Highlights

Our first week back to schoolwork included many very exciting and lively debates, such as:

  • Should “Jan” in this particular math problem be pronounced like the Brady bunch chick or like “Yan” instead?
  • Does watching “Prince Caspian” count as literature studies?
  • Can “Summer Hits of the 90s” be our new schoolwork music station, or is it too distracting when Mama starts rocking out in the middle of answering questions?
  • Why doesn’t Alexa understand why my 8th grader wants to listen to sea shanties during schoolwork?

Alas, we survived our first week with only the barest hint of a meltdown as we figured out our new schedule–without any official “computer work” this year, I quickly realized that having both kids at the table at the same time working on different things might not be our best bet, especially given the older child’s inability to ever. stop. talking. We also made it to day 2 before deciding to switch a math curriculum for one child, which is a significant success when you compare it to the 3 minutes it took last year on the first day of school before changing our minds. Huzzah.

The real highlight of the week was a trip to an outdoor archery range. Of course, the subsequent discussion over whether the children like this as an Olympic sport or a skill to use while working at a Renaissance faire might have lowered our expectations somewhat, but hey. I’ll take what we can get and in the meantime, we can look like super cool, super nerdy homeschoolers while we’re at it.

Archery

 

 

Eternally Optimistic Slacker

Will we get our act together and start tomorrow? Or will I turn out to be a total slacker for yet another week? Place your bets, folks!

I’ve been saying “we’re starting schoolwork next week!” for approximately four months now. As you might have guessed, we have not started. Motivation has been running pretty low around here these days, but the children have been getting along and keeping themselves busy, so my usual criteria of “we are starting schoolwork if you’re going to be jerks to each other” hasn’t really come into play. Still, we haven’t taken a summer off since the year my oldest forgot how to add when fall rolled around, so I’m a little nervous about our prospects.

Most years, we take a little vacation during Labor Day week, which usually includes my oldest’s birthday. Some years we go away, some years we stay home and do all the fun stuff that’s completely dead because kids have gone back to school (hello, beach to ourselves!). We were supposed to go to Disney in November so hadn’t really planned to take that time off in September, but, well, global pandemic . . . so with the Disney trip canceled and our backup plans up in the air, we decided to take “Birthday Week” off as well to hopefully fit in some fun family outings. Of course, that means if we don’t get our act together and start schoolwork soon, nothing will get done until after that week off, which puts us at mid-September. If I want to maintain our streak of finishing the school year in April or May like we usually do, I need to summon the strength to get a move on!

Shelf

Behold my beautiful new Tardis blue shelf, which I had to commandeer for my own purposes to prevent the children from fighting over it, as yet uncluttered by the random crap that somehow always ends up shoved among the workbooks, bins of the few new supplies we actually needed for the year, and a planner ready for action. Yes, that is in fact a Home Depot moving box from when we bought this house 4 years ago, and no, it has not been unpacked. But our school supplies look heckin’ lovely so just ignore it okay?

And so . . . here I sit, surrounded by curriculum and thinking about my late-sleeping tweens and quiet morning coffee time, blogging instead of actually figuring out who is doing what come Monday morning. This is our 8th year of official homeschooling and it just wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t constantly second-guessing every curriculum choice we made for the year (indeed I am), frantically selling off stuff I’ve held on to for far too long (yup), and wondering if maybe this will be the year that we buckle down and stay committed to following what the books tell us to do (insert maniacal laughter here). Still, somehow, it feels like it might just be a really good year for us. Unless anyone forgot how to add over the summer because then I will lose my ever-loving mind.

Making Plans

I’ve probably said it before, but I love, LOVE planning. I love color-coded spreadsheets and schedules and checklists and planners. And then . . . I like to let it all go. I ignore the pretty colors and fall back on my trusty planner, where I write in everything day by day so I can keep track of what we’ve done. After years of stressing about how much to complete each quarter, I plan no more than a week in advance, usually on Sunday night or Monday morning. By then, I generally know what we have on tap for the coming week and can work around any days we may need to take off for field trips, classes, or playdates.

