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.


the science of sound

My kids adore science.  I don’t think I ever had the love for it that they have, but perhaps it helped that their initial exposure to science was very hands-on–mixing colored water, making vinegar-and-baking-soda volcanoes, and the like.  When determining our path of scientific learning, I chose Bernard Nebel’s Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding to be my spine.  It was highly reviewed by folks with a scientific background and lauded for digging deeply into concepts, laying logical foundations, interweaving scientific topics rather than keeping them separated into categories, and not underestimating the intelligence of kids.  Having received the book and read through it, I do appreciate all those things about it.

Nebel’s one lack is in activities.  His book is excellent for laying out explanations and discussions to lead kids to solid scientific understanding, but while he includes lots of observation and discussion elements, he doesn’t suggest many demonstrations or experiments.  While plotting out our studies, I found myself unenthusiastic and uncertain.  I finally realized the problem: my science plans were missing the key element my kids love about science–hands-on discovery.

Thus, I started over again.  Using Nebel’s book as a topical guide, I looked for additional resources from our library (Nebel does include resource lists for each topic, but our library didn’t have many of the suggested books) and hunted online for activities to flesh out the concepts I wanted to teach.  I specifically searched for activities that were easy to orchestrate with inexpensive materials, and preferably without even a trip to the store.  I decided that instead of leading with discussion, I would lead with the activities and let those spark the discussions naturally.  Thus, all of these are simple, inexpensive activities designed to go along with Nebel’s discussions, but they are intended to generate those discussions organically rather than making them parent-driven.

(You may notice that this first science unit of the year is appearing mid-April.  That, dear readers, is a tale for an entirely different post.  For now, suffice to say that I’m sure glad this is only kindergarten.)

And now, without further ado, the science of sound, taught in activities.

Discovering Sound
Demonstration 1:
Plastic wrap
A large bowl
A rubber band or tape
Uncooked rice
Drum (or large pot lid and spoon)

Stretch your plastic wrap across the top of the large bowl and secure it with the tape or rubber band.  Be sure it is taut.  Sprinkle a handful of uncooked rice on the top of the plastic wrap.  Hold your drum or pot lid nearby and hit it.  Can you see the rice dance?  You’ll have to get pretty close to make it work.

Demonstration 2:
Put your fingers on your voice box.  Make high and low sounds.  Discuss what’s happening in your throat.

Demonstration 3:
Hold a blown-up balloon against your cheek.  Have someone else press their mouth against the balloon and hum.  Can you feel the vibrations?

Demonstration 4:
Using a slinky, demonstrate longitudinal or compression waves.

NPR’s “What Does Sound Look Like?” on YouTube  (We only watched the first 30 seconds–the actual sound wave.)

Understanding Sound
Activity 1:
Have a child knock on wood.  Then have them press their ear to the wood as they knock.  What do they notice about the sound?  Repeat this experiment using your voice and water.  Put some water in the tub.  Try talking/listening above the water and under the water.

Activity 2:
2 tin cans, yogurt containers, disposable cups, or similar
Several yards of string, preferably a compact string like dental floss
Something to poke a hole in the bottom or each container

Make a good ol’ fashioned tin can telephone.  The longer your string, the more impressive the demonstration seems to the kids.  Make sure it’s pulled nice and tight and that you use good string, though.  As a kid I tried this once with yarn and was sorely disappointed by the result.

Activity 3:
Play with rubber bands of different lengths and thicknesses.  How do they compare?  What can you learn about the vibration of long things vs. short, thick things vs. thin?

Activity 4:
Play with a funnel.  What happens when you speak into it?  When you put it up to your ear?  (Refer back to the old ear trumpets of yore.)

Activity 5: 
Stand a few feet behind the child and whisper something to them.  Why is it hard to hear?  Have the child cup their hand in front of their ear while you whisper again.  What is the difference?

