3 Things I Took With Me from Public School

Before I became an accidental homeschooler, I was an on-purpose middle school and high school teacher. I loved it and I hated it, but mostly, I loved it. It was hard, it was fun and sometimes I cried and I (thought) bad words. But, I was actually pretty good at it and I’d like to share three things that worked then that I find are still working now.

1. When I first began teaching, my amazing mentor told me, “You bring the fun – or they will. And you’ll never like the fun they come up with.” If content is uninteresting, delivery is boring and activities are humdrum ho-hum, you can guarantee that your classroom will swiftly devolve into a zoo. When working with beginning teachers who were struggling to manage their classrooms, this was one of the FIRST things I considered. And it is still true in my homeschool, enrollment two. If I don’t tie the content to my children’s interest, or I dish up the same-old same-old every day, or I fail to frequently incorporate the kinds of activities they enjoy, we are going to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad school day.

Which brings me to…
2. Learning styles matter. Learning styles refer to the preferred way a person learns. Think about yourself and how you like to learn new things. Do you like to read a book? Would you prefer to watch a movie or video or listen to a recording presenting the material or skill? Or, would you learn best if you actually got up and did the thing alongside a master teacher? Most people have one dominant learning style, with a secondary style as well. Most adults can manage to learn in a number of different ways because we have been conditioned to do so – and it makes it rather convenient since many of us have to listen to presentations, read books or trade journals or watch videos for our jobs. However, forcing children to “learn” in a way that is not their preferred style much of the time is torturous both for the teacher and the child. Teaching in their preferred style helps make sure that at least some of the planned activities are those they enjoy.

But what about the necessary activities they don’t enjoy? (And I realize there is an entire school of thought that says children should only do activities they enjoy. But, I’m just not running that kind of joint.)

For those times when an activity is not interesting or fun, I suggest…

3. “Probably so, but nevertheless…” This was a phrase I learned at a conference my first year teaching and it has served me well. For example, Scooter loathes math fact flashcards. I have chosen this practice method for two reasons. First of all, not everything can be cute and fun – I simply am not going to make up a puppet show or game for everything we do. (I may never make up a puppet show in fact.) Secondly, in the case of math facts, a recent study suggests that cutesy little games and activities aren’t nearly as good as old-fashioned “drill and kill.” In fact, worksheets and flashcards may be the absolute best way to teach math facts. Do we do some games? Sure. Do we do some hands-on activities? Absolutely. But sometimes, we do flashcards. And Scooter hates them. More than he hates broccoli, which is saying something.

But this is where, “Probably so, but nevertheless” really comes in handy.,


Scooter: I HATE flashcards!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, we are going to do them.

Scooter: They are BORING and STUPID!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, it is time for flashcards.

Scooter: I can’t wait for them to be OVER!!!

Me: Probably so, but nevertheless, here we go!

Notice the following things about this handy phrase. “Probably so….” acknowledges the child’s feelings. “Probably so….” allows the child to save face because no disagreement is stated. “Probably so” presents no counter-argument. (Why not? Because in the throes of battle, it is not fruitful for me to argue the benefits of flashcards. Scooter does not give two fat farts about how flash cards affect his brain synapses, or about how they are the building blocks for math and science (his favorite subjects) or about the virtues of obedience or how hard I worked to make them. He just HATES them and he is mad!)

“Probably so” acknowledges all of that, skips the argument and moves right on to, “Nevertheless….” which is firm and assertive – and I keep repeating it until Scooter figures out it’s do the damn cards or hear, “Probably so, but nevertheless” on repeat ad infinitum.

Try this phrase. Really. Everyone who has tried it has grown to love it as much as I do. (My cohort wanted to get tee shirts made, but we never did. Nevertheless, it’s a great phrase.) Then, let me know how it went.

So, in summary, bring the fun, teach to your child’s learning style and remember, “Probably so, but nevertheless…” covers a multitude of wrongs.

And finally, I want to say that public school – and especially public school teachers – have many strengths. I know there are bad apples and bad schools, but most I have ever encountered are well-educated, highly skilled professionals committed to learning more, doing better and giving all they have to their students. This post was inspired by yet another thing I read today slamming public schools and public school teachers – and it made me mad and it hurt my heart. We homeschool because it’s best for our family – but not because public schools or public school teachers are bad. I owe much of my success at home (and in school) to public schools and public school teachers. I am a better human being for the experiences and relationships I had there. So, godspeed, public educators – and thank you.




Daily Schedule

Every homeschooling methodology book I’ve read (except for Unschooling books) seems to include a section on schedules.

Which I skip. Because, hey – it’s my home and my family and I am going to do what works for us, right?

But, I understand some families considering homeschooling or new to homeschooling would like to know our schedule, so in this post I’ll share ours.

However, you need to know a few things about our family to fully appreciate a) why I felt confident jumping into homeschooling without following someone else’s schedule and b) why we use this particular type of scheduling method.

First, our family needs routine. One of us has Attention Deficit Disorder. Two, possibly three of us, also cope with anxiety. Routines are comforting to us, keep us on track, help us develop a sense of predictability and accomplishment and generally, keep the wheels from falling off. We’ve been refining our home and family routines for quite a while – adding a homeschooling routine/schedule into the mix wasn’t really that big of a deal.

