why i love homeschooling (part 1)

Though I’m brutally honest about the drawbacks of homeschooling, there are enough positives to keep me going. In fact, once I sat down to write about them, I realized that I’d need to break this into at least two blog posts to keep from overwhelming you—and I’m sure there are many aspects I’ve failed to mention! But without further ado, here is Why I Love Homeschooling: Part I.

Remember that look of smug delight when your little one first said, “Ba!” and you understood and got him the ball that was stuck under the couch? The triumph on your preschooler’s face when she first successfully hopped on one foot? Would you have wanted to miss those moments? They don’t end at age five, you know. Your child is always learning, delighting in their achievements. As a schoolteacher, I had the privilege of witnessing some of those brilliant “aha” moments in the lives of other people’s children. As a homeschooler, I have the joy of being present for my own children’s big-kid successes. Sounding out their first words? Successfully completing that first really long subtraction problem? Deducing why they can’t hear me whispering behind them until they put a hand in front of their ear? I get to see it all!

A new game provides lots of spontaneous learning for all three kids.

A new game provides lots of spontaneous learning for all three kids.

I take delight in watching my children, and anything that shows the working of their brains brings me glee. Thus, homeschooling is sheer glory for the nerd within. Get this: Both of my older children were working through the same math program at different paces. In one lesson, they were supposed to explain how they found the solution to a certain problem. When Peatie did it, he explained his work like this, “37 + 54… Well, 30+50 is 80, and 7+4 is 11, so it’s 91 because 80+11 is 91.” When Goober did it, she explained her work like this, “37+54. Well, 37+3 is 40, so I take 3 from the 4, and that leaves 1, so 41. And 41+50 is 91.” Is there another nerd out there who finds this as cool as I do? No? Okay, my husband isn’t enthralled by such things either. Don’t worry, there’s more to love!

You know that feeling of closeness you have when you’re working on a project—just you and your kids? Their eyes sparkle both with the joy of the activity and the certainty of their importance to you that your attention brings. Now imagine that happening every day. That’s why I stay up late to figure out the best way for a 5- and 6-year-old to experience cuneiform, the most engaging experiments to help them understand the effects of sunlight. Every day I get to introduce an activity that excites them, something for us to bond over. I love that for them, learning will be connected with the warm feelings of familial closeness and Mom’s attention.

Of course, not all of learning is rainbows and unicorns. Most things worth doing are hard things, and hard things often bring frustration. As a parent with only three children in my charge, I can immediately sense when things are going south. I can coach my kids through frustration, giving them personalized tools to help them. For Peatie, this means taking a deep breath and slowing down to re-read anything that initially seems confusing. For Goobie, this means something physical—a hug of reassurance or the physical act of walking away from a problem and coming at it again. Were I a parent trying to squeeze in an hour of homework per kid between dinner prep, evening clean-up, and bedtime routines, I’m not sure I would have had the time or patience to discover each child’s ideal way of dealing with frustration.

As a teacher, I remember the helpless feeling of watching a student who obviously wasn’t grasping the material. I could pull them aside for a few moments at the beginning of recess and hope an additional explanation would help, but there was no way for me to adjust the pacing of the class’s lessons to meet the needs of individual children. On the opposite end of the spectrum were the children who could expertly complete everything I threw their way without bothering to pay attention in class. With limited resources, I couldn’t do much more than offer them “enrichment work” or assign an alternative novel. As a teacher of three, I tailor the learning to my kids. We combine lessons if the work seems too easy or stop to camp on one if it’s a concept that’s just not clicking. I agonize over our subject matter, choosing materials I know will appeal to my kids and spending more time on the subjects they most enjoy.

