Making the Decision to Homeschool High School

Samurai guy is now coming to the end of seventh grade, and next year looms as his last year of “middle” school.  When we started this homeschool journey, I really felt that we would send him to public high school when the time came, but as time has passed my thoughts on this have changed.

Looking back at the experiences of my three older children in high school, I realize that all three were miserable.  The only thing they liked at all was the time they spend with their friends.  As far as how much they learned, well that was an extreme disappointment.

Our family and friends all seem to have the same feelings on the subject.  They all seem to think that the correct thing to do is to send him back to public school and that it would be a terrible shame to deny him the “high school experience.”  What they don’t seem to understand is that high school is really not like it was when we went.  They seem to be more worried that my son will miss the chance to go to football games and prom, then to have a better opportunity to learn!  Class sizes at our local school have gotten completely out of hand, the county is losing the best teachers because they don’t want to pay well, and most classes are focused on the “test” at the end of the year.  On the other hand, we can offer him individualized courses, a chance to study the things that really interest him, and the opportunity to clep credits as well as to take courses at the local community college.

Samurai guy has never been much into sports, so I am not worried that he will feel bad about missing the chance to play football. (because he wouldn’t have anyway).  We can always go and watch the games if he wants.  Not to mention that with the growing number of homeschoolers in our area there are more and more clubs and activities for him to participate in.  There is even a homeschool prom and graduation ceremony.

I think it is hard for those who have not worked in a public high school to understand how much it has changed.  We have such good memories or our time in school, and those emotions influence our ideas.  But times have changed, and we need to change too.

My hope is that he can participate in plenty of clubs and activities while still maintaining the high academic standards we have set.  It is entirely possible to take AP classes on line now through various sources, not to mention the many incredible MOOCs.  So he won’t get to have a locker, big deal.  He can still participate in sports, hang out with friends, and go to dances.  The even bigger bonus is that he can have almost two years of college credits finished by the time he finishes high school, at a greatly reduced price.  It’s hard to argue with that logic.

Homeschooling Day by Day

We are now two months into our school year and things are going pretty well.  We have had to make some minor adjustments here and there, but overall our curriculum choices seem to have been good ones and we are all learning lots of new things.

Both boys started the year taking an enrichment class on Wednesday afternoons.  We weren’t sure if we were going to continue them after the first quarter ended last Wednesday, but the choice was made for us when I fell and broke my ankle.  The really sucky part is that it is my driving foot so I won’t be driving anywhere for around 6 weeks.

So now we have our Wednesday afternoons back and soccer is also almost over.  (thank goodness since my poor hubby has to do all the driving now)  We will try to fill in that space with some other things.  Samurai Guy is signed up for an online html class and Little Yoda has quite a few of his Top Secret Adventures piled up waiting for us to complete them.

I’m really pleased with how much both boys seem to be progressing this year.  The switch from Aleks math to Teaching Textbooks seems to have really helped Samurai Guy in his quest to dominate pre-algebra.  Boy boys are really taking in an enormous amount of understanding and appreciation for the middle ages with their History Odyssey levels.  (I so love Pandia Press, all of their products are so well made).  I wish that our chemistry had more experiments, but I have some books on the shelf with some fun things that we can use to supplement.

Little Yoda has become quite the reader lately.  Last week was kind of strange for us with me getting the cast on and trying to adjust to what I can and cannot do. Little Yoda had a lot more free time than he is used to, but I was really happy to find that he was filling his extra hours with reading.  It’s my understanding that he has made quite a mess in the basement by getting out a lot of books and spreading them around to read, but since I can’t get down the steps to see, I’m just not going to worry about it!

We have also had to suspend our usual spelling, All About Spelling, because we do it on the floor and I can’t get up and down right now.  I downloaded the free app from  and the boys are getting to just play around with some of their lists.   When all else fails, improvise!

I still feel like I am failing them with art.  It is just so hard to fit everything in.  Things may get easier through the winter when we have fewer outside activities going on.  I also want to get back to our study of musical composers, but at least both boys are learning music theory from their music lessons.

The biggest thing I have learned is that I am always going to feel like I am failing them in one subject or another, but when I stop to think about it, I know that they are learning much more then they would have in public school.  I can see how much they are growing and learning, and I truly feel that it is a privilege to be able to teach my children.

