Since Lana turns a year older close to the beginning of a new year, I get to organize all her growing memories by year with ease and since she’s my only child, I do weird things like celebrate her half birthday. Before you say that it takes away from all that is special of celebrating her actual birthday, let me tell you that it does not. Kids grow up fast and reflecting on the first 6 months of a new age, new adventures, newly learned skills and celebrating them only makes us appreciate what we have in our lives: Each other. Having a 4 year old is challenge enough but homeschooling her, I mean officially homeschooling her has been a real challenge. We did not plan on homeschooling her nor did we plan on me not returning to work. As a matter of fact, we already had everything planned out when I found out I was pregnant.
Let me take you back a bit…
My husband spent the better part of his first 7 years of life in and out of the hospital. The doctors told his parents that he wouldn’t be able to have kids. We always knew that we would adopt and depending on the age of the child, I would either take a break from work to be a stay at home mom until our child started school or I’d work part time so I could be more involved with the school and be the mom that has the house spotless, dinner ready & on time, at the cinema every weekend and took trips to the park as often as we could. But we weren’t trying to have kids nor had we begun the adoption process. We were newlyweds getting our lives in order, saving money for a house and paying off school debt.
Back to the story now…
Well all that changed when I found out I was pregnant (crazy huh?! Too Much Info : hover mouse) We went from “There’s always adoption” to “You’re pregnant!” Making Lana that much more special to us. We treasure every milestone, every growing moment we’re lucky to witness. Not to mention my external hard drive collection continues to grow with digital memories waiting in printing queue. Knowing that she’s our only one, we still planned on sending her to public school. I’m not crazy, ya know :P I don’t feel the need to keep her all to myself. The school we wanted to send her to was new and only had grades 3-6, so we had to look around for a school that wasn’t as bad as the neighborhood we lived in was becoming.
I don’t know what happened to our neighborhood. It just went bad. Maybe, becoming a mother opened my eyes to where we really lived. A quick search on the internet turned up all kinds of convicted child sex offenders that lived around us. I refused to leave my apartment for a month without being accompanied by my husband and only during the brightest hour of the day. My husband told me that I couldn’t live in fear that way. There will always be crime and bad guys around us, one way or another and we can’t escape it all, no matter how hard we try. And I tried! I searched for neighborhoods with great schools and no crime and then realized that we’re not made of money; we can’t afford a fabulous gated community with security guards that value my family’s life as much as I do and will go to the ends of the Earth to keep us safe. I doubt you can find that anywhere, even if you are made of money.
Well, Lana was getting closer and closer to Pre-K age and I still needed to solve our problem: Finding a safe neighborhood & school. I was stressing out so bad. I know finding a great school and great neighborhood isn’t impossible, it just takes time. I know. For 2 years I’ve been looking for an apartment (now a home) with no luck. Then my husband said what I should have been thinking all along.. “Why don’t we homeschool her and see how that goes?”
I’ve been teaching Lana everything from day one. I started with ASL so she could communicate with us until she learned to talk. She was almost 5 months old when she signed “MILK” and “MOMMY” but her first spoken word was “Daddy” (and it melts my husbands heart to this day). She learned the alphabet and how to count to 20 before she was 1. She only knew how to always be on her best behavior and how to use her manners and that bed time was bed time, there was no such thing as tantrums. She potty trained herself when she was 18 months old because she saw it in a commercial and because we once read a book about it together (however, I’ll take credit for it because I cleaned up all the accidents). She was learning simple math on her own – unlike her mother when she was in preschool, Lana saw the connection between numbers and adding/subtracting them. I picked up where she left off. Learning was fun – great fun! I wasn’t pressured because I knew she would go to school when the time came. Well, you know that didn’t happen.
Check out the photos below. They were taken before I (officially) decided to homeschool her. These are photos of her having fun learning with no pressure on mom.
Learning to count. She tossed them out and I counted them as they flew.
Exercise, socializing and making music. The city park is never empty, even on early mornings in the middle of the week.
She learned that some things are worth taking risks for. Like climbing ladders to get to the slides.
Art: Mixing colors and creating new ones.
