Supporting the Little Makers

Some kids will be natural builders. They will gravitate toward toys such as blocks, Legos, Zoob pieces, Tinker toys or many others that are available. They can also do wonders with cardboard and lots of tape. They like building, making, and creating. Let them do this to their heart’s content. There are other kids who may not like building, or they just do it a little. That’s okay too. Let kids do what they want when they have free, unstructured time.

Supporting the little makers is perfect project-based homeschooling territory, and over time, it may help you see how these techniques work.

Every parent wants their child to be independent and do things on their own, but that’s not going to happen until well into adulthood. So don’t think that when I say “fostering independent learners” or something similar, it means that you need to let your kids struggle or always play alone. On the contrary, when you follow project-based homeschooling techniques, you’re going to be available to your child and offer them the support they need.

During the time you set aside for your child’s projects, you can consider your child the boss, and you’re the employee. Your child gets to tell you what they want to happen, and you can do it for them. This is especially helpful when your child is little, and they may not have the manual dexterity to create what they envision. The important thing is not to take over your child’s project. Just ask them what they need you to do and don’t do anything else.

Don’t wander off or look at your phone during this time unless it becomes clear that your child doesn’t want you there. Sit there and let them know you’re available to help. Be interested in what they are doing. You can show interest by asking them questions about what they are building, but sometimes they’ll be happy if you just watch. Be enthusiastic. Just taking 30 minutes to an hour to sit by your child’s side even if they don’t need you to do anything will show your child you love and support them!

You can sometimes make suggestions, but I recommend waiting until they’re a little stuck or having a hard time accomplishing something. Always hesitate and ask questions. Wait and watch to see if they can figure it out on their own. Project-based homeschooling is about letting your child do the work when they can. You may think your child could not possibly figure out a way to fix a problem, but they might surprise you. I know there were a few times when I was working with my son, and I could see an easy way to make whatever it was he wanted, but I didn’t say anything. I saw him start doing something that I didn’t think would work, but then guess what? He made it work! His mind was working differently from mine, but his way worked just as well.

Of course, there were also times he got frustrated, cried, and I wondered what the heck I was doing. This is definitely a long road and takes practice for the parent. You are getting to know your child, learning when to step in and when to back off.

Do you have a little maker? I’d love to hear about them!

Also, please join me in one of my video chats as I discuss more project-based homeschooling techniques and answer all your questions. I’m going to schedule one for January, so please contact me, if you’d like to know when I do that. Alternatively, patrons can unlock access to all my classes, PDF resources, and much more, so please check out my Patreon page!

How to Save Your Sanity While Homeschooling

Photo circa 2011. It’s time to start recycling old photos. This might be fun.

It’s not always helpful to tell parents “don’t worry” and “you’ve got this.” For some parents, it comes natural to take the relaxed approach to homeschooling, but at some point, every parent wants to see the positive results of homeschooling. If they relax too much, will they see results?

It truly depends on what your goals are for your family and your kids. As you begin homeschooling, I would have a serious talk with your partner or spouse about what you hope the end goal is for your kids. In other words, what are you preparing them for?

Are you preparing them to attend the local high school? Or maybe you just want to homeschool for the elementary years? If so, homeschooling may look different for you than for the kids who are going to homeschool K-12. Do you want them to find what fulfills them? Do you want them to be capable of finding a full-time job and supporting themselves? Do you want them to attend college? A local college or a top university? Is your main goal to foster kind, generous, productive citizens? Preparing them for one thing doesn’t mean you won’t be preparing them for all these other things, but it will give you a kind of compass when you sit down to make your homeschool plans. Also, you can be flexible as your kids grow and they begin to form their own ideas about what they want.

Frankly, I don’t think any goal is wrong as long as it’s not too rigid and the expectations aren’t too high or too low. Different parents have very different opinions about what they want for their kids. Some push their kids to succeed in a lucrative field and don’t offer any other choice. Other parents think that’s a terrible way to parent. I’ve met enough families to realize that all parents hope their kids will be happy even if they don’t believe that should be the end goal. Depending on culture and personal history, pushy parents have their reasons. Sometimes it’s the not-so-pushy parents who had pushy parents themselves, so now they are more of a I-just-want-you-to-be-happy kind of parent, but then they end up not giving their kids much guidance or practical skills.

