Homeschooling – 2 week update

We’re traveling a bunch in September, so I started counting and documenting our 180 days a couple weeks ago, just so we wouldn’t fall behind.

We haven’t actually cracked open a textbook, though. In fact, my kids have barely noticed a difference in their routines, because the reality is

When you engage your kids, every day is a homeschooling day.

I started sitting down in the afternoon and documenting what we’ve done that fits in various subject categories.


We’ve been busy. This creation led to a discussion of area, perimeter, patterns, and multiplication facts.. 

We’ve had lots of domino runs, towers, and chain reactions. These are so good for practicing find motor control, patience & resilience (when things accidentally fall).

We’ve been to the beach. A few times. Today we got to experience the tide coming in and filling the tidal pools, investigate the sea life, and watch the boats, as well as playground time too. Here, E declared that the birds were copying her.


We’ve done a few simple chemistry experiments, testing our hypotheses and asking follow-up questions. 


We’ve read. Lots of books. And created lots of mediocre artwork. And played games. 

We’ve been learning. Once our month of travel is over, we’ll settle into a regular routine and open those books, but this is good too. 

A Scooter, a Walker, and a Tricyclist – a tale of processing speeds

This morning, we went for a walk at a beautiful nature preserve. One on a tricycle, one on foot, and one riding a scooter (their choice).

It was a beautiful day as we started down the gently curving mile-long path. 

The scooter glided easily. In fact, more than 50% of his time was spent waiting for others to catch up. Again and again, I reminded him to wait, that I needed to be able to see him, because gliding is easy, almost effortless. It’s easy to keep going.

The tricycle started out slow. She pedaled with persistence and diligence and kept her trike on the middle of the path, but she was, by far, the slowest. And hills were nearly impossible. I had to push her up anything beyond the slightest incline. But she kept going, enjoyed herself, and was proud of her independence.

My walker was the most flexible. She could run ahead to where the scooter waited or could slow down to stay with me and the tricycle. She didn’t really notice the gentle, sloping ground, and her hands were free to touch the fauna along the path, finding juniper berries and various textures of leaves. 

Because we we’re pushing her abilities, she had time to enjoy her surroundings, to notice and ask questions. I held her hand for a bit and even carried her on my back when she was tired.


Cracks and breaks in the path were a hazard to my scooter, who could easily get toppled if he wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t phase the other two in the least.

At one point, we stopped at a scenic overlook with a raised pathway. We stowed our wheels, and suddenly, these three kids whose paces were so disparate were now close to unison. 


Sure, by the end of the path the tallest was slightly ahead, but it was nowhere near the difference seen with the various wheels.

Now, I know that all analogies break down eventually, but they can be useful too, so hear me out.

We’re all outfitted with different brain processing speeds. They’re innate characteristics of how we’re made. They are NOT intelligence. Some of the most brilliant people I know take a long time answering a question, and the opposite rings true as well. 

Someone with a slower processing speed will have the experience of constantly being helped along, pushed, nudged, dragged, pulled to keep up with the group, and will have little experience with downtime in a classroom or group setting. They’re constantly being told to finish things up, save it for later, switch gears to something else & then come back.

Someone with a faster processing speed isn’t showing off or intentionally leaving the group behind. It’s how he’s wired. He may have already passed by that tree, categorized it in his mind, and have moved on – and would be reticent to come back and rehash what to him is already in the past. 

My walker was made for this trip, and we saw that when everyone got down and walked/ran. They were able to run together, adjust their speeds to the group, and have a shared experience which was almost impossible for the tricyclist and required enormous amounts of restraint for the scooter.

Do you know what I said most often to the tricyclist? Let me help you.

And to the scooter? Wait.

And to the walker? You’re right – you found ________________.
So…. what’s my goal with this post? Empathy & understanding for our kids and their innate speeds – not judging someone as less intelligent because she happens to take longer to get there – and understanding for that kid, too, who has to hear “wait” 50x when all he wants to do is keep going. 