“But won’t that spoil them?” some have asked. “Not everything in life is going to be perfectly tailored to suit them. And there are some things they need to learn about even if they aren’t excited about them.” As an adult, do you look for a job in a field you despise? Do you learn eagerly from activities you abhor? Children, of course, are the same. Not all of them will be incredible wordsmiths or stunning mathematicians, and that’s okay. I certainly want to give my kids a well-rounded education, but they will learn far better and far more eagerly if they can do so in a way that appeals. And what is the ultimate goal of education—teaching children to suck it up when they don’t like something, or helping children to develop an understanding of the world and the ability and eagerness to learn more about what interests them? So I lean more heavily on the things my kids love best when they’re young, and I teach things in a way they will enjoy. There’s plenty of time for expanding our horizons and learning the harsh realities of life down the road.

Stay tuned!  There’s more to come in “Why I Love Homeschooling: Part 2”!


thoughts on handwriting: why i (mostly) like getty-dubay (with significant tweaking)

When my oldest began obsessively filling page after page of scrap paper with wobbly, ill-formed letters the year he was four, I suddenly realized that I would have to teach handwriting.

When I learned handwriting, I learned the ball-and-stick method.  I think everyone I knew learned the ball-and-stick method—it was the way to go back in the day.  And there’s nothing wrong with ball-and-stick writing: it’s simple and it’s readable.  It’s just not especially lovely or efficient.

The other well-known handwriting is the nearly-ubiquitous D’Nealian; it’s taught in every school in which I taught as well as in the school of seemingly every child whose parents post work on Facebook.  I have a problem with D’Nealian, though.  Well, maybe more than one.  First of all, it looks really dopey to have those curly tails off all your letters.  I know the theory behind it—making it simple to join letters into cursive later—but that doesn’t make it right to do in print.  And there’s a second problem: the name.  Perhaps you are a fan of superfluous apostrophes—and if so, I apologize—but in my opinion, apostrophes are used for possessives and contractions.  This business of inserting apostrophes randomly in names makes me about as enthused as unique alternate spellings like “Jooleeyah”.  It’s just poor English.  I can’t select a handwriting method that so egregiously mangles a simple piece of punctuation in its very name.

Can you tell I didn’t seriously consider D’Nealian?

I did do quite a bit of research into different methods, though.  Folks raved about Handwriting Without Tears, and the simplicity of the strokes and the adorability of Mat Man were pretty appealing.  Whilst I continued pondering, I made my own big and small curves and big and small straight lines and let the kids make letters and designs and go wild with those.  But I’m an aesthetic gal, and I didn’t love the look of the Handwriting Without Tears style.

I considered going straight to cursive, which is touted as having various benefits…but though folks said it was simple for kids to learn, it sure didn’t look simple to me.  After looking into several different methods, I couldn’t find an affordable option that looked like it would work for my kids.

In all this looking, I somehow ran across Getty-Dubay Italic Handwriting.  At first glance, I knew it was what I wanted.  Why?  Well, for one, it looks an awful lot like my handwriting, an efficient hybrid of cursive and print strokes developed after years of training in both methods.  For another, it’s both neat and attractive—a solid and respectable beginning for one’s handwriting journey.  After some more extensive agony (because what purchase would be complete without an equal ratio of dollars to hours spent agonizing?), I purchased Getty-Dubay Book A.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t love at first sight; I found a few things wrong with the arrangement of the book.  Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay deemed it best to begin with lower case letters.  While I’m sure they had excellent reasons for this choice, it quickly became evident that their progression of lower case letters was not working for my kids.  Sure, “i” was an easy beginning, and “l” was no trouble.  But the curve of “j” was a doozy for us, and “k” just kicked our rears.  At the sight of tears during handwriting time, I knew I had to make some changes.  So I went against the recommendation and started with capital letters.

Unfortunately, Getty and Dubay failed to organize the capital letters in any logical stroke-learning sequence, instead choosing to include them on the back side of their corresponding lower case letter.  This left me browsing the sequence of other handwriting books and leaning on my own logic to create a progression for upper case letters.  Upper case letter practice worked vastly better for us, gradually building our skills and confidence.

