Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Halloween For My Kids in 2012

My kids miss the old tradition we had in the Connecticut neighborhood where they'd trick or treat with neighbor kids then attend a party at one of the family's homes. The parents would walk behind (the streets had no lights and it was really dark) then we would be at the party also (in the adult room).

We did not celebrate Halloween last year, our first year in Texas. My older son had rowing practice then we gave out candy.

This year both kids have rowing practice. Again I will give out candy.

I would have suggested a rowing team party but all the schooled kids have a ton of homework to do, so a weeknight party is out of the question. At a recent Saturday night party for both parents and kids three families left at 9pm (an hour early) so their kids could go home and do homework. The kids on the team are serious about their schoolwork. A number take honors or pre-AP or AP classes and all are on a college prep track.

Update: as of last night, a boy in my son's co-op class asked my twelve year old to trick or treat tonight. His mother explained there are no kids on his street either so he boy felt alone. That kid's older brother is going to a church party.mmy son will up have to skip rowing practice to domHalloween, which is fine, because you are only a kid once. He started rowing early so there is no reason he has to have a high school responsibility load in seventh grade. So we will costume shop today apparently.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Enough - Moving On

I have poured out my heart here lately and aired the dirty homeschool laundry. I think that I've probably gone too far by sharing all that as there was some sensitive information about my son, or at least he may think so.

I shared it all as I think it is important for others to hear that homeschooling is imperfect but more importantly, that homeschooling is a PROCESS that evolves over time. We face challenges and we have to re-evaluate and reconsider and make decisions. We come up with an ideal, we see reality as something less than perfect, we consider options that we think may solve everything and be superior, but in the end in this case we decided that imperfect homeschooling is still a better fit for our older son than public school is. So, we're still at it. We went through a lot of family stress over this issue but when we came out the other side our son had a better attitude and improved behavior. So the struggle was worth it.

With two kids doing intense homeschooling this year, and with them (sadly) needing strict supervision my own time on a computer is limited. The room we homeschool in does not have a computer for me to use.

I will be busy homeschooling the kids so I don't know how much blogging I will do. What is done may be about the content we are learning and books we are reading together. I do need escape time so read books, especially before bed at night, so you'll see some book reviews here of books that I read for pleasure.

Monday, October 29, 2012

New Procedures for Older Son & Homeschooling

The day after deciding not to enroll into public school, coincidentially, my grade 10 (age 15) year old son and I had our second counseling session in which my son shared with the counselor that his goal was to succeed in school with a college prep plan and to still have time for rowing, Boy Scouts, and the robotics team.

We are working with the behaviorist so my son can temper his raging teenage hormones and make better choices regarding anger management. We have a new red flag procedure in process when my son does unacceptable behavior so that we will separate and he will go calm down, then we regroup. This will help me feel less threatened and scared about what he will do. There is a rule against violence toward other people and against breaking or damaging physical property.

The therapist is trying to help my son work toward choosing right actions that will get him to his goal instead of saying no to everything immediately, even when it plainly takes him in the opposite direction he needs to go to achieve his goal.

I was told to use certain language. I am banned from saying, "I want you to do this lesson" and "I need you to do this". Instead I have to say, "You need to do this lesson". This is supposed to put the responsibility for the academic work in my son's hands and not make it a power struggle issue between me and him. Sometimes I think semantics are over-rated but whatever, I'll say it that way if it will affect a positive change.

I am to give a detailed to do list with actual assignments not time assignments on them. I can no longer say "study math for one hour" or "read the history book for one hour". I explained that due to the slow visual processing speed it is hard for me to judge reasonable expectations when reading a certain book. I can expect too much or expect too little. It is easier to say "do it for an hour" and to accept whatever the page count is that can be accomplished.

Everything on the list has to be easy to evaluate if it was completed or not. We struggled in the meeting to come to an agreement on what way it should be evaluated, daily vs. weekly and the negative consequence that will come if he fails to meet the objective. He is supposed to be kept home from rowing practice if he fails to do his work. The session ended as time ran out just when my son was getting really angry with the counselor so we don't have a firm understanding about whether I'm checking the list at 3:30 pm or at 9 pm or the next morning or at the end of the week.

I am brainstorming some other creative ideas to help my son succeed. When decisions are made and/or tried, I will share them here.

For now I am busy scrambling to make up customized lesson plans or to acquaint myself with new curriculum since my son dropped the three online classes. I am making to do lists. I am also super busy homeschooling my seventh grader, having put in no fewer then 40.5 direct teaching hours with him in the last seven day period.

I am exhausted to be blunt.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Older Son is Not Enrolling in High School This Year

As you may have suspected, my older son is not enrolling into public school this year. I was ready to let go, honestly I was. But this is not a decision that I can make, my son has to be involved and he needs to buy into it or he will not succeed in school either.

My son said that he did not want to attend public school before I phoned the school to inquire and he definately did not want to enroll once he heard what I had to tell him.

My son wants freedom and flexibility. He dislikes hoop jumping even when he thinks it is legitimate and he doesn't want to hoop jump when he thinks he may be unfairly judged.

Even knowing he is lacking skills in certain areas, (many science minded boys are not lovers of writing composition or literary analysis), my son does not want to repeat a grade due only to being possibly labeled behind in English. He would rather do double time and do two grades of English or cover three years of English in two calendar years to make it up.

So we are back to the drawing board about how to homeschool this current academic year.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

What the Public School Said

I waited fifteen days from the day of the blow up over the computer hacking to wrap my mind around the fact that I had said that we may give up and quit homeschooling. I let the idea sink in. It was an emotional issue and I didn't want to act rashly or to rush into it. In those fifteen days I would say the days were good days, not fair, not excellent, but decent and acceptable. So suddenly I was not in a rush to push my son off to school.

In one conversation in that timeframe, my older son said that he thought maybe he would perform higher if he were pushed harder and by someone that was not Mom. I felt that what he wanted was for me to be just Mom not teacher because he felt someone else may drive him to perform better. He said he did not like that homeschooling was causinf me stress and to become physically sick. I was dumbfounded because when I gave him a hard courseload, even with online classes last month, he could not/would not perform, and when I gave him some middle of the road load he still was not doing it. I had to keep narrowing down the workload to finally reach a level that could be accomplished in one day. So now he wants more work?

When I phoned the public school the registrar was pleasant and professional. She explained what I needed to do in order to enroll my son.

I had to leave a message with the guidance counselor who was in charge of dealing with homeschoolers. She was also professional and pleasant when she spoke to me the following day.

I really wanted my son to do a shadow day but the school prohibits is "per federal HIPAA law". I personally question the validity of this but I did not question her about it. I was also told my son's visit would present a "security threat" to the students. I kept my mouth shut on that one also.

If enrolling mid-term the student is required to know all the past material learned this semester. The easiest thing to do is to enroll at the mid-term or at the start of the year. I had no idea that was the case and for best success my son should wait until after the December break to enroll.

Incoming homeschooler high schoolers must show a list of curriculums used with details such as a scope and sequence. All scores and grades must be turned over. Examples of work done must be shown also. Another professional would be assigned to the tast (not the guidance counselor) to scrutinize the homeschool materials to see if it matched with Texas state approved curriculum. At that point the student would be told if what they did was home was acceptable. If they think a course is acceptable they do not give instant credit, the student must pass the current course then at the end if they pass they get retroactive credit for the homeschool course. For example, pass English II and then get credit for English I. Do not pass English II and there is no credit given for English II or English I.

I asked about course availability and rules, such as could my son continue to take both Geometry and Algebra II this year and the answer was no. Students can take ONLY one math per year, period. Students who fail math can take a summer remedial course but no one can take a summer course to get ahead. (The cookie cutter analogy fits here.) This reminds me of the fact that public schools tend to have an easier time keeping students back instead of finding a way to customize the education to give each individual student the best prospect for advancement and higher achievement. Our goal with my son's math is to finish Calculus before high school graduation which is a pre-requisite for some colleges for an engineering major. Since he did not finish Algebra I in grade eight he trying to fast track the studies to catch up.

