Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Get-A-Way

The past two months have been filled with lots of research about curriculum, teaching styles, organizational tricks, and plenty of other good homeschooling topics but the one thing I don't read much about is how to keep your marriage strong and healthy when the kiddos are around 24/7/365.  I've read a lot about how families are doing things together, how to include the kids in the household decisions, how to have family devotions, etc. etc. But my question is more like, "How do I find enough time without the kids around to make sure my marriage remains a top priority?" 

Being married to a pilot allows us some free time that most families might not otherwise get to enjoy. Instead of working a typical 9 to 5 day, 5 days a week, my husband works a different kind of schedule with often times several days off in a row.  This is great for homeschooling since he is our kids primary math and science teacher, but what about the all the times we could be doing things alone together if only the kids were in school?   Or maybe a better way to say it is, "Since the kids are at home all of the time, how do we get to be alone in the house some of the time?"  We've thought of shipping them off to co-op classes, but we haven't found any that meets at the right times for all three kids. We do have them in sports, but again the times do not line up.  One major reason we homeschool is to have them home, yet being home ALL the time does make us feel like we are always "on duty". Don't get me wrong, we love our kids and want them around, we just also want to make sure we remember that we are a couple first and need our private time to nurture our relationship.

So far we've come up with two things that help. The first is that we put a small table and chairs in our bedroom so we can can enjoy meals together - door locked and shades closed. This allows us a little uninterrupted private time to talk over issues and reconnect. And might I mention, it's *free*.  The second is to take little mini-vacations without the kids.  Of course it helps that we have wonderful grandparents who are able to watch the kids and free airfare to take us a little farther than the next city.  Last week we were able to get away to Boston for three days where a family friend treated us to a boat ride to check on lobster traps.  It was a great experience and fun way to spend time together as a couple.  If I had to come up with a third, it would be to pray together. I have to admit this is something we either do alone or with the whole family. As we begin our new homeschool year, I think we need to add this to the list too.

I'd really like to know how other homeschooling families balance the reality of "kids around all the time" with "we need to be alone sometimes".  I recognize that homeschooling requires some sacrifices and along with it comes great blessings.  I know from past experience that tipping the balance too much one way or the other doesn't produce great results.  I'm hoping that this year we will not neglect the value of "couples time" and this in turn will benefit the kids by providing them with happy, stable, and loving parents.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Jobs vs Chores

Lately the kids have been asking how they can earn a little spending money. In the past we've given them an allowance that wasn't exactly tied to chores; however, we did expect them to contribute to the family or else they would not get paid.  It might have been semantics, but we think they got the general point.  It was successful for several weeks until the chores eventually stopped getting done and we respectively stop paying the allowance.  Fast forward a year and the issue has resurfaced. This time the kids took matters into their own hands.  Tonight we were treated to a very professional well thought-out presentation of how, when, and why they should get paid.  They provided us with written information about the jobs and included a white-board chart of how it might work.

To show how serious they were, my son James wrote up a contract outlining the details of how the payments were to work along with specifics on penalties, loans, and borrowing against future jobs.

I have to say we were kind of proud of all the effort they made.  I've been trying to come up with a fair (and EASY) way to handle this situation for a while now.  While I do feel that many things they do around the house are "chores" and should be done because they are part of being in a family, I do however feel that other things are more like "jobs" for which they can be compensated. The trick for our family will be to keep it simple and keep it straight. As with any new great idea or plan, it will only work as well as everyone is interested in making it work.  For now we seem to have the5LeRoy's all in it together and that's a good place to be!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Great Day for a Tiny Discovery

We live really close to the beach but we don't really go that often. There are a variety of reasons for this but none of them are really good. This time Dennis had a brilliant idea. "Instead of trekking all the way out to the ocean, let's take a quick trip to the Indian River," he proposed.

The Indian River (a lagoon system that forms the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway) is a great place to launch our paddleboard, goof around with a borrowed kayak, and practice setting up our new Buc's canopy.  It was a perfect day with little commitment or crowds to complicate matters.   Best of all, it was a day of discovery for the kids.  Not only did they enjoy experimenting with the things we brought, they also made some of their own discoveries while playing in the water.  By far the coolest thing they brought up from the bottom of the sand was a teeny tiny horseshoe crab.  They wanted to take it home and keep it but of course we convinced them that this was its home and should remain in the Indian River.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Blog Design Blues

If you're reading this Blog you've probably noticed three things. First, it's plain. No cool bottons, fancy gadgets, or cool swag.  Why? I just don't know how to do it. I've been working on setting up this blog for months and no amount of "help topics" I read is helping me make this look any richer. Clearly I need a programmer sitting next to me guiding me through each and every step. 