5 Steps to Learning a New Skill

Learning something new isn’t easy. As adults, we sometimes forget how hard it was to practice and develop the coordination necessary to swim, ride a bike, or tie our shoes, but at one point, we all went through 5 basic steps of learning a new skill.

I post this because we sometimes think that we (or our kids) should be able to jump from step 1 to step 5, from modeling to independent mastery, but we forget the steps in between that are so vitally important.

So here we go. These steps are largely necessary, though some people may occasionally be able to skip some of them. And they may also take longer or shorter amounts of time to move through.

  1. Modeling. An expert shows a beginner how something is done. A parent reads a book to a child. An older sibling shows a younger sibling how he ties his shoes, narrating the process. A potty training video breaks down the steps with visual cues “potty potty wipe wipe flush flush wash wash”, anyone? Grandma mops the floor while the grandkids watch from a safe distance.
  2. Participation. The expert still has control over the situation, but the learner is allowed to give limited input. This could involve the learner chanting along to the tie your shoes rhyme, a little stirring or pouring while baking cookies, throwing the socks into the washing machine. Rather than one plateau, this is a gradual stage where the learner takes on more and more responsibility until we get to
  3. Self-direction. The expert/teacher is still right next to the learner, but now the learner is in control of the situation. It’s the driver’s ed student finally sitting in the driver’s seat, though the instructor still has a brake pedal and is able to grab the wheel. It’s a 4yo deciding which toys to put away first, but his babysitter right there next to him, helping with the process and finding the missing pieces. The 6yo holding his own shoelaces and going through the rhyme, with helping hands right there to steer the process or catch some slack as needed.
  4. Partial independence. The learner is now in charge of the situation, but the expert/teacher still checks to make sure it was done properly. The mom still checks her 5yo’s teeth to see if he missed a spot. The dad runs a brush through his daughter’s hair just to check that she got everything. The teacher walks around the room, glancing at papers to make sure her students are carrying the ones in their subtraction lesson. The 8yo bakes a cake with her mom in the next room. By this point, students feel confident in knowing what they need to do, but they still need oversight, just in case. 
  5. Full autonomy. The skill has been learned, and the individual can be trusted to accomplish the task without outside help of reminders. You send your 10 year old into her room, and when she comes out everything is clean & put away. It’s time for bed, and you don’t double check that your child has remembered all the necessary steps because you’ve practiced so much that it becomes habit. The kids do their own laundry, no questions asked. You trust their math calculation at the farmer’s market and don’t double check it. This is the holy grail, what we’re working toward.

But so often, we forget that the intermediate steps are vital. And messy. Some may take a long time, and you may have to go back & repeat earlier steps. 

Learning is a process. And as much as we want our kids to have learned, we want, even more, for them to know how to learn. To be comfortable with asking for help and being learners, in those messy intermediate steps. We don’t want to shame them for not moving along fast enough, because that will diminish their desire to try again and learn something new.


So if I could encourage you with anything today, it would be to remember the process and be a willing partner to your kids along the way. 

Mundane Magic

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Sometimes, life is big, flashy, exciting, post-worthy. But most of the time, life, especially with littles, is pretty repetitive.

Lots of manners and social skills, toileting, hygiene, basic respect and self-control. Over. And over. And over.

It’s not flashy, not “Pinterest-worthy”, but it is so worthwhile.
I thought I’d share a few of our mini-milestones along the way.

1st time interacting with an abacus – they counted, sorted beads to one side or the other, and started grouping them by 2s. One of my favorite things about the Reggio Emilia philosophy, as I understand it at least, is that we don’t have to show our kids the “right way” to explore something like this. Instead, we can follow their leads and see where it takes us.

It may not look it, but a water fight (got these little squirters at the library summer reading program) actually involves sophisticated social interactions. (Can I spray you? Where is appropriate? When is enough? How do I ask for help?) Younger siblings are perfect partners for developing social skills. They accept you for who you are, don’t have preconceived notions of how it should be different, and are often working on similar skills themselves.