There are any number of things a homeschool parent might want from a planner, but my priorities are:

  • Blank subject columns for each day of the week
  • Enough space to write in multiple activities for each subject
  • Room for tracking work for multiple children
  • Enough columns to break apart our “separate subjects” (math and English) and to list our “together subjects” after (social studies, science, art/music, “other” and “activities” are my usual headings)–OR to list core subjects separately, depending on the year
  • Monthly calendars to write in important dates
  • July of the current year to the end of June of the next

I can’t handle predetermined subject headings, cramped boxes, or wasted space! After a couple initial years of using whatever I could grab from the dollar aisle at Target, I found The One. The only planner I’ve been able to get my hands on that has all of my requirements and runs around $20. I only need one for my two kids and honestly, I think I could comfortably track at least a couple more if needed. Bigger families might need to get creative or use more than one of these, but it fits our needs perfectly.

Here’s the planner I use year after year: Blue Sky 2020-2021 Academic Year Teachers Weekly & Monthly Lesson Planner, CYO Cover, 8.5″ x 11″, Dots

[Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn commissions from qualifying purchases using the links in my posts. I will only link to products that I personally use and recommend!]

This is my current layout, where we separate out math and English but combine the other subjects (if they are working on different things in those subjects, I just put their names or initials on separate lines with what they worked on). The far right column used to be for evening dance classes, so I’m still debating what label to use there. I use the colored daily boxes on the left to write in anything that doesn’t fall into a subject heading–days off, playdates, appointments, etc.PlannerIMG_2507

This is from two years ago, to show some completed pages and an older format where I separated the core subjects for both of them. I don’t write a ton of detail–just lesson or page numbers, generally. If one child is working from different books or programs in the same subject, I add initials to distinguish between them. Here in NY, we have to submit quarterly reports listing material/topics covered in the required subjects, so I refer back to the lesson/page/chapter numbers at quarterly time and flip through each curriculum to pull the topics from. I’d rather keep it simple in my planner and do a tiny bit more work at quarterly time, but I know others include more detail about lesson topics and there’s a decent amount of space in each box for that, too!

PlannerIMG_2504

Here’s the monthly calendar page, just for reference.

PlannerIMG_2506

I’m not generally a big believer in any particular “must-haves” for homeschoolers because every family is different, but the one thing I definitely must have each year is this planner. I’ve even tried creating my own printable version and it’s just not the same. I do enjoy all my color-coded spreadsheets, but at the end of the day, my planner is where I keep track of everything we actually get done, which makes reporting a breeze.

What one homeschool item can you not live without??

A Whole New World

“….a whole new random place to explore!” (Exactly what my eldest THOUGHT were the words to that song, many years ago.)

If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have expected the coming school year to look very much like every other–maybe a little more “intense” than our standard laid-back methods in preparation for high school, but no major changes expected. I figured we’d be dancing most evenings again, doing our own thing most days, maybe finally getting around to our Field Trip Friday plans.

Alas . . . things have changed. Our beloved dance studio has closed and while we’re all sad about it, the girls have decided to take some time off of dancing (especially since we expect things to close down again and go virtual at some point during the school year) to explore other things that they’ve been interested in but haven’t been able to fit into our busy schedule. Both girls are going to start archery, my oldest is going to learn some stage combat sword-fighting skills, and my younger has started aerial silks. I can only imagine the sisterly circus acts that our future could hold.

dancer

While I’m excited about seeing them try new things–and having a dinner schedule not dictated by who needs to be where at what time every evening–it feels like the end of an era. Or the beginning of a new one? Somehow this makes it feel like we have all the time in the world to make adjustments to our homeschool day, but in the interest of reality, I recognize that maybe it’s just more time as a family . . . or more time for the artwork my oldest has been working on so passionately during quarantine, or more time to read the books we’ve been wanting to read, or more time to tackle the giant stack of board games we’ve accumulated in our attempt to become “gameschoolers.” It feels like opportunity amidst the chaos of the world.

If there’s one thing I know about myself and my family, it’s that we don’t tend to handle change very well, but I’m hoping this feels less like change and more like a chance at something new.

 

The World Turned Upside Down

If you’re singing Hamilton now, you’re welcome.