Next, some of entries are marked "Originally posted on..."  that is because I began blogging on WordPress before I decided to switch to Blogger.  Since I only had a handful of posts written, I thought it just as well to copy and paste them here.  Thus the mix-matched dates, fonts, etc.

Finally, you may have discovered the entries are too loonngg.  I noticed that right away but thought it important to document how and why we decided to homeschool this year.  A little background can sometimes bring perspective especially to those who do not know your situation. 

In short, unless I find someone who can help me in person or I can attend a live siminar on setting up a cool-lookin' blog, this is the best I can do.  Keep checking back though... someday it'll look hip and you'll know right away someone else helped me!          

Saturday, July 7, 2012

To Swim or Not to Swim

As we're about to re-embark on our homeschooling journey I have been doing what most good homeschooling moms do: research.  I have been trolling blogs, lurking on homeschooling sites, browsing libraries and book stores, and joining local support groups.  I have examined what we have done in the past and prayed about what to do in the future. One type of philosophy that has caught my eye is unschooling.  In theory everything about this method seems to make sense to me... that is except for one thing.  I can't get around the fact that sometimes it's good to "encourage" kids to do things they may not on the onset want to do. Case in point, this summer my husband and I agreed that all three of our kids should be on a swim team. Yes they can swim to the other side of the pool, but if they found themselves in a difficult water situation I'm not confidant they wouldn't be in trouble.  In short, we want them to be strong confident swimmers who could effectively use different strokes if the need should arise.  We do live in Florida and there is water all around so to us this makes good sense.  We believe it's a life skill much like reading, driving, or doing arithmetic.  Yes it can be acquired later in life, but knowing how to swim before you get into an emergency is most helpful.

We found a swim program that wasn't too strict about missing practices or going to swim meets and figured this to be a low-stress way to gain a new skill and build endurance.   The kids were less than enthused.  The groaning began at the first mention of "swim team".  Even after careful explanation of our reasons and a promise that this was to be only one summer - just a few times a week for one hour - and then they would never have to swim on a team again - they still didn't want to do it. If we are to embrace an unschooling philosophy I suppose this is where we should have stepped back and allowed them to choose whether or not they wanted to participate.  But having never tried it before how would they ever know if they are good at it? or maybe if they like it? or maybe would use it one day to save their lives?  The protests continued but we insisted. The first couple of weeks were tough. Let's face it, swimming laps is tiring and hard work. None of them were warming up to the sport. Yet at the first meet, our youngest took first place in backstroke, something she didn't even know how to do a few weeks prior. Our eldest showed promise as well and our son just "got through it" the best he could.  After a few more weeks of practice (and A LOT more whining) they got up early for their second meet.  This time Emily took first in butterfly and backstroke and swam several relays.  Kat was fourth in backstroke which is turning out to be her signature stroke, and James not only swam several relays but he did so without complaint, protest, or whining.  He has improved tremendously since the first meet.

Dennis and I remain convinced that pushing them to move beyond their comfort zone and participate in something they didn't really want to do IS a good thing.  Sometimes kids just don't know what they are missing or what they are capable of.  Next week is another meet and they have already planned which events they want to enter and which ones they want to drop.  I can't say they have grown a love for swimming, but I can tell they have a deeper appreciation for what it entails and how it might serve them in the future.  I know they feel a sense of accomplishment having competed against their peers and not only finished races but made a good showing too. 

As for our homeschool, I will consider this summer experience as one that carries weight when determining what, when, where, and how we will learn.  I do agree with the unschooling philosophy of how important it is to listen and respect the educational and recreational wishes of a child; however, we will also do our part as parents to gently nudge "insist" on having them move beyond what limitations they have set upon themselves especially if it is something they have never done or learned before.  And for the record, it is past 9:30pm and guess who's in the pool having practice races? That's right, Emily, James, and Katherine...and a friend who is spending a night. Maybe she'll get bit by the swimming bug too!

Sneaking School into Summer

Originally posted: 6/27/12

Public school is behind us and we're free to educate as we see fit. The kids are so excited to start this new chapter of their lives as long as they don't have to do school over the summer. At least that's what they keep telling me. I know it would be valuable to de-school for several months but to tell you the truth I can't wait to get started. When I find a new of approach to a problem they may have or some interesting new curriculum, I just want to dive in and begin. Seems silly to wait for everyone else to start school so we can too. With this in mind I've started summer school.... only don't tell the kids that!