To enter in a grade other than freshman, six credits must be accepted for each grade level. So if my son did 5.5 credits in his freshman year (due to illness that he had), he would not be allowed in as a sophomore, he'd be knocked back to grade nine. This is despite the fact that if all goes well in homeschool grade ten my son would earn more than six credits.

Homeschoolers don't always have to care about getting an exact number in a calendar year, what is more important is what happens by the end of high school for graduation requirements, or what courses and tests should be finished by the time the college applications are made. In general, some studies can be slowed down, repeated, or sped up. Students can work through the summer on a longer course. Homeschooling has so many freedoms that I sometimes forget about and take for granted. Some of these my son never realized were things to feel grateful for and to appreciate.

As soon as I knew all this I had a talk with my husband over the phone and a talk face to face with my son to report the facts. I'll share more in an upcoming blog post.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Grid Layout of Three Texas High School Graduation Plans

Here are three Texas high school graduation plans that obviously show state requirements and limits.

Note an AP class is two credits so that would take one credit away from an elective course. So instead of taking a one credit science if you took an AP science you would take one less academic elective.

Related to homeschooling: HSLDA still provides the clearest three plan grid layout for homeschoolers that I have ever seen.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Latest Attempts to Help Kids Avoid Overuse of the Computer (Part 2)

Part 1 of this story can be read here.

I should have said that while the computer guy was here my older son talked with him a lot. My son said he didn't want the program installed. My son said that he would hack through it and the tech issued him a challenge to just try. While the program was being installed, my son was researching on the Internet and shooting out ideas and the tech was knocking done each idea one after the other and chuckling. My son continued to be annoyed at the idea of the parental controls so my husband and I explained that if he would only do the work as required by law then he would have free time to do as he pleased. Goofing off during the school day and not doing the assignments completely then wanting the night off for fun also is just not going to continue to happen.

We had our first homeschool day as I explained in yesterday's post. After dropping the kids off at practice I came home and started wondering if my son did something he should not have as he was no longer acting angry and almost was acting a bit smug. Knowing him, he would have been tense and angry at the new restrictions if the restrictions were working. I called my husband to say hello and he told me that our son phoned him to say he found a way to hack through. I was not happy.

A little while later I received the batch of emails from KidsWatch reporting to me the usage on my younger son's computer. Users can select to receive any number of reports. One that we see is the list of websites frequented, how many times and at what time of day. Another shows all the computer programs used (such as PC based video games). I did not get a report for my older son which was a red flag that something had been tampered with.

When my husband walked in the door he said that our son said on the car ride home, that not only had he hacked through the program but he uninstalled it from his laptop. This was accomplished by finding a program that was free online to get all the computer's passwords (a program which will remain unamed). The system had been set up as usual through Windows so he cracked it by getting the admin Windows password then uninstalling with with permission as the admin.

I lost it at that point. I didn't yell or scream. I simply exited the room, shut my bedroom door and locked it, went into the walk-in closet with a box of tissues and the portable phone. I broke down and cried. Then I phoned a friend who has a child who was every bit as obstinate and oppositional as my son. I poured my heart out. After perhaps an hour I asked my husband to come in and speak with me.

I explained that I felt we had a breach of trust which went above and beyond anything that had ever happened before. I said that I felt that my son was showing that he was unwilling to do the schoolwork by his own choosing, because he refused by spending his time on YouTube entertainment videos, sneaking entertainment videos on NetFlix instead of watching the educational documentary he was assigned. He was also not abiding by our authority to do either the assigned work or to work within the constraints of the parental control software. He also had not been meeting deadlines for his live local chemistry class so the teacher's authority was being defied as well. I felt that he was exploiting and misuing the privileges with the systems that we put in place to be used for academic pursuits (provided a laptop for homeschool work and it was mainly being used for entertainment).

I felt that not only did I have no control but I was unable to guide or facilitate and also that my son showing by his actions and inactions that he was unable to lead himself. I decided at that point in time that perhaps it was time to stop homeschooling because it felt like it was something I was trying to do "to him" not "with him". Homeschooling was also something he was refusing to do to and for himself also.

And so my investigation into what school to enroll my son began. I'll share the next part of the story in another blog post.

KidsWatch update: I should also report here though that in a survey I received from KidsWatch asking if we were satisfied with the free trial I used the free text area to tell about how easy it was to hack. The program had been installed through Windows. An employee contacted me with directions on how to install the program linked to the root of the operating system that was virtually unhackable. When my husband gets time he is going to reinstall that software.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Latest Attempts to Help Kids Avoid Overuse of the Computer (Part 1)

So much is happening here I didn't realize I never shared this story.

In an effort to try to help my children focus on their schoolwork during the homeschool lesson time, we decided to start using a parental blocking software. We had tried others in the past that hogged up and slowed down our family's network, thus punishing every user 24/7. So we basically have lived without parental controls all this time. We had not had a problem with abusing the privileges so we didn't feel the software was required. We chalked this up to good parenting and setting reasonable limits and having a healthy level of trust with our kids.

Heh, heh, heh.

The joke was on us.

Apparently with most kids the teenage years bring about changes and new behaviors and challenges that had not presented themselves earlier.

Even with my kids in the same exact room I could not keep them each off of various temptation websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and gaming tips chat boards. They were also sneaking online games and PC based games.

A second challenge was that our fifteen year old started staying up almost all night long using his computer or being on the Internet. First we took the laptop out of his bedroom and then he was sneaking online anyway. I started to confiscate the laptop and hide it in my bedroom.

I also had to put a screen saver password on my own PC because the twelve year old was using it in the family office space which is close to his bedroom.

We also shut off the Internet access to the kid's Kindle Fires by shutting off all web access at the router.

My older son started to hack the systems and first figured out how to change the router's settings.


We gave up and I called a computer professional three weeks ago. We set a Saturday appointment so my husband could be here. I was told he would use a software that was virtually un-hackable.

I was really excited about the program, called Kid Safe.

I paid $225 for three plus hour of labor for the computer tech to install and put in the settings we asked for. He also set up new Windows passwords and screen savers. He made sure that our kids did not have admin level access to their own laptops.

Using KidsWatch, which works on computers, we were able to have the Internet shut off at certain times of the day such as at bedtime. We could block any website by name. There are many options for limiting and blocking and it is easy to navigate.

Since we need to access sites such as YouTube for academic reasons we could not block YouTube. It can be tricky to try to limit and block the Internet.

I felt as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I would no longer have to police and worry about what the kids were doing, even if they were in the same room as me, I didn't need to wonder what all that clicking was about.

I had one perfect day of what I thought was compliance. Some things happened that were a bit suspicious but I told myself that perhaps I was being nutty and untrusting. That afternoon a friend told me I looked happy and fantastic, less stressed.

The rest of the story will be told in Part 2.

P.S. When our kids were younger I worried about pedophiles finding my kids. At present the main concern is that the computer and Internet is too much of a distractor from the schoolwork. If they would only do their work during the day they would have complete freedom at night (after sports practice). I honestly don't think what my husband and I expect is unreasonable.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

French President Wants to Make Homework Illegal

News article and video: French President Pushing Homework Ban
Published by: Washington Post
On: 10/15/12

" "Education is priority,” Hollande was quoted as saying by at Paris’s Sorbonne University last week. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” as a way to ensure that students who have no help at home are not disadvantaged."

President Hollande of France doesn’t think it is fair that some kids get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families do not, so he wants to ban homework. This is cited as being an effort in education reform. Honestly I thought education reform was about changing the education inside the schools in order to make teaching more effective by increasing learning.

