Friday, October 3, 2014

Recent drawing...

I've been doing a lot of drawing over the past several weeks. Some drawings have shown up in my Etsy shop as stationery or coloring pages. Others are part of a drawing challenge called #Inktober on Instagram. #Inktober is a challenge to draw every day of October.

Friday, September 12, 2014

30 Lists Challenge

I'm participating in a #30Lists challenge on Instagram. I love it! There is a whole website dedicated to it, but I'm really only taking part on Insta. It has been a great way to get back into journaling after nearly 12 years without regular journaling. I stopped journaling when my abusive ex began to read my journal entries and commented on them all the time - always negatively too. I tried online journaling with password protection. I tried password protected journaling using MS-Word. I tried emailing my journal entries to myself. It didn't matter what I did - he found a way to read whatever I wrote. He hacked passwords, installed key-stroke capturing software on the computer. Found notebook style journals if I hid them. It didn't matter. Of course, this was nothing compared to other problems in the relationship, but the effects have lasted for years. I haven't been able to write a normal journal entry since then, even knowing that I don't have anyone to fear and that no one is likely to go searching out my entries. Leaving that ex was one of the most important, empowering things I have ever done, but I'll write more about that another day...

Today, here are some of my #30Lists journal entries:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pack light when traveling...

I still owe a post in my 5-part homeschooling series, and I swear someday I will get it done! Today, however, I want to talk about packing light while traveling. Author Elizabeth Gilbert's FB page today had a post about women traveling solo, and one of her suggestions is to pack light. A commenter, however, asked HOW does one do that.

I've spent a month in Mexico with only one backpack to carry all of my things. I spent 10 days in New York City with the same back pack. I've traveled cross-country twice, and both times, although I had tons of stuff with me, I only dipped into one single bag for clothes and toiletries.

Weekender tote bag by The Orange Door Boutique on Etsy - I could totally pack for a month in this one bag. Isn't it gorgeous?

Here are my tips for traveling light - this is my exact comment in response to the woman who commented on Liz's FB post:

Clothes that serve multiple purposes - a single pair of black paints or a black skirt in a forgiving, wrinkle resistant material can be worn for casual or dressy events or anything in between and goes with just about any kind of top. White, gray, black tops go with everything. Or, if you keep the bottoms neutral, take any top will pair with it. By taking easy to mix-match clothes you can take fewer clothes. Also, fabrics that can be worn more than once without getting smelly or that air out easily between wearings so you don't have to do laundry frequently.

I took a single backpack for a month long trip to Mexico once. We stayed in a hotel with a laundry service - it cost next to nothing so I could wear everything, put on my last clean outfit, and send the rest to be laundered every week for very little cost.

For a long trip, I pack 5-6 pairs of underwear and socks, an extra bra in addition to the one I'm wearing, a second pair of shoes (stuff the shoes with socks, underwear, and other stuff when packing to save space!), flip flops/sandals, one pair of pants, one skirt, and three tops. I carry a jacket or sweater on to the plane with me as I always get cold when flying. I usually wear a shirt and lounge pants on the plane and use those as pajamas while traveling. Oh, and I typically pack a hat of some sort (something that can be squished or folded up). Toiletries when traveling are toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion. I buy any other toiletries (shampoo, tampons/pads, for example) at my destination. 

I don't take things like a hairdryer, curlers, etc when traveling...although I don't use those at home either! 

I suggest pack a week before your trip. Two days later, remove 1/3 of whatever you packed. Two days after that remove another third. Only take what's left. Even with the small amount I pack, I always find one or two items that I don't wear at all during the trip.

I love taking clothing brands like Royal Robbins, Ex-Officio, Patagonia, Columbia, etc as they often are designed for travel with forgiving fabrics that don't wrinkle or that can be shaken out, and often don't absorb body odor.

My favorite book about women traveling solo:

Monday, April 7, 2014

We interrupt this bring you a homeschooling BONUS lesson!

If you were following my five part series on our family's homeschooling evolution, you know that I posted parts I, II, and III, but then I sort of disappeared. Yep, I just kind of vanished. Sorry 'bout that!

