Our First Week

Both normal-schooling families and homeschooling families celebrate approximately the same things – one of them being the first day of school.    Homeschooling families, however, celebrate an additional day: the first day of school for their local district. The first day that most of the local kids return to class is a glorious day, indeed – in fact, it is part of the reason homeschooling families love to homeschool.  We get to take out kids places without crowds and lines.  We get to take advantage of going to these places whenever our fancy strikes, instead of waiting for the weekend or holidays like everyone else.

As you may know, I do not enjoy crowds, lines, waiting, noise, germs, and most of my own species.  Homeschooling offers me the advantage of being able to take my kids places, while avoiding many of those things.

Yesterday, I took my kids to the San Buenaventura Mission. We have been before, but it had been several years.  Plus, it is close, cheap, and easy.  Look at my little crew:

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“Do we have to go to Mass?” they asked.  They love Mass.  This photo was taken right after I told them that we had, unfortunately missed the morning liturgy.  You can see that they are very disappointed.  That is how holy my children are!

Bridget is in fourth grade this year, which means she will be studying California history, including the building of the missions.  I can’t say I’m sad not to have to build one for with her this year.  When I made my mission, back in 1991, my mom refused to help me at all.  I made, literally, the WORST possible facsimile of Mission Santa Clara.  Other kids showed up with actual electricity running through their perfectly (adult) crafted missions – mine looked like the work of a nine-year-old.  A very unartistic, apathetic, lazy nine-year-old.

God, I wish I could show you that mission.  I painted it using a bunch of leftover strips of “paint by number” acrylics.

Anyway, there is no space in my home for a major craft project, and Bridget won’t be building a mission.  What we will be doing – circling back to the “I can do anything Monday through Friday!” thing – is visiting a few missions for a real-life lesson in California History.  Since Fr. Junipero Serra will be canonized next month, it’s a great year to visit these historic churches.

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Not to be rude, but the “museum” at the Ventura Mission leaves a lot to be desired.  They have some really interesting items, but they are stored and displayed *horribly.*  They have a collection of books that the friars brought from Spain – totally deteriorating in a crappy glass case that has no climate control.  It is actually really sad to see all the holy items just scattered about in shabby cabinets.  Still, the kids enjoyed seeing some Chumash artifacts, one of the original wooden church bells, and other religious items that were used by the early inhabitants of the mission.

The garden is much nicer than the museum.

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Other than that, things went pretty well this week.  The kids finished all of their assigned work without too much complaining (we’ll have to see how long THAT lasts – I’m guessing three weeks, max.)  Having said that, we definitely miss our real school family.  Many of the parents and staff members have been so helpful and supportive of us, and especially my sister’s family, in light of my niece’s illness.  It’s truly amazing to be a part of a community that is so generous and thoughtful.  That is not necessarily something you can recreate when you homeschool, and it is something I value about having chosen, years ago, to send my children to Catholic school.

Funny note – Lane did this worksheet, and called a raccoon a “rat coon.”  I had to laugh, because I always call raccoons “rat coons” (they are like rats, but much bigger, and meaner, and messier.)  I’m not even going to correct him.  It occurred to me that another child may see this depiction as less confrontational – that maybe the bear and the raccoon are talking about something, or they are sniffing each other.  Not my kids, though.  Definitely not my kids.

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Open Ended Toys for Your Gifted Child

I’ve been through many phases during my tenure as a stay-at-home mom.  Of course, I was once the smug newly-pregnant young woman who was for sure, going to have a natural birth, and it would be seriously no problem.  But, then I had an epidural, because that “intensity” the yoga lady had talked about turned out to be “agonizing pain.”  Of course, it wasn’t just that I didn’t feel like enduring excruciating pain.  I had failed to prepare for my ideal birth with all the chants and nature sounds CDs.

After I had my baby and failed (failed, I tell you!) natural birth, I was the smug breastfeeding mom, feeling super superior about the magic milk that flowed from my breasts and nourished my underweight petite baby.  The smugness only grew when I invested in a $350 set of cloth diapers and argued the merits of using them ON A MESSAGE BOARD.