Dealing with the big “S” word. Socializing and homeschool.

One thing that I always get asked by non homeschooling people is what about time for my kids to socialize and how could they possibly do that without going to public school.This always seems funny to me.  Apart from school, when in your life will you spend all of your time with only people of your same age?   Outside of the school walls you have to deal with all kinds of people.  Homeschool groups are anything but homogeneous.

For the last four weeks Samurai Guy has been taking an archery class with five other kids.  There were boys and girls with the youngest being 7 and the oldest 14.  Our park days and swim lessons are similar. This is a great way for my boys to learn how to get along with all sorts of people. Our outings often have everything from babies through high school, with many races and religions represented.

Where we live there are so many groups and activities to choose from that we could never do them all.  We have an outside of the house activity almost every day, and some days more than one.  There are multiple park days, enrichment classes, field trips, and on and on.

Next to choosing curriculum, finding social activities is the probably the next most difficult thing for new homeschool families.  So where do we find all of these great things?  The first thing I would suggest is to search yahoo groups for something in your area.  I currently belong to three separate yahoo homeschool groups and they have been an incredible source of information for gatherings.  The second suggestion I have is to google homeschool classes or groups in your city.  A quick search in my area finds coops, swim lessons, and martial arts classes all specifically geared to homeschool kids.  My final advice is to ask other homeschool families what activities they are involved in.  Once I made a few contacts it became much easier to get the kids involved in things they enjoy.

How to pay for all of these extra activities?  I’ll have to get back to you on that one, after I figure it out!





The First Day 2013

Even though homeschool is very different from public school, we still get excited for the first day.This year we did school “light” for most of the summer so it is not like we have really stopped work all together, but we did get to start our new curriculum today.

Little Yoda is doing these things this year:

Right Start math C

Real Science Odyssey Chemistry

History Odyssey Middle Ages(level1)

All About Spelling

Reading to Learn level CD

Wordly Wise 3000

Various Scholastic workbooks for grammar, writing and handwriting.

This is what Samurai Guy will do:

Teaching Textbooks pre-algebra

History Odyssey Middle Ages (level2)

Friendly Chemistry         Fascinating Chemistry

All About Spelling

Wordly Wise 3000

KISS Grammar

Cover Story writing

Read various novels. (A mix of classical and modern)

Both boys are doing logic workbooks, Spanish (Rosetta plus things I create), Atelier art, a music theory course, and Trail Guide to World Geography.  Of course, Little Yoda will continue piano lessons and Samurai Guy continues with guitar.

Some things are new for us this year.  We decided to switch to All About Spelling because the traditional word list/test on Friday approach was not working for us.  We also added Wordly Wise vocabulary because I have heard so many good things about it.

Samurai Guy switched from Aleks math to Teaching Textbooks.  Aleks was fun because it was on the computer, but it didn’t match his learning style and he wasn’t making any progress.  We also had to find chemistry for him because Pandia Press doesn’t have one for his level yet. I decided to fuse together Friendly Chemistry and Fascinating Chemistry in the hopes that we cover all of the important material.

Last year we did workbooks for geography, but this year I went ahead and spent the money for  Trail Guide to World Geography.(and the books that go with it)  It is meant to be done over 36 weeks but we are splitting it up so that we do one weeks lesson over two weeks.  We will be halfway through next year before we finish but that is okay since we are going to try to study each area more in- depth.

I really wanted to do a better job with art instruction so I bought a couple of levels of Atelier.  We did our first lesson yesterday and the boys seemed to really like it.  Art is a real teaching weakness for me so it was great to be able to just hand them the supplies and turn on the video.

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All in all it was a pretty good first day.  The cat laid down in the middle of the floor and amused the boys by ripping up papers.  Samurai guy seemed to really enjoy starting to read “The Door in the Wall”, and Little Yoda spent most of the day in his underwear. (They frown on that at public school).

We finished out the day with some home-made chocolate chip cookies.  We started a week before the public schools, so next week when the other kids go off on the bus we will all ready be back into the groove.