Read part I of our homeschooling evolution HERE.
Read part II of our homeschooling evolution HERE.
Read part III of our homeschooling evolution HERE.

You know those times when it feels like everything is rolling along and going great, then suddenly...


Everything kind of falls apart!

Yeah, that's kind of what happened here. Thankfully, I think I'm climbing back up to the mountain, headed in the right direction, despite having lost the trail.

I spent weeks and weeks feeling under the weather but kept plugging along when I should have taken a rest. As a result, I ended up fairly sick. I spent loads of time in bed, sleeping, when I wasn't at work. I couldn't afford to take time off from work to focus on feeling better, so my recovery took much longer than it should have. Of course, just as I began feeling better, my allergies went completely bonkers. Totally haywire!

In the past week, I've spent more on new allergy medicine, asthma products, and so on than I think I spent on similar products in all of last year! Yesterday was the first day I've felt even slightly normal.

So, although not part of my series on how our homeschooling approach has evolved, here is an important homeschooling lesson for you:

Homeschooling BONUS lesson: Adapt and be flexible.

Many new homeschoolers wonder, "How do we keep homeschooling when I'm pregnant and on bed rest?" or "I'm in the hospital with pneumonia. What do we do about lessons?" or "Grandma is super sick and we have to go take care of her. Will my kids fall behind?"

The answer is, take a break! Adapt and do what you need to do in order to take care of the situation at hand. Taking a break from lessons does not mean your children will stop learning or suffer. In my opinion, learning to deal with the problems at hand can be much more informative than just about any formal academic lesson. How you handle a crisis will go a long way towards how your children handle future hiccups in their life plans as well. 
Typography poster: Everything is going to be OK by NeueStudioArtPrints on Etsy
Here are my five steps to homeschooling through a crisis:
1. Set the books aside and focus on making it through.
2. Talk to your kids about what is happening and what is most important at the moment.
3. Find alternative options to your usual lessons - documentaries and videos, books on tape, notebooks and pens, paper and crayons, whatever helps get you through without making you feel like you've lost your grip entirely.
4. Tell stories. Either make up stories from scratch or tell true stories about your family's history. Talk to one another. Learning to communicate face to face is sadly becoming a lost art in this day of technology and social media. Communicating will bring you closer together.
5. Reschedule lessons for another time. Instead of working Monday through Friday, do lessons on the weekends. Instead of taking a traditional breaks to match the local school calendar, take a break a week or two later. If you have to miss a significant amount of the school year, plan to work through part of the summer.

And, bonus step:
6. Your kids will still learn even without formal lessons. It's going to be OK! In a crisis, loving your family and supporting one another is far more important than just about anything academic.

I hope to have parts IV and V of my homeschooling evolution series up by the end of this week. Thanks for being patient!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Our homeschooling evolution...Part III of V

Over the last two days, I've written about our start in homeschooling, thoughts on curriculum, when we do formal work, and much more. Today, I'll be talking about what homeschooling looks like for us now, seven years after we started, and also about why I let my son spend (almost) as much time as he wants on video games - and not necessarily educational ones.

Homeschool lesson #6 - Your approach will evolve over time
When we first started homeschooling, we followed a schedule (or lesson plan) that I made every week. Some pieces of curriculum that we used came with lesson plans which we either followed or tweaked to suite our needs. For other things, I made up my own lesson plans. Usually, I would spend an hour every Sunday evening reviewing what we did the previous week, goals for the upcoming week, and any special events that might be coming up in the new week. I plotted everything out on paper, gathered materials (books, science equipment, etc), and put it all in on the kitchen counter. On Monday, my son and I would review the week's schedule and get started. I had everything broken down by subject and day. We mostly got everything covered every week, but almost never followed the day-to-day schedule! Often we would do three days of science in one afternoon, an entire week's worth of reading on another afternoon, and so on.

