  I guess I should fill them in!

2) I’m not sure they understand the basic structures of government branches yet.

3) “I like coal” said Romney. (Why, is that what he gets in his stocking each Christmas? What does he like about coal? I don’t get it, says Annie, what’s that all about?)

So that’s all folks. Good night, and don’t forget to continuously question the judgement of your homeschooling friends, and find out whether their kids get any social skills, and what not. That’s a great way to connect!



Lessons learned
Friday September 21st 2012, 12:54 pm
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It’s Day 19, officially, of our home schooling so far.  I guess technically, it’s Day 18 for A., because I let her have one day off for Roshashanna, since there are 185 days in the Virtual Charter School calendar and A’s day requirement is 180 days, and I figured what the heck.

By the numbers we are existing.

But the lesson I learned today, and probably it won’t do me any good, because I’ll still try to fight it, is that when something isn’t interesting to a child, it’s really hard to make them interested.  C is doing this online charter school stuff and I keep feeling like we’re just going through the motions in History to make her aware of stuff that she’s not that interested in but can nod in its direction and say, yeah, okay, now I see that historic cave painting exist.  We looked at a bunch of pictures of cave paintings on websites.  Let me tell you, I’ve seen prehistoric paintings before in person and it’s a whole lot more exciting to BE somewhere amazing and learn that way than to LOOK AT A PICTURE OF IT on the internet.

I am going slowly insane, feeling so edgy and lost all the time at home. I want to give my kids the world but my budget is I can give them the internet.  C’s curriculum is bland in spite of the internet being so rich; it is a rich blend of things to learn about but it’s so distant and clinical. She’s so, well, bored by it!

Meanwhile I’m going out of my way to find hands on projects for A to do. Right now she’s still working on her Stuffed Pillow of a Plant Cell diagram. It’s a way of making those parts of the cell piece by piece and reviewing what happens in a cell. I’m figuring we’ll keep on thinking about the processes of plant cells through hands on experiments and going back to our Pillow so that it sinks in, and we have something concrete to talk about.

C sees this activity and I think that makes it harder for her to tolerate her online learning method that doesn’t involve much hands on stuff.

However, I will say, she loves her Life Science class, and will jump to do extra projects.  In English, and in Math, it’s harder. History is the worst.

And sadly, I’m having trouble getting her to even TOUCH her music and art classes. Which are a) entirely online and b) Pass/Fail based on her online completion of the programs.  So in other words, she has to do them, and she feels so reluctant.

Meanwhile in my own personal life, I’m feeling panicky and worried and tired, wanting to get us ready for a trip to the shore tomorrow with a total of 12 ‘party guests’ who are joining us. I’ve made my things to do list, but where is the time? To do everything seems impossible.

Then there’s my work life, in which I feel alienated from the other adults who work there, and I am trying to be a model employee and do a very good job because I feel like if I don’t then my job is on the line. And we are so pinched for money that I can’t afford to lose the income. What other job will at least bring my kids joy by having a fun place to go after school? What other job will be only in the afternoons, allowing me some time to work with my kids in the mornings?

Which, by the way, the morning is over and it’s now and hour and half before I have to be at work, and there’s all this stuff I need to get done so we can go to the shore tomorrow?

And my car is just about out of gas.

And, and, and, and! I feel so out of control and behind on everything.

Sorry for ranting and whining. It’s just one of those days where I feel lost and out of control.



Writing Daily
Friday September 14th 2012, 9:29 am
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Another fail. I wanted to write daily, but who was I kidding?

I have this exhausting schedule now that I am back to work. This week has been so very hard. I hate to be a whiner.

My kids have been very helpful to me at work, and very understanding and cooperative during the day. I should be celebrating how wonderful they are rather than lamenting that I can’t find time to blog, right?

So I’ll do that.  Yay for C. Yay for A. They are really kind, smart people and this year won’t be a misery but something of a joy.

I admit to being exhausted, though. Yay for 4 day weekend.

End of whining / pep talk.



FUBAR
Friday September 14th 2012, 9:15 am
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Yesterday was a homeschool day FAIL.

I’m in the middle of negotiations about policies at work, and an upsetting email came yesterday morning which caused me to need to make phonecalls. I spent the whole morning talking about work and didn’t do any instruction for the kids.

