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!


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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!


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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!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Extra income with online data entry - one company that is real

After having been broke for far too long, but also having to balance being a single parent with earning an income, I have spent a lot of time coming up with creative income generating ideas. One of these was to investigate at home data entry. There a lot of scams out there — a lot! After reading through numerous work at home mom websites and reviews of various at home data entry companies, I happened upon Key For Cash which has since changed its name to Virtual Bee.

I’ve been doing data entry for Virtual Bee for a few years now, and while I’m not getting rich from it, I do earn enough to pay for most of the gas I use every month. Some months are better than others with Virtual Bee, but I usually earn a minimum of $60 per month. Sometimes, however, particularly from late February through the end of April, I am able to earn $60 per week with Virtual Bee. 

Personalized Money Clip from Bee Baubles Jewelry on Etsy
 The positives of online data entry with Virtual Bee
  • You can do it from home — You just need your computer and an internet connection
  • You can do it at any time of day, any day of the week — Mornings offer the most opportunities, however. Weekends offer the least.
  • You make your own hours — Some work at home jobs require you to keep regular hours. With Virtual Bee, you work whatever hours suit your needs.
  • You aren’t penalized if you don’t work — If you need to take a break from Virtual Bee, it’s not a big deal. You won’t be penalized for not being productive. You can log in to work whenever you need to or want to.
  • If you’re fast and accurate you’ll earn more — The faster you type and the fewer mistakes you make, the more you’ll earn. One nice thing about Virtual Bee is they don’t care about capital letters — If the snippet to be keyed has capital letters, you don’t have to bother with hitting shift or caps lock. Just key the letter. This saves you some key strokes.
  • There are several types of data to work with — If you are great with 10-key data entry, you can focus on those types of snippets. If you prefer only alphabetical entries, focus on those. If you like a mix, choose alphanumeric. I typically focus on numeric, dollars only, dollars and cents, or checkboxes data entry, although I also occasionally do alphanumeric and letters only snippets.

The negatives of online data entry with Virtual Bee
  • It isn’t consistent — There are dry spells periodically. Sometimes there will be days and days with very little work. Sometimes there will be an abundance of work one day and nothing the next. There is no pattern.
  • You won’t get rich — Online data entry with Virtual Bee pays 30-cents per 1,000 key strokes for most types of work. For some types of work you can earn up to 60-cents per 1,000 key strokes, but these higher paying segments are less frequent or may be more complex. However, over time you will likely naturally get faster and make fewer mistakes. I have definitely increased my speed and accuracy, and thus my earnings.
  • Too many mistakes gets you cut off — If you make too many errors, you will be logged out from your snippet, and possibly the system. If you continue to make a significant number of mistakes, you may have your access terminated entirely.
  • The pay dates are inconsistent — Payments come in the mail by check. Although they are supposed to come on a schedule (you can log in and see when your payment was processed), they sometimes come late. Most payments come about two weeks after the processing date, but I’ve waited four weeks on occasion. You also won’t receive a payment until you accrue $30 worth of key strokes.
  • Communication isn’t great — I have never received a reply when I have emailed with a question. However, when I emailed to ask them to update my address, I never received a reply, but my email must have been received because two payments later, my address was updated.

When I work
With Virtual Bee, I frequently work while I am watching television or movies. It’s down time that is generally dedicated to little else, and I don’t always feel totally engaged with what I’m watching, so why not? I also frequently have two windows open on my computer so that I can watch Hulu or Netflix on the computer while doing data entry.

As I said above, you won’t get rich from Virtual Bee, but you may be able to earn enough money to cover a small or small-ish expense every month. It definitely has made a difference for us. Please note that you do need to take a typing test to qualify, and the test covers a variety of types of snippets. You can take the test as often as you want (or at least you could when I signed up). Even if you score really well on the typing test, you may experience a wait before you are approved. This will coincide with how much work is available and how many others are also testing. It was about two months from the time I tested and when I was accepted into the program.

If you are ready to check out Virtual Bee, click HERE.

***This post is cross-posted at my blog, Save, Sally, Save!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Link dump -- things from around the 'net that I enjoyed this past week

Here are the blog posts, news stories, memes, and other things I've enjoyed this past week from around the 'net. I hope you find something to enjoy as well!

"Is Too Much Juggling Causing You Brain Drain?" from Psychology Today

"The Little Known Secret to a Longer Life" from Psychology Today

"Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy" from NPR

"16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People" from HuffPo (Huffington Post, y'all)

"10 Painfully Obvious Truths Everyone Forgets Too Soon" from Learn Live Evolve

Notice a theme in the articles?


Memes and pictures from the 'net, found via my FB feed - attributions as listed on the actual pictures, otherwise I don't know where they originated from...


And the song I have on repeat in the car right now:

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Going after my goals with vision boards...

If you've read this post, you know that I am working my way through Leonie Dawson's 2014 Amazing Business and Life Workbooks. I didn't have printer ink when I initially purchased Leonie's program so I downloaded the workbook to my computer and reference it regularly as a guide while making my own binder-workbook. I made sections to go with each section in Leonie's workbooks, and am working through the various steps Leonie has laid out, and slowly but surely my efforts are paying off.

I've had a small increase in my Etsy sales with very little additional effort. I've landed a job as a freelance writer that is almost enough money to pay my bills each month. I've redirected my life goals to things that are far more personal and fulfilling than ever before.

As I first started working this program, however, I noticed that although I love Leonie's artwork throughout her workbooks, I needed my own artwork and personal touch. I decided to create a vision board for each section. I thought about using one large vision board for the whole thing, but for me that ends up being cluttered and creates more problems than it solves as I work towards my goals. Be separating my goals into individual vision boards, I can remain focused on one goal or task at a time. I am using page protectors, paper, and magazine cutouts to create the vision boards. Each one makes a page/section divider in my workbook as well. I also have been collecting little quotes and phrases and sprinkling them throughout my binder. When I'm feeling down or like I'm not achieving anything, I pull out my binder, look at these pages, and instantly feel my pep coming back.

The vision board page for my "gorgeous body goals" section - the first page that is done! I love how it turned out. It reminds me to eat well, stay fit, and be happy.

From my "100 things to do in 2014" section. Can you tell I want to travel?

From my section on financial goals...

A few additions to the cover of my binder...

I have been carrying around this little quote for YEARS! It now has a home on the cover of my binder.

On the spine of my binder. A good reminder when I am feeling lazy or unmotivated.

What are you working on today, and what motivates you to keep working towards your goals?

***Please note, I do have an affiliate relationship with Leonie Dawson. If you choose to purchase her workbooks or other products through my link, I will receive revenue. I totally believe in this program though, and wouldn't provide the link otherwise.