It’s been a long time since I last blogged, but since 2020 has lasted approximately 750 years so far, I hope you’ll forgive my absence. Uh, we’ll just ignore the 10 months of 2019 that I also missed, because life happens. Anyway. Everything shut down here in NY by mid-March, and we finished up our school year and annual testing by the middle of April. You’d think that having 6,000 extra hours of free time each week would have led us to get started on the new school year like we usually do, but alas . . . not so much. Turns out it’s easier to chill and watch Netflix and let the kids play Minecraft for 3 hours every afternoon while they chat with their friends, because then you don’t feel quite so bad about them missing out on all of a homeschooler’s usual social opportunities. While we feel super fortunate to have already been in a position that our “daily life” didn’t change too much when things closed down, every homeschool blog in the universe has already explained how we’re always out and about with field trips and classes and co-ops, etc. So . . . it’s been weird.

For anyone new joining the magical world of homeschooling for the 2020-2021 school year, welcome! I’m sure things are going to be . . . well, weird . . . for everyone this coming year, but I’m looking forward to it! My kids are starting 5th and 8th grade, which were the beginning and end of middle school for me growing up, so it feels like an interesting year. And I’m already exploring a ton of interesting curriculum options for high school NEXT year, mostly to distract myself from figuring out WTF we’re doing this coming year. And yes, I’ve already bought all of our curriculum and planned to start the new year at least 17 times already, but if you haven’t figured it out from my other posts, that all means nothing. The important thing is, I have my trusty planner at the ready and have updated my color-coded schedule spreadsheet so that we can promptly ignore it as soon as we get started.

Got any questions about homeschooling? Pandemic schooling? Tolerating 3 hours of Minecraft with children on speaker-phone in the next room? Drop me a comment and I’ll answer them in the next post. Which will not be almost 18 months from now, I promise. Here’s Juno begging you to throw me a bone, here.

Juno peep

Perks Aplenty

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I was recently asked (in a nice, offhand sort of way without judgment, which meant I didn’t have to blow my lid) how my kids feel about homeschooling and if it’s difficult to separate “mom” vs “teacher” or if there is no separation at all. I replied that my kids are at an age where they realize how good they have it and that while I know some kids resist buckling down and getting their work done, my children have zero desire to go to school so they are pretty willing to work with me. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t complain or that we haven’t changed math curriculum three times this year for my 6th grader just to figure out WTH will get us both through the year without eternal strife. It *does* mean they listen to other kids at dance class or in public talking about staying up late to finish homework and getting up at the crack of dawn for school and they recognize a good thing when it’s in front of them. The look of utter horror on my 6th grader’s face when she heard that her dance friends start school at 7 am was worth all the eye-rolling and muttered complaints about fractions that filled my past few weeks. That’s right, I replied with my narrowed eyes and nodding head. You’d better appreciate how kickass this homeschooling life truly is. 

Snowed In

snowday

When homeschooled kids are young, especially if they don’t have a lot of friends in public school . . . they have no clue what a snow day is! Heck, mine didn’t even know what “summer break” meant until recent years. Unfortunately, as they get older, they become wise to the sneaky ways of the Homeschool Mom. The bubble has burst, folks.

We got hit this week with blizzard conditions, over a foot of new snow, and single digit temperatures, so most schools were closed. My children? No snow days. I’m sure in the future their complaints will recall those times Mommy made them do schoolwork on Christmas Eve rather than their un-snow days, but I’m still winning the A-Hole Mom Award for last week.

nosnowdays

I try to explain it logically, but kids don’t want logic, they want a damned day off from schoolwork. Because, you know, they need that extra hour or two to do the same thing they do the other 90% of the day. *Usually* I am extra amazing and let them take the day off on holidays when my husband is home–but look, once I print out their weekly checklist with page/assignment numbers, there is no going back. Especially not for THREE DAYS out of a school week! Sorry kids. Let’s be realistic though–taking days off when everything is closed because it’s blizzarding and it’s too cold to play outside is just not worth it when we could take off days when the sun is shining and it’s unseasonably warm and we can actually leave the house to do something fun. “Sun Days” are infinitely better than “Snow Days.” Someday the children will understand and thank me for that . . . right?

Nerd Card

dnd1

This year, one of my ongoing goals has been to incorporate more games into our school day. Not the “race to see who tidies up the fastest” kind, because let’s face it, my kids are (very sadly) too old to fall for that kind of thing now. We’ve been slowing building up our collection of board games and card games, mostly, though my 11 year old “hates board games” and my almost-9 year old just wants to crush me in as many games as possible. Still, we’ve stumbled across some new favorites and managed to (GASP!) actually get some math practice, random knowledge, and critical thinking worked in, thanks to those clever game-makers. Over the past two weeks, we’ve also begun a family Dungeons and Dragons campaign, much to the delight of my children. Fortunately, their Nerd Dad knows how to run it for us, so their Curmudgeon Mom caved and agreed to participate.

