Monday, March 28, 2011

How Many Baby Books Did You Read?

I have been on the internet for countless hours for months now doing research on homeschooling--the pros v. cons, benefits and pitfalls, curricula, resources available, how to teach different learning styles and how to address the dreaded... SOCIALIZATION (insert gasp here).  We are beginning to acquire quite a library covering these very same topics.  At what point does one call it quits?

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down at the computer to compose a list of the different sources that we wanted to use for each subject.  Math and Science were easy.  We found things that we really liked for each child's individual learning style.  But things got quite a bit more dicey once I began to delve a little deeper into the Language Arts/Writing programs.

[For those who are curious, Math U See for our 7 year old son and Singapore Math for our almost 10 year old daughter.  We absolutely love Real Science 4 Kids for both of them.  Imagine teaching chemistry and physics on a level that a 1st grader truly can grasp!  It works, we tried it on both of them on a day that they were home sick.  Gotta love it when the company puts the entire text up on the internet for you to review.]

The number and types of Language Arts curricula out there will blow you away.  Company after company, homeschool mom after homeschool mom (they develop their own curricula to address the shortfalls that they found in the countless corporate approaches.)... everyone has their own approach. Should I feel guilty if I use a commercial approach, after all the shortfalls are so bad that it inspired someone to go out and write their own?  Let's not even get started on the customer reviews that accompany the plethora of these programs.  "It is the best."  "It is the worst."  "My child hated it!"  "My child loved it!"  "It transformed my reluctant writer."  "It made my child hate writing."  Egads!  This is RIDICULOUS!

I started to think about the same paranoid, panicky feelings I had back when I was pregnant with my 1st child.  "I don't know anything about being a parent."  "What if I do it wrong?"  "What do I do?"  Well certainly, the booksellers have figured out how to play into our collective paranoia.  "Buy books," is their answer.  They have books for every possible thing having to do with pregnancy and parenthood.  What pregnant woman did not read What to Expect When You are Expecting?  Even my OB practice gave it out to the new parents-to-be!

At some point, I gave up.  I took the one golden nugget that I had gleaned from most of those books.  Trust my own instincts.  Hmm, it was a novel thought at the time.  But, I got sick of reading books about becoming a parent.  I reached the point of developing a zen-like philosophy of "This will just have to be good enough.  If not, they can put it on their list of things to tell their therapist later in life."  I was not going to rename my approach to parenthood as "paranoia-hood."  Good, bad or indifferent, I was not going to read anymore on the subject. So there!  And you can't make me!

Which brings me to the point of where I am in the homeschooling curricula journey.  ENOUGH!  I am just going to pick something that seems promising. Unlike the school system, I will not be stuck with it.  If it does not seem to be working for one of the kids, then I will pitch it and try something else.  It's not like there won't be other choices!

My husband made an excellent point yesterday (Tell me he won't enjoy reading that little phrase over and over again.  It is almost as good as hearing me say that he was right and that I was wrong.), when we were discussing a writing program for our daughter.  Wordsmith Apprentice seemed like an interesting approach for our budding writer.  She loves to write, but still needs to develop the mechanics of writing.  Might this be a fun way to do so? Here's his excellent point--- It is less than $15.00.  For that price, it is worth giving it a shot, even if we only get a few good ideas out of it.  We would still be getting our money's worth.  Hmm, when you compare it to the private school tuition we have been paying, $15 is nothing.  He is absolutely right.

[Please forgive me, but I think he should be able to see this in writing one more time.  HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  Enjoy honey, who knows when you will ever see that again?]

Okay, so I am going to do the best that I can and just pick something.  Good, bad or indifferent, I am not going to read anymore on the subject.  So there! And you can't make me!  Not once did I diaper the wrong end of my newborn. I never dropped my children on their heads.  We never left the baby carrier on top of the car and drove off.  If I haven't ruined my children yet, how bad could my curricula choice be?  After all, they can always just add their curricula complaints to the list for their therapist for when they are older.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Things A Mother Shouldn't Have to Say

Every mom has those moments when she wonders what in the world she was thinking when she decided she wanted children.  Usually those moments resemble the "Calgon moments" from that old commercial-- doorbell ringing, phone ringing, baby crying, dog barking, smoke coming from the oven and the other kids are fighting.  Crazy times are to be expected.  But what is not to be expected are some of the crazy things we say as mothers.  Things no mother should have to say.

