Pandemic Homeschooling

Even though I personally have had to make the difficult decision to take my kid out of school for the sake of his (mental) health, I cannot fathom how parents are dealing with the decisions that are looming overhead this coming fall. I love my child, I love our time together, and I love our life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t know the sacrifices involved intimately or think that anyone should have to make them. What I do have is some experience and an idea of things that have made it more bearable for me personally. I don’t suggest them as a bandaid, a cure all, or with any sort of confidence; just as a mom– a human– who is doing her best with the hand she’s been dealt and offering them as food for thought for others.

A while ago I tweeted that I’m not thankful for the privilege to homeschool my child, but that “I’ll be thankful when his right to an appropriate education is met by the institution that is supposed to provide it for him.” Now, yes, I have privilege. But it’s a privilege that I believe that everyone should have– the ability to provide for our children and their needs. There are so many people who may not have a choice this September, and if we have the privilege of time and knowledge we need to listen and advocate on their behalf. Smaller classroom sizes, expanded budgets, real measures to protect children and the people who work with them from this pandemic. A child not going to school can mean a loss of income, a loss of special needs services, a loss of free lunch and breakfast programs. Schools serve a very real and important purpose and we need to fight for them even if they don’t meet our children’s needs. So even if you decide to homeschool your child, please, please, please do not forget the families who do not have the luxury of a choice. (And believe me when I say I understand it does not feel like a luxury. Only in a broken world would it be one. It’s fucked. If I had a better word I’d choose it.)

Okay but I’ve already chosen homeschool/distance learning/ something that isn’t physical school. How the fuck do I survive?

Here are some of my thoughts as a part of a two parent, single income household. (Disclaimer: I know these tips are not going to be doable for everyone, and I’m really sorry. My perspective is what it is but I am conscious of the fact that it isn’t everyone’s and I’m sorry that these decisions are a lot harder on single parent households for example.)

Curriculum

Buy curriculum. Ask for curriculum from your school/ school board/ ministry of education if you can. There is no way to homeschool in a crisis and wing it as I’ve learned– as someone who has winged it every single year until recently. If you want my recommendations, I suggest Oak Meadow for science, history, and English, Beast Academy/ Art of Problem Solving for math. But there are so many choices. You can spend hours researching. Now! You might spend money on curriculum and it’s not perfect for you. That’s OKAY. I promise. Use what you can of it. Nothing is going to be perfect. That’s why for younger grades I am such a fan of just reading every book you can, getting out of the house (difficult in a pandemic so ha, thanks for the useless advice, Tiff), and baking! Baking is a disaster but there is so much learning involved. But even still, having a set curriculum for those early grades where you have weekly suggestions of things to learn and activities to do is going to take so much of the mental load off of your plate.

You don’t need to plan every waking minute

If your child is used to school they are likely used to high stimulation environments. It will take time but I promise you can train them to play by themselves. It. takes. time. A few tricks I use are strewing, patience stretching, and interrupting. Strewing is leaving crap out around the house and letting your child come to it naturally (because no one wants to do what they’re told to do.) An extension to this is say, writing your kid’s math problems on slips of paper and hiding them like a scavenger hunt because hey, sometimes the math has got to get done but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Patience stretching is not always responding to your child’s needs instantly– it’s okay to say, “I’ll help you once I’m done drinking my hot coffee.” I promise. Interrupting is disturbing your quietly playing child. I KNOW I KNOW WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. Because if your kid is quietly playing LEGO and you’re like “hey, want to do a puzzle with me?” they’ll probably say no. And they’ll probably think hey, my parent thinks I’m pretty awesome and wants to hang out with me. And also it puts some power into their hands which is a very cool thing for anyone.

Set expectations with your partner NOW

Even if you’re already a stay at home parent, it’s important to recognize that you’re no longer a stay at home parent. You’re now a homeschooling parent. Which means that your job is the homeschooling and your spouse’s job is their job, and the rest of your responsibilities– cleaning, cooking etc are split. Now, I’m not saying 50/50. But I am saying that there is no such thing as a day off. I use to think I had to have the house pristine for my husband’s day off which was fucked. Now I think of my husband’s days off as time as a family that we can help each other out. Maybe I can finally plan that specific lesson or look for curriculum while he cleans the kitchen. Maybe we can divide and conquer the disastrous house. Maybe he can take time to hang out with our kid while I escape to the bath. If it’s not a team it’s never going to work. Often I feel useless because I’m not contributing financially but my husband is quick to point out that he is able to do his job because I’m home with his spawn, which is also why he contributes to an RRSP in my name since I have no income to contribute to it. TEAMWORK.

Remember that it’s not about falling behind/ getting ahead

The whole purpose of keeping a child home is because it’s what’s best for them. That means spending extra time exploring passions, coming back to things that aren’t sticking later, and making sure that they have their needs met rather than trying to check off items on a checklist. Some units might take a day. Some might take three weeks. That’s okay! There’s no need to stick to the pace of thirty other children. It’s about your kid and their needs and that’s a fabulous gift to give them.

Find a hobby

I specifically learned to crochet and knit when my child was an infant because I didn’t have the energy to go out and do things but my brain needed stimulation. I sit and knit while reading to him and it’s lovely because I’m keeping busy and engaging myself while supporting him. Maybe you go for a run every night when your spouse comes home if you’re a two parent household. Maybe you lock yourself in the car in the driveway for an hour to stare into space. Maybe you dedicate time every day to read, write, or take a free online class. Even if there isn’t a career goal in mind, it’s important to find time for you even if it means giving your child some screen time. I know it’s cliche to say you need to secure your oxygen mask first, but it’s cliche because it’s true.

More than anything, it’s important to find what works for you, your family, and your kid. Needs change. If something isn’t working do what you can to make life less miserable. I’m not saying every day will be roses and rainbows, but don’t be afraid to make decisions that make life easier!