Exploring nature and asking questions that forced me to upgrade my old phone to one with internet for googling when on the go.
Taking turns. Sharing. Playing nicely. Trying new things.
I started homeschooling her (to test my capabilities) when she turned 2. If I couldn’t do it, if the stress was too much or if I couldn’t find a guiding source for advice & inspiration, then I would have no choice to but enroll her into the local school when she turned 3. The pressure was on.
This is when I started worrying and wondering if I was teaching her enough. Is she up to date on her numbers? Do all 2 year olds stop counting at 20? Isn’t she supposed to know how to write by now? Is it normal if the only words she knows how to “read” are zoo, ant, & ice cream? I went a little crazy looking up websites with information and found a ton of them out there with step by step homeschooling plans and lessons for each day. I read about Charlotte Mason (I love her philosophy), I read about unschooling and found websites that offer ‘school in a box‘ which I think will come in handy in the future. Calvert School is very structured, though, and Lana would not be able to handle that right now. She’s such a free spirited child, flowing from room to room with great ideas about what to do next in ‘school’. I learned a lot in this first year. Like letting her grow into her own person is much better for everyone than when I tried to turn my dinning room into a class room and have her sit through each lesson. I had to learn not just how to teach, but how to teach Lana.
It was still a lot to think about. I was losing sleep and not eating well. My husband kept trying to calm me down until we finally just went out and bought some pre-k workbooks from our local book stores (and Sams Club). Why did I wait so long to do that? I had this crazy idea that I could do this using only what the internet offered (which is very possible). Everyday, I’d let Lana pick out a couple of work sheets she’d like to do and then I’d pick some that I thought she needed. If it’s not fun, she won’t enjoy “playing school”, so I tried to make it as fun as it used to be when I was only teaching her and not homeschooling her.
I’ve learned that every child is different. I helped raise my 3 brothers and 3 sisters and each of them viewed school differently. Same goes for Lana. She loves playing school but not ‘doing’ school. Somewhere along the way, learning stopped being fun because I worried more over making sure she was learning. I have a Reward Box with little goodies in it for her to choose from at the end of the week when we would go over what she had learned. That stopped working as soon as I tied it in with school, well.. as soon as she figured out that I had tied it in with school. And I have awesome goodies, I tell ya!!
So this new year, I gave myself a time out. I paused homeschooling for all of Dec 2011 (2011 covered age 3 to 4, when I was seriously going crazy with worksheets. Age 2 to 3 was mostly about me learning to teach but we played through most of it in the end) to reflect on things. What worked? What didn’t? What was I doing wrong? Why didn’t she love learning anymore? That entire first year was mostly fun because all she did was play while I freaked out. She learned through play. I kept a journal of what we did each day and what she loved most about each day and what she learned. It was all done through play because I still wasn’t sure what I was doing or if I could even pull this off. I just did what I had been doing all along. And that worked. Of course I stressed through it all.
Then she turned 3 and I freaked out a little more. It was time to enroll her if we were going to do it or get serious about homeschooling if we were going to do that. So my husband and I went out to dinner and had ourselves a sobering conversation. This is Lana’s education we’re talking about. We weighed the pros and cons: public school vs homeschool. Then it got real. If we did this, then I wouldn’t be returning to work. No second income. No family vacations each year. No second car. No eating out as often. No more gear for my photography, which was on its way to becoming our second income. And we can kiss the house of our dreams goodbye.
So here I am today. Lana just turned 4. Her first year of officially being homeschooled wasn’t so bad, definitely could have been better. I still haven’t found an online testing site to test how she’s doing but from what other homeschooling parents tell me, I don’t have to worry about that for now, “Enjoy her at this age while you can” and I’m learning to do that. I’m going over the journal I started when she was 2 and remembering the fun she had. I’m bringing back old games we used to play. Yesterday we played a game Lana calls “Don’t Let the Balloon Touch the Floor” with a new rule: Each time you hit the balloon to the next person, you count it aloud. She had to pay close attention to the number the last person said so she would be on track when it was her turn. She counted up to 40 before the balloon hit the floor and we had to start over but she was SO proud of herself for keeping the balloon up for that long. And you know what? She didn’t even catch on to the learning part. You can throw any number at her and she can count to it and from it. She has figured out how numbers work. She didn’t learn how to count to 40, she learned how numbers work. My jaw dropped when she counted to 100. She Got IT. She used to have trouble remembering what came after 20. And to think a balloon game did this.
