juthwara: (Chu)
Hey look, I blinked and the summer is gone. The older kids had a fantastic time at camp. We took our annual two-week summer trip to Michigan, spending time with both of our families and seeing friends in Indiana and Ohio on the way.

And now it's time for school again. Katherine was not entirely resigned to starting school again:


Alec, on the other hand was entirely ready to rock kindergarten:


The dress code was changed this year from navy blue polo and khaki bottoms to any color collared shirt and long pants or skirt.* It is, however, entirely silent on the subject of monkey hats.

*which I didn't find out about until after I ordered 15 navy blue polo shirts and 6 pairs of khaki pants. Sigh. Fortunately, you can return website orders from Target to the store, so I returned 75 percent of them and bought some other colors, which makes Katherine very very happy.
juthwara: (Chu)
As I've said several times in the past, it's always been difficult to know how well Katherine reads. Her school has been extraordinarily patient with her performance anxiety when it comes to reading and writing (the writing issue has led to us to decide to have her formally tested for learning disabilities), and she's definitely made a significant amount of progress this year. She actually admits that she can read a bit now, for instance. She's even been occasionally willing to read out loud in class.

But the biggest sign of progress yet came this evening. She wants to have a sleepover, and I've told her she can't do that until she can go to sleep without one of us sitting with her (she was the lucky inheritor of my childhood fear of the dark). Tonight, she decided to try going to sleep on her own, and she decided to try reading to help herself fall asleep.

Reading for pleasure and falling asleep on her own. Our big girl.


Exercise: 25 minutes on exercise bike
juthwara: (Chu)
* Katherine's school had a Parents' Night on Tuesday. We went and saw her large, comfortable classroom that she shares with a class of eight other children. We learned about their daily schedule, where they intersperse individualized academic instruction with ample breaks, group activities and physical exercise. We listened to how all of the students came up with the values they want the school to promote (honesty, kindness, etc.) and came up with rules based on those. We heard about the PTO, which has plans to raise money for things like a new swingset and field trips that don't turn our children into miniature Willy Lomans. Heading home, we retrieved Katherine from happily socializing with a group of kids ranging from 6 to 12.

* Last week, at pickup Katherine's teacher met me to tell me about a meltdown Katherine had had over wanting to be able to pick a partner for a schoolwide game when everyone's partner was randomly assigned. She eventually got with the program, but to my surprise, I wasn't being told this to report misbehavior, but simply to let me know why Katherine might be upset (she was fine by that point. While Katherine's need to work her way through dealing with the fact that things aren't going to be the way she wants them with the emotional equivalent of a force 10 hurricane is... aggravating, she at least has the virtue of getting over it when she's done). My reaction to these fits after weathering a few thousand of them is more along the lines of "Suck it up, Buttercup," but I'm glad she has a teacher who cares so much about her feelings.

* Over the past several years, Katherine has had some health problems that can result in embarrassing side effects. While they aren't the reason we chose to homeschool, it was a factor in not sending her back to school. I had absolutely no faith that the public schools would do anything to protect her from the potential social fallout. We were willing to risk sending her to camp because we had faith that a Quaker school would protect her from bullying, and we were lucky enough that there were only minor issues.

Well, after a year of only a couple infections, Katherine has managed to develop an infection that has made it through three rounds of antibiotics, and the side effects are definitely there and quite noticeable. And while I'm grinding my teeth with frustration over how rotten our luck has been (really, we haven't dealt with anything this bad in over two years), the school is dealing with it just fine. We've had several concerned conversations where it's clear their concern is her wellbeing and that they've been doing their best to keep the other kids from noticing.

When we were telling people about this school this summer, I was cautious, saying that we had liked everything we had seen so far and that they were saying all the right things. Because, of course, the gap between what an organization says and their execution can be wide. It's only been four weeks, but so far I can say we're extremely happy with how they're living up to their ideals.


Sep. 14th, 2013 01:45 am
juthwara: (Chu)
School started for Katherine last Tuesday. Nearly two weeks in, things are going very well. Katherine really likes her school and her teacher and she's made a couple friends. She has another uti, and her teacher is taking the issues that come with that in stride. Better yet, while in the dropoff line last week, her assistant principal told me how well she was doing and how loveable she is. Hearing that your kid's school really likes her is a major plus.

And she has art, music and gym, plus her teacher is teaching them yoga, none of which she would be getting at her local school. I feel very conflicted about the fact that by sending her to a charter school, we're actively taking money away from the school district that's so desperately in debt. But I don't think anyone who's paid any attention to the national headlines on the condition of the Philadelphia School District would argue that we should be sending our child there if we can find an alternative. At this point, there's so little staff to provide even basic supervision that even the schools that had a low violence rate aren't safe.


Last week, at the end of the excruciating two week break between the end of Alec's summer preschool and the beginning of fall preschool, I told Alec we were going to preschool the next day to see his new classroom. In the past, he's been reluctant to leave for preschool, although he always happily runs in once he's at his classroom. But that day, he cheered and insisted we needed to pack his lunch and his backpack. So he put two pieces of bread, a cut up cheese stick and a juice box in his lunch box, grabbed his backpack and insisted on putting them in the car, no matter how many times I told him we were just going to pick his father up from work. I was amused but pleased at this new enthusiasm.

The next day, we dropped Katherine off at school, I told him we were going to preschool and the chorus of "I don't want to go to school" began. It only got louder as we arrived and I had to practically drag him inside, mentally cursing my premature optimism, until he finally collapsed on the hallway floor and finally managed to get out "I WANT MY BACKPACK!"

Oh. Well, we could do that. We went back out to the car, he put on his backpack and grabbed his lunchbox and practically ran into his classroom, ready to stay for the day.

