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As a homeschool family, we get lots of questions about how we handle snow days, school breaks, and the like. In the most technical sense, the lines of “break” can be blurred for many homeschoolers, as students don’t get up each day and board a school bus. Our family follows my husband’s schedule (he’s a teacher), which makes it easy to define when we are and are not off. Regardless, schoolwork can crossover into break, especially since we learn through life, not just traditional school.
We observed the traditional week before Easter off, and it couldn’t get here soon enough. A few subjects (homework?) needed our attention before we could officially be “off.” I listed everything on the dry erase board so it could be completed first thing Saturday morning, but my kids talked me into waiting until Sunday. Having everything written down in plain sight really helped ensure that it got done.
Next, we moved on to the fun. Normally we greet the warm weather with hikes, walks, and bike rides, but my oldest is on crutches due to an injury, so family activities had to be adjusted. We drew pictures on the driveway with chalk. We spent time with grandparents, great grandpa, baby cousin, and aunts. We delivered (and ate) Girl Scout cookies. We colored Easter eggs and talked about Easter. We didn’t get to do a full Passover Seder with family this year, but we spent time talking about the significance of the holiday. We emptied the master bedroom, primed it, painted the room and ceiling, and put everything back together. We went to the $2 movie theater and saw “Sing.” We did chores, organizing, and spring cleaning. The girls had a friend sleep over and a few playdates. My little one taught herself how to make lipgloss out of coconut oil, thanks to Youtube. We read- a LOT. We did Easter crafts. We cooked. We relaxed on the deck and took in lots of fresh air and sunshine.
As all good things do, the week came to an end. Our Sunday blues were intensified as we said goodbye to a week filled with downtime and family fun, but such is life. Fortunately, the break gave us enough of a boost that we were able to jump back into the school routine with renewed energy and focus. We’re immersed in the learning process, but also looking forward to the more-relaxed, slower paced summer ahead. How did you spend your spring break? If you’re not a homeschooling family, how different was your break from ours? Share with HVP readers, below.
Whether your children attend school or learn at home, studying geography and trivia can be a fun part of your daily outings. I don’t recall being particularly enthralled with U.S. geography as a student. We learned the about the 50 states, their capitals, and memorized a United States map. In music class, we learned to sing the states in alphabetical order- a catchy little tune that’s stayed with me all of these years later. I never forgot what I’d learned, but that was the extent of my passion for U.S. geography.
Now that I have my own children, these topics have never seemed more exciting. I’ve made it my life’s mission for them to embrace U.S. geography. To give our pursuit some structure, I purchased Road Trip (http://www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com/u-s-geography), an inexpensive guide that teaches facts, trivia, and geography for the United States. We listened to many versions of the 50 states song, settled on our favorite, and singing it became the opener to our geography lessons. Then, we began the license plate game. Whenever we’re out and about, we keep our eyes peeled for out-of-state plates, keep track of what states we see (and their capitals), and discuss the relative distance the car owner traveled to get to wherever we are.
As an unexpected surprise, we came across Tour the States, an amazing music video that we have not stopped singing. Or learning from. The geniuses who made this masterpiece (Marbles, The Brain Store) created another music video featuring the entire world (WHUT?) but we haven’t gotten there, yet. File away for future use.
Finally, the fun parts. I invested in a map of the United States that is actually a giant wall decal, with stickers to put on for each of the states. As we learn about each state, we stick its decal on the map. Every once in a while, I print off blank US map and have my kids fill it in. Recently, I gave them a list of the 50 state capitals and had them fill in the corresponding states. I was surprised at how exciting this was for them, especially given how many capitals they’ve learned. Each time we study a state, we go on a “virtual” road trip. We watch tourism videos about the state, look up the “Top 10 places to visit in…” and also look for clips of locals talking about and giving tours of their area. After we’ve watched people drive around town, studied the architecture, and compared capital buildings from one state to another, we feel like we’ve actually experienced their unique culture.
Part educational and part fun, learning geography with your kids spices up daily errands and even road trips. Find different ways to sprinkle this into your family life, and share your ideas with our readers.
Homeschooling has grown dramatically in recent years. Reasons to homeschool vary as widely as the families themselves. The Hudson Valley features families homeschooling for so many fascinating reasons, worthy of sharing. To the mainstream public school community, the secret life of homeschoolers may seem mysterious, but there’s no reason not to learn more. I’ve been chatting up local homeschooling families willing to share their experiences with our readers.