Now, I still make a schedule of topics or items to cover, but it isn't based on any specific curriculum or lesson plan, and often follows my son's interests or plans for getting into college (that will be a future post - and again, the way one homeschooling family approaches college will be different from the way another family approaches it). At this point, we also do very little formal schoolwork together. Now, I just hand my son a list periodically, and tell him to finish it either that day, by the end of the week, on a certain date, or whatever fits our needs at that particular time. I'm also perfectly happy to scrap the list if I see him doing something that appears to have more value than anything on the list.
Working on math.
Homeschool lesson #7 - Your approach needs to work for everyone involved
As our approach evolved, and we learned more about what worked for us and what didn't, we started to figure out what worked for me but not JP, what worked for JP but not me, what worked for both of us but not for my mom who we happened to be living with (for the past four years we have been on our own - just the two of us).

For JP and I, it was enough to have the week's worth of materials in a pile, the plan for the week arranged by category but not by day, and to just work on things as the mood struck. However, I did realize that math was something that needed to be done daily for both my son and I. For my mom, it was important to measure progress - a list that we could tick off as we did each lesson, curriculum being used and learned from, and application of learned information.

From the start, learning to compromise has been imperative. Just because you are the adult, doesn't mean you know best when it comes to finding materials that work for your child - you need to figure it out together by trial and error. If your child is miserable with the materials or approach you have chosen, you will be miserable too, and vice versa. 

Homeschool lesson #8 - You may end up homeschooling in ways you never expected
We started out with a lot of structure and expectations about how homeschooling would look. At the start, I assumed we would always follow a lot of structure, lesson plans, and so on because that's what I thought I saw the homeschooling families around us doing. Recently, however, it occurred to me that that wasn't what I was seeing at all! It might be true that some of those homeschooling families have gone year to year with little change in their routine or approach, but I was only seeing a moment in time in their experiences and comparing that with a moment in time of our experience (Homeschool lesson #8a - Your homeschooling experience may be totally different from that of other families you know).

Now, we are very loosey-goosey but aren't full-on unschoolers. We still follow a loose structure for math and history, and we do lots of reading. But, we don't follow any set curriculum - none at all. I cobble together materials and plans on my own. We may work really intensely on a subject or specific topic for several weeks, then nothing specific for several more weeks. We bounce back and forth based on the rhythms of our lives. When either of us wants to know something, we seek out information and sources (Homeschool lesson #8b - You will most likely learn a ton along with your children!).
A failed eggsperiment.

Homeschool lesson #9 - Video games aren't mutually exclusive with homeschooling or learning
I used to limit my son's video game playing to so many minutes or hours per day or week, or to times after schoolwork is done, or after chores. I don't do that anymore. I realized that even with non-educational games, my son was still learning. He was learning problem solving skills. He was learning to seek out information from reliable sources. He was learning cooperation. He was learning leadership.

When he came to difficult parts in a game, instead of trying to figure it out for him, I encouraged him to seek answers himself. We started out searching the internet together for useful tips, cheat codes (which aren't really cheating if you really understand the way video games work - "cheat" is a misnomer when it comes to these codes), but eventually, I began letting him seek out the information on his own. He became savvier and savvier at searching the 'net, and he learned a lot about reliable vs unreliable websites and sources which has helped him in other areas of life as well.

As my son's video gaming abilities increased, and his gaming interests matured, I began letting him play multi-player, online games - in essence, playing online with strangers. We spent a lot of time talking about online safety, and that has transitioned to safety in general. Over time, he got interested in games such as Blockland where there really aren't a lot of rules, and people make up games as they work and play together. My son has learned more about cooperation, leadership, and following than he ever would have on a public school playground. Because he seeks out information to help him play these games, he is often looked to as a leader in his gameplay, but the very nature of these games requires the ability to work together with others to achieve a common goal. He also has learned to let go of leadership when it comes to tasks in which another player might be more skilled. Again, this has translated to every day, real life situations.

Through his online game play, particularly through Blockland, my son has also learned a TON about physics, computer coding, and game modification. He is so far beyond me in these areas that I can't even tell you about them! All I know is that if I have a computer problem, he can usually fix it now! He also is able to talk about computers, gaming, and all sorts of related topics with adults who have spent dedicated time learning this stuff.

My son's video and computer gaming interests have also led to interest in art - both drawing on paper and with computer-based art. He's getting so good that we have been talking about putting together a portfolio, and possibly pursuing college level art classes.
New video games for his birthday last year.