He had his first full day in the four-year-olds room on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, he got dressed, packed his lunch, put on his coat and backpack and appeared in my bedroom, announcing he was ready for school. Sadly, he only goes to preschool Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think he's having a good time.
juthwara: (Chu)
So the other things we did on Mo Willems Friday was go look at a school for Katherine.

I feel like I should back up here and talk a bit about Katherine's reading issues. I've been on record in the past as saying that I felt that she could read better than she claimed - not that hard, since she claimed she couldn't read at all. And to a certain extent, I think that's still true. But while she ended kindergarten reading simple phonics stories, and made it up to the last level of Reading Eggs in first grade which theoretically would have her at a first grade reading level, this year she's been having trouble going past the basic phonics stage. I found us having to go back to Progressive Phonics and work our way through the intermediate level. I also found that 1) she's still having trouble with letter reversals at an age where she really should be growing out of that and 2), she guesses at words based on whatever letter in the word she sees first and 3) seems to have a lot of trouble with visual discrimination. She has a lot of trouble picking an individual object out of a crowded scene, and was complaining a lot about having trouble reading small print. She made dramatic improvements when I started blowing up the font on the computer when reading and starting planning assignments based on the idea that I couldn't expect her to handle recognizing small things (for example, her math assignments often represent numbers visually by using bars for the tens and teeny tiny weeny little dots for the ones. Life got a lot easier when I stopped asking her to count them).

I did get her eyes checked since her glasses didn't seem to be helping at all, this time at an optometrist who uses the spiffy machine that measures your prescription through space-age sourcery. She does in fact have a large degree of astigmatism in her left eye that the last eye doctor didn't pick up at all (in all fairness, she's not terribly cooperative, which is a big reason I wanted the machine). While the new glasses have helped, she hasn't had any great breakthroughs in reading. Now that we've eliminated eye problems, that leaves neurological issues. And here's where I get out of my depth when it comes to reading instruction.

Enter the school, which I found online through a series of links I can't begin to remember. It's like an online charter in that it's a charter licensed through the state but not affiliated with a school district (and in fact has an online option) but it has physical locations with real teachers. It has a focus on dyslexia and dysgraphia, but isn't only for students with learning disabilities, so Katherine will be able to go there whether she has a learning disability or not, and will have a teacher with training in dealing with reading difficulties. They will also evaluate her, something I had been trying to figure out how to get without having to go through our (urban, cash-strapped, somewhat corrupt) school district. In addition:

- It has multiage classes with a student-teacher ratio of 13:1
- They provide individualized instruction that allow students to move at their own pace
- They have multiple breaks in schoolwork throughout the day and spend a lot of time outside. The branch we visited had a garden and was talking about chickens in the fall.
- Their science and social studies curricula are heavily project based
- The school day is structured with the academic block in the morning and electives like art, music and clubs in the afternoon. One of my biggest worries about sending Katherine to school is what a strong introvert she is, and with this schedule, we could potentially bring her home early a couple afternoons a week if it seems like she's getting too stressed out with a seven hour school day.
- The founder's children are homeschooled (although they're going to the school next year) and in fact go to the same day program for homeschoolers Katherine attends, so we don't have to worry about prejudice against homeschooled chidren. Talking to him, he seemed to have many of the same educational philosophies we do.

Really, I think the only way I could make this is a better school is if it were Quaker, but if it were, it wouldn't be a public school, so I'm willing to accept the tradeoff (especially since they have a strong emphasis on teaching conflict resolution).

I admit, there are parts of homeschooling I will definitely miss. When it's going well, it's a lot of fun. I really love how free our days are, and I will miss being able to give Katherine hours of free time to do her own projects. She does the most wonderful, creative things (one of my favorites: when building a hotel out of blocks, she figured out how to make a functioning revolving door), and I hate the thought of her losing the time and energy to do as many of them. I worry that being around people all day will be hard on our little introvert, and how hard it will be for our shy girl to meet a school full of strangers.

But she's also expressing unhappiness with her reading abilities, so it's time to get help. And while homeschooling is great when it's going well, when Katherine is being rebellious and Alec is screeching for help with a computer problem and James is insisting on climbing all over us and the laptop, it makes me want to put my head through a wall, and that's what homeschooling looks like here more often than not. So I'm excited for a good affordable school to send Katherine to so we can get at least one kid out of the house. I'm really looking forward to see how she'll develop when she can finally read well.

New Year

Jan. 3rd, 2013 12:35 am
juthwara: (Chu)
I had an upbeat post planned yesterday, about my plans for the new year and the things I thought we could pretty realistically get accomplished. And instead, my mother is in the ER tonight with a bowel obstruction (her oh-so-useful doctor this morning phoned in a medication for gas. When I have more time, I have a doozy of a rant about the various stories of my mother's medical care make me suspect that people see an elderly woman in a wheelchair and don't try as hard as they might otherwise). Her aide is with her; I am not because I am James's main food source, and a baby in the ER is not a good idea. If it had been something that could have been resolved in an evening, I wouldn't have been needed. Since she's being admitted, we will go over tomorrow morning once she's in a hospital room, away from the ER germs. This all makes perfect sense and does absolutely nothing to assuage my crippling guilt, but the fact remains, a baby in the ER is a bad idea, so here I am.