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Critical thinking vs indoctrination

We hear a lot about wanting our students to be better critical thinkers, but what exactly does that mean?  And is it a good thing?

Critical thinking is defined as follows: ” Critical thinking is reflective reasoning about beliefs and actions.[1][2] It is a way of deciding whether a claim is always true, sometimes true, partly true, or false.”. In other words, not just accepting something that you read, hear, or are told as truth without researching the subject for yourself.

It seems pretty obvious to me that critical thinking is an important skill that I want my children to have.  After all, I don’t want them to just believe every lie that they are told without thinking for themselves.  But not everyone agrees with me.  I was shocked, but not totally surprised, last year when the Texas state Republican platform stated this:

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Sooo, they want their students to not question anything they are taught.  (and grow up to be good little worker drones!)

Stephen Colbert had some great things to say about this.  Here is a link with a video.

The opposite of critical thinking is indoctrination.  Defined as “the process of inculcating ideasattitudescognitive strategies or a professionalmethodology (see doctrine).[1] It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.[2] ”

I’m absolutely sure that I don’t want that for my boys.  Is it really possible, though, to not impose my beliefs on them?  I’m sure that every day, in a thousand little ways, they are listening to me and figuring out which things I think are ok to believe and which are not.  And do I really want them questioning everything?

The key, in my opinion, is to allow them to ask questions and allow them to find their own answers.  When a 6 year old questions why he has to go to bed, it is simple enough to tell him that if he doesn’t he will be tired the next day.  It is not necessary to spend hours debating it.  It is completely different when reading about something like history and trying to decide if Christopher Columbus was a great man, a terrible man, or something in between.  Sources can be given, facts explored, and in the end the child can give their opinion and reasons behind it.

If we look at Bloom’s Taxonomy we know that rote memorization is the lowest level thinking.  It is only as we move up the pyramid that we engage the learner’s critical thinking when they are able to apply and analyze their knowledge and later evaluate it in some new way.


Some of the ways I encourage my boys to think is to by discussing what we read together and encouraging them to to questions whether or not they agree with the author.  We also enjoy playing various logic and strategy games that make them work through possible outcomes.

My goal is to make them really think about things, not just spout facts back at me.  I hope that my boys will always feel free to question what I tell them, even if in the end I have to over-ride their opinions. (yes, you have to brush your teeth because cavities suck).












The cicada invasion….yuck!

Since we homeschool we are used to grabbing the “teachable moment”, but that doesn’t mean I always like them.  Case in point…cicadas.

These disgusting little creatures have begun digging out of the ground and area crawling all over our yard.  We step out onto our porch to find their discarded shells left to be crunched underfoot if you don’t watch where you are going.  I’m sure we must look pretty ridiculous hopping and jumping our way up the steps, across the deck and into the house.  No matter how many time I tell Little Yoda that they don’t bite, he still finds them pretty intimidating.

So after the third hop and jump today we decided to do a little research.  We found out what their life cycle is like, how long they will stay around, and why they make that God-awful noise.  If you search google you can find out way more than you ever wanted to know.  The kids liked listening to the recordings of them, if for no other reason than to make me crazy.

This site is pretty cool.

And hey, if you get hungry you can always try eating them.

Unfortunately, it seems that people like myself who are allergic to shellfish shouldn’t eat them.   I’m so disappointed!

The kids and I agree that the best thing about these darn cicadas is that they only last about four to six weeks and then they are gone for the next seventeen years.  That’s my kind of bug.  Now if only we could figure out a way to make the stink bugs disappear like that!

Homeschool in the summer.

To school or not to school, that is the question.  Ok, so maybe the question is more like..”How much school should we do over the summer?”

Whether you call it the “summer slide” or the “summer gap”, loss of skills during vacation has long been a problem for public schools.  Schools in the US originally had summers off because farm families needed their children to help during the growing season, but the days of being an agrarian society have long passed.  Every teacher can tell you that the at least the first month of every new school year is spent reteaching forgotten skills. So why do public schools continue this practice of more than two months off?  Who knows?!!

One of the best parts of this experience is that no one is telling us when to work and when to take vacation days.  The freedom this gives us is exhilarating. We don’t have to worry about a “summer slide” because we aren’t planning to take off two months dedicated to brain drain. But how do we balance the need to continue schooling with the desire to enjoy the good weather and the company of friends who are off for the summer?

