Friday, June 29, 2007

Organization Update

Tomorrow is the end of June and completes "Spring Cleaning Month". Projects like this can drag on forever, so before I began I decided I would work diligently all month...but come June 30th I would be done no matter what. Anything I didn't complete would wait until next year - or at least my next cleaning frenzy. I didn't quite get to every thing on my list but I did complete the majority, even managing to add a few things in as they came up.

As I mentioned in my first organization post, this is pretty much the only time during the year I focus on most of these things. The rest of the year I do basic cleaning and laundry every week and just try to maintain the organization while we are homeschooling, playing sports and generally staying super-busy.

Why do I spend a month every year doing this? The short answer is, it truly helps me to have our home organized and clean. When I open a closet and things are falling out on me or I waste time looking for something that has been misplaced, it drives me nuts. I am all about efficiency and this helps set the tone for a good school year, for me if no one else. The long answer is something about providing the best possible environment for my children to be successful in all areas of life - academic included. If their world (and the home we provide really is most of the world they see in the elementary years, especially when we homeschool) is in chaos they suffer. God's creation is orderly and I want my home to reflect that - being reasonable of course what "order" looks like with three young children. It doesn't alway mean spotless for sure. lol!

Before kids, spring cleaning was a weekend thing. I devoted one three-day weekend in the fall and one in the spring to heavy cleaning and would clean from dawn till dusk. Forget cooking at the end of the day...we had dual incomes & no kids so we could afford to go out every night. Now things are a little different. I must stop to prepare meals, change diapers and be certain not to completely ignore my children while I'm in "task-mode!"

Here's how I tackled getting my Spring Cleaning done while still being a mommy at the same time. I devoted two to three hours almost every day to cleaning, and I usually did it while my two younger were sleeping and my oldest was having "rest-time" in his room. As soon as they went down I would pick one thing of the list, put on some upbeat music and clean as furiously as I could! I did this Monday through Thursday each week during June. My husband is a pastor and is off on Fridays but sometime during the weekend I tried to get at least one or two things additional things done off the list as well. Some jobs take more time than a few hours allow and on those days my boys watched a Disney movie (a rare treat in our home!) to give me a little more time. Other jobs just had to stretch over a few days.

I know it can seem overwhelming when you first start - especially if it's been a long since you've done this - but by simply taking tiny steps each day you will be surprised how much you get accomplished. If you want to do this I would also consider putting your list in order of importance for you. That way, hopefully the things at the bottom won't be missed much if they don't get done by the end of your timetable. Who looks on the top of your fridge anyway? lol!

Here's my original list (abbreviated version - go to the "Summer To-Do's" post to get the entire list with descriptions for each job)
  • Clean and organize baby's closet - DONE
  • Clean and organize middle son's closet and dresser - DONE
  • Clean and organize oldest son's room (with his help) - DONE
  • Clean out master bedroom closet - DONE
  • Go through medicine cabinet - DONE
  • Clean downstairs coat closet - DONE
  • Clean all ceiling fans - DONE
  • Clean pantry - DONE
  • Clean all inside windows - DONE
  • Clean all window sills - DONE
  • Wipe down all light switches and door knobs - DONE
  • Change air filters - DONE
  • Clean out garage - DONE
  • Research and buy new vacuum cleaner - DONE (Yea! When we researched Consumer Reports, one of their best rated vacuums was $150!)
  • Take T and H to pediatrician for yearly check-ups - Appointment is set for July 20th
  • Power wash driveway - Didn't happen but it was just done last October. It will be a nice project one weekend this fall when it's not so hot anyway!
  • Buy new bed and bedding for 2 yr old - decided to wait due to other more urgent purchases
  • Organize our home office - DONE
  • Organize schoolroom - in progress! I decided to paint our space after seeing Heidi's beautiful schoolroom from Mt Hope Academy. I knew that I wanted to do a shade of green but was unsure how to start. Heidi's room gave me lots of ideas as did Little Acorn's Treehouse!
Here's the green I picked: Behr's Rejuvenate. The paint goes on sale Sunday so I will get
started that night! I will continue to work on the schoolroom as time and money allow; it
will be a long process most likely.

A few minor things I added to my original to-do list:
  • Change out batteries on all toys that needed it
  • oiled all squeaky doors with WD-40
  • Got hurricane supplies re-stocked (We live on the south side of Houston so this is an ever-present threat each year during hurricane season: June - October)
I hope this helps someone who may want to get their home in order. If nothing else, it helped me just posting it. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Overcoming My Teaching Degree - Part 2

Back to that line so many seem to rattle off regarding our decision to homeschool, "You have a teaching degree so it must be easy for you." Well I have been thinking a lot about this and have come to the conclusion that while for some that may be true, my education degree and teaching experience has often been as much of a hindrance as a help in my circumstance.