So now I'm looking at two different years: the one where my mother remains relatively stable and I keep on with my plans, and the other one, where she isn't and I need to figure out how to manage our family while possibly having to be in Michigan often. I'm rapidly starting to think that planning for crisis management is going to have to be the way to go, although I will do my best to not live as if we're in crisis mode when we're at home in Philadelphia. Non-crisis mode involves things like more exercise ([livejournal.com profile] longstrider recently got a hefty raise that we're deeply unhappy about (that's another doozy of a post all on its own), which mean we should be able to afford joining the Y), keeping up with our improved cooking habits, continuing to be more involved at church and keeping a better school schedule. Crisis mode preparations, on the other hand, involve making sure bills can get paid and the house kept together if I'm not there, coming up with child care plans, and quite probably looking for a school for Katherine. We haven't been accomplishing more than the minimum since James was born, and the "She's in first grade, it doesn't matter so much if we don't get a lot done this year" starts to wear thin as it stretches throughout second grade as well. I had plans for getting lot more done starting next week. But now I'm not sure if we're getting home next week. I think she needs a teacher less distracted and stressed than I am, and we need to be able to continue her education throughout any upheaval. I was commenting last month that we need some sort of groovy experimental school that gives her a lot of autonomy and fun projects, but is still academically rigorous. We'll see if that's possible.

Life lately

Nov. 3rd, 2012 12:42 am
juthwara: (Chu)
* As I said yesterday, we came through the hurricane just fine. It got very windy, but didn't rain too terribly much. We never lost power, and while we saw a number of large branches and trees down the next day, most of our immediate vicinity was up and functioning. I think the suburbs were affected much more simply because they have more trees; I had not thought of that being an advantage of our blighted urban landscape, but silver linings and all that. All in all, we were very, very lucky, especially compared to New Jersey and NYC.

Really, we live in a very favorable weather area. We get about a foot of snowfall annually, it gets hotter than I would like in the summer, but still almost always below 100 and not terribly humid, we're not in a flood plain, we're not prone to tornadoes and we're tectonically stable. We do get hurricanes, but we have New Jersey absorbing the brunt of most of what comes our way.

* James is six months old. Stop it, relentless march of time! He has taken the longest of any of my children to produce teeth, but to make up for it, I can feel at least six right under his gums. Two on the bottom are very nearly through. Even though he's old enough and seems interested, I've been reluctant to start him on solids since breastfeeding is so easy right now. But if enough of those teeth pop through, I think I will swiftly reconsider my position on solids.

* Thanks to a generous grant from the Mom Foundation, Katherine is now spending two days a week at a local center for homeschoolers. It's called Talking Stick, and every bit as hippy-dippy as you might guess from a name like that. There are organized activities, but much of the day consists of putting children in a big room with lots of educational materials and letting them have at it. I'm not the sort of person who can take that approach in my homeschooling, but it definitely suits Katherine very well, since she can happily occupy herself most of the day with self-designed projects. I'm the sort of wet blanket who insists she learn to read though, so this is an excellent compromise. She can go make a mess for someone else to clean up, spend time with other kids and have people to help facilitate her ideas. When I picked her up last Thursday, she had completed a poster advertising for auditions for the play she had written. She had already played a dolphin in another play that day. Then the other three days a week, I'll do the organized academic stuff with her, which will be easier for not having to butt heads with her two days a week.
juthwara: (Default)
Today was not a great day for school. We all had a lot of trouble getting started this morning, and while cuddling together in a big pile in bed is lovely, it doesn't get schoolwork done. K was also not in a very cooperative mood because I had enacted a new policy the night before in an effort to get a response to my attempts to get her to clean up her toys besides whining and delay tactics. Perhaps I should have given her more warning last night, but sometimes scorched Earth tactics are the most effective and I was fed up. So she was rather preoccupied by the Rapunzel doll residing in my closet and not inclined to pay attention to school (but she did do a bang-up job cleaning up the living room tonight!). Then we spent the afternoon on time-consuming errands, including, ironically enough, driving out to a suburban library to track down a copy of the book we're doing next week, Cranberry Thanksgiving.*

But I did manage to get some geography in, thanks to Google Maps (the FIAR manual keeps suggesting things like looking up maps in your Worldbook Encyclopedia - how quaint). We found Boston first, and looked at how far it is from Philadelphia (and then we looked at Michigan, and Illinois, and Hawaii - I never said we were particularly on task today). Part of Make Way is drawn from a duck's eye view flying over the city, so it looks something like a map. I zoomed in on the map of Boston and we were able to identify where on the Charles the mallards built there nest, and then trace the route they took to walk back to the Public Gardens. We used as much of Google Streetview and the satellite view as we could to see the Gardens themselves. We could see some swanboats, but I had to go look up the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings that are in the Public Gardens, since K really wanted to see them. I'm quite certain we won't be able to get out of a trip to the Public Gardens on our next trip to Boston, which is just fine with me.

If I can manage it, I'm going to try to read two more McCloskey books, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in Maine with K this weekend and discuss how he uses the same artistic style for all of them. But even if we don't, I think we've made a decent showing of our first week of rowing, given how recently I started preparing. We're going to do Cranberry Thanksgiving next week, but continue to go easy on other subjects, then try to start up with reading and math as well as FIAR the week after Thanksgiving, which will hopefully get us past both the school fatigue and the holiday distraction (for the moment, given how soon Christmas distraction will start up).

*I would like to extend a gigantic raspberry to the Free Library of Philadelphia on this issue. Last Monday, there were three copies listed as available in the system - two were checked out and one was available, but at a branch on the other side of the city. So I put it on hold so it could get transferred to my branch. For three days I kept checking its status and it just kept saying it was still on shelf. Then yesterday I checked again and it had been CHECKED OUT. What exactly is the point of putting a book on hold if no one can be bothered to take it off the shelf and HOLD it for you? I truly have more sense than to be trying to track down a popular Thanksgiving book a week before Thanksgiving, but it was because my own library failed me, apparently through being too lazy to actually retrieve books people have requested.
juthwara: (Default)
Today was pretty simple, because we belong to a homeschooling group that meets at the park during the summer and at a local gym during the winter for socialization/running around like maniacs time every Thursday afternoon. K gets more than enough exercise on these afternoons for me to consider it a free-form phys ed.