After taking a few lessons to work through all these activities, I asked my kids to create a page of a book to show some of what they learned about sound.  Each of them plotted what they wanted to say, labored to write neatly, and drew elaborate illustrations.  We’ll continue to create pages for all the topics we study so that they have something they can proudly look back on to remember what they’ve learned.  (They love writing books!)  They can’t wait for our next topic–electrical energy!

cleaning: my daughter’s solution

Goodness.  It’s been quite a trip since I’ve last written–literally and figuratively, since we sold our beloved house and moved 1,100 miles late last summer.  However, lately I’ve been craving the catharsis that comes from blogging, so I’m back!

Today’s topic: house cleaning.

I must admit, cleaning is not one of my favorite tasks.  I like a clean house, but I don’t like the process of getting there.  When my kids were small (smaller than they are–I’m sure in a few years their current ages will seem “awww” worthy), I managed to keep up with things by assigning myself one task (or series of tasks) a day to complete during the first 20-30 minutes of naptime.  (I even blogged about this glorious system in my post the mediocre housewife (part 2)!)  This system served me well for several years…but recently it fell apart.

Much of our house looked something like this for the first month after our move.  It was not a very relaxing way to live.

Much of our house looked something like this for the first month after our move. It was not a very relaxing way to live.

It happened after our cross-country move.  First of all, it’s very hard to clean a house which is completely and obscenely cluttered by stuff which you are failing to unpack because a) you are trying to paint your entire house and would rather not get paint on everything and b) your new carpet will arrive in four weeks and it doesn’t make sense to put everything away just to have to pack it all up again and have it shifted from room to room as the carpet is replaced.  In addition, kids tend to be very needy while settling in after major life events such as these.  And to top it all off, about the same time we finally got our carpet, I dove into homeschooling.

So, there we were, a family of five living in utter chaos.  I tried to return to my cleaning schedule–I really did.  But my youngest gave up napping, and somehow three is not a good number for playing, so there is almost always someone looking for my attention.  At the end of a week, I counted myself lucky if I had completed ONE day’s worth of cleaning tasks.  One week I remember rejoicing at having cleaned the toilets during the week.  We were at an all-time low.

And then, at the least likely possible moment, genius struck.  It was a Friday.  The kids were finishing lunch, and I was surveying my disaster of a house.  One of the kids started in with, “Mommy, after lunch will you–” and I interrupted.  “After lunch, Mommy is CLEANING!  I keep putting it off over and over to do things with you kids, but this house is a wreck and it has GOT to be cleaned!”  And then came my daughter with her perfect solution:  “What if we help you, Mommy?  Maybe if we all help, it will get cleaned faster.  Maybe we can even get a prize for helping!”  Querying suspiciously, I investigated the “prize” aspect.  “Maybe like a special snack or something,” she suggested.

And The Friday Cleaning Blitz was born.  Almost no cleaning happens in my house on any other day.  Sure, the dishes get done, we wipe up spills, we put away our dirty laundry–but the big cleaning all happens during The Friday Cleaning Blitz.  Every Friday while the kids finish up their “work” and play some computer games, I make our list: toilets, sinks, and floors cleaned in the bathrooms, toys and craft supplies picked up and put away, rugs rolled and shaken outdoors, floors vacuumed and washed, laundry sorted, bedrooms returned to some semblance of order…  After lunch, we start our blitz.  The kids each choose a task (potty cleaning is the favorite!) and go to work, writing their name next to it when they finish so I know who to call if something is not satisfactorily completed.  While they do their work, I sort through the accumulated junk mail, switch loads of laundry, wipe down the kitchen, keep them motivated, and do other things better suited to Mommy.

One of Mommy's Special Snacks, invented using whatever we happen to have in the house at the time--usually including some sweet treat.

One of Mommy’s Special Snacks, invented using whatever we happen to have in the house at the time–usually including some sweet treat.