Then, I went through my, “Okay, I am actually going to have a natural birth – AT HOME!” phase.  And I did.  And Jesus, the smug rose to new and previously unthinkable heights.  I even included the location of Lane’s birth on his birth announcements.  Now, I can’t look at them without cringing.  Ah, well.

It was sometime between the “make your own organic baby food” and “how could that woman leave her baby in daycare all day?” phases that I decided that what my kids really needed, if they were to reach their true genius potentials, were OPEN-ENDED TOYS.  No more literal dolls and trucks.  No more of those ghastly light-up plasticky things that they actually enjoyed hated on some deep, cryptic level that was hidden to adult eyes.  What they needed, you know, was this new BPA and phthalate-free toy called a BILIBO.  It was advertised as the toy for all the smart, spunky, creative kids who would grow up to own a company that would decimate Google AND Apple and they’d say, “It all began one day, when Amazon dropped off a box that contained what looked sort of like a large plastic helmet with holes in it, and no instructions.”

Of course I bought one.

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OF COURSE I DID.

That’s the whole toy, folks.  I guess kids are supposed to use it to represent all the amazing things their little wild imaginations can think up.  The representations my children achieved with the Bilibo were as follows:  a place to store more interesting toys, a stool they used to access the chocolate chips, and an inadvertent biology experiment where, after six months of The Bilibo being abandoned in the yard, there were some rollie polles living under it.  The best lesson and experience that came out of the Bilibo was when, a few years later, I sold it to some young mom on Craigslist.  The kids made more fuss when I tried to throw away a painting I did at one of those “paint and drink” places than they did when I sold the Bilibo.  After the sale, the kids had $15 dollars to spend.  They chose to buy something plasticky with lights and sounds.

How I Learned to Enjoy Taking the Kids to the Beach, and You Can, Too

Today, the power went out right after I made my coffee.  Because we have a tankless water heater, no power means no warm water, so I resigned myself to doing one of the two activities I can do without showering: either lying around the house feeling bad about how it looks more like a warehouse for cheap furniture, 80s-inspired blinds, and plastic toys instead of a artfully-curated Instagram-worthy abode, or going to the beach.  Although the self-pity seemed appealing in many ways, I knew that, if I gave in, I would regret having already blown the whole homeschool thing with a pajama/endless Digimon/did I even feed the kids lunch? day.  So, we went to the beach.

You know me (probably?), and you know I *hate* hassles.  I am not that mom who throws the kids into the car for carefree adventures.  I, like, don’t really take them anywhere.  This is why we bought a house with a big yard.  Theme parks, actual parks, birthday parties, bounce studios, Target – it’s just all TOO MUCH FOR ME.  But, two summers ago, Bridget begged and begged to go to the beach.  I never took her, because I spent that whole summer on bed rest.  Last summer, Bridget begged and begged to go to the beach, and I never took her, because I had a little baby, and because I am me.  This year, I got back on Lexapro, and life kinda went to shit, and I decided it was time to throw caution to the wind just freaking go.

And it was kinda easy.

My friend, who is a beach regular, even though she has more kids than anyone I know, gave me good parking advice.  She was right, I parked right on the sand.

And although I made a few rookie mistakes, the kids had a good time, and it wasn’t at all the massive, messy hassle that I had envisioned.  So we started going, kind of a lot.  And now I have a system.

Do you want to know the system?  If not, then, I guess, go away.

Here is what I do:

First, I decide that we are going to the beach in the morning.  I like to go before it gets busy, because I do not like people.  I tell my kids to brush their teeth and put on their swimsuits.  No t-shirts, no flip-flops – nothing else!  The boys wear trunks, and Bridget wears her bathing suit, and Fefe goes right into the car nude.  Yep, I’m that mom at the beach with the nude 2-year-old. We get a fast-food breakfast on the way, both because things from a deep fryer keep the kids full for a long time, and because, well, I am pretty lazy.

