Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Today's learning moments...

Today was a beautiful, unseasonably warm, exceptionally blustery fall day. I took the kids outside to play, and while I was rocking on the swing with Emmett, I looked down and noticed a Wooly Bear caterpillar near my feet. I called Max over to show it to him, and he bent down to examine it closely and said, "Can I touch it?" and I said, "Sure." He very gently felt the furry caterpillar's back. Then, "Can I hold him in my hand?" "Yes but be very careful - he is delicate and you don't want to squish him." So Max very carefully and gently picked him up, causing him to curl into a ball. Max placed him in the middle of his palm and said in a soft voice, "Hi, my name is Max." He held still long enough that the caterpillar became brave enough to start moving again and investigate his surroundings. We observed his face, eyes, and many feet, and he was nice enough to leave a tiny green pellet of poop on Max's arm, which was interesting. He crawled up and down both of our arms for awhile, and we enjoyed the tickly feeling. Max asked me what caterpillars eat and I said, "Well, I have a hypothesis." (Max learned about hypotheses from the show Dinosaur Train.) "I think that since he has green poop, he probably eats things that are green, like plants. We can look it up on the computer and learn more." I remembered I had purchased a little bug house kit to keep on hand for just such an occasion, so I went in the house and got it and brought it outside. We put the little guy in it with some grass and mulch (Max's idea) and brought him in the house, Googled "Wooly Bear caterpillars" and confirmed my hypothesis. We also learned that they hatch from eggs, and we saw pictures of Wooly Bears and of the Isabella Tiger moths they turn into. Max then included the caterpillar in the rest of his activities for the day. When Dinosaur Train came on, he placed the bug house where it had a view of the tv so that the caterpillar could watch it with him. When Daddy came home, Max told him, "I have a new friend, Dad! It's a caterpillar!" When he ate dinner, he put the bug house beside his plate. He wanted to sleep with the bug house in his bed, but I was able to convince him it would be a better idea to put him on the nightstand instead. We will either set him free tomorrow, or maybe we'll do some more research and create a more sophisticated place for him to live and keep him thru the winter so we can watch him make a cocoon and become a moth in the spring. We'll see.

Max studying his new friend.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In case you were wondering...

...this is what $64.52 worth of clothes from the thrift store looks like. Brands represented: Levi's, Children's Place, Gymboree, Osh Kosh, L.L. Bean, Gap, Old Navy, and Jumping Beans. There are 32 items of clothing here, so the average price is around $2. All are for my two boys, ages 4 and almost 1.

And my favorite find of the day is this adorable Christmas sweater vest, which was $1.

The very beginning of my path to choosing homeschooling was when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I knew immediately that I wanted to stay home and raise him, instead of leaving him with strangers all day and going to work. I had no idea how to make that happen financially, but I knew I would figure it out. I remember being terrified to tell my boss that I was pregnant because I knew the question to follow was going to be, "So what do you plan to do after the baby is born?" and I already knew the answer in my heart - and I knew it was one she wouldn't like.

The solution ended up being that I still work part time, but just a couple evenings a week and on Saturdays. This way I can work around my husband's work schedule and we don't have to worry about outside child care. This is a good balance for us, although it still leaves us with a lot less money coming in than we used to have on two full-time incomes, and now we are feeding twice as many people! I often hear other moms saying that they wish they could afford to stay home with their kids, but it's really not as hard as some would think. Our budget is pretty tight, but it works. I highly recommend the book, America's Cheapest Family by Steve and Annette Economides. (Yes that really is their last name.) I am definitely not as hardcore as they are, but this book does have tons of useful advice on stretching your money as far as possible, and implementing just a few of their strategies has really helped us. There is a whole section on shopping for clothes, which is what inspired me to start shopping at thrift stores. Sure, you have to hunt around a little, but you can find some great, barely-used, high-quality stuff. Because here's the thing: kids grow really fast. Sometimes they outgrow things they've never even had a chance to wear, or maybe only wore once or twice. And those are the things I hunt for.