Homeschooling Outside of the Norm
This week’s spotlight is on an Orthodox Jewish family with four children ages two through nine, originally from Brooklyn. Mom shared, “We keep strictly kosher, [and observe] Shabbat, all holidays. It was hard to make the decision [to homeschool]!” Orthodox Jewish families traditionally send their children to religious private schools, so homeschooling can be stigmatized in their culture. They feel the decision has not been accepted by their community, and have had to distance themselves from unsupportive friends and family. Mom identified a turning point when her parents remarked, “Wow, I didn’t think this was a good idea, but your kids are so much more well-adjusted than our other grandchildren.”
Although they live in the Hudson Valley, they travel to Long Island to find like-minded Jewish homeschool families. They appreciate this opportunity, but are hopeful they will develop a network of local homeschoolers, regardless of religion. They began homeschooling thinking it may be temporary, but now feel “it has been the best decision ever.” Without the financial burden of sending their children to expensive private school, they were able to buy a home, adopt a dog, and travel, with funds leftover for field trips and activities in the community. Their schooling is described as “part time structured learning, two to three days a week, the other days are more of an unschooling way of thinking. Trips to zoos, walk in the park, taking the pets to the vet, etc.” They utilize www.time4learning.com and Melamed Academy (a Judaic curriculum) for their academics. Mom likes to turn to outside sources for academic learning “so that the kids see me as their mother and guidance rather than the teacher.”
A family willing to step outside of the traditionally accepted educational standard for their culture demonstrates the power and benefits of homeschooling. For them, homeschooling offers peace of mind. “We know where and how our children get their knowledge, and we get to be involved and watch them grow up.” They are certainly not the traditional homeschooling family, yet they have found a way to incorporate their faith into their ideal educational environment for their children. Their photos show engaged, active children who enjoy varied learning both at home and in the community. The combination of homeschooling with Orthodox Judiasm results in an unusual blend that works well for this local family, and offers inspiration to others wanting to give this a try. Mom sums up, “We are a religious Jewish family living in a religious area, but living outside the box of ‘normal.’” Much appreciation to Mom for her candor in sharing her family’s experiences with Hudson Valley Parent. Please join us over the next few weeks as we continue to learn about unique and exciting families who engage in everything from Shakespeare to BMX biking to fulfill their children’s dreams and academic potential.
I receive the gamut of responses when sharing that I homeschool my kids. Everything from, “Wow, that’s amazing, I could never do that,” to “My kids would never listen to me, yours must be saints,” to “You think you’re better than the teachers? Do you even have a teaching degree?” Many people ask questions, which I think is great, but others seem to think I’m either judging them for not homeschooling, or they judge me for whatever kind of freak I must be.
We’ve been homeschooling for almost five years, and you know what, perhaps I am a freak. Day after day I’m living a Jekyll and Hyde kind of experience. Some days represent our ideal learning—peaceful, passionate, excited, efficient. Other days end in a chaotic jumble of disorganization and frustration. I view homeschooling as an extension of parenting. It has always been my mission to choose the best foods, activities, and experiences for my kids, and as a homeschooler, their education falls under this umbrella as well.
As for the “I could never do it” response I often hear, the truth is, you don’t know until you’ve tried. Homeschooling is not for everyone, and I’m not implying otherwise. Many parents find themselves successful despite initial doubts and insecurities. I look at the ability to homeschool as a muscle. At first, it’s weak. It’s easy to doubt yourself, and hard to believe you will do a good job. As the homeschooling journey begins, there are lots of opportunities to practice and strengthen this “muscle.” Eventually, you become a homeschooling athlete, completing a triathlon with confidence and skill.
So who is the homeschooling mom? She’s kind of like the mom of little kids, but years later. Moms of infants and toddlers rarely get a break- the intensity and needs of young children tend not to let up. Homeschooling shares similarities. While the children mature and their needs change, at the end of the day, you’re still meeting needs all day long. Homeschooling and parenting become blurred. Sometimes mom serves as the teacher and other times, the teacher also has to be the mom.