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I bring the following items:

2 towels. A tube of sunscreen (for Jack.) A bag of lightweight sand toys. A bottle of water. Sometimes I bring a life vest for Felix.

That’s it, my friends.

Part of my reluctance to go to the beach was that I believed, erroneously, that going to the beach required toting loads of things out onto the beach, then lugging them all back to the car like a pack mule, while the kids cried that the sand was too hot and were too tired to carry their sandals.  Chairs. Umbrellas.  Food. Drinks. Changes of clothes. A towel for everyone.  NOPE.  With my minimalist approach, when my kids get hungry, we just leave.  I get that some kids boogie board or skim board, or might need a hat or whatever – but the point is to bring the absolute BARE MINIMUM.  (I do want to get an umbrella for really hot days, though.)

Once I have settled in on a spot (ideally, at least 50 feet away from another human) we play for a while, with no arbitrary amount of time that we need to stay to make it seem “worth” the trip.  When the kids are over it, we just leave.

And here is what is clutch:

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I bought this 2-gallon sprayer for about $15.00 on Amazon (is there any other store?)  I fill it before we leave, and it warms up a bit in the car.  I hose the kids down before they get back into their carseats.  Rookie move: not having them sit on the running board to get a final foot rinse.  I also hose off any sand toys that the kids used.  THEY RIDE HOME IN THEIR WET SWIMSUITS, PEOPLE.  And yes, Fefe is still nude.

When we get home, the kids shower, and all I have to wash is two pair of trunks, one girls’ swimsuit, and two towels.  I put the bag of toys back in the garage, and the sunscreen stays in the car.  Hell, yes.

There is still a bit of unavoidable sand in my car, because sand is a bitch like that, but nothing a quick vacuum doesn’t take care of.

And that is how the lazy, hassle-averse mom does the beach.

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Our Blissful Homeschool

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Yesterday, we started “school.”  Above, you will see our “school.”  I am particularly fond of the container of supplies, because I love supplies, and because they are all new and pretty, and Fefe has not bitten off all the erasers (yet.)

Today, I will tell you about our schedule.

We start our day at around 6:30 AM.  The kids need to do the following things before “school” starts:

  • Get dressed with teeth brushed.
  • Clean up their bedrooms.
  • Feed themselves a decent breakfast, and clean up their dishes.

School begins at 8:30.  Bridget and Lane sit at the school table with their “to-do” list, and get started.  If they have questions, they ask me.  They have lots of questions, because they don’t read directions.

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At 10:30 we take a break.

From 11:00-11:30 Lane practices his cello, and Bridget continues doing schoolwork.

From 11:30-12:00 Bridget practices her piano, and Lane continues doing schoolwork.

From 12:00-1:00 The kids have the option of continuing schoolwork, or reading a book.  This is when I prep lunch check Facebook, Instagram, try to fit in a shower, or clean up the mess Fefe has made.  I also try to remember about Jack, who has been on a tablet most of this time.  Oh yeah, him.

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At 1:00 We eat lunch.  After lunch, I insist that the kids go outside to play until around 3:00 PM.

From 3:00-4:15, the kids are allowed to use their tablets or play Minecraft on the computer.

All in all, the kids have about four hours of “school” per day, if you count the half hour that they are obligated to practice music. I feel like that is a really reasonable amount for children to spend on schoolwork.  People often complain that there is a lot of wasted time during the traditional school day.  I don’t think teachers intentionally waste time, and most are not particularly bad at time management and organizational skills.  It’s just that, when you have 28 children in a room – things escalate.  Transitioning from one thing to the next takes time.  Dealing with kids who are misbehaving takes time.  Addressing the needs of the kids who are slower learners takes time.  My kids are allowed to work through their materials at their own pace.  If they finish the week’s work on Wednesday, then they’re done.  When they are working, it doesn’t matter if they want to chat with each other a little.  They don’t need to ask me if they can go pee.  They can get up and grab a banana if they are hungry, or a drink if they are thirsty.  Allowing that type of freedom in a traditional classroom would never work.  Today, I have two of my nieces here until late this afternoon.  I won’t need to load them up for carpool, and I won’t need to force my kids to do the “required” one hour or more of homework tonight.  So, that is an advantage to homeschooling.

