Tuesday, September 1, 2015

School Among The Chaos

Tomorrow Clarkson Academy will be officially starting our next year.   My children are ready and excited.  We have some traditions that have become a part of launching our home school year.  We will get up early and dress a bit better than we usually do.  We will make signs to represent their hopes for the upcoming year and we will take pictures. We will have donuts for breakfast, because even though I swore our tradition was to have oatmeal, they assure me it was donuts. ;)

I have said before and it remains true, September feels more like the start of a New Year to me than January 1st.  There is something so energizing about the start of a new school year.  For me there is a great thrill in new curriculum, fresh routines and rebooted attitudes towards learning.  There are also the brand new pencils, notebooks, folders, crayons, legal pads and planners.  I do so love office supplies!

My children have prepared themselves by carefully choosing new shoes and a few new clothes.  Some got haircuts, others choose not to.  They helped to plan their year by selecting subjects they are interested in and projects they want to try.  They are excited about some study aids that we have collected to help address our need to fidget and move while we work.  They are also excited about hand gel, for some reason. 

Each September as the new year begins I make resolutions for myself and for my family. Many of my resolutions are the same each year; I will plan meals and be a more organized cook, I will schedule our household cleaning so it isn’t overwhelming, I will spend more time preparing lessons, I will do more art projects and incorporate more music, we will argue less, I will go to bed early so each day I wake up early to get ready for our day.  Each year I have some new, specific resolutions that are personal to each of my children and their educational goals or personal growth.  I tackle these resolutions with the best of intentions and after much researching.  I make a lot of lists.   

Each year I want to start the year organized.  I want to have all of their supplies organized on their shelves, with their names printed on them as if we had more than one 5th grader in the house.  I want to have their workspaces clean and peaceful so that they are motivated to work.  I want to have all of our supplies prepared, materials gathered and schedules perfectly timed out.  I want my day to look like the pictures I see on Pintrest!

This year is starting differently.  As I type this, the pieces of the planner that the kids will use are in a pile next to me.  I do not have them neatly assembled and ready for use. In all fairness, it is a neat pile.  This is an example of the new attitude I am working to have as we approach this year.  An attitude of acceptance. 

The truth is, life is not neat and simple in a house with 7 children.  We can plan meals, but things will come up and we will end up eating cereal or picking up Little Caesars pizza sometimes because we took extra time to explore a topic in school or go on an unexpected field trip.  Sometimes the house work and the laundry will get away from us and we will probably take a day off of school to get caught up again but we will also spend a Saturday at the museum or a Sunday learning all about a period in history.  Sometimes art and music will have to wait because our focus will have to be on math facts.  Arguments will happen because kids don’t always want to do what they are told and everyone has bad days.  Some nights I will choose to stay awake and spend time with my husband or do something for myself.  Lots of mornings I will be slow getting started because mornings are hard. 

The truth is that most days are not perfect.  We do school among the chaos and we do it well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Are Home Schoolers Protected from Illness?

There is a lot of discussion and news coverage happening right now on the entervirus D68.  Unfortunately, flu season is also coming up rapidly. It is this time of year I often people make the assumption that home schoolers are safe and protected from illness.  People often say "I'm just gonna home school!" when they are concerned about the current super virus. As a home school mom I certainly wish we had the immunity that so many believe that we can achieve.

Now, to be fair, I do think that we get sick less often as home schoolers than we did when we attended public school.  The illnesses we get are not only fewer and father between but also less severe in most cases.  We are definitely exposed to fewer people and fewer germs and that is to our advantage.

That said, home school moms are not spared the worry that comes when these scary illness threaten our communities.  Home school kids don't really spend all of their time at home.  There are weeks when I have to be very intentional about being home to do our routine curriculum because there are so many neat opportunities out in the world to participate in.  Our herd participates in several Taekwondo classes a week, church, Sunday school, AWANA, Science Olympiad meetings and our much loved co-op each week.  Of course many of those events are attended by children who also attend public school.  Other home school friends of ours participate in much larger co-ops, day long enrichment programs or even college classes at our local colleges.  Not to mention the fact that we need to go to the grocer store, big box stores, and all the other big public school places just like everyone else.  Oh, and the daddy works out in public so we have that risk factor too. At the end of the week our exposure to illness may only be marginally less than people out there attending public school.