They slept late, had breakfast late, and the I was distracted. C didn’t get her adderall and could focus on nothing on her own. I then had to pack her stuff because she is off on a 5 day trip with her dad.

There went the rest of the home school day; and on top of that, I forgot to pack her adderall, so now she’s about to have 5 days with no ADD meds and try to focus on school work, while away on a trip!? Poor kid! I feel terrible.

However, as her dad pointed out, it’ll be okay. She can catch up slowly, and they’ll manage however they’ll manage.  It’s more important that they have a nice trip together than that she cram her curriculum down her throat.

Still I feel kind of bad. But, because C and D are away, I can hang with A. She’s right now reading her math book (something she wanted to do on her own).

I am about to drink some coffee. After today,  I will have four consecutive days off from work. That should give us some time to do really cool stuff.

I’m thinking about going here today: http://www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org/museum_collection.shtml

Looks awesome, right?



A moment of quiet
Friday September 07th 2012, 10:59 am
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This is a nice thing. The girls are each cozy in the living room, reading happily to themselves.

This is an easy part of homeschooling.

Later, I’ll be going over pre-algebra with Carla, and working on making a scrap-fabric model of a plant cell with Annie. This feels like a good thing.

Just hope that next week, once I am back to work in the afternoons, I won’t feel like my head is exploding, just trying to fit everything into the mornings. The real challenge here is that nobody in this house likes getting up early. We’re night owls.

Can’t we just do our educational stuff at night? Unfortunately, the afternoons will be work times for me, making it harder for dinner to happen at an early hour, making the evenings scarce too.

Thinking this over, though, I think that if I can plan out meals today, shop for them tomorrow, and make sure our household needs are under control during the day, perhaps I can open up our schedules enough to make this all work. It’s so much easier if you are organized, plan ahead, and have the resources you need at hand.

Annie quietly reads to herself.

Annie quietly reads to herself.

And moments of quiet like this are so nice for planning ahead, reflecting, and examining this life I’m living.



Butterflies in the knots in my stomach
Thursday September 06th 2012, 4:49 pm
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Though I feel like a complete basketcase, I do think that homeschooling is okay. I mean, there are the upsides and downsides to it, like many things.

The difference with school and homeschool is that you just see your kids’ progress with school. You don’t watch their struggles and their learning first hand.  With school, they go out, then come home later. They tell you it was fine. A month later, they show you an awesome art project they did, or a book they read, or a good job on a math test. Then you say, great, my kid’s doing well in school.

With homeschooling, it’s an excruciating struggle of learning, and deciding on projects, and finding something to do, and convincing your child that reading that book or doing that set of math problems, or doing a hands on biology experiment really are education.  It’s day by day and hour by hour, so so so so so sloooooow for me.  While they should be taking their time learning stuff, I am also sitting here with my mind all a whirl about the things that my mind has in it.

My personal life… my concerns about where I work… my own emotional reactions to their learning and whether they are fidgety or bored or hyper or whatever… this is what is making this hard. I have to also recognize that I am in my usual before-school anxiety. I always get freaked out just before starting a new school year. This year it’s compounded by the fact that I am also trying out homeschooling for the first time. Add to that the fact that my employer appears to be trying to get rid of me… well it’s a lot for one little bear of very little brain.

Of course, I’m not a bear of very little brain.  But sometimes when life is so overwhelming, I sure feel like one.



Days 6 and 7
Wednesday September 05th 2012, 1:31 pm
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FAIL. I didn’t blog on Day 6. This will have to do for both yesterday and today. But really, who cares?

I guess I do.

I’ve got a lot going on right now. In addition to getting homeschooling going for my kids, I still have this other job as an after school director. Tonight there’s a meeting to determine some details for the program, and I am really pretty nervous about it. I’m prepared, but it’s been a big distraction from homeschooling.

Thus lies the main thing I’ve been worrying about. I start back to my job running the after school program on Monday next week. That means that whatever home school stuff my kids are doing, I have to make it happen before 2:30 PM every day, in fact before 1:00 PM on one day of the week when my job begins early. I am nervous and not yet feeling prepared about this.

That aside, yesterday went pretty well. I came up with a nice way for Annie to study cell structure – she’s going to make a stuffed model of a plant cell, thus combining her love for sewing and crafts with a part of her study of life sciences.

Annie today did her math work with her dad, using the Life of Fred math book called “Ice cream.” It’s a really fun way to work on math.  She then went to her writing / art work on making comics.