Screen time. Our kids’ screen time is extremely limited. None in the morning (unless we go somewhere like the auto mechanic like we’re doing tomorrow), and it will be immediately taken away if they treat each other unkindly or refuse to share (we have 1 family device). This incentivizes them working together and shows me what they are capable of when they’re motivated enough.

Discovery. The kids are slowly internalizing the language and methods we’re using, and it’s exciting. I filled an empty Voss water bottle (plastic) with a few water beads (aff) and some water, and the kids all interacted with it in different but meaningful ways. It was so rewarding to hear 3yo E verbalize, “I wonder what happens if I do __________”. That’s what we want – for our kids to think through possibilities and outcomes and then trust themselves to see what’s next (within safe boundaries, of course).

Chalkboards doors. I love these. It’s the Contact brand chalkboard paper (aff) – and for about $10 I had multiple writing surfaces covering my very 90’s cabinet fronts. The kids all have separate spaces to create, or I can start a “doodle” for them to add to, and they love cleanup as well (spray bottle with water and a paper towel). It’s great for so many motor skills and for strengthening the shoulder muscles.

There’s nothing showy, viral, or awe-inspiring in this simple, faithful, day-to-day model, but even though it is mundane, I want to stop and recognize the wonder of it all.

Homeschooling Reflections

I was homeschooled in the ’80’s. Before it was cool, and before it was even legal in some states.

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My sisters and I (4 of us) weren’t primarily homeschooled for religious or cultural reasons, but mostly because we lived in a rural area with mediocre schools and a long bus ride, and my parents thought there was a better way.

We called our “school” Harmony Hollow and even had pencils made with that inscription.

All four of us did eventually transition to public schools once we moved to a different location, but the years we were able to stay home were magical, even though I’m sure, especially for my mom, there were many days she wouldn’t have described it that way.

What I Loved

  • We had time. Lots of time. School didn’t take that long, and then there was the required music practice and helping around the house, and we still had hours to play. We played in the basement playroom, outside in the treehouse and on our 2.5 acre property with a creek in the back, and read. A lot.DS090302100715
  • We went to the library. Every week. And maxed out our book limits. We read, and read, and read. Except for math and science, most of our curriculum was sourced through the library.
  • We went at our own pace. When we were done, we were done. No need to turn over your paper and doodle on the back. No need to be told to find something quiet to do. We could be done.
  • We worked at our own levels. Spelling words, math questions, book reports – they could all be adjusted to our abilities, skipped if not necessary, or enhanced as needed.
  • We were self-motivated. There were no report cards to work towards, no fancy incentive systems with tickets for meeting expectations or participating. It was expected that we would learn for the sake of learning, not for some external reward.
  • We were flexible. Beautiful day? Let’s read outside. Field trip or museum visit? Sure! A couple hours hiking on a local nature trail? Why not!? DS090302095835

What Could Have Been Different

  • One thing that was difficult transitioning to public school (5th grade) is that I’d only been around “nice” kids before. We had church, music, & homeschool friends, but they were typically well supervised and on their best behavior. It took a while to adapt to a public school setting, and middle school girls can be mean. I wish I hadn’t been as clueless, but I don’t know what my parents could have done differently.
  • I wish we’d spent more time throwing a ball around. We were plenty active (dance, running, biking, swimming), but somehow I managed to largely avoid any interaction with ball sports, with the exception of tennis. As a parent, I wish my ball handling skills were better as I seek to work with my own kiddos. At least right now we’re learning together!
  • My handwriting stinks. My mom even got me a handwriting tutor for a while in 3rd grade or so, but it was bad when I got to public school and is still sub-par to this day. Not sure how much of that would have been different with public school, but maybe it would have been better.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this experience as our family now starts on its own homeschooling journey. Even though it wasn’t perfect, I’m grateful to my parents for the opportunity they gave us to be home for a while and all the benefits that entailed. Hopefully, when my kids look back on the experience, they can find the “magic” in our days as well. 🙂

Bubble Fun

The weather’s been gorgeous recently, and the gypsy moth caterpillars have finally metamorphosed (and are being lured in by our pheromone traps), so we’ve taken the opportunity to spend some time outside, enjoying the relative calm that is our backyard.

