Sunday, January 31, 2010

Inservice Days

I have fought Inservice Days all year.

Why should homeschoolers have these odd days off? There is no reason why Mi'ita should take February 1st off. I would like to make her work it.

None of her friends have to go to school tomorrow. When that happens she invariably wants them to come over and play. Important for socialization, don't you think? Especially for an only child.

I'd like to make her work in the morning, get her work done, then invite a friend over.

She has a friend over tonight, though, and the house is a complete disaster from her weekend birthday party, and we have to go to the library in the afternoon. Doesn't leave a whole lot of room for math.

Maybe I'll make her do some math after her friend goes home, do some home economics house cleaning, go to the library in the afternoon, and call the rest a draw. Or better yet, make her write thank you notes for her gifts.

Ugh. If we had no connection to the local public school, it wouldn't be an issue. It's Monday. We work on Mondays. Get to work!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


The women in my grandmother's generation had their children during the Depression and WWII. They all expected to get married, stay at home, and have babies. Most of my own grandmothers were farmwives and expected to grow their own vegetables, can their own vegetables, bake their own bread, cook three hot meals a day, clean, sew their own clothes, and do the laundry with a wringer and a clothesline. It was a very big job back then. Motherhood was full time work, and watching the kids was only a small part of what you did.

My mother's generation grew up in the 50's. Domestic chores were definitely easier, but there was still the expectation that women would get married, have babies, and stay at home. If you wanted or needed a job, women could be secretaries, waitresses, flight attendants, teachers, or nurses. Pick one.

My mother and stepmother were both in their early 30's by the time the women's movement hit. They had already gotten married, had their babies, and were teachers. While the women's movement certainly changed the way they thought and the opportunities they had, they were already mid-stream in the rivers of their lives.

They taught their daughters, though. My generation grew up in the midst of the women's movement and I was taught, explicitly and vociferously, that women could be anything they set their minds to. We may have only had male doctors and female nurses growing up, but we were told that we could be doctors or lawyers or the president of the United States! So go do it!

That's the kicker, though. I did the career thing for 13 years, but I'm a stay at home mom right now, by choice. I was raised by two women's-movement-generation mothers who told me to do anything that I wanted to do! I certainly wasn't planning on being a stay at home mother. If I had said that I wanted to be a stay at home mom when I was young, I would have been sat down for a good long lecture.

My question is, if it is perfectly accepted by my mother's generation for me to be a paid teacher in a school, is it not acceptable to be an unpaid teacher in a house? Is getting a paycheck for tutoring a child more acceptable than not getting a paycheck for tutoring my own daughter? Is it the money?

Because I don't need the money. My husband makes plenty for all of us, even if we don't have the funds for yearly trips to Europe. When I was a teacher, I didn't even know what my salary was. It was a non-issue. If my husband, God help me, disappears tomorrow, I could go back to work and support my small family. My education is still there, my credentials and references.

If it's not the salary, what is it?

Thursday, January 21, 2010


How many do you know?


I would say that more than half of the kids in all of Mi'ita's classes to date have been labeled as something or other. Most of those kids have a pull out program--they leave the class and join a small group or even have one on one with a specialist every day or three times a week or once a week. Regular classroom teachers of these students are responsible for tailoring their regular classroom curriculum to each kid's need, too. So, if you have 30 kids in the class, most likely you have at least 15 different modifications you need to do for each lesson.

It's called differentiated curriculum. If a teacher doesn't differentiate their curriculum to meet the needs of these protected children, they are liable.

Mi'ita actually is TAG and I was concerned for years that she wasn't getting her needs met in school. I would say that many of her 2nd grade year's worth of problems were directly related to the fact that she wasn't getting her needs met. Of course, she wasn't labeled yet, so I couldn't hold her teacher accountable... Nor would I have. I was a teacher myself and see the horrendous burden it is to expect one teacher to meet the needs of every individual kid in their class.

I have one kid to teach. I tailor her education directly to her needs, and that's all.

Definitions, off the top of my head:

IEP: Individual Education Plan--Students performing below level, but not diagnosed with a medical condition. Requirements lowered.