I think there’s always a middle way. And to save your sanity, you need to take the middle way while homeschooling. Don’t stress out watching what other parents are doing and knock yourself out trying to do those things too. Don’t buy the curriculums that look good but are not a good fit for your child. Don’t join every activity or worry about trying to make a dozen friends for your homeschooled kids. If you feel overwhelmed, relax for awhile and enjoy this extra time with them.

Then you can think about what your “hope for” goals are. Observe your kids and think about what skills could benefit them in the long-term, and if they show interest in something, start to think about what you could do to support that. Maybe you can find some other kids with similar interests. But don’t go overboard. You can let things unfold naturally, but doing some research and keeping a folder of opportunities for the future isn’t a bad idea either. [When your kid does participate in activities, projects and great field trips, keep good records because you never know what your kid might want to apply for someday.]

As for figuring out how to teach the school subjects, take your time researching one subject at a time. What seems like a good resource for your kid? If they are already reading all the science books from the juvenile section of the library on their own, maybe you don’t have to worry about teaching science yet. What do they struggle with? That’s the area you want to focus on. Spend time researching and trying out different curricula, but be prepared to put aside what doesn’t work. If your child is young, maybe all they need is to wait a year or two before you try again. If they are in high school, maybe it’s time to hire a tutor, so you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself.

There are so many more resources available to homeschoolers now than when I started homeschooling, and some of them are extremely affordable. A lot of kids excel in one or two subjects and don’t do as well in another, so finding that right balance for your kid is essential. You shouldn’t feel like you have to teach every subject, especially if you don’t feel confident in that area, or your child struggles in it. You can also lower your expectations. Maybe they will never be a math whiz, but they are great writers. Support that. As for math, find out how much math they’ll need for whatever their goals are and don’t expect them to go beyond that. (Assessing this is easier in high school.)

You may not be able to achieve what that other family is doing, but you will be able to achieve your own family’s goals, if you are sensible and, yes, you relax! It may sound contradictory, but by taking the time to think about your goals, your kids’ goals, and the resources available, you will feel more relaxed. Make a yearly ritual of reevaluating your goals, such as spending a few days each summer thinking things through and discussing the year ahead with your family. Then you can relax and do what is most important: spend quality time with your kids. Ultimately, homeschooling is about fostering good relationships with your kids, and when kids have good relationships, they are more likely to succeed in life. I don’t know what parent wouldn’t be happy with that.

I’m available for one-on-one chats and more through Patreon and my store. I hope you’ll reach out, if you would like someone to talk to about the possibility of homeschooling.

P.S. Thank you to my first patron: Lou Rahman!

Make Your Homeschool Your Own

Every homeschooling family is different. If you are going to home educate, you must not compare yourself to other families.

You can let other families inspire you. You can get good advice from other homeschool families too. But if you read homeschool blogs or meet other parents IRL, you will eventually see someone doing something you think is better. You may try to be more like them and fail, or maybe right away you think you could never do it that way. That’s not a failure! It shows you’re thinking about your kids and you also know your limits.

Every parent is going to have something they are good at, and you probably have super powers that you don’t even realize you have. Other mothers are probably looking at you wishing they could do what you do.

I know for me, I used to want to be one of those mothers who sat and read books half the day with my kids. I’m not well read! I like to read, and my boys like reading, but we’re not a sit-on-the-sofa reading most of the day kind of family. And when I think about, I don’t really want to do that anyway. It just sounds good, especially on days when I could use some more rest.

I know mothers who are so patient, and they seem like good teachers. All they need is a good curriculum, and they can lecture and teach the material to their kids. I don’t feel that’s me. Maybe it was when my boys were younger, but as they get older, I spend a lot of time figuring out resources that will help them teach themselves with less support from me. It’s not because I don’t want to teach but because it’s beyond my abilities now. My role is more of a facilitator and organizer and problem solver now.