Let me tell you a little about my oldest son, Thatcher. This is the abbreviated version, but you can read the entire story in my other blog if your interest is piqued. Thatcher has ADHD, sensory processing issues and some autistic tendencies as well. When he was little we tossed around the idea that we would keep him home if we needed to, but I don't think either of us truly thought that would come to pass. But through a series of events we became convinced that homeschooling would be the best path for the kiddo God gave us.

Let me say, I am not anti-public school; I don't think most homeschoolers are. Yet, the reality is that public school is best suited for a certain type of child: one who can sit still being pretty important for sure. To ask my little guy to sit at a desk for several hours a day, walk in a straight line, sit cross-legged and wait his turn to share his idea on the latest book he's reading...well that would be like asking me to conjugate a page of French verbs. It isn't going to happen!

That's where I am struggling. I have been so trained in one methodology that it's been really tough wrapping my mind around a different way of doing things. I don't want to simply bring what I did in a classroom setting home and replicate it. Homeschooling can (and should in my opinion) be so much more than that. I have been reading and researching off-and-on for two years now. I have decided that Classical Education is the best fit for us out of all the pedagogies out there. Yet as I am preparing to plan out our first grade year I keep going back to my public school days without even realizing it.

I expect him to sit still while I am teaching him but what's wrong with letting him jump on the trampoline while he is learning to count by 9's or recite his poetry for the week? I want to be done with school by 3:00 each day but why can't we be done at 11:00 am some days and 7:00 pm others? I want him to be generating creative journal entries even though I have read Charlotte Mason's writings and The Well Trained Mind which encourage copywork, dictation and narration instead. I tend to forget that we don't just have to read in a text-book about the life-cycle of a butterfly but we can observe metamorphosis close up. Most importantly I forget that one of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that my kid gets to be exactly who God made him to be. He doesn't have to be on anyone's timetable for when he "should" be doing things. I definitely don't want to forget that.

Why did I choose blog about this? I have many homeschool friends say they covet my teaching degree and I have learned to respond, "Well, I've been working on overcoming that to be a good teacher for Thatcher." Be encouraged! You better have the ability to see things with fresh eyes. You think "outside the box" so much more readily. You are not bound by years of indoctrination thinking it has to be done a certain way. You are the ones that come up with innovative curriculum, and you are the ones who answer questions others never even think to ask. I envy you...and I'll be haunting your blogs to borrow all your wonderfully creative ideas.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Overcoming My Teaching Degree - Part 1

When we decided we would keep our oldest son home rather than send him one-eighth of a mile to our neighborhood school with some of the highest test scores in the state, I could count on one of a few responses: the blank stare, or "Oh, that's nice." (complete with monotone voice) being right there at the top. The most common still to this day goes something like this, "That's great, but I could never do that. You have a teaching degree so it must be easy for you."

Well two years down this road and I can say - homeschooling is many things, but it is never easy! It is actually the hardest thing I have ever done. Take me back to the days with 22 kids who were not my own. Someone else decided what I would teach and when. I had 3o minutes for lunch complete with adult conversation and an hour daily to plan kid-free. I was done every day at 4:00 with the luxury of not having to think about school until the next morning, had summers off and I was paid.

Contrast that to homeschooling. I only have three children versus 22 but educating my own weighs so much more heavily than teaching a classroom full of someone else's. I bear the responsibility of researching the seemingly millions of curriculum choices and then making a wise decision based on our budget, a knowledge of my child's strengths, weaknesses, learning style and not forgetting a teaching method I can live with, too. No lunch breaks here, and for that matter no sweet cafeteria ladies to clean the dishes, wipe down the tables and sweep the floors either. An hour to plan each day kid-free...heck, I would just love two private minutes to use the restroom. Leaving each day at 4:00 is not an option (although some days I wish it was), summers are spent frantically trying to prepare for next year and I have yet to receive a dime for any of this!

Don't get me wrong, being a public school teacher is tough stuff, but in my experience and opinion, homeschooling up to this point has been much harder. And I taught both ends of the spectrum: the kids from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and those who dads and moms were true rocket scientists and astronauts (I live in the shadow of NASA's Johnson Space Center). I was the teacher who was at all her students' plays, concerts and sporting events and arrived an hour earlier than required to work with all my "late-bloomers". I loved teaching and devoted all I had to my students and their families.

Now to the point of this whole post: I am finding more and more that I am having to "overcome my teaching degree" and seven years of experience in public schools to be a good homeschooler. I'll tell you why next time.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer . . . What Summer?