We started the day reading Ducks Don't Get Wet, and then we followed the instructions at the end of the book to prove how ducks stay dry. Actual ducks stay dry because they have an oil gland they use to spread oil over their feathers (this is why you see ducks rubbing their bills over their bodies so much; it's called preening). For our experiment, we spread vegetable oil over a feather:

and then sprayed it and a dry feather with water:


(K insisted on the goggles. It really is just harmless water in the spray bottle). And the water beaded up and rolled off the oily feather while soaking in the dry feather. Pretty nifty.

Tomorrow: some language arts and hopefully geography.

Books used today:

Ducks Don't Get Wet by Augusta Goldin
juthwara: (Default)
N.B.: I'm not planning on making this an all-homeschooling, all-the-time blog. But I need to keep track of what we do every day for portfolio purposes and I can't do both this and NaBloPoMo at the same time, so I'm sorry if the homeschooling stuff bores you, but we're over halfway through November and there's a holiday next week, so there won't be too much more of this. At the end of November, I'll be creating a separate homeschooling blog that anyone who's interested can follow.

As I suspected, today wasn't greeted with quite the same enthusiasm as yesterday. My child, she loves her some science. We started the day reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then I asked K if she thought the story took place in the present day or some time in the past. I was firmly informed that this was a make-believe story and therefore my question was absurd. Okay then. After trying to point out that even make-believe stories are usually meant to take place at a certain point in time, I took a different tack and asked her to look at the cars, and then pulled up a picture of Doc Hudson from the movie Cars, who was a '50s era Hudson Hornet. Did he look anything like the cars in the book? A bit, but not an exact match. After promising to look up pictures of Lightning McQueen when we were done with schoolwork, I pulled up a Wikipedia article on the history of cars, which is well-stocked with pictures of cars from every decade. I scrolled to the end to pictures of present-day cars and scrolled backwards until we hit the cars of the '30s and '40s, which looked very much like the cars in the book. Having established the book takes place in the '40s (it was in fact published in 1941), we looked at some other clues that it was from a different time - everyone was wearing hats, all of the women and girls were wearing skirts or dresses, Office Mike uses a telephone from a police telephone booth to call his precinct.

Then I pulled out the only book I could find for children on life in the 40s on short notice: Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America, an American Girl supplemental book. Once I pointed out to K that her grandmother was six in 1944 (i.e. exactly her age!), she showed quite a bit of interest in it. I told her about how her grandmother had lived on the coast in Connecticut and therefore had to participate in blackout drills, which impressed K quite a bit. She asked if she was afraid during them because it was dark and I told her that yes, sometimes her mother wouldn't want to wake her up during them, so she would sometimes wake up in a pitch black house where everyone else was in the basement (I think the fact that nearly 70 years later, she still vividly remembers this says a lot about the trauma of them). That made a big impression too, since K is scared of the dark. Topics like clothes girls wore and victory gardens went fairly well. She was incensed to discover that they didn't have televisions but had to make do with radios, but perked up when we got to a page on going to the movies, which I told her many people did every week, and she also discovered that movies she's seen, like Snow White and Bambi were from that time period. Fortunately, although concentration camps and the nuclear bombings of Japan were covered, the pages didn't have any graphic pictures, so I was able to skip them without comment. K did show a lot of interest in a page on Sadako, the Japanese girl with leukemia who tried to fold 1000 paper cranes (they had a picture of hundreds of origami cranes, which caught her eye because she's very interested in origami), but I was able to just say that Sadako was a girl who was very sick after the war without getting into why. I also discovered that during pregnancy is not a good time to try and relay stories like that calmly.

Tomorrow, we are enthusiastically looking forward to our feather experiment. It might have been smarter to do it today, since today's topic might have been better received if it hadn't been in the way of something she was eagerly anticipating. But I didn't feel up to dealing with feathers, oil and a curious toddler, so it's waiting until Alec is at preschool tomorrow.

Books used today:
Welcome to Molly's World, 1944: Growing Up in World War Two America by Catherine Gourley
Progressive Phonics: Beginner book 1
juthwara: (Default)
We started our first day of Five in a Row out with a bang, with a reading of one of K's favorite books, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (although she said she didn't want to learn about Boston, she clarified the next day that she still wanted to do Make Way for Ducklings and she does love Boston, she just doesn't want to learn about it). Since most of the book is taking up with the process of a pair of mallard ducks finding a site for a nest, laying eggs and raising the hatchlings, it seemed natural to move into a study of ducks.

We started out reading Make Way for Ducklings, and then Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin, who writes a series of hysterically funny books about a farm with a very mischievous duck, just for fun. Then we moved back to more real life birds with The Egg, a book about, well, eggs and how chicks develop in them. While it was mostly about chickens, the basics of how eggs work is the same. We took a break in reading to go shine a flashlight through an egg in a dark room to show how eggs are porous. I also asked K when we got to the section on reptiles whether she thought cold-blooded animals would be able to sit on their eggs to keep them warm and she correctly deduced that no, since they don't emit heat, they couldn't keep their eggs warm (thank you Dino Dan, I guess, which is largely where K learned about warm and cold blooded animals). After that, we read A Duckling is Born, which was specifically about the mating process and fetal development of ducks. Then we read Ducks!, which was a more general book about the different breeds and types of duck. We finished with K rendering a pretty accurate drawing of a female duck on her nest.

Thursday, we're going to revisit ducks by doing an experiment to find out why ducks don't get wet. But K was so excited she got up and made her own project. She had been cradling the egg since our light demonstration, so she ran outside and got some twigs, grass and leaves to make it a nest:


She even found an obliging duck to sit on it:


I realize that male mallards don't sit on the nest, but we didn't have any female ducks available.