The homeschooling mom cannot imagine what parents whose kids go to school do all.day.long. (I know, you guys are busy, just a different kind of busy). When she enrolls her kids in a two hour class, she fantasizes about the many, many things she will do in that time. Grocery shopping! Clean the house! Nap! Read! Exercise! Catch up on emails, phone calls, and paperwork! Coffee with a friend! Lunch date with the husband! Somehow, though, those two hours fly by and it ends up not being enough time. Exercising will have to wait for later (um, tomorrow), texting can suffice instead of calls, and we’ll see the husband during dinner, which will be made from what was already in the house, thank you very much. The homeschooling mom won’t have her hair or nails done, because, when? She’ll be wearing yoga pants or jeans, because, why not? She may stay in her pajamas on the rare day when no one has anywhere to be, and she’ll probably consent to reading and snuggles on the couch on a rainy afternoon. She’ll have the kids cook lunch and count it as “culinary arts,” and realize that playing outside can count toward P.E. She doesn’t get snow days, or sick days, or days off, but she also doesn’t have to say goodbye every morning, or make her hair presentable for afternoon pick-up. She forgets to start dinner, leaves the laundry in the dryer (whoops), and brings the kids rollerblading at 10 am for “recess” because everyone needs a break.
In other words, she’s a mom. Whether homeschooling or not, she parents the best that she can, makes mistakes, tries harder, reaches out for support, and hugs her babies tight. She may look a little more harried since she’s with the kids from morning to bedtime, but we’re all working in one way or another, whether we get paid or not. No, homeschooling parents don’t have teaching degrees, but may have teaching backgrounds. Their kids are not saints, but they know how to make all kinds of learning work. They might just be amazing, but aren’t all moms?
We’re in our fifth year of homeschooling, and have tried quite a few approaches to math over the years. We’ve used purchased curricula, worksheets, workbooks, and topics compiled from the internet. At best, my kids have excelled; at worst, there have been tears, intentionally crumbled pages, and refusal to go on. My kids enjoy learning through technology, and after friends raved about a math program that is done entirely on the computer, I had to check it out.
Teaching Textbooks can be done on paper or on the computer, so we opted for the computer version. The software can be purchased directly from Teaching Textbooks, but is often sold slightly cheaper by families who have used the program themselves. I opted to buy it from a family whose child had just completed it. We waited excitedly for it to arrive (yes, I’m referring to a set of math discs!) and tried it right away. The first thing we fell in love with were the fun, animated graphics and characters that cheer on the student. Each lesson begins with an interactive lecture and practice questions, followed by about 30 problems. The student can get a hint on how to solve a problem when needed, and attempt the question a second time if making an error the first time. At the end of each lesson, parents can log in to the grade book, view the student’s progress, and reset incorrect questions so that mistakes may be reviewed and corrected. After every few lessons, a “bonus round” is earned. Even though these bonus rounds are actually timed drills, my daughter excitedly plows through these so that she may earn extra “points.” Every so often there are also quizzes to assess the student and identify any problem areas.
We’re nine weeks into school, and not one complaint about doing math. Not ONE. Teaching Textbooks can be completed fairly independently, which is another asset. The student logs into his or her own account, selects the day’s lesson, watches the lecture, and begins the problems. This level of independence builds confidence, especially in a subject prone to such struggles and frustrations. My biggest regret is that we didn’t try it sooner. I was initially hesitant due to the price (about $100) until I found out that the discs hold their value and are resold for almost the original cost. Every once in a while, we come across a program that we absolutely adore. When we do, we can’t help but share our excitement with other families, because who doesn’t love using a program that actually makes learning fun? We have a few other subjects that are greatly enhanced by certain curricula, and I’ll share those in future posts. Until then, if your family has a resource that makes a difference in your schooling journey, post below to share with our readers. Happy November!
I think I fell in love with nature when I went to summer camp. Hiking and horseback riding were regulars on the schedule, and I couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t just the activities themselves, but equally important, the feelings of peace and solitude that accompanied being outside.
As a parent, it’s always been important to me to cultivate that love of the outdoors for my family. We’ve hiked together since my kids were infants, became acquainted with local bike trails, and spent time exploring the Hudson Riverfront, orchards and farms, and even our own backyard. As a homeschooling mom, it’s been my goal to incorporate as much of the outdoors into our schooling life as possible. It begins with the obvious—working outside on nice days and lots of field trips to interesting spots. Last year, we began nature journaling, and have enjoyed the benefits. Even if you don’t homeschool, nature journaling is an activity that can accompany weekend and summer outings, with everyone from preschoolers to adults taking part.
There are lots of great sites that give suggestions for how to begin nature journaling, and a Google search will give you more than enough ideas. I’ll skip the basics and direct you to a few of my favorites: Charlotte Mason’s ideas, tips for keeping a journal, and some cool prompts.