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Our Homeschool Year in Review (2019-2020)

(Update: we ordered grade 7 books from Oak Meadow for this year and I’m so pleased with all of the changes they’ve made. I’m striking out my criticisms but I don’t want to delete them entirely so if you come across this criticisms elsewhere you’ll know that they’ve changed.)

Whew. And what a year that was. We started the year in a new province trying to navigate a new normal and ended up in the middle of a pandemic and what seems to be the beginning of an international civil rights movement. Who would have thought.

I’m going to be honest, I’m having a hard time remembering how we started this year and how it morphed into what it is today in what is our “final” week. (It’s not actually our final week, my kid will still be tutored through the summer because what else are we going to do and also my kid asked to not only keep going but to increase his tutoring sessions and I had to say no so that’s what’s going on over here.) But I’m going to try my best to gather my thoughts and hopefully my rambling will be helpful to someone out there, especially since September is looming and everything is up in the air when it comes to public education.

I’m going to try to split this up into subjects and minimize my rambling but if you are familiar with me at all, you know that rambling is my specialty so apologies in advance.

Math

I am a huge fan of Art of Problem Solving. Beast Academy is just the best math curriculum out there and I can say this with absolute authority as it’s the only math curriculum we’ve ever used.

We started our year continuing to use Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra and Number Theory but then something fabulous happened: my son got a math tutor. Specifically, a math teacher that teaches young kids advanced subjects and has no problem interrupting math for a few seconds to talk about dogs and is a-okay with sloppy handwriting. A unicorn, if you will. My kiddo is currently working his way through Algebra I and will be doing geometry in the fall and this is the end of my math curriculum suggesting days. I’ll just keep touting the benefits of AOPS but also be really happy that math is no longer my problem.

(sorry if that’s not what you came here for)

Science

For the following three subject’s we’re going to be talking about Oak Meadow a lot. Buckle up.

Oak Meadow’s grade 6 science curriculum is Life Science, aka my kid’s least favourite kind of science. Since he was a toddler he’s found biology “disgusting” and “gross” and “boring” and I’m sorry I’m just not the person to change his mind about this.

This was my first time using an actual homeschool curriculum set up by weeks with activity ideas and I have to say this was the perfect year for it. Opening the book, doing the reading, and then having my kid select an activity and then doing the test at the end of the week was absolutely fabulous. I’m not a science person so I can’t attest to the rigour of this program, but it was absolutely what we needed this year for this particular branch of science. Although, you didn’t hear it from me, but I purchased the teacher’s guide and opened it exactly one (1) time.

The past month my son has been working with a chemistry tutor through the University of Calgary thanks to a new program being put in place due to the pandemic and it has been such an amazing experience. Next year we’ll be attempting AP Chemistry and hopefully I can pass that off on someone a la math. Fingers crossed.

(oh surprise surprise the anti-homeschooling homeschooler doesn’t actually homeschool. sorry again)

(okay I’m not anti-homeschooling I’m just anti-me-homeschooling)

English

We used Oak Meadow Sixth Grade English. English is my subject, my jam, my I-get-drunk-and-ramble-about-the-Chrysalids. I spent the first few weeks of COVID taking an online course that focused on Jane Austen. But with the year I had I was really thankful we splurged on this curriculum if only because it kept me on track.

Now the layout of this textbook, while I understand the reasoning behind it, I kind of hated. The back of the book serves as a style guide, and each week you’re assigned a portion of it to review. Which is great especially if you want to keep this as a reference for the future, however, personally I’d rather purchase a separate style guide to have on hand and have had the subject matter put right into each week’s chapter. The reason I purchased this curriculum was to make my life easier and I wanted it even easier. I am a nitpicking whiner but at $115 USD I earned the right to be one. I’m sure someone out there would like to fight me on this and that’s fine. I get it. I encourage you to take my opinions with a grain of salt. (update: clearly I wasn’t the only nitpicking asshole because they changed this for the grade 7 books we have)

If you need help staying on task and want spelling tests and assignments laid out by week, I recommend this textbook. However, if you have your life together and just want a grammar and style review, Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide is under $20 and covers a decent amount IMO. But again, this is a subject that I’m confident in and need little handholding in beyond time management. Just my two cents especially in these exceedingly cash-strapped times.

History

I am the most conflicted about this curriculum, Oak Meadow Ancient Civilizations. I want to love it. But there were a few things that irked me and I’ll try to elaborate.

The theme of this year is loving having everything laid out for me and that’s part of my love here. Oak Meadow splits everything up into manageable 36 week parts, all laid out with readings and assignments and reviews and it really is lovely. On the most hectic of weeks I could open up to the week we were in and I needed all of two brain cells to make it through which is invaluable. Also, my husband could take over without having to try to decipher what we’re doing by reading my chicken-scratched notes. I think for my husband, being able to be involved in the homeschool and feeling confident in it was worth every penny.

Skimming the table of contents, you can see there’s a good variety of subjects touched upon in this text. But if you read a lot of “well of course there’s religion, it’s history and history has religion even though this is a secular text” you might think hmmm the writers protest too much. Or maybe that’s just me.

There is religion in this text, of course there is, but there’s a lot of religion in this text. Which isn’t a problem. But the way that say, Christianity is written about, versus say Greek mythology, is different in tone, which irked me. Maybe that’s to be sensitive to the fact that a lot of people still obviously practice Christianity but there aren’t a lot of people still worshipping Zeus (forgive me if I’m wrong here) but IDK. It felt off. Especially in comparison to say, Everything You Need to Ace World History in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide, (or even other books that we read to supplement with throughout the year) which manages to talk about all of these same topics in an extremely respectful but secular way… I don’t know. I think they are trying to be secular while still appealing to Christian homeschoolers which is fine and a good business decision, but I really want to find that perfect secular, accredited, homeschool text that doesn’t seem to exist.

I also had a pet peeve that images seemed to be pasted in from a google images search with zero context or credit which is nitpicking but again, for the price I earned that. (This has been amended with their new curriculum and it is lovely!)