Well, our summer break is almost half over, assuming we'll begin school August 6th to allow more breaks during the year. I have to say it hasn't been much of a break, but it has been good. Due to the fact that in the past two and a half years I've had two babies and started homeschooling an ADHD child (read: everything takes at least twice as long because he is distracted by dust particles floating in the air!), there has not been time to do some of the things I love most - organize and plan! I have just been surviving day-to-day, biding my time until I could get things back in order. Now is that time.

I have blogged about my "Summer To-Do List" as well as my "Curriculum Crisis", and since then just about every spare moment has been spent working on one of those two projects (with tons of playtime with the boys in the mix...I don't want to rob them of a fun summer because Mommy is a little neurotic!). It has been all-consuming to say the least. During the day I'm working to get my house in order, and each evening I am on the computer from the time I put my little men to bed until the wee hours of the morning researching and bugging people on the WTM message boards with my endless questions. I have not even run in over two weeks, which for me is an eternity.

Right now we are still in the "It gets worse before it can get better." phase but so much has been accomplished already. I am about two-thirds of the way through my spring cleaning list and I ordered all my curriculum last night - at least what of it I could afford! lol. July will be spent trying to get caught up on my boys scrapbooks and planning for next year. Oh my, I get overwhelmed just thinking about it. That will be another blog and another to-do list. Get ready WTM message board friends. I will need some serious help!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Letter to my Friend


My hope is to encourage you as you begin your journey into this crazy, but oh so rewarding, blessing called homeschooling. I shared some of this with you recently, but I want to say it again for the whole world (or at least anyone who stumbles across my blog!) to read: You are truly going to be a great homeschool mommy! Here's why -

First, you have put this completely in God's hands. You and your husband have prayed through this for some time now, weighed all options carefully, researched and then jumped. Not the other way around. Too often people make a rash decision without all the information then they are shocked at the reality of the commitment...and it is a huge commitment!

Second, you are, in my opinion, the perfect personality to homeschool: you are organized but not obsessive, scheduled but not uptight, detailed but not compulsive. All in all, you are balanced. That will serve you well in homeschooling as it does in all your life! In the craziness sure to arise when schooling four different levels, you will have the ability adapt as needed and not get so mired down in "the plans". And one more thing about you that will (and already does) bless your children tremendously - you are fun! You laugh readily at life, and that's one of the things I admire most about you.

You manage your home well, are an excellent disciplinarian and have a wonderful partner in your husband to navigate the sometimes choppy waters you may encounter. You are ready and, more importantly, willing to sacrifice things others moms consider necessities. For homeschool mommies they are luxuries - five minutes to yourself being a prime one!

Lastly, you have realistic expectations. You are, to borrow my new favorite quote, "not homeschooling them to protect them but to prepare them". You understand some (okay, sometimes many) days will be hard but many will also be sweet. You will fall in bed completely exhausted each evening but with the comfort of knowing that you are faithfully walking the path God has called you to. And I am so thankful I get to walk that path alongside you.

What a special gift you are giving to your children; they have no idea how very lucky they are!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Curriculum Crisis

I'm a research hound, an information junkie and a detail nut. I always want all the data before making any decision. This is true in just about every area of my life, from buying a loaf of bread to a shirt at the mall. Bring that same mindset to homeschooling and it can be a scary thing. There is just too much out there to know it all and have any kind of life. On top of that I have had virtually no time to think about next year much less plan for it.

In the past two weeks I have kicked into high gear. Every spare moment has been spent on the computer searching for some aspect of our curriculum. I discovered a blog I adore (Trivium Academy, a wonderful resource if you desire to classically homeschool) and spent hours reading all her posts and clicking all her links. Today I even posted on a message board for the first time to learn from some who have gone before on this journey. It has been good. I have a long way to go but am making progress each day.