The other improvements to change the schools are massive and I can't imagine doing all of them at once. New curriculum, more days a week, more teachers, and dealing with absenteeism.

I don't think this would fly in America. In America we are individuals and as such we feel we have freedom to do things in our private time as we wish, such as by getting help from a parent, by paying a tutor, or by doing test prep at a local or a nationwide franchised business.

If homework were banned in Amercia for the purpose of leveling the playing field by not allowing private study at home businesses such as tutoring companies and publishing companies would complain. Also school teachers who moonlight as private tutors would lose income and be angry as well.

If the goal is to learn and if some kids learn by getting help from parents, that's fine. The challenge is to find ways to help struggling learners. Whether the learner is struggling due to not having help from parents or from not learning from the teacher or whatever, then the schools should try to help those kids. For example how about having free tutoring after school for anyone who needs and wants it? Tutoring could also be done in that half day that France won't be meeting under the new proposal.

Taking away some student's ability to succeed and making more kids fail is not an effort toward education reform in my opinion.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Mountain of Crumbs Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: A Mountain of Crumbs

Author: Elena Gorokhova

Genre: Memoir

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

My Summary Statement: Enjoyable and Enlightening Escape Read with Descriptive Writing

A Mountain of Crumbs is a memoir, a coming of age story. The story opens when Elena is a little girl in Leningrad, Russia and ends when she is a young woman of 24 and leaving Russia for a new life in America.

It took me a couple of chapters to get into the book and then I was hooked, it was a page turner for me and I finished it in less than a week, which is fast considering my busy schedule. I really enjoyed Gorokhova’s voice and her well-chosen words which she used to craft descriptions that were beautiful. I was able to imagine the sights and smells and to feel the emotions.

Since the author’s biography on the back cover revealed she did wind up living in America I knew that from the start yet I was curious as the story unfolded about why she came to feel negative emotions about her homeland. I wondered what happened to make her want to come to America, despite knowing so little about it due to the fact that in the 1970s very little information from the west made it way to Russian citizens. The answers to my questions were all revealed as she told her tale.
If you enjoy reading memoir and/or if you are curious about growing up in Russia during the Cold War era you will enjoy this book. I found it an enjoyable escape read.

I was hoping that Gorokhova would write a second memoir telling readers what she thought of America upon her arrival and what happened in her life next, but as of today I don’t see that a second book has been published.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on their website. I was under no obligation to review it favorably nor to blog it. I was not paid for this review.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Resistance to Mom and Homeschooling

How am I supposed to homeschool if my teenage son no longer wants to deal with mom?

According to psychologists teen boys want to separate from their mothers and seek independence. When the kid is a homeschooler I am unsure how this is to happen.

It is getting to a point where my son is just not learning all that he needs to learn due to his resistance to work with me. He is angry about not having certain skills or content in certain areas but he won't learn them from me.

Is this one of the circumstances that leads to formerly happy homeschoolers putting their boys into high school? If it is, they don't share about it too much.

I thought the online math class in grade 9 would be the first step toward answering to an outside authority but it was a bomb. The class was a terrible fit and an alternative math teaching method that did not jive with him. He quit the class and we went to Plan B for Algebra I.

This fall I thought answering to three teachers via online classes and the in-person science class plus doing math with Thinkwell, a website based program would be enough. The online classes are a bust. He is finding a way to cut corners with Thinkwell that are not acceptable. The in person class is difficult and he hates the teacher probably for no reason other than he finds the material challenging. He does not want to ask her for help.

I thought community college classes would be a good idea but my son is resisting taking the required placement test required for admissions. So fall courses were not possible. If he does not change his mind soon then spring 2013 classes will not be an option either.

I feel helpless when I know skills, and when I can teach them, and when my son has a real need to use them - now, and he refuses to let me teach him. If I am not to teach him, then who will? He needs help with study skills for his science live class and for studying for his Thinkwell math to prepare and refresh his memory for the chapter tests. He also still needs to do history, English, and some electives to fulfill basic high school graduation requirements for homeschooled students in our state of residence. My son says he wants to continue to homeschool but he won't let me teach him! He won't teach himself when provided the information that he could ingest and use on his own.

Last week he refused when I offered to hire a chemistry tutor then later that day he agreed when my husband offered it. (Note he accepts things with father that he will not accept with mother.) This week he refused to be proactive to schedule an appointment with the tutor. He left his homework idle for six days and then began the day before it was due only to find he cannot understand it. Now he can't reach the tutor to schedule an appointment before the assignment is due.

My next idea is to hire a tutor to teach study skills. This tutor perhaps could also be the person he reports to to check in with his assignments, to see that he did his work that was assigned.

I am confused and interested in the discussion of typical teenage boy development regarding the role of separating from mom and how that could happen with a homeschooled male. Right now I'm thinking the best outcomes for homeschool academic success in the high school years would be with teen boys who are able to take on either independent learning under their own motivation or those who take on more and more outside classes either online or in community college as a dual credit high school student.

My son and I have had a very close bond over the years and I have allowed him certain freedoms and independence. I have not been a helicopter mom or one who has controlled his every waking moment. I am surprised at the amount of stubbornness that I am experiencing as I thought that only happened after years of dealing with an overbearing mother as a desire to break free of too-tight apron strings. I have worked with my son like a member on the same team, only now he no longer wants to cooperate, even when doing things that get him closer to meet the goal that he has set for HIMSELF.

I hoped my son would have success at doing what he wanted to do rather than fail and have to live with Plan B as there were no other options open to him. At the rate my son is going he is going to wind up doing what I did with my life, when the fact of the matter was that my path in my young adult years was NOT what I wanted to do but what was forced on me by my father. Since before my children were conceived I swore I would do all that I could do in order to help my future children do what THEY wanted to do with their lives. I did not want to stand in the way of their path nor did I want to be responsible for making decisions that would negatively impact their ability to do what THEY wanted to do. I thought homeschooling was superior to public school so we chose to homeschool.

I could not do my Plan A and I had a very different life with my Plan B. My son has a Plan A that he has defined for himself but he is refusing to do the steps to make that happen. I am befuddled to put it plainly. I am sitting here trying to be both a guide and a cheerleader showing him the path and saying he can do it if he chooses to do the work and he is choosing not to do the work. I feel like I am watching a slow motion depiction of a train about to derail while being unable to stop it from happening.

I can't understand the mindset; as a teen I would have loved it if my parents were supportive of my educational goals and if they were my cheerleaders, instead I was all on my own and trying to navigate the waters by myself. The school staff didn't do much to help steer me in the direction that I needed to go and I found out that some doors were closed to me due to not having the correct pre-requisistes and/or good enough grades. If I had only known what the right thing to do was I would have done it. A couple of times I was steered toward easier courses when I should not have, if I had more involved parents they would have advocated on my behalf.

Someone just asked me what would happen if we just let him fail? My response was he failed in some goals last year and it seems to have no impact on what he is doing this year. How many years do we watch the failures in progress and just let it unfold like that?

How much is a homeschooling mother supposed to let go?

As the homeschooling mother I need to decide what our minimum standards are and if he won't meet those then he will have to enroll in public school. I am not opposed to that at this point but my concern is if he won't do the work for the science teacher right now (an outside teacher) then why would he do the work for the school teachers? What is he doing now that shows that he would suddenly have success if he enrolled in school? He doesn't want to go there so why would he succeed?

At what point should I just throw my hands up in the air and declare that I have given up?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Learning Academic Skills

I am exhausted by "homeschooling" my 7th grader with the "not-a-co-op" we are in.

One of the frustrating things is that my son lacks certain academic skills and although they are required by the "not a school and not a co-op" he does not want to learn or do them.

