Sunday, February 22, 2015

Two steps forward, one step back

Schooling at home has (for the most part) been fantastic.  The kids are able to do an entire day of school in a few short hours every day.  Our mornings generally consist of math, science (chemistry right now), spelling, and social studies.  Caden has been doing the Life of Fred which is fantastic.  So fantastic in fact, that I ordered the entire series Friday.  Keali will start at the beginning (Apples) only because she will love the stories and it will concrete her current knowledge.  Caden is a few lessons from starting the Fractions book, but I feel confident he will want to go back to the Apples.  I am guessing he will be through the 6-7 books in a week or two.  The course is really incredible.  It has laid a foundation of knowledge both in math, and outside of math.  I suspect we might even try it for Chemistry and some of the other courses when the kids are a bit older.  In the mean time, Keali has learned basic fractions and is now doing long division with remainders (in second grade).  I never would have guessed when she was in public school that she was capable of moving forward in the math progression so quickly.

For science, we have been using Pandia Press: Chemistry.  It has been really wild to see them grasp concepts and knowledge.  They can explain the various parts of the periodic table, tell you number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in each atom, draw electron dot diagrams, etc.  Our last lesson put us into molecules, and they built molecules with gummy bears and toothpics.  I have loved the curriculum and the labs that are already created.  The lab sheets are one more way to ensure they are getting the information.

As happy as I am with our math and science, one of my favorite things EVER is the spelling program we have landed on.  We just bumped up to level 3 of All About Spelling.  The program is great, because instead of having the kids memorize a list of 10-15 words every week, each day they learn a new spelling rule.  For example, we have learned that the "c" makes an /s/ sound when followed by i, e, or y.  Why didn't anyone ever tell me this when I was growing up?!  As a function of how the spelling is taught, they use a whiteboard every day to write loads of words, phrases and sentences that pertain to the given rule of that day.  They don't realize that they are doing "writing" and "grammar" as well.  We talk about capitals, punctuation, and sentence structure just as side effect.  Win.  They both hate "writing" but don't complain a bit about the spelling.

For social studies, we may do anything from learning about a new country on the globe, to watch a series called "How the States Got Their Shapes".  It has revealed some holes in their knowledge.  One of the last things Keali did in public school was an extensive study of Texas.  Yet, she had no idea that Texas was once Mexico until she watched the show.  When their little light bulbs shine after learning something new, it is fun to see.

Of course we supplement everything we do with trips to the museum for classes (dissections, cave critters, history of espionage, density classes, etc).  They also both attend piano lessons once per week.  Both are also taking weekly ice skating lessons, but Keali is interested in skating much more frequently, so it looks like we will be at the skating rink 4-5 times per week.  We are able to often meet other homeschooling families at these events, as well as the volunteering events they do a couple of times per month at the food bank.  We also have met some other kids online.  One of Caden's favorite people is a boy in Alberta, Canada who he Skypes with on the iPad, while playing  Minecraft on the PC.  Caden has informed us that we will be visiting Canada soon.  (-:

The kids generally love homeschooling.  Of course, every kid has his day.  Those are the days that I want to crawl under a rock, or perhaps send them to some far away boarding school.  The day after a "bad day" is usually fantastic.  Perhaps they are feeling guilty?  Ha.  Of course not.  The good news is that I have found countless groups of secular homeschoolers that I can use as resources, for venting, or generally for bouncing ideas or curricula off of.   I rarely feel alone in this venture.  We are so fortunate to have this opportunity, to be able to learn according their interests and capabilities, to be able to travel for learning opportunities, to be able to encourage their individuality.  I hope we are able to do it until they are ready for college classes.  I get that not everyone wants to homeschool, not everyone thinks they can or are able to homeschool.  I used to be that person.  But for our little family of four, it has been a game changer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A busy weekend

The weekend came and went so quickly that I'm not sure how it even happened.  I didn't sleep through it; it was just super fast.

First, Friday was a big day.  It was Keali's last day in her public school.  I met with the teacher and explained that we would be pulling her out after the full day at school.  I was already doing the bulk of the work for homeschool (coming up with the curriculum and subject matter each day), but we were still being stifled with the public school schedule.  After all, Caden and Keali are so close in age that the math was really the only area they would need separate lessons.  The teacher completely understood and was kind enough to send some material home with her to get her off on a great start.  The schedule was of course a big problem with the public school, but other things that were important to us as a family that swayed the decision to bring her home:
1. She was really only allowed to "talk" during recess (30 minutes) each day.  Even lunch was assigned seating and little conversation since she was assigned a seat in between two boys that weren't close friends.
2.  We had taken 90% of her school work for the week on the cruise.  We were able to do it all in under 3 hours total.  Compare this to 40 hours of time that she would have been in school for the week.
3.  She was struggling with seeing all the fun "learning" Caden was doing, but being forced to go to school to sit down and be quiet for the greatest part of the day.
4.  I HATED MAKING LUNCHES AND THE FOOD AT THE SCHOOL WAS INEDIBLE!  (I may have yelled that inadvertently.)
5. The work that she was doing seemed to be a great deal of repetition.  More than even a kid who loves worksheets and repetition enjoyed.