There was another problem, as well.  For some inane reason, Getty-Dubay includes a word at the bottom of each page.  Inane?  Yes, because the word included is not limited to the letters which a child has learned.  Thus, on the very first page (“i”), kids are supposed to write “igloo” before having been taught any letter except “i”.  This seemed utterly nonsensical to me, so I once again changed things up.  Until we had mastered the entire alphabet (capital and lower case), we skipped all the bottom-of-page words.  Then, after we knew all our upper- and lower-case letters, we went back through and practiced the words at the bottom of each page.

After all this finagling, it hardly seemed worth it to have the Getty-Dubay book.  After all, I started with capital letters instead of lower case, made my own capital letter sequence, and skipped all the words until the end.  If you ask me, the book was poorly organized…but I do so love the font.  The alternative is to buy the font and recreate the worksheets myself.  After some recent agonizing, I’ve decided that my time is worth enough that I’m willing to buy another book when my third child is ready to begin handwriting—but this time I’ve got my sequence prepared.

In case you, too, love the Getty-Dubay font but want to tweak the order things are presented, here’s what I did:

F (page 34)
E (page 37)
D (page 43)
B (page 40)
P (page 39)
R (page 47)
T (page 33)
I (page 58)
L (page 56)
H (page 50)
A (page 44)
U (page 46)
V (page 54)
W (page 53)
Y (page 45)
N (page 48)
M (page 49)
O (page 38)
Q (page 41)
C (page 36)
G (page 42)
Z (page 51)
X (page 52)
J (page 57)
K (page 55)
S (page 35)

We followed those with numbers, lower case letters, and review pages all in the order presented before diving into the words at the bottoms of the pages.  After that, Book B was no trouble at all, usable for solidifying handwriting skills with no tweaking necessary.  Here’s hoping that someone else in the world will find this information somehow useful.

friends for mommy

Have you noticed how hard it is to have friends once you’re a mom?  And it only gets harder as your kids age.

In our pre-kid era, ‘Love and I were part of a group of folks–mostly young marrieds–who would gather weekly.  It started as an inter-church Bible study, but when the leaders moved out-of-state, it turned into a weekly social hour (or three).

Conveniently, several of the couples in the group had babies within about a year of each other.  No longer able to have freewheeling evenings, we turned to group cookouts and weekday playdates.  This worked wonderfully when the kids were infants and toddlers, but as they grew, it began to be more difficult.

For one, there’s the difference in parenting styles.  “Mary” was a laid-back, live-and-let-live kind of mom who let her kids “sort out their own battles” as toddlers and preschoolers.  In her mind, as long as everyone made it through the day alive, it was all good.  “Martha” was a more intensely involved mom, careful about everything from manners and diet to clothing and toys.  It rubbed her all wrong when Mary offered her kids Cheetos while Mary’s children threw toys around the room.  I found my parenting style to be more in line with Martha’s than with Mary’s, but often found myself listening to complaints from both.

As the kids got older, personality differences came into play.  Mary’s kids were hellions indoors, but set wild in the yard or at a park, they were energetic, imaginative playmates.  Martha’s child had a strong personality and a high decibel level both indoors and out.  Inside, my older two played quietly on their own, ignoring the loud and crazy antics of the other kids; outdoors, they gravitated toward Mary’s kids and were often in tears after being chased by or shouted at by Martha’s child.

I had always assumed that having friends meant that your children would automatically be friends, as well.  I found it strangely jarring that my children felt no bond with these kids whom they had known since infancy and had seen on a fairly regular basis.

Frustrated by the indoor destruction perpetrated by Mary’s children, both Martha and I stopped initiating inside playdates.  When their kids started preschool and the weather turned cool, we hardly saw Mary or Martha anymore.

It has now been more than two years since that time.  While I still communicate with Mary and Martha via Facebook and the occasional email, we almost never see each other anymore.  Since then, I’ve tried to fill the gap.  I joined a MOMS Club, but the group was so well established that the moms there were either only looking for weekday outings while their extended families were otherwise occupied, or they had been closely connected with each other for long enough that they were not interested in adding to their social circle.  After a year or more of MOMS Club, I also joined a MOPS group.  Lo and behold, near the end of my year of MOPS, I began to make some connections–and our kids even seemed to get along!