Now, I consider myself a creative person. I’m an avid reader as well as a writer, I like Renaissance faires and costuming and a lot of generally nerdy stuff. From my one DnD experience in college, I learned that I do not like actually engaging in role-playing games. I don’t like narrating aloud, it basically boils down to. I can’t think up stories off the cuff like my husband can–when the kids were little, their requests for made-up bedtime stories fell squarely to him. Ask me to write a story about said character and I can do it, no problem! Talking? Not my thing.

I hope this shows you just how amazing and self-sacrificing I am to agree to such a campaign. My husband is truly amazing both at his narration of the story line, spur of the moment ideas, brilliant descriptions, and, of course, the various accents ascribed to characters. The game itself is fine–the dice are pretty, I can make my character carry around a longbow, and it’s hours of family togetherness. Those are the good points.

The bad: O. M. G. Imagine, if you will, the most annoying things your children do or have ever done. Now imagine that they are doing it as some half-elf or Paladin or WTH-ever, possibly with an accent that their young years have not allowed them to even approximate with any degree of success, AND imagine that you are also playing a freaking character who doesn’t even have the power of the Mom Look to tell them they’re being so annoying you want to claw your eyes out. Are you with me?

Let’s just say this week’s session included my character using a flint to burn cobwebs off the 11 year old’s face (she asked me to, in my defense, since she believed herself to be fireproof) and also being sorely tempted to leave my younger daughter fighting off a swarm of rats in a tunnel because she swung her battleaxe into the pile of trash they were eating. Who knows what next week will bring?

If you want my advice, stick to board games. I don’t get nearly as aggravated playing Bird Bingo!

 

Frozen in Time

Wowza–sorry about the hiatus, folks. This school year feels like it entered warp speed as soon as September hit, and now we are in the throes of winter. Not the cute, toss-a-snowball kind of winter, but the “Winter is Coming,” only the strongest survive, lasts 100 years kind of winter. Of course, it’s still January which means winter has only just started around here, but of course it’s also the point in time when winter is interminable and all excitement over snow has faded to a jaded, miserable sigh when the flakes start to fall.

The childrens’ joy has turned into icy tears as one takes a snowball to the face and the other grumbles that her wretched hag of a mother asked her to put socks on before going out when it’s 20 degrees. Either the snow melts or the temperature drops too low before we can actually do something enjoyable, like go sledding, then we get hit over all again just so we can shovel the driveway out once more.

snow

So if you’re out there fantasizing about buying a home in a warmer climate, clinging to your hot cup of coffee or tea, and thanking all that is holy that your children can mostly dress and undress themselves in their snow gear and go outside while you watch from a warm, comfortable seat in the house, I feel ya. We’re still here, plugging along, hoping to get a good chunk of the year’s curriculum done before warm weather finally returns so we can go out and enjoy the crap out of spring. And once my hands thaw, I’ll get some new posts out to keep you company during this stupid season called winter.

Time Warp

For most of my life I was smug about time changes. With inadequate sleep being a migraine trigger, I was always pretty careful to maintain my sleep schedule. Heck, that was my main reason for not wanting to be a parent when I was a teenager. Sleep is sacred.

Fast forward to my firstborn, who needs less sleep than anyone I’ve ever known. The universe sure got me good! Still, before the children could tell time, I had no problem with Daylight Savings Time starting or ending. Heck, as homeschoolers, we can sleep as late as we want, so who cares if we shift an hour one way or the other? Twice a year I am particularly grateful to be homeschooling because the thought of an alarm going off an hour earlier than our bodies expect would make me tear my hair out.

And yet . . . having children who CAN read clocks means that come hell or high water, that tween is NOT going to sleep when she’s tired! The clock says she has another hour until bedtime! Of course, when she stays up past her Sleep Window, that throws off her entire night of sleep so she’s up and down all night, sleeping in too late or waking up at the crack of dawn. Let’s hope the sleep deprivation mania helps us plow through schoolwork today instead of causing her focus to be so terrible that it takes her half an hour to write a single paragraph she’s already outlines, because that was yesterday.

Meanwhile, I’m over here like . . .

timechange