Homeschooling lesson #10 - Even without formal lessons, your child will learn
Have faith that your child will learn simply from existing in this world. Your child will learn if they see you learning. Your child will learn if you actively engage in honest, deep conversation. Your child learn if you set an expectation of seeking answers to questions.

I know my son is learning because I see him applying knowledge that he has sought out to situations he encounters in day to day life. I know he is learning when I overhear him discussing complex ideas with his grandfather. I know he is learning when he suddenly mentions something he read weeks or months ago to a situation he is experiencing in the moment. I know he is learning when he questions the assumptions of others, especially when those assumptions appear to have no basis in fact.

Tomorrow, I will talk about homeschooling as a single parent and why I don't worry about the s-word (socialization). Farewell, until then!


If you enjoyed this post, here are a few others you might also like:

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Our homeschooling evolution...Part II of V

Yesterday, I began writing about how our approach to homeschooling has evolved over time. I touched on starting out after a few years of public school, our first curriculum choices, and the first lessons I learned as a homeschooling mom.

Today, I'm going to write a bit more about curriculum, structuring our homeschooling days, and why we did (and still do!) most of our formal work at night.
We spent a lot of time walking our dog near the river. Spending time in nature is a great stress reliever and opens the door to curiosity about the world.

Homeschool lesson #4 - Selecting a curriculum doesn't mean you are locked in to using it
Buying curriculum can be scary! I decided early on that I wasn't going to force my son or myself to use any curriculum we hate, that we aren't learning from, or that requires a lot of work just to figure out how to use it. Learning should be enjoyable! If we enjoy learning we'll want to learn more, right? So, why in the world would we use something that doesn't add to that joy of learning?

We tried lots of curriculum, but I also talked to homeschooling friends, read reviews online, borrowed materials from others, and so on. We were lucky enough to know some homeschoolers already and met others fairly early in our homeschooling journey which made learning about curriculum fairly easy.

Before buying a curriculum, find out if you can return it if you don't like it. Borrow materials from friends of the library before buying them whenever possible. Don't sink a ton of money into anything that you aren't entirely sure of or can't return if it doesn't work out! We bought a huge history curriculum a couple of years ago - one that everyone I know seemed to love and one that looked great when I researched it online - and hated it. Thankfully I'd paid attention to the return policy and was able to send the whole thing back three weeks after we started it. Learn what you like and don't like in materials, and seek out or avoid those things as appropriate.

Homeschooling lesson #4a - Figure out where your child is at before selecting curriculum
When thinking about what type of curriculum and approach would work best for us, I considered where my son's knowledge level and interest levels were at.

I realized before we even began homeschooling that my son is a natural at writing, but the public school's curriculum was ruining his natural ability. The program had a "stoplight" structure designed to reinforce the idea of a topic sentence, detail/supporting sentence, and concluding sentence in every paragraph. Unfortunately, my son is very rules bound, and he became fixated on this simple, three sentence structure. Even after his teacher pulled my son aside and gave him permission to write beyond the structure, my son couldn't do it - not because he didn't know how, but because doing so would to be going outside the rules of the curriculum. Eventually my son just stopped writing for school assignments until he lost recess time as a result of not doing the work. That's how demoralizing he found the writing program. I knew he could write at a much higher level, but I had to break down the damage that had been done. For writing, we tried Writing Strands but it didn't fit our style. We tried just reading literature and writing a little bit every day, but my son still was hanging on to the previous "rules." I stumbled upon a series of workbooks called Just Write that were really a couple of years below my son's grade level, and many years below his true ability level, but I jumped on them when I saw them! The structure fit my son's needs perfectly and allowed me to undo the damage done by the public school's curriculum rules. By going backwards in grade level, I was able to basically have my son start over with writing - one of the BEST curriculum and homeschooling decisions I have ever made!

For math, my son was at grade level, but for science he was far ahead. For history, he was also far ahead. And, he had lots of interests that weren't part of the public school curriculum - music, computer programming, art history, German, and Russian.