I also know mothers who come up with incredible projects and unit studies, and they work on those together, exploring fascinating subjects. I sometimes think I would like to do that. Maybe I did a little when the boys were younger? (Everything was so much easier when they were younger!)

To be honest, part of the reason it’s easy for me to do child-led learning is because I don’t like coming up with the ideas! But this means we have many days when we’re not doing anything interesting. (I mean, not interesting enough to write about in a blog post. Most days are kind of the same.)

You should ask yourself: what AM I good at? Maybe you’re a fantastic cook, and you have inspired your kids to cook with you. Maybe you’re athletic, and you and your kids are outside on the trails every chance you get. Maybe you’re brilliant at crafts, and you’ve inspired your kids to build their own toys. Maybe you have a mind for business, and you have helped your kids start selling their crafts at a local market. Or maybe you just like hanging out together, and you give your kids a lot of quality time going to interesting places. 

No matter what it is that you’re good at, it will be good for your kids. What they need is a guide who is loving and kind….Not a jack of all trades….Or an academic genius.

Another one: maybe you’re good at research, and you pick the right curricula and resources that fit your kids needs…..that’s me. That’s what I’m good at. But that also means I have spent time using not-the-right resources. I have to try stuff before I find something that works. Or works good enough. It’s not very glamorous. It’s not blog worthy to show a picture of myself sitting at my computer doing research. LOL

But see? If I can figure out what I am good at, you can too.

Maybe I’m pretty good at playing Wingspan more times than I can count too. 🤔😆

If you would like more, individualized support on your homeschool journey, consider signing up with me on Patreon.

Top 7 Things I Dislike About Homeschooling

Today I’m reflecting on what I dislike about homeschooling after doing it for twelve years:

  1. People make a lot of assumptions about you that aren’t true. One small assumption is that people tend to think we have lots of free time. As for other assumptions, I won’t go into details, but this is always the case when anyone does anything “off the beaten path.” For the most part, I have thick skin, but it can be hurtful sometimes. 
  2. In that same vein, I have been told that the reason my kids do well on standardized tests is because we cheat. WTF?! Note: People who lie and cheat tend to think other people lie and cheat, but there ARE many honest people out there, including us. One of the reasons we homeschool is so that we can impart good morals on our kids.
  3. Three meals a day for four people = three sets of dishes to clean everyday. I mean, come on! If someone had told me before I got married and had kids how many meals I’d have to make or all the dishes I’d have to do, I may have decided to stay single. (Just kidding.) While I admire people who enjoy cooking, this isn’t for me. (Shout out to my husband who occasionally gives me a break by doing the dishes and getting take out!)
  4. On a similar note, I’m not sure I ever realized how little time I’d have for myself, and even though I can make time, it can come at a price because there’s always something that’s not getting done, or someone is trying to find me, I’m forgetting that I need to make dinner, and my house is never truly clean. But who cares about that, right? I take breaks when I need to.
  5. When we first started homeschooling, I found plenty of social activities for my boys, but it was hard to find friends who were kindred spirits. I didn’t find too many other kids who clicked with my kids, or the parent didn’t click with me, or our schedules didn’t match, or the interests of all the kids were different, etc…..I did find friends, but it wasn’t as easy as some homeschoolers have made it seem. Also, we live in a rural area, so that made it more challenging. 
  6. Overwhelm. Some days I drown in the overwhelm of taking full responsibility for two kids’ entire K-12 education. The curriculum choices are overwhelming…figuring out what works best is overwhelming…figuring out what I can let go and what I shouldn’t let go can be overwhelming.
  7. Lack of time and funds to do everything. Trying to give the boys some free time while also making sure they do all their work and get some exercise is hard; I’ve never found that perfect balance. And then when you end up fostering awesome kids who have interesting life goals, and you realize you don’t have the funds to support all of it, that’s soul crushing. But I still wouldn’t have it any other way because without walking this unconventional path, I might not have these awesome kids.

