Monday, September 28, 2020

411 On Homeschooling Durinng The Pandemic

A cute kid doing a research project on her own on a Sunday afternoon. This was nothing that was assigned. She wanted to learn about Anne Frank, so she researched and made a diagram on her life. This is typical since we've started homeschooling our kids. They learn for fun. 

This week marks one month since our homeschool adventure began. I've learned A LOT in the last month. I feel like I've said that over and over again since March, but it's true. Seriously, do you know how much one can forget about igneous rocks or adverbs? I've spent a fair amount of time feeling incredibly stupid, but also totally smart as everything comes back to me. It's more than just third, fifth, and seventh grade subjects though. Right off the bat I realized that our homeschool adventure is really a life adventure, as homeschooling is more of a lifestyle than an education style. It's realizing that there can be something to learn in nearly everything our children do and supporting it, no matter what time of day or night it is, whether we're in desperate need of a break or not. My husband and I are our children's only teachers at the moment and we haven't taken that lightly.

Let me start with the type of homeschooling we chose. Iowa has very lenient homeschool laws. We literally could have written a note to our school district that we were pulling our children to homeschool and that would be that. We chose to go with our district's homeschool assistance option. I can teach whatever curriculum I'd like, in whatever way I'd like, including creating my own curriculum. We have access to our district's resources, including the same curriculum my children would be using if they were in school right now, plus free access to textbooks and a visiting teacher who meets with us once a month (sometimes more). That teacher is available to answer questions, help when needed, test our children, and assist in the overall teaching of our children. To say I have utilized our visiting teacher and the assistance office is an understatement. They did everything for me, including pointing me in the direction of what textbooks my children needed, to getting my children un=enrolled in our school district, to holding my hand as I created their education plans. 

I was reluctant to give homeschooling a try in the beginning because I would be losing our supportive school community. It's a community of friends, my children's friends, teachers who have become friends and sounding boards, and resources that are needed during a pandemic. To gain another supportive community has eased many of my fears and helped us begin the school year comfortably. I feel as though I haven't really lost anything. I'm hoping it stays that way. Meanwhile, though we're able to take full advantage of the district's resources and textbooks, I decided to piece together my own curriculum for the minis for the school year. This was decided upon knowing what I, realistically, can and can't accomplish in a single day (and school year) and taking into account what the minis requested to learn for the year. 

Taking the mini's requests into account has me readjusting our school days quite a bit. They are anything but typical school days. While most of our school days begin at 8:30 a.m., they can continue well into the evening, night, and even weekends (with many breaks in between). Later this fall, we'll be taking an indepth look at planets and stars.This means many of our science classes will be held at night as we star gaze! It's definitely not a typical school day experience, but that's also part of the appeal of homeschooling. I can provide a stability that schools (at the moment) cannot and it can be done safely. Not that every day is easy breezy though.

Nearly ten years in childcare has taught me that if I'm frustrated or a child is frustrated, to walk away. Put something down and walk away. Since I am attempting to homeschool AND run a business at the same time, this is an important piece of the puzzle. I know that if my children are having a hard time understanding something, or a topic needs to be explained more indepth to them, or I don't have the time or patience, the best thing to do for both of us is to put it down and walk away. There have been many times I've told them to put a subject away, take some free time (which is usually just playing with friends), and we'll come back to it at a later time in the day or evening. For a while there, one child was doing social studies at night and had a four hour break in the middle of the day. 

It also means we can fit two days of math into one, or a week's worth of grammar lessons into two days. The school work can be done at just about any time or place (although, some lessons require the use of a computer and Wifi). In the month of September I took Fridays off. We hiked in State Parks, we had science class outdoors as we searched for geodes and looked at fossils, and the minis did their other schoolwork in the car in between excursions. Sounds pretty great, right? This is a big mark in the pro category, but it can also be a con.

