Return to Routine

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September is my favorite time of year, and not just because of our wedding anniversary and oldest child’s birthday. September is that beautiful time of year when the weather is still nice but the flocks of schoolchildren are suddenly gone from our favorite playgrounds and field trip locations. Almost every year, we take a vacation (or stay-cation) during Labor Day week and fill it with everything from parks and zoos to beaches and indoor water parks. It’s a magical time of year, going from the crowds of people trying to eke out every last drop of summer fun at the end of August to gloriously empty destinations. We try to cram in as many outings and field trips as we can before winter sets in and school field trips begin taking over. And my poor children who have usually done schoolwork all summer finally get a real “vacation” to make me look like Mom of the Year again! Especially with it’s usually capped off by a birthday celebration for the firstborn.

Hit me up with your fun “back to school” traditions at this time of year! Special breakfast? Field trips? First day of school pictures?

Mathematize Me

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Okay, that’s an exaggeration. She doesn’t answer them WRONG on purpose, she just literally spends 4 minutes adding 8+0 in her multiplication problem. While sketching a girl in a ballgown on the dry erase board. While staring off into space. While making my head explode.

This kid is a truly incredible artist, a fabulous storyteller, a dedicated dancer, and interested in a hundred different things–just not math. It’s tedious and boring and repetitive (in her mind) and she wants to be doing literally ANYTHING else, which leads to the daydreaming, which leads to it taking even longer and (again, in her mind) justifying her dislike of it. She’s not bad at it! She grasps the concepts just fine, she just does NOT want to sit and work through the same kind of problem 20 times. We’ve come a long way since 1st grade, when math ended in tears daily because I couldn’t let go of my need to finish each set of problems . . . once I discovered that I could have her do fewer problems as long as she “gets it,” that sure helped. Handing off math instruction to a computer-based curriculum helped too, until I realized that if no one prompted her to write down the problems, she would stare off into space for 10 minutes wondering if she could do it in her head. Math has been quite a tumultuous journey for my little Hater of Math and her Math-Lovin’ Mama.

Still, we keep on trucking. Soon we will try going back to a story-based math program that she enjoyed in the past, which hopefully will open some magical math windows in her brain now that we can work through it together instead of having a toddler in the mix to keep us from focusing enough to actually learn from it.

Please, please let it work for us this time. PLEASE I BEG OF YOU! If my head explodes by this time next week, just wipe up the pieces and hand her an abacus, okay?

The Best Laid Plans

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As I’ve mentioned before, I looooove planning. I love spreadsheets and checklists and charts and color-coded schedules . . . and I love ignoring them after they’re made. I was once called “the least type A type A person ever” and thought that was a pretty accurate description. What can I say–I like to convince myself I have my life in order, especially when it comes to homeschooling! Except, of course, that I really prefer to wing it most of the time. My firstborn and I spent a great deal of time butting heads during our early homeschooling years, largely because I made the mistake of creating detailed lesson plans and setting goals of what we needed to have done during each week (or month, or quarter). Learning to let go of my own unrealistic expectations and embrace what actually works for us was probably the most vital lesson in our homeschool journey. Even if I love planning, we are all better off if those plans stay loosey-goosey so that when something comes up, I can shift things around without stressing.

This is particularly apt right now, when I’m mapping out lesson numbers for the coming weeks. They look so pretty in a table on Google Docs, all evenly spaced and labeled and nicely organized. We go on vacation the first week of September most years so I wanted to jot down lesson numbers for the week after the trip, to keep myself from having to figure it all out at the last minute after a week away. Then yesterday my children asked if they could each pick one subject to skip during schoolwork. I agreed because look, I need as many un-ironic “Mom of the Year” moments as I can get, okay? They’ve finally realized other kids get ACTUAL summer break and if letting them each skip one tiny chunk of schoolwork makes them feel like I’m a benevolent ruler instead of an evil hag, I’m going with it.