Second, we use this particular type of schedule because it is visual, touchable and flexible. Scooter does not read independently yet, both boys enjoy turning little cards, and it is easily changed each day.

Your family may not need as much detail or need a touchable system. Your family may just roll along happily and without question with one caregiver acting as ringmaster. (If this is your family, lucky, lucky you.)

But, in any case, here is what works for us.

Daily ScheduleI found daily schedule cards at this site. I love them! They are small, have a picture on each one, have lots of variety (boardwalk, anyone?) including two blank cards, and best of all – they are free! I printed them on heavy card stock (grey was what I had on hand) and just cut them out. They fit five-across in my table-top pocket chart by Learning Resources.

Next, I created my own cards for  our actual school work. They are larger, but also have a picture on each one and include blank cards. As soon as I figure out how (which will be after I make dinner, bathe the spawn, and wrestle them to bed), I will link to my file so you can download a copy if you’d like. Update: You can now download my School ScheduleSchool Activity Cards.

Please know that we do not do every subject every day except for Language Arts and Math. Scooter is barely six and I have other things to do – like manage a household, maintain my super-model figure and write blog posts to be read for the masses.

Instead, I often allow him to choose between science and history – though lately we have done both since both of the unit studies we are doing really interest him right now. (The solar system and ancient Egypt, for the curious.)

We do art and music when we make time. The kids usually do some kind of art every day. Just this week, in fact, they did a Jackson Pollock recreation with popcorn, mini marshmallows and Nerds candy on the new family room rug while I was on the phone. But, I digress. As for music, we do that whenever I can stomach the thought of fighting over the instruments or singing another round of “We Are the Dinosaurs.” Most days, we turn on NPR in the car, hope it’s a musical program and call it done. The shoemaker’s children…

Life Skills includes sewing, cleaning, cooking, helping with the chickens and helping with the yard and garden. Basically, anything that needs doing around the homestead that I can do with some “help” from the children with reasonable hope of success. Scooter’s chores include making his bed, sorting laundry, putting clean laundry away, putting his own belongings away, helping me put many of his brother’s belongings away, clearing the table after meals, walking the dog at lunch time (just down the driveway and around the culdesac – don’t freak out!), and setting the table for dinner. He also dusts, uses the hand vacuum around the edges and corners of rooms, cleans glass-topped tables and the front of the china cabinet and sorts clean socks. He feeds his own fish and helps feed the mammals. He tells me this is exhausting.

And, last but not least, German – new this week.

I know, Classical educator friends – no Latin. What about the children? Well, I know this may be quite a shock, but Latin doesn’t give me any warm fuzzies. None. And at this point in my life, I cannot muster up the strength to teach something about which I have no warm fuzzies. Ad infernum cum eo.

So, there it is. Ta da. Now, go do what works for you and ignore this post entirely.

3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Homeschool

This post is inspired by one I read recently here. I read this post as we contemplated our own decision and took the time to really think through each item. It was a very helpful article to me. (And currently, item one on her list is at the TOP of my frustrations!)

But, I wanted to add my own thoughts to the brew. So, here they are.

1. Don’t home school because public school is “evil.” Because it’s not. Public school is one of the best things to come out of modern civilization. Before public school, the only people who got to get an education were those whose parents could afford private school, private tutors, or both. Or maybe, your parents worked for some progressive-minded folks who let you learn alongside Cyril and Cecily with the governess. Poor people didn’t often get a formal education – many of them never learned to read or write, let alone own a book. So if you were born poor, you would likely stay poor and have the difficult (and shortened) life span that your parents had and their parents before them. If your parents were in trade and your trade was in high demand, lucky you. If your parents cleaned cesspools for a living, that’s what you had to look forward to. Public school is an amazing thing – it helps level the playing field and expands children’s horizons. and even though I’m a home schooling mom, I still believe in public school and I always will. I’ll fight anyone to. the. death. that says we should do away with it. (So, there!)

2. Don’t home school because you think it will be easy. It’s not easy. In fact, some days, it’s really really hard. Like, tear your hair out hard and drink up the liquor cabinet hard. Like, run away from home and leave no forwarding address hard. It may be easier in some ways than attending a brick and mortar school – days are more flexible, no worries about having the “right” clothes – but it is absolutely not easy. In the words of Westley, “Anyone who tells you differently, is selling Westley and Buttercupsomething.” The thing they are selling may just be their religion or their persona – but someone who tells you it’s easy? Selling something.

3. Don’t home school because you think your child’s annoying habits and mannerisms will disappear when they are away from corrupting influences. Scooter is still Scooter with all of his charms and flaws. He still has temper tantrums. He is still mean to Cheech sometimes. He still has trouble sharing, changing direction and making his bed. He still picks his nose and needs reminders to flush the toilet. And we are still working on eliminating, “I seen” and “hisself” (which he learned from his teacher) from his vocabulary. Just because we have him home with us doesn’t mean he has transformed into the perfect child with impeccable manners and flawless grammar. In fact, we get to enjoy him picking up a host of new flaws…from us.

