Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Did I Do In 2014-2015?

Self-assessment time!

School Year 2014-2015
Ages majority of year: 4, 2
Home grade level: pre-k, preschool
Legal grade level (based on birth year) USA: none, none
Legal grade level (based on birth year) NL: 1, none

At Home: 
For Both:
Sitting and listening, following instructions, basic pencil skills, understanding group vs self work, raising hands to answer questions, allowing others chance to speak, and building an understanding that the other child can have different tasks/assignments simultaneously to own tasks/assignments. Desks and a formal school area will be introduced in Quarter 3, utilized fully in Quarter 4.
Based on their ages, I feel they satisfy this requirement. The 4 year old needs a bit of work on patience as she is very enthusiastic. I understand it is on par for her age group, but since she mixes with older children and can emotionally handle the additional pressure of acting "more mature" in a classroom environment, I think she is below my expectations for her. The hand-eye coordination skills is on par with their age. The formal school area did not seem to work as it mixed too much with the play space, and at this age they could not differentiate between school times and play times. We are trying to resolve this issue by having a completely separate space dedicated to school alone at least until they mature and as space within the home allows.
For the 4 year old:
Set One, beginning readers in Bob books, set at child's own pace, upper and lower case alphabet recognition and sounds English only, number recognition of 10 basic digits, counting to 100, writing first and last name, recognizing time: seasons, morning/noon/night, weekday vs weekend, sequencing, and introduction to prayer and following mass
We started the Bob books and she responded very well to them, but would show signs of frustration at having to put in effort to complete the task. She wasn't quite ready for full reading so I pulled back a bit and focused on letter shapes and sounds instead. Number recognition for digits was achieved, as well as 75% accuracy of recognizing two digit numbers. Counting to 100 is nearly there, she understands the place value. Writing the first name is complete, she is unable to write her last name. She has on her own taken to writing all the family member's names instead and a few other words she was able to "sound out" usually to rather unique variations of words. Recognizing time to this level has been mastered. She can follow the mass in general, and recite 6 of the most common prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Divine Mercy, Bedtime Prayer, Meal Prayer). She still mixes up directions in the sign of the cross and has to be reminded to genuflect at church and can do some physical symbols (and with your spirit) while has to be reminded of others (through my fault, through my fault). She is able to participate in a rosary and usually makes it through the first decade before she gets bored. In general I am amazed at how much she has learned and matured through the year. I am in no way worried she is behind in any way at this point.

For the 2 year old: My First Reading pre-readers in Bob books set at child's own pace, Upper case alphabet names and sounds English only, counting to 20, recognizing colors and shapes, introduction to prayer and following mass.
As with her sister, she wasn't really ready yet to do anything with the Bob readers. I fully expect her next year to still be unready, and will only present them to include her emotionally in the lesson. She is able to sing all parts of the alphabet song, but only in grouped clumps and not in its entirety. She is able to recognize several letters and their sounds, and has started tracing letters on iPad apps. This was self-driven and I merely complimented her performance to ensure no pressure was put on her. She can count to 15-17 range on her own, though most days she quits in the single digits or gets to ten then starts again. She recognizes many shapes and correctly identifies colors including abstracts such as pastels. She can say most parts of common prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Meal Prayer, Bedtime Prayer) though she gets antsy and cannot sit still. I am putting this down to age so let her wiggle as long as she isn't distracting. She cannot follow mass, but can point to several key physical elements (tabernacle, kneeler, holy water font, alter, etc) within our worship space. She recognizes certain songs and can sing along to parts of them.

At Co-op:
We attended a one day a week program following Catholic Schoolhouse.We are planning on continuing this attendance.

Supplement to Home: 
Basic ballet/movement classes one day a week (we stopped this as the program wasn't physical enough. In 45 minutes, 10 minutes was spent listening to a story and a full 20 minutes was spent standing in line.)
Toddler story hour at public library (goal was weekly, our average was once a month)
Membership to science museum (goal was weekly, our average was once a month)
Investigating toddler gymnastics (completed)
Investigating musical instrument lessons (completed)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Homeschool? Check! Suck it Vermont.

