Friday, November 21, 2008


About a month ago, I was talking with an older gentleman at church (whom I respect) and he brought up the subject of homeschooling. He had heard that we were homeschooling and, not knowing much about it, he was curious. He was not on the attack and he wasn't trying to condemn. But, I found it interesting that instead of bringing up the socialization topic like most non-homeschoolers do, he asked me to whom am I accountable.

I had a simple answer at the time that I think satisfied him, but I've been thinking about the question on and off ever since. The more I think about it, the more I think he was on the right track with his question. I'm sure that this "accountability" question probably raises just as many hackles with homeschoolers as the "socialization" question does. But, think about it for a minute. In the socialization question, people are saying that it is important to be like all the rest of us who educate our kids this other way. In the accountability question, it is asking who do you answer to keep you on track and doing what you should.

The way I see it, accountability is important to everybody. But, this gentleman realized that accountability is a separate thing from being like everybody else. Most people think that if you are like everybody else then the accountability question is taken care of through normal channels and they don't have to think twice about it. However, most homeschoolers are not satisfied with the accountability provided in the normal channels and for one reason or another reject the idea that they need to be like everybody else.

The public schools are accountable to parents, school boards, and government regulation. Private schools are accountable to parents, school boards, government regulation and in the case of religious private schools the faith tradition they are a part of. Homeschoolers are also accountable. Except in their case the parents are the school board and the teachers and the administration. Homeschoolers also have to satisfy whatever government regulations have jurisdiction over them. Many homeschoolers are part of a support group which can be an accountability partner for them to stay on track. Religious homeschoolers are either accountable within their faith tradition or accountable directly to God.

All of these methods of accountability are useful and good within reason. But any one of these can get overbalanced and become a tyranical dictator rather than an accountability partner in the education of our children. It is also this that scares people when they hear horror stories of parents who use homeschooling as a screen for mistreating their children. The public decides suddenly that there isn't enough accountability if it was allowed to happen.

The things that I see in all this is that there are good individuals and bad individuals and all of us have some mixture of the two (so don't get too puffed up about being a good guy). It is in every parent's best interest for their children to thrive and succeed. If we all operated on this self-interest, there would never be a parent who mistreats their children. Unfortunately, there are and they are not limited to any one segment of the population. For this reason, I understand the need for accountability. I consider myself personally accountable to God for my actions. I am also accountable to my husband, and he to me, in how we conduct ourselves with our children. We are accountable to extended family, who love our kids as much as we do (and for the record, most but not all are happy that we homeschool). We have church connections that help us be accountable as good parents. We are not thoroughly connected to a homeschool organization for accountability, but we do have several casual friendships with other homeschoolers. Living in California, we currently do not have many governmental regulations to be concerned about. On the whole, I think we are sufficiently accountable while at the same time having the freedom to decide what is best for our kids.

I would challenge all parents (public, private, or homeschool) to consider to whom you are accountable. If you have a long list, you are probably doing all right. If you have a very short list or an empty list, you probably need to find yourself people to hold you accountable to be the person you need to be for the sake of your children.

Half-way Point

As of today, we have completed half of what I have planned for a 36 week year. We have completed week eighteen on time, without letting the schedule slide. I am quite pleased that we've been able to do that since I expected that sick days and other surprises would have caused us to push the schedule later than planned. But, so far the sick days were few enough to allow us to catch up with just a little extra work per day.

Keeping on schedule is very important for me this year. This is partly because I don't want anyone to be able to claim that I am incapable of teaching my daughter at the high standards we have set. There were some who upon reading the coursework we had planned, said that we had bit off more than we could chew and that we should thin it out and be more realistic. I have news for those people: It is working. Our daughter is being challenged at an appropriate level. She is not showing signs of being in over her head. She is making steady progress in all subjects. Some of it she likes. Some she doesn't. When I look at various standard lists of what my child should be learning in first grade I find that she is either at grade level or above.

The other reason I find that the schedule is important to me is that according to my calendar, my six week on one week off plan (with an extra week off for Christmas) results in ending our "official" 36 week year on April 24th. Exactly 3 weeks before my baby is due. I do have more work planned at a more relaxed pace during the summer. But, doing much schoolwork with a newborn infant in the house is folly as far as I'm concerned. 3 weeks is not a lot of wiggle room and babies are rarely inclined to appear at convenient times.

So if I'm on schedule and pleased with my daughter's progress, why am I nervous? It just dawned on me this week that I won't have the month or two of planning before the next year starts. Those months will be taken up by baby care and lack of sleep. I don't recommend doing meaningful planning in those circumstances. That means that I have to guess how my daughter progresses to the end of the year and make plans early.