I also figured out a trick to bringing back the Reward Box. Gift wrapping the rewards! She loves presents and she knows she gets to pick one out at the end of the week after we reflect on her favorite parts of school. I buy the $1 wood projects from Michaels and wrap them in different wrapping paper that I buy from the $1 Spot at Target. Get this: Each project is part of learning something new. She’s built a canon, a boat and yesterday she built a plane. Homeschooling 2012 is already off to a great start!
We still work from worksheets about once or twice a week to practice her writing (besides learning to read) because she’s interested in writing letters to her grandpa. :) She saw me writing a letter to a friend and she wanted to do the same. Funny how that works. :)
I think I’ve rambled long enough so I’ll leave you with cell pics I took of her doing worksheets she did enjoy.
Okay, here we go:
- Learning to play the recorder with help from youtube. She love this and did it every morning for a whole month.
- She loves quick worksheets she already knows the answers to.
- Evidence of when I freaked out. These are the binders I keep everything sorted in. She takes herself through all the subjects without my assistance .
- She really likes the letter Bb.
- She surprised me with a mouse to photograph and wrote the letters herself.
- I bought two books from Sams Club - “I Can Cut” & “I Can Paste” Which she loves to work on “after school”
- Making a chain to decorate the wall with.
- Who says cows don’t feel blue sometimes?
- I made several copies of the cows because she just loves them
- Learning subtraction with goldfish. Smart, eh? :)
- Books from the reading list provided by Wee Folk Art - Lana really loves this and we’re still doing it even if we’re behind by a month right now
- Playing with the shapes she’s identified. With each new shape she learns, new toys are added to the pile.
- Shapes. I cut the shapes out and she made some snowmen for Christmas.
- Worksheets she picked out herself. The crayons are kept inside that tin which I keep inside my messenger bag along with a note pad during long errand days.
- This is the shelf I started out with. All her homeschool supplies fit on that shelf up until a few months ago when more craft supplies and rewards were added to it.
It’s not difficult to do once you get into routine. I tried going by a schedule: I would wake up at 6 then shower and workout, wake Lana and fix breakfast, play and explore until 10 then do school work, fix lunch, do chores, more school work, more chores — But this wasn’t working for Lana. We have a routine now. We wake up early (by early I mean before 7 sometimes 8 depending on when I finished my projects the night before), then shower and have breakfast, she sometimes watches educational tv for 30 minutes (one PBS show) to get her into a ‘school’ mood and right on to playing aka learning. Some days she doesn’t even touch a worksheet and that’s perfectly fine, we read a lot on those days. Little by little we’re falling into a schedule but that’s not on purpose. She’s getting older and is starting to like knowing what’s next but she’s still very much into doing her own thing. I’m trying to keep up with every change homeschooling brings.
One thing I do not like about homeschooling, the one pet peeve I have with it.. is that people who know I’m homeschooling her test her to see if she knows what they think she should know. Everyone asks her questions. It’s like pop quizzes every time someone learns she’s being homeschooled. Even strangers do this. Lana does just fine answering all their questions but I wouldn’t quiz their kids to see how they’re doing in the public school system so it irks me that they feel they must see for themselves that my daughter isn’t stupid (that’s how it makes me feel). It takes a lot of inner strength for me to put on a smile and let them quiz away. A lot. However, Lana seems to find it amusing when these adults quiz her in baby talk and watching her facial expressions amuse me. Guess we’re more alike than I previously thought :)
Another thing I do, which has nothing to do with us homeschooling, is that we, my husband Phil and I, answer each and every question Lana asks. If you’re a parent, then you know that there is always another question behind the question they just asked or that you just answered. If Phil or I do not know the answer, we look it up together with Lana. Sometimes, sometimes this will last for an hour or longer depending on her interest level, but we always answer her questions and it helps even now with homeschooling.