If you’re looking for everything to be laid out by week with activities and assignments (I mean there’s even delicious recipes!), want something that’s secular and accredited, this is a good text. If you’re someone who has a history background even just as a hobby, you may find yourself making a lot of asides, but the bones are decent. But if it’s legal where you are homeschooling, you have time, are good at organizing, and want to save yourself a hundred dollars, use Big Fat Notebook as your spine and find books and activities to supplement on your own. Especially if those books are written by BIPOC.

Now, really do not let this scare you away because I’m heavily considering purchasing Oak Meadow’s grade seven world history curriculum. (Update: I did purchase it and I don’t regret it one bit- the new curriculum seems to have addressed a lot of my complaints!) But if I do purchase it l will probably be using it lightly and supplementing with Canadian resources. It’s a more inclusive version of history than I had growing up, but I still see room for improvement in 2020. At the end of the day, the price really is worth my sanity. I haven’t found anything that checks all of my very high maintenance boxes, and I can live with having to supplement.

Everything else

At the start of the year my kid was doing a variety of arts and sports and miscellaneous activities but in the days of quarantine everything has shrunk down considerably.

Kahn Academy, Crash Course, SciSchow, and other online activities are still visited weekly if not daily. Physical education is mostly limited to hiking and biking and a new indoor mini tramp and basketball net but we’re doing what we can in the circumstances of the day.

The current climate has given us a lot to talk about that isn’t directly curriculum related but important all the same. We’ve been enjoying CBC Kids News and Recap specifically, but we’ve always just had a lot of open conversations in general. There’s also been a lot of opportunity to reiterate the importance of shopping locally, supporting BIPOC and LGBTQ+, and how to reduce our environmental footprint even though plastic is creeping back into our lives.

Baking and cooking have become an even larger part of our lives with my kid’s discovery of the variety of cooking contests available to stream. I’d like to take a moment to plug In the French Kitchen with Kids: Easy, Everyday Dishes for the Whole Family to Make and Enjoy by Mardi Michels for the millionth time (if you’re on IG you probably have seen me rave about this one a ton) because we have yet to make anything from this book that wasn’t easy and delicious. Actually, I think I should do some research to see if I can find similar cookbooks with different cuisines. Hmmm.

I’m looking forward to planning our homeschool year next year however we’re still sort of unsure about what it’s going to look like (aren’t we all?) so I’m interested to see what happens. Hopefully my rambling has helped someone out there and if it’s left you more confused than helped well, this is why I rarely blog! Good luck and Happy Summer folks!

*** update: I ordered oak meadow grade 7 curriculum because after searching other secular curriculums and being lured by lower prices I ran for the fucking hills by their (other curriculum’s) statements about oh yeah we use problematic texts and good luck finding something to replace it. Also Oak Meadow’s booklist for grade 7 English has been updated and it’s much more representative of the world I’m bringing a child up in (plus I just really want to read Brown Girl Dreaming). If you want to know why we chose Oak Meadow in the first place, I wrote about that here.

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Reasons I Hate Homeschooling

I’m about to sound like a big ol’ traitor. Everyone knows that if you do something that is less than mainstream, you have to whole-heartedly back it up or you are a disappointment to the community. Or something. But truthfully, there are some days when I really, really, really hate homeschooling.

I didn’t choose it

Okay, technically I did, but it was a choice that wasn’t really a choice. When your child’s needs cannot be met in a typical classroom, or even a private school classroom, what are you supposed to do? All of the advocacy in the world wasn’t going to change the fact that my son needed more than any school could give him. I knew it was our best option, and honestly, yes, I did get warm fuzzies when I thought of reading delicious books and taking exciting field trips, but no one likes being forced into something. And I mean, let’s be honest, first impressions stick.

It’s a lot of work to find secular resources

Post that you’re looking for a secular science curriculum and you will almost always get a reply for something that is not secular. I have actually read the words “Why not just teach both creationism and evolution and let your child make up their mind what they believe? Are you worried?” Umm, no. I’m not worried. But creationism isn’t science, it’s religion. And while I have long since left groups that receive such answers, it’s still pretty difficult to avoid Christian resources altogether. Most of the outlets that stock homeschool texts and supplies are Christian. And while I have no issues with other people supporting their religion, it’s not mine, and I do believe we vote with our dollar. I don’t want to give money to a company that may not believe in LGBTQ+ rights. I don’t want to support those who think evolution is fake. And that’s my right as a consumer, just like it’s yours to support your beliefs. But it makes finding homeschool curriculum difficult.

I have yet to find my homeschool “village”

I suck at making friends. I feel awkward, say the wrong things, and lay awake thinking of all of the things I should have said or done instead. So the thought of putting myself out there and having to explain our situation of why we homeschool puts me in a cold sweat. I mean, we’re secular, accelerated homeschoolers. Oh, and I actually love public school. I think it’s a fantastic thing that every child has a right to an education. So yeah, tons of great talking points there.

I feel like my kid is missing out

I hated school with a passion. If I could get out of it, I did. I seriously considered not attending my high school graduation. My first week of grade 9, I begged my guidance counsellor to let me take extra credits to graduate early (I was extremely unsuccessful). But even still, I can’t help but feel my kid is missing out on… something.

I suck at my kid’s favourite subjects

Ever heard of math anxiety? It’s a real thing and I have it bad. It’s not that I’m terrible at math, I’m actually pretty decent with it, but the numbers get all mixed up and my heart rate rises and I snap. And then I feel horrible for being such a terrible mom. Or, my kid will get stuck on something and start bawling and I feel so much guilt because if I was an actual teacher I could explain it better. And honestly, I love science, I think it’s fabulous and that scientists are some of the most important people on the earth, but… and I hate to admit this, sometimes I just don’t care. I’m sorry! I don’t care about atom bonding or the minutiae of the Big Bang. I mean, I think it’s important to know the basics, but my kid can dive so damn deep and I would honestly rather spoon out my own eyeballs. Even though I know that’s how my husband feels when I go on and on about a favourite classic novel. I wish my kid was being educated by experts in these fields so that their passions could bleed into him.