At present I am teaching him to:

take notes on readings of every kind (fiction books, history books, website articles, and articles)

do a summary statement of something such as a field trip taken

write creative fiction

do research for reports

write research reports

write nonfiction factual pieces of writing

memorize facts for tests

test taking

use special writing formats and rules for papers (double spaced, how to write his name per the requirements, use a title, underline the title, etc.)

follow the procedures for turning the homework in

follow the rules for organizing the paperwork in his folders and binders

writing legibly by hand

Frankly this is such a hard task to do all at once when also doing above grade level work as assigned by the teachers that I am starting to wonder if homeschooling in the past was worth it. Maybe it really is easier to just put them in school early and let the teachers slowly introduce these skills over many year's time.

I am trying to remind myself of why the alternative education was worthwhile because this transition to traditional academics is so painful that I ask myself what did we do all those years and why did I shy away from a gentle introduction to these school skills that are required for success in college?

Friday, October 19, 2012

IEW U.S. History Based Writing Lessons

Last year and the year before, I introduced my kids to Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) using the student CDs (SWSS) and introduced myself using the teacher CDs (TWSS). To be honest I had a hard time implementing the program based on lessons I made up myself. I don't feel that my kids had a stellar writing experience last year which was my fault not IEW's. The year was one of adjustments from our major move, so I vowed to make writing composition a priority for 2012-2013.

At a homeschool conference in August of 2012 I had a chance to look at the U.S. History based writing lessons by IEW in person. I thought it looked like a great plan to follow. I made an error that I hope you don't make. I purchased volume 2 because the time period matched where we were in the history for year cycle (year 4). My plan was to use this at home to teach both my 7th and 10th grader with.

The next day at the conference I spoke to a homeschool co-op that is not a homeschool co-op. There are no proper terms for this thing that it is. For people who want an exact term, I cannot provide one. This is the second co-op that is not a co-op that we have participated with, where the founders insist it is not a co-op but they don't have a name for what it is. Anyway, my point is that I wound up enrolling my 7th grader in the "not a co-op". Guess what they are using for writing? The very same IEW volume 2 curriculum. I was happy as I think IEW is a solid program.

The writing is actually overseen by me at home after an introduction to concepts made in the once-a-week class. My son is assigned one lesson a week. I am essentially the teacher since my son is not able to do all this work all by himself.

What I have learned is that volume 2 builds on volume 1. In my opinion it is a mistake to start off with volume 2 of US History Based Writing Lessons. For example in the beginning it is a whirlwind review of what they assume the kids learned last year in volume 1. In some lessons they say to use vocabulary words from volume 1, which we did not own. In some lessons it states to refer to the longer explanations of decorations in volume 1.

(Since my son is in a not-a-co-op he has to follow the rules or his grade will suffer. His deadlines are set. I can't make the guidelines be more lenient.)

I wound up purchasing volume 1 to use to help my 7th grader. I also decided that volume 1 is what my 10th grader should start off with.

So if you are interested in using IEW and feel you can't make up all the lessons yourself, consider one of their thematic units such as US History Based Writing Lessons. However start with volume 1 even if it is out of alignment with the history year you are studying right now. Don't start with volume 2 or you will feel like you are facing an uphill battle with each lesson.

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose other than the usual which you can read near the top of the sidebar on the right side of my blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Perky Pet Hummingbird Feeder Product Review by ChristineMM

Perky Pet Antique Hummingbird Feeder


My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 : I Love It


Summary Statement: Red Glass Bottle Feeder Looks Classier Than Most Feeders on the Market


This red glass bottle with an imprinted design of a hummingbird and the company’s name replicates antique bottles that were common a hundred years ago. I liked the look of the bottle. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red hence the choice of red as the color. Other clear feeders rely on red food dye added to the sugar and water solution to attract the hummers. With this design we can use inexpensive and easy to make homemade sugar and water solution that is naturally clear in color and let the red bottle attract the hummingbirds.


The base of this is hard plastic that looks like metal. The feeding ports are metal flowers painted red which are more decorative and fancy than most other hummingbird feeders on the market today.


The bottle has a narrow neck so you will need a bottle brush to help wash inside the bottle in between uses.


I love the look of this feeder; it is classier looking than most feeders on the market.  I am happy to have this attractive feeder in our yard. The hummingbirds love it too!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Can You Trust the Experts book Review by ChristineMM

Title: When Can You Trust the Experts? How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education

Author: Daniel T. Willingham

Publication: Jossey-Bass, 2012

My Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5 = I Love It

My Summary Statement: Sets Foundation For Evaluating Claims Yourself and Ideas for Broad Use by Schools

Willingham is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He has published another book about schooling, Why Don't Students Like School?, is a columnist for the magazine American Teacher and blogs for The Washington Post and

This book is written to a layperson, by that I mean, it is written to help a non-scientist learn more about how to evaluate claims made when scientific studies are cited as evidence. The first half of the book is general, foundational information that could apply to any field (not just education). The second half is about how to evaluate claims made by people selling products or services to schools (switch to our new math program!) or when debating educational pedagogy on a broader scale (phonics vs. whole language reading, etc.).

I found this book very easy to understand. I am not a scientist. I am a homeschooling mother who has read a fair number of books on education, pedagogy, and education reform. I am not a professional teacher. I think this book could be of use to any teacher. It would also be helpful for Board of Education members and other stakeholders to have an awareness of these matters.

In the first half Willingham discusses not just dry information about general science but he discusses the psychological factors that influence why people choose to believe or not believe what they are told or even what they observe. How bias influences not just the judgment when we read an article recommending a new teaching method but how teachers can (without realizing it) view their classroom experiences un-objectively, thus tainting reality to favor the outcome they wanted.

I was also interested in the discussion of how tricky education is compared to something more clear cut such as the applied science fields. Even if a study showed that a certain math program was helpful there are still many variables that can result in poorer results in a classroom, such as the degree to which the individual teacher bought into executing the new math program or what happens in that unique group dynamic in that classroom (between students).

In the second half of the book Willingham lays out a step by step process for teachers or school administrators to use to figure out if making a change is right, and if so, how to evaluate claims made by the marketing people. Here Willingham adds in some advertising and marketing information that rightly should be a factor in the decision-making process. This section is very easy to read and his method seems so simple, it takes work to learn the new thinking processes but it will work if it is used.

Willingham tries very hard to get the reader to feel they are capable and can be empowered to make such decisions using his criteria and his method. However if that is not enough, near the end of the book, he gives an idea for how the teacher’s union should create jobs for individuals who are willing and able to help make such decisions. A new position could be created to help schools, whether this is done by a few that would help many or whether it is something done on a state or local level is up for debate.

I found this book fascinating to ponder on, and it is of practical use at the same time. Again I want to stress that this is an easy read for non-scientists, it is approachable and understandable. Willingham’s sense of caring for the education and welfare of children is evident as is his respect and admiration for teachers and schools. He just wants everyone to be a bit more scientifically savvy when evaluating claims made for improving teaching methods, and with this book he has laid out his plan clearly and simply.

Disclosure: I received an advance reading copy of this book from's Vine program for the purpose of reviewing it on I was not paid to review it nor to review it favorably. See my blog's full disclosure statement for more details.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Another Math Illiterate Young Person

I was craving chocolate and ice cream.

I dropped the kids off at practice and I decided to treat myself to a DQ ice cream. At the drive-through I asked for a pint of chocolate ice cream. The young-sounding girl who was waiting on me said they don't sell pints, only quarts.

(To clarify I will update in case anyone is curious, the girl sounded like a Texan American white girl (who probably lives in the neighborhood, around here everyone hires teen locals), she was not a new immigrant or anyone that may have a better excuse for being unfamiliar with American measurement terms.)

I replied that a quart was too much, so please just give me a large cup of ice cream to go.