Our first "assignment" is to sit and listen to me read Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly (American History is on the docket this Fall). I've read the book myself but found the battle descriptions somewhat confusing. To remedy this and make the book come alive, I purchased some toy soldiers setting them strategically around the dining room table labeling each battle and some of the main characters. The kids had so much fun that they decided there had to be an Abe Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and Lucy Hale character too. Emily and Kat enlisted the help of their Barbies for these important roles and in a stroke of genius, Emily taped a $5 dollar bill around Ken's head to further distinguish him as Lincoln. Each day we make it through two or three chapters of the book which usually leads to all kinds of conversations about war, human character traits, geography (had to pull out the atlas to identify battlefields and rivers), order of events, motivations of people, timelines and dates. So much to cover without doing "school".

Mr. Lincoln assesses the situation.

Next week Gone with the Wind will be showing on TV. I'm taping it and hoping the kids are old (and patient) enough to enjoy the movie. I think it'll be a nice companion piece to our summer civil war project. Now, if I could just find a way to have this much fun doing math. Perhaps a trip to Justice for a little percent/discount/sales tax lesson is in order. :)

Kat Tales

Originally posted: 5/22/12

Our youngest is Katherine, or as her older sister named her when she was 3, "Kat". She's a ray of sunshine with a bubbly personality and smile that lights up a room. She's also impulsive, persistent, and very persuasive. And like the sun which is always nice to have around, sometimes you need a little shade. More on that later.

At age five, Kat went to Kindergarten on a big yellow school bus all by herself. We were homeschooling Emily and James at the time so she was the only one in public school. This didn't seem to bother her and she enjoyed school. The following year she entered first grade along with her brother in 4th and sister in 5th. We knew this would be the only year that all three children would ever be in the same school together. This arrangement worked out pretty well for the family. James's academics improved greatly now that his vision had improved. Emily struggled to keep up with the pace of the class, although her grades were also good. And Kat always seemed to be working "just below grade level" but it was nothing really to be concerned with. She had both friends and "frenemies", a budding gymnastic career, and plenty of birthday invitations and play dates to keep her calendar full.

The following year we moved from Chicago to Florida. We moved into a small apartment (1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 5 people) next to my parents. Our plan was to spend one year saving money and researching where we wanted to live. James and Katherine would go to the same elementary school I went to as a child (a short walk up the street) and Emily would go to the new middle school that was modeled after the one I attended. It sounded good on paper but the reality was not so. Turns out the middle school hours conflicted with Emily's gymnastic training and the car line to drop off/pick up wasted more than an hour of our day. We withdrew after a week and began Florida Virtual School at home. James settled into his new routine fairly well. He wasn't overly impressed with the kids as they were disrespectful to the teachers but he did like PE which included a running incentive program that he excelled at. Kat's first week or two started out okay but quickly went downhill once the reality of sitting at a desk all day with no recess -ever - kicked in. She made one friend in the class who moved a few weeks later and struggled to connect with any of the other girls. Her schoolwork remained "just below grade level". Every day she told us how much she hated school. She didn't want to go and begged me to homeschool. I really didn't see this as an option because we had a very, very small apartment with Emily home who needed our constant help in addition to having all my curriculum somewhere in a storage unit. I couldn't imagine it working. By the end of November, Kat started to show physical signs of the stress she was feeling inside by way of an overactive bladder. The specialist we saw assured us this would go away in its own due time. Over Christmas break I prayed about what we should do. By the time it was over I felt very strongly that she should stay home with us. James continued the year at school by himself and somehow we managed to homeschool Kat and Emily in very tight quarters. By about April or May of that year, Kat's bathroom issues went away on their own.

Our final move brought us to the East coast of Florida. With a home purchased, our stuff unpacked, and a nice new friend for Kat living next door, we were starting to feel settled. Our local public elementary school went up to 6th grade, so we enrolled both Kat and James. This school had an A+ rating, nice neighborhoods all around, and good teachers (from what we had heard). Kat wasn't excited about school but liked the idea of a new backpack, supplies, and new clothes well enough to give it a try. Her teacher ended up being very nice and even attended our church. Aside from the earlier schedule (we were up at 7:00am to be there by 8:00am) we had high hopes for a great school year. So what happened?