Because it’s so much damn pressure

When your kid is at a public school, it may not feel like it, but you have access to so many different professionals. They know what your kid should be learning, what they’re missing, and how to help them get there. There are professionals that come in for class visits and you know that if your child wants to go to university, a guidance counsellor is going to help give them the tools to get there to a certain degree. But with homeschooling, I’m my kid’s everything. His mom. His teacher. His friend. His teammate. His counsellor. And it’s not that I’m not equipped to do it, it’s just that it would be so damn nice to share the blame with someone else if this all blows up in my face one day. (Other than my husband.) I would love, on those really difficult days, to have gone to school for this. Or to have learned a fun and useful hack at a conference. Or to have a PD day sans child to organize myself.

So while I don’t hate hate homeschooling and will definitely admit that it has its advantages, I won’t be suggesting it to anyone else anytime soon unless they really, really need it because it’s hard, y’all. For all that I hate about homeschooling, it allows my son’s needs to be met in ways that just wouldn’t be possible in another setting. And I guess, if I have to begrudgingly admit it, makes it worth it.

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Planning Our Homeschool Year (2019-2020)

Trello homeschool planning layout

It’s August, which for many homeschoolers means that it’s time to start planning next year’s homeschool year. Or you know *cough* you’ve all already started your school year completely or never took a break and all I’m saying is, I just moved and life has been crazy.

We have never actually taken a summer break before, and tbh, my kiddo is sitting beside me reading Beast Academy for fun while I write this. So call our “break” whatever you will. Gifted kiddos are exhausting.

I chose to do something very different this year, something that I haven’t done before. (You can read about what we did last year here.) I outsourced for English and Social Studies. If you know me, you know books are kinda my jam, so relinquishing that control to someone else is terrifying but much needed for my own sanity. I am really hoping I don’t regret it. But honestly, I don’t think I will.

We chose Oak Meadow for English, Social Studies, and Science. I say “we” because yes, even though I’m the one teaching it I make my husband peruse everything because if I fuck up my kid, I’m taking him down with me, damnit. You can read about the myriad of reasons we chose Oak Meadow here. I’ll be sure to write about whether we hate it or love it but honestly, I feel like I’m going to love it.

We’re going to be trying grade 6. We came to this decision very scientifically: I read through their graded curriculum and stopped when I found one that had a few things we haven’t covered yet while looking like it would be somewhat interesting to my kid. I am really trying to go for mastery, which is almost cruel to do to a profoundly gifted kid, but this is effectively a four grade skip and I’m trying to buy myself a bit of time before I have to go pounding on office doors at a University (again). If I end up buying the seventh grade curriculum come January because he whizzed through 6 or was bored to death, so be it. We get funding this year, bitches.

For math, we’re going to be sticking with our hands-down absolute favourite, Art of Problem Solving. (Did I mention my kid is sitting here reading their Beast Academy for fun. Yeah.) I felt a bit swamped last year trying to get through Prealgebra with my kiddo, but considering it took a back seat to his physical science online course and we hopped around between it and Number Theory and Kahn Academy, I think we got through a considerable chunk and will be moving on from it in no time.

I’m still trying to decide what to do about needing a homeschool board this year. In Ontario, homeschool is basically “see yah later, you’re on your own.” In Alberta, they’re a bit more hands-on, which I’m actually looking forward to. That is, if I can figure it out. I have until late September to do so and still receive funding (I’m so excited to have a bit of extra money to put towards homeschool, gah!) so I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon. Hopefully.

One thing that I am looking forward to is living in a city again! We have already gotten year-long passes to the TELUS World of Science, and the field trip opportunities are endless. My son has signed up for a chess camp and tennis lessons, and we’ll see what else catches his fancy because honestly, there is so much to choose from here. My kid has always been a sponge that thrives from new experiences (but like, aren’t they all?) so I’m really excited to be able to tap into that. Hopefully it will mean lots of learning with little effort.

Another change I’ve made is that I’m going to be trying Trello for our planning and recording. I’ve never really kept track of my son’s learning other than throwing some choice projects into a file folder. Which maybe isn’t the most responsible way to go about it? But like he’s 6! I explored a few different methods and I really fell in love with School Nest’s Trello board. If you visit Megan’s “PLAN” story on Instagram she walks through how she set hers up. It’s beautiful and inspiring. (Give her a follow while you’re there too, her homeschool is just plain beautiful.) I will still have a paper planner too, because, I’m codependent on paper, but I love knowing I have our year all set up in one convenient place including links to online content.

Have you started planning your homeschool year? Are you finished? What do you have planned?

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Why We Chose Oak Meadow Homeschool

I started looking at Oak Meadow for homeschool curriculum way back when we first started homeschooling. I liked that it was a secular, child-led program but it didn’t feel like a good fit for us at the time. A few months ago I came back to it, and for a number of reasons it felt like the right time to give it a try.

If you saw my Instagram stories last week, you saw that we received our books. I still have not looked through them but it’s on my to-do list so it should get done sometime in the next month. But in the meantime I thought I would share the thought process of why we chose Oak Meadow for our homeschool this year. I’ll be sure to update about whether they’ve been a good fit or not once we start back with our school year.

It’s secular

Finding secular homeschool materials is not for the faint of heart. If you thought Oak Meadow was Waldorf, you’re not alone. So did I. While it is influenced by Waldorf education they’ve eliminated a lot of the things that I personally found problematic, like not allowing young children to read. (Seriously, I once read a Waldorf book that suggested taking print away from young children like it’s hot coals.) But it still appeals to the part of me that wants to like Waldorf, so I’m pretty excited about utilizing the strengths while losing some of the dead weight.