One of the problems I am facing with homeschool is the very, very real possibility that we won't be in the same state for the next 10 years, which is how long it will take the youngest to get through junior high school. While my current state is very hands-off, other states are not so inclined. Like New York. And Vermont. Oh, Vermont. How much do you want to bet we end up there sometime in the course of all this mess we call life?

What am I to do? I don't want to stop and start text series or standards. It is important to me that first and foremost my child's education is consistent. I need programs to build on earlier years, stacking new knowledge on top of old until mastery is obtained. I do not need subjects to phase in and out, other than "state history," as we move from place to place. Our life is nomadic. The kids' education needs to be as fixed as that peanut butter stain on my kitchen ceiling. Don't ask.

Secondly, the programs we follow must be from a reputable source. I myself have zilcho degrees. In fact I am, on paper, a third grade drop-out. Thanks to an "aging system" whereby any and all units earned in college will disappear if I didn't finish those last two stupid classes that I still needed to get my stupid degree within the time frame allotted, I would lose everything I had ever done at the university level. I missed the deadline. It was like I never attended college. And thanks to my public school district who lost all my educational records when they sent them off to be micro-fiched (yes I am that old) and refuses to verify my printed diploma as being valid since "they can't find me in the archives," I only have educational evidence through the completion of second grade. Second grade being the last grade I attended private school who, unlike the public ones, managed to understand that "indefinite" record-keeping by law meant just that. Of all people, believe me, I truly get that the letters after a name may or may not reflect the true state of education, and most importantly their ability. Therefore sources don't have to be PhD this or MS that, but they do have to be more than "I once taught my kid at home for part of a year around the fifth grade and I love Little House on the Prairie and lap books are cool so here is my modular curriculum series on US History. I don't know what a scope and sequence is but I like how Ma made cheese."

I am fine with experience in place of institutionalized education. In fact, I would sooner trust a mom of eight who had homeschooled all or most of them through high school and not one had ever ended up setting fire to any public buildings or a crack-head, than I would a teacher of one subject at one grade level out of one school-board chosen text book series for thirty solid years. My requirements are simply you have to offer something more than a pretty blog and cutesy lap book covers based on puns and/or Noah's Ark.

Third, the choice of materials has to comply with what I call "the diamond states." These are the states that are so up-tight any home-school coal shoved up their educational asses has turned into a diamond. I live in a coal state. Vermont is a diamond state. And I know, deep down inside, I am going to be in a diamond state and I would bet my worthless high school diploma in its embossed pleather folder that it will be one diamond in particular starting with a "ver" and ending with a "mont." Or it's equally obnoxious neighboring state. I will let you figure out which one. Hint: it's all of them.

This was going to be a serious undertaking. I needed coffee. And line paper. 

I found a 160 page notebook with 140 pages still left blank and ripped out the 20 pages of chemistry notes and personal comments regarding the aforementioned subject which show, if nothing else, that my teen daughter has a very colorful vocabulary. In two languages. I started writing down curriculum requirements for the diamond states. I wrote them down for the coal state I am in and the neighboring coal state since, well, just because. So now I had it. The master list of what my kids would have to endure if they were to be home schooled in "dart thrown at the map."