This schedule means I (and my husband) rarely get breaks. It means that even though my workday has ended, I may have a subject or two to teach, in addition to getting dinner and prepping for other lessons for the week. I've had to re-evaluate how I take my "free" time and what is most important to me. One day I might prioritze taking a 45 minute shower and the next it may be taking a late night walk with the dog. I've had to take steps back (for the time being) in many aspects of my personal and professional life, so we can simply have an open schedule. This means I can't have busy weeknights, just in case a lesson needs taught (or re-taught) or a lesson is taking longer than predicted. We've had to adjust our life, not just how our children are learning. Surprisingly, this hasn't been a huge adjustment. It helps that we've been leading our pandemic life since March, so we have had a few months of practice!

To be completely honest, being mom/teacher/daycare provider is exhausting. It's A LOT of work. I can't have one moment of being unorganized or I will have failed in a day of learning (although, don't doubt for one minute that at some point this school year I'll be utilizing documentaries for a day of learning). I found myself on my Sunday sleeping in until 9:30 and then watching mindless TV for half of the day. I simply need that shut off time. It's been hard for me to sit down and write because I need to be in a different head space that I can't quite get in. Friendships and other relationships have taken a backseat, so I can make sense of what our life looks like right now. Thankfully, I have a life full of very understanding people and for that, I am eternally grateful for.

While I'm exhausted, I'm okay with it because I've watched my minis flourish. There is absolutely zero fight in getting them to do school work because they are eager to learn. I like to think it's because they're learning things they'd like to learn in ways that suit their learning styles, but the truth is, I have no concrete reason why. There have been times I've found them voluntarily doing school work or using their free time for more learning activities. I have also heard very few complaints about helping with chores. I'm not completely sure if it's because the minis have gotten older or if they're home all of the time to see what it takes to make a household work, but either way, I LOVE this aspect of homeschooling. In the spring we tackled cooking. As a result, I have kids making meals several times a week for us plus doing dishes, vacuuming, taking the trash out, dusting, and picking up as needed. I don't take the help for granted! Mostly I'm pleased to see them blossom in their independence with their newfound skills.

Of course, choosing to homeschool during a pandemic is full of uncertainties. At this time, EVERYONE is doing something new and different. Whether it's navigating virtual learning, a hybrid schedule, or getting used to what school or life is now for your family, everyone is lost in something different. It makes me feel less alone. As a result, our tribes and support teams haven't changed much because we're ALL doing something different and new. Sometimes, when our tribes are at different places, it makes it hard to relate. Instead our tribes have found the common ground of newness and uncertainty among us. Unfortunately, because of the uncertainty during the pandemic, many of the homeschool groups my children could be a part of aren't currently meeting or in session. We definitely are not getting a typical homeschooling experience, but it's working for us.

My husband and I are buckling up and hanging on for dear life because this ride doesn't seem to be ending any time soon. I'm hopeful we can get into a better routine, so I don't have to be busy from sun up to sun down. Overall, our homeschool experience has been positive with many learning curves. I'm sure the weeks and months ahead won't always be rosy, but at this moment in time, I am extremely happy we chose to homeschool our three minis for a plethora of reasons. I've been asked many times if we'll continue to homeschool past this school year. At this time, that is not the plan, however, if 2020 has shown us anything it's that our plans mean nothing. We're trying to enjoy the now and the memorable moments it brings.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

My Favorite Fall Homeschool Things

Guys, homeschool is a whole new beast I'm conquering and wow, have I learned some things in just a few short weeks! Besides re-learning igneous rocks, fossils, conjunctions, long division, and Constantinople, I've also figured out do's and don't's through trial and error. I've also been relying on some things that have become go-to's for us during our homeschooling days.

A typical homeschool/daycare day for us.

1.) We've been (succesfully) using Khan Academy for math and a few other subjects. It's great for supplementle work or as a full curriculum (ahem, math, since I have no business teaching math). Plus, it's FREE. 