About a year ago I was on the phone with my mother.  The circumstances surrounding the incident have grown fuzzy, but I still remember verbatim what I said and my innocent, sweet child's response.  No mother should have to say, "Get your face out of the toilet!"  To which the reply was, "But Mom, I'm not getting wet."  Are you kidding me?  Apparently, not.

Having thrown up everyday of my pregnancy since the golden moment when morning sickness first arrived (at 5 weeks with this particular child) I have had the opportunity to examine intimately more than my fair share of toilets. The greatest bit of wisdom that I gleaned from this unpleasant experience is simple.  Toilets are disgusting and the last place you want to be putting your face unless you have absolutely no other choice.  Yet here is my mini-Education Explorer trying to discover the fascinating realm of the toilet up close and personal.

What possible relevance does this story have to the whole homeschool adventure that we are getting ready to start?  Well, at the Homeschool Convention we recently attended, my husband and I went to seminar after seminar to try to get a handle on this new life about which we were to embark. One of the sessions was entitled, "Help! How Do I Teach this Highly Distractible Child" by Carol Barnier.  Based on my earlier scenario, you can well imagine that we had no intention of missing this session.  Carol Barnier delightful relayed extremely helpful techniques to use when teaching children who are easily distracted and have minuscule attention spans.  She employs one of my favorite tools for getting through life, an amazing sense of humor. The title of her book should give you a hint of her speaking style, How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and on to Learning   (

Something that particularly resonated with me was her anecdote about a contest that she had on her blog back in September 2010.  She dubbed it, "I Never Thought I Would Say THAT!"  I have included the link so you can see the contest results for yourself.  ( To hear Carol mention some of the hilarious things other parents have had to say was quite reassuring (Like, "Spit your brother's tooth back out and give it back to him.")  I learned that I am not alone living in Bizarro World like I thought.

We had the opportunity to share our, "Get your face out of the toilet!" anecdote with Carol after her session.  She certainly got a good laugh out of it.  If misery loves company, I guess then, "Insanity loves Camaraderie." It is nice to know that I have lots of Mommy Comrades out there too.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shocking Discoveries at a Homeschool Convention

I tend to be a bit (ahem, mild understatement to say the least) cynical and jaded.  It probably stems from my training and experience as a lawyer.  In particular, being a former prosecutor causes one to be distrustful and to search out for others’ ulterior motives and bias.   This cynical nature of mine is evident especially when I encounter something that has mass appeal.  Homeschooling doesn’t fall into this category at first blush since they are bucking the system, but when hooking up with thousands of homeschoolers, it does.

So I was prepared for salespeople and others pushing their own agenda when I went to my first homeschool convention.  But what I found instead was shocking to the cynic in me...

Comprehensive, overwhelming support of one another!  What?  From perfect strangers???  Absolutely!  And they weren’t trying to sell me anything either!

Every person I spoke with was extremely encouraging and supportive of our decision to homeschool.  When I mentioned that our kids were still enrolled in private school but they were not re-enrolled for next year, we were (GULP) going to homeschool them, I heard, “Congratulations!” [Emphasis supplied with exuberance by the speakers]  They didn’t ask why or ask if we were sure or had we considered a different school or if we realized how hard it would be.  Not one person mentioned “SOCIALIZATION.”  They all smiled with genuine warmth and enthusiasm and shared that we could do it, challenges and all.

I thought through my life, has there ever been a time when universally people were unquestionably supportive and encouraging???  Not that I could think of off the top of my head.  Maybe kindergarteners walking into school on the first day might get this level of encouragement. 

Why? How could this be?  Why would they care about encouraging me?  (See, I told you that I’m a cynic.)  My husband has a theory.  The group as a whole has made a conscious decision to buck the system and go against the mainstream educational system.  There was a sense of, “We’re all in this together.”  They all could relate to concerns and questions about:  how would it work; would the kids learn enough; would the kids learn the “right” things, etc.?  As such, they were a balm for my fears and concerns.  Their reassurance allowed for the heretofore tiny voice of “this could be amazing for us” to grow a little louder in my head into a feeling of excitement over the possibilities of homeschooling.