Along with the warnings about enterovirus D68 and the upcoming flu season in general come a lot of recommended precautions.  I'll let you look up the current recommendations yourself but the biggest ones are hand washing and staying home if your sick.  My worry for us and other home schooelrs is that we not start believing this myth.  I would hate to see home schoolers underestimate their exposure, choose not to take precautions seriously and falsely believe they are protected simply because society says that they must be.

I think many of my friends think I'm overly cautions, so please let me explain why that is.  In our household we have 8 people, soon to be 9, that potentially will come down with any illness that we would contract. Not only are there a whole lot of people to be sick, which means that we'll be out of commission for a long time, but several of my children have elevated risk factors in dealing with anything respiratory.  Then of course there are the parents to think about.  If the mama gets sick caring for the herd gets very complicated, not to mention the added risk of pregnancy right now.  If the daddy gets sick he cannot go to work and our income is negatively impacted.  I hope you'll understand if sometimes I fantasize about locking all our doors, digging a moat and hiding until Spring.

For now, our family will still be out there doing the things we care about but with some extra precautions.  We are all taking vitamins and using essential oils to boost our immune system.  We're drinking a little extra vitamin C because it can't hurt us.  We're getting extra rest, washing our hands and limiting physical contact with people.  We are carrying and using wipes for all public surfaces and hand gel when we can't wash with soap and water. There is a plan in place to leave any event we are at if we see a high population of sick people in attendance.  Of course we will stay home if we develop any symptoms that would make us a risk to others.  We hope all our peers will too.

My hope for this post is to shed some light on a home schooling myth and remind those of you who have taken the time to read this to maybe be a little extra cautious in your own circles.  Take care of yourselves and make prevention important to your household.  Stay healthy friends!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Put Your Behind in the Past

We have made it through our first week of home schooling for the 2014/2015 school year.  While there certainly was enough excitement about the launch of a new year, this was a surprisingly rough week some of us.  Mostly me.

Two of my children are suffering from reality.  The reality that sometimes work isn't easy.  That sometimes it feels tedious.  That attitude can get in your way when your trying to learn.  As their mom I hate that reality too.  One of the great privileges in home schooling is that in general you get to make topics exciting, teach to your students passions, strengths and change things up often to keep that spark of interest.  Unfortunately before you can be wild and free in your teaching style, you have to still teach the basics that are much less exciting.

One of my strugglers* has some significant challenges with multiplication and division.  We've played board games, downloaded more computer and iPad apps than I care to count, made tables and flash cards and it still is a struggle for this one.  I have reached the hard to acknowledge place where I know we have to do plain old drill and practice for part of our time to get those skills learned. Until there is a better understanding of these skills we are kind of stalled out.

The other of my strugglers* is a reluctant reader.  The assumption made by this child was that reading would be easy and effortless, which has sadly not been the case.  I'm not worried, to be honest, I believe that it will all fall into place in its time and we'll just have to muddle through until then. At the same time when you struggle to read its hard to do much of anything else in school because you have to be able to read to understand directions, read lessons and even really be an effective writer. That is hard for a student who wishes for independence.  It makes for lots of togetherness, even when neither of us really appreciate that extra time together.

These issues, among other life changes and challenges, have left me in more than a bit of a funk for the past week.  Then today had the nerve to be a Monday on top of it all and there just wasn't enough coffee anywhere.  I was wondering what business I thought I had teaching my kids, it was that bad.  I was able to keep going because today was also the day one of our clubs met and I knew I'd get some precious moments with other home school moms.  I was hopeful to find some encouragement and new energy among my poor, unsuspecting friends.  One friend made the mistake of standing still too long and I told her, just a little, of our challenges.  I used words like "behind" as I explained my students struggles and my frustration with my seeming inability to reach them.

My sweet friend then looked at me and said that in home schooling is that there is no 'behind'.  She reminded me that I had until they were in 12th grade to get them where they needed to be and if our path didn't look like every one else's, thats OK.  Beautiful words. True words.

Its hard when my background is in education and your teaching smart but very intense children not to fall into the habit of creating school at home.  I don't want to do school at home, I want to be free to follow a tangent, do creative projects that leave life long impressions on my kids, I want to love learning with my kids instead of dreading the battle.

So tomorrow, we'll spend some time working on those basic skills.  There will be some drill and practice. But then we will move on and do the fun projects, dig deep into subjects we are passionate about and take breaks to enjoy real life as it happens around us.