One of the things we have decided to do is to try to focus on certain subjects.  We will have finished spelling and grammar for the year and will only try to review as the need arises. Geography will be limited to playing with our intelliglobe and what comes up in history.  We will also have finished our ancient history course so we will switch to some light American history and try to do more fun things like field trips and hands-on activities.  Our proximity to DC is a real plus for us since we can visit any number of museums and historical sights.

Most kids go backwards in reading during the summer, but Little Yoda will continue his reading course with just a few days off here and there and Samurai guy is never without a book so we don’t worry about his reading level.  (Usually the problem is getting him to stop reading long enough to eat and sleep!)

Math is another big skill loser from the holidays, but our boys will continue their math courses as normal.  We also need to finish science for both boys (due to a curriculum change half-way through) so they will do some science almost every day.

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?  But the thing about homeschool is that we never work as many hours as public school since we don’t have to worry about bathroom breaks, bus rides, attendance taking, etc.  We are able to cover a lot of material in  a short amount of time.  Even Samurai guy rarely spends more than 3 1/2 hours finishing his work.  We should easily be able to cut our work time down to two hours and have plenty of time to go swim with friends, laze in the sun, or take a trip to a museum.  And should something come up that requires a whole day off, we can easily switch the work to an evening or even a weekend day.  Oh how I love our flexible schedule!

Having a math meltdown and working our way through it.

I wish I could say that homeschooling is always sunshine and daisies, but that’s not how it really goes.  Some days they don’t want to work, or I am dragging and don’t want to work, and sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

Today Little Yoda was doing his math and he just wasn’t getting it. We have been working on adding 9’s to numbers. (ex. 26 +9)  Yesterday he went through this skill like he had been doing it his whole life, but now he was looking at me like he had never seen a problem like this this ever!   His frustration added to my frustration and we went in circles until we both blew up.  After we took a little break from each other we came back and talked about what was happening.

Part of our problem was that he just wanted to be finished.  He thought if he could just write down some numbers on the sheet we could move on with our day.  I explained to him that our goal is to never to just check off a task, but rather to have real understanding and learning.  I didn’t care how many problems he did or didn’t do, I just wanted him to truly understand how to add a 9 to a number.  So we got out the abacus and practiced giving a one to the nine to make it a ten and adding up the numbers that way in our heads.  I modeled my thinking aloud for him so he could see what my thought processes were as I moved through the addition.  After a few minutes of talking through the steps I gave him a few problems to do on his own.  He quickly and easily did all of them without a hesitation.  Success!

So in the end it wasn’t very pretty, and I really hate it when I lose my patience with the boys, but he did learn how to add nines to a number.  More importantly he learned that our goal is not to simply complete a task, but to truly learn and understand the skills we are covering.

It’s a Family Affair

One of the really beautiful parts of homeschooling is how close we become as a family.  We have the luxury of time that few people ever get to have.  We get the best hours of the day with our children, not just the left-overs when they are tired and stressed.  We can do activities like music lessons and swim lessons in the morning and early afternoon when other kids are stuck in school. We also no longer feel like we have to “squeeze in” family time in the evenings and weekends.

Even my husband is able to work most days from his home office and gets to jump into the fun when he can, or at least check in from time to time to see what we are doing. I also get to have an extra helper in the afternoon since my son who is a senior only goes part time.

Sometimes that extra help is really needed.  When Samurai guy needed to do an experiment that included iodine I was able to ask his brother to help.  I am highly allergic to iodine and stayed as far away as possible!  It was nice to see them working together and they managed to complete everything with a minimum of arguments and insults.  Yesterday when I was busy with car repairs, my older son stepped in to help again and very sweetly read and discussed science with Little Yoda.

Of course, there are times when all of this togetherness gets to be a bit much, but I am really glad that we are able to spend so much time with our children while they are still young.  One thing I learned from my older children is how fast their childhood goes.  One day you are playing with a toddler and the next you are teaching them to drive.  For now I plan to continue enjoying all of the fun and silly things my kids do every day and count my blessings that I have been given this opportunity.