The girl said, "No, I'll make a pint but I just don't know what size cup to put it in. Drive around to the window and I'll have it ready."

I paid the $3.78 and the male attendant handed me a 44 ounce styrofoam drinking cup filled with ice cream. (In Texas they sell those filled usually with iced tea.)

I could not believe it. The math illiteracy left me speechless.

When I got home I opened it up and realized she gave me vanilla. I was so disappointed I almost threw it in the garbage bin. I put it in the freezer to use for my son's protein milkshakes.

The thing was a fail all around.

It seems to me that food service people should know a pint is 16 ounces and a quart is 32 ounces, and that a 44 ounce container is not only more than a pint but is more than a quart. Talk about pathetic.

Monday, October 15, 2012

...and Then a Perfect Day

Maybe the key to having things go right is to blog your dirtiest laundry.

Today I got no real complaints from either kid. They did their work. They got up to go to their co-op class and we were out the door exactly on time after they fed themselves breakfast.

There was not one single bickering moment between the brothers.

I left my fifteen year old alone in the kitchen to do 1:1 work in the other room (a break in the family plan) and it worked out great. He had his space and my younger son and I could talk without worrying we were bothering anyone. I was near my computer and we could use it for online work and we were near the printer for what had to be printed off.

I did read alouds and my younger son did independent work. We cuddled with the cats on our old living room furniture which is now in the family room. It's the comfiest seating in the house although it's a bit in need of an upholstery cleaning and the fabric is no longer in style.

I did not yell one single time and neither did the kids.

They ate all their meals and had snacks too. I didn't hear one complaint that something they felt like eating was not in the house or that food they asked be bought for them was not good enough for them.

Let's hope this keeps up.

I am trying to remain calm and not stress my kids out. However I am not letting up and am still trying to get my younger son to keep up with the workload.

Someone just left me a blog comment saying to take the year off from schoolwork and do educational and fun exploration things while also doing Scouts and sports. I don't think my husband would buy into that even if I could wrap my mind around it, although I appreciate the idea.

Best University

Article: And the Best University in the World is...

Published by: CNN

On: 10/10/12

In case you are curious.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Now I Have Two Slackers

As if the move in August was not enough, August also brought about another stressor: my twelve year old son started slacking with academics. This perhaps would not be as big a deal for a  "school at home" homeschooling family but in August we enrolled him in a thing that is not a co-op and not a school. The closest thing is a term Texans use called "university style school" where homeschoolers meet one or more days a week but still have significant independent work to do at home (assigned by the "school"). Now my son is doing work assigned by someone else and I can't lighten the load if it is too heavy, or change books or materials. He has to answer to his teachers for work not done or done poorly.

I am at my wit's end. For weeks my husband didn't really have an idea what was going on and I think he thought I was exaggerating and being dramatic. However finally my husband witnessed me working with my son and his blood pressure soon escalated. Day after day my husband saw my interactions and he finally "got it". A couple of nights ago, I asked my husband to oversee an assignment that should have taken about thirty minutes but was dragged out to over two hours with all kinds of deliberations, complaining, whining, excuse-making, and anything else you can imagine.

My husband gets it now.

I have been struggling to figure out what to do.

One is that my grade 7 son struggles to read the classic literature assignment, which rates at a grade 10.5 independent reading level. The work is above his age-ability for an independent read. When he read it the book it went in one ear and out the other. Nothing was learned. So what does that mean? It mean's it's a read aloud now taking up hours and hours of my time each week.

Another problem though is that my son is not paying attention when listening. Thus after I read or after we listen to the audio book he can't report what happened. We have had to go back and re-listen to hours of material so he won't be lost.

There are parent discussion questions which have no answer key so I must read the book also in order to discuss and assess his reading comprehension. This is how I know he is not getting it, because he can't answer the questions correctly and because he doesn't recall chunks of information that were integral to the story.

I really want my son to learn.

Other types of assignments are problematic also.

The work that should be done independently is sometimes open ended and left to his own devices he does not do it, or he struggles. For example "go to the Internet and find a reputable source and learn about the Transcontinental Railroad". Well trusting a twelve year old to discern which source is reputable or to sift through volumes of information to what is the good stuff or what the vital points are is asking a lot. It also can't really be defined by a number of minutes such as being told by the school that this activity should take 30 minutes. A kid could spent 1, 2, 3, 4 or more hours doing that one task. Since my son is being apathetic giving him such work to do alone means it does not get done. I have to stand over him to see that it gets done by him, or I have to do the work myself and say, "Here read this website I found." I want my son to become an independent and self-guided student so I am not happy hand feeding him like this.

My son has entered full rebellion mode and it has caused the entire family to go into a tailspin. I only have so much patience for his arguments and complaints. I start to yell. This is not like me, I'm not a yeller, and it's not my preferred way of parenting or homeschooling. Lately the yelling does nothing anyway so why bother? Then when my husband is around he gets ticked off and then he's yelling and screaming. Even the more calm back and forth banter is too much for my older son to handle. He apparently can't take hearing the squabble and the stupid crap talk, it knocks him into a bad funk of a mood which impairs his general temperament and hinders his ability to get HIS homeschool work done. Then the next thing is I am riding him for not doing his work and while I'm busy handling that the younger son is acting up goofing off and not doing what he is supposed to be doing.

I remind you that due to both of my son's sneaking around and cheating and not getting their work done we have to homeschool all in one room so I can keep an eagle eye on them. So now this is like a pressure cooker state in our house in one room all day long.

The procrastination of both sons means they are doing school work nights and weekends. All boundaries have been broken and invaded which means the only time I am off-duty is when they are at sports practice.

In an attempt to find a punishment that they actually care about, we just decided to take sports practice away from them if they don't get their school work done. So now my few hours of peace and quiet which wind up being used by errands, exercise, house cleaning and making dinner may be invaded as well.

The diagnosis received last week about my problem is gastritis which is caused by stress. My kids are literally making me sick. Yes I said it. I blame my kids, they are doing this to me. I need to reduce stress not to increase it.

If my kids would just do their work it would be done and over with. They argue about doing it for longer than the assignment takes. Then when they start about 15 minutes in they ask for a break and they want an hour break, at that.

If we are to continue homeschooling we feel we should keep our younger son in this thing since we already invested about $3000 into tuition, books, and materials. If he quit, we'd choose between homeschooling all with me or enrolling him into public school.

However stopping homeschooling to use public school will not erase these problems. The slacking and bad attitude that both sons are displaying will not disappear if they enroll to school. They still will be told to do X amount of school work of Y type and they will have daily deadlines for homework. And guess what? I will still have to oversee their homework and push them to get it done. So where is the stress relief for me? I can see it now: I will know less of what the content in the class is so I will be less equipped to try to help them if they need help. If they don't care to do assignments by due dates for what they are enrolled in now how will that change if they enrolled into full-time school? I bet it won't. Despite my sons not liking it, they will still have to be graded so dealing with trying to do better next time to up the average grade will still exist.

Yeah, so quitting homeschooling to try to alleviate some of my stress probably won't work after all.

Meanwhile my older son is also rebelling and slacking, which I have blogged about recently.

I think this apathy about learning is a heart issue with my sons. I think the rebellion has roots in anger.

We had many great years of homeschooling with fantastic memories. Last year, the first year after the big move sucked, it was the worst ever year of homeschooling, but I did the best I could given the stressful situation we were in. I tried to make the best of a "make do" situation. We did what we had to do by moving long distance so we could have an income. But as bad as last year was, it is nothing compared to what we are experiencing this year. Apparently, we are still dealing with stress from leaving all of our old friends and leaving our family behind. I thought the stress of the move was over; it's been 14 months. I blame the move on the hurt and anger my son's feel and I think it is the cause of the apathy which led to the start of our homeschool turning sour.