ESOL, ESL: English to Speakers of Other Languages, English as a Second Language--Students who speak another language at home and are not fluent in academic English

TAG, GAPE: Talented and Gifted, ?--Students who perform above the intellectual level of their grade level peers

Title I: Students who are below level in Reading and/or Math and need extra help to boost them to be at grade level, but do not have a diagnosed medical condition

SpEd: Special Education-- Students with a diagnosed medical condition that affects their cognition

BD: Behavior Disorder--Students who are extremely disruptive in the school setting and require intervention

AMD: Anger Management Disorder

ADD, ADHD: Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder--Students who have trouble concentrating, with or without a hyperactive component

ODD: Oppositional Defiance Disorder--Students who do not respect authority (extreme, usually violent)

504: Students who have a diagnosed medical condition that does not effect their cognition, but the teacher needs to be aware of their condition for health and safety reasons

SL: Speech/Language--Students who need help with the mechanics of speaking, or who do not hear well

MR: Mental Retardation

ASD: Autism Spectral Disorder


I've read half a dozen How To Homeschool books now and all of them have a section devoted to how to deal with criticism.

Interesting, since I've never had a single person criticize my decision. I've had a few people ask pointed questions. I've had people say that they could never do it for a variety of reasons. I've had people politely change the subject with a frown in their eyes. I've had people say that since I was a teacher, I would do it right, unlike X person who homeschools and just lets their kids play all day. But I haven't had a single person say that I shouldn't do it or any variation thereof.

My mother substituted for me this last week since I was down with a bum hip and couldn't walk. She made a lovely plant book with Mi'ita that organizes leaves into palmated, smooth edged, lobed, etc. with a section on seeds. She taught fractions instead of doing our Math U See program. She gave up early on Latin because she doesn't know any, but gamely did the Vietnamese DVD with Mi'ita. She was a godsend. I literally couldn't do a single thing for myself that week and would have died without her. Thank God for mothers. Especially mine.

At the end of our week, we sat down and she asked me if I wanted some frank feedback about homeschooling. My mother was a teacher for 100 years, has won many awards for her teaching including Washington State Science Teacher of the Year, and has raised two children herself. I was very interested in getting some feedback from her.

She wasn't worried about socialization. She could see how much Mi'ita saw her friends with playdates and ballet. She said that mostly at school you are supposed to sit and do your own work and not talk to your friends.

She was a little concerned with how much grammar Mi'ita is learning in her Latin program. She doesn't know the difference between the accusative and the dative noun cases and couldn't see why Mi'ita needed to know these things. I assured her that we are focusing on the vocabulary and not memorizing the grammar. We do read it and try to understand it, but we do not memorize the endings for every noun case, to be sure.

She thought the academics were good, overall. She saw that when you have one kid, you can tailor their education. You choose your own priorities. You decide how long they need to work on a subject and how often they need to review it. You can quickly give feedback and help.

Her one concern was two-sided. She was worried about Mi'ita thinking that she was the center of the universe and that I was devoting myself to her and not doing anything for myself.

What can I say to that? Parenting is very different now than when my mother was a little girl. Then, kids desires were irrelevant. What a kid wanted to do on the weekend was not any concern for the parents. Parents did what they did and the kids would help until not needed and then would "go play."

Even the Obamas now devote the weekend to their children. Michele said that she was a mother first and was not going to miss a single ballet recital.

The education and care of their children is the priority of most of the parents that I know. It's a different world. Yes, Mi'ita thinks that she is important and that her desires should be taken into account. If we override her, she argues her case. My mother wouldn't have done that as a child. I wouldn't have either, I don't think, but it's a different world now.

But I'm listening to my mother, too. It's true that I don't do much "for me." I take a Yoga class a couple times a week. I am thinking about re-training in another field since all my education is in Education and I don't want to be a teacher anymore. But I haven't decided what to retrain in yet, nor is there a college in our little burg that could retrain me.

In the meantime, my daughter needs me, and that's okay with me. For now.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Talk about education from real life experiences.