Instead, I’ll share an experience I had today. Working with a group of homeschooled kids, we went outside with journals and some basic supplies—pencils and colored pencils, glue stick, and scissors. I gave them ten minutes to explore, observe, and document. They gathered leaves, grass clippings, flowers, and berries, and fastened them to their journal pages. They wrote short poems about the beauty of nature. They drew sketches of trees, clouds, and leaves. They listened to lawn mowers, and dogs barking, and birds chirping. They scattered, they clustered, they really got into it. I watched in awe as they focused, wandered about, and looked like little scientists, exploring the world. I sat there, thinking about the mental health benefits of being in nature, and how proud I was of their curiosity. Kids will never forget learning that involves the senses, that lets them move around and engage in the material. Technology provides an alluring, near-constant distraction. The youngest generations can’t imagine life without laptops and smart phones, but nature journaling allows for a little shift in focus. The next time you bring your kids outside, bring along some paper and pencils, and wait for inspiration to strike. Encourage little ones to trace leaves, bigger kids to draw whatever excites them, even jot down their thoughts if they’d like. Nature journaling is a fun bonding activity, and strengthens an appreciation for the world around us. It’s a peaceful, stress-free way to tap into your kid’s abilities in writing, art, science, all the while enjoying the great outdoors.
Not unlike kids attending public school, homeschooling families go through an adjustment period at the beginning of the school year. I find myself experiencing amnesia every September, and forgetting that growing pains come with the territory. As with most aspects of parenting, a little patience and understanding go a long way in balancing the unique dynamics that accompany homeschooling.
I can’t speak for other families, but the two biggest challenges I see us facing are learning among the distractions of our home, and, learning from one’s parent. Although we learn all year long, we begin formal, structured, purposeful learning at the start of the traditional school year. This involves a schedule: starting around the same time each day, completing various subjects and bookwork, and maintaining focus. After a fairly loose summer of freedom and completely self-directed learning, I hear a metaphorical SCREEECH as my kids suddenly have to bow to structure. More specifically, all of the distractions (toys, games, pets, electronics) are readily available and calling to them like sirens. With trial and error we’ve found compromises, but the lure is ever-present.
Then, there’s the issue of being taught by Mom/Dad (or Grandma, etc). Most kids will respect the authority of their teacher, and if not, there’s always the principal’s office looming abstractly as a consequence. When you’re home with your parent, there’s a different kind of balance to strike. Homeschooling, as I frequently tell my kids, is a privilege that has to be wanted, respected, and honored. There’s an excitement to teaching one’s child, with the freedom to inspire and teach anything, everything. A balance exists, somewhere between motivating a child to learn, keeping distractions at bay, and retaining the responsibility of parent. It’s ever-changing, as the child matures, his or her needs change, and the parent-child relationship morphs.
As we go through these bumps in the road each year, I tend to forget that we’ve been there, done that, survived, and thrived. At times I panic, worried that something “isn’t working” and that I’ll screw up my kids’ education. I freak out, I calm down, I breathe. We begin to settle in to the school year, and if I sit back and let myself relax, I can see the learning. How excited my little one is as she masters her math lessons, my older daughter as she writes stories and draws pictures one after the other, or how they’re both walking around the house speaking snippets of French and Italian, languages they knew nothing of only a mere month ago. It’s working, they’re blossoming, I see it, and yet, I forget to trust it, trust myself. I need this reminder to do so, and I know I’m not the only homeschooling parent who does. So to me, and to you, let’s have faith in our kids, ourselves, and the process.
One of the cool things about homeschooling is the ability to take advantage of some activities that occur during the day, which we may otherwise miss. This week, those non-traditional activities were carnivorous plants, and acting. One thing always leads to another, and we end up down a rabbit hole reading, watching videos, and writing about our new endeavors.
Thanks to my husband, this weekend we adopted two Venus Flytrap plants, later named Clyde and Liza, who were received with mixed reviews. There was morbid curiosity (they eat WHAT?) followed by disgust (Daddy, we are not feeding living bugs to plants, GET RID OF THEM!) This of course led to watching videos of Venus Flytraps, reading about them, making plans to watch, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and some silly renditions of “Feed Me, Seymour!” Last spring, I’d planted a vegetable garden with my kids and we spent the summer caring for and learning about it, but I would never have thought to bring home a Venus Flytrap. I guess that’s the benefit of having a wacky Dad who delights in finding slugs and watching the plant’s “arms” swallow them whole. We decided to do a unit study on the plants, incorporating them into our science studies and branching out to examine different plants with unusual features.
