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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.

Nature Journal

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.

Nature Journaling

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.

Nature Group

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.

Man Eating Plant

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.

Computer Math

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.

Piano

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.

Recess

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.

Pets

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.

Surprise Visitors

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!

In the homeschool community, “not back to school” is a popular phrase.  It implies a celebration of resuming formal schoolwork but not returning to a brick-and-mortar school, and of community resources such as museums and parks becoming much less crowded.  Some homeschool families take trips, others hold gatherings.  I’ve never quite felt a connection to this concept, especially since my husband is a teacher who does return to school.  Once he does, our routine changes dramatically, as we tend to follow his schedule so that we’re off when he’s off.

What we follow is more like almost-back-to-school.  I don’t think it’s unique to homeschoolers at all.  It kind of feels like a last-supper mentality, in that we’re suddenly cherishing every moment, and squeezing in every possible activity that we never did throughout the summer.  There are a few events that must happen in order for me to feel like my summer dreams were fulfilled.  A drive-in movie, outdoor Shakespeare at Boscobel, an afternoon at a local dock along the Hudson Valley, and if we can swing it, a day at the beach. The real beach, not a lake.

Although we spend our summers having fun, preparing for back-to-school as a homeschool mom also means multi-tasking.  Whereas some moms are gearing up for the kids to be gone for hours a day, and buying school supplies and backpacks, I’m trying to get extra organized so that we can hit the ground running.  I take advantage of my husband being home so we can catch up on projects around the house.  We take all of the day trips we can, and enjoy as much quality time as possible.

I’m also planning.  And planning, and planning.  Classes, field trips, curricula, what will fit where, when, and how.  I plan, then I take a break and go back to summer, and go back to planning again.  By the end of summer, we have a long list of subjects we plan to study, places we’d like to explore, and more ideas than we could ever see to fruition.  I guess that’s the point, though, to get excited about learning and all of the possibilities ahead.  Rediscovering things you’d forgotten (or never learned in the first place) as you teach your children allows you to see knowledge in a new way, and tap into the importance of passionate learning.  So here we are, end of summer, and about to dive into a new school year.  Whether your kids are going back to school, or you’re resuming homeschooling, or already started a while back, I wish you a productive September, not too many tears (whether they be due to separation or homework!), and some time to enjoy the crunchy leaves and cool blue skies that await us.

As we’ve gotten into mid-August, it’s kind of hard to deny that planning mode has begun. Even though I could live the summer life forever, school resumes and fall shows up whether I like it or not.   It’s hard to embrace September knowing that the easy, breezy days are done, but I haven’t found a way around that yet.  So, we plan.  As I continue to document our journey, I’ll share a glimpse into what we have in store.  In no particular order:

Sewing

My little one wants desperately to sew and create, and my older one is going into 7th, which is a time for learning such skills.  After sifting through lots of opportunities, I found that Sew N Vac in Poughkeepsie offers classes for kids.  I found a lot of interest in the homeschool community—kids who are excited to start making projects, and we can’t wait.

Math

We all need it!  We’ll be doing Math Mammoth Algebra for my older daughter, and my little one will use Khan Academy.  It’ll be the first time we’ll use a fully online curriculum, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes.  If it ends up not being a great fit, we have Beast Academy in our back pocket as plan B.

Reading

Our booklist is my longer than arm, and it’s been fun to put together.  I’m a big fan of perusing the internet for ideas.  For pleasure, my kids read voraciously, and I let them chose whatever they desire.  So that we don’t miss anything, I also assemble a list books from various sources—Newbury medal winners, Library Association, Amazon recommendations, and what school districts put on their reading lists.  They read some independently, others are read aloud, and we always have a book on CD to make car time enjoyable.

Spelling

Try Googling, “spelling word lists,” and you’ll find more than you could ever use.  I compile a weekly stash of grade-appropriate words from various sources.  In addition, I have a section in my planning notebook for jotting down a word anytime my kids ask me to spell it, or I notice they’ve misspelled it in their writing.  I keep a similar list on my phone, in case I’m away from my notebook.  We review the words throughout the week, using them in our writing and practicing them on a whiteboard, and I find they’ve become great spellers.