I don't think I can express how different today was than pretty much any day of school so far this year. The only times that have come close have been after a few science lessons. I realize not everything is going to generate this level of excitement, and I'm a little afraid it's downhill from here, but one of the big reasons we pulled her out of school in the first place is that I was afraid she was going to lose her love of learning in a sea of test preparation. Today, we able to get that back, an enthusiasm for new knowledge so strong that she had to jump up and make up her own project. I can't think of any better reason for homeschooling than that.


Tomorrow, some geography and history (I may be sneaking some information about Boston in there if I can get away with it). I'm not sure we'll achieve the same level of excitement, but it should still be fun.

Books used today (bear with me, I need to keep track of these things):
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin
The Egg by Pascale de Bourgoing
A Duckling is Born by Hans-Heinrich Isenbart
Ducks! by Gail Gibbons


Nov. 15th, 2011 12:03 am
juthwara: (Default)
Nearly missed posting for the day. I didn't have all of the books I wanted, so we're starting FIAR tomorrow instead of today, but we did at least take a first pass at Progressive Phonics, which K thought was hilarious. So that's an improvement at least. But now I have all of the books I need thanks to my special library delivery service, so tomorrow is all about ducks!
juthwara: (Default)
Tonight, we got K to bed a bit later than we should have, which we could tell because she had reached the emotionally fragile state of tiredness. We were discussing her passionate desire to make a papier mache volcano, and [livejournal.com profile] longstrider and I both agreed pretty readily that it seemed like a fine thing to do. I reminded her that one of the great things about homeschooling on our own (besides no more Fast Forward! I'm a bit giddy at the thought) is that we can decide ourselves what we want to learn, so if there's something she really wants to learn, we can do it.

"Okay," she said, "But I don't want to learn..."

She trailed off, either unwilling to say it or too tired to come up with the words.

"But I don't want to learn about..."

I braced myself, prepared to explain sympathetically that she was still going to have to do reading and math.


Well okay, sweetheart. I guess we won't start with Make Way for Ducklings after all.


I actually think we'll broach the topic again, to see if she was just tired, or attempting to express reservations about the entire FIAR concept (which I expect to dissipate pretty quickly once we start doing it, but I can understand how a completely new way of learning could make her nervous). Because if there's one thing K loves, it's Boston, where her aunt lives.

We filed the paperwork and withdrew her from school today, so we're official. We still have to hear from the school district that everything is in order, and get instructions on how to return all of the online school's stuff (you mean we have to give the computer back? Drat). I have declared the rest of this week a deschooling week, where we all recover a bit from worksheet fatigue (and give the teachers time to prepare) before starting fresh next week.


Nov. 7th, 2011 11:42 pm
juthwara: (Default)
I spent most of last evening on forms; generating our affidavit and educational objectives (largely cribbed from the Internet) and medical and dental forms (ditto). And then I spent a good hour bashing my head against the Philadelphia School District's web site attempting to figure out where we should send all this. Searching the web site resulted in the names of at least four different offices, none of which could be found in the directory. I found a FAQ which said we needed to contact our Regional Office, which was a link to a 404 page, and there were no other clues on the web site as to where our Regional Office might be.

So it really wasn't a surprise when a phone call this morning revealed that it had to go to an office in the School District's main office in Center City. It can in fact be found in the directory, so this is likely the right place. One hurdle (potentially) down.

We got everything notarized this morning and I stopped by the dentist to get the form signed to prove we're making a reasonable effort to keep her teeth from falling out of her head before their time. All that's left is the TB test tomorrow, which kind of chaps me because we didn't need to do this to actually send her to mingle her germy self with other children in the public schools. I briefly considered filing an exemption request on the theory that I do feel this is a bullshit requirement, but couldn't make myself actually say that I have a religious or strong ethical objection to medical tests when really I just want to avoid a minor pain in the ass.

So if all goes well, I can get the medical form signed tomorrow and we can get this all wrapped up by Wednesday. Of course, we are dealing with big city bureaucracy, so we'll see.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, now that our plans to withdraw from school are underway, we're feeling astonishingly apathetic about getting work done this week. I did make K do some work today, partially just to avoid giving her the idea that we might suddenly no longer be doing any work around here. But I did then let her spend over an hour watching whatever videos she wanted on BrainPopJr, an educational video website. It was educational after all, even if it wasn't fulfilling any actual assignments. Goodness knows what we're getting accomplished tomorrow.
juthwara: (Default)
So it took me a while to come around to it, but once I did, homeschooling on our own seemed like the most natural choice. With the online school, we have the worst of school and homeschooling: the constant accountability to someone else, living on their schedule and having no control over curriculum, but we're still stuck with our kid all day. The big advantage of homeschooling is supposed to be having the flexibility to adapt your curriculum to your particular needs. So that's what we're doing.

The logistics:

Starting to homeschool in Pennsylvania isn't very hard: you submit an affadavit to your local school superintendant with a couple medical forms (bizarrely, including a tb test, which K didn't need when she was entering a brick and mortar school), and that's that. We can call and withdraw her from school the same day we submit it. My current goal is having it all done by Wednesday so I can avoid the biweekly teacher call on Thursday.

After that, you need to keep an attendance log and enough work examples to be able to put a portfolio together at the end of the year to prove you've accomplished something. The part that makes me a bit nervous is that we also have to find someone to evaluate K to make sure her learning is on track, but I've decided to file that under "bridges to cross once we arrive at them."

So what sort of curriculum are we planning to try?