So, there you have it. Three excellent reasons NOT to home school.

Give me time and I’ll come up with more.

Homeschooling – Help! Where do I start?

If you are considering homeschooling, whether as a supplement to your child’s education at a brick and mortar school, or as a replacement for traditional school, you must be ready to be superintendent, campus principal, and classroom teacher – as well as the lunch lady (or gent) AND the custodian. Maybe even maintenance as well.

You also have to be the curriculum director – deciding exactly you are going to teach. And if you live in a high-regulation state and/or are planning to withdraw your child mid-school year, you’ll have to be ready for this and have things in hand in case you do get a friendly visit from law enforcement.

But choosing your materials and methods from the overwhelming number of options can be challenging. As homeschooling has increased in popularity over the last few decades, it has become big business. There are tons of websites, books, conventions, book fairs, catalogs and helpful friends. What is a parent to do? How do you know what to choose for your child?

Well, I certainly can’t tell you. But, I am happy to share my process in hopes that it will be helpful. I am a former public school teacher and though my area of specialization was music, I still had to tutor reading and math as well as familiarize myself with curriculum standards across multiple disciplines. (Music teachers often spend a good deal of time justifying our existence to the “real” teachers and have to be prepared to show how what we are doing in our classrooms supports what they are doing in theirs. When exactly they are going to teach kids to sing solfege during their class time, I never did learn…Ha!)

The first thing to consider are your state’s requirements. In a previous post, I wrote about Texas’ rules and I kept those in mind as I chose materials. Our curriculum has to be in “visual form” and we must cover “reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.” (I am still wigged out that no science, social studies, fine arts or health/PE are required. But, I digress.)

The next thing I chose to consider were the grade-specific requirements provided by the state. Many homeschoolers choose to ditch their state requirements entirely, but I happen to think that they can provide a useful framework, especially if you anticipate your homeschooling experience may be short-lived. In Texas, those are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS (pronounced “teeks.”) You can choose to peruse the TEKS by subject level or by grade level.

You might also choose to review your district’s grade level Scope and Sequence, a map for the year showing when children at each grade level will be learning each item on the TEKS. Not all districts provide these, but many do. If yours does not, try a larger, neighboring district and see what you can find, or search a school district even farther afield that you believe is doing a good job with their students.

You can also review your state’s approved textbooks list for each grade level and subject and purchase from that list. In Texas, the chart even provides information about what percentage of the TEKS are covered in each textbook. Please note that not all publishers make their textbooks and materials available to homeschoolers, but I was able to find at least one approved textbook in each subject that covered 100% of the state standards available for private purchase. Wasn’t that convenient?

Too bad that wasn’t what we decided to do. Ha! That would have been too easy, right?

We had already been homeschooling Scooter for some time before officially withdrawing him from school, so we already had several things on hand with which we were very happy. I already had a good idea of Scooter’s learning style and his skill level and I knew that continuing with these resources was a good choice for him.

ETC CoverOne of those on-hand items was our Explode the Code workbook from a wonderful series of phonics-based workbooks spanning reading, spelling and printing. The primers teach the basic letter sounds and each subsequent book introduces new concepts. There is also an online component available. We did purchase the online membership our first year using these materials, but Scooter really struggled with the mouse (too much click-and-drag for him), which skewed his timing and made it look like he “failed.” It was very discouraging for him. We may purchase a subscription in the fall now that his technology skills have improved, however! (Thank you, Minecraft!) The illustrations do leave something to be desired, but Scooter likes them just fine and asks to do them each day. I also suggest this program for children in a traditional school setting who need extra practice or reinforcement at home. A few pages a day may be just what your child needs.

Singapore Math CoverWe were also already using Singapore Primary Mathematics (U.S. Edition). Singapore math is how math is taught in…you guessed it! Singapore – just one of a number of countries whose students routinely whip U.S. students behinds in the math department. The U.S. Edition changes the currency and uses English measurement rather than metrics, but just like the original, it emphasizes mental math. The books are also inexpensive compared to other popular programs, but you will likely need to buy or create additional materials like these to supplement for practice. The teacher’s guides are fantastic and include lots of great hands-on practice ideas utilizing items you probably already have around the house.

As for the last required subject, “good citizenship,” I’m still figuring out how to put that into “visual form.” From my perspective, that’s a rather loaded term, especially in this state, and I’ll have to get back to you on what we do!

So, that’s what we started with. We met the requirements, ensured he was on-level (and beyond) with our state sequence of skills, and he likes it. Yahoo! An added bonus? We didn’t break the bank!

I’ll write soon about how we are teaching the other subjects –  including science, social studies, fine arts, health/PE and that head-scratcher, “good citizenship.” Honestly, choosing curriculum was tons of fun for me – what do you expect from a teacher? But I understand that it isn’t for many folks,  and from time to time, I’ll post about the other materials we are using.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from YOU! Are you supplementing at home for your child that attends traditional school (or is too young for school yet)? Are you homeschooling exclusively? What are your go-to resources? Or, where are you “stuck?” Maybe I can help!

As always, thanks for reading.

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