Another piece of the Economides' advice I have tried to use is to make fewer trips to the grocery store each month, but buy more and stock up when you're there (so you don't have to go back again as soon). This is because for every time you walk into a grocery store, there will be a certain percentage of impulse buys. Fewer trips = less temptation and fewer impulse buys. I have found this to be very true for me, and this principle has definitely chopped a lot off of our grocery bill. They shop just once a month, but I have only been able to stretch it to about once every 2-3 weeks. The one area where I differ with them is that they are major coupon clippers and plot out their trips using store ads and buy only what's on sale. Personally, I'm just not that motivated. But at my Mother-in-law's insistence 2 years ago, I grudgingly began shopping at a store called Aldi and discovered that a) their prices are usually better than other stores' sale prices and b) their products are usually as good as or even better than the brand name stuff I used to buy. I truly have to credit Aldi with helping us balance our budget... I am a huge, huge fan.

I think bargain-hunting is a natural part of life for a homeschooling family, so I will occasionally be sharing great finds and things that have worked for me. There's a lot more where this came from...

Something I just came across...

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you - just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

-Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why? Part II

I have been thinking about it, and I have a few more "why's" to mention. Almost as strong as my excitement and enthusiasm for homeschooling is my distaste for the public school system. Both my husband and I agree that we are less than impressed with the public school educations we received. I remember finding most of my classes boring, tedious, and unchallenging. My younger brother, on the other hand, found it extremely challenging - he just couldn't physically sit still and focus - a problem that is often remedied nowadays with medication, but which I believe could also be remedied by just letting the poor kid MOVE throughout the day. I have read lots of stories of mothers who struggled to get their kids to sit still and listen, and then one day tried just letting them run around while being read to, and amazingly the kids were better able to answer questions about what they heard. They were actually able to focus and absorb the information better because their attention wasn't consumed by trying to be still. Having the flexibility to pick and choose tools and methods that will match my kids' individual learning styles, and allowing them the freedom to learn in whatever way is natural for them, was a very strong factor in my decision to homeschool.

My problem with the public school system is not with the teachers, but with the framework that they must work within. It's a system that was originally developed to create good, obedient assembly-line workers when the country was becoming industrialized. Not to teach people to think and love learning, but to teach them to respect authority and tolerate drudgery. There is little emphasis on innovation and creativity, rather, it's just a list of things some bureaucrats have decided kids must learn, and exactly when and in what order they should learn it. Little to no deviation is permitted. Teachers are under so much pressure to get their students to perform well on standardized tests, that the tests become the sole focus of everything, with the students cramming in tons of facts to be regurgitated and then quickly forgotten. This is not true learning. Many people are unhappy and frustrated with the current public school system, and it really baffles me when some of them think I'm crazy for deciding to reject it.

And so little of what is learned in school is actually useful in real life. I think kids should be able to function in the world after graduation; to do math, follow a budget, balance a checkbook. I know 18-year-olds who don't know how to cook themselves a meal or do their own laundry. What about acquiring marketable skills, or how to write a resume, or how to act at a job interview? I think the very most important thing a person needs to learn in their education is how to remain curious about the world, how to form questions and then research to find their answers, how to find ways to teach themselves what they need to know. Basically - that learning is not something that ends on graduation day.

I often say that the only thing I took with me from all of high school, that I use every day, is what I learned in 9th grade typing class. Well, that and my love of reading which stemmed from all the books I devoured in my free time. My very favorite school memory is of this sunny windowsill, in the back of the middle-school library, where I would hide out at lunchtime and enjoy some peace and solitude and escape into a good story. I remember actually feeling annoyed when my friends finally discovered my hiding spot, and then kept showing up there to talk to me!

Monday, October 4, 2010

This doesn't really inspire confidence...

I think it's a little sad that simply achieving "adequacy" is exciting enough to merit getting a banner to announce it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tonight's dinner table conversation

So today we had our septic tank pumped. Max was fascinated by the great big truck in our driveway, and the whole process - we talked about the plumbing in the house and pipes under the ground and where things go, etc. At dinner, he often likes to share the happenings of his day with Daddy...