The main curriculum I'm planning to use is Five in a Row, a curriculum where you read a storybook five days in a row and do different studies based on the book ([livejournal.com profile] rivka does a good job of making it look like a lot of fun at her homeschooling blog). For instance, I think we will probably start with Make Way for Ducklings, one of K's favorite books. The first day, we'll probably look at bit at the geography and history of Boston. The next day, a science lesson on ducks. The third day, a study on the art techniques used to illustrate the book. And so on. I can see a lot of reasons to try it:

* it looks like fun, and with the issues we've been having, I'm for anything that might produce some enthusiastic participation.
* it allows us to cover most of the subjects we're required to cover without having to have a separate curriculum for each one.
* it looks toddler-friendly - Alec can listen to us read the story and participate a bit in some of the activities, and we can plan messier, more involved things for his preschool days.
* it doesn't require tests or worksheets or any of the required, repetitive output that has been making us miserable.

I do plan on separate math and reading curricula. For reading, I'm planning on starting with Progressive Phonics, a free phonics program that looks like it might be a bit easier to get K to participate in. Instead of having the child read incredibly stilted and boring phonics books with the tiny number of words they know, it has the teacher read the words in black while the child reads the words in red. This allows for more fluent and interesting things to read, and I'm hoping the fact that I will be reading too will make it easier for K to read out loud. It also has a handwriting component, so that will take care of that state requirement. Once we work our way through that, I'm hoping she'll be a confident enough reader at that point that our reading can be from easy readers. We'll have to find another writing and spelling curriculum at that point, but once again, bridge, cross, once we reach.

K has been doing an online reading game called Reading Eggs, and I think I may splurge and get a subscription so she can keep doing one of the few things she's been enthusiastic about. I know there are plenty of free reading games online, but this is a really good one and I think worth the money for this year at least.

For math, I'm thinking about MEP math, largely because it's free, but also because the lessons and exercises look like they'll appeal to K. There are also any number of free math games online, so we'll try to do some of those as well.

So I think our days will go: FIAR, reading, math, plus computer time. I'm contemplating only doing FIAR four days a week and using the time on the fifth day for more science, or maybe doing history in a more organized, linear fashion. And we should fit music somewhere in there beyond what FIAR covers. I'm sure these things will become more clear as we start into it.
juthwara: (Default)
I haven't been talking much about school this year, mostly because I've been preoccupied with keeping my eyes open and food in my stomach. Truly, I don't recommend combining homeschooling and the first trimester if you can help it. But as I've started coming out of the first trimester fog, I'm realizing that quite a bit of the difficulty has been K and her resistance to most of what we're doing.

One big issue is she has a combination of shyness, perfectionism and performance anxiety that prevents her from wanting to answer a question unless she's absolutely sure of the answer (and to make it even more fun, when she's bored or feeling resistant, she sometimes likes to play dumb). This is a poor combination for a program where a teacher calls every two weeks to ask her to read out loud, let alone with standardized testing time comes along. Her kindergarten teacher last year had a reasonable amount of success with her, but we got off to a bad start with her teacher this year due to miscommunication, and while things have improved, K absolutely refused to read for her the last time she called.

The other issue is something it took me longer to realize: she's bored. This is too easy for her. The way she moans and whines through a list of three-letter words but brightens up when you start introducing more difficult words makes that clear. But I can't make any sort of case for accelerating her if I can't get her to show what she knows.

So she resists while we slog our way through a program with a heavy emphasis on output - worksheets, projects, constant mini-quizzes between the frequent tests. Just the thing a child who doesn't like to give answers needs. I keep thinking that if we could have at least half of her school day be things she likes, it will be possible to get her to do the stuff she likes less. But so far, that's only science, which is three days a week. No word on when we might introduce some other (state-mandated!) subjects, like social studies, music or art.

So: we have an educational program with only three subjects (reading, math and science), two of which are on too easy a level and which emphasize all of the things that she dislikes most. It demands that a child who is very shy and has performance anxiety when it comes to showing her knowledge get regularly quizzed by someone she has never met in person. A surefire recipe for success!

If we were homeschooling on our own and were having this kind of trouble, we could go out and find a new curriculum that's better suited to her strengths instead of her weaknesses (if we were homeschooing on our own, we would be required to be covering about nine different subjects, so I'm more than a little confused about why it's okay to just be doing three through school).

So clearly the answer is to start homeschooling on our own. More on that tomorrow.
juthwara: (Default)
Last week, K read, with heavy prompting, a little phonics book today of the "Pat and Nan sat" variety. I think the unwillingness to read out loud is something that will probably improve as she gains confidence with reading. I suspect the unwillingness to give answers unless she's really sure of them is something that will go on for years.

I am quite sure that the problem is that she doesn't want to take risks, not that she doesn't understand. Last week, in the middle of a lesson where we were adding letters to -an and I was struggling to get her to read "fan" and "pan," she said "If we add 'K' we'll have the beginning of 'kangaroo.'"

...okay then. You can't get "man" but you can extrapolate "kangaroo"?

Her last school was working on more of a whole word approach to reading while this school is using phonics, and I think phonics definitely suits K better. It gives the student tools to figure things out on their own, instead of expecting them to simply memorize things and be able to repeat them back on demand. This suits K's learning style and personality vastly better. After only two weeks, she's really getting the idea of sounding things out. Today, we were about to close the tray on the dvd player and she looked at a label and said "C-c-c-close" and then hit the right button. Not too shabby.