When considering that in some areas my son was ahead and in other areas I purposely wanted to go below his actual grade level, I realized that a complete, prepared curriculum just wouldn't work for us. I know many people that have great success with prepackaged, whole curriculums, but that just wouldn't fit my son's widely varying comprehension and ability levels.
Golf is a great sport for kids who don't like team participation or aren't naturally athletic.
Homeschooling lesson #5 - Structure your lessons and time in a way that make sense for your family
When we first started homeschooling, I decided to scrap the typical school schedule. There was no way we were going to do "school" starting at 8am, having lunch and "recess" breaks, and finishing by 3pm. At the time, I worked night shift, and neither of us was a natural morning person anyhow. I already knew from my son's public school experience that the first subject of the day in public school was often his worst, even if it was something he normally excelled at, purely because it was so early in the day. I knew from just parenting my son and paying attention to when he was most happy and most engaged with the world, that he functioned best in the evening.

Taking into consideration my work hours and my need to sleep, my son's natural rhythms, and when we were both at our most alert and engaged, I decided that we wouldn't START our homeschool day until after 3pm, and often not until after 5pm! Early in our journey, we did use a lot of structure and curriculum with a schedule for everyday and a list of things to accomplish. We still do use a schedule, but are much looser about it now, but at the time, my job schedule combined with living with my mom who was a teacher and had her own expectations about homeschooling made me decide to be fairly strict on making sure things got done every day.

For the first three years or so of homeschooling, we often started our formal lessons with science since it was the topic that most engaged my son. We would then do history and maybe an art project, followed by JP's personal interests and a few skills I thought were important. He might work on his piano followed by practicing typing. Typically, we'd have dinner next, and for a long time we were in the habit of reading immediately after dinner, while still at the dinner table. Often we would read classics or poetry - Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, poetry by Cristina Rosetti or any number of other poets. After cleaning up after dinner, JP often helped make a dessert or helped make a snack for the following day - always easier to do it the day before thanks to my night shift schedule and having to sleep in the morning and early afternoon. Then, we would finish the evening with math.

Don't worry about following someone else's schedule. If lessons on the weekend or every other day or every other week or at night or first thing in the morning works for you, go with it! Doing something because someone else thinks you should doesn't work - do you what you need to do to get the best results for your situation!
Learning about computer technology at a science museum - right up JP's alley!

Tomorrow I'll be talking about what homeschooling looks like for us now, seven years after we started. I'll also be talking about video games as educational tools - and I don't mean games that are meant to be educational! Stay tuned!


If you liked this post, here a few others you may enjoy:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Our homeschooling evolution...Part I of V

Don't worry, this post isn't about evolution vs creationism! It's about how our approach to homeschooling has evolved over time.

Once upon a time, I had a glorious vision of books, curriculum, a beautiful abacus, and so much more! I envisioned us fresh faced, happy to meet the day with walks at sunrise, a healthy breakfast with fruit and whole grain waffles made from scratch, followed by play with Waldorf inspired toys, then reading fairy tales, learning math on an abacus and using blocks, and so much more. The light would shine in gently through the open window. Birds would sing beautiful songs...

Then I woke up. Ha!

Yeah, homeschooling for us never even came close to looking like that! Instead, it was a big messy pile of fun, hilarity, occasional reliance on curriculum, and mostly interest-led learning.  But, along the way, we've tried different approaches, keeping some, ditching others, and making it all work for us. 
Our "school" space early in our homeschooling journey was a kitchen table in a bedroom that we shared while living with my mom. I was a single mom, raising my son, working, homeschooling, and we lived with my mom. It was a lot of work but totally worth it!

Homeschooling lesson #1: "Make it work for you and don't worry about gaps."

There is no one set way to homeschool and no one set way to learn. If you are new to homeschooling, or you've been at it and are feeling frustrated, keep that in mind. What works for my family, for my friend's family, for that stranger's family may not be right for you. It's ok to change your approach. It's ok to start one curriculum, hate it, and get rid of it. It's ok to not use any curriculum at all. It's ok to use only a little curriculum. It's ok to use a lot of curriculum.

We have been homeschooling for over seven years now, and our approach has changed many times. We've loved some curriculum, hated some curriculum, and found others to just be so-so. We've tweaked and changed things. We've returned some materials after trying the first lesson, and we've loved others so much that we bought the next level. Through it all, my son has continued to learn and grow.