The changes I made this year were to try to make things better and different since what we did last year (doing all our lessons at home with me as teacher) did not work out so well. However the changes are not working and the reason is my kids are being lazy, they are slacking, they are pulling power struggle games with my husband  while they act out in rebellion. They seem to have almost no internal desire to succeed and to learn.

I cannot believe this is happening to our family after so many years of quality learning with alternative methods of education with homeschooling. I don't know what I can do to try to fix this or if it is a thing that I, the mother, cannot fix. Maybe this is all up to my kids to deal with and to fix, but they don't want to fix it.

So now what?

The only way I can explain our current homeschooling year is like I have a stubborn mule that I've roped around the neck and am pulling and straining to try to get it to move in the direction I want it to go (a simple direction that every other kid in America is moving towards: high school graduation). The mule won't move and the mule is not doing what it needs to do. So where are my kids going?

My younger son is getting a lot of work done but it is not all the work required by this school which is about 50 hours of direct instruction a week (breaks, eating, and procrastination is to be added onto that 50 hours). I think this work load is huge and I didn't know it would be this much when we enrolled. However I also knew my son used to be a list lover who like to work with autonomy and this year he is no longer that person. So I am involved in his homeschooling more now than I have been in years.

My older son is not doing a full load of grade 10 work. He did not do a full load in grade 9 due to medical problems. Truth be told we probably will have to hold him back a grade. As of this month he is not doing the base load of what Texas requires for high school graduation if you average it out over four years. The only way he can catch up for last year and for this already-slacking fall is by increasing his load later this school year and also by taking courses over the summer. That will not happen unless my son buys into this and accepts responsibility for actively participating in his learning. I can't push or pull him to learn, he has to want to learn. He has to take responsibility.

So now what?

I'm at a loss here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Homesick and Happy Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow
Author: Michael Thompson
Genre: Nonfiction, Parenting
Publication Date: 2012

My Star Rating: 5 stars = I Love It

Summary Statement: Tells How Sleepaway Summer Camp is Beneficial to (Most) Kid’s Development

Michael Thompson is a school counselor and an author of eight parenting books about childhood development. I have read some of his other books and respect his opinion and am always open to reading his new books. Thompson is involved with summer camps and has fond memories of attending secular sleep away camp as a child. He is agnostic. This book focuses on secular camps, not religious camps and not Scout camps. The focus is on two, four or six week camp programs. I have been a volunteer at Boy Scout summer camp and have seen myself the positive benefits of sleep away camp as well has having personally helped some boys through homesickness, so I wanted to hear what Thompson had to say about this topic.

The book kicks off with some positive elements of summer camp but quickly gets into the issue of homesickness, which has piqued Thompson’s curiosity for years. There is a long discussion of what it is, how many kids get it, how most get over it and how some do not. This part reads a bit negative and I had to push through it. (If any reader feels bogged down by this and considers abandoning reading the book I encourage you to persevere or at least skip ahead to the other chapters and then consider going back to the skipped parts to finish it.)

Later the book gets much more positive in tone and goes into detail about some specific camps and what makes them unique and how those types of situations can be uniquely beneficial to children. There is a chapter on a camp for kids with certain disabilities or medical conditions (i.e. HIV positive). There is a chapter on an art colony type of camp and another on very long canoe trips that can change and get more challenging as each year goes on. He also discusses how camp can help a teen bridge into young adulthood, as a rite of passage.

Today now more than ever before parents are involved and monitoring their kids, they are tethered to us by mobile phones with tracking devices and we can call or text them to communicate. Sleep away camp allows children to break away from not just their family but to break away from everything in their regular life in order to have a chance to make a new social life for them or to forge a new identity. Camp allows children a safe environment which has safety rules and just enough structure to help keep them from getting into trouble yet allows more freedom than most kids have while at home living their regular life.

A downside to the book is that it does not discuss religious camps or Scout camps. The fact is that many kids only have access to a Scout camp (which is usually just done for one week) and that church attending kids sometimes access religious camps instead of secular camps (or they are religious and a Scout and go to only a Scout camp). Boy Scout camp is sometimes done with the Troop (with the leaders and Scouts they know from home) so it is not the same as going by oneself into a group of strangers, so some of the issues in the book would not apply.

Thompson does not get into the discussion of what age is the right age or how to determine readiness. Sending a seven year off to camp is not the same as sending a thirteen or fifteen year old to camp. Something could have and perhaps should have been said on that topic.

I agree with Thompson that summer camp can change a child in a positive way, especially the ones who got homesick and who got over it. To my knowledge this is the only book that thoroughly discusses homesickness, so if that is what you want to learn about, this is the book to read. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about how attending sleepover summer camp can benefit a child and teen’s development.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from's Vine program. I was not paid. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Lazer Tag by Nerf Product Review

Lazer Tag Twin Pack by Nerf

Fun Rating: 5 Stars = I Love It

This is a one or two player game.


Two player is played with the parts that come with the game. You can play indoors or outdoors but due to the running around and the attempts to hide and duck I recommend outdoor play so the kids don't accidentially break stuff inside the house.

The negative part about the two player game is the device has a loud warning that shouts, "DANGER!" when you are within 15 feet of each other. The two devices say it back and forth so it is noisy. But worse, when you are trying to sneak up on someone and the devices start yelling, "DANGER!" it gives it away. These warnings continue even when the players are stationary and hiding behind trees, for example. It is highly annoying and I hated that. My kids complained that you can't shut it off and also that you can't turn down the loud volume.

The guns also make a sound when shooting bullets. I probably should do a video review so you can hear what it sounds like when the two guns are yelling, "DANGER!" then both are making blast shooting sounds.

Despite my son's complaints (age 12 and 15) they both say it is really fun and they love it. They wanted to give this a 5 star rating.


This device has an option to play one player which requires adding on an iPhone or iPod Touch. You need to download the free app to your Apple device then you plug it in to the case. You stare at the screen which shows an animation of a one or two targets for you to shoot. The targets are flying objects which seem to always be up at the ceiling plus at a weird angle for your body to contort to get into the target range. I did a lot of twisting and turning with fast action to find the targets and shoot them. This is for indoor or outdoor play but personally I have banned the indoor play as it was hard to move around without hitting furniture, walls or doorways. You need room to move. If playing outdoors the brightness of the sun in daytime may hinder the ability to see the screen easily.

The product directions warn that they cannot guarantee the iPhone or iPod Touch will not fall off of the device (and break). My iPhone did not fall off at any time. I am unsure if that is just a legal disclaimer the lawyers made them include, but I bet it is.

Durability? It is hard plastic similar to a Nerf Gun. You know how kids can be rough on toys, so it is hard to judge whether if anything breaks if it is the product's fault or the rough kid's fault. Obviously throwing the gun down to the ground may break it, yet such an action is something that young boys tend to do (especially the visitor kids who don't care if it breaks).

My sons love the game and I thought it was fun also. It was actually a pretty good workout to play in single player mode.

Disclosure: I received this product in order to review it for's Vine program. I was not paid to do the review or to blog it. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

First Horror Movie: Don't Go Into the Woods

Sometimes I realize my kids are more sheltered than their peers. At 15 my older son has never seen a horror movie. In the past he has been sensitive about visual scenes, he is so visual, and is almost photogenic in his memory so bad things he sees replay in his mind over and over and have caused problem when he was little.

I had started seeing horror movies by 15. I remember liking the anticipation and suspense and loving screaming out loud in the movie theatre with my teen girlfriends. We would cringe and hide our eyes behind our hands then peek out. That silly entertainment did not mean we liked or agreed with murder. We knew it was fake Hollywood entertainment.

I decided to let my son watch a horror movie with me the other day. I honestly have not watched one since I was a teen and that was over 25 years ago. I had no clue what today's films are like.