So far, so good.

Quote of the day, from Bridget, doing her religion work:

“I don’t believe in Adam and Eve.  The story makes no sense.  Seriously.”

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What I did not do.

I lied.  We’re not starting this week.  I just couldn’t let go of summer.  I saw all the photos of other children going off to school, and I felt so happy for them and their parents.  I miss that a little bit!  But, I am also basking in what we did not do this week.  For example:

-We did not rush out of the house before 8:00; not even once.

-We did not argue with the kids to go to bed earlier.  In fact, right now, Lane and Jack are playing in their bedroom, Felix is watching a monkey show on my phone (he’s nearly asleep), and Bridget and Brian are spending some time at my sister’s house.  Sweet.

-We did not make or eat even one packed lunch.

-We did not spend a dime on “back to school” attire.

-We did not fill out any “What I did this summer” questionnaires.  Teachers would have been appalled at the answers, anyway.

I think that we will go to the beach tomorrow.

Educationally yours,

Mo

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Hey

I’m going to maintain this blog for my kids.  These days, I have a terrible memory – so my hope is that I can write about this year and, someday, share with them my insights and interesting things that happened.  I am also writing it for friends, family and others who are interested in our year of homeschooling.

So that things stay manageable, I’m going to try to keep most of my future posts limited to one or two topics.  Here is what you need to know for now:

I have four children, ages nine, seven, four, and two  Up until now, two oldest have been enrolled in a parochial school that we very much liked and still like.  We did not leave the school because we had a problem with it!  Bridget is going into the fourth grade, and Lane is going into the second.  Lane is the same age as one of my nieces (my sister’s daughter), and they were in class together.

My niece is dealing with a medical situation, and is unable to attend school this year.

Because the children are very close, and for other practical and emotional reasons, we decided that all the kids would be homeschooled together.  My four-year-old, and my sister’s four-year-old will remain in a part-time nursery school program three days a week.

We are not using a homeschool program.  I assembled a curriculum on my own.  Much of what I procured was well-researched, and some of it (for topics I consider a little less essential, like handwriting), I just purchased on recommendations.

I am excited to homeschool, but I will miss our family at the kids’ traditional school.  My children will be missing out on some neat things, and, no doubt, friendships will fall to the wayside.  Although our intention is to return to school at some point, I know that choosing any form of education comes at a cost.  Homeschooling means a lack of school-type socialization, and traditional school means your kids are gone all day and you live on a very fixed schedule.  I am really looking forward to a year of not feeling like a “slave” to the school calendar, the homework, and the stupid projects.  I am looking forward to reconnecting with the kids, being able to take them places during times when other families are tied up in school, and sheltering them, a bit, from what can be the harshness of large groups of children.  I will not miss packing lunches.  I will not miss the rushed mornings.  I will not miss the grumpy pickups.  I will not miss bringing my kids home, only to sit on them to do their homework. What I will miss is seeing my friends at school, volunteering, hearing about the fun things my kids got to do in class, participating in school activities, and watching my children form friendships.

To be honest, at this point, I can’t wait for all the “regular” kids to return to school, so that I can take that opportunity to do things I’ve never done, because I hate crowds, and we’ve been too busy.  I look forward to being able to creep up to Christmas, rather than deal with the insanity of class plays, class parties, teachers’ gifts, etc. etc.  Since my kids have attended school, I’ve felt that they get “out” for Christmas break – and then in three seconds, it’s Christmas morning.  I am sure much of this is a pipe dream, but I am really looking forward to doing all the Christmasy stuff that I’ve never been able to squeeze in between plays, parties, and the stomach bug that invariably goes around campus in December.

School technically starts this week, but we’re taking it easy.  Thanks for reading!

Mo

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