What it led to, however, was a discussion about whether they should have weekly goals with the freedom to choose which subjects they wanted each day, as long as it all got done by the end of the week. I’m not positive this will work for us–I can definitely see my 6th grader deciding to save all of her math lessons for Friday, because those take her the longest, and then we’d be all burnt out at the end of the week while she has 75 hours’ worth of math problems to do. So it will need SOME guidelines (especially as far as math goes), like maybe certain subjects will require a certain number of days per week instead of just getting through the specific lessons whenever they want . . . but hey, it gave me the opportunity to create YET ANOTHER weekly checklist to fill in!

I’m starting to wonder if my children know me so well that they actually orchestrated this because they thought I’d be in a good mood if I had new checklists to work on. Am I being played? Hmm. It’s entirely possible, but since I have such a pretty new table to work on, I don’t really care!

The M Word

Not “Mom-mom-mom-mama-mama-mommy-mom,” the OTHER M Word.

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We resisted the Minecraft trend for quite a while, actually, under the guise of “you don’t need something else to be obsessed with, kthxbye.” In the end, we caved. It really isn’t THAT annoying and I occasionally make them build me something out of a history book. My youngest is 8 and really wants to PLAY, while my almost-11 year old has been done with toys for a while now, and done with the dolls that her sister adores for even longer. Minecraft is one thing they will play together and usually pretty cooperatively. They even build some pretty cool stuff. I’ve gotten into the (regretful) habit of letting them play a lot this summer because it’s “summer break” and we didn’t sign up for any camps. They have to get schoolwork done first but on the days we’re not running around like crazy people trying to fit in summer fun, well. They like to Skype or FaceTime with friends while playing together and that’s got to be better than talking to strangers in AOL chat rooms like when I was a kid, right? Or at least about the same as when we used to play Doom with friends and family over our dial-up modems–in Minecraft, they’re not trying to murder each other, so that seems like a win. Plenty of people out there incorporate Minecraft into their homeschool curriculum and I salute them, because I can only tolerate it as long as I don’t have to actively think about it.

But . . . so help me, if I have to keep listening to not only them actually playing it, but talking about it hours later . . . all I can say is thank heavens there are only two weeks left of “summer break” before we go on vacation for a week and then get started into our regular fall schedule, which means waaaaaaay less Minecraft! Hurrah!

 

 

. . . and Dinner Time.

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Sometimes I feel like the fact that we are home most days should allow for MORE time to dedicate to meal prep . . . and then late afternoon rolls around and whatever lofty plan I have concocted falls by the wayside. If we’ve been home all day, I’m burnt out. If we’ve been out all day, I’m exhausted. Either way, I hate cooking, so both become a ready excuse for not making dinner.

Then again, in a few weeks our evenings will become so busy that dinners will HAVE to be planned out and regimented based on who is home when . . . so summer is a good time to let it all go before that happens, right? RIGHT? Or maybe it’s just time to start adding home ec into our schoolwork schedule so the kids can start making dinners for us? My kids can handle enough that I think it’s unlikely they’d starve if left to fend for themselves, but not quite enough to be trusted to make a decent-tasting meal. It’s clearly time to up our game. Math, science, life skills–making them do more cooking seems like a win win!

Homeschool moms (and dads) spend a lot of time chauffeuring children hither and yon, we’ve learned, and we all deserve a break now and then! Do you enjoy cooking? Got any tips or tricks for managing family-friendly meals when you’re short on time (or energy, or patience)?

Snack Time

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Maybe it’s because my poor unsocialized homeschoolers don’t have to sit and eat at a specific time each day, but this is life in our house, especially over the summer. Ten minutes after breakfast is done, my 8 year old is asking me to start lunch.