We’ve done a few related bubble activities that have been big wins with the whole family.

1: Catching Bubbles

The kids had a BLAST with this, were creative in exploring what they could do, and it was also great for practicing some important skills like light touch and hand-eye coordination.


We started with a homemade bubble solution similar to this one – the glycerin makes the bubble nice & strong, and used a bubble wand from the dollar store. We also filled our water table so we had a good reservoir of easily accessible water to keep the hands wet.


I coached the kids on how to cup their hands, and reminded them to keep them wet. This went on for a good 1/2 hour. They were testing bubbles against one another, catching on arms and backs of hands, stomping those that made it on to the wet part of the deck. 


2. Bubble Clusters


These bubble clusters are so fun!

We take a plastic water bottle, cut off the bottom, and cover it with a cheesecloth (mesh or even threadbare socks work too!)

Dip the cheesecloth/ mesh end in a shallow dish of bubble solution, and blow.

The results are dramatic and easy even for kids. We were catching these clusters in cups & bowls. We’ve also “painted” with them. 


3. Medicine syringe blowing/bubble play

Today, my kids needed a bit of variety in their play. I pulled out 3 of these outer parts of medicine syringes, and we used them instead of bubble wands. They’re really good for practicing blowing, because it’s much less likely a child will inhale with one of these as compared to a regular straw or the water bottle in part 2. 

I was blown away (pun intended) by how creative the kids got. They each discovered something new. 

E discovered that she could put diluted bubble solution in a small medicine cup and could blow a cascade of bubbles out of it.


A discovered that she could blow bubbles onto the water table and they would float. (That’s E in the picture)


J discovered that he could pass the syringe through the floating bubble (on the water table) without breaking it. 


For an amazing 20 minutes or so, the kids were all discovering, sharing their delight, and building on each others’ discoveries. 

I sat back and thought, “They’re getting it!” They’re asking questions, trying new things, talking about it, and sharing the experience with each other. I wish you could have heard the giggles. It was priceless. 


Smartick Math – a review

This isn’t an ad, a paid review, or anything related. My 6yo just finished a free two-week trial of Smartick Math, and we decided it isn’t the program for us.

Recently, at least in the circles I frequent, there’s been a buzz about Smartick Math – how kids ask to do math, don’t complain, stealth learning, etc.

So, since they were offering a free two week trial, I signed my math-obsessed six-year-old up.

We’ve had experience this year with iReady, another online math system that uses diagnostic tests and adjusts the lessons according to competency. I was curious as to how this would compare.

Sign-up was a piece of cake. No credit card required or fine print about cancelling within a certain amount of time to get your money back.

Multiple kids can use the same device, too, which is helpful for families with multiple learners. 

However, we won’t be subscribing to Smartick for a variety of reasons. 

  1. My son didn’t talk about math when he finished a lesson for the day. He talked about how many points he earned. In an effort to “gamify” math, the math wasn’t the goal or focal point. Instead, you earn points to then buy objects for your house and avatar. And this kid LOVES math. He talks about math All. The. Time. 
  2. I wasn’t impressed by the initial placement test. J had never seen one type of question before, and so he was placed at a much lower level than he should have been. Even at the end of every lesson, when they ask the kids to rate the difficulty of the lesson, I didn’t see any adjustment in the level.
  3. We limit screen time, and there are days we don’t have any screen time at all. When J does get screen time, I want it to be for something that he can’t do without the screen – we don’t need to be digitally connected to do math.
  4. The tutorials are optional. Instead, kids just see 15 minutes of questions with very little feedback about why their answer might be incorrect. This might work for some kinds of learners, but not for others.
  5. It compares kids to other Smartick users. No. Just no. That should NOT be a motivator and could actually be demotivating for struggling students.

I’m sure Smartick works for some families and motivates kids who otherwise protest. 

But it’s not for us.