One that was free on our cable On Demand service was Don't Go Into the Woods (2010). We thought it was a slow movie and low on action. A rock band went into the woods so they could be in isolation (and sober) in order to write new music. They start getting murdered off one by one but it was really slow going. All through the movie the band writes new songs and they are sung solo or as a group. The hilarious part is the girlfriends who crash the weekend walk around and sing a capella, the song they just heard for the first time. It was really goofy and ridiculous and almost painful to watch. You know it's bad when a person leaves the room and says, "If something good happens tell me and we'll rewind it."

Most of the murders are right at the end and then it quickly ends. We predicted who the murderer was accurately.

It was not as gory as my memory recalls from Halloween and the like.

My son decided it was a bad horror comedy musical (a new genre to both of us) and it was laughable.

We never felt any of the dread and suspense that I thought the stuff of horror movies was made of.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Web Profiles Haunt Students

Web Profiles Haunt Students

by Douglas Belkin

Published at Wall Street Journal

on 10/04/12

Just like I have always told my kids...

Facebook and Twitter...

"anti-social behavior"
racist statements
disciplinary problems at school
criminal activity
sexual assault

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

R Speech Therapy on YouTube

This is a 7 part series. For the rest see the YouTube channel: HenkelSpeechTherapy

This speech therapist recommends 300 practice repeititions a day to fix the R sound.

My younger son had speech therapy for L and R sounds when he was eight. He complied and had much progress and the therapist graduated him. I was told by that age both R and L should be correct, in the absense of a physical anomoly. Somehow my son was not using his tongue and mouth correctly.

The speech therapist said the biggest barrier to children's lack of progress is refusal to practice. She said parents are diligent about bringing their child in for appointments but they rarely did the homework. Additionally some children were not compliant in the consult itself. She said they didn't want to do it and just refused. She complimented my son on being willing and able, and for doing the homework. She said the homeschoolers were all like that and so she had a high opinion of homeschoolers. To that I said I think the homeschooled kids were used to taking Mom's orders to do this or that for homeschool lessons and so to do the speech therapy homework was just one more thing to comply with willingly.

Today my son's R sound is not perfect, it's pretty darned close so I don't criticize him or think he needs to work on it. However the kids on the sport team in grades 8-9 are teasing him. Honestly I think part of the issue is his Connecticut accent compared to the Texas accents those kids have. My son has asked that he get help for this. I am starting off with free practice using YouTube. There is too much stress in our life for me to add in private speech therapy visits and the budget is also tight.

I did not know there were speech therapy lessons on YouTube but knew from a few years ago that speech therapists were uploading video to their own websites. Today I decided to check You Tube for the heck of it and there they are.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Texas High School Graduation Requirements

Students entering grade 9 in 2012 (class 2017 and higher) have different graduation requirements than former graduating classes: 

2012-2013 Side by Side Graduation Program Requirements (for students entering high school in 2012-2013 and later) (PDF, 120KB)

Students in class of 2016 and prior:
2011-2012 Side by Side Graduation Program Requirements (for students who entered high school prior to 2012-2013) (PDF, 77KB)

If the links don't work go to this page: Texas Education Agency.

In Texas homeschools are considered private schools. No filing of paperwork or reporting is required.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

"It's an Upper Middle Class Problem." said the counselor. Yes, we visited a counselor. I still can't believe it.

The decision was made easier by the fact that we know the professional already as he was the neurofeedback therapy provider for our older son last year. He formerly was a school counselor then went into family counseling and now works doing both neurofeedback therapy and psychotherapy. Through casual short conversations in the months I took my older son to neurofeedback therapy for learning challenges diagnosed as brain injury from Lyme Disease (and ADD/ADHD and Dyslexia were ruled out), I got to know this man. I felt we were on the same page. He is also pro-homeschooling.

Later when we began to have a problem with slacking I was sick of being accused of being Overachieving Homeschool Mom and tired of my son thinking my husband was being Unreasonable Dad. I decided it would be worth it to fork over $150 for a family therapy visit so my son could hear about real life from someone who is not his parent.

My son had already been enrolled in some outside classes so he was getting a clue that indeed he was wrong that courses designed by me to do for homeschooling were not unreasonable due to my high expectations, in fact, my expectations were less than the outside classes. Yet he still resisted me on doing a typical school load. My son felt that 2.5 hours of academics a day was sufficient for him.

In a nutshell the challenges were: procrastination, fear of failure, dissassociation by escaping to video games, Facebook, YouTube and any other Internet distraction and the associated cover-ups by deception, sneaking, and lying. There were other distractors too: music on the iPod and email and texting and begging to go out for a random bike ride in addition to the already heavy workout with the varsity sport team. Learning and studying were made difficult by constant distraction and seemingly no attention span.

My son stated to the counselor things such as: the textbook is boring, this subject is stupid, I will never use this stuff in my real life, who cares if the state law says high school kids have to learn this, who is the government to tell me what I have to learn in what grade, so forth and so on. This logic loving kid said he had a certain goal and knew the facts about what it takes for college admissions for that major but then said he was unwilling to do that work. Can you say disconnect?

The reply was this is a typical upper middle class problem. Poverty level kids and other kids with less fortunate circumstances than my son(s) have real life issues they are struggling with. I knew what he meant when he said that. Those kids are trying to survive and they have a hunger to work hard and to claw their way out of their situation into something better. In contrast these upper middle class kids don't really have a sense that what they are doing is linked to their survival. They have a pretty darned good life to the point where to do the hard academic work has no appeal to them. They are used to a life of entertainment and fun but learning hard material is not fun and it is not easy. When given a choice to do this fun thing or that borning thing which would you choose? Even most adults choose the fun stuff. It takes serious internal drive to stick to the hard work or the unpleasant tasks.

High school is a time of a person's life when doors start to close and when pathways become shut off. The choice of paths that lead to different types of careers and future lifestyles gets smaller and smaller if the student does not do the right thing to keep the more doors open. My husband and I are trying to get through to our son that this is Go Time. It's time to buckle down and get serious.

No matter how much I want my son to fulfill his goals and to achieve his dreams I cannot do the learning for him and I won't help him cheat the system to portray his homeschooling achievements as something they are not. I want both of my kids to go off to college ready to succeed which includes having an internal desire to learn, an ability to do college level work, and a grasp of how to handle time management. If my son wants to transition from a young man to a man he has to grow up by choosing to the right thing, the mature thing, by doing what society expects from him, and that includes taking courses he thinks are stupid, reading textbooks he things are boring, and studying to memorize facts he thinks he will never use again. These things are things that my husband and I agree on and I'm happy to have a counselor that is of the same mindset so my son can hear it from someone else. That may have been the best $150 I have ever spent.

Friday, October 05, 2012

"I Got My Eye On You" Homeschooling

Last year (grades 9 and 6) my kids did more independent homeschooling lessons than ever before but we were in a small rental house with an open floor plan. The only space in the house to work online was in the former dining room which I converted to an office. During the day the three of us were elbow to elbow doing work on screens when screen time was necessary.

This fall in the new bigger house we are spread out. We do not have a big office space, I have a small office space for me which is too small for the three of us. My husband has a lovely wood paneled office/library which he never uses. So as I shared in a recent post I was letting my 15 year old (grade 10) son have his laptop at a permanent location in his bedroom. I blogged last week that experiment was coming to an end. Well now we're taking a step further and getting even more radical.

My homeschool friend suggested that in order to keep my sons on task I needed to be right in the same room as them with their screens within easy view (just like schooled kids). My kids had hacked the ISP's parental control software so software was of no help in trying to keep them off certain entertainment sites during school hours and their work was simply not getting done. I resisted the idea of being trapped in my kitchen/family room all day but after thinking it over and having others suggest it to me we are giving it a try.