We're getting a better rhythm to our days. We start out with a recorded message from her teacher and a round of educational computer games assigned by the school, then work on the parent-taught lessons. If we're on the ball, we can have the vast majority done by lunch. The majority of the work isn't hard at all for her, but my goal has never been to stretch her to her limits academically but just to prevent her from having to sit there all day doing stuff that's too easy for her over and over again. Right now, she's engaged, she's learning, and she has plenty of free play time, which is what a kindergartener needs.
juthwara: (Default)
This was a long and somewhat odd week, what with the city being paralyzed by snow on Thursday. In some ways, it made life easier, since [livejournal.com profile] longstrider was home Thursday to help out, although I think that was more or less balanced out by Alec also being home instead of at daycare.

Anyway, we've survived our first week of homeschooling. Here are some notes, mostly for my own use:


We are using Calvert reading and math, which are pretty straightforward. There's a bit of prep needed ahead of time, mostly to make sure we have the math materials ready and have found all of the readings in the various reading books we've been given (I'm not sure if this is a "Starting in the middle of the year so it's assumed we know how to find readings" issue or they're just not being explicit enough, but it took me quite a while to find everything I needed on our first day because we have three different reading-related books and they didn't say which one we could find the stories we needed in).

Science and social studies, on the other hand, are requiring quite a bit more preparation and thought because so far, they're just telling us what to talk about without a textbook to read. Social studies, at least, has a list of suggested books you can read with your child. Science last week, however, blithely told me to discuss land masses, glaciers, the water cycle and air with very little guidance. Thankfully, I was able to message my personal librarian to ask him to bring some books home.

So far, of all things, What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry has been by far the most useful book for this. Social studies has been a discussion of various professions, and even though it was written in the seventies, the sections on riding on airplane and taking a train trip were still surprisingly relevant (although the flight attendants served food. How quaint!). And while I used library books for the overcomplicated science lesson, I later opened What Do People Do All Day? to discover a perfectly good explanation of the water cycle, and also realized that we had his Great Big Air Book, which would have been very useful as well. Sadly, the next social studies lesson is fishermen, and Richard Scarry seems to be letting me down on that topic, so I'll actually have to find something else to be my social studies textbook.


So far, our days are pretty free-form, but I would like to be a bit more strict about scheduling so we don't wind up having to do work in the evening. Part of the problem last week was unanticipated breaks while I did things I should have prepped ahead of time, like when I found myself having to cut out 78 letter cards, so hopefully we'll have less of that this week.

The workload is pretty reasonable. We're supposed to be spending five hours a day on schoolwork (since this is a public school, there are attendance requirements. We also had to send them vaccination forms, despite the fact that we're not coming in contact with any other human beings), but this is all on the honor system, so as long as we're getting everything done, well, no one is the wiser as to how much time it actually took.

Toddler wrangling is another area we need to work on. Right now, he's still going to daycare Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we have those days free, but there's still Mondays and Wednesdays to figure out. He's pretty good about being self-entertaining, but he does have a tendency to want to get in the middle of whatever K is doing. My best strategy so far has been to create an obstacle course between him and us, so he has a number of things to distract him as he comes toward us.

Another aspect of organizing our days is that instead of the various work options laid out, I apparently have decided on 5. None of the above, continue your normal schedule and level of childcare and just add a ton more work on top of it. Ai yi yi. Doing the math, working 20 hours a week plus childcare is about the same amount of money as working ten hours a week without childcare, but I don't feel ready to have both kids all day every day while we're still figuring out the homeschooling thing. So I've been trying to get some work done during the day and haven't been doing too badly. We'll see how long I can keep this up.

The student:

K seems to be enjoying pretty much everything except Reading. We're definitely going to need to stock up on strategies for when she doesn't want to do any work at all, but mostly she's been pretty good about doing schoolwork. I suspect the Reading issue is that she's always been very shy about demonstrating knowledge until she's quite certain about something. That doesn't mix well with being asked to sound out words, which so far she mostly refuses to try to do, even when it's things I know she's capable of doing. She's happy to listen to stories and to work on handwriting, but the phonics lessons are going to be our big sticking point, and I'm not sure what to do about it. Does anyone know any good strategies for encouraging the reluctant student who is too shy to reveal what she knows?


Jan. 20th, 2011 03:34 am
juthwara: (Default)
After some confusion over faxed forms and time on their 800 line, I went to finalize our enrollment at the online school today. Included was a big warning that we had to withdraw K from her current school before enrolling because she can't be enrolled in two schools at once or THE UNIVERSE WILL EXPLODE from the logical impossibility.

I looked at the enrollment date they gave us and it was... today. I see. Was I supposed to just go yank K directly out of class or could it wait until 3? Cue the second phone call today and it was explained that there could be a little overlap, but I was able to fix it so K can finish out the week in her current school and start homeschooling on Monday.

So we start homeschooling on Monday.

Gulp. Oh my.

I'm still working on the logistics of working and homeschooling. Currently I'm working 20 hours a week at the online job and a varying number of days between Friday and Sunday at the library. Alec goes to the babysitter's three days a week; we have already arranged that both kids will go on Fridays so that I can work at the library any Friday I want. The cost of that one day a week will take pretty much everything I earn at the library, but I consider it worth it to have something that says "library" on my resume and I'm getting lots of good experience there. I more or less consider it highly beneficial volunteer work.

That leaves the online job and the fact that 1) trying to do it late at night and then get up in the morning might kill me and 2) I kind of hate it and want to quit. The problem with that is that the city now owes [livejournal.com profile] longstrider two raises, but it's not looking like we're going to get them any time soon. We should get a nice chunk of change in back pay once we do, but much like Elijah, we can't count on it coming at any defined point. But without that raise and without essentially any of my income, money will be quite tight. So here are the options as I them, from least to most income:

1. Quit my online job, keep kids in daycare on Fridays. Advantage: life will be much happier and more relaxed. Disadvantage: life will be much poorer and I'm not sure there will be room in the budget for a car payment. Also, our plan for socializing K revolves around sending her to classes and afterschool programs, and we won't be able to afford anything except the super-cheap offerings from the city rec centers.