It’s quite a process, and by the end zeal is usually flagging, but the Special Snack makes it all worthwhile.  It doesn’t have to be anything amazing–a snowman made of two oatmeal cookies with a few M&Ms for details, a pretzel-winged butterfly with colored goldfish filling the wing spaces and a Dum-Dum for a head–but the knowledge that it is somehow special is enough.

It’s not a perfect system–often I wish I were one of those people who naturally kept their homes clutter-free and spotless at all times–but it has solved our immediate cleaning crisis admirably and allows me to feel like my house is an acceptably un-disgusting place to raise my kids.  In addition, my kids are learning skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.  And you know the best part?  Everyone loves Cleaning Blitz Day.  “Yeah!” squeals my three-year-old at bedtime.  “Tomorrow is Cleaning Blitz Day!”  Chimes in my five-year-old, “Yeah, Fridays are my favorite, too.”

the myth of the responsibility chart

A while back, I had the brilliant idea of crafting responsibility charts for my kids.  I was getting frustrated with doing little tasks that my children could easily do for themselves—putting their dirty clothes down the laundry chute at the end of the day, for example, or cleaning up the cascade of books in front of the bookcase.  A responsibility chart sounded like a brilliant solution to my woes.

After doing some pricing and finding nothing to meet my specific needs or price point (uber cheap!), I hunted around online for ideas.  I settled on this one from Spoonful.com—in part because it used materials that I already happened to have around the house, and in part because it didn’t have any markers or magnets that could mysteriously disappear, rendering the chart useless. ResponsibilityChart

My kids are young, so I made their responsibilities minimal.  Every day they need to put their jammies under their pillows when they get dressed, clear their dishes after every meal, clean up their toys and books at the end of the day, and put their dirty laundry down the chute.  Mommy’s problems were solved…or so I thought.

The first three days were great.  The kids were so pumped about their charts that they remembered all their responsibilities, gleefully sliding that straw from “To Do” to “Done!”  On days four and five, they would remind each other about their responsibilities…and Mommy would occasionally need to point to the charts when neither big kid seemed to remember.

On day six, the realization struck.  Those responsibility charts?  They’re really for Mommy.  After all, I SHOULD have been reminding them to clean up after themselves all along.  Isn’t that my job as a Mom?  To teach them the skills they’ll need as they grow and to help them develop into responsible human beings?  At barely-five and almost-four, my kids aren’t always going to behave responsibly.  They’re going to jump on the couch, forget to say “thank you”, paint their little brother’s hair, try to hog all the train tracks…  But that’s where I come in.  At the beginning, my guidance has to be perpetual; gradually, I can step back and let them take the lead, nudging them when they forget or fail.

Here’s the thing about being a Mom: it’s endless.  I think that’s both the most rewarding and the most daunting part of it.  If I start slacking off in my vigilance, neglecting to remind them to be polite or clean up after themselves, then they start to slip.  If the good habits aren’t perpetually reinforced, they seem less important.  So those responsibility charts?  The kids never touch them anymore.  But that’s okay; they’ve served their purpose for Mommy.

a thrifty thought for thursday: it pays to spend (some) on a water heater

Our basement is home to a sixteen-year-old relic of a water heater.  The beast was inefficient when it was purchased (I think the “your model” indicator on the Energy Star label is in the “so inefficient you may as well go out back and boil your water over your fire pit” realm); it now treats us to the auditory equivalent of a Fourth of July fireworks display every time we deign to use a bit of hot water.  Before we find ourselves shivering in the shower because our friendly beast has quit working, we thought we’d look into finding a replacement.

I called our plumber.  “All the newer models are energy efficient,” he proclaimed.  “It doesn’t matter what one you choose.”

I called our local plumbing supply store.  “You really pay a premium for that extra efficiency,” the man on the phone declared.  “Most people just stick with the standard model.”

I did some research.