After my kids spent their mornings looking for recently-deceased insects to feed to Clyde and Liza, they spent their afternoons rehearsing for a play that is being performed at a play festival in Westchester this weekend. This has entailed reading lines, memorizing them, and lots of practicing and practicing again. My eight-year-old got to be the director, and had the opportunity to give her input on blocking and delivering lines. She got a little drunk with power if you ask me, but it was a neat experience regardless. They’ve been on stage before, but this time was much more in-depth. It was neat to see their confidence develop as they memorized their lines and successfully navigated the rehearsal process.
I don’t expect they’ll pursue a career in botany or theater simply because of these experiences, but do like that we have the flexibility in our lifestyle to expose them to new and interesting things. While any of these endeavors could be fit in after school or on weekends if they were truly of interest to a child, I find that homeschooling gives us the additional wiggle room to take on extra activities, or delve into them further than we’d otherwise have time.
What activities has your child discovered in his free time, or would she like to pursue if given the opportunity? Share your experiences and ideas with our readers, below.
Following my teacher-husband’s schedule so that we can be off when he’s off, we started school last Thursday (September 1st). In previous years, we have hit the ground running at full speed, working through our curricula like Olympian athletes training for the big day. While we certainly get an A for effort, I’ve found that we start feeling burnt out a little too soon. This year, we decided on a “soft” start, which basically entails getting to know our curricula and getting work done without stressing about keeping on a tight schedule quite yet. In chronically our journey, I’ve been taking note of things that quickly slip out of memory yet are so memorable. I even began an Excel file to jot down daily notes. These tidbits are nothing life-shattering, but give a glimpse into the daily life of homeschooling, and the moments that make it all worth it.
This year, my little one (3rd grade) is doing something new. We’re doing math all on the computer! It’s a combination of Teaching Textbooks (so far, we both love it!) and Prodigy Math for fun (math practice interspersed with a game involving earning pets and designing your own world). The ease of Teaching Textbooks is awesome (kids watch a video lesson, do problems on the computer, and you get a score and notations of problem areas). Prodigy is just plain addicting, she loves answering “just one more” question to get to the next level in the game.
Listening to my kids’ daily practice of piano has me in constant awe. They’ve been taking lessons for 4 1/2 years, and have far surpassed the piano skills I acquired years ago. My mother-in-law is a musician who has passed her love of piano onto my girls, and they are so fortunate to study with her. When they sit down and play, not because I tell them to but because they want to get a piece just right, my heart smiles.
After a few hours of focus yesterday, we were seriously in need of a break. I leashed up the dog, my girls got on their rollerblades, and we went out for some fresh air. The ability to recharge with physical activity is so, so important, especially for children. They skated along, we chatted, and enjoyed the time together. The funniest moment was when a neighbor drove by, rolled down his window and asked, “Playing hooky, girls?” My little one replied, “We’re homeschooled, this is recess!” and he chuckled. It may look funny to see school-aged kids outside “playing” in the middle of the day, but I promise you, they’re learning.
We have two kittens and a dog. The kittens love to stretch out across schoolwork and nap. The dog will curl up in one of the girls’ laps, or at their feet, or next to them on the couch. How soothing is it to have a kitten curled up with you as you tackle math, or read a book with your arm slung around the dog. Sometimes on a break, the dog will suddenly be guided through a homemade obstacle course, or I find him wearing dress up clothes. Learning with the pets around is peaceful, fun, and really speaks to kids.
We were deep in school-mode the other day when I got a text from my mom that she and my Dad were in the area. They came over for lunch, and the next thing I knew, both girls had gotten out their foreign language notebooks and were dazzling my parents with their new knowledge. After lunch it was time to get back to work, so my little one worked with Grandma on spelling, while my older daughter sat down with Grandpa and powered through Math. Priceless. (I even got to load the dishwasher and vaccum during this. Double bonus).
Choose Your Own Adventure
For the first time, we’re taking a Not-Back-School-Trip. Friends of ours took advantage of a Great Wolf Lodge special for homeschoolers, nabbing gorgeous rooms and waterpark passes at a fraction of the typical cost. Having extra space, they invited us along. This meant missing a Wednesday and Thursday of school, what to do? I talked to the kids and we agreed to make it work. A little school was done on the weekend, some easy things were packed for the car, and we were a go. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can arrange your schedule to your convenience, taking advantage of downtime on evenings or weekends, thus leaving daytime free for adventures. Yay!
So winds down the end of our first official week. Thanks for coming along with us, and please share your adventures with our readers, below!