Here is where I am so far:
  • Math - We are sticking with Horizons for next year. Even though math is not his strongest subject he begs for it each day. That was not true when we were using Singapore. I will also purchase or make lots of manipulatives for next year to do a better job building that concrete foundation before moving to abstract concepts.
  • Phonics/Spelling: We will finish the final three books in Explode the Code (most likely in November) and begin formal spelling at that point. I am not sure if we will use Spelling Workout or just create my own program.
  • Grammar: Finish First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise.
  • History: Ahhhh! This one is killing me. I cannot decide between Mystery of History and Story of the World. It's been my toughest decision so far because there are things I love about both programs. My husband is leaning towards SOTW (and so am I, to be honest) but several good friends will use MOH. That would allow us to do a mini co-op. Do I want to do SOTW by myself or MOH with others???
  • Science: I just ordered Noeo Biology I on Wednesday. I think I am going to love this program. I am most excited that it seems to combine classical with Charlotte Mason principles so well.
  • Arts: Next year we will have an "Artist of the Month". I have purchased nine books from the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists series by Mike Venzia along with a set of postcards for each artist that showcases his/her most famous works. We will display the postcards along with a picture of each artist and supplement with lots of other books from the library. I have also purchased Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes. I am not sure how we'll use this yet; I do not want to try to do too much. We'll also have a "Composer of the Month". I ordered nine books in the Getting to Know the World's Greatest Composers series and we will listen to that composer's music all month as we play and work. I am also ordering the CD's in the Classical Kids set and will supplement again with library books.
  • Reading: This is the biggie I needed to start working on yesterday! I want to develop a reading plan but need to decide on which history to use first. I can start researching read-a-louds at the very least. I know we'll follow the WTM's suggestion to study lots of literature that follows the corresponding period in history. Since we'll be studying the Ancients, some books are a given: Aesop's Fables, The Iliad, The Odyssey, etc. Right now I am researching what are the best versions of these books for children - readable yet true to the originals.
  • Spanish: I like Puertas Abiertas but am a unsure if I want to use a video approach. Today I learned that Classical Academic Press is coming out with a new Spanish program. I have emailed them to find out when it will be available.
If anyone has any advice I am completely open to suggestions!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Homeschool Conference: A Review

This past weekend I attended my second homeschool conference. The initial thing that struck me was how much I've learned since we embarked on this journey two years ago. Throughout the first conference my head felt like it was going to explode from information overload. At times I felt they were conducting the conference in another language. They were throwing out names, terms and acronyms left and right: Classical education, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, trivium, living books, deschooling, WTM, BJU, ETC, Chris Klicka, et al. I had no idea what they were talking about even though I have an education degree! They seriously need to consider handing all newbies a dictionary of commonly used terms in the homeschool world before sending them up the escalator to their first meeting!

This year was different in that respect. I have had two years to slowly ease myself into the waters of homeschooling, to carefully research different methodologies and decide which curriculums I feel will work for my child and with my personality. That made this year's conference so much sweeter. I was able to choose seminars I needed to hear and this year none of them were about the technical "hows" of homeschooling (not to say that I won't need to hear those again in the future). This year when I saw the two keynote speakers' topics I knew it was going to be a good conference for me. The first was Homeschooling from a Foundation of Grace by Debra Bell, and the second was Raise Them Up, Don't Crush Them Down by Mark Hamby. I won't go into it here but you can read all about why these were so perfect for me in the first three posts on my other blog.

The conference started with Debra Bell's Homeschooling from a Foundation of Grace and after her opening line, "God called me to homeschool so I could understand the gospel of grace!" the tears started flowing. My sweet friends were pulling Kleenex out of their purses for me as fast as they could. If I was a pentecostal I would have shouted an emphatic "Amen! because that line pretty much sums up my year: through homeschooling God is teaching me all about his grace. And the lessons have been sweet but a little difficult at times - swallowing pride and self-righteousness can taste a little bitter I've learned. The other thing she said, which was almost a side-note for her but really struck a cord with me, was, "I told my children that I was not homeschooling them to protect them but to prepare them to fully engage the world and be used by God for his purposes." That is something my husband and I feel very strongly about but we've never put it into words so succinctly.

Mark Hamby's talk, Raise Them Up; Don't Crush Them Down was also very powerful for me. As he talked about how his relationship with his oldest son, Jonathan, was damaged by his exacting and controlling personality, he said some things which really made me think. His son is now 25 and much healing has taken place but it was a long, hard road. He used the passage from Malachi 4:6 as a reference: And he shall turn the hearts of the Fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. He then said, "Sometimes our children hear the beating of our voice but not the beating of our heart." Ouch! I wonder if Thatcher was a little older he would say he identified with that statement. He also made the comment that people are drawn to humility but repulsed by pride. Another ouch! Lastly he said, "You can protect your children from all the seemingly evil forces in the world (tv, secular music and books, undesirable friends etc. . . ) but unless you reach the heart there is no lasting change. Remember, Cain killed Abel and had none of those influences in his life!" Ouch, ouch, ouch! How much time to I spend trying to control my children's environment and how much time do I spend trying to mold their heart? Sadly, many weeks I can surely say, "Not enough!"

It was a, was a great conference!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

My Summer To-Do's

I think you can split the world into two groups - those who are motivated by to-do lists and those who are repulsed. I am the former, my husband the latter. I can't help it; I love the things (See post in my other blog for more about this). Checking those little boxes or crossing off that item is almost euphoric for me.

