The world as seen through the eyes of an exhausted, caffiene addicted, homeschooling, atheist mama.

Archive for the ‘Homeschooling’ Category

Coffee and a Lazy Day

I’ve been sleeping pretty poorly the last week or so. Insomnia follows me from room to room at night and when I finally drift off to sleep, nightmares chase me through my dream-worlds.

Last night’s dream was a real humdinger, and after so many nights of not sleeping enough, I’m barley functional today. So today is going to be a lazy day. BB has a music class in a couple of hours, and we’ll go to it, but for now, I’m gonna have myself another cup of coffee and I’m going let BB read as much as he wants today.


Fluffy pillows, cozy couch, funny book...what's not to smile about?

A  random day off is good for the soul. So are good books and coffee.


Those Powerful Polygons!

Last week, we got our hands on some pretty cool homeschool supplies. Right now BB’s favorite of his new supplies is a set of colorful, translucent polygons. He’s been having tons of fun finding patterns in the shapes and creating really cool pictures.

So this is homeschooling? Sweet!

Polygon dude and house

I love that this is what homeschooling a fourth grader can look like.

Review: Time 4 Learning

BB is growing up fast. Faster than I can snap pictures and post musings.  And as he grows, his educational needs do too. Until recently, we’ve been doing a big old, patchwork quilt of homeschool materials. Something for math here, a little history there, trips to the library for literature and language arts, the backyard for science…Not much cohesion but lots of following his lead and interests. To be honest, we still do a lot of child-led learning, but we’ve recently incorporated TIME4LEARNING into our daily work. I have heard people talking about Time4 Learning for years, but had resisted signing up for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which was that  it isn’t free. I also didn’t like that it seemed to be all computerized lessons. I think that kids learn things differently when they are looking at a monitor versus writing things out. Okay, I’m not a learning specialist so I don’t know if that’s a valid point or not, but it was a concern. But my biggest concern about signing him up for an online curriculum was that he’s not just on one level educationally. He’s advanced in language arts, his writing skills are not where the should be, and he’s perfectly average in mathematics. I did not want to sign him up for something that would lump him into an arbitrary box.

But BB seemed to need a bit more than what I felt prepared to give, so I decided to give it a try, and surprise! My fears turned out to be mostly groundless. We’ve been using Time 4 Learning for about three and a half months, and I’m pretty pleased.  BB likes it well enough, even if he does still grumble about it from time to time. But what kid doesn’t occasionally grumble and growl about doing his work?

What do I like about Time 4 Learning?

