Checking in


Week 12 this week, so about 1/4 of the way in to our school year.

Just when I think we’ve settled into a good routine for Wally, we have a week that’s all struggle. But the good weeks are outweighing the difficult ones, so I think we’re on the way.

So far I think we both love everything he’s doing this year, though he could do without having to do Grammar. Once we finish grammar, I think we’re going to add a Vocabulary program of some sort. I’m realizing that he’s not picking up the meanings of words from their context as much as I’d assumed he was – which fits with what I’m realizing is one of his themes. :)

Genna’s reading is coming along. She tolerates History, but doesn’t love it. Part of the problem is that I’m not doing as much hands-on as I did with Wally, which sucks for her. We started Spelling recently, and moved from our warm-up grammar book to First Language Lessons Book 1, both of which are going well, but it’s really too early to tell.

The school year so far.


We had a pretty rocky start, but I think we’re onto smoother sailing now.

I’m still not ENTIRELY sure what the problem was the first few weeks, but we’ve been tweaking, tweaking, tweaking.

I’ve reduced how much Wally writes with pencil/paper even further. He does a lot of work orally (like if there’s a workbook involved, I’ll just have him answer orally unless spelling is super important like in Latin – which we alternate oral/written).

He is doing math basically completely on his own. And kicking butt. His main problem continues to be rushing/incompleteness. I think he actually forgets – like if the book says to do A and then do B, he does A, forgets about B, and doesn’t think to look it over again. That’s really what he needs work on – reviewing his work.

Grammar is much harder this year, but we’re seeing steady improvement in skills and it’s not overwhelmingly difficult.

Writing is coming along SO NICELY. This is his area of most improvement. And he does it all on the computer.

Science is also largely on his own, and it’s going well. We have actual tests this year, and he’s gotten 85-99% on them.

I write Wally’s daily tasks on a list for him and let him choose how to do them. He must start with Kung Fu, and he must do the longer subjects first, and he must take a break for physical movement between every subject. (So, he wakes up and gets breakfast and then does kung fu, then school, then exercise, then school, then outside chores, etc.)  This is helping him stay more focused during work times, too, and is a change from even just a year ago, when taking a break would mean wandering off and never coming back.

Genna’s coming along, too. Reading is still a struggle, but she’s enthusiastic, though she tires easily. Writing is still a struggle, too, between forgetting how to form the letters and wanting desperately to write actual words but not being able to spell because she can’t talk right. :(

Math is going great. She hates History. Loves Leading Little Ones to God. :)

Her big struggle is also focus, but I think that’s appropriate for her age/development.

Pleasing the Gubment


I had this same argument with the school last year.

Since Wally was mandatory enrollment age, I’ve put: “Reading, Writing, Math, History, and Science, using a variety of books and materials.” for our “plan of instruction.”

Last year, under the new more liberal homeschool law, this was deemed to be inadequate. Despite the fact that the school cannot demand to know exactly what we’re doing. Last year, I just provided an abbreviated list of what I was doing with Wally and pulled out a few random book titles and wrote it on Genna’s. Like, literally, totally random, books I must‘ve had sitting here where I did it. This year the HS office just called again that I needed to provide more detail on Genna. So here’s what I have:

Science. Library books and books from our home library, too many to list. Example: Bears by SL Hamilton, Published 2010 by ABDO Publishing Company

Math: Singapore Math 1 A and B

Reading: Books, many and varied, fiction and nonfiction, variety of topics

Writing: We will be using elementary lined paper, the type with the dashed line in the middle.

History: Many books on grade-level-appropriate aspects of US History and citizenship. Example: The American Flag by Elaine Landau, 2008 Children’s Press

I’m afraid it’s too snotty, but at the same time, it is literally true. This is literally first grade. (with a few more subjects but I don’t think it’s their business that we’re also doing thinking skills, Bible, art/music, and memory work because they’re not required and the advice I was given by my former employer’s attorneys was that on paper, you should only give information that is required, and for legal compliance, only do the minimum the law requires. Going above and beyond is asking for trouble.)

She wanted to know the name of the curriculum we follow. OK, it’s called I Kind Of Loosely Follow Ideas In Well Trained Mind by Susan Bauer And Combine It With Stuff I Made Up In My Head And Then Adapt All Of That To Fit Our Lives And Personalities First Grade Comprehensive Curriculum, authors Susan Bauer and Sarah Reid (not in collaboration), Publication Date: Daily.   I did NOT SAY THAT OUT LOUD. :)

Oy. So I told her if it would make them happy, I’d write some random stuff down on paper and mail it in. They just want the box to be checked off.