  • They need to be taught 180 days per school year.
  • They would begin their school year no sooner than July 1, and end no later than June 30. 
  • The school day must fall between 8 am and 4 pm, with five hours per day not including time for recess or lunch. 
  • They will have to have regular assessments that do not necessarily have to be in a traditional student-driven written format, but it would not open us up to the possibility of inspections and perhaps a judicial court review if they were. In other words, they need tests. Lots of tests.
  • They must have a scope and sequence and main source materials detailed for each school year in each subject, supplied in full the March preceding the intended school year. 
  • They have to have 20 specific subjects taught each year, not including the history and government for the state-du-jur, nor the special Abraham Lincoln requirement if we are in Vermont.
  • Meticulous attendance sheets must be recorded and samples of work in each subject collected and saved. 
  • My kids will be subject to standardized testing, at my cost, which will be assigned by the state in a frequency they determine, at their fancy. 
  • My name, address, phone number, and the names and birth dates of my children will potentially be on public record. 
  • All education must be in English. Even though my kids are bilingual, their other native tongue can only be taught as an optional elective known as Foreign Language. 
  • And unlike my former school district, I can fully expect heavy penalties if I do not make provision to keep all these records indefinitely
  • I would need to ensure all vaccinations are up to date or have a state-specific waiver in their stead, and that they have been tested for learning disabilities by a licensed medical professional at least once before their sixth birthday. 

Tall order? Well, this little third grade drop-out doesn't know the meaning of the word quit. Er, um...

I had easily 127 more pages of line paper to go. I was on a mission. I looked at school systems and educational models from several different countries, mainly our own U S of A, ranging from the 1800s through Common Core. I read. I agonized. I reviewed. I pinned. I analyzed. I studied. I drank an excessive amount of coffee. And after several weeks going into months of solid research I found what I considered inviting, valid, useful materials in all 20 required subjects plus the three that I added (foreign language, penmanship, and home economics) just for shits and giggles. The state specific will just have to be dealt with ad hoc. I organized a beautiful, Vermont friendly spread-sheet for every single grade from first through eight inclusive detailing the main source material so that we would, quite literally, be on one page. Everything has a scope and sequence. All core classes have written assessments. And yes, I do have plenty of modules and cutesy lap-books thrown in. I do like a good lap book every now and then. I'm not entirely a hater.

So where is this beast of a report? On my computer. And you aren't getting it. Yet. I am still refining the materials that I am "creating" on my own out of literary works, museum kits, and other non-traditional text sources for a few of the subjects. Besides, this all starts in first grade and my eldest is barely starting kindergarten. You are just going to have to wait until March.

Just like Vermont.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

That Whole Same Sex Marriage Thing

I have had it about up to here with the whole same sex marriage thing. And most of what I have had it with, surprisingly, are my Christian friends because oh my gosh could they be bigger assholes? Now, before you go thinking this is going to be a rainbow filled romp through a park, it isn't. My supporter friends are out doing their own thing and ignoring me, thankfully, while my angry sanctity of marriage friends are actually calling me out on my silence on social media about the subject of same sex marriage. Well, sorry not sorry. I can't summarize my feelings on marriage in a couple sentences or a few emotionally charged buzzwords set against a themed background picture. They are too complicated for that. And I am pretty much tired of being "accused" of doing, feeling, thinking, or saying something against God because I am not violently saying something about something that it is not my monkey, not my circus.

Because it isn't my monkey and it isn't my circus.

The reason I don't give a toss about what the state says about marriage, any marriage including mine, is because it has nothing to do with God or sin or sanctity or especially love. No, really. The state doesn't require any of those things to be involved in a marriage. The state only requires you satisfy man-determined requirements in order to obtain a license, and pay a fee. I do the same thing to drive a car. Actually, I do more to drive a car. I also have to take a test and determine my ability to operate a vehicle, plus carry insurance for the possibility of an unfortunate event where I may hurt someone.

And furthermore I don't care if the state calls it marriage, matrimony, or marshmallows- it isn't a sacrament and calling it by the same word means jack diddly squat so far as sacraments are concerned. And not just for same sex marriage, either. Hell, there are a crap ton of straight marriages that aren't actually sacramental marriages, if you really want to go there. By calling it marriage, it only shows that our legal system makes avail of commonly used words that convey a very distinct and readily recognized meaning for the least amount of confusion. It's why we have a rich language. To communicate. Easily.