Meanwhile Carla is nearly done the first unit of her History class. She’s been working on her assignment (first one for a grade!) for a couple of hours now.  She also did her literacy work.  In math, I see she’s nearing the end of a unit, and will soon be doing the assignment (for a grade) for Pre-Algebra.

I guess it’s moving along nicely. I feel like it’s hard for me to see the progress day to day and hour to hour. I also feel so emotional about how the kids are doing, so when someone claims that they’re bored, or someone gets frustrated and whiny, then I feel personally responsible. Because I am their teacher, their food supplier, etc.  At least I have help from my husband, and from the homeschooling co-op. I will be glad when those classes begin next week.

At least the cat’s 100% satisfied, as evidenced by this photo: hq



One Week Down, now what?
Sunday September 02nd 2012, 7:41 am
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Friday concluded our first week of home schooling. It was like a dress rehearsal, in a way. Actually, no it wasn’t anything like a dress rehearsal.

I have to come up with better ways of thinking about what we’re doing. Right now I feel jittery, nervous, and unprepared for next week.  When I try to think about what I’ll do with Annie’s curriculum, my mind keeps going in circles.  It’s not that I didn’t think about what we’d do all summer. I researched different topics, I looked at different models, I’ve pulled books off the library shelves, I’ve made google docs galore, trying to get a handle on her educational plan for the year.

What I think I drew up is a kind of map that shows the territory I want to cover. What I don’t know is where I am on the map, where to start traveling, and what to do each day. In other words, right now I feel lost.

I’m up super early today (for me) on a holiday weekend because I have a lot going on this week. In addition to Annie’s week not being planned yet, I’m gearing up for a meeting at the school where I work. I have a bunch of administrative issues that need to be sorted, and I need to be prepared for that. Then add to that, the classroom where I work with the after school kids need to be sorted as well.  It’s a lot on my mind.

I’m putting aside everything else for the moment. I’m hoping that this near daily habit of writing will help my mind get organized. Focusing on one issue at a time is what I need to do. This blog, a personal blog, can be about anything but my stated theme for now is how I’m home schooling my kids. And today, I’m going to stick to Annie’s education because Carla has a curriculum, books, and teachers and is off to a good start. My role with her is mostly to support her and keep her on track.

I’m teaching the following subjects this year with Annie:  Literacy, Biology, Music, Art, and Spanish. In addition to what I do with her, my husband will be teaching Math and my father in law is going to do some kind of writing workshop with her.  And in addition to their work with her, she will be taking classes through a parent-run home schoolers’ group, once a week. There’s a lot of social studies built into that plan, so that is why I left out out history or social studies.   Oh yeah, and I also said I’d take her swimming once a week and count that as gym.

So the next step I think I should do is draw up a weekly and daily plan for this week that covers my subjects and gives her a structure to look to, and a way to understand what I expect of her.  It would help if I understood what I expect of her, too.

I expect her to read, not just fiction books but also about biology and any other non-fiction topics of interest to her.  I want her to write creatively.  I know she’s not very interested in writing reports, but I do want her to do some research projects.  Book reports are out– she flatly refuses to write them.  This came up as an issue last year at school because her teacher wanted book reports written once a month, and Annie hated them terribly.  She flat out refused to write another one after the first one. I don’t really get what her problem was with them, but there you have it.

In Spanish, I expect her to practice speaking, writing, and to learn more vocabulary. I want us to watch some videos / movie clips in Spanish, to listen to music in Spanish and to play games online in Spanish. I do not yet have much materials for this subject, unfortunately.

For Art, I’ve signed her up for some guided tours at the art museum that are designed for home schoolers her age.  That’s a way to expose her to amazing works of art, and get some art history in the package. At home I want her to feel like she has a space and time to create. So that needs to go on the schedule, too.

For Music, I want to teach her to read music, and to start her on learning about playing the guitar.

For Biology, I’ve gotten some books out with hands on projects, scientific experiments. It helps that Carla is also taking Life Science, for though it’s 7th grade level, her text book is written at a very easy grade level. I think I should be able to yank a lot of the basics from there.

So many pieces to this! I’m finding it really hard to focus on specifics. Where do I start? I am going to go to paper now and try to sketch out a schedule and then lesson plans for each spot. Next time I’m back to this blog I hope I have a handle on this.