Special Needs Homeschooling


This is the first year that I acknowledge that we have a special needs homeschooler in our house. Wally is yet undiagnosed, but there are some theories floating around. Pediatrician and a few therapists (Speech and OT) have suggested high functioning autism spectrum. Psychologist at CDD has actually diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome, though we’re not feeling confident in that. We’re planning to visit a neurologist in the next few months for more insight, hopefully.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share the adaptations we’ve made at home that, until recently, I didn’t even really think of as being anything particularly special. :)

  • Exercise ball instead of chair. He has a hard time sitting still. Not like fidgety/ADD sitting still, but like… he stomps his feet, he jerks his legs and arms, etc. The exercise ball helped reduce the stomping (which is annoying to the rest of us) and now he just bounces. He also has poor core strength, and the ball is hopefully helping with that.
  • Thinking putty. He tends to tap. Tap his fingers, tap his pencil, tap on the binder, on the table, on the computer, pick up his cup and put it down to tap, thunk his leg into the table to tap. *OMG*  The thinking putting doesn’t directly help with the urge to tap, but it does give his hands something to do when they’re not otherwise occupied.
  • Typing instead of writing. The process of writing – physically putting words on paper with a pencil – is tiresome and tedious. And slow. So slow. He has poor hand strength, and while we’re working on that (thinking putty helps there, too), and while I also know that he needs to continually practice his handwriting, we let him type on a computer for most of his work. He still has to write for math and history and science and for a few aspects of most other subjects, but when possible, he’s allowed to type. It speeds things up and it also lets him focus on what he wants to communicate, rather than getting bogged down in “oh, my hand!”
  • Audio books. Whenever possible, we get audio books so he can listen while he reads. He retains information much better when reading AND listening at the same time.
  • Headphones. He can’t work in a cluttered auditory environment, but he needs some sort of background noise that’s not people talking. If I have talk radio on, that’s distracting. The other kids playing or a video going, or me working with his sister is distracting. But music is better than silence. So he listens to music with headphones while doing schoolwork, or sometimes he just uses the headphones to deaden the noise.
  • Written instructions. Wally seems to struggle with verbal instructions. (and ability to remain on focus but I’m not sure that’s unique for his age lol) So I try to write down all of his assigned work every day. This year, we bought him a student planner and every week, I load it up with all his daily work stuff. He is responsible for writing down anything extra, any extra chores, etc., that he needs to remember. We’re working on him remembering the planner exists and that he needs to check it.

How Can You Teach If You’re Not An Expert On Every Subject?!?


In somewhat recent history, I was discussing homeschooling with another mom who is wholly against the idea. And in even more recent history, with a mom who just didn’t know anything about it other than the common misconceptions that most people have.

The first conversation went like this:

“Homeschooling is fine as long as the parent is an expert in every subject that will be taught. Barring that, the child should be in an environment where he can be taught by true experts in the subjects.”

“What do you do when your child gets advanced enough in school that you don’t know everything there is to teach them?”

Evidently, this is a common thought non homeschoolers have?

Here’s how they picture homeschool: The parent presents lessons to the child, working from the parent’s memory of stored facts on the subject, and engaging in more or less a mind dump into the child. The child can only learn as much as the parent knows, and can only learn subjects the parent is familiar with.

But here’s how it really works:

Parent and child learn together. Parent does some extra reading on subjects that will be covered, to deepen her understanding of the topic, in preparation for discussions about it. Student reads books, watches videos, learns things and shares what he has learned with parent. Parent asks questions, or student asks questions, and answers are researched. Everyone learns.

Or, student reads books and watches videos and learns from them. No parent involved.

I mean, I do flashcards with Wally, but otherwise the Latin is all him. I do not know Latin, beyond what you pick up by speaking English and being around doctors. But he’s getting fairly good at it, if his performance on review tests can be trusted.

It works. It works beautifully. That’s how education should be. It’s not supposed to be a mind dump. It’s supposed to be the learner learning things. Limiting education to just The Facts Contained In The Teacher’s Mind limits learners to knowing only what the teacher knows – and to learning only the point of view shared by the teacher. That’s not a good education.

But let’s go back to my high school. Every Civics, Social Studies, or History class I took was taught by a coach. A coach who needed to learn to teach something so he could coach football or wrestling or whatever. He got the textbooks, read them, read the Teacher’s Manual, purchased copies of the tests, learned a few tricks like History Facts Jeopardy, ordered boring videos from The Place Schools Get Their Boring Videos… Voila. History class. There was certainly no educated discussion happening about Do You Think It Was Possible To Create A Less Punitive Treaty Of Versailles going on. History was reduced to dates, people, and events to memorize. WWI was, until I learned it again last year with Wally, sort of a blip in history that started with Ferdinand, involved trenches and mustard gas, and resulted in WWII. The US was terrible because we didn’t want to get involved, and because we didn’t join the League of Nations, WWII was basically our fault. No nuance, no other points of view. That’s not education.