Then I moved across the country.

So here I am, starting all over again–first the hard job of trying to find a friend, and then the delicate dance of hoping our children get along.  I’ve never been a quick friend-finder (my husband says it’s because my definition of “friend” is too hard for most people to ever achieve), and I think my kids follow suit.  Both they and I can easily participate in small talk, but we hesitate to insinuate ourselves anywhere.  And of course, so far everyone I have met either has teenagers or toddlers, which, while all well and good, is rather sad for my older kids, in particular, who so dearly want playmates and have none in the neighborhood.

You’d think it would be easier, living mere miles from my sister and her family.  When we see them (which was next-to-never during the school year) it works perfectly for Goobie, who is thrilled to have three other girls to play with; poor Peatie, on the other hand, is nearly always near tears by the end of our time together because he doesn’t want to play school or dance and no one wants to join him in climbing trees or collecting rocks.  It’s hard when something that is so affirming for one child is equally demoralizing to another.  Who knew that juggling parent-child get-togethers would be such a major issue of parenting?  I certainly didn’t anticipate it.

Am I the only one with this struggle?  I’d like to think not, but then again, perhaps I’m just quirky.

why homeschooling is a horrible idea

So you’re thinking about homeschooling your kids, eh?  I do that (much as I hate to admit it).  My kids are still young, but I feel like I’ve got just enough experience to give you some warnings.  If you want the awful truth about homeschooling, you’ve found the right blog.

Homeschooling is hard.  Your kids are with you pretty much 24/7.  Any errands you need to do, any doctors’ appointments you’ve got, any cleaning you need to accomplish, anything at all you want to do–they’re there.

Now, you may be thinking, “I’m a stay-at-home mom anyhow–how is this any different than having a toddler underfoot constantly?”  There are a few differences.  For one, your toddler likely takes naps.  Ah, those blissful hour-or-more periods of afternoon freedom!  During naptime, I was able to do a bit of cleaning each day and STILL have some time for puttering online.  I had a bit of much-needed quiet.  I could use the bathroom without someone shouting at me through the door–or simply barging in.

As your children get older, they stop needing naps.  You can try to enforce a daily quiet time, as some do; I waved the white flag on that one because my oldest kept eagerly calling out during his quiet time, wanting to show me his Duplo creations or explain the nest he was building.  (And could YOU look into those sparkling eyes and tell him that Mommy just wants to be alone and QUIT calling me to share your masterpieces?  I thought not.)

So.  You have children around the house who no longer nap.  They don’t DO quiet.  They are getting older, and are thus acquiring the dreaded Toys of Many Pieces.  You thought it was awful to have rattles and toys-with-many-balls littering your living room?  Now try millions of tiny, razor-sharp Legos scattered across the floor studded with those giant plastic nails brought to you by the makers of Sorry!, a sprinkling of stray perler beads, and a few quadzillion Calico Critter-sized muffins.  These pieces never really get put away because, frankly, your children never really get put away, and where they are, there are their toys.  You try to limit said toys to one room of the house, hoping to contain the insanity, but somehow they begin to colonize and you find yourself stepping on teeny toy pieces in the kitchen, the hallway, the bathroom–your feet are doomed.

See the clutter all over the table?  That's what my whole house looks like--our stuff seems to leak out over every surface no matter how often I purge and de-clutter.  And see the water all over the floor?  This is my kids cleaning.  Even cleaning isn't clean with your kids around all the time.

See the clutter all over the table? That’s what my whole house looks like–our stuff seems to leak out over every surface no matter how often I purge and de-clutter. And see the water all over the floor? This is my kids cleaning. Even cleaning isn’t clean with your kids around all the time.

