Category Archives: Homeschooling

Setting Up

It’s always my hope that homeschooling — contrary to expectations — brings us closer to the “real world” and gives the kids more chances to do “real work.”

Of course the world of visiting grandparents or spending hours drawing is real, at least as real as the world of the desk. But what I look for is opportunities to participate in the wider world in some meaningful, uncanned way — something that hasn’t been cooked up “for kids.”

This is harder than you’d think — most people just don’t know what to do with a teenager who’s available in the middle of the day, other than ask them to babysit. (Which mine does, BTW . . .)

This was basically the overflow of the massive collection of crates.

In any case, we got a chance yesterday. Our parish has a commitment to “sacred arts,” meaning that we host multiple exhibits throughout the year. Next week the biggest one we’ve ever hosted will begin. There were crates on crates on crates to unpack, display hardware to assemble, and lots of signage to set up.

A man said “I have job for you” with some kind of European accent, handed us a screwdriver and a hex key, and put us to work. We spent two hours at the back of the church putting together signs, while a team of workmen hung giant paintings from iron bars along the sides of the sanctuary and the artist herself moved among us, giving further instructions. My daughter, who balks at unloading the dishwasher Every.Single.Day despite it being her job for the last several years, approached this fiddly task with delight and a surprising level of focus.

Sweet rewards.

I wish I had time to write the essays in my head about the impact of getting a behind the scenes look at the world of a working artist, not just for the aspiring teen artist but for non-artists who think that art just happens without skill or labor. I’d like to talk more about homeschooling as life, not just preparing for life.

But in reality I really want to avoid letting weeks go by before I post again, so that will have to keep percolating. Just take my word for it — we had an inspiring afternoon that made homeschool a teen seem a little less crazy. We fell into this little gig almost accidentally — surely there are more. I was so delighted with our good fortune and her good work that I only laughed when she told me that she “forgot” to order her massive Mint Condition Cooler as decaf. (And she bought it with her babysitting money.)

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Filed under art, Homeschooling, Twin Cities

Not-Back-to-School, Year 7; or, 7 Things We’re Getting Right

After five years of homeschooling, on my old homeschooling blog Red Sea School, I had to admit that I had made mistakes. You know those mistakes that veteran homeschoolers tell you about but you brush them off because, whatever, you’ll figure it out? Yeah, we made them. We made them good.

I made a list, one for newbies to ignore and wizened old experts to laugh at. (Of course laughing openly means you have to own being wizened and old, so laugh at your own peril.) It’s actually a pretty good list — check it out.

I meant to get around to listing 5 good things too, but life happened. As we kick off a seventh year of not going back to school in the fall, though, it seems like a good time to list 7 things I think we’ve done OK with, in no particular order.

1. Staying Close
When we started homeschooling, people who asked why we did it were in for an earful. Luckily someone in our first year modeled for us the brilliantly simple answer, “Because we like it.” And we do. We like being together, especially if being together means bumping into each other between reading books, listening to music, taking an online class, or playing at the park.

I realize now that in another five years Violet will likely be off to college — maybe even sooner. Before that she could be spending a year abroad. Yes, time with your babies is precious. Time with teens may make you question your decision to ever become a parent, but it is equally amazing and irreplaceable. Yes, you can spend time with teens without homeschooling, but doing it this way is still pretty damn cool.

2. Staying Loose
You just don’t know how the day is going to go until you get there. You don’t know if the math curriculum you bought is going to be terrible, or the schedule unworkable, or the book irresistible. I do like making a plan, but I like it because I feel it frees me up. When I see all the little blocks of activity that need to be accomplished, all mapped out, its so much easier for me to move them around in my head or even delete them when needed.

Just this morning I got up early to shepherd the girls through a more structured day of “doing school stuff.” When I came down the stairs ready to start, an eerie sound greeted me, and we spent the next half hour doing this instead:

3. Staying Young
Not me, sadly. But my kids. When my homeschooled niece, now a PhD student, was about the age of Victoria, I remember thinking that she was oddly mature and immature at the same time. Except by immature what I really meant was unsophisticated, in a good way.