It’s good for “sensitive” kiddos

One thing that I kept reading over and over was that kids sometimes find the curriculum boring and babyish. Well, that just sounds like an absolute treat for someone who needs curriculum for a radically accelerated kiddo. My kiddo is sensitive, and I mean, he’s 6, so we have a difficult time finding books that are challenging and interesting but are also appropriate. We’ve enjoyed a lot of the books that are a part of their curriculum, so hopefully it will be a good match.

It’s written to the child

Because it follows child development, once you get into the middle school curriculums the guides begin addressing the child. Now, my child may be chronologically a bit young for that, but he is definitely at the point where he wants autonomy and I thought this would be a great way for him to get it. One thing he loved about his CTY course last year was that he was able to do it independently, so I think this will give him a good sense of independence and a feeling of control over his own education. Plus, I think it’s good for kids to learn responsibility while they are young so that it doesn’t feel so daunting when they’re older. (And while they still have mom and dad to help them out.)

It has a lot of hands-on activities

Just eyeing the craft kits gave me heart eyes. I know not everyone is an arts and crafts person, but I totally am. And again, because I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone with a young kid who is working ahead, the more hands-on the better!

It doesn’t take up a lot of time (supposedly)

I’m one of those people who go straight for the 1 star reviews. Gimme the worst and if I can deal with that, I’ll probably check something out. I read a lot of complaints that people felt they needed to do a lot of supplementing to make Oak Meadow fill their days. Maybe these reviews were from parents of high-achieving gifted kids working at their grade level. But even so, I feel good about that. Again, see the whole “my kid is 6.” We need time for LEGO and hikes and Taylor Swift dance parties. I personally don’t want a curriculum that’s going to take all day! I want to cover the basics, and then allow my kid to run wild with the things that sparked his interest (and from what I’ve read, Oak Meadow gives a lot of ideas of ways to run with interests).

A few other notes:

I’ve heard that shipping to Canada can be pretty pricey from Oak Meadow as it’s based in the States, which is usually the case with curriculum. They had a wonderful Canada Day deal with $1 shipping so if you have the luxury of time, I would definitely suggest signing up for their emails and jumping on a good deal. We were currently between houses at the time, and they very kindly delayed sending out our package a week for me, which I appreciated so much! Shipping was relatively quick considering it was at the border for about four days. I do however, wish I had asked for no plastic air packs. I appreciate the care they put into our package though!

So will Oak Meadow work for us? Only time will tell. I only know what I’ve read, but from looking at the samples on their website it looks very promising for where we are right now.

Three coil-bound curriculum books from Oak Meadow.

Have you tried Oak Meadow homeschool before? What did you like/dislike about it?

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Inside Our Nature Backpack

It’s no secret that I think it’s important to take kids outside as much as possible, but I also know what a struggle it can be! Sometimes it’s us, and sometimes it’s them, but it’s always nice to have a little incentive once you’re out there to make the most of it which is why I’m such a big fan of having a nature backpack that you can just grab and go.

Nature backpacks have become more and more popular, possibly because for more and more families, getting outside and into the woods is becoming more of a chore. More of us are city dwellers and the suburbs ran out of abandoned lots long ago. So when we do finally get out of the house and into the woods, the last thing we want to hear are complaints of “I’m bored!” Enter the nature backpack.

I put together my son’s nature backpack a few years ago, and I love it.  It’s light and child-sized, but the straps can be lengthened enough for me to wear it if he gives up on life. It has just enough to keep my kid interested without being too heavy and it has essentials that work for us.

As always, know your kid! Maybe you have an artistic kiddo in which case I’d suggest pencil crayons or watercolour paint. Ours didn’t get used enough to justify lugging them around every time. Maybe you prefer a book that focuses more on birds, or plants. Or maybe you don’t even need a book because you’re a walking encyclopedia yourself! Maybe it’s hot where you live, so a water bottle is a must have. Ours usually wait in the car. Over time, you’ll be able to tweak what you bring to make it work for you. I’m a big fan of less is more. Too heavy and bringing it will be a chore!

So without further ado, here’s what works for us:

The contents of our nature backpack laid out on the floor.

1. Nature guidebook

Unless you’re already acquainted with the plants and animals around you (in which case, kudos!) I definitely recommend having a guidebook on hand so that you can answer your kiddo’s questions. Sure, the internet is great, but it’s big! I can waste a lot of time refining my search results. Having a book on hand is much faster and easier. I grabbed ours at the checkout of our local Canadian Tire.

2. Notebook

Even if your kiddo isn’t artistic, I still recommend a small notebook of some sort, just in case. Ours came with our Foldscope, but more on that later.

3. Binoculars

Not only are binoculars great for birdwatching and examining landscapes that we can’t check out close up, they are also fun! Just make sure your child remembers not to walk while looking through them. Not that I know from experience myself or anything.

4. Compass

Another fun gadget. It keeps kiddos occupied while teaching them direction better than never-eat-shredded-wheat ever could.

5. Foldscope

This is a real microscope that you assemble yourself (a lesson in itself!) that is totally, one hundred percent, kid-proof in my experience. Sure, you can always take samples and bring them home, but isn’t it more fun to learn on the go? What’s more, it’s extremely affordable. Get a Foldscope of your own here. (And no, this isn’t an ad, I just really love them!)

Foldscope laid out with its variety of accessories like stickers, slides, and a tin case.

The objects in our nature backpack are not going to be for everyone. If you’re just starting out, use what you have on hand! Fold up some sheets of paper, throw in some pencil crayons and a magnifying glass, and call it a day! Then, reevaluate as you use it more and more. As I mentioned above, at one point ours had art supplies. Another time, I repurposed old play-doh pots for storing items. The only limit is your imagination!

Apologies to all the people who went to the woods this morning looking for peace and quiet but instead found me there with my kid. @lifeattiffanys

Do you have a nature backpack at your house? What’s inside?

Inside our nature backpack.

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Our 2018-2019 Homeschool Year In Review

I’ve never done a homeschool year in review post before because I always have it in my head that I’m a newbie who has no idea what I’m doing. There are so many parents out there with multiple kids and years of experience and to be honest, our homeschool style is not for everyone. But at the same time, because of our unique situation I sometimes feel it’s even more important to share since there are so few resources for those who are homeschooling radically accelerated children.