At our first meeting to discuss Kat's progress, her teacher pointed out that since she was 'homeschooled' she had a lot of "gaps" , "social awkwardness", and "distractibility". Apparently she was unable to "stay on task", "know what supplies were needed for a task", and "keep up". We pointed out that she had been a public school student most of her short life and we only homeschooled her for a few months. Apparently we must have "screwed her up" in that short time?? We choose to swallow our thoughts on the subject and focus on her work which continued to be "working towards grade level". As the year progressed, her dislike for school grew even more intense. She hated homework (and we did too since we were sitting with her doing it!), she hated getting up in the morning, and she hated "sitting in the building all day". I can't say I could blame her. Still we encouraged her to stick with it. We had prayed for this school, teachers, and friends for so long we just knew God would be faithful. We helped her study time and time again only to find that she had done poorly on a test. We tried to help her "learn how to study". We tried backing-off of her work and allowing her to 'fail' if she chose. Sometimes we got her up early to study and other times we let her sleep so long we were almost late. Eventually she started complaining about her eyes not being right. We took her to get them checked and was surprised at the findings. Although her vision could be improved, it was not her greatest problem. Her impulsiveness, distractibility, and "colorful personality" (the doctor's way of describing her) might be a larger problem than just her eyes. This is the kind of behavior that really sticks out once you put a kid in a desk all day and force them to read and write when they have no desire to do so. He reminded us of something we knew from the year before. When a kid feels stress, it's only a matter of time before they start to show physical signs of a problem. In this case, her visual system was starting to show signs of breaking down. His advice was address the stress and wait on the eyes.

We considered pulling her out right then and there, but FCAT's were just around the corner and although we don't like the testing obsession that is pervasive in school these days, we couldn't help but wonder how she would do. We decided to give her the best chance at success by removing as much sugar from her diet as we could, instituting an earlier bed time, and making sure she had plenty of protein for breakfast and lunch. We notice an improvement in her temperament by a little but not by much. The final two months went by and now we are into the last week of school. Our final meeting with the teacher on Friday revealed an interesting finding. Although Kat still struggled in reading, writing, and math there seemed to be a trend in good test scores when she was told that the test didn't really matter. When there was no grade involved, she did just fine... she's an average 3rd grader. When a test mattered, she found a way to do poorly on it. Interesting. According to the teacher, she is no longer "socially awkward", "can organize her supplies", and "has made great progress fitting in". All that means to me is that she's "institutionalized".

Kat's going to be a challenge to homeschool, there's no doubt about that. She'd much rather play or swim or watch TV. There's a big part of me that wants to give her her childhood back and allow her more time to do those things. The other part of me wants to help her "catch up and get ahead". My goal is to try to balance the two. But like I described earlier, Kat's got a persuasive personality that can wear you down to the bone. We pray it will be a great asset to her as she learns to use it for God's good purposes. In the meantime, she's as bright as the sun.... something you always want around as long as you can get a little shade from time to time.

Finals Week

Originally posted: 5/13/2012

This upcoming week is final exam week, or as they call it here "District Assessments" for my 6th grade son James. Originally James was supposed to begin homeschooling with FLVS like his older sister, but when we moved to this new area in Florida, we discovered that 6th grade is part of the elementary school program. Since his little sister was going, we thought it would be a good idea to have them both attend the same school so they could make some friends and we could meet some parents and get to know the community. James was not thrilled with this new change in plans, but we convinced him this would be a good thing so he complied with little protest.

James is what most people consider a good student. By that I mean he takes his work seriously, gives a solid effort on assignments, completes homework without much complaint or assistance and has no discipline problems in the classroom. He gets ready by himself in the morning and keeps his work organized and neat. He's been honored for being a "Crane with Character" and always makes the honor roll earning several "outstanding" marks in the achievement categories. This kid really is the model student. Given this description you are probably assuming this has been a great year for James. Unfortunately, this hasn't been the case. I don't think he would say he "hates" school, but clearly he'd rather be anywhere else. It's boring, the work is drudgery, PE is only once per week, recess is terrible cause the jock's own the basketball court and there's nothing else to do, you can't sit where you want at lunch (sometimes you can't even talk), school starts at 8:00 so getting up at 7:00am is hard, and the list goes on. Nothing insurmountable, but clearly not ideal. The one area we had hoped would be good, finding new friends, turned out to be the worst. Every day he comes home with new "vocabulary" words he's learned or more dirty inappropriate jokes. Thankfully he's the kind of kid who tell me things otherwise I would have no idea. Bottom line, he doesn't want to be around kids who swear, drink Monster (and maybe worse) and tell crude sexual jokes all day. I don't blame him!! I've considered pulling him out several times, but we had prayed for this school, friends, and his teachers before he started and I kept thinking, God is faithful. He knows what is going on and will use it for His good purpose. Every day I asked myself, is this adversity a good lesson for him or do we protect him from it?