She was beaming on Monday morning when I told her to get ready for school.  She quickly smiled and reminded me that she "was learning at home!".  It is fun to see her so excited.

Saturday can't be forgotten either.  Saturday marked 11 years since Scott and I were married at the ranch.  What a day it was 11 years ago!  The weather was almost identical this last Saturday to 2003.  While we didn't spend the day this year with our friends (and my brother who had an allergic reaction to an ant), we still had a fun day.  We left around 4 in the afternoon (without the littles) and went out and had cocktails and a great dinner.  We finished off the night at the dueling piano bar.  It was a fun evening out.  We have certainly had some wild adventures over the last 11 years.  Now with both kids home, and our schedule freed up even more, I have no doubt we have many more in our future.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A little get away

Since we opted to not travel for a chunk of summer and recognized that we wouldn't be able to last until our trip in May, we decided to do a cruise with the kids as a stop gap.  Scott and I had gone on a cruise once before that I gave him for his 40th birthday (before we were married).  While the two of us had a great time on that trip many moons ago, we found the food and atmosphere on the boat to be lacking.  So this time, we decided to try taking the kids on a little nicer cruise line with some better stops.

We left on Sunday last weekend, spent a couple of days traveling on the sea, stopped at Roatan (Honduras), Belize, and then Cozumel.  The weather wasn't too cooperative for the kids to spend a great deal of time in the pool on the boat, but that was just fine by me.  There was ice skating, rock wall climbing, arcades, kids clubs, and countless other things to do on the boat.  In Roatan, since we hadn't scheduled any excursions, we talked to some of the locals near the pier and ended up on a secluded white sand beach.  It rained a little bit of the time, but Scott and I sat at the beach side restaurant with cover, while the kids played until they could hardly walk in the sand and water and rain.
In Belize, because of the all the rain they had received the several days before our arrival , the cave tubing we had scheduled was canceled.  So instead, we decided to go to another local beach.  The kids played on the 90' slide and the rope swing for hours.  While I thought I was watching them have fun, what I was evidently doing was serving as meals for hundreds of sand flies.  I found out in the middle of the night that night.  To say that my legs and arms itch is an understatement similar to saying it is sprinkling in the middle of a hurricane.  Had I been around anyone with smallpox, I would have been certain that I had contracted it. Fortunately, the swelling has gone down now (5 days later), but now my legs look like I have track marks from drug use.  Highly attractive.  No.  Really.

Cozumel was another beach day, but (aside from the itching) it was better with weather.  The upside about the cruise was that it allowed us to see some new sites and also experience a little of two new countries.  Royal Caribben offered in-room babysitting, so Scott and I had opportunities to go out a few nights.  Our babysitters were awesome.  They come as a two-fer and the kids really liked them both.  The man was from Croatia and the woman was Russian.  It was interesting hearing their stories and the "happenings" behind the scenes on the cruise boat.
We spent a fair amount of the mornings on the boat doing schoolwork.  Keali was "skipping" school and Caden was just required to do his bare minimum of schooling there.  It was amazing how many people inquired if the kids were skipping school and how "lucky they were that their parents didn't think they needed to be in school".  At first I acknowledged their comments and assured them that the kids were doing their work on the ship, but by the end of the trip, I'm sure my responses were a little more snarky.  It is interesting to me that one of the big objections of non-homeschoolers is that the kids don't get proper socialization.  When people who went to traditional school ask me about socialization or our private business as it relates to schooling, I really do want to point out how badly their own "social" skills are that they acquired in traditional school.  So far, I have minded my manners. I will hope that continues. Anyway, the whole trip was a learning experience. In addition to new countries and new surroundings, the kids experienced new things. We all were treated to an ice skating show (on the boat!) and the kids experienced ice skating for the first time since living in Amsterdam.

Scott was able to secure a tour of the bridge of the ship for the kids. They learned so much that when they came back from the tour, they were overflowing with facts about the ship.  Overall, it turned out to be a great get away.  Now the countdown starts for the big trip in May!

Honorable mention pics:

A pic to prove that I was there, just usually behind the camera. By the way, the ship in the background is a Carnival Cruise ship that was usually within line of vision from somewhere on the ship throughout the week. 

Keali tackling the very tough rock wall on the ship...