I don't worry about not finishing a curriculum or text or having gaps, because schools do these things all the time! I don't recall ever finishing an entire curriculum or text (other than novels in English class) during my education - the year would end before we finished that history text or Algebra curriculum. My mom used to be a teacher and rarely could get her entire class through the entire curriculum. I spent time volunteering in my son and niece's classrooms and their teachers almost never finished a curriculum - it's the nature of the beast, and it's ok! I hear from new homeschooling families regularly about stress in not being able to finish a curriculum (or finishing "too fast" - more on that in the future), and my advice is to relax! Your child isn't missing out on anything. There is so much to learn and know that there is no way to learn and know it all! We ALL have gaps in our knowledge, and that is part of what makes living and interacting with others so interesting!

Homeschooling lesson #2: "There is no single right approach."

We actually didn't start out homeschooling, although I wanted to homeschool my child long before I even became a mother. In fact, I wanted to homeschool my future kids when I was still in elementary school myself and dissatisfied when I asked my teacher about mushrooms and was told, "You don't need to know about that right now..." The message I heard was, "Your interests don't matter."

My son went to public school until halfway through 4th grade. He went to excellent schools. His teachers were top-notch, absolutely amazing at their jobs. But, my kid wasn't a fit for the public school mold, even when his teachers made accommodations and worked with us to help keep him engaged. My son's idea of playing on the playground was to discuss astronomy and make up intense, in-depth role-playing games. Most of the other kids wanted to play soccer or run around and climb the jungle gym. My son was frustrated by the rules of the writing curriculum, even after his teacher told him that he could go beyond the rules of the curriculum. My son was bored. He was frustrated. I was already doing a ton at home to supplement his school experience, including helping him manage his stress after school. My son was falling apart in public school. I looked at other options, including the local Waldorf school, some alternative schools, and so on, but none of them really touched on what I thought my son needed: understanding that he is an individual with intense curiosity, strong emotions, and creative impulses, and the ability to express those things.

I had already spent years researching homeschooling, approaches, curriculum, etc. I finally decided we were going to do it and set a date - the winter break would be when we left public school and began homeschooling. I had read a lot about deschooling - the idea that children need to decompress and destress from the structure of school once they are transitioned to homeschooling. I didn't like the idea of my son just laying around and doing nothing of structure or substance though so I decided to jump into homeschooling right away, but gently and slowly.
We found lots of free activities, including an archery clinic, during our homeschooling journey. Homeschooling is as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be. The opportunities to have fun, enriching, low-cost experiences are amazing!

Homeschooling lesson #3: "What does my child like and dislike?"

In the couple of months prior to starting homeschooling officially, I began to think about what motivates my son to learn and engage with the world around him. He loved science. He was particularly into chemistry at the time, and he already had a chemistry set, but that set required a lot  of extra work and research to make it meaningful. After researching homeschool science curriculums, I came across Noeo Homeschool Science. I loved their well-rounded curriculum, and although the company's Christian/creationism beliefs weren't in line with my own beliefs, I liked what I read and saw enough to buy their Level I chemistry program. We both loved it! The books were fantastic, the experiments were great, the step-by-step progression through the material made sense and wasn't overwhelming. We could easily go faster or slower through the material as needed. Once we got started, we were both hooked! It also turned out that the curriculum relied very little on creationism or evolutionary theory, and if you prefer one or the other, you could easily add other materials to go with your beliefs.
Our first science curriculum from Noeo Homeschool Science. This is one of the few things I splurged on. Everything else was as low-cost as I could make it!
On our first official day of homeschooling, I also sat down with my son to make a list of all the things he wanted to learn or do. We also made a list of all the things he did NOT want to learn or do. I let him list whatever he wanted in either category - it didn't matter how easy or hard or impossible the lists were. This was just to get a sense of where he was at compared with what I thought was should be doing. I also wanted to be sure that my son was engaged in his own education - that he wanted and was motivated to learn.

With our science curriculum that felt more like play than curriculum, and with my son's lists in hand, we were well on our way to a fantastic homeschooling journey. In my next post, I will tell you more about what came next - our first curriculum choices, trying out lots of structure vs no structure, and why we did most of our formal work at night instead of during "school hours." Stay tuned!


Check out Part II HERE!