Of course, when we leave the house, they can’t possibly eat LUNCH FOOD. No sandwiches for these little angels. We’ve tried all different kinds, along with wraps, yogurts (and my oldest has food allergies so the non-dairy ones aren’t cheap), salads. The 10 year old will deign to eat some hummus with pretzels, fortunately, but that’s about as nutritious a packed lunch as we can manage. Aside from the school bus in the morning thing, not having to eat lunch out of the house every day is one of the biggest reliefs about homeschooling around here. If we’re headed to a park or a field trip, I fill the “lunch bag” (ha!) with a variety of snacks and that serves as lunch on the go. I *almost* got an allergy-safe Fluff replacement, but oldest child doesn’t like Sunbutter on sandwiches either, so her sandwich would have been just Fluff and jam. I then had to debate whether I wanted her to eat white bread so badly that I would hand her a Sugar Sandwich and decided that hummus was perfectly adequate.

Do your homeschoolers want to eat constantly when you’re at home–or out? Got any favorite packable snack/lunch foods that your kids love? Now that we’re past the diaper bag and stroller stage, I only bring food if absolutely necessary . . . otherwise, the children are given my classic “once you start complaining you’re hungry, it’s time to leave” warning. It’s probably a good thing we can’t always find allergy-safe options when we’re out and about, because otherwise I’d be spending a million dollars on food everywhere we go just to keep from having to pack lunches!

Sleeping Beauty

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Background: I remember waking up before 6 am on school days, waiting for the bus before the sun even came up. Sleep was something I valued so highly that I actually remember stating it as a reason I didn’t think I’d ever have kids. HAHA, JOKE’S ON ME!

As an adult, I spent the early years of my children’s lives waking up every hour and a half all night, every night–we were not blessed with good sleepers. My oldest then decided she needed to wake up at 5:30 am every day for several years. Finally, at almost 11, she has started sleeping in. Can you blame me for not wanting to wake everyone up early to catch a bus each morning? The tween is still complaining about our breakfast reservations at Disney last fall requiring us to get up early during vacation.

Granted, by 3 pm I’ve hit a wall and don’t want to think anymore so post-lunch schoolwork doesn’t fly around here, but even when the tween sleeps until 10, we can still get everything done before eating lunch. And if I get that extra time to relax and drink my coffee in the morning . . . can I really complain? I’m sure I could, but I won’t. One of my most favorite things about homeschooling is being able to adjust based on our natural rhythm. We’ve had periods where we started schoolwork immediately following breakfast, others when we had an alarm go off at a specific time to get started, and have tried a variety of different guidelines pertaining to delaying schoolwork (ie “if you play nicely with your sister without arguing, we can start schoolwork later!”). Currently, the girls have a list of acceptable activities they can pick from before schoolwork gets done. It’s not completely filled with educational options and I freely admit it does not ban all electronics (though we have done that on occasion!), but it includes things that help set a better tone for the day and is devoid of the things that send attitudes, focus, and patience levels down the drain. It may not work forever, but it works for now, and the beauty of homeschooling is that “for now” is all we need to deal with. When it stops working, we can change it!

Do you have early birds or night owls in your house? What time do you generally start schoolwork for the day?

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Tools of the Trade

It’s that glorious time of year when school supplies are everywhere and people start posting beautiful photos of their homeschool set-ups. I freely admit that I am a sucker for school supplies, whether we need them or not. So what if I have a dozen empty 3-ring binders on my bookshelf? Can you ever really have too many sharpened pencils and spiral notebooks?

Well. Yes, you probably can, but sometimes the sales are too good to pass up. We just rearranged our family room to incorporate our schoolwork area so my shelves are currently nice and organized. I suspect it won’t last long though! At what age should humans be able to put things back where they found them, the WAY they found them? We have apparently not reached that milestone yet. Here is our current arrangement.