Someone being very enchanted by the ice skating show.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Almost six weeks in

We have been really busy!  There have been some really great days filled with excitement and enthusiasm about learning, and there have been a couple of really bad days filled with tears and feelings of incompetence.  I won't mention who I am describing in either of the above scenarios.  It is either me or Caden, you can take a guess.  Irrespective of who you guess, you probably are right.

There have been many new experiences for us.  We have been down to the food bank a couple of times and made sandwiches for the impoverished children in Houston.  That was actually a very sobering experience.  The KidsMealsHouston is feeding 2000 lunches per day to children that aren't old enough to go to school yet for their reduced lunch.  These are kids who wouldn't eat if the lunches weren't delivered to their homes.  The reality of this is shocking.  The food bank can make a meal for $.33, so why can't our society feed our poorest and hungriest people, but especially the kids?  *sigh*

We have done some really fun events in addition to the Food Bank.  We have met some incredibly cool like-minded homeschooling families that have been a blast to interact with.  Yesterday we spent the day at the George Historical Ranch outside of Sugarland.  It was an amazing 4 hours filled with Texas history.  I learned more yesterday than I ever did in school.  I imagine that this is how kids are meant to learn.  There were people in costume and in character throughout the ranch that discussed how Texas settling happened, how the families and social structures worked, how sharecropping was handled, etc.  I always disliked history, but yesterday I discovered that it could be interesting and more than just memorizing titles of wars and which dates they started on.  Who knew?!

We've done some other fun stuff too, and in fact are about to leave to go to the Health Museum for a heart dissection class for Caden.  By far one of the biggest draw backs to homeschooling right now is the level of guilt I feel for Keali.  She has always loved school.  Loved it.  Like, would cry if she had to miss a day.  She has always loved her friendships there and adored her teachers.  This year has brought in a new situation though.  This year she doesn't like her class, says her teacher yells at the class for most of the day, and generally is in tears at most drop offs in the morning.  I know she thinks that being at home with me would be more fun than going to school, but this doesn't seem to be about that.  It seems to be about her dreading going into her class at school.  Of course we could easily take her out and homeschool her, but that feels like it is cheating her out of the experience of dealing with someone on a daily basis that you don't necessarily like or enjoy being around, and growing as a result of that.  I keep hoping someday someone will write the How To on parenting.  I certainly don't have all the answers.  I know that it hurts to see my kid in pain or sad, and that if they are only 7 years old, I should protect them from that pain if possible.  I don't know the answer.

I suppose we will figure that one out about the same time that Caden learns time management skills.  I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Two Week Update

We did it!  We made it through two whole weeks!!  I feel like I should shout it from the rooftops.  There were some ups, and there were a few downs.  All in all, I give us an A-.  Just to summarize (because one day he will want to read about this, I can promise) on the ups:
He learned more spelling words in these short two weeks than the last couple of years.  And by "learned more spelling words", I mean you can decipher what he is writing and in fact, most of the words are spelled perfectly.
We reviewed his "carrying" addition, "borrowing" subtraction (STICK THAT IN YOUR HAT, COMMON CORE!), and multiplication tables up to 12.  He loves fun math tricks that I learned in Mr Norris's Math UIL (multiplying by 11, some quirky squares, etc).  And he started division this week.  The first day, it took 30 minutes to do 8 problems.  Today, he did 24 problems in about 2-3 minutes.
He can calculate the amount of floor moulding and how many square feet of carpet (perimeter and area, respectively) for any whacky shaped bedroom/closet combination.  It is so fun to see him overcome difficult problems.
For social studies, we learned about Japan and India, but perhaps the coolest thing was volunteering at the Houston Food Bank together.  We met another homeschool family there and learned a great deal.  One key learning for all of you lucky readers: don't donate old and expired food.  I picked up several things that had arrived this week that expired seven years ago.  Seriously.  Just because the people getting fed are poor, doesn't mean they don't deserve food that is of good quality.  It also takes the volunteers more time to sort when half of a person's donation is trashed.  Also, we learned Houston has the largest food bank in the country.  It was huge.  HUGE!

So there were more positives than that, but there were some downers.  One morning while doing writing and spelling, he bursted into tears and talked about how much he hated spelling.  Through questions, that evolved into writing.  Through more questions, that evolved into how his writing is terrible, everyone tells him how terrible it is, and to add insult to injury, he has to redo his writing every time.  Poor kid.  I am happy to report that he is back to writing in cursive and his penmanship is beautiful.  See?  We can get through this!  It might be exceptionally hard on my liver some days, but we will survive.  And be successful.