  • It gives BB access to multiple grade levels. Actually this is the reason I finally decided to give it a try. When you sign your child up, you register him in a specific grade and they give you access to that grade, the grade above and the grade below in every subject. In BB’s case, he’s a 4th grader and is doing 4th grade science and history but 5th grade language arts. We do not use Time 4 Learning for Math because I like what we’ve been using for the last few years and don’t want to change systems on him. But I do like the flexibility of him being able to access the material that is relevant to where he is right now.
  • BB doesn’t have to do the lessons sequentially. If he already has idioms down pat and doesn’t want to do them, he can skip that lesson and move right on to something else. This is a huge plus for us, since he grasps a lot of concepts quickly and easily.
  • The Language Arts Program. It is engaging, fun, full of wit, and it makes BB laugh.  In fact, he like the language arts section so much that he always saves it for last…as his reward for trudging through the subjects that aren’t so fun. What makes the language arts so fun for him is the guided instructions sections. That is where there is narration by one of two voices, along with passages to be read and occasionally animations to go with the passages. The narrations are intelligent and funny; full of humor perfect for my kid’s funny way of looking at things. After the guided exercise, there is often a quiz on what was learned, and humor is added there, too. The screen flashes, you hear thunder, and  then a crest with a giant head with blood shot eyes comes on screen. The crest has the phrase “Imagination and creativity are overrated” in a flowing script under the image and the narrator, sighing and exasperated, says something along the lines of  “It’s that time again. Time for The Department Of Multiple Choice to test you and see if you really understand your stuff.” I don’t know if the Language Arts section will continue to entertain BB, but for now, it’s his favorite subject.
  • The Art Program.  Okay, we haven’t actually made use of the art program, but I love that it’s there.
  • Progress Reports and Student Records.  Time4Learning keeps track of BB’s progress and I can log in as a parent and check on his work. This gives him the opportunity to work completely independently of me, but gives me the ability to make sure he’s not skipping things I think he needs to work on. In fact, just today I realized he’d been blowing off his quizzes in Science and Social Studies. He thought he could move more quickly through the subjects if he just refused to take the little quizzes they have after each section. I guess he didn’t realize I could track him, but he admitted to skipping them when I asked him about it.  That brings me to another feature I really like.
  • The ability to redo lessons and retake tests and quizzes.  Needless to say, if BB pulled that stunt at school, he’d have been busted before now and he would have been in huge trouble. Or he’d have gotten zeros for what he didn’t do. But we’re homeschoolers and I don’t feel like yelling at him for not wanting to do something that’s boring to him. Heck, I hate to do things that are boring, too. So instead of getting angry or taking away the things that matter to him, I’m just not going to allow him to progress with his lessons until he makes up the things I think he needs to make up. If that means re-reading stuff about Mesopotamia, so be it. We have all the time in the world, and these lessons aren’t a one-shot deal.  I love that we can just back up and do it again if we have to–Whether it’s because a concept wasn’t fully grasped or because a certain someone decided to skip right on through.
  • It is secular. As an atheist homeschooler, it’s really hard to find solid, secular curriculum. Especially science. But Time4Learning is pretty darned good. I really like the content and I appreciate that it doesn’t seem to dance around discussing “old earth” or evolution.
Of course not everything is totally perfect, and there are some things about Time4Learning that BB or I don’t like.  In the end none of these things is so big that we’d stop using it, but they’re bothersome just the same.
  • The site is gigantic.  It’s really user friendly for the kids, once they get a handle on the icons and stuff, but as a parent, I feel overwhelmed. There is a forum, and then sub-forums (or maybe they’re separate) for each state. There are videos and tutorials on how to use T4L. Because there is so much information, I find it so overwhelming that I’m probably not using it to its full potential.
  • Exiting the lessons improperly causes the lesson be be saved as incomplete. Everyone knows that to exit out of a page or program, you just click the big red X in the upper right corner. But if your kid completes a lesson in Time 4 Learning and exits with the X, it will not save as complete and you’ll end up with a crabby kid who has to redo a lesson. It seems like at least once a week I have to scroll through the lesson and complete the end quiz for BB because he forgot to exit the proper way. This is highly annoying.
  • Progress Reports.  Okay, I know I just said that I like the progress reports, and I do. But I also dislike them. They seem complicated to read to me.  There is an icon key, but it isn’t very helpful. I can see that a lesson has been “suppressed”, but I have no idea what that means in the context of a lesson. I wish it offered a glossary of terms for the parent.
  • Science and Social Studies aren’t as fun as Language Arts. If you look at the demos, it looks like it’s all fun and games, but no. I believe Math has a lot of games, but since we’re using something else for math, that doesn’t effect us.  Science and Social Studies is nothing more than textbook-like reading, which drives nuts. The content is great, just not as fun or engaging as the Language Arts. And that’s really unfortunate, because both subjects can be a ton of fun if presented in a whimsical way.
So all in all, we are both pretty happy with Time 4 Learning. It’s definitely well worth the twenty bucks a month and I plan on sticking with it as long as BB continues to enjoy it.
As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.

But what about…?

If you are a homeschooler, you have doubtless fielded many, many questions that begin with “But what about…”  I guess it’s only natural that well-meaning family, friends and strangers should feel comfortable enough to ask you if you’ve gone bonkers.  After all, They have always inserted their opinions into your life.  When you were pregnant, everyone had an answer for your morning sickness. When you had a baby, everyone had a loud opinion on things like feeding and sleep scheduling.  When your wee babe turned into a toddler, people started asking you what preschools you were considering.  By the time your kid was kindergarten age, the opinions about the minutiae of  day-to-day life started to die down…That is, until you announced you were going to be homeschooling your kid.

Once you make your intentions to homeschool public, suddenly the experts come out ten-fold, and boy howdy, do they have questions for you!  Questions, that by the end of your first year, you can answer without even thinking about them.  We’ve all heard them, we’ve all tried the different tones in our voices when answering,  we’ve all gotten sucked into a debate with a well meaning parent or in-law, and I hope that more people than just me has fallen asleep at night obsessing about what I could have said or done differently.  In the end, we all have different reasons for homeschooling, and that’s part of what makes getting drawn into a discussion so easy and answering so difficult.

One of the most worrisome issues  for my non-homeschooling friends and family is the S-Word socialization. “What about socialization?” they ask.  “Isn’t BB lonely without friends?”  No.  He is not lonely and he is most positively not without friends.  At the merry age of eight, he has more true friends than I’ve ever had in my life, and as far as I can see, he’s not an anomaly. Homeschooled kids in general are more socialized than their traditionally-schooled friends.  After all,  in school kids are sorted into age groups and encouraged to interact with only that age group.  There is pressure for boys to only play with boys and girls to only play with girls. Tell me, when in your adult life, have you had to interact only with people of your same age and same sex?  Go ahead and think about that one.  I’m going to go get a drink of water and you can let me know when I get back… *insert Air Supply hold muzak here…* Did you find a time– A time when you were only surrounded by peers of your same sex and age?  What?  School? Yeah, that’s what I thought.  If someone were to ask my son or some other random homeschooler that question, they’d have a quick answer for you…  “Never”.  Yep.  Never.  In any given week, BB orders his own food at restaurants, asks the librarian for help, pays for the groceries and accepts the change, helps the elderly lady across the street with the yard work, plays cowboys with three year olds, climbs trees with eight year old girls, builds Legos with other kids of both sexes, plays in the mud, and has sleepovers in middle of the week.  His time to talk and play isn’t confined to Saturdays and lunch periods.  His playmates aren’t restricted to boys his age, and his interactions with adults don’t revolve around a power trip.  The adults in BB’s world are not disciplinarians who are to be feared or ignored, but resources.  He learns so much from talking to adults other than me; he is not afraid of getting in trouble for asking questions and as a result, he’s not in the least bit afraid to walk up to someone at Boarders or Target and ask for help.