To see what I love about homeschooling, click here

If you would like some camaraderie about homeschooling in a new private, online support group, please consider signing up for mine here.

Project-based Homeschooling in the Later Years

Recently I gave a Zoom presentation on project-based homeschooling (you can sign up here for the next one), and a question I received made me think about how I have never stopped using project-based homeschooling (PBH) techniques, but PBH looks very different in our home than it did ten years ago. I don’t think about the techniques anymore. My sons each have a project that has become more of a life goal, and my role is to support them on a higher level. In other words, our lives revolve around these activities. My own projects have evolved over the years, overlapping with the boys’ activities, so we learn and grow alongside each other.

Here are the current state of our projects:

My eldest son is a classical pianist, and at 16, it’s clear that he has his heart set on a career in music. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but we’re sacrificing a lot to help him. As we do more research, we know what we can offer him may not be enough to catapult him to the place he dreams of, but he works hard, and I have no doubt he’ll carve out a life full of music making. Besides taking the time he needs to practice and work on his technique, he has started a Patreon account where he will share short, weekly practice videos, and I’ll help him chronicle our research into his next steps, including college applications, scholarship applications, auditions and more. I hope someone will show their support for him there. 🙏

He got to hold his favorite bird!

My younger son has been interested in birds since he was four-years-old, and it’s interesting for me to look back at how this interest has always been there, though there have been long periods when he hasn’t done much with it. Now that he’s 13, this is changing, and that’s largely because he’s old enough to join certain classes related to birds on Outschool and get something out of them. He also has an active YouTube channel where he shares his videos of birds. Recently he also got to visit a bird banding station in a program run by Georgia Audubon for teens. Now that he’s getting a chance to meet people with similar interests, I hope it’ll introduce him to many possible paths that will most likely include birds.

As for me, I’m thinking about what I can do to support the boys in these later years, yet I also know they are going to go by fast. So I’m wondering what life has in store for me when they don’t need me as a teacher/facilitator/coordinator anymore. With that in mind, I’m slowly building a store and some other opportunities for families to connect with me in video chats so that I can share more of what I’ve learned. (Watch this space for updates on that.) I don’t know how much interest I can stir up, but if nothing happens, I’ll lose nothing….except a little pride, maybe. 😉

If there is one thing about project-based homeschooling, it’s that the learning never stops, the creating never stops, and the striving never stops. It’s a life-long endeavor. You have to find joy in the journey. Ultimately, the big project is creating a life that is worth living that also puts some good into the world. With the proper support, you can’t go wrong with that.

Our 6th Grade Homeschool Curriculum

If you look closely, you can see the Great Blue Heron on the other side of the lake.

This is bittersweet for me because this will be the last post I write about our curriculum on my Mama of Letters blog, though I will keep writing here in other ways. For middle and high school, you can find my curriculum resources here. As the boys get older, I want to protect their privacy a little more and give myself new ways to connect with parents who value my work.

My younger son has completed 6th grade. In some subjects he’s a little ahead where his brother was because after developing these plans for his brother, I had them on hand, so I used them earlier with him. He’s also a different kid. He isn’t practicing an instrument several hours a day like his brother, so he has more time for other things. He loves to read, and I gave up trying to keep track of the books he’s reading. I think he was averaging a new book every 2~3 days at one point. 

Here’s a run down of his course of study and the resources I used:

Language Arts

Besides all the books he reads on his own (and I have to thank my husband for making many trips to the library to keep him supplied with books), I assigned him some books for a literature unit. The theme was survival. After reading the books, we talked about them, and I prepared a series of worksheets for him to fill out. The worksheets included information about the author, vocabulary, discussion questions, short answer, short essay, and a review of literary terms. I cobbled these together from stuff I found on the Internet, so I can’t share it here, but the last few books, I kept it simple. We discussed them, and I asked him to write about how survival was a theme in each book. This is what I assigned:

  • Island of the Blue Dophins by Scott O’Dell
  • Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • The Cay by Theodore Taylor
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
  • A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
  • Short Story: Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
  • Short Story: A Worn Path by Eudora Welty

In addition to this literature unit, he worked through Michael Clay Thompson’s Paragraph Town with me, and he did all the paragraph labs, four-level sentence analysis and punctuation lessons and worksheets.