I had a small area up against the low window in the kitchen, and took a spare desk we own and shoved it there. This is now space for one laptop station. We can use the kitchen table and the breakfast bar as well. My older son prefers to do his work at the family room loveseat using an ottoman as a laptop desk. The arrangement is terrible ergonomics, in my opinion, but he says it's the best spot in the two rooms. Whatever.

I am writing this on day two. I really resent the fact that I must be trapped in this spot in the house so that my kids can get their work done. I do not have access to my PC here so not everything I would like to do is possible. I am already cooking and baking more. To keep myself occupied while I am not doing direct teaching I have to bring projects from other places into the room. I probably will get more book reading done now also.

We are back to the old problem though of the noise that is created when one kid talks to me and when I'm teaching them, the other kid gets angry and says the noise disturbs them. I thought we had noise cancelling headphones for the computer but they actually are not, something I discovered today. They sometimes use earbuds when doing listening work at their laptops but they still complain there is too much noise. It is a shame that we live in a big house now with three comfortable rooms like a living room (Texas is big on second floor game rooms) and each kid has a private bedroom but we have to be trapped into just one space, apparently. My kids are so inflexible that they are not open to me saying, "Let's move all our stuff to the game room for a change of atmosphere today."

I am disappointed that the trust I put into my kids to stay on task with their assignments is not enough to keep them on track. This strict supervision is so authortarian and not in line with my former attachment parenting style but everything "they" said would not happen if you raise you kids that way is happening so something has to change. I am letting go of my ideal philosophy in order to do a thing that will result in the desired result so my children can meet their goals for their future. They want to go to college so they must get a certain type and amount of college prep work done. Period.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

My Teen Son Says: "My Life Sucks"

From a conversation the other day with me and my husband.

15 year old son: "My life sucks."

Me: "What do you mean by that?"

Son: "All I do is sleep, wake up, eat, go to class, come home, eat, do homeschool lessons, go to practice, come home, eat, do homework, and go to sleep. I do the same thing every day. This sucks."

Me: "Sounds like the typical life of a teenager, and the kids on your team, as a matter of fact. Everyone sleeps, wakes up to go to school, does homework, goes to practice, does homework, then goes to sleep."

Son: "Well that sucks! It's not right! I want to travel! We don't go anywhere!"

Me: "Yesterday we drove home from Oklahoma City. We were there for three days for your regatta. We were away three days of the last seven! You were with your friends. You walked around Bricktown by yourselves and had fun together. We do go places."

Son: "Yeah but I want to travel about half of my time, I want to be home half the time and travel and have fun the other half of the time. This is no life where all you do is focused on schoolwork."

Husband: "The life you are living is the life of teens! Maybe when you are 22 and out of college, you can have a job where you travel a lot, but first you need to finish high school and then go to college to do that career. If you are lucky you can find a job that will fulfill you goal of traveling so much."

(My sons live a priviledged life compared to how I was raised. They have no clue how much rougher my own life was. They have even less of a clue how rough many American kids today have it. I have torn emotions about the crazy position I am in, of having worked so hard to provide my kids with a great life and having them take it for granted and to complain and think they have it rough. They have no idea how many kids in the world would love to trade places with them. We provide a fantastic house and home, we are not alcoholics or drug addicted or mentally ill parents or physically ill either, we have tons of delicious and healthy food in the house, they are never wanting. We have Internet and phones and mobile phones and cable TV and DVR and Netflix and other instant streaming, and video games, and books and magazines and cameras and software, MP3 players, stereos, iPods, and anything and everything. We have provided Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, sports, and many educational endeavors. We have traveled all around the USA for fun and for historical site visits and for educational museum trips. We own two functioning cars, one with radio, satellite radio and TVs. I am sick to my stomach just thinking about their ungrateful attitude. This it the thanks we get for what we have provided our kids?)

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Best Notes

While looking for summaries of a classic book, I found a new-to-me free website.

The Best Notes

This is useful. Of course if you read a book then read the summary you inevitably disagree sometimes and think they left out important details. I don't think this is unavoidable.

What is your favorite free website for free literature study guides?

I am trying not to buy paper versions of Cliff Notes for everything we read. We usually don't need everything a guide offers so I'd prefer to use free website resources for the little bits we do need.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Get in the Picture

July 2012, on the morning we left to go to Boy Scout summer camp for a week, in Connecticut with our former Troop. I was an adult volunteer.

Inspired by "Get in the Picture" at Mental Multivitamin.

Getting to the Real Issue About the Math Procrastination

A core concept in my parenting journey has been about getting to the core issue. In a nutshell the problem at hand or the negative behavior is always tied to something deeper. You cannot fix the situation until the core issue is identified and dealt with.

Repeated procrastination has real roots that are not simply laziness. Usually it is tied to perfectionism and the fear of failure. It is easier to push it off than to do it and perhaps not do it as well as you wish you could. It is easier to do the work when facing a deadline and when time runs out you can blame the clock or your tiredness or something else. "If I only had more time I could have done better!" Yet the pattern is repeated again and again.

My older son was really angry and upset about his Algebra II course. It made no sense to me. All he was doing was review. This was the very beginning of the course and the curriculum contained short videos, some just two minutes long in which a pre-algebra or Algebra I concept was reviewed quickly. At first I said, "Just do the work! What are you complaining about?". After days of that and realizing he was not even doing the work and was lying about it (after I checked his progress on the website) I confronted him. I asked what was the problem?

My son said he felt stupid and he couldn't do the work. I asked what was wrong since this was review. Having homeschooled forever and not always using traditional curriculums it dawned on me he may not understand the concept of review and its aim and goal. I had to explain it was a quick skimming of the old material that he already learned. He remained adamant that he was dumb and couldn't do it.

I probed and asked if he rememberd it all. He said no. I said that was normal, since he had not used Algebra I in three months (over the summer). He didn't believe me. I said everyone forgets the math operations if they don't use them at least once a week if not several times a week. I explained the review is to quickly go over old concepts and then he is to practice them a few times to refresh his memory. He said he understood after the review and didn't need more practice but the whole problem was he was beating himself up about not having instant recall of every single concept off the top of his head before the review had even begun.

My son really didn't believe me. He thought I was making it up to appease him as I was his mom. I had to have my husband explain it. I had to have two smart professional adults we are acquainted with explain the concept. Now my son gets it. My son still struggles with not liking the idea of not remembering every single thing he learns and not having the ability to do rapid recall of everything. He somehow thought that every single fact he ever learned in his life would be "on the tip of his tongue" or whatever the brain-equivalent of that is.

Negative self-talk and negative self-judgement are bad and dangerous. Even the best teacher, the kindest teacher, and the best intentioned teacher cannot teach a student who is internally beating themself up. The student winds up shutting down and they can't learn. This applies to all students, not just those with learning disabilities, but I suspect that LD kids are more harsh with themselves with feelings of incompetence and low self-esteem.

Real learning takes hard work and it is true that not all students are willing to do the work or at least not in the same quantities their teachers and parents give them. Some procrastination and dreading the work is normal, as is some laziness and some slacking. All students deal with these issues and LD kids struggle even more. Helping students realize what the goal is and why they are being asked to do things can help ("we review the math concepts in the fall because no one did math over the summer and everyone needs refreshers, it is normal for our brains to forget what we have not recently used").

Homeschooling can be so difficult as we are both the parent and the teacher. We are both the loving mom and the taskmaster teacher with aims and goals who needs to push and prod our offspring students.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Civil War Letters

One primary source my younger son is learning from is the website Civil War Letters. These are letters from an Iowa soldier, Newton Scott, to his family and to his sweetheart.

Reading these helps put a human face to the Civil War.

This is an assignment for my younger son's "classical homeschool school thing".