Friday, February 25, 2011

> 5 minutes

 Yep, that's cream cheese.

Building Character(s)

At dinner we've been starting a new tradition. For the past 2 weeks we all sit together and read a short story from the Character Building Day by Day: 180 Quick Read-Alouds for Elementary School and Home book. There are enough lessons for 180 days and each topic, like diligence, has 5 short stories to go with it. So we can work on a new character building topic each week.

I really can't say enough good things about this book. At the begining of dinner, after everyone has been seated and served, we review the topic heading page about what that specific topic means in general. I ask the kids when they have been diligent (or not) or when that week they could remember being cooperative. These short stories are great for talking about how we should behaive and when. So far all the stories have had positive outcomes -showing examples of cooperation instead of being uncooperative. Which is great since we already have enough negative examples of our own.

I'm really hoping that these lessons will help the children to start identifying on their own positive and appropriate behaivors and traits they'd like to see in themselves. It also makes for a great family dinner conversation!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visual Aids

This isn't -by far- a new solution. It's not even new to this house (we lost our routine charts when we moved) but I have to say the addition of pictures* has extrodinarily helped with both the enthusiasm and age level of the kids able to participate.

I added a sun to the morning and a moon to the bedtime routine charts. Emmy loves them and thinks she has to push the picture to activate the routine. These are very simplified lists but the vast amounts of help...well, I can't even really express it.

They get it. I don't have to yell. Is it perfect? No, but it helps and I think that's what matters here. At least every morning and evening the kids understand both in words and pictures what I expect of them. There is a tangible chart of things and not just a jarring list mommy rattles off 5 times in 15 minutes at varying levels of aggravated that is too numerous to remember. Is it everything that I need them to do? No, but it's enough for them to accomplish mostly unsupervised and constant. Kids need that. A constant routine in which to gauge their days.

I think routine is most one of the most important (and difficult to attain) things for homeschooled children - especially unschooled- that have no real time table to judge things by. Since we don't get up at the same times every day, school never takes the same set of hours, and our activites vary pretty dramatically from day to day, having the list of things that is unchanging helps them immeasureably. If you have ever read a teaching or parenting book I bet somewhere in there the topic of routines come up. I read about it when we were having behaivor problems with my oldest. The whole giving them a countdown to leaving a fun playdate to help with tantrums and aid transition I can remember reading in multiple books.

Somewhere in the uprooting of house and home I forgot that. Morning and Bedtime Routine charts have become the first on our road to burn-out recovery.

*the clip art I downloaded from and is created by Kate Hadfield.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

T'ain't so bad

I realize that many of my posts lately have been high in the complaining department.

I'm sorry. Really. Don't run away.

I've been homeschooling for nearly five years. Which seems like an eternity to those setting out on the homeschooling path but really it's a drop in the bucket. Lately, I've been talking to some people that have been homeschooling for twenty or more years. No joke. People do it and have kids graduating college.

And apparently -according to these HS'ing gurus- the behaivor issues we've been dealing with en masse here are completely normal. Every family I spoke to either in person or online has had these same issues at some point in their homeschooling career. It varied only in intensity and duration but just about every family had a child that displayed all the different "traits" we're dealing with. The overdramatic, the lazy, the easily bored, the self-depreciation. Apparently, it's all COMPLETELY NORMAL.

Completely normal.

It's all part of the ebb and flow that is being with your child(ren) 24/7 for years and years and years. Of being both their parent and teacher. Their mentor and their family. And, did I mention? It's completely normal.

The whole "mommy sucks and I want to go to public school where they have recess and lunch" is just part of the-grass-is-greener syndrome. I appreciate how being at home gives us the opportunity to customize learning to the learner and those "traits" can be dealt with on a case by case basis. Which is what we're working on now (and I will post about that soon and not in a complaining way either, I promise).

I could have posted that everything is just peaches and cream but hearing that so many others are having (or had) the same issues made me feel the need to express our issues homeschooling. It's not all winning science fair projects and perfect quiet reading time. Homeschooling is both a challenge and a pleasure.

Just sometimes it's more one than the other.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fighting. Again. And tests.

Writing words with blocks.

I thought we were doing well. I spent some money I really didn't want to so I could keep the little ones occupied while I was doing school with the big ones. I had given some free and alternative days to break up the monotony of writing work. And now we're back to having bad days.