But when we did WWI last year, with only a smidgen of knowledge about it readily available in my head, we learned together about military advancements during the war, soldier poets, the diminishing role of horses and the increasing role of the pathetic early tanks, airplane advancements, medical innovations, strategies employed by both sides and how their perceptions and preconceived ideas of how things would go hampered their efforts, what it must have been like to be French during that period, utter devastation. We put ourselves into the shoes of leaders of the time. We learned about the soldier who had a chance to shoot Hitler during WWI but didn’t because he couldn’t bring himself to shoot an injured man who wasn’t fighting back. We struggled through the Treaty of Versailles as French people, as British people, as Americans who were a bit idealistic because our country had been untouched, and as Germans. I understood for the first time how WWI could only really ever have one outcome – WWII. It seems like from a certain point, global history was written, and there was really nothing anyone could have done to make it turn out any better. But I never understood that when I was in school, because I learned that WWI started in 1914 and ended in 1918 and the US wouldn’t join the League even though it was our idea because we were jerks.  But I think we had a great WWI unit. It was amazing.

This is why I say, “I can’t wait until X child is ready to learn about Y!” Because I want to learn about it, too. I’m getting a great education!

General Thoughts on This School Year


As I sit here on our second full day of school (technically, Wally started last week with a few subjects just to get back into the swing of things), I’m realizing how challenging this year is going to be.

Wally’s in 6th grade, and doing far more work independently, but he still needs supervision and help and there are still some subjects we do together. 6th grade is more challenging academically than 5th, and he’s covering more subjects.

Genna in first grade needs hands-on help for everything. She’s not a confident enough reader yet to even be left alone with simple written instructions. So her entire school time requires my attention.

And Teddy. Obviously anything I do with him needs to be completely him-focused, but he’s an ongoing challenge during school time. He’s loud and he plays loud and he’s crazy, and he’s like a cat. You know how cat people are always sharing pictures of their cat laying on the keyboard, or laying on the book they’re trying to read? Teddy has to drive his cars on whatever you’re doing. If you’re on the computer, he wants to drive his cars on your keyboard. Working from a binder? That makes a great road or surface to smash playdough. He is highly offended if you suggest that the little table is the PERFECT place to play with his toys. He wants to be with us. But not even at his designated spot at the table – he must be sitting on or with someone, in their space. Oy.

2015/2016 school year plans


Alright, here are our plans for this year.

Wally, 6th grade

Math: Since Singapore Math changes at the 6th grade level, and we weren’t huge fans of the way it changes, we switched to Math Mammoth this year. Hopefully that works out.

Logic: We’re keeping up with materials from Critical Thinking Company.

History: We’re finishing up the last half of Story of the World book 4, using new methodology. He’ll read the selection, write down key facts he learned, fill out a timeline, locate the areas on a map, and we’ll find original sources or supplementary materials, read them, and work on outlining and summarizing.

Geography: In addition to the geography that goes with History, we have a geography workbook we’re slowly working through.

Spelling and Vocabulary: I decided not to do anything formal with this, but our selections for Reading will serve as a basis for working on spelling and vocab. If it seems apparent that we need formal spelling, we can always add it.

Grammar: We’re continuing with Analytical Grammar this year.

Reading: We’re starting with Treasure Island, and then moving on to the Chronicles of Narnia series. He also has 40 minutes of required fun reading daily – he’s currently reading Key to the Kingdom series about mysteries at Disneyworld. :)

Writing: We’re doing IEW’s Narnia set this year, at least to start.

Memory: Keeping on keeping on.

Science: Apologia’s General Science. This is technically a 7th grade text, so we’ll see how it goes. He’s also doing a Minecraft component through Skrafty.

Bible: We’re continuing with God’s Great Covenant.

Ethics: The kids will be working together on Ethics things. We’re starting off with 101 Questions Kids Ask About Right and Wrong.

Latin: Continuing with Latina Christiana.

Art and Music: The kids are doing these together. We are using Confessions of a Homeschooler’s art and music curricula.

Wally will have homework most weekends. We’ve also bought him a student planner fr the school year. He needs more practice writing down the things he’s supposed to do and remembering to check the list instead of just relying on his memory. Because his memory sucks.

Genna, 1st grade

Spelling/Language: We’re using a random Grade 1 workbook I found on my shelf.

Grammar: First Language Lessons, level 1, but we’re not starting with that.

Reading: We’re doing some reading comprehension from another random workbook. We’re also doing a lot of reading – her reading to me, me reading to her – and narration.

Memory: She will work on more poems and Bible verses this year.

Writing: We’re mostly doing copywork to practice writing, and narration to practice putting words together.

Math: Singapore Math 1

History and Geography: Our America by A Beka

Science: We’re following the suggestions in The Well Trained Mind – starting with Mammals, we’ll read a page from a general animal encyclopedia, narrate, watch some videos, read books from the library, etc.

Bible: Leading Little Ones to God.

Art and Music: see above

Ethics: see above

Logic/Thinking: We’re using materials from Critical Thinking Co, Developing Critical Thinking through Science, and First Grade Thinking Skills and Key Concepts.

Teddy – Preschool

We’re attempting to do some OT/PT type things at home, and also working through Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, we’re in the age 2 activities. He’s generally not interested, but he has a hard time with copying what someone else is doing, and that’s a skill he needs to work on.