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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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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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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Homeschooling outdoors

small child looks out window of ruins of an old mill

One of my favourite things about homeschooling is how much more time my son and I have to spend together doing things we love. He only went a full day for a week, and half days for little more than two months, but even that impacted our lifestyle. Bedtime had to be on the dot because he needed to be rested in the morning. (Not an easy feat as he rarely sleeps through the night, and is up and reading a stack of books before I’m even awake in the mornings.) He needed to unwind after school, aka yell at me for two hours. Then it was time for me to make dinner and time for lessons. Not to mention his rage learning. And then it was bedtime again. There just wasn’t time for much else.

I think my best friend was the most excited when she found out that homeschooling is very different from what it suggests. Our nature walks are learning opportunities. Homeschool isn’t just in the home, it’s anywhere you are. It’s pretty much just parenting with essay questions. So today we bundled up the kids and braved the mud. With everything going on right now, we needed some nature therapy.

I hadn’t been to Balls Falls in a good 5 years at least, but if I’m being honest I think it’s been closer to a decade. There’s a huge welcome centre! And you have to pay to get in. I was skeptical, I mean, the heritage buildings weren’t even open. But it was totally worth it.

My son hates walking with a passion. He generally hates the act of going outdoors, but is usually okay for small periods of time once we’re actually out there. I’m slowly learning that I can make anything fun for him as long as I make it intellectually stimulating. He likes to find sticks when we walk and pretend they’re a compass pointing us in the right direction, and I’ve made at least a hundred mental notes to pick him up an inexpensive one, but mom brain. So last night I was plotting today and I googled, not very hopeful I must say, “how to make a compass.”

What do you know? I asked and Google answered. I found a great article on Scientific American and before we left the house Kaleb had his very own compass.

It did not work amazingly. We’ll need to try again with a stronger magnet to magnetize the needle, and I’d like to try Steve Spangler Science‘s idea of wax paper versus the cork. The Scientific American article was a bit more in depth for K’s liking though as he likes big words and technical science.

It’s difficult to see as he was not going to be slowed down, but we enclosed our compass in a mason jar filled with water and turned it upside down. I think I get bonus points for this thought however when we got home I realized the metal kid might have interfered more than a tad… I tried okay!

No worries. I had more tricks up my sleeve. My grandpa gave K some binoculars when we were visiting and I thought they would be an excellent addition to our hike. We found a huge bird’s nest that I’m not entirely certain Kaleb actually saw, but again, we’re trying here. I quite enjoyed their craftsmanship however.

One highlight was climbing down and looking out the old Woollen Mill ruins. Learning about textiles and clothing? Check. Learning about hydro? Check. Learning about brick and mortar construction? Check. And we even hypothesized about the white mineral residue on the walls and lamented that we didn’t have anything to attempt to capture tardigrades with. Oh, and sliding down a mud hill on your bum? Check!

My friend and I started our walk with expectations of lasting 20 minutes before someone getting cold or someone’s legs hurting. To our amazement though, the trees sheltered us from the breeze making the walk quite pleasant and K was actually excited to keep exploring! We made it through the entire trail, from the upper falls down to the lower ones.

We talked about so many topics I don’t even know if I can list them all. Early settler life, erosion, layering of rock and different minerals, different bridge constructions, water levels, cloud types… all with the degree of talking completely out of our asses. K knows to take whatever I tell him with a grain of salt though, and we googled a few choice subjects when we got home.

You would think after all that walking and learning he would be right tuckered out. But you’d be wrong because we came home and filled our afternoon with Periodic Table cards. Oh, and then we played element Go Fish and he begged to do Beast Academy while we ate dinner. I have to admit, I am absolutely loving this homeschooling stuff.

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