I get distracted. They slink out of work.

I try and work with them they start crying and whining about how hard it is.

Then we get into a power struggle. Right now Olivia and I are butting heads. We were doing fine (doing the science work from yesterday that somehow we didn't get around to) and she started falling behind, so Cordi and I went ahead and I said (since the part of the work was a little difficult for them to grasp -reorganizing mixed up words to make a 8-10 word sentence) I said Olivia can just copy the sentences.

It's been an hour and fifteen minutes and she's still complaining around a flow of tears.

Everything is distracting her. It's too hard. She wants to write her own sentences (which would be wrong.) Her pencil fell. It's too hard. She can't do it.

Now, she wants me to take her to school.

She got all her work done. This is for fun.

So, I looked it up. Fine by me really, if she wants to see how they push them in schools and what the consequence of this kind of behaivor there would be then be my guest. Writing three sentences by copying is going to be the least of her problems as the school website's main focus is the Testing Schedule.

The kids in the school down the street get tested seven times a school year. Six tests are administered  practicaly monthly and the last (either the FCAT for 3rd and up or the SAT 10 for 1st and 2nd) are week long after a week of test prepping. They even test the kindergarteners multiple times a year. Schools last 10 months (roughly) and the kids are given 7 test through the course of 180 days. Between holidays, days off, half days and all the prepping and actual testing days, when is the learning being done? How can anything be learned in depth? What is retained if shortly after a lesson learning is stopped to work on how to take a test?

I wouldn't push her to write these simple things except that is how things get pushed aside here. They learn (they're smart kids) that if they complain long enough or just flat out silently refuse to do the work mommy will get distracted with something else -be it a baby or a phone call or making food- and forget they're supposed to do it. They move on in their day getting to do what they want to do instead of what they need to do. If I change what we're doing because they protest they'll use it every time to get me to change what they don't like to do. If I say to her now "Ok, lets take a break and go outside" the next day something will be just as hard and she'll look for that break every day. I know my kids, trust me on this.

How do I instill a sense of responsibility in them? I'm so weary of all the fighting.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Shutterfly photo book review

A few months back Groupon offered a custom 20 page hard cover photo book through Shutterfly for only $10. I love photo books especially since switching to a fully digital camera I rarely print out photos anymore and a photo book is a great way to get the best ones organized, printed and contained all in one place.

The problem is the price tags. If you've ever researched creating your own photo books you'd probably found, as I had, that they range about $30 and up for an 8x8 or smaller book. Get into larger books, fancier binding and additional pages and you'll get set back around a hundred dollars. I was excited on finally being able to get one at what seemed like a reasonable price.

I thought I was getting a really great deal when I went online and created a completely customized, beautiful book with a few additional pages and when I went to go check out I couldn't use the coupon. Because I'm a moron and was at Snapfish, not Shutterfly. Three hours were wasted and for about 2 weeks I just scrapped making one at all. But Groupon extended the expiration date so I figured I'd go ahead and do it.

Another three hours later I had a photo book plus 9 pages, not nearly as customizable as Snapfish. Shipping was almost $9 plus the extra pages, tax and such I still ended up paying about $30 for the book including the initial cost of the Groupon.

The binding is nice, the pages are clean but Shutterfly won't let you add more than 4 photos per page, the backgrounds aren't changable unless you change the entire design of the book, the font on each page is miniscule and finite in its type, size and location. The cover is limited to about 4 different sized photos that are mostly all square which makes rectangular photos cut off. I also couldn't tell it was faux wood grain printed on the cover since I couldn't zoom in. Not my first choice.

You also can't zoom in to the completed pages so I couldn't tell until it came that Alex is almost chopped off in one binding becasue the photo is too close to the edge and one photo of Cordelia has another photo piercing her head.

Because you can't change the size or layout of the photos I ended up with pages that had LOTS of blank space. If you look really closely under the birthday cake on the right page that little black line actually says "June". That's as large as it lets you make it. Yeah.

You also can't change the backgrounds. At all. When you add a new page you can't choose the background, which is how I ended up with a maroon page and a baby blue page right next to each other.