I hurt my leg on January 1st, starting with a limp and progressing daily until a week later I couldn't walk at all. I had to use a wheelchair for a week, with crutches to get up and down the three steps in my house.

My mother moved in to nurse me. I cried from the pain. I threw up from the pain medication. I sat and slept in the lazy boy recliner for two weeks. I couldn't pick up something that I dropped on the floor, less than a foot from my hand. I got cranky.

Mi'ita is not a naturally helpful person, I am afraid to say. If I asked her to pick something up for me on a normal day, she's say, "what, are your legs broken?" (We've been working on that.)

What did Mi'ita learn from watching all this? She certainly had a blast using my wheelchair and crutches. She learned where to put things so that they weren't in my way. She became "the helpful kitten" and fetched and carried for me because my legs were in fact nearly broken.

I don't know what all she learned, but I bet it was pretty substantial, all told.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teachable Moments

Everyone knows about teachable moments--the times when a kid is curious about something and you are there to teach to it right when it happens.

There are teachable moments in school, too, but think about having 30 students. One kid's teachable moment mostly passes by without anyone having the time or attention to be able to teach to it. The times when all 30 kids are curious about the same thing happen, too, but they are rarer. There are time pressures, too. You might have a teachable moment 2 seconds before it's time to leave for music and that's that.

Parents have teachable moments more often. When you take a kid out of your sphere of influence for 40 hours a week, though, you are passing by a lot of teachable moments.

A few weeks ago Mi'ita and I went to the state capital building as a field trip. I had arranged for a guided tour, but our guide had car problems and we ended up with a "self guided tour" pamphlet. We wandered around, looked at pictures of our governors, saw the empty senate chamber, looked at the empty office of our local rep, ate pancakes at their cafe, bought a doodad at the gift shop and drove away. It wasn't really much of an experience.

On the drive home, though, we had a two hour long teachable moment about government. We talked about how it all works, of course. Mi'ita was not so interested and said that she didn't care for politics much. I don't either, I said, but when you don't participate you hand over the reins to people who do care enough to participate. We talked about gay marriage, mostly, because it is a current issue that we both care about. Both of us have gay and lesbian friends, or friends whose parents are gay or lesbian. We talked a long time about civil rights, what the right to get married means legally, the protections afforded to families that are denied to gay and lesbian families, etc.

During the drive home I thought about how this was a great teachable moment. It probably would have happened eventually if Mi'ita was in school because I've been meaning to take her to the capital anyway.

The thing is, this happens several times a day now. When Mi'ita was in school, we might have a teachable moment once a week.

I think this is why unschooling works.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Current Events

I really like the new assignment that Husband added to our list of to-do's. I added a daily journal entry. He amended, saying that she needed to read an article off of the New York Times in the World section and summarize it twice a week.

Mi'ita will probably complain bitterly about it soon. She's already grumpy, but she's doing it.

Today she read Germany Knows Nothing Of Alleged CIA Murder Plot. She's rather fond of Germany right now, so anything with Germany in it. We had to read it together because there is so much she doesn't know about. What is an embassy? A private security firm? A secret operation? Who is al Qaeda? What does alleged mean? What does it mean when the CIA declines to comment? Vanity Fair, blacklisted, Hamburg cell, bombings in Spain and in East Africa... We talked for a good hour on our own about this short article. Then we talked a good half an hour more with the Daddy over dinner about this. I was wrong about something myself. I thought that if the CIA declines to comment it is akin to an admission of guilt. No. Husband, who used to be in NSA, says that the CIA declines to comment about everything as a policy so that you can't interpret it that way.

Then she had to write a paragraph about it--only five sentences--but it had to be written well. First sentence is a topic sentence. Next three are supporting details. Last sentence is why this is important enough to get into the New York Times. She had to date it and write the name of the article and the magazine. It took awhile, but I think she will get the hang of it. This is her summary:

Jan. 4, 2010

The CIA was accused of a murder plot. According to Vanity Fair, the CIA sent a team of mercenaries to Hamburg to kill Mamoun Darkazanli in 2004. MD is a German citizen who donated to al Qaeda. He is connected to 9-11 and two other bombings. German is our ally. What if we did do this?