You can say "I love God" and mean the tree in your backyard. Not my God. Not the God. But I get what you mean and how important that tree is to your very essence and your very being. And it doesn't mean that you love your tree less than I love my God, nor that it isn't as important to you. It also doesn't mean that you have replaced my God in my life with your tree. And sure my kids are going to be all "we like Billy's dad's god 'cause he has a tree fort in him and a cool swing" and I have to have that whole awkward conversation that really should happen anyway. But in the end by using "I love God," you have communicated volumes to me. Communicated effectively. Not determined  what I believe is right or wrong or true or false.

Now I am not some apologetic who has been extensively trained. I am merely a humble ordinary Catholic who sins and tries not to. I am a servant of God that, as best as I can, tries to understand what He is telling me to do and does it. He is quite literally my be all and end all and I am just some simple thing with simple understanding. I don't pretend I am exactly right. And most of all, I do not speak on behalf of my church or of all Christians. This is what I think, what I feel, and what I have determined based on reading what I hope was solid and sound information, plus debating and most of all praying.

If you marry outside the word of God, outside the sacrament of marriage, you have merely entered into a legal relationship- legal being what society, what mankind, decides. You can commit to whomever you want, and the church merely smiles at the fact you care for another human being so much as to pledge to honor them and support them in this earthly life, presumably until your death. The same smile of respect and admiration follows not just for those dating, or those married, but also for best friends, sisters, parents, children, people in need. Any two people, hell any number of people, can set up a monetary-driven contract and promise to do whatever they wish in order to help each other. In fact, the church encourages legal contracts because wills, testimonies, and support requests allows individuals to be protected in the society in which they live after one party has left the earth. But the church will not call this marriage. The church calls this a promise to care for your fellow man by use of the laws of man. It respects the decision to financially care for others so they may live a life with dignity. It does not respect you eluding yourself into thinking that sinning in any form is OK just because you love someone. You are supposed to love someone. You are supposed to love everyone. What you aren't supposed to do is sin.

And on that note, same sex marriage is usually tied to the sin of "naughty sex." Guess what, guys? God finds ALL naughty sex abhorrent. That includes sex that prevents children (using birth control, using two of the same sexual organs, masturbation), sex that is based on lust (one night stands, multiple partners, porn), sex that brings another unknowingly into sin (bigamy, cheating on spouses or within non-marital relationships). The list continues and as you can see many of these apply to opposite sex relationships and not just same sex relationships. God doesn't discern if you prefer an innie or an outie to poke around with, just if you broke the rules. And it isn't just naughty sex He doesn't like. That's only a drop in the bucket.

I must simply remember that loving my fellow man is what I am called to do. If two friends of mine of the same sex wish to make pledges, and enter into a legal agreement, and exchange rings as a token of this pledge, and follow it up with a party, sure I will attend. And wish them well. And call them husband and husband or wife and wife because, in communicating with others, these quickly and simply define their legal relationship.

We all have opportunity to sin in so many, many ways. We all have free will. If your decision is to do whatever it is you want on earth because you feel there is no heaven for you, then who am I to stand in the way of the only happiness you are bound to have? It is not up to me to beg for mercy and forgiveness for your actions while standing in your shoes when face to face with Jesus on your day of reckoning. It is only up to me to beg Divine Mercy for you, for everyone, not just at the end but always. Which I do, every day, at 3 o'clock. And I hope and pray others do the same for me because God knows very well just how much I sin and how much I need to be forgiven.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

School. Ugh.

I was talking with my neighbor yesterday about education. She public schools, I home school. Neither one of us are happy with our choices. I could go on and on about the evils of public school that she shared with me, but I won't. Because that isn't what I want to talk about today. And the reason I was unhappy was because I have a hard enough time cooking, cleaning, and rearing the kids but added the responsibility of educating them is the challenge that is killing me. Besides the time crunch there is that very real fear of "am I doing it right?" and more importantly "am I doing right by them?"