Vocabulary

We’ve used the Word a Day books every year, and I really love these.  I was sad that they end at 6th grade.  For my 7th grader, we’re using Vocabulary Power.  We also keep a Word a Day calendar in our school area, which is a fun way to acquire new words.  Vocab words go on a white board, and my kids laugh and sometimes roll their eyes as I find a way to weave their weekly words into daily conversation. We might be chatting along and suddenly one of them will catch on and say, “Hey, that’s my vocab word, I know what you’re doing!”  Ha.

Science

Wanting to follow the 7th/8th grade science curriculum in the event that my kids return to public school for high school, I chose Life Science for the year.  CPO has some amazing online materials, and I’ve assembled more than we’ll ever get through—investigation worksheets, a colorful text, spotlight on influential scientists, and lots of experiments.  Science in particular is a subject that can be exponentially enhanced via the internet- there are videos, lessons plans, and activities for any subject, and I tap into these resources frequently.  We also get together with other homeschool families and work on science experiments together, which is lots of fun.

Social Studies

US History II, baby!  Last year we immersed ourselves in learning about the exploration and establishment of the United States.  This year, we’ll pick up just before the Revolutionary War and travel to present time.  Joy Hakim has a great textbook series we’ve enjoyed.  History is another subject that can be bolstered with books and videos found online and at the library, as well as amazing local field trips to visit everywhere from Washington’s Headquarters to historical mansions that feature hands-on Colonial activities.  We are also completing the second half of Road Trip, which covers US geography, to accompany our history studies.

Foreign Language

My older and younger girls wanted to learn Italian and French, respectively.  Our library system offers Mango, and online learning program, and we’ll also be using another, Rocket.  We’ll round that out with many library and online resources to work on pronunciation and exposure.

Technology

So much can be acquired online. Typing practice, coding, proficiency in internet research, word processing, working with data, and more.  We do a medley of activities to promote their technological fluency.

Writing

Our favorite program, Write Shop, is a hands-on program that takes students through genres of writing, grammar, skill building, and creativity.  We love, love, loved it, and are going into our second year with this program.  I also teach a monthly creative writing class to our homeschool co-op, in which the kids study a variety of topics, work in groups and independently on projects, and present them to the class.

Physical Education

Each of my girls take four hours of dance classes a week, but we also ride bikes, roller blade, walk/hike, play tennis, swim, and play outside with friends.  Over the winter, we’ll try snow-shoeing, and like to spend time outside exploring.

Cooking

Cooking is a mainstay in our house, and both girls have developed confidence and skills.  We cover food safety, kitchen tool safety, meal planning, nutrition, and healthy eating.  It’s a lot of fun, and when I get to eat a warm chocolate chip muffin made entirely by my eight-year-old, it’s both impressive and delicious!

Art

It’s important to me that art not get forgotten in the busy life of academia.  We keep lots of supplies on hand- paint and  brushes, charcoals, markers, crayons, all kinds of paper, stamps and ink, ribbons, glue, colored duct tape, and craft kits.  In addition, we read about influential artists, view their work online and in books, visit museums to see works in person, and complete projects inspired by the artists or periods of time.  We also work on art together in our co-op class, and the girls take art camps and classes over the summer.

Music

Weekly piano lessons and daily practice make up the bulk of our music lessons, so that the girls learn to read and play music.  We also study influential composers, listen to their work, learn about music theory, history, different types of instruments, and surround ourselves with music even while we study.

Health

Learning about our bodies, keeping healthy, safety (fire/bicycle/environmental), drugs/alcohol, puberty/sex ed, and so many other topics come up every day.  These lessons are continuous, inspired by what is going on in the world around us, and always enhanced with books/videos/field trips.

Library Skills

Sometimes I feel like live at the library.  At our local branch, the staff grab our books off the hold shelf as soon as they see us walk in the door.  We learn about how to use the library system, reference books, the Dewey Decimal system, and so much more.  My older daughter has reached the age where she can begin to help with their Teen planning and do volunteer work for the library.

Shop Class

I’m not sure what it’s called in schools anymore, but around our house, working on home improvement projects is part of our lifestyle.  With supervision, my kids have learned how to use various tools and have helped complete many projects.  They can change batteries, paint, put things together, and are developing some basic skills upon which I hope they’ll build in the future.  No pun intended.

The school year is always filled with field trips, fun times with other kids, and all kinds of unexpected surprises. Both good and bad.  We learn to adapt and adjust, and build resiliency.  Life lessons– hard to quantify on paper, but no less worthwhile than anything I could ever plan.  Share your schooling experiences, ask questions, or comment below. Happy (almost) school year!

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