2.) I've praised time and time again since last spring, but I my two youngest have been using the workbooks beginning this fall and they are wonderful! Easy, quick to understand lessons that would otherwise be taking me a few days to teach from the textbook. If I feel they need more work in an area, I can easily pull out the textbook then, but so far the workbooks have been great for creative writing promps, grammar, and language arts use.

3.) One thing is for sure, homeschool is way different than the desk confinement I felt during childhood. The kids do school work all over the house: laying on the floors, at tables, sitting on the couches. One of their favorite places to sit and do computer work are on these comfy chairs. I snagged them from Walmart before school began and they are used more than the desks and tables we have!

4.) Quick snacks for the morning are a must. Since I'm essentially teaching three different grades, plus overseeing virtual school for some kids, plus implementing a preschool curriculum in the mornings for daycare, I need easy, but still healthy snacks. I found these Enjoy Life berry bars and they are well loved. Much like their chocolate chips, these bars now have a permenant place in our cupboards.

5.) We tried out this chicken chili recipe last weekend and it was wonderful! A true sign of fall in our house is the return of Chili Sundays.

6.) Out of all of the school supplies I've purchased for homeschooling, our white boards have gotten the most use. I write down everyone's schedule daily, snack and lunch breaks (and what we're eating, of course), and anything extra the kids need to know for the day. I have an extra one to use for teaching, but I haven't had to use it yet!

7.) I'll admit it, I'm tired. Exhausted really. Even though I spent the month working only four days a week (at most), I'm really looking forward to Fall Break. Of course, the minis will still be doing schoolwork, but it will all be hands on or independent work, which means I'll be able to enjoy a few days off from being full time teacher.

8.) Since we're all home all day every day, making sure the house is cozy and smelling nicely is important. I let the minis pick out all of the fall candles for the house. Our new favorite is Warm Fall Leaves from Walmart. Yankee also has a few fall scents, our favorite being Crisp Fall Night.

9.) Walks and hikes are a daily part of our lives now that the temps have cooled down. Of course, the doggo comes with us. I purchased a bigger, heavy duty vest for him and it's been a lifesaver on our longer hikes.

10.) Oversized sweatshirts are life during the fall. We all love these sweatshirts from Old Navy. They're comfortable, warm, but also light enough that they're great for the cool fall mornings and warm afternoons. 

11.) Beginning next week, we'll be learning all about the periodic table of elements. To assist in this, I grabbed a placemat and a small rug to go in the daycare room. As I predicted, the rug is studied daily by each child that steps on it.

12.) I get that dogs aren't part of the homeschool theme, but a dog is a part of our homeschool day! Our puppy project is still going strong and the minis are doing an AMAZING job of taking care of him. Picking up poop is a big part of their job. I bought these pet waste bags back in July and we'll be using them for quite awhile! 

13.) Our music classes this semester focuses on music from around the world, which means I've invested in some new instruments. Our favorite by far has been the Tibetan Singing Bowl. The kids like it because it "makes a cool noise." I like it because I get to see the kids grab it before doing yoga in gym or seeing kids play it because they "need to calm down." It's the best.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fall Weekends

While not technically fall, as soon as the school year begins, fall activities start in our house. This year it coincided with the Hub's birthday. We were still quite tired from making the new school room (read about that here), but we celebrated with a quick hike, homemade breakfast, and a delicious dinner.

The boys made soyrizo and eggs by themselves. I LOVE having kids who cook now. They make quite a few breakfasts and dinners for us.

We decided to give Brown's Woods a try for hiking. While it's one of our favorite hiking spots, it's been VERY crowded since the pandemic began, so we've stayed away. While it was still busier than we're used to, it wasn't terrible. Quite a few trails had barricades due to downed trees from the derecho. We may or may not have gone around them to hike (and also those areas had less people around). 

Max has been working on selfie skills.