If you are worried about the socialization of a homeschooled child, all you really need to do to allay those fears is to spend a little time with that kid.  And if there is still some nagging, tugging, pulling feeling in the pit of your stomach that homeschooling is not in the best interest of the child in question, please let it go.  The decision to homeschool is not one that is lightly made, and odds are the parents have thought about every single pro and con.  If you point out a parent who homeschools her (or his-there are homeschooling dads out there) child, I can show you a parent who has stayed up all night, worrying whether or not she made the right choice.  When a parent makes the decision to send her kid to public school, friends and family don’t bombard her with questions about whether she has her kid’s best interest at heart.  They don’t try to drag her into a debate and harangue her until she admits the folly of her ways. Nope.  When a kid is sent to public school, the adults in the child’s life smile, nod, and congratulate the parents on little Sarah starting kindergarten and riding the school bus by herself.  All we homeschoolers are asking is that you give us the same respect.  Smile, nod, and congratulate us on making the best choice for our family-even if you don’t agree.

The joys of my life are many

We don’t have a big house, even by modest standards.  We are a one car family, we rarely go out to eat, and I can’t remember the last movie we went to see.    We don’t have extra cash to take vacations every six months, or even every year.  We can’t even afford to drive six hours to visit family, but I am supremely grateful for the life I have. 

I get to spend every day with my beautiful boy.  I get to see him grow, learn and change.  I get to help him explore new concepts and I get to hear his amazing thoughts on life, space and time.   He loves to mess with my head by saying things like “Did you know that today is yesterday’s tomorrow?  Tomorrow is  yesterday’s day after tomorrow.  Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.”  Oy.  At seven this child is so much smarter than I ever was!  I love, love, love that he has these conversations with me; that I get to spend the best hours of his day with him. 

Sometimes I feel sad that we can’t do more fun stuff like weekend trips or buying lots of new books (yes, buying books constitutes fun in my family).  I’d love to be able to take a two week long vacation with  BB and Hubby every year, but then I remember the cost.  Not the monetary cost, but the true cost, and I realize that I am unwilling to miss a single moment of my child’s childhood in order to pay for vacations.  I am grateful for every minute of every day that I get to spend with him, and consequently, for every pot of beans that help us to finance my staying home.

In from the cold

Is there a mad scientist in the house?

Experimenting Actually, yes.  Yes there is.

There is a Scholastic warehouse here in town and a couple of times a year they have a huge warehouse sale for teachers and homeschooling parents, and everything is 50-80% off.  I look forward to these sales the way BB looks forward to Christmas.  This year I got him a some great books, as well as a “Lab in a Bag” chemstry set.  

He's Mad!

After we got home I was barely able to convince him to eat luch before he tore into his mad scientist kit.  Now, he says, all he needs is a white lab coat and he’ll be a real mad scientist, but I think he looks perfectly insane in this picture.

img_2452  img_2450img_2454

Here is a series of reactions he made using lemon juice, baking soda, and uh, some other stuff.  Yeah, I know I’m a super cool mom to be okay with the foamy mess all over the kitchen table.  And floor.  And chairs. . . Hey, being a mad scientist’s assistant isn’t easy or clean work!

Celebration of Success

Group shot

Every year our homeschool group gets together for a potluck style celebration at a park.  We chat with one another, eat some food, and then have a brag fest for our kids.  Although most of the homeschooling families I know homeschool year round, like us, it’s fun to acknowledge our kid’s growth over the last year.  And the kids seem to enjoy having their successes highlighted in front of their friends and families.

COS 2009

It’s really hard to highlight what BB has been doing.  He’s making such huge strides in so many areas, but at the same time it’s all organic, spontaneous growth that it feels like no big deal.  If he were in school, he’d be finishing up first grade, so he’s doing all the usual first grade type things, but there’s more to it than that.  He is a whiz on his bike, he has passion and drive, he stays up till all hours of the night reading, he is kind and thoughtful, some of the Lego creations he makes just blow me away. . .I could go on, but I’ll spare you!


I just wanted to share that it has been another wonderful homeschooling year and we are all looking forward to many more!

Look to the future!

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