Sunday, August 30, 2015

6:30 am

It all started when I received a text message at 8:30 at night informing me that my teen needed to show up at school at 6:30 the following morning for a not-mandatory-but-good-luck-passing-if-you-skip-it lab class. Let me repeat that: Six Effing Thirty. A. M.

Keep in mind this is the same program that claims all their kids are super duper bright and super duper awesome and have to do super duper better than everyone else in every class. So why have the super duper early start is beyond me. Let's think about that: let's have our kids show up at 6:30 am, work them until 3:30 pm, and then slap them with 4-6 hours of homework each night. Oh, and still insist they do extra curricular on campus activities, 120 volunteer hours, and write a 5000 word essay not for any class or anything just for funsies. Add in 6 AP exams, the SAT, the ACT, 4 proficiency exams, and a handful of "end of term" exams on top of finals. Because why stop with homework when you can finish the job with required exams? Oh and since they carry weird hours outside of bus times, they will need a car and a job to support that car. It seems the school's way of celebrating kids who can learn more, faster, and a better is to sleep deprive until they break.

I think they have mixed up "illegal torture practices" with "educational betterment." Again.

So there we were, the first night of the first day of week three, and yet again I was writing strongly worded emails. Because I simply have nothing better to do with my life than tell school administrators "um, no, try again." I hadn't even addressed the newest "oh by the way we are going to add a science fair requirement and here is your 24 hour notice for a mandatory parental meeting please reschedule your entire life around our whim and while we are at it we are going to pair the words "tonight" with "7 am" so you don't actually have the correct time" or the "ooops forgot to mention there is a parent-teacher conference tonight sorry we can't give you your kid's schedule or include start and stop times I am sure you can just figure it out good luck" text messages. I told the teen I was done. Sorry kid, I love you but not this much. Maybe if you cleaned your room regularly I might have had another fuck or two to give, but I am all tapped out.

So I told the teen she needed to figure out what she wanted to do, because it wasn't going to be that program anymore. It was then we discovered that because of that program she wasn't told that she actually had enough units to graduate a year early. Not only was that program extra work on top of normal school work, it was adding a whole year of extra schooling. Because, why?

She thought about it. Talked about it. Discussed it with professionals in the educational field. Interviewed me, her dear old mom, that also graduated high school at sixteen to get my take on the host of problems being young and in college. She thought some more. Talked some more. Debated with others some more. Then she looked at me in the face and said the one thing I never ever ever ever in a million years ever thought would ever come out of her mouth:

"Mom? Can you homeschool me?"

When I came to, I said yes. And then spent the better part of last week writing an entire curriculum that would ensure she was able to pass her state exams, prepare her for college, and catch her up on the requirements for the engineering program she wants to do when she does get to college- all in thirty-two weeks. Because she is super duper bright and super duper awesome and she just needs to stop the useless busy work and focus on the educational requirements at hand. Plus have time for sleep.

I got smug smiles from other parents with "oh so your kid couldn't hack it" comments. Uh, no. I couldn't hack it. Let's get that straight. I couldn't hack the dropping everything for my kid's special snowflake high school education, mmmkay? It's freaking high school. It's a piece of paper she needs to get into college which will give her a slightly better piece of paper making the former one obsolete. That program really isn't worth that much of my time and effort. And it isn't worth the cost to her health.

And, how did it fly at the school when I yanked her out?

I had read horror stories on blogs, but I was not at all prepared for the reaction I got. They were nice. They were helpful. Hell, they were even supportive of her leaving to homeschool and graduating a year early and even offered suggestions on how I could support her education so she can be successful. Wow.

And what about her high school social experience? She has friends who are already signing up for guest passes for her to attend games and dances. Even the prom. We have all the forms ready to go if she decides she does want to do mock trail or French club after all. She won't walk across a stage and get handed a diploma. At least, not in high school. But she will in college and she is satisfied with that.

So here we are. Monday is her first day at St. Gertrude's. She is excited. I am excited. And that is really what it is all about, isn't it? Our kids being excited and on fire for learning?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Three Questions About Homeschooling

I have had my first side-eye questions from the "outside world." I am deciding to take them all as an actual interest into homeschooling and not criticism. There are so many misconceptions about what homeschooling is, if a friend makes the effort to ask in the first place I can make an effort to answer politely. After all, they didn't jump to any conclusions as to how I am stupid, evil, manipulative, religiously fanatical, or whatever else society tosses at homeschooling. Thank you, friend, for asking and not assuming. Even if I think it's an obvious question, I am not going to eyeroll. It isn't obvious to you and I am glad you are taking a glance into my world.

Do my kids dressed for school each day?