Max: "Guess what, Dad?"
Dad: "What?"
Max (very excitedly): "We saw a POOP TRUCK today!"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Can you spot the misspelling here?

Hmm. This sign doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the public school system, does it? :)
(via neatorama)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Max's first story

I just want to write this down quick so I remember it - Max made up his first story ever tonight. After watching "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" (again) this evening, I asked Max if he would like to shrink himself real tiny like those kids in the movie did.

Max: "Well I was real tiny when I used to live in your belly."
Me: "Oh really, you remember that?"
Max: "Yeah, and I didn't want to come out of there 'cause it felt really nice in there."
Me: "Oh really?"
Max: "Yeah and there was another tiny baby in there too. He was a lizard. He had tiny feets. My tiny feets were bigger than his tiny feets."
Me: "Hmm. What was his name?"
Max: "Cracky." (That name comes from his name for scrambled eggs. He calls them "cracky eggs" because I crack the eggs into a bowl to make them.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Patting myself on the back just a tiny bit...

So in our local paper, The Post, they have a relatively new feature: Guest Columnist. You can write 750 words or less about whatever topic you want, so I submitted a column about homeschooling. And they printed it! I pretty much just cobbled the article together from my first couple of posts on here - this blogging thing really helps me organize and clarify my thoughts. But it was really exciting to see my name in print!

Monday, September 6, 2010


When I got home from work the other day, my 4-and-a-half-year-old son, Max, came running to meet me at the door and held up two plastic dinosaurs he was playing with. "Look Mom, this Allosaurus is biting the tail of this Parasaurolophus!" Wow! I am constantly amazed at the stuff that comes out of that boy's mouth. Another time, a few months ago, he was attempting to stall for a few extra minutes before bed, so he said to me, "Mom, I have to ask you something... *pause*... what species lived in the Jurassic?" I wasn't sure whether to be more amazed that he asked that big question, or that he asked it because he knew it would have a very long answer and would therefore delay bedtime! As you can see, he currently has an obsession with all things dinosaur - and he is an absolute sponge for information, if it's something of interest to him. He can correctly identify lots of different species, and I didn't teach him any of them. He simply absorbed the info from his favorite cartoon, "Dinosaur Train" on PBS. This leads me to think about how we are going to actually "do" homeschooling. My function in his dinosaur "education" if you will, is to simply remember when his favorite show is on and let him watch it. I didn't have to purchase expensive curriculum materials, or spend hours drilling information into him. He just soaked it up because it was fun and interesting to him. The same thing happened with the alphabet. His very first obsession was with signs. Street signs, all kinds of them, but most of all - stop signs. A little before he was 2 years old, everywhere we went, he began noticing stop signs. We were reprogramming our new tv, and there was a blue button on the menu screen to "stop" programming. Max pointed at it and said, "Op." (which is how he pronounced the word at the time.) We were so blown away that he recognized the word outside of the bright red hexagon symbol. After that, whenever we saw a stop sign, I would point to each letter and say, "Ess - Tee - Oh - Pee." He picked that up pretty quickly, and then he realized the other letters must have names too. He kept asking me to identify letters on things and he wanted me to read Dr. Seuss's ABC book to him every night. By about 27 months he knew each letter of the alphabet, even in random order. Again, he soaked all of this information up with very little effort on my part.

I have done a lot of reading on different styles of homeschooling - and there are many - but I think I am leaning toward a less formal, eclectic, almost-but-not-quite-unschooling, style. Probably with a lot of use of "unit study", which is a method where you tie in all subjects to whatever the child's current passion is. I don't really see us having a fixed "first day of school" where we begin homeschooling, but rather I see it as more of a continuing lifestyle. In many ways, we are already homeschooling right now. It's just a natural progression - he's learned how to walk, talk, feed himself, get dressed, use the potty, etc., and now he's learning how to read, how to tell time, identify types of train cars, species of dinosaurs, etc. I just pay attention to what he's into, and facilitate the expansion of those interests with toys, games, books, videos, field trips, etc. I don't really feel pressured to re-create the "classroom" environment at home - isn't that why I'm choosing to homeschool?