With our bought curriculum, this isn't so bad. She is doing well with it. It seems well-paced for her. We will just pick it up at the next level. I'll just have to preview it to make sure there are no surprises. But I've made up my own lesson plans in a few areas. Preparing for a new year with these takes a lot more work. For instance I need to finalize new lesson plans for religion, literature, art, and science. I also need to research how we plan to teach cursive and get ready for that. I also need to research grammar curriculum since our daughter will be finishing up her current program early and I'm not sure that publisher has the next level to just pick up where we left off. You can't do planning like that in a day or two.

But even with the nervousness, I'm starting to get a little excited at the prospect of something new for the coming year. I always loved starting a new year when I was a kid. Besides, next year we are going to be studying two of my favorite areas of science: Earth science and astronomy (Yay!)

For our literature studies I have been trying to do literature from the time period we are studying in history. This year it has been Ancient history accompanied by myths and legends of the nations we study with Aesop's Fables filling up the empty spaces in the schedule. (As a side note: I highly recommend Aesop's Fables for children. My daughter loves them and they teach wisdom. They are also the perfect size for beginning narration training.) Next year we will be studying from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance. Yeah it's a cool time period to study. However, I'll have to take a slightly different approach to the literature since the writings from this time period are not necessarily child-friendly. One suggestion I've come across is reading lots of biographies of people from this time period. That idea has merit, but I'm sure that there are at least some primary sources that we could read parts from. Just think of all of the religious writings, scientific writings, chronicles, eyewitness accounts of historical events, fiction, and plays. Surely some of that could be read to a 2nd grader. But the question remains: "which ones do you choose?" There are a whole lot more writings available for this time period than for the ancient world. Any suggestions are welcome.

Religion won't be hard, just time consuming. We are reading through the Bible. By my schedule, we will be in the book of Numbers by the end of the school year. We are taking it very slowly in small chunks. So far we have only skipped a few passages that I didn't think I could explain with a simple explanation. I know we will skip more later on this year for boredom and redundancy reasons. However, I am trying to give as much of the original as I can since it all relates together and gives the broader context for later teachings. This means that I read through it all ahead of time to plan what those daily chunks are going to be.

With art I think I will probably take a different approach next year. I like the book we used "Drawing with Children," but I've found that it helps my daughter only so far. The Pillowfight Fairy has gotten to a point she is comfortable with and isn't making much progress. In fact the book encourages self-expression to the point that my daughter doesn't even want to do a straight copy job without altering the picture to fit what she wants it to be. I figure my daughter has no lack of self-expression. She is very good at it. What she needs to learn is a little more artistic discipline to learn new methods. So I'm on the lookout for something that can help us in that direction.

I have researched cursive enough to know that it is more commonly started in third grade. However, both my husband and I think that she is ready for it and will probably like it. She is becoming rather comfortable with writing and has developed a very nice print style. She likes her letters to be somewhat artistic. She is also sometimes frustrated when she tries to read script and then gives up. With her temperment, we can picture her either loving cursive because it is pretty or hating it because it requires constant practice. We don't think she is too young. My mother who has excellent penmanship first learned cursive writing in first grade. Of course more things were handwritten back then.

So as you can see, I'm already switching gears into my planning mode. I also have to keep in mind that I might be starting the Adrenaline Junkie on Kindergarten sometime next year. So I'll need a schedule that will allow me to teach two kids at different levels while having a toddler/preschooler and infant keeping me hopping. I keep hearing that the first year of homeschooling is the hardest. My question is, "Is that my child's first year of homeschooling or my first year of homeschooling?" Because this is my third year of homeschooling and it has been comparably challenging to our first year when she was a reading preschooler. And from this vantage point, although this year has been going smoothly, it isn't easy. Next year somehow seems like it will be harder with two students and two distracters.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Extreme tiredness

I had thought that I was doing fairly well this pregnancy with being able to stay awake and just keep on going. Yeah... so I do need my afternoon nap. Yeah... so I tend to run out of energy fast in the evening. But, last night I reached a new depth of tiredness that I had never achieved before.

I fell asleep while reading a book. OK, that seems like a perfectly normal thing to do. Let me revise my description to give you a better idea of how extraordinary this was. I was reading Dr's Suess' ABC to my son, aloud. I knew I was tired, but I didn't realize how tired I was until I felt this fuzziness fade over me and I woke myself by hearing myself continuing to talk as if I were reading but strange words were coming out of my mouth.

I had fallen asleep while watching videos with my kids. I have had close calls in the car on long afternoon drives (why I don't drive long distances in the afternoons when I am pregnant anymore). I had fallen asleep while breastfeeding. I had fallen asleep while bottle feeding. I have heard of people falling asleep while standing up. I have never fallen asleep while I was reading aloud before. Parenthood really is exhausting. First-time parents find that out pretty fast. What nobody tells you is that if you keep having kids, you learn new depths that you didn't know existed.

To be fair, some of the sleep deprivation is self-inflicted since I am determined to keep on going and keep up a normal pace of activity. I am grateful my husband can step in and help with the kids in the evening when I completely lose steam. Though I think he is getting tired of doing bedtime routines for all three kids while his wife is asleep on the sofa.