Fast forward to the end of the year. We are now 10 school days away from saying goodbye to public school. He's studying hard for his finals but is not happy about doing it. Not many kids are I'm sure. I do want him to finish strong, and I'm proud of him for not caving or lowering himself to the poor standards set by the students he has been around all year. I am sad that he lost some of the innocence he had at the beginning of the year. If he had been home, I know this never would have happened (at least at this time in his life). Maybe later, but not now. So much for thinking elementary school would protect him from what we fear happens in middle school. So much for thinking his teachers (who we actually liked) could inspire him beyond the forced curriculum and incessant test taking. So much for thinking he would end up with a posse of friends who he could look back fondly and remember. This will go down in the books as another school year endured not cherished. And for this I am sad.

One Down - Two to Go

Originally Posted 5/9/12
Our eldest daughter, Emily, is homeschooled through a program called Florida Virtual School. It's basically a public school education online. By taking classes at home we've been able to work in the courses as needed allowing her plenty of time for her true passion, gymnastics, without the burden or stress of homework and all that goes along with middle school. It's not the Christ-centered curriculum we would prefer, but it's been an adequate (read here "free") solution to her 6th and 7th grade years... until today. She's completed 3 of her 4

uninspiring courses but has been struggling with the 4th. Any guess what subject? Math. Everybody take a deep breath and sigh. If you have a child that 'gets math' there's no need to read further as you'll most likely have little appreciation for what it takes to get a kid to make sense of all those numbers. If you can appreciate our plight, read on.

Last semester Emily had a tutor. We loved this woman because Emily didn't "hate" doing math. She went willingly, put in her 3 hrs. per week, and stayed pretty much on pace for her course. We thought all was well until the tutoring sessions were over and the only thing she had left was the practice final and the final exam. Imagine our surprise when the practice final did not go well. After reviewing her work, it came to light that she had learned a lot of math, but she still wasn't really grasping the concepts well enough to pass the test. The tutor was wonderful at helping her pass the class, but not so wonderful at helping her do it on her own. Dennis spent hours and hours reviewing all the information till she was able to squeak by with a passing grade on the final exam; however, as we all know, passing a class is not the same as mastering a subject.

Semester 2 would be attempted without a tutor mainly due to cost. This kind of professional help does not come cheap and Dennis had gotten her through 6th grade, so we were cautiously optimistic (I hate that phrase... can't believe I just used it!). She completed the first and second module after many hours and many tears. Somewhere during the third module things really became unbearable. Weeks went by with focus turned towards other subjects that didn't cause so much stress. Each time she'd sit down for math her whole countenance changed and she'd basically have to spend hours trying to remember what had been learned (and I use that term loosely) the previous time.

Dennis and I spent a significant time pondering the pros and cons of withdrawing her from the course. Should we finish what we started? What will it mean in the future if she has an "F" on her pubic school record? Are we giving up too easily? "What is best for Emily?" "What is best for the whole family (especially since it would take all summer to complete the class and thus affect the other two). We prayed. We prayed. And then, we prayed. Today
we, okay I, made the decision to withdrawal her from the course. When something's not working, it's not working. There's no shame in changing directions and trying a new approach. How does Emily feel about it? Fantastic! She's smiling again, laughing, and looking forward to a fresh start with math. How does Dennis about it? You'd have to ask him, but I'm guessing he's a little more unsure about this new change in plans. I think his bottom line is that she needs to learn this stuff... eventually.
On its way to us now is Zeta from Math-U-See. We've used this program with Emily, and her brother James, in earlier years and they both took well to it. I think this will be a good review for her as well building her confidence towards Pre Algebra and Algebra I. Now she can truly work "at her own pace" without having to rush through the public school system's idea of what she should know by when. So as the title of this entry states, we have one child off the public school's rat wheel (that's what I call it) and two more to go. Their story is for another day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

T-minus 28 Days

Originally posted: 5/3/2012
Each and every year we take a long hard look at what's working for our family and what's not. This yearly examination has brought forth several changes. Traveling, saving, moving, homeschooling, public schooling, private schooling... these are some of the areas we are constantly re-evaluating. This year is no different. With great prayer, many conversations, and hours of research, we feel led to bring our children home - yet again - for a 'different' kind of education. Currently we have two in public school and one at home using a public school website for her curriculum. I'd like to say the past year has been a resounding success. I'd like to say it was at least acceptable, adequate, or at very least passable. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) it has not. Each of our kids have unique educational needs (no surprise) and each has their own unique dissatisfaction with school. I don't expect every day and every hour to be a 'joyride' but as the school year-end quickly approaches it's clear that each day the bar is being set lower and lower. No one's lovin' learning and that's just plain old sad. So, in 23 more days their public school journey will end for the year and a new (and hopefully) brighter year of education will begin. Thus the beginning of our blog "the5LeRoy's" is born.