Our homeschool style is what I would be consider to be eclectic, so cough, we don’t really have one. We use curriculum for science and math because those are my son’s strongest subjects and my weakest. Because of my son’s age, we largely unschool for language arts and social studies– learning as we go along and using books, museums, and other resources to create an experience-rich environment. His science and math is so heavy in academics that I think it allows us a good balance. We also like to dabble in other subjects as well, though not as formally.

Our requirements for curriculum are that they are secular, challenging, and age-appropriate. I do a lot of research before purchasing a new resource, but it’s still not always perfect. I especially struggle finding purely secular sources. I know a lot of secular homeschool families who use Christian resources, but that’s not for us.

My son turned 6 during this school year, so if he was in public school he would be in grade 1. We chose homeschooling because junior kindergarten was not a great fit for him, with the hope that we could enrol him in a private school or a public charter school for gifted children at an accelerated grade once he was 6. But he is just too far ahead academically that we chose to continue homeschooling so that we can continue to meet his unique academic, social, and emotional needs.

So without further ado, here is what our 2018-2019 homeschool year looked like:

Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth Physical Science

Science is always our biggest struggle because it is by far my son’s favourite subject and my weakest. This is why we chose to swallow the large price tag of a CTY course. I also wanted to have some sort of piece of paper that I can point to and say without a doubt my kid is at this grade level (hello, imposter syndrome), which I now have in the form of a transcript.

My son loved the online course. He found the content engaging and especially loved the simulations. He also enjoyed the independence factor of sitting down to the computer each day and knowing exactly what he needed to do without any help from me.

CTY’s courses are not cheap, and from what I’ve heard their courseware is the same as other less expensive options but for us the biggest pro was age. Because they work with talented youth, they are understanding of students working above grade level. Just speaking with the amazing educators and administrators through email was such an amazing experience as a parent because they get it. 

Art of Problem Solving Prealgebra

Art of Problem Solving is definitely the math curriculum for high achieving math kids whose parents want them to learn to think in complex ways. My son loved Beast Academy 3, but when I purchased Beast Academy 4 I realized that his math skills were needing something more. He enjoys reading through the guidebooks, so we’ll most likely purchase 5 and 6 without the workbooks for fun, but for “school” we’ve been working through AOPS Prealgebra with the odd unit from AOPS Introduction to Number Theory intermixed since that’s my son’s favourite kind of math. I am not a math person, but luckily the explanations are thorough enough that if my son does have a problem, I can still help him find the solution.

Coding

My son loves to code and I have to admit, I think it’s going to be a necessary skill for our kids when they’re adults. There are luckily some great coding books and toys that we love. My son’s birthday and Christmas money usually go towards purchasing himself something he can code so we have LEGO WeDo (we’re in Canada so we purchased from Spectrum Nasco), a Kano, and a BB8 Sphero. Phew. They all get quite a lot of use, though, and the possibilities are almost endless. He also loves the Coding Games books by DK. He’s dabbled in both Scratch and Python and honestly, I much prefer him building video games than just playing them!

Minimus Latin

While a grammar curriculum just wasn’t sticking for us this year, I did want my kiddo to have some language-based program. With the abundance of latin terms in Harry Potter and in science, my kid was pretty willing to give latin a try.

Minimus Latin is a comic book style resource that’s appropriate for young kiddos, but I have read a few complaints that it’s not a stand-alone curriculum. I do keep a pronunciation guide in the front of our notebook and we have watched a few of the Great Courses that introduce Latin through our library’s Hoopla app but for the most part my kiddo has been able to put the pieces together with little issue. For me the important thing is that he is getting language practice; we can always refine it in the future. And honestly, his grammar is better than a lot of adults that I know, so I’m not too worried about it just yet.

Field Trips

I think a huge part of schooling is getting out of the house and having experiences, whether it’s just a trip to the library or a huge family vacation. Right now we live about an hour and a half from Toronto (although it’s often more like two hours or more with traffic these days) so large museums are a big trip for us. We did however have an Ontario Science Centre pass which was a fabulous purchase! We also love the Royal Ontario Museum and finally visited the adorable Willoughby Museum on the Niagara river. We also spent six days in Iceland which was the trip of a lifetime!

Other stuff

This year we didn’t do a strict scheduling of our school days. I did try to plan initially but our life was just too chaotic to make it stick. My daily requirements have always been a little science, a little math, lots of books, lots of fresh air, and a bit of music. It seems to work well for us and I feel like my kiddo is happiest when he’s having all of those different needs met. We read so many fantastic novels and picture books. Silly stories were written. Fantastically fancy poetry tea times were savoured. We took hikes and had play dates and rode our bikes all around town. My kiddo was in swimming lessons and took karate, and also did a number of programs at our local library.

This year was a great introduction into a slightly more structured homeschool day with real curriculum and coursework, though I’m so glad we took our time with it and still allowed for some flexibility. It was fabulous watching my kiddo’s skills develop– things like handwriting even though I eventually said screw it to the handwriting books. Of course, I’ll probably go back to them now that I wrote that.

I learned that my son thrives when he can teach himself, and while he still wants me near, he likes his independence. I also learned that his growth happens in spurts just the same as always; one day I’ll be banging my head against the table trying to explain a topic and the next morning he’ll have mastered it better than me. That’s just the way it goes. I’ve learned to plan loose, flexible plans, like sticky note activities inside the text book so that it’s there waiting for me when we get there and not lost to my abandoned planner. I’m also learning a lot about myself, and becoming more comfortable with this path that we are on.

I guess with this year behind me that only means it’s time to start thinking about what next year might bring!

What worked for you in your homeschool this year? What didn’t?

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Homemade walnut ink and quill

green walnut husks being prepared to be made into ink

I can’t be certain why or when the obsession began, but K has been asking for weeks to write with a feather. I was pretty excited by this obsession if I’m being totally honest, because this is exactly the kind of old timey activity that makes me really, really happy.