If that’s not enough, on a whim I decided he could join his brother and me as we read the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Some of what I did to explore this play was listen to a professional reading of the original text followed by reading the modern text out loud together (from No Fear Shakespeare). We discussed the play, and we watched a BBC movie version of the play too. I’m really excited to start exploring Shakespeare with both my boys!

Math

For math I finally switched curriculums for the middle school level, and I have to tell you that if I had to start homeschooling over again, I would use this curriculum from the get-go. (But who knows? It might not have been a good fit when they were six-years-old.) Anyway, he’s working in Math Mammoth now, and if you use this curriculum, you should know that it’s more advanced than most math curriculums. For example, Math Mammoth “Grade 7” is pre-algebra. Most kids take pre-algebra in 8th grade, so if you use Math Mammoth, your kid will be slightly ahead of their public school peers. My son is on track to do pre-algebra in the 8th grade.

Science

This year I outsourced science because this kid is still into birds. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know this is the one and only project he has stuck with over the course of his short life, and he even has a YouTube channel that’s all about birds. If he continues to find this a major interest, there’s a good possibility he may go into one of the sciences. That’s still to be determined, but just in case, I didn’t feel like I could make science very exciting by teaching it myself. For this reason, I’m very grateful for Outschool.com. He’s taken many classes on this site, including some excellent classes specifically about birds and zoology, and he’s also been part of an ongoing, weekly ornithology club and more. But to meet a more typical course of study for 6th grade, I enrolled him in a year-long middle school Life Science class.

To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about how this Life Science class was taught even though it ticked the boxes for what I needed, and my son liked it. I’m not going to promote this particular class, and instead I will tell you that if you are looking for classes on Outschool, I find the best teachers are usually those who were not public school teachers. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if you can find someone who has a degree in the subject, they will be excited about it, and they’ll have interesting ways of teaching it and a depth of knowledge that can’t be matched. Again, not always the case, but that’s been my experience so far. If anyone else has other experiences with finding good classes on Outschool, I welcome your comments. I do highly recommend Outschool. It’s been a game changer for us, and I appreciate how affordable most of the classes are.

artwork by the 6th grader

History

I had such ambitious goals for learning history and recording it on this blog, but Life taught me to keep it simple. I began reading Everything You Need to Ace American History In One Big Fat Notebook out loud to my youngest son last year, and we continued it this past year. We stopped reading sometimes so that we could read history-related middle grade books that I had picked up at library book sales. One of those that I would like to highlight is Frederick Douglass for Kids: His Life and Times with 21 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders. We loved this book, so we read it slowly over a long period. I highly recommend it.

If it had not been for the pandemic, I probably would have ordered more history books from the library, but we’ve really enjoyed this simple approached and the few books we had on our shelf. It won’t be long before he does U.S. History with his father (a history professor) in high school, so I think he’s getting a good introduction.

Foreign Language

Both my boys have been taking weekly Mandarin Chinese lessons with an online tutor for almost three years now. As time went on, I felt that they needed more practice speaking Chinese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do this without spending more money. Suddenly this year we got what feels like a huge gift dropped on us. They are going to start getting twice weekly lessons with a new, fantastic tutor for free! I am over the moon excited. I wish I could share this resource with everyone, but unfortunately, it’s not mine to share. But I would urge anyone to just keep looking for opportunities in your community because you never know what you might find.

Physical Education

I always include physical education on my end-of-year progress reports, though I’m not sure how much I’ve written about it on my blog. We’re not an athletic family, but we are active in that we take many walks and hikes. This year I made more effort to take this kid out for more walks, and I succeeded.