2. Quit my online job, give up all daycare and do what we did last year, switch off who works Friday and Saturday. Advantage: we'll have more money. Disadvantage: wow, that's quite a lot of quality time with my children. I'm a generally happier person when I get a bit of time off from my children. Also, while we'll be doing better financially, we'll be in the same financial position that made me decide to go find a second job. Also, I really like our babysitters and will feel guilty if I take the kids away from them entirely since they so clearly love them.

3. See if I can switch to a similar job with fewer hours, only have kids in daycare on Fridays. Advantage: will be making about as much money as I am now after paying for daycare, so we'll be doing relatively well financially and will be able to afford higher quality classes for K. Disadvantage: Taking care of kids all day and working in the evening won't be as bad, but it will still be stressful. There will still be the hate-my-job factor, although I might hate it less if I did it less.

4. Keep my job, find someplace cheaper than our babysitters to send Alec four days a week (as much as I love them, our babysitters are too expensive to use fulltime), use babysitters on Fridays. Advantage: We'll have money, having Alec in daycare will make teaching K much easier. Disadvantage: The work Thursday night, work all day Friday, work Friday night and possibly then work Saturday combo is already slowly killing me and adding homeschooling on top of that? Ack. I'll really miss Alec if he's in daycare full time. And did I mention I really hate my job and want to quit?

Right now, I'm kind of leaning towards quitting and trying to live frugally for a while, although I waffle towards the try to work fewer hours option depending on how I'm feeling about my job at any given moment.

Well, I have at least another week of working because I was put on a special project and I'm a good enough sport not to quit in the middle of it. Meanwhile, we're all getting excited and nervous. K is really excited about not having to wear a uniform any more. I am super excited about not having to drag her out of bed in the morning and get her someplace on time. We have also gleefully ignored homework for the past two nights - what are they going to do, fail her? Friday, I think [livejournal.com profile] longstrider are going to Ikea to get K a desk for her computer (that the school sends us for free! And they're even sending us money to help pay for Internet! It's amazing what a school can afford to offer when they don't have to pay for buildings). Then I suspect we're going to have to do another major rearrangement to set up the living room for optimal learning/toddler entertainment. Because we're starting this all on Monday. Whee!
juthwara: (Default)
So I guess we're going to start doing it.

We had a parent-teacher conference before Christmas. I've been trying to write about it ever since, but never seem to find the time, and then the weekend before Christmas happened, which is the reason a lot of stuff I meant to do before Christmas didn't happen.

Anyway, we learned a number of things, many not surprising (our child is stubborn and likes to go her own way. Imagine our shock). But there were two things that stood out:

1. They have a two hour block of reading instruction every morning (and related, they're not supposed to have any formal playtime, but she has a good teacher who finds ways to give it to them by calling it other things). TWO HOURS of expecting five-year-olds to sit still and study the same subject, not to mention there's also math, science and social studies to cover over the course of the day. And then she gets to go home to at least another 45 minutes of homework.

2. One thing K needs to work on is that she tends to space out and fidget (gosh, I wonder why). And apparently that's fine now, but it won't fly in first grade, when apparently all six-year-olds are expected to stay on task at all times.

And perhaps the most important thing is that while K will vary on whether or not she says she likes school (usually based on whether she doesn't want to get out of bed or what sort of day she's had at school), she will very consistently say she's bored.

I don't want to make it sound like my precious genius is too good for public school. My concern is that 1) this curriculum is seriously developmentally inappropriate for five-year-olds and 2) if K's only good coping method for dealing with what must be a huge amount of repetition during the school day will start getting her in trouble, we have a real potential problem. And while moving might get her into a school with less crowding and better test scores, the curriculum is going to be the same.

So our conclusion is that while our preference for K's education is school, the Philadelphia Public Schools aren't it.* So after a lot of talking and thinking and discussing this with just about everyone we visited over Christmas, a couple weeks ago, we took a deep breath and pulled the trigger in the form of applying to Commonwealth Connection Academy, an online charter school. I don't feel quite prepared to come up with a curriculum myself this quickly, and truthfully, I almost always do better if I have a bit of external pressure motivating me.

There's a lot of logistics to figure out yet, ranging from what to do about my job to how to rearrange the house to how to manage several hours of schoolwork a day with an active toddler in the house. Part of me is really excited - lately, it's just so cool having a five-year-old around who gets so excited about learning - and part of me is terrified that I'll be scouting out unmarked graves in the backyard within a month. But we're really doing it.

*This is the place where I say that I don't think every public school here is terrible - there are certainly individual ones that are very good. But the conpetition for spots in charter schools, the only place we would escape the standard curriculum, is such that we would have to apply to every charter school within a five mile radius to possibly get a chance at a spot. And I'm definitely a big proponent of public schools in general. I'm the product of an excellent public school system and sometime I may treat everyone to my treatise on: Our Education System: Why It's Not That Damn Bad.

I'm also conflicted about leaving the public school system, since I generally feel it's not going to get better if people abandon it. By withdrawing my child, I'm also removing potentially involved parents, the influence and good test scores a good student provides, and perhaps most importantly, the funding that K provides. I mean, it's not like the cost of the facilities or teachers will change if K leaves, so the money they're losing is a lot more than what they would save. I generally feel that homeschooling parents probably should do something to make up for what they're taking out of the system. Fortunately, I think we have that more than taken care of by choosing to be underpaid civil servants in the public library system. We both provide for the education system all the time. But I've said more than once that it's not fair to make my child my agent of social change, and my primary responsibility is to prepare her for adult life in the best way I can.


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