First off, it took me a while to find what I wanted: a cost vs. efficiency breakdown.  I finally ran across it here.  Unfortunately, their chart didn’t go quite as high as I’d hoped—but my elementary math skills stood me in good stead.  I noticed a pattern: for each .04 increase in efficiency rating, you save $11 per year.  That savings gets multiplied by 13, the average life span of a water heater.  So here’s what I figured out (hopefully accurately):

.53 = their “standard” water heater

.65 = our local plumbing supply store’s standard model.

  • The difference between the local standard and the internet standard is .12.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 3.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 3x$11 or $33 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $429 over the internet’s .53 model.

.90 = our local plumbing supply store’s high-efficiency model.

EnergyGuide sticker on water heater

See that? Our old water heater’s rating was as far to the right on the efficiency line as this one is to the left. Hooray for energy savings!

  • The difference between the local high-efficiency and the internet standard is .37.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 9.25.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 9.25x$11 or $101.75 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1322.75 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $893.75 over the store’s .65 model.

.95 = our local plumbing supply store’s ultra-high-efficiency model.

  • The difference between the local ultra-high-efficiency and the internet standard is .42.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 10.5.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 10.5x$11 or $115.5 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1501.50 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1076.50 over the store’s .65 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $178.75 over the store’s .90 model.

The plumber will install the standard .65 water heater for $825.  He’ll install the efficient .90 water heater for $1200.  That’s a $375 cost increase for a savings of $893.75.  The ultra-high-efficiency water heater is $1700 installed, which is a cost increase of $500 for only $178.75 additional savings.  Can you guess which water heater I ordered?

Bonus Update:  I waited until we got the new .90-rated beauty so I could include a picture.  At today’s visit, the plumber said our water heater was such an easy install that he’s knocking $100 off the price, and oh-by-the-way the utility company has a $150 rebate for efficient water heaters like ours.  So make that a $125 cost increase for nearly $900 savings.  Wa-hoo!

12 activities to improve fine-motor coordination

If you’re like me, occasionally you’ll notice that your kid is a real whiz at some things, but perhaps a bit weak in other areas.  Last fall I was noticing that Peatie, who was doing great at gross-motor and imaginative stuff, seemed to be frustrated by fine-motor tasks.  In order to help him out, I brainstormed activities that develop fine-motor skills.

  • Art projects that involve coloring and cutting
  • Doing puzzles
  • Wooden train set
  • Self-care like buttoning a shirt and putting on shoes
  • Putting coins in a piggybank, then opening the hatch to release them
  • Building with toys like Duplos or wooden blocks
  • Lacing cards (make your own with some cardboard, a hole punch, and a shoelace)
  • Stringing beads (or noodles!)
  • Making things with PlayDoh
  • Pouring (we used pinto beans in the kitchen or water in the tub)
  • Screwing a nut onto a bolt (we have toy ones that came with a toy tool kit)
  • Sorting small objects (coins, colored fishy crackers)

With the goal of fine-motor development at the forefront, I encouraged the kids to participate in at least a few of these activities each week.  While we’re not perfecting our cursive (or even buttoning our own buttons yet), I have seen a distinct improvement.

the computer conundrum

One of the greatest problems I face in feeling like an effective parent is posed by the glories of the computer.  I use the computer to write (both for pay and for fun), to compile album pages for my children, to research home improvement ideas, to learn about anything that strikes my fancy, to connect with others via email and sites like Facebook…  In short, nearly every hobby or occupation I might consider (other than reading, which I still do in the good old-fashioned paper form) utilizes the computer.  So where am I drawn in any free moment I might have?  You guessed it!

I fear that this seemingly perpetual drive-by computer use will seem to my children an obsession, as if I love the computer more than I love them.  How then shall I live in an age where the computer dominates my life?  How can I pursue my interests without teaching an unhealthy addiction to the computer and all it has to offer?  How do I maintain my connection to the outside world while still giving my children the attention they need and deserve?  Anyone?  Beuller?