As Violet begins the teen years, it makes me happy to see that she’s as good at making up pretend games and playing them as she ever was. Of course sometimes she is too cool for school, and of course she rolls her eyes at my pathetic ignorance about popular culture now and then. But by and large she finds most of pop culture “gross,” she is genuinely puzzled by the clothes sold to her age group, and she has little interest in a “boyfriend,” something kids start in 4th-5th grade around here.

No doubt this puts us in danger of wearing the socially stunted homeschooler label, but as I look at young adults like my niece and nephew, now grown up, witty, and surrounded with friends, I don’t worry.

4.Sticking Our Necks Out
Just making the choice to homeschool sometimes feels like you’ve started waving a big red flag at the Running of the Bulls. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion, and it’s hard to know just how much to share about your own views without alienating people you care about, let alone nosy strangers. Too often people think your enthusiasm for what you’re learning or doing is somehow an implicit critique. We started homeschooling after realizing that our older daughter would need to skip several grades to make traditional school palatable, or even tolerable, for her and that was something she didn’t want to do.

We needed the support of others in the same situation, but there was no way of finding those people if we stayed in our comfort zone. We don’t have to answer nearly as many questions these days, and I’ve learned when to stick to my knitting, but I’ve also tried not to be too shy about our interest homeschooling specifically as an option for profoundly gifted kids. It’s helped me meet a lot of great people and find very cool opportunities, and it’s given me the satisfaction of helping other parents and kids many times over.

5. Sticking With It
“Yes, we’re still homeschooling” is the e-mail user name of someone on a local homeschool list. There are days when I hear that question — “Still homeschooling?” — like someone else might hear, “still married?” Why wouldn’t we be? And there are days when I want to set my children on the curb for the next passing yellow bus. Sticking with it is hard. But it’s the only way to get it done. And though I have blown it and threatened the end of homeschooling a time or two, by and large I think our six-year-and-still-going commitment has made the girls feel more confident about being homeschoolers, too.

6. Playing Hooky
We are really, really good at this. I am a master of “just 15 more minutes” when there’s a juicy conversation happening at the park, assuming “master” means able to stretch 15 minutes into another 60. I love a good play at the Children’s Theatre, or a week’s vacation in the early fall, or a midday concert, or a stay-in-your-pajamas-and-make-cookies day. Homeschooling can be intense, in the way that everything in our house can be intense. Some days you need to show that schedule, and yourself, who’s really in charge.

7. Taking It One Day at a Time
Much as we love homeschooling, we never say never. There’s an arts high school in our area for just 11th and 12th grade — could that be an option for Violet? My girls are so different from each other, and from who they were last year, and last week. Beyond that, education is so different from what it was last year: who knew everyone would be talking Coursera and Udacity just 12 months ago? Where was Khan Academy when we started? We deal with what works now and trust that we can handle tomorrow when it comes.

One day at a time also means that when one day goes bad, homeschooling isn’t a failure. I admit, I could do better. But so far bad days — really, usually a bad couple of hours at most — haven’t scared us totally off. Days will try to run together, but starting fresh when the sun comes up is pretty much a requirement. Today is when we officially celebrated our “first day” of homeschool for the year, which means trying to get up a little earlier and getting some stuff done before meeting friends for an ice cream social/not-back-to-school party. But really, it’s just another day of learning and hanging out with friends — just stickier.

I also found that blogging was thing we did right in the early days, and as I said the other day, I’m hoping it will be a help again. So what surprising serendipity to see the first homeschool high school blog carnival today. It was especially fun to see some familiar names on the roster, from the years when I was so much more active in the homeschool blogging world. I’m hoping for some more good conversations to launch on the next six (or more or fewer) years.

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Filed under education, Homeschooling, raising girls

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Compulsive List Maker, Parts One and Two

I used to be a planner.

An only child with a genius complex and a flair for solitude, I spent the time normal children used for things like fun and play filling notebooks with schemes for clubs, small businesses, and theatrical presentations that were fully realized only in my mind. One of my most detailed plans was a step-by-step DIY manual for becoming popular in 8th grade. Only now is the irony of feverishly writing in notebooks as a springboard to the homecoming court clear to me.