First, we did a quick google about different kinds of natural inks. He latched onto walnut ink, which was kind of perfect since it just happens to be exactly the right time of year for finding walnuts everywhere. We collected a few shells on a walk, (because surely it would be the black shells that make ink), only to realize once we got home that it’s the green husks that give the ink its colour.

Yes, green husks equal brownish ink. Go figure.

I also realized that making walnut ink can be quite the intensive process. There’s aging and time involved, and well, 4 year olds aren’t exactly heralded for their patience. Some time had already elapsed since the initial shells, and he had since found a turkey feather at the apple farm and was adamant about using it in walnut ink, so I made the executive decision to, umm, ahem, half ass it.

green walnut husks being prepared to be made into ink

First, we husked our walnuts. The husks went into the pot while the shells and nuts were smashed with a hammer. Then they were thrown into the pot as well for good measure.

I don’t know that smashing the shells was good for anything, but it was fun.

Then, I added just enough water to cover the mess, and set it to boil at medium-high (ish) heat for 30 minutes. 

walnut husks turning a sludgy brown on the stove

Just remember: if it looks like sludge and smells like sludge, you’re doing something right.

While it boiled, we set to work making a quill out of his turkey feather. We watched a fantastic Youtube video from How to Make Everything but the basics are this: cut the tip at an angle, cut across the top of that angle for the writing surface, then slit up the shaft to hold the ink.

Maybe just watch the video.

Then, it’s time to strain out the lumpy bits and get your ink. 

Every website I read said to wear gloves and exercise caution because walnuts stain. Like stain, stain. I, being the rebel that I am, and also having just overcome a half a bushel’s worth of grape stains, decided that I was too cool for gloves. I don’t like to tell people how to live their lives, but don’t be too cool for gloves. My hands are still stained, half a week later. I mean, I still probably won’t wear gloves next time either, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s a wonder that my bamboo counters and white farm sink came out unscathed.

After straining, I added a splash of alcohol to prevent mold. If you’re doing this as a one off and don’t plan on using the ink again you can probably skip this, although I did read that it helps the ink dry a little faster which I thought would be pretty useful for little ones.

We also used thicker art paper designed for ink because I thought it would hold up to the liquid ink better. Watercolour paper would also probably work well, although I’m a big believer in using what you have on hand, even if that just means scrap paper! I’m not going to lie, I had dreams of making our own paper too, but I also know my own limitations. Homemade ink and a quill are one thing, homemade paper is just crazy talk.

A letter that reads,

After we finished our letters to each other, we folded them up and sealed them with wax!   (Yes, I have a wax sealing kit. This is the kind of old timey nerdery I’m talking about. I am one breakdown away from going to Jane Austen conventions in hand sewn costumes.) My DIY brain wonders if you could carve a sigil in an old wine cork and stick it in some candle wax, but I am not responsible if that ends terribly for someone! On the other hand, if it works, let me know.

letters folded and sealed with wax

As you can see, we did this activity outside, because walnuts STAIN. I have to say though, that he was uncharacteristically careful. It was also a great activity for a reluctant writer. Personally, I found the quill a little difficult to write with so letter formation may not be great, but the novelty of it is such a great way to exercise those muscles needed for writing and bring enjoyment to a usually tedious task!

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Studying Fairy Tales: Jack and the Beanstalk

One of the things that is great about homeschooling is the ability to cater learning towards your child’s interests. My son asked if we could study fairy tales the first few weeks of school, and I have to admit, I was pretty excited. I love fairy tales and folk tales. I love the idea of stories being passed down year after year, generation after generation, until they are woven into the fabric of society.

He wanted to begin with Jack and the Beanstalk. We started by reading Joseph Jacob’s version and watching Mickey and the Beanstalk – a film I picked up on a whim of nostalgia from the library which my kiddo had been refusing to watch. Suddenly, he was all over it.

After we compared the story and the film versions, we started our discussion with what a fairy tale actually is. I love the explanation from the preface of Joseph Jacob’s English Fairy Tales:

As our book is intended for the little ones, we have indicated its contents by the name they use. The words “Fairy Tales” must accordingly be taken to include tales in which occurs something “fairy,” something extraordinary — fairies, giants, dwarfs, speaking animals.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is thought to be more than 5,000 years old, and as such, there are many reiterations of the tale. We read Molly Whuppie (also from Joseph Jacob’s) as well as the Grimm Brothers’ The Devil’s Three Golden Hairs (note to secular homeschoolers: we framed the devil as a mythical creature much like the giant and the ogre in the other tales). This left us with a lot to discuss!

Repetition

Many fairy tales and folktales repeat elements of their stories; the magic number is often 3 but it does sometime vary. Jack goes up the beanstalk 3 times, Molly returns to the giant’s home 3 times, and while the boy in the Devil’s Three Golden Hairs only goes to Hell one time, he passes three people who require answers for his crossing. We talked about how repetition may have been useful to storytellers to help them remember the stories since these stories were passed down orally until writers began collecting them in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s also helpful to note how each repetition often intensifies the drama of the story.

Stock Characters

Fairy tales rely on stock characters as they aid the listener in recognizing the character quickly, allowing the teller to dive into the action. Jack, Molly, and the boy all come across antagonists who are stronger, larger, and more powerful than they are, but they use their wits to defeat them.

Protagonist vs Antagonist

I am really pushing for a move away from “good guy” “bad guy” talk. I think it’s important for children to see that there are areas of grey, and of course it certainly wasn’t kind of Jack to steal from the giant! I explained it to my son in the simplest terms: the protagonist is whoever you are rooting for, and the antagonist is whoever is getting in their way. Written from another perspective, Jack or Molly or the boy could be seen as the antagonist! (Which could be a great writing exercise!)