Of course they get dressed. They get dressed everyday. Just because we can go about in our pajamas all day long doesn't mean we do. We wake up, do the morning hygiene routine, dress, and eat breakfast. We are normal people. I am still trying to get my head around why it seems like such a surprising thing that my kid has pants on. Oh wait. It's my kid. It is rather surprising she has pants on.

But I can see how this came about. When you go out all day, every day, the one time you stay home- your day off perhaps- is the one day you go about all morning, maybe even all day, in your jim-jams. But my all day, every day is at home and I find if I don't get dressed, I start to slug out on the couch and nothing gets done. It's a motivation thing. Pants motivate me. I need pants.

Why doesn't school start and stop at the same time every day?

We don't start at the same time because some days I just can't get my crap together. We are doing potty training and dealing with a 4-molar-at-once teething situation. We have three children including a teen in a rigorous honors program at school who occasionally needs a bit of help or advice, and her only real time to get full attention is after the little ones have gone to bed. Moming is an all day sport in my world, and sometimes I go into extra innings. And I admit sometimes I watch just one more episode, or read just one more chapter, or finish that one last project, or get to one more level, and the next thing I know it is barely four hours later and the evil alarm is telling me I have to get up and be an adult. I have trouble adulting on only four hours sleep. I am so fortunate I don't have a clock to punch. Believe me, I know just how lucky I am.

However, I do aim to start between 7:30 and 8:00 am. That gives me time to drive the teen to the bus stop (it's five miles away and includes crossing a highway) and ensure everyone has the much needed pants on and bellies full. Sometimes it's 8:30 before we start. Once it was 9. That was a particularly hard to adult kind of day.

Unlike public schools, I don't have to maintain a strict "30 minutes per subject, no more, no less." My lessons aren't timed exactly to quarter, half, and whole hour increments. We start each one, work to the end, then move onto the next. I like to have a good solid hour in before recess hits, but sometimes that shrinks to 45 minutes or lengthens to an hour and a half. Homeschool time is flexible time. We just roll with it.

Morning recess is when I grab that second cup of coffee and do the dishes. I also swap out laundry, strip beds, do whatever I can to get a jump start on the day's longer chores. Unless I am on four hour's sleep. Then I just sit on Facebook nursing a third cup of coffee vowing I won't be so stupid next time and promising to go to bed like a real grown-up. Recess, therefore, also is a bit fluid. I aim for twenty minutes, but it goes plus or minus ten.

Afternoon is the big project time. Science, History, and Art are completely open as to how long it takes us to complete them. Some days it is just a lecture/discussion. Some days it is a project. Some days it is both. It is such a wild card with the number of minutes, which so far has ranged from 15 to well over 90, I just let it be what it is.

So, even if we did manage to start each day at my arbitrary "school begins now" time or even if we followed an actual obligatory "only between 8 am and 4 pm" like the California State mandated time, the classes and recess aren't locked down. We still wouldn't end at the same time regardless of how punctual we began. We have finished our day so far anywhere between 9 am and noon. Which I like because we have plenty of time to play with friends, go to the park before it gets too warm, visit the library or museums before the after school rush. And I am able to tackle the housework because I am still a full time wife and mother.

When do they do their homework?

The short answer is never. I don't assign homework. There is no reason for homework. With individualized learning, there is no need to reinforce the day's lessons at home. I don't have to assign something for them to do on the off chance they didn't listen, or didn't understand the concept, or need additional practice. I know at the exact moment of instruction if any of these apply and can do something about it right there and then.

Yes, math has a worksheet that we do an hour or two after the lesson to reinforce the concepts. I am all in favor of additional rote work when it is needed. Right now, other than a bit of math, it just isn't needed. Telling the family about what they learned in school that day is perfect for solidifying most subjects. Reciting the poem they learned, or telling everything they know about Paleolithic society, or using the lesson on their five senses to discuss the finer points of the evening meal is reinforcement enough.

Do you have a question for me? I am all ears.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Paleolithic Jewelry Lesson

We are working on a several year timeline approach to Social Studies. Since First Grade starts the formal course, and the formal course I have chosen spends one mere chapter on everything prior to the heyday of Ancient Egypt, it made sense to study pre-history this year. This lesson was suitable for the preschooler so she joined in on both the discussion and the project.

Last week we learned about what it was like being a first human: no stores, no fire, no clothes, no home, no nothing. We discussed how surviving was location and food dependant and how living isolated from others enhanced danger. We talked about how working together was not only safety, but also increased success in any project from finding water to picking apples to huddling together for warmth. Thus, the first communities were born. Daily life was all about survival in the present, never mind the past or the future.