To my friend: Thank you for the gentle reminder of why we do this home school thing. - from all the students at Clarkson Academy, present and future, who are benifiting from your wisdom.

*Struggler is not meant as a permanent description or a derogatory term.  It simply means that at this time, in one area, this child is having a hard time.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Education Choices in the Mompetition

From the moment a woman becomes pregnant she becomes part of the Mompetition.  There is no way to opt out of it as strangers express their opinions on every aspect of childcare, no matter how personal.  If you choose to use disposable diapers expect to be challenged by mom’s who use cloth.  If you mention being exhausted because your little one was awake 3 times be prepared to hear another mom tell you about the 6 times she was up with her baby.  Its probably best if you just don’t discuss circumcision, breast-feeding or co-sleeping while out in public. It seems that no matter what choices you make those who have made different choices will feel challenged or threatened by your choice.

As our children grow, so does the Mompetition.  I personally find myself questioning everything I do and comparing myself to all the amazing mothers around me. Are we doing enough extra curricular? Do we do the right ones? What if we are doing too many? Are my kids getting enough time with their friends? Do they have enough chores without being asked to do too many?  I literally lay awake at night thinking about these things.  Without the ever present, unavoidable Mompetition, I’m fairly certain all of us mom’s would sleep better.

I chose to home school my children.  That has not always been my choice as we began home schooling mid year in 2011.  Like any choice a mom makes I encounter those who seem to feel challenged by my choices.  Sadly, many of my friends assume that I judge them negatively for their choice to send their kids to public or private schools. This is not at all the case.  I very much support public schools.  The majority of our children attend public school. These young men and women are our future so I absolutely want them to get the best possible education.  If you can send your child to a private school that better suits your child’s interest or your family’s values then I believe you should absolutely do that.  There is no one right way to educate our children.

The new school year starts for us tomorrow. This time of year feels much more like the ‘New Year’ than January 1st, as we start fresh with new books, new lessons plans and brand new enthusiasm.  Home schooling is what is best for my family, for lots of reason’s I’ve already discussed here on this blog, but it is not the best choice for everyone.  If you happily anticipate this time of year when the big yellow bus comes to take your children off to school please know that I can appreciate that feeling and I do not judge you.  I am similarly anticipating the new discussions we will have, the subjects we can explore and the brand new box of crayons we will share.  I hope you do not judge me. 

No matter how you feed your baby, no matter what parenting theories you chose to practice and no matter how your family chooses to educate your children I know that your doing the best you know how for your children.  I am doing my best to withdraw from the Mompetition.  I know that you love your children more than life itself, that you agonize over every choice you make for them and believe with all your heart its what is the right thing for your family. We’re all different but in this way we are all the same. I hope we can still share our joys and our struggles.

Whether you are involved in year round schooling, have been at it for weeks, are just getting started or are well past formal education, I wish you the best in your adventures in learning.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Technology Difficulties, Resolutions and Ground Hogs

At the start of the year we promised a blog sharing our New Years resolutions.  We didn't forget! But the post we wrote and set to auto publish itself didn't post and seems to have been lost in the World Wide Web.  Forgive us for dropping the ball (see what we did there!)

So, trying this again, here are our New Years Resolutions and a chance to learn a little bit about the students at Clarkson Academy:

Lucas, age 14:  This year I resolve to read 60 books by the end of the year.  I am doing this to see how many books I can read and to challenge myself to read more instead of watching TV.  I'm going to do this by skipping TV time and reading instead.  Another resolution I made was to get more exercise, like everyone else probably.  I want to be stronger so that I can do better in Taekwondo.  So far I am doing well with my resolutions but I need to be reading more because I need to read more than one book a week in order to meet my goal.

Abigail, age 12:  I'm going to exercise more by taking more Taekwondo classes.  I am doing this so that I can be stronger.  I am going to remember to do more stretching and Taekwondo practice at home. Another resolution I have is to master multiplication because that is hard for me.  I'm going to do that by practicing a lot.  I think I'm already getting better at multiplication and I think I am getting stronger.

Zachary, age 8:  One of my resolutions is to help with more house chores.  I am doing this because I want to help my family more and have more time for fun.  If I have more time for fun I'm going to play games like Pandemic. I think I'm doing more to help and my room is cleaner.