He has started attending a science lab for after school kids on Tuesday and Thursday; he will be in a science course at the Houston Arboretum three Mondays per month this semester; he has a couple of dissection courses at the Houston Health Museum; he has almost completed his HTML programming class and is super stoked to start his Minecraft Course on Monday.  As I think about these things, I have to remind myself that he is 9 years old.  He really is incredible, irrespective of his smarty-pants, feisty, often inappropriate sense of humor, ways.  It is fun seeing him interacting with some of the homeschool kids that we have met in the last two weeks in field trips and park time.  We are a lucky little family.  Not only to have such cool kids, but to have the ability to do this.

I will leave this posting with his presentation that he had to write and present to the family.  For the record, he was not coached whatsoever.  He is a sweety!  And maybe a total suck up.  I'll take either one...

HOMESCHOOL PRESENTATION by Caden Hooper

I am doing homescool (sic).  We do math, science, and programming.  When I have energy, I run the stairs.  We end earlier then (sic) all the schools.  Goods - math, science, HTML.  Bads: righting (sic).
I do Idealab.  We go on trips some times.  I love the teacher.  Come on up teacher.  XOXO



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Day 3

As it turns out, homeschool is okay.  It isn't nearly as hard nor as awful as I thought it might be.  So far, anyway.  We have covered a ton of stuff in our three short days together.  Today, after cursive writing practice (which he wasn't allowed to write in at school since returning from London), we started a new spelling curriculum.  It was wild to see his eyes light up with simple explanations of letter combinations and "rules" of spelling.  He evidently didn't piece those rules together using his weekly obligatory list of ten random spelling words he was getting from school.  Reinforcing the new information will be challenging for two people who don't like "reviews" and anything that starts with "let's talk about what we discussed yesterday", but we will do it.  Success is a powerful motivator.

One of my favorite things today was learning about Japan.  He decided we should have sushi for lunch, and since we were short on time, we decided that Japan would be his social studies topic for the day. One fun fact we read about: who knew that Japan was made up of almost 7,000 islands?!  I certainly didn't until today.  I had no idea that Japan had an emperor, nor that women in Japan have the longest life expectancy of anywhere else on Earth.  We talked about moving there, but then learned it is the riskiest place on earth to live in terms of natural disasters.  Count me out if it involves earthquakes and tsunamis!  We were given even more information about Japan and World War II when we met Scott for lunch.  He's quite the history buff.  I always hated history because of how I learned it.  To me, it was a series of dates and titles of wars and presidents to memorize.  Caden won't be taught history that way!

So far, so good.  I can safely say that homeschooling does not suck.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The First Day of the New School

Today was the first day of school for all of us.  Keali started second grade in Valley Oaks, and in fact has Caden's same teacher from last year.  She looked beautiful on her way into school this morning, and once she was sitting in her chair, she was grinning ear to ear.  We left her at school in good hands.

While this year marks a "typical year" for Keali, it is anything but typical for the rest of us.  Caden started his third grade year.  At home.  This is the first time that I have put this into print, because it just seemed too big and too important to discuss in hypotheticals.  Let me try again:  I am homeschooling Caden.  Yikes.  It still seems scary.  On the way to school this morning, Keali complained about being "terrified", and Caden responded that he too was scared and said, "And I even am scared when my MOM is my teacher!!"

Welp, as scared as he was, he couldn't have been more nervous than I was/am.  Although we spent a large part of summer going through math, reading and writing, I understand that the all encompassing  "homeschool" is much bigger and more difficult than any of those things.  Yikes.  Again.

For the most part, I feel prepared.  But that doesn't take away the nerves of actually executing the plans.  However, as today was a Monday, I was able to have a bit of a reprieve.  Mondays are when our housekeeper comes for several hours.  Therefore, a few hours of each Monday will be spent doing "non-traditional schoolwork".  Today, after we did the obligatory math and writing, we hopped in the car and went to a large market in town that sells things from all over the world.  We took with us maps.  As we wondered up and down the rows, we talked about what people in many of the countries eat, and for each country, he located it on a map.  We discussed the geography of Asia versus Europe, etc, how the geography has changed (Soviet Union/USSR to Russia plus small countries that are independent, etc), and so on.  What surprised me was how many "lessons" were intertwined into one.  For example, discussing geography became a discussion on the base words and suffixes of words so that you can tell what it is.  (Geography versus geology versus biology, etc)  He was a total sponge.  If I stopped talking, he just asked questions.

After lunch, he did his HTML programming class and assignment, completed a typing lesson (I couldn't believe how much he has improved!), reviewed basic phonograms for proper placement in a spelling curriculum that I bought, and researched aircraft carriers for his powerpoint presentation he will present to the family on Friday.

Tonight he has karate and his weekly swimming lesson with the close friends who live next door.  Oh.  And let's not forget the dog walks too.  And tomorrow we will dive back into lessons, followed by a few hours at an after school camp with other kids his age.  This is looking pretty do-able!