Today's lesson covered Paleolithic jewelry. Now that we had a community, we had a bit of free time for pleasure. We first discussed all the things jewelry could do for a person of this era. It could be a gift to show love or gratitude, it could identify members of one community from another community or family members within a single community, it could be used for trade. Then we discussed how we think jewelry was made.

My drawing skills are amazing, are they not?

We talked firstly how bones were gathered. We decided our Paleolithic person would use chicken leg bones and lion knuckle bones (The focus was on obtaining the bones not necessarily the realism of whether or not a chicken or lion existed in their area at their specific moment in history).  Our Paleo-person first ate the meat, leaving only a few gristly bits and grease still attached. They put the bone on a rock and nature by way of ants cleaned off the little bits while the sun wrapped up the process by bleaching it white. Our cave person took a sharpened stick or rock and drilled a hole in the bone. We practiced the drilling motion using capped pens. Lastly, Mr. Paleo was clever enough to find reeds that he stripped and used the fibers as cording. Trying to explain sinew was getting more into science than I cared to, so we stuck with a bit of good old vegetation and called it a day.

Since eating a chicken and leaving it to bleach in the sun for a few weeks was not in our time frame, nor was hunting lions at all possible, we opted to make our own bone shapes out of playdough. I got the idea from Time Traveller Kids, which is for Neolithic man. It's close enough damn it. They are both lithics. At least, that's my rationale.

We rolled several balls and turned two into long tubes representing the chicken legs. With food picks representing the sharpened sticks of wood, we first tried to drill holes. That was taking way too long (and we talked about how much longer it must have taken Paleo-Dude when he used real bone), so we just did the "push it through" method.

The dough went into the sun to dry out. I opted for a bit of colored pleather cording as I wanted something more substantial and not requiring serious effort like harvesting strong fibers.

All done! It certainly was a fun lesson!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

One and Done.

Our first week of school is officially in the bag, both for homeschool and my teen's public high school. My first week nerves are gone and things are settling in at the homeschool. I would say it was amazing, and it was. I would say everyone had a great time, and they did. But no one wants to hear how super duper it went. We all want the dirt, right?

A few disasters befell our little school here.
  • There was the "linking cube" incident whereby the preparatory materials in the math book never mentioned needing 50 linking cubes, unlinked, and in a bucket. It took me a whole 8 seconds to walk across the room and calmly grab 5 sticks and an empty bucket before I could continue with the lesson.
  • There was the paper incident whereby the "plain paper" in the teacher manual was supposed to have read "lined paper." Again I took another 8 seconds and grabbed the correct paper style. 
  • There was the broken pencil incident in which, shockingly, a pencil broke. Thankfully I had a couple back ups already sharpened. I also had a sharpener handy in case the incident turned into a full scale epidemic, but happily that never came to fruition.

A few disasters befell the public school, too.
  • Thanks to budget cuts the only elective offered first period was gym class. My poor hates-athletics teen has to take an extra year of gym because there was nothing else to put her in. And heaven forbid she get the time for free study in the library. She isn't mature enough to handle a study period. Only seniors get them. She now has to take a graded class in a subject she hates that has no bearing on her diploma requirements yet can drop her GPA if she forgets her PE shirt more than twice the entire year. And bonus, it has eaten up one of her electives so she can't do something she both wants to do and actually needs for college.
  • The bus incident whereby the schedule published by the school transit authority had no basis in reality. It took 1 day for the school to even grant permission and sign her up for the bus, then 3 more days and 214 miles of unnecessary driving her ourselves instead of the bus to figure out that nothing on the published schedule is correct. Not even close. We got there in the end. She is picked up no where near the designated pick up point, not on the route she was assigned to as that goes to an entirely different school, and her afternoon pick up bus arrives 40 minutes after the scheduled time every day but Wednesday when it shows up 10 minutes earlier.
  • The attendance incident whereby the bus incident caused the teen to miss the useless first period gym class, and even though it was called in plus included an in-person visit to the attendance secretary, I still got no fewer than 3 phone calls, 2 text messages, and 2 emails informing me my child had missed first period and she is a truant. Truancy can lead to fines and court appearances.There is nothing I like more than being informed 7 times that someone in the attendance office still hadn't pushed the "excused" button and might cause me to have one hell of a future legal problem. 
  • The money incident. Whereby I received a notice saying if we didn't pay a variety of voluntary contributions in a variety of her classes my teen's grade would be lowered in a variety of ways. They call it "required fees" but I call it "extortion." The husband pulled rank and wouldn't let me send a strongly worded letter including a copy and paste of the state educational code showing how illegal this practice was.
So I guess, in fairness, both methods of schooling have issues. Some clearly have greater issues than others. I will tell you this much for nothing, every day that goes by offers less and less likelihood that the little ones will ever be in public education.