I also adore order; you could call me an organization freak. Someone needs to start a support group for us: "Hello my name is Jennefer and all my spices are arranged in alphabetical order by brand." I truly need to buy stock in the Sterilite company because I have 100's of their bins all over my home and, of course, all perfectly labeled. It's a disease for which there is no known cure.

Here's the conflict: since we have chosen to homeschool there is no time during the school year to do anything but basic weekly cleaning and keep up with laundry - and not even that some weeks! If I can set aside time each summer to get my home (re)organized, we can live off of that for the entire next school year. So without further adieu, here is my summer to-do list printed for the whole world . . . or my imaginary audience . . . to see and hold me accountable to.

  • Clean and organize baby's closet
    • put away all clothes he's outgrown
    • pack up all infant items - toys, bouncy seats, etc
    • get fall/winter hand-me-downs from big brothers ready as well as pj's and jackets
    • make list of anything he will need
  • Clean and organize middle son's closet and dresser
    • get his fall/winter clothes ready including pj's, jackets and shoes
    • make a list of anything he will need
    • organize books in armoire
  • Clean and organize oldest son's room (with his help)
    • start to include him in the organization system in his room so that he will have some ownership
    • make any changes he wishes to implement
    • make lists of all the clothing items he will need for fall/winter
  • Clean out master bedroom closet
    • get bag ready for clothing donation
    • organize and re-store all maternity clothes
    • find bins to fit on shelves in closet to hold loose items
  • Go through medicine cabinet - reorganize and throw out any expired meds
  • Clean downstairs coat closet
  • Clean all ceiling fans
  • Clean pantry - remove all food, wipe down shelves, replace all items and check for exp. dates on everything
  • Clean all inside windows
  • Clean all window sills
  • Wipe down all light switches and door knobs
  • Change air filters
  • Clean out garage
    • clean outside fridge - inside and out
    • re-organize all boys' toys and air up all balls and tires that need it
    • clean/organize storage shelves
    • use blower to clean out all dirt/leaves/grass
  • Research best vacuum cleaners and purchase new one
  • Take T and H to pediatrician for yearly check-ups
  • Power wash driveway (this one is a negotiable)
  • Buy new bed and bedding for our 2 1/2 year old
  • Organize our home office
  • Organize schoolroom
    • remove all Kindergarten materials
    • put all new materials into room (once I decide on, order and receive them!)
    • clean out all craft bins
    • stock drawers with new markers, crayons, pencils and so on
    • make list of all that needs to be done before we begin first grade (It's too early in the game for me to even know what all needs to be done.)

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Year in Review

It's finally here! Remember when you were young and a day so anticipated rolled around that it seemed almost magical, so much so that the air even had a special smell? Today was that for me. It was the first day of our summer break and I was as giddy as a school girl. We stayed in our pj's all morning, wrestled on the floor, made a huge mess with Moon Sand and just laughed all day. I have a summer to-do list a mile long and I will get to that. But today was just for play and it was wonderful.

I mentioned that we just finished Kindergarten, but what I haven't told you is that when we started the year in September I had a three month old and a 22 month old in addition to my very active five year old. It was a juggling act to say the least . . . the very least! And it truly wasn't a bad year considering I was often nursing a baby while listening to my son read to me with our two year old running around the room in full cowboy regalia.

All that being said, I always tell my son that everyone makes mistakes but the wise person learns from them. While this year was most definitely not a mistake, there's still much to learn. Here is the year in review, as well as my dreams for what next year can be.
  • This year we survived.
  • Next year I want us to thrive.
  • This year I only had time to glance at our lessons five minutes before beginning our school day - and that only if I was lucky.
  • Next year I will have our year carefully mapped out by the end of summer and spend time each Sunday evening gathering materials and going over upcoming lessons.
  • This year my son became a proficient reader who enjoys books.
  • Next year I want him to fall in love with the written word.
  • This year we read only books I had in our home collection. I was a public school teacher for seven years so my collection is large but not necessarily filled with quality literature.
  • Next year I will carefully choose books that will instill character and virtue, inspire imagination as well as help unlock his creative potential.
  • This year I taught him how to do math.
  • Next year I will spend more time developing the why behind the how. He knows what to do but he doesn't always understand why because I didn't take the time to build that concrete foundation on which abstract concepts can firmly stand.
  • This year we only focused on the three R's: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.
  • Next year I can't wait to add history, science, foreign language as well as art and music appreciation.
Now I am off to start working on that to-do list! What are your dreams for next year?

P.S. - The photo is from our Kindergarten graduation celebration we shared with three other homeschool families.