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Few Statistics

In a letter to the editor in my local paper, someone criticized homeschooling and wrote that although she has met some "wonderfully polite, educated, social children... most of the time it does not turn out so well." So I started looking up some statistics and here are some of interest:
  • Currently, there are somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million home schoolers in the United States and they are growing in number by somewhere between 5% and 12% per year.
  • Home schoolers score higher on average than public school students on both the ACT and SAT tests
  • "On average, homeschool students, grades 1–4, perform one grade level above their public and private school counterparts... by 8th grade the average home school student performs four grades higher than the national average." (SADC)
  • More than 74% of home schooled adults have taken college classes as opposed to 46% of the general population. (HSLDA) Many colleges are now actively recruiting home schoolers because they have a more well-rounded education, stronger work ethic, and better study habits.
  • In a study of home educated adults, Dr. Gary Knowles of the University of Michigan found that "None were unemployed and none were on welfare..." (emphasis mine) The overwhelming majority said home education "prepared them to be independent persons", that it "helped them interact with individuals on different levels of society", and that they were glad they were home educated and planned to home school their own children.
So I would argue with the writer in my local paper that, "most of the time it does not turn out so well" might be a statement that more accurately applies to public school instead.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I've been having this conversation more and more often lately, as my 4-year-old gets closer and closer to being school age:

Random Person: "So your kid will be going to school pretty soon..."
Me: "Actually, we are going to homeschool our kids."
Random Person: "Oh... awkward silence / insert sound effect of crickets chirping... Why?"

It's such a tough question to answer, because there are so many great reasons and it's hard to sum them up in a quick, concise statement. I guess the best short answer I have come up with so far is: Because I think I can do a better job and because I firmly believe it's the very best thing for my kids.

This does NOT mean that I think I'm better than all of the schoolteachers out there - I have the very highest respect for them and I think they have an incredibly hard job. However, I do know my kids better than anyone else on the planet, and as I've been watching them grow and learn, I think I have the best insight into what will excite them and help them to learn. And I just don't think the public school system is "it". With homeschooling, I like that I'll be able to adapt the curriculum to their interests and learning styles. They will be able to learn each subject at their own pace, spending extra time where needed, or moving on quickly if they already understand a concept. It's a level of individual customization that is just not possible in a regular classroom of 30 kids.

The next inevitable question is, "But what about SOCIALIZATION!" This is something I am absolutely NOT worried about. Nowadays, homeschooling is growing more and more common, and there are TONS of groups and activities out there for homeschoolers. To be truly "socialized" one must be able to get along with other people of all ages and backgrounds, and homeschooling is actually more conducive to this. Someone asked me the other day, "But if you're going to get together with groups of other kids anyway, why not just send them to school?" A good question. The answer is, in these particular groups, I will be assured that my kids are interacting with other kids whose parents have the same high level of involvement in their kids' lives, who hold learning in the highest regard, and who want to instill strong values and morals in their children. In public school, as anyone who's ever been there or watched the news or read a newspaper knows, the type of socialization that occurs is not always of the positive type - there is a thing called "negative socialization" too, and I think a lot of that can be avoided in the homeschool environment. Besides, school should be primarily about education - it's not meant to be social hour! Homeschooling will actually allow us more free time for social activities after the formal "schooling" part of the day is done.

I don't think homeschooling is for everybody, but I really think I am suited for it. I love learning, and I know that I will be learning a lot right along with my kids... and I am so excited about that! More than anything, I want to instill a love of learning in them too.

Getting the first post out of the way...

Hello and welcome. I'm not going to write much now, as it's after 1:00am and I am once again staying up too late and fighting going to sleep. I have been wanting to start a blog, so there. I did it. In the future, I plan to write mostly about homeschooling: why we've decided to do it, how we plan to go about it, what we learn, places we go, interesting people we meet, etc. I also plan to share my thoughts and experiences with parenting in general, perhaps the occasional rant, and whatever else happens to interest me.