While I'm happy to have a book that outlines our entire 2010 year (or as much of it as I could fit in 4 photos a page) and it was nice to be able to easily access Facebook photos for addition to the book, I'm not really very happy with Shutterfly's editing options. Maybe next year Snapfish will have a Groupon.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A hated chore

I have a little confession to make, one I think that every mom can attest to but probably won't. Perhaps, I'm breaking a sacred mommy bylaw by this confession but I have to tell someone. Try not to judge me too harshly.

I give the chores I hate to do to my kids.

Now that the secret is out let me clarify - there is one job inparticular that I have a loathing distane for. It's completely irrational and really no good reason whatsoever for my dislike of this chore but every day I pawn it off on one of my older kids to do. And what do you know, they gripe about it too. Then again, they gripe over every chore.

I hate emptying a clean dishwasher.

There, I said it. I can't stand it. For some reason the tedium of taking clean dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them away just makes my skin crawl. I can be faced with a sink full of week old dishes, caked with old food that has taken on a science project religion and not squeam. I can dutifully clean up vomit, poop, and urine from both my kids and a variety of animals and not blink an eye or dry heave. Which I think is pretty impressive since the hubby gags at dirty diapers. And he's been to Iraq. But if that damned machine is full of crystal clear glistening dishware I avoid it like the plague. And then demand whatever closest kid is available to "undo the dishes, please". 

I'm not particularly proud of this weakness but there it is. And I know I can't be the only one, so who will come forward with me and announce their most hated chore? And how do you try and get out of doing it?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Book Nest

In my quest to remake our homeschool experience I'm trying to open myself up to what I have dubbed "alternative days". I have a fairly rigid schedule that I try and stick to. Wednesday and Friday are our "short days" where we do just a little less work but it's still sit-and-write work, which gets borrr-ing.

Yesterday, in a fit of desperation inspiration I had all the kids gather up their pillows and blankets. I threw mine into the mix and made everyone a place. Then I instructed them to gather up a half dozen or so books they'd like to read or look at. If they could be quiet, stay in their places, and not fight for a couple hours that would be school for the day.

I love reading. If I could get a job staying in my jammies, lay in bed and read book after book after book I would shun the living world and never be seen again such is the conviction of my love. I want to instill that same zest for written words to my children.

Children that have more energy than a fully fueled 747. Sitting and looking at books for hours just isn't in them. I tried to encourage it anyway by setting a good example and making use of my own spot in the book nest. For a couple hours. I sacrifice, I really do.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Little Things

To break out of the homeschooling-parenting rut I've been in I decided to mix it up a bit by having a cookout.

Hotdogs are a rare treat in our house. Fire even rarer.

Even though I did this last minute (we were still collecting branches when the sun went down) and there was about a solid ten minutes where we weren't sure if the -wet- branches were going to actually catch on fire, we all had such a good time.

It was definately a much needed bit of fun and fire roasted hotdogs are amazing.

What fun things have you planned -or didn't- when life was starving for kindling?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


My post last week was both a rant and a cry for help. Thanks to those that came to my aid and to those that just listened. I've taken some of the advice I've been given and while great, tremendous leaps haven't been made I think I've at least chilled out a little bit.

One suggestion I had was to set up things for the little ones to do while the older ones do school. Being able to strap Max in a highchair has its benefits. I've decided to take a weeks worth of daycare (something I was seriously considering for at least Max and possibly Emmy) and invest it in age appropriate things that are only available for play at the table, during school time.

I picked up a few wooden puzzles, color wonder markers, play dough and a magna doodle to rotate out as he gets bored. So far he's getting bored easily but at least he can't go dunk his own head in the toilet while he waits for a new thing to occupy him.

Another thing I've done is to move my laptop into the dining room where the kids do school in the mornings so I'm not distracted working on other things away from them. Being able to only accomplish the minimal school requirements makes it boring even for me. I want to get into more science and art activities but by the end I'm so worn out I don't even want to think about it. I'm going to look for more hands-on activities for their core subjects. I've already found a website (that's free to boot! to add into their Language Arts.

I think we all get into ruts from time to time. It's crazy to think I've been homeschooling for almost five years now. Back when I first started this journey I marveled at those that had as many years experience as I do now, and it's funny to think there are times when I'm still just as lost and bewildered at the process.