Music 

And now we just passed my son’s 5th anniversary for taking cello lessons! I say this every year, but I can’t believe how fast the time is going. He enjoys playing the cello and considers it a hobby, so he spends about 45~60 minutes on daily practice, six days a week. His cello teacher is awesome, and he started back to in-person lessons this past winter.

I hope this is helpful for you. If you’d like to chat with me on Zoom about homeschooling, you can sign up here.

Slow and Steady

Time plays tricks on us. There are days that I feel the swift passing of time. I turned fifty recently, yet I hardly feel fifty. Well, maybe my aches and pains tell me I’m fifty, but all the memories from my life are stacked up neatly in my brain as if they happened yesterday. Something might trigger a forgotten memory, and it will come alive as if I just lived it.

My boys grow taller. They both have deeper voices now. Weren’t they just chubby cheeked and needing more hugs? Weren’t they just knee-deep in projects that created chaos on our activity room floor?

I am being swept away in this river of time, and I can never get to the shore.

On the other hand, when I think about homeschooling, I notice how this is a slow life. We tend to want to speed it up. We want our children to learn how to read so that we can tick that off our list of anxieties:

“Can I teach my kid how to read? I think I can, but I won’t know until they start reading. Lesson time, kids!” But maybe our child isn’t ready to read, so we reign in our impatience and go at their pace. Slow and steady.

“When will I get around to teaching a foreign language? I have so many other subjects I need to teach.”

“Why are they having trouble with math? They weren’t having trouble last week. Is it the curriculum? Is it me?”

There is so much about this life that we won’t be sure about until it’s all over. Tests don’t tell us everything we’d like to know. This can be hard. For most of my homeschooling-parenting life, I have had a good dose of confidence with a heaping spoonful of insecurity — perhaps just enough to keep me on my toes.

For anyone venturing onto this path of home education, I would say that if you’re reading this, you’re probably reading other materials on homeschooling too. You’re probably doing a lot of research about your options and any particular issues that you are dealing with. If you’re doing that, then I have confidence that you’re a good parent, and you’ll be just fine. You may have bad days. You may have years that aren’t the greatest. But this a slow road.

You build an education for a child bit by bit, according to what he/she/they can handle. You won’t notice the progress until one day something jumps out at you. Your child might say something very kind, they may do something generous, and you’ll be awash with relief — you fostered a nice person! Another day, your child may be presented with a challenge that you have no control over, and — bam — they handle it beautifully. Or you may get those standardized test results and — whoa!– your child scored in the 95th percentile! You weren’t expecting that, but now you’re a happy homeschooling mom.

You’re never expecting it, but time will take care of all your worries. If you feel you need to try something else, trust me, you have time. Kids unfold like flowers, one or two petals at a time, and you’ll know what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy being home with your kids. Enjoy the slowness of this path. Enjoy the uncertainty too because tomorrow that one will be gone and there may be a bigger uncertainty looming.

Nothing stays the same, and while it doesn’t always feel like it, this river of time is swift. I’m going to drift along and see where it takes me.

Is time going too fast or too slow for you today? Please answer in the comments section. And if you need any help with homeschooling, I hope you’ll check out my store. Thanks!

January 2022

My daffodils are blooming early, and they will always remind me of my dad who died in January 2021. He had given me these bulbs. They were growing on a back corner of his property, and they may have originally been planted by my great-grandmother! I have many more around the front of my yard.

It’s the last day of January, and whew — I’m glad it’s over. This has been a very busy month, and it has been cold outside with a few days of almost warm. It also has been a month of remembering….remembering loss from last year and remembering pre-covid times when everything was so much easier. I have been doing lots of random things like going to physical therapy, and I have been ordering specimens for my son’s biology labs. I also baked a loaf of bread for one of his science experiments. I haven’t baked in a long time, but I was pleased to have the skill when it was needed. I finished another James Herriot book, and I discovered that I absolutely love Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. I’m so lucky to have musicians in my house!