Moving on.  You have children who no longer nap, don’t do quiet, and have fallen in love only with foot-assailing, million-pieced toys.  Everyone assumes said children must be gone at school for the day, since any sane person would want a break from them.  Your doctor offers daytime appointments, your church offers daytime women’s programming, your new acquaintances suggest daytime coffee-dates.  Everyone expects you to haul along your nursing infant (or not, if you’ve got faulty equipment like mine) or chubby-cheeked toddler.  No one quite knows what to do with your gangly six-year-old–or, heaven help you, your even ganglier eleven-year-old.  And let’s not even get into the money you could be earning, rather than spending, with a lovely part-time job.  (Sure, you could get an evening-and-weekend gig, but then when would you do your lesson planning, much less enjoy a moment of much-needed peace during the time your spouse is around to wrangle the crew?)

When you send your children to school for the day, they are not with you.  This seems obvious, but think of the implications: it’s hard to get annoyed with someone who’s not with you.  You can’t possibly need a break from someone who is not there.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  It’s mutual, you know.  You may get tired of having your children constantly NEEDing you–but they get rather tired of always being under your eye, as well.  And let’s not even get started on how they interact with each other.  Those who go to school might take out their pent-up angst on their siblings at the end of the day, but those who aren’t in school have no time limit on the release of said angst, nor do they ever have a break from their siblings’ annoying habits.

When you send your children to school for the day, they are not at home.  Again, this seems obvious, but let’s look at the implications:  you can’t possibly make a mess of a place where you are not.  You can’t possibly get tired of a place you’re not at.  When your children go to school, they leave the house and go somewhere else.  They spend a majority of their waking hours there, making a mess of someone else’s space and hanging out in spacious rooms with schooly decor.  If you homeschool your children, they spend an awful lot of time at home, looking at the same walls and making messes with the same toys.  (My sister’s house sure got cleaner after she sent her kids to school!)  Sometimes the whole lot of you feel rather cabin-fever-y.

And that doesn’t even get into the issue of being the sole educational authority in your children’s lives.  If you tell them that New Mexico is a separate country, they may have no one to set them straight for a decade or more.  Unless you are in a state with strict homeschooling regulations, YOU are the one who chooses what your child will learn, when they will do the learning, and through what means.  Have you looked at the myriad curricula available?  Pick one subject, and you could likely spend months of evenings researching curricula without even getting to all of them.  Even if your kids did stop napping before they reached school age, you didn’t have this time-consuming monstrosity of plotting, planning, researching, and bargain-shopping hanging over your evening free time.  And then consider the effort of planning out said curricula and making sure it gets learned.  At school kids have the weight of peer pressure and non-family-adult authority to keep them plodding away at even the things they don’t love.  At home, they find it far too easy to whine at the teacher, try various avoidance techniques for subjects they don’t enjoy, burst into tears when something isn’t instantly understood…  Perhaps the latter is a good thing for them, reducing their stress by allowing emotional release; it certainly is NOT a pleasant stress-reducer for me.

Do you want your children to be exposed to art, music, and athletics?  Welcome to additional teaching or additional expenses.  Hoping your children don’t become hermits, but are exposed to a variety of different people and have the opportunity to form lasting friendships?  Unless you happen to be in a kid-populated neighborhood, you’ll have a grand ol’ time hauling your kids to extracurricular activities, haunting the park hoping to find playmates, and trying one homeschool group after another–each more expensive than the last.

Do you have multiple children?  If so, you have multiplied your problems.  What if one of the curricula you have agonizingly chosen and spent precious money on is perfect for one child, but a horrible fit for the next?  What do you do with your other children while one of them is having one-on-one instruction?  How do you find opportunities for each of your children to develop their separate talents and interests and establish an individual identity and some friends of their own, all whilst hauling the whole lot of them along everywhere you go?

All these dilemmas–and more–await the lucky parent who chooses to homeschool their brood.  And yet…  And yet, though I did look up public school registration information and think of how simple it would be just to sign us up and send my kids off to school, I never seriously considered doing so.  It’s not that I’m snobbish and look down on public school or wish to keep my children away from others, it’s just that I love the life I am able to forge for my kids as a homeschooling family, despite the difficulties and frustrations.  More on that to come.