Of course the joke was on those fun-havers when my incredible devotion to organizing the future led to academic awards, PhDs, and any number of leadership posts for groups and institutions who seemed to share the secret motto: “Blah Blah Blah, is it time for donuts yet?”

No matter—efficiency and a smug sense of superiority are their own rewards.

Doing it all with my trusty Franklin Planner, 2 coffee mugs, a diet coke, and lots of post-it notes.

I dare say I was at the height of my powers when we decided to homeschool. Leading a large urban parish through a strategic planning process, managing the publication of several reference volumes each year, coordinating multiple subcontractors, and planning fundraisers were all tasks easily managed with a toddler on my knee and a 1st grader off to school. My trusty Franklin Planner and I could do it all.

The year was 2006 when that started to change. “How do you do it all?” people asked. “I don’t,” I would say. “I am dropping balls left and right.” Slowly I extricated myself from my many posts and activities. The homeschool world, naturally, gave me plenty of volunteer and leadership roles to substitute for my former life, but over the years I let those go as well.

This has caused me great consternation over the last several years. “When will I get it together? Where did that planner-toting powerhouse go and when will she come back?” I can only hope, at this point, that she’s gone on to a better place.

The truth is, she wouldn’t help us much now. My girls are 13 and 9, and after almost 7 years of homeschooling I can verify: you can plan your curriculum, but you can’t plan learning, and you really can’t plan life. When children are 7 and 3, every outing to the beach is a grand adventure and every sprinkle of the glitter jar is an expression of creativity. My 13 year old, however, has been doing high school work for almost 4 years now. The fairies she’s been drawing over the last 10 years have evolved: sometimes they are busty creatures with embarrassingly short skirts, other times they look like they’ve just stepped out of a bar brawl.

Just a few years ago I would have been allowed to share a fairy drawing here.

This was not my plan, and increasingly it’s not my life. I can’t organize her into a notebook any more than I could scribble my way to a prom date.

If I hadn’t learned this lesson, our attempts to “start school” this fall really drove it through my head. Violet is on track to take 2 AP exams and possibly a SAT subject test this spring—because she’s done high school work so young I feel we need some external credentials— so we needed to get started early so she’d be ready in May. Victoria has been eagerly anticipating starting an Online G3 class since last spring. But there were the houseguests to play with. And a trip to the state fair. And a lot of Doctor Who to catch up on before the season premiere. And suddenly now there is a Japanese class online. Oh, and someone, maybe several someones, turned out to have whooping cough. By the time we got to that last wrinkle, I was starting to feel a lot less irresponsible for not having the year planned. Having dinner planned was victory enough for one day.

When Homeschooling Was Adorable

As a writer I’ve never planned. When outlines were assigned I did them after the paper was finished, and no teacher was the wiser. (Actually, that was a great learning process for me and I still recommend it.) I think I’ll be approaching the second half of our homeschooling years the same way. We’ll do it, and then I’ll write it down. I’ve been inspired by semi-recent discussion of the dearth of homeschooling-high-school blogs to get back to blogging—it was a great way to connect with kindred spirits in the beginning, and though so much as has changed it may still be a good way to encourage each other to the finish line, whatever that may be.

Because so much has changed, I’m in the process of changing blogs. Which is probably a terrible mistake, but being a “successful” blogger has never been a big goal of mine. Red Sea School was so much about starting the adventure of homeschooling, finding our feet in the PG world, and raising two little girls. I don’t feel I can wrestle it into where we are now. I named the new blog “What Real World?” because it’s a question that has come up regularly in our lives: “What use is art/music/literature in the real world?” “When will you go back to work and join the real world?” “Why do you prefer a god-in-the-clouds to the real world?” and of course “How will your homeschooled children ever adjust to living in the real world?”

The Inescapable Reality of the Now

To that last question: I honestly don’t know. But I’ll try to write bits of it down as we find out.

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Filed under education, grown up life, Homeschooling, raising girls