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If you can’t tell, I completed the shelf in the top picture first–that’s our “curriculum/resource” shelf (plus some Outlander and fantasy books that didn’t fit on the “reading books” shelf. Fortunately, those cabinet doors hide stacks upon stacks of construction paper, lined paper, chalkboard, and half-filled notebooks. The two smaller shelves house the random stuff and baskets of junk–I mean, leftover supplies–that have nowhere else to live. And, of course, you also can’t see the twirly bin of pencils, markers, notebooks, rolls of tape, empty glue bottles, and sticky scissors that lives in the living room. Or the giant box of picture books that still need to be sorted through and then shelved or donated. Or the stacks of mostly-used workbooks that should be recycled but I just can’t bring myself to get rid of yet because what if I decide to use some of the unused pages this year? Let’s just focus on the good stuff today and forget all of those things exist.

And there, at the top of one shelf, sits my very favorite homeschooling tool EVER: The Laminator. “Why do I need one?” you ask. Why DON’T you need one is the real question. You can make posters, reusable worksheets, checklists, bookmarks, signs, reminders, labels. You can preserve artwork or awards certificates or other Really Important Things.

Besides, if Ryan Gosling loves it, it’s clearly worthwhile. What’s your favorite homeschooling supply item?

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Put on your Sunday clothes

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I will freely admit that here have been periods of my life when I have worn pajamas all day long. Life with babies and toddlers just kind of lends itself to staying cozy unless you’re leaving the house, right? There’s no shame in that! Those days are well in the past for me but I have to say that comfort is one of the keys to our homeschooling. I don’t stay in pajamas anymore, but I do tend to save my “nice shirts” for special occasions. Like, you know, leaving the house. I sometimes even break out my “dressy jeans” for the occasional Mom’s Night Out.

Though my almost-11 year old takes great pride in crafting her ensemble each day, my 8 year old lives in pajamas unless we are going somewhere. Fortunately, most of her pajamas happen to be selections of her comfiest regular clothes, so if friends happen to walk by our house, it’s not completely insane of me to let her go outside in them. And it cuts down on laundry, okay? Simultaneously saving the planet AND being comfortable seems like a win.

While we lovingly call some of the kids’ more creative outfits “The Homeschooler,” I do think our school uniform is basically pajamas. How about you? Do your kids get dressed before schoolwork or do you tend to lounge around in PJs?

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The Mondays or The Fridays?

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I didn’t start drinking coffee until I had my second daughter and realized that coordinating the sleep schedules of more than one child is somewhere around the seventh circle of hell. Now, I freely admit that I am a coffee addict. I’m not even sure it’s the caffeine that I enjoy so much as the sweet peace of drinking a hot cup of coffee (okay, two very large cups) in the mornings before we start schoolwork. And during schoolwork. And sometimes after schoolwork.

Mondays in our house are not terrible, since everyone here does better with routine (and our morning schoolwork means I don’t have to start listening to incessant Minecraft talk until well after the coffee has kicked in), but it’s not unheard of for at least one of us to have a serious case of The Mondays when it comes time to get started. Even if we push our start time back by an hour or so (while I enjoy another cup of delicious coffee), we generally get into our groove eventually.

When Friday rolls around, however . . . that’s usually when we start to crumble. Back in high school, our English department had “Friday Reading Day” across all of the classrooms and you could read anything you wanted during English class. I always thought that would be a fun thing to institute but we hadn’t quite reached a point where my youngest could read by herself comfortably until partway through this past school year, so we haven’t started that yet. Instead, Friday became “OMG Go Do Something Quietly Without Asking Me 10,000 Questions Per Hour” Day. Whatever works, right?

Sometime around May, I finally decided to start hosting Field Trip Fridays through our local homeschool group. It seems to be a popular idea–both among the children and for other families–so I volunteered to continue hosting throughout the new school year. It sounds charitable but really it just keeps me from having to make us all suffer through actual work on Fridays when we feel like doing annnnnnything else but school. And it definitely sounds more educational than banishing the children to their rooms to play just to get some peace and quiet, right?

Which day is harder for you and your family in homeschooling, Monday or Friday? Do you do anything special to help everyone get through it?