The project that has taken the most time, however, is my 12-year-old’s new YouTube channel! Yes, we have taken the bird project to new heights! This year my 12-year-old is in an online ornithology club, which has really inspired him to dig deeper into the world of birds, and then I wondered if he might enjoy recording the birds in our yard and starting a YouTube channel. I was right, and he’s so excited about this. Every few days he’ll put the camera outside, picking a new place or a different angle, and we’ll put the seeds out there. Then we go inside and hope the birds will show up. They usually do. (And we’re at the window with our binoculars.)

This project is teaching my son more than just how to record birds. We have sat together to edit the film, and I’m surprised that he has so much patience to go through the recordings! He picks out the best parts, and I’ve shown him how to trim them. We are also going to learn more about video editing together, and I can see that it won’t be long before I won’t need to help. You never know where this could lead.

Naturally, he is most excited about getting new subscribers on his YouTube channel. So if you feel inclined, I hope you’ll subscribe. You never know, I might be fostering a YouTube star. LOL. Or, maybe Mr. Cardinal will become the star. We’ll see. 🤣

Here’s one of my favorite videos. Please go to his channel and click on “videos” at the top to see them all. And then you’ll understand why I’ve been so busy. This kid likes recording!

 

How has 2022 begun for you? I hope it’s starting out well.

September 2021

During the summer, I got up early to take my walks because it’s too hot here to take them any other time of day. Above is a photograph of a sunrise I happened to capture on one of my walks. It’s also symbolic of the path I’m on right now. I have to retrace my steps over and over in daily life. Sometimes this can feel like a grind, but if I pay attention, every day offers something new.

August 2021

This long year at home has given me a new appreciation for hostas.

I have finally completed the paperwork and put together the portfolios for my boys’ 8th and 5th grade years. This is something I do every summer. I save their loose papers in a 3-ring binder along with anything else from the year, such as brochures from field trips and programs from classical music concerts (sadly not included this time because of the pandemic). I also have daily charts I check off, which is how I keep track of attendance. Most importantly, I write up progress reports (as in accordance with the law in my state), which lists all of their work, including curricula, books read, test scores, and my comments, etc. These are several pages long. This year my 14-year-old had a resume I included too. (I did not have a resume at 14. This kid is something.)

This year feels really special to me because my 14-year-old has completed the 8th grade, and now he’s entering high school. And I got him here! I had help from his dad, of course, but I can safely say I did most of facilitating and all of the organizing. When my boys were younger, I also did all the teaching, but in the past couple of years, my eldest son is mostly self-taught. I find curriculum for him, and he does the work. I make sure he stays on task, and I help him when he gets stuck.

When kids get to a certain age, they can tell you when they need more help. They also tell you what they’re most interested in and what they want to spend their time doing, although they may not say it in so many words. You’ll figure out, if you’ve been observing them with an open mind. They’re mature enough to realize that they will need to spend some time on stuff they don’t like, but as long as they see the purpose for it, they are okay with that.

My younger son has completed the lower elementary grades, which is another milestone. Wow. Sixth grade will be more challenging, and my job will be to keep him on task so that he’ll be ready for high school in three years. I tell him he is lucky that I’ve already homeschooled his older brother, but in truth, he offers me plenty of challenges because he’s different than his brother. His education is not a repeat of his older brother’s education.

Starting next year I will be doing less teaching than I ever have because we’re going to be using Outschool and other online classes more. I know the boys will enjoy this change, and it feels like a relief to me too. They are getting to a higher level of learning, and I just can’t do it all. The online classes are fun for them, and I love how they’re interacting with other teachers and kids even if it’s all virtual. But the year may still be my busiest yet. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Besides wrapping up last year and planning next year, I’ve been enjoying watching highlights from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with my boys, and even more close to our hearts is the 18th Chopin Competition. It’s an olympics of sorts for piano players. You can already watch the entire preliminary round on YouTube, and the 1st round will begin in October. You can read about the competitors here.

What are you looking forward to this coming year, and what’s keeping you busy now?