Another shocking discovery of mine was the level of trust exhibited by the vendors at the conference in their customers.  Are you kidding me?  Don’t they know what happens when you place your trust in the common man?  They rob you blind!  (Remember, I warned you I was cynical.  You thought I was kidding!)  Apparently I was on the verge of another shocking discovery about homeschoolers.  They are not “the common man.”  How refreshing!  There was more than ample opportunity for a person to walk off with all sorts of curricula and educational materials.  Yet no one did.  After sending felons to prison for years, I found this level of trust personally dumfounding.

By being “uncommon,” apparently it is possible to find those values like honesty, caring and integrity in something other than an old-fashioned movie.  “Pollyana” views of the goodness of others can actually exist in this day and age.   Time to pick my jaw up off the ground and enjoy an exhibition hall full of people who are “uncommon” for some of the best reasons.  I sure hope that as the popularity of homeschooling grows amongst the general population, that this “atmosphere of trust and faith in one another” doesn’t go the way of the Dodo bird.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crossing the Threshold of a Homeschool Convention

We hit a major milestone on this new Homeschool journey by attending our first homeschool conference.  I wasn’t too sure about what to expect...  lots of salesmen pushing their curricula like used car salesmen... boring speakers droning on an on... [Based on my experience as a lawyer attending Continuing Legal Education classes where the lawyers speaking appeared to get paid by the word and made Ben Stein seem as dynamic as Jim Carrey on meth.]  “weird” women who all look like former nuns without make-up, wearing “comfortable shoes” and homemade clothing (they would have spun their own cloth on home looms, of course) toting along their 17 well-behaved children.

I couldn’t have been more wrong on all fronts.  Here I thought I had done all my research, but I hadn’t realized that all the research in the world still hadn’t reached down into the roots of my own bias and preconceived notions.  My knowledge of homeschooling had changed, but some of my initial negative impressions of homeschoolers were still intact. 

Simply walking through the parking lot to get into the conference was an eye-opening experience.  The parking lot was overflowing with cars from all over.  People were hopping curbs and parking in the grass.  I had no idea that there would be so very many people there.  Thousands of families were there!  (Quite literally thousands, over 2,200 families were registered.  I know, because I asked.)

Reading that a certain percentage of Americans homeschool does not mean that I had internalized just how many people that would mean.  We aren’t coming from a social background that involves homeschooling.  We don’t really know any homeschoolers.  We meet them occasionally, but never really knew any personally.

Take a deep breath; it is time for me to walk in to the conference.  It was a bit scary because the act of going in meant that we were becoming “one of them,”  HOMESCHOOLERS... out of the system, set off and apart from the mainstream (which obviously can be both a good and a bad thing).

Surprise!  Or should I say, “Duh!”  What does one find inside a Homeschool Convention?  Why one finds all sorts of people, different sizes and shapes of all different sorts of backgrounds.  They are there for a multitude of different reasons, yet they do have one thing in particular in common...  Every last one of them is trying to do their very best for the children.  Guess you wouldn’t need to work for NASA to have been able to figure that one out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Luxury of Homeschooling I Hope to Not Take for Granted

The Time Change Torture...

I imagine there are very few people who actually enjoy loosing an hour of sleep.  It is not fun for anyone when the alarm goes off first thing Monday morning after the time change.  Your body feels just how early it is and protests getting up.  However, next spring when we are Homeschooling, I will not be required to torture my children.

Saturday night our family arrived home quite late after a week long vacation. No complaints here, we had a great family trip.  We were a little surprised to learn about the time change.  Oops!  Forgot about that one!    

Sunday night, contemplating the week before us, we knew that the family schedule was way off.  Losing the hour of sleep meant that we were in for an ugly morning Monday when the alarm went off and it was time to rouse the living dead.  That was before we heard the pitter patter of little feet above our heads who were supposed to be in bed.  Down the stairs comes our eldest with a stomach ache.  We put her back to bed only for her to resurface a short time later with the same complaint.

Here is where the Luxury of Homeschooling kicks in.  A homeschooling parent logically knows that if their child was up late the night before not feeling well, then you let them sleep a little later the next morning.  Duh!  Is this really a luxury, isn't it just plain common sense and good parenting?  Not if your child is still enrolled in school.