William, age 7:  My resolution is to learn to read so I don't always have to ask how to do stuff and so I can read all the good stories that are out there without waiting for someone to help me.   I am doing really well!  I have already mastered lots of sight words and learned to sound things out better.

Mom:  I am continually resolving to be more organized.  I'm continually failing at that resolution.  Life is ever hectic here and the amount of time it takes to feed, organize, dress, maintain and education 6 humans is all consuming.  So instead I am resolving to be more at peace with my chaos.  I resolve to care less if someone comes over and finds my house a mess.  I resolve to not get worked up when assignments do not get completed as quickly as I want.  I resolve to go on more field trips because those hands on experiences are so valuable.  I resolve that we will play lots more board games and go on more walks.  So far I can say I am doing my best and I getting there.

Yesterday the Ground Hog saw his shadow and predicted more weeks of winter.  We discussed the history of this tradition and celebrated the silliness in this.  If you have not ever looked into this fun little holiday, I recommend you do.   Its just fun.  Clarkson Academy is ready for more winter.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Happy New Year!!

When we first made the switch from public schools to homeschooling I felt that one thing I would loose was the excitement of snow days and school vacations.  What fun is it to get to stay home if your already there?  Who cares if your going back to school if its just down the stairs from where you eat breakfast?  It turns out that it still matters quite a bit.

Just like when we were in school the Clarkson Academy students and staff really enjoyed their Christmas break. Some of us slept in and some of us got up early to enjoy cartoons.  We had late breakfasts and snacked.  We baked. We played with our new Christmas toys and games.  We all read lots of books.   Our family celebrated one of the best Christmas's we've ever had and brought the New Year in with style.

Yet all good things must come to an end.  Our crew was more than ready to go back to school this morning.  The return of routine and purpose was welcome by all, but maybe mostly me.  Our first day back was nothing exciting but we got off to a good start and no one seemed to have forgotten all that much.  Its exciting to get a 'reboot' and start our lessons with a new energy.

One of our projects today was to put together some New Years resolutions.  The children have begun drafting a group blog post to be published on Wednesday of this week sharing their resolutions with you.  Do you have any resolutions?  Please feel free to comment here (comments are no longer restricted) or message them to us on our Clarkson Academy Facebook page.

                                                            Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Am I Blogger Enough?

I haven't written a blog post in a long time.  My goal was to write regularly and share with you our life as home schoolers in our little home on Clarkson Drive.  I've fallen very short of my personal goal.  Which makes me feel guilty.  I'm a mother, I don't need more to feel guilty about.  So, please bear with me while I try to sort this out.

I think it takes a certain amount of ego to blog.  You have to believe that you have something to share that other people will want to read.  Whether you believe you are entertaining or that you can educate someone, some how if you blog you feel your thoughts are important enough to deserve other people's time and attention.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I follow several blogs and I DO feel the authors deserve my time and attention.  I've laughed, been deeply moved, become smarter and even a better person for the things others have taken the time to share in their blogs.  I feel the blogs I regularly read are worth my time and I visit new blogs nearly daily.  I love really do love sharing in people's worlds, even for a moment.

When it comes to MY blog I worry about every step.  I wonder if what I am thinking is complete enough to share, if other people will relate to it or if it will set me apart, if I can do the topic justice, if my editing will be complete enough or if I will reveal myself as a flawed teacher when I already feel scrutinized as a home schooling mother.  I wonder if anyone will read my blog at all and I would be wounded if no one did, even if I try to tell myself I write for myself.

On a good day I can tell you that what I'm doing is pretty good.  Sometimes even genius, for a moment.   I am planning my kids daily lessons, teaching them and they are learning.  We have fun.  We go places. We make things.  They are really, really, scary, smart kids.  Most days we have tough moments and I know that other families do too.  And like everyone else we learn from it.  We grow.  We also scream and cry and give up for a few hours.  I think sharing that reality is important too.

My day to day life doesn't typically seem very remarkable to me.  I don't usually believe I'm blog worthy.  But maybe I need to give myself some credit, allow myself some more pride.  I'm raising real people over here.  People who will lead and shape the world, in some small way at least.  And I realized today that I would love to get more infomration about how my friends go about their daily lives, I'd read their blogs.  So, I'm going to try really hard to stop doubting myself and put myself out there- for better or worse.

I often here "I don't know how you do it!" I'm not always sure either, but I'm going to try to tell you about it!