"Germany Knows Nothing Of Alleged Murder Plot" NY Times

Short, but not bad for a 9 year old.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Progress Report

When we decided to give homeschooling a whirl, I decided that I would give it a concerted effort until Winter Break. If we were not doing well by then, I'd toss in the towel and enroll her back into school.

Well, this is the last day of Winter Break, and it's time to evaluate.

The biggest difference I see in our lives is in the reduction of conflict. When school is on, five days a week are devoted to almost constant conflict. Seriously. I have to make her do things almost every minute that I see her and she does not respond well to it. In the morning it's "it's time to get up, get dressed, no you can't wear that, brush your teeth and hair, finish your breakfast, get your shoes on, it's time to go, we're going to be late, get your shoes on NOW!" No matter how I phrase it or what my tone of voice is, I am ordering her around and she does not like that.

After school there's a brief respite where I don't have to give her orders but I get to hear how her day went. Frequently she has had trouble with the other kids, often in tears about it, and once a week like clockwork she got in trouble with the teacher and I had to follow up on that. After dinner it was the usual litany of, "get your homework done, you got this problem wrong, yes you have to re-do it, you need to capitalize this" then "take your bath, no it's time for your bath, get out of the bathtub already you've been in there for an hour, get your pajamas on, turn out the light and go to sleep, no you can't read it's too late, go to SLEEP!"

Fun. It's not so much that there is less of that, although there is less. I still have to make her bathe and brush her teeth and do her work, but I don't have to make her do it by 8 AM and that helps tremendously.

It's that there is more of the other stuff. I have time to be with her that I'm not ordering her around. We play games, we play with her cat, we clean out the lizard cage, we talk over lunch, we read next to each other companionably.

I'm not the evil witch. Well, I am still sometimes, but I am the nice mommy, too, and not just on the weekends. I say that an improved relationship with your only child is a big reason to homeschool.

As far as the academic goes, I'm not so sure that she's doing better work at home. That's the reason I started--I had heard so much about the academic success of homeschoolers and I wanted my brilliant daughter to have every opportunity to succeed. What I get, though, is control. I get to decide what is important and what to spend time on.

Since kindergarten Mi'ita has spend probably an hour and a half daily on reading instruction. After first grade, she didn't need it. She reads constantly and well. She may need direction in literature, vocabulary, and pronunciation, but she does not need instruction in decoding and reading comprehension. For the first time since she learned how to read, she doesn't have to spend time learning to read.


She probably spends less time on math, but it's more focused. We finally got a math program that she likes, thank goodness.

I haven't been happy with her writing instruction and I will be focusing on that next.

She has been learning four languages. Well, learning Latin and dabbling in three other languages: German, Swahili, and Vietnamese (we were going to go to Tanzania, canceled our trip because of violence, and booked a trip to Vietnam in February.) Languages used to be a huge part of education. Even in this monolingual country, up until recently everyone had to learn French. The languages themselves are not the ones I would have chosen, but just learning any language increases the understanding of how languages work, grammar, spelling, and most important in my book, increases the respect of immigrants in our country that have to figure out how to speak English.

I get to pick out what I think is important for her to spend time on, and what is not important for her.

She has a better relationship with people, too. She sees friends regularly on frequent play dates and classes that I make a priority to arrange. Playing with friends one on one or in small groups is easier for her. I know that she has to figure out how to work in teams, manage with large groups of people, and deal with people she doesn't like. I make it a priority to arrange times for her to do that, too--in classes such as ballet and TAG, and being in plays. She still doesn't like dealing with people she doesn't like (know anyone who does?) but I make her do it. Luckily she has cousins that she doesn't particularly like and I foist them on her regularly. We all have to deal with family!

Another thing that is a benefit is that I know what she's up to. I know what she is working on and what she is lousy at and who she has been playing with. Her dad asked her the other day what she had done and for some bazaar reason she told him that we had taken the day off. I was able to disabuse him of that notion--we had done Latin, Vietnamese, and math, gone to the library, read a stack of books, and written an entry in her blog.

She likes homeschooling. I like homeschooling. We'll stick with it for now.