Kindness and Prejudice

On that note, we talked about which of the characters were the kindest, and which were the least and why. We made note of who the helpers were and why. The Devil’s Three Golden Hairs also allowed for an excellent subversion of the stereotypes of kings and robbers: kings are usually expected to be good, kind, and benevolent leaders while robbers are usually expected to be sneaky and dangerous. I asked my son if he would rather meet a king or a robber, when he answered a king, I asked how well that would have worked out for him if he was the boy in The Devil’s Three Golden Hairs. Not very well, we agreed.

Applications:

One thing that sprouted (I couldn’t resist!) from our discussion about Jack and the Beanstalk was the question of how seeds grow. We collected what seeds we could from plants and fruits around the house, as well as some that I had saved. We talked about their differences, drew pictures of them, and watched this Sci Show Kids episode, How Does a Seed Become a Plant? We then placed a bean seed in a wet paper towel and sealed it in a jar so that we could observe the sprouting process. My son enjoyed it so much that he transplanted it into soil after it began to outgrow the jar, and has been taking care of it this past week. (Of course, we’ll see how much longer that lasts!)

At the end of our unit, we talked about what makes a “child defeats the ogre” tale and came up with what we felt were the most important parts. We decided that the protagonist must be a child who uses their smarts to outwit the antagonist: someone bigger, stronger, and more powerful than them. We also agreed that there should be a repetition of 3 events. We then each wrote our own tale based on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. Because my son is still working on his handwriting, I allowed him to tell his story to me while I wrote it down, which was a nice way to take our lesson full circle: from oral tradition to written tale!

Learning about Fairy Tales in your homeschool? This unit focuses on Jack and the Beanstalk and similar tales.

 

Are you studying Fairy Tales in your homeschool? I’d love to see what you’re up to! If you like what you see here, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a post. You can also find me lurking around the web on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Yes, I’m homeschooling my kid. No, he’s not going to be a weirdo.

I get it. You love my kid and you want what’s best for him. Or hey, you’re a complete stranger who just likes sticking their nose in other people’s business. And yes, it’s one or the other, there never seems to be an in between.

It’s like a weird word association game where when I say “homeschool” you blurt out “Socialization!” “Homeschool.” “Socialization!” “Homeschool.” “Socialization!” You go on and on with word vomit about how important proper socialization is to a child as though it’s second only to the air he breathes. Do you want to ask me about that too?

Maybe you’ve never known anyone who homeschooled their kids before. Or you remember that one kid who started off homeschooled and then came to public school and they were a little bit odd. You know the one. It was totally because of the homeschooling too because I mean, absolutely none of the other kids who went to school their entire lives were ever a little odd, and definitely never you, you were never odd. You, you were totally normal all the time. No awkward stages. Not ever.

And I mean, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I’m not being explicit enough. Maybe I need to start saying, “We’re homeschooling. But-don’t-worry-it’s-not-like-I-keep-him-locked-in-a-closet-all-day-we-sometimes-leave-the-house-like-go-to-the-museum-and-library-and-science-centre-and- we-love-to-hike-and-here’s-a-list-of-his-extra-curricululars.” Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m answering your question wrong.

If I seem sensitive, it’s because I am. From the second that stupid little pee stick announces that you’re carrying a little bundle of joy, the judgements start rolling in. “You can’t do that when you’re pregnant!” “Breast is best!” “It’s really selfish that you won’t give your baby a bottle so someone else can bond with him.” “You gave him WHAT as his first solid?!” “Those shoes aren’t nearly supportive enough.” “Where is your mother why isn’t she hovering over you? You shouldn’t be climbing the playground yourself!” “Stop being so overprotective, a little sugar won’t kill him.”

Enough!

And quite honestly, up to this point, my son hasn’t been cognizant of your concerns, so maybe that’s why it has stung, but not quite made me so rage-y. But your criticisms, sorry, “helpful advice” concerning my parenting choices are being heard and internalized by my child on this one. My child, who already feels he is missing out on a part of the collective culture that involves bells and desks and assemblies and after school activities, is going to grow up hearing how “weird” he’s going to be because he’s not experiencing such things.

(And no, those experiences are not worth the anguish that public school was, so please don’t go there.)

The mama guilt is bad enough without your help, thank you.

We chose homeschooling because it’s right for our family. It’s difficult. And exhausting. And quite frankly, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t have chosen it if I didn’t feel that I had to do it. But you know what? I am so happy that it’s the road we’re on. I get to choose books and subjects that I know my kiddo will love. I get to help him learn the way that he learns best. I get to incorporate things like baking and an obscene amount of field trips. We talk about everything from politics and current events to money and household management to technological advances to a really silly joke that we just can’t stop laughing about. The possibilities are endless.


And that socialization you’re so worried about? It’s not like he’s homeschooled in a closet. Really, I promise. Have you seen how small the closets are in a 1960s side split? He’s in a number of activities with kids his age. We visit with family and friends of all ages. We go to parks and he makes friends with museum docents who are happy to answer his stream of questions for a few minutes to his complete delight. There are even homeschool programs. Heck, he spent two weeks in Europe! Not a day of school was missed. Homeschool is where you are.

And yes, maybe my kid might turn out weird despite my best efforts to normalize him.  Any kid that isn’t forced to conform to norms is probably going to have a few quirks. But I don’t see that as a bad thing. And honestly, at the end of the day, I’m his mom. I went to public school my whole life and while I can do a pretty good impersonation of a normal person once in a while, deep down I’m a big ol’ weirdo. Aren’t we all?? I’d rather him be able to own who he is then spend years trying to pretend, only to grow up and realize it’s the weirdos who end up happier because they don’t try to hide who they are on the inside.

So yes, I’m homeschooling my kid. No, socialization is not an issue. In fact, I’d argue he comes into contact with a wider range of people by getting out into the world than he ever would sitting in a classroom. And if he does turn out to be a weirdo, trust me, it’s not because of the homeschool. That’s 100% genetic right there.

Let’s be honest, homeschooling is not going to make my kid a weirdo. I’m his mom. He was doomed from the start. @lifeattiffanys

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