At this point I see myself as forced homeschooling. It isn't because I have some super high ideals about education. It isn't because there is extreme violence in the local schools and my kids would be lucky to make it home without getting shanked. It isn't because I have strong religious beliefs and feel the need to protect my kids from science and non-literal biblical history. It is only because I popped out an egg two weeks later than what the government wanted and now my kids are an entire year stupider than their peers, per the government, merely by accident of birth. Two weeks, folks. Two weeks past the cut off and they can't enter school for an entire year.

My four year old can write her name and the entire alphabet for that matter, count to 100, read several dozens of words, knows the cycle of the lives of several species as well as major geological events, understands the details and functions of the digestive system, understands and applies basic addition, knows and understands the days of the week, and can recognize the compass rose and follow directions on a map. She speaks a second language, for Pete's sake. She can recite several prayers and poems. The kid needs school. The kid needs mental stimulation. She is hungry for learning. And even though other parents are willfully red-shirting their kids thereby creating an empty desk in the classroom, the powers that be still won't let her use that space because she is two weeks too young.

I have to homeschool if I want to give her any kind of mental happiness. I can't afford private school.

I have gone out of my way to find the positives. And every time I see another ZOMG report on what one school did to one kid that one time, every time I see the stupidity behind illogical rules like crazy hair day or pajama day is a requirement yet costumes on Halloween are banned, every time I see hard earned money being wasted on inappropriate requirements like pre-purchased to-scale models of California missions or pre-designed, fill-in-the-blank science projects or teacher appreciation gifts, valentines, and 100 items for day 100 favors, I think thank you God for giving me the strength and patience to keep my kids home and educate them there. I can only handle so much of the system before I become stabby.

There is still a piece of me, though, that is unhappy with this choice. That piece is selfish. That piece that thinks how awesome it would be for someone else to raise my kids for 6 hours a day while I do things I want to do. Like read a book. Write a book. Sew. Exercise. Clean my house to my standards and not my usual "good enough" level. Learn to make macarons. Surprise my husband with a lunch date. Take a freaking nap when I am utterly exhausted. Shop in peace. I have been trying to figure out how I can do it all. With all our modern conveniences, why is daily life still so bloody hard?

So in talking with my neighbor, I suddenly realized how moms did it in the past. How they "did it all" for decades upon decades before ours. How they juggled education with daily life. And I got a cold, icy shiver down my spine as I realized: they didn't.

Free public education didn't come about for no reason. It came about because there was no one at home who had the time to teach their kids a damn thing because they were too busy trying to clean, cook, and hopefully survive yet another child birth. The rich had governesses and tutors brought in. The middle class had servants running the house so they had the time to teach the little ones to read and write. The working class just remained uneducated and ignorant. And those romantic stories of Laura Ingalls learning to diagram sentences with her mother at the kitchen table are less romantic when you realize that Ma only seemed to haul out the school books during the winter when they were quite literally trapped inside an 8 x 10 room for weeks on end without the benefit of Legos, Netflix, or a trampoline to burn off that excess energy.

All that time I had spent looking at turn-of-the-century home journals, post-war magazine articles, manuals and text books of housewifery from years gone back for answers on how they did it came out to bupkis for a reason. There was no information on home schooling because no one homeschooled. They all sent their kids off to school. Even June Effing Cleaver got rid of the Beav long enough to mop the floors and then properly coiffe her hair and hang the pearls around her neck. For well over the past 150 years, it was expected that someone would educate your kids for free while those moms who could manage to stay home did stay home.

I am starting to think it isn't Pinterest-impossible standards, or unrealistic personal expectations, or lack of education, time, or determination, or mommy wars that make being a home schooling mom so difficult. It is the fact that we are doing something that hasn't been done before. Something that hasn't happened in our society. We are pioneers. We are, finally, the working class educating our children ourselves because the system, yet again, failed to meet our needs.

My little Pioneering School is struggling. I still feel like I am doing it wrong. I still worry about doing right and best by my kids. But I don't feel like there is something wrong with me anymore.