Traditional school children march to the beat of the school schedule regardless of how it impacts them.  The alarm went off at 6:30.  It was time to get out of bed in order to get to school on time.  Comatose child gave way to a grumbling girl; which then led to tears running down her face all morning on the way to school.  This is insane, especially when we know that that in just a few short months we would never put her through that again!

I hope that next spring when the time change comes, I remember to be grateful for the luxury of having the freedom to act in the best interests of my own child.  I hope I remember to appreciate the luxury of homeschooling and to never take it for granted.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Educational Opportunity Overload

When one first considers homeschooling, the ideas and opportunities begin to pour in... Why we could do this... We could do that...  We can visit Williamsburg, Jamestown, The Kennedy Space Center, D.C. etc. etc. -- ad nauseum!

At what point does the filter kick-in???  Where did simple relaxation go? Vacation???  Now the world has shifted focus from simple go to school and wait for vacations, to an endless list of possibilities and opportunities.

That's a good thing, right? (gulp) I hope so.

When the official school year ends this June,  school will not be out for the summer.  Summer will mean that school is in for a lifestyle.  It will be everywhere!  It will be omnipresent in all that we do.  No more running to the grocery store to pick-up a few things that are on sale this week.  It is an opportunity to explain to the kids savings on sale items vs. regular price. Critical thinking skills, do you stock-up, if so, why?

Simple vacations will be educational opportunities ripe for exploration and development.  Our lifestyle is on the verge of a total and complete paradigm shift.  It is exciting and intimidating.

It is March now.  There is hopefully some time to prepare mentally and emotionally for the big changes that will effect the entire family as soon as the final school bell rings and the traditional summer beginning becomes anything but traditional!

Our Spring Break trip to Sea World can be a little ominous as we consider just how different it will be when we are a family of homeschoolers next year.  We won't just feed dolphins and sea lions next year.  Snapping pictures will still be a part of things, but it will go much deeper.

Overwhelming opportunities to teach abound.  How will we frame the children's learning experiences to keep things fun, fresh and avoid overload?

Lots of questions swirl inside my head.  I think it would be foolish not to feel a little nervous.  We will not be stuck with a textbook.  The only constraints will be the ones we place on our own family's learning.  The trick will be finding the right balance.  Hmm....  Wonder how that one will play out in a few months?

Abandoning the Right to Criticize Your School

What parent of a school aged child has not muttered to him/herself in the evening when going to pick-up poster board for their child's school project (which of course, is due tomorrow)?  "Why does the teacher always make more work for me, the parent?"  "Why don't they just call this 'parentwork' instead of 'homework'?"  Name any school project, and for certain, their are parents out there grumbling about it.

There is comfort in group mumblings and complaints.  Sounding boards for our frustrations, irritations and complaints are soothing to our battered, stressed-out selves.  There is definitely something to be said for finding another parent who agrees that Mrs. So&So, the [fill in grade level] Grade teacher isn't doing a very good job this year.

Parents make excellent educational "Monday Morning Quarterbacks."  We certainly know when our child's individual needs are not being met.  We know our own child's sensitivities better than anyone else and it can be very easy to see why a certain textbook or school project is a poor fit for our child.  It may be too boring and not challenging enough for our eager, bright student.  It may utilize and emphasize a learning style which in no way corresponds to our child's learning style.  It may simply be to advanced for where our child currently is educationally, and it does not take a crystal ball to foresee the tears and frustrations that will be forthcoming before the assignment is complete and on Mrs. So&So's desk.

What parent has not felt a bit vindicated or validated by another parent echoing the same complaints about Mrs. So&So at the ball field or waiting in the carpool line?  There is safety in numbers, especially when feeling disgruntled or concerned.

So what does the parent feel who decides to take responsibility for their child's education by becoming the "TEACHER?"  Simple, TERROR!

Good-bye parking lot gripe sessions!  Good-bye ball park commiserations!  The buck stops here!

The only fault-finding now, will be with yourself and your spouse.  Yikes!  That's scary enough to make you run back to the school with your re-enrollment papers.

My mother always said that I never did things the easy way, so why start now?