New roommates! Zeus is thrilled to be in a room with his favorite humans. The small humans are not happy with some of his early morning wake up calls, but overall, it's been awesome. The boys are in charge of taking him outside and waking up with him anways, so it made sense to move Zeus (and all of his belongings) into the boy's room.

Hubs request for dinner: steaks, potatoes, and asparagus.

Serrano pepper challenge. Max won, but Harrison took bigger bites.

Snookies (ice cream) and Mulan.

Waiting for any that were dropped. We introduced the kids to Sister, Sister (thanks Netflix).

Max didn't want to leave Zeus for an afternoon, so Matt and I took the younger two to an alpaca farm and the Blank Park Zoo. It was a great afternoon! 

Alpacas are crazy soft. I recommend petting one if you never have. It was just as theraputic as goat cuddling this past spring.

This amazing farm had pears for picking as well! We scored finding this place.

This was our first visit to the Zoo since Covid hit. It made me realize how much we've missed our quick Zoo visits on the weekends.

Ever since Covid and we began homeschooling, I've noticed my three being much more aware and interested in everything around them. That means any and all learning exhibits wherever we go are studied and examined thoroughly. Our quick trip to the Zoo was made longer because they had to read EVERY sign they came acrossed.

The peacock followed us down the sidewalk.

We also made a quick stop at the store, which resulted in a Halloween costume for the dog. He was NOT amused by it.

This is how I homeschool prep on the weekends. 

The minis have been great about doing schoolwork when we have the time, which isn't always traditional school hours. They worked on their art project (tie blankets) throughout a weekend.

We spent a morning making enchiladas with my family and Zeus got a play date in. Despite making them for years, this is the first time I (and the minis) have partaken in the rolling of enchiladas. Then we ate them. The minis LOVED making them and are eager to make them again.

Hubs and I were invited to a soft open of Fresko. This was a huge deal because 1.) we haven't been inside a restaurant in 6 months and 2.) we had a few hours away from the minis. Great food and great night! I highly recommend this restaurant!

More school work on the weekends. This time, we did streak tests for science class. All of the plates came broken, but we were still able to use them.

Thanks to some hard work and exceptional fellow board members of mine, we did a test run for re-opening the Des Moines Children's Museum with ALL NEW exhibits. Elizabeth came with me to help, since there wasn't a big crowd. She also helped with some last minute exhibit things before she came out to play with a friend.

This one is always so hopeful for a bite of whatever anyone is eating.

I wanted to get our pumpkin patch visit in early in the season, so we wouldn't have to worry about crowds. We had a wonderful, socially distanced time for an afternoon. We went to our favorite pumpkin patch, Geisler Farms, and did all of our favorite activities. For the first time, we attempted the corn maze. Harrison was excited about it, but Max and Elizabeth wanted to be done. Max complained about how hot he was in jeans (I told him to wear shorts) and Elizabeth wondered, "why on earth would anyone pay to walk around in a bunch of corn?" I reminded her I was that someone who paid so we could walk around that cornfield. Anyways, it wasn't long after that we picked out our pumpkins for upcoming science projects and left. I treated myself to Starbucks after that fine experience.

All middle schooler over here.

All of the corn was still on its side from the derecho that came through the beginning of August.

Complaining kid.
Happy kid with the map that he wouldn't let anyone else see. The problem is he really stinks at reading said map, so Hubs had to have the map of the maze up on his phone to help out. 
Another complaining kid.

Minis: No pictures! We're done.
Me: Smile, we'll get pumpkins, and then we can go...but don't smile stupid. 

True words spoken by mother of the year over here.

We put up a new covering on the windows. Keeps people from seeing in, the kids can't see out to be distracted, it let's light in, and it looks cool when the light hits it. Awesome Amazon find!

Drama at Walmart pick up. A bug was sitting on the sign. I was worried about the bug flying in the car. Turns out I should have been worried about the hundreds of birds flying around. Several nearly flew into my car as I waited for them to put my groceries in!