I love/hate Alaska

Confession: I am South American.  I don’t do winter sports.  And I was raised swimming outdoors in ocean water every weekend.  As a result, Alaska isn’t “natural” for me.

img_1670I have this love/hate relationship with Alaska, as I think most people do who weren’t born and raised here.  It’s definitely not a ‘meh’ state.  It’s always going big or going home, in everything from sunlight (and lack thereof) to snow.  Winters are long and hard on my joints.  Summers are short and sunny even during midnight.  It’s very extreme.

And very beautiful.

One of the reasons why we have stayed as long as we have (and plan on staying) is the way homeschooling has just opened up doors for our family.  We have a family we could have never imagined.  We live in a way that feels almost fairy tale like.  And I’m so thankful!

img_1674Just a few Sundays ago we went on a homeschool fieldtrip organized by our charter school.  Drove three hours one way to sit on a boat for 5 hours, and do marine biology lessons and experiments.  And whale watching.  And sea lion watching.  And glacier watching.

It’s the part of Alaska you fall in love with, the views that leave you breathless.  The smell of rain and pine trees that I’m sure I would never smell in any other place.  It’s the big ocean and the big mountains all in one panoramic view.

Then there’s an almost unbelievable amount of homeschooling support in this state that has afforded us to be here.  Paid for by their school (and not my pocket).  Learning about our ecosystem and being surrounded by kids just as interested and curious as my children.

img_1688My children (and I) learned:

  • Alaska (south of the Arctic circle) is indeed a rainforest.
  • We are so rich in phytoplankton that it is visible in our waters from outer space.
  • Alaska is the final frontier to many species of pelagic birds – birds that can swim and fly.  These birds have dense bones to help them really fly underwater but can still get airborne.
  • Marine mammals have had multiple adaptations which help them survive in these cold waters.
  • The tail of a humpback whale is worked by a muscle called a peduncle.  It is so powerful that in two swipes it will get a whale completely out of the water and into the air.  That’s 66,000 lbs!
  • Otters have such lose fur that they can literally grab their back, bring it in front of them for grooming, and put it back.

img_1690My kids got to look at and identify plankton under a microscope that they caught in the bay.  And they learned a lot about how unique our state is, the state I’m learning to fall in love with after all these years.

We also went outside and learned how to spot humpback whales by watching the patterns of the birds that feed around them.  We came to understand their behavior and know when they were going to dive for a long time.

How many people in the world could honestly say they’ve seen a humpback whale?

We also spotted sea lions resting on rocks to conserve their energy.  And so many birds.

img_1730I can get tired of the long, dark winters… but I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of exploring the beauties of this place with my children and seeing the wonder in their eyes.  When you are in front of such big wildlife, you are more aware of how small you are in comparison to the rest of creation – and more in awe that God loves you THAT much.

 

Learning That Looks Different

I can imagine that to outsiders looking in, my Instagram feed looks strange.  What we consider homeschooling doesn’t look like schooling at all.  Where are the text books? Where are the worksheets?  And how is going to the gun range “schooling” at all?

The whole gun range rant is for another post.

But in essence, the truth is: If I wanted to recreate “school” at home I may as well send them to school and save me the trouble.

If “school” was producing such great results, with amazing prodigies in science, sports, and art, our education would rank higher than that of other countries, and our college graduates a much more formidable force in the competitive labor market across the world.  But it doesn’t.

I’m not saying that there aren’t children who do absolutely amazing in public school – because there are.  However, I would argue that succeeding at Public School is not necessarily equivalent with being a successful individual.

So in my personal experience, I need to determine what would my child look like as a successful individual, and work my way backwards from there.  And here is my flow chart:

  1. Being uninhibited in kindness and compassion is a big priority for my children.  They are very tenderhearted, and I don’t want them to be “toughened up” by bullying.  I don’t want them to learn through peer influence and unsupervised socialization to be callous, or rude.  As a result, at this time public school is not the best choice for them.
  2. My kids are argumentative and struggle with submitting to authority.  There is (believe it or  not) a benefit to this: they don’t accept any information at face value.  Everything is questioned, researched, debated… from a history lesson to the chore of washing dishes.  If I want the learning to be meaningful, they would benefit best from a Socratic approach to learning.  And that’s just not a style of learning in most public or private schools.
  3. Creativity helps my children de-stress.  It’s also how they express themselves.  I’m sure there may be a charter school that would allow them to turn in their report in Manga form *somewhere*, but I haven’t found it.
  4. There are learning disabilities to consider!  My kids aren’t behind as a result of ADHD but I also know that the way I work with them at home has helped them to not be handicapped by this condition.  They can stand on their heads, pace back and forth, bounce a ball, and overall wiggle their way through all their learning assignments without being reprimanded for the inconvenience it would cause to the class.  Homeschooling for the win!
  5. A strong family unit is by far the most influential and beneficial factor I could give my children.  I don’t know whether they’ll be doctors or game programmers, but I know that they will grow up and be in relationships, get married and have children of their own (possibly).  And regardless of what they do as a profession, they need to learn how to love their children and their spouses.  Research shows they learn that from experiencing it at home, and I don’t think a few hours around the dinner table is enough.

Am I a helicopter parent? A little bit.  But there is science to back up that a happy heart leads to a smarter mind.  Looking at each child as a unique individual and helping them feel joyful means that they will retain more of what they learn and *gasp* develop a LOVE for learning.  Not learning for passing the test sake.  Not learning for passing the class sake.  Learning because knowledge is worth acquiring.

This is why homeschooling looks different in every home, and it varies within the home from school year to school year.  It’s fluid and organic as the students themselves.  And it will provide very different results from what you might have experienced in other children.  That’s the point.

Unquantifiable Benefits of Homeschooling

At the beginning of every year, I start evaluating all things from last year to determine our course of action for this year.  It’s kind of like setting New Year’s Resolutions, except no one keeps those.  I like to go a bit deeper and try to journal out things I wanted to do but didn’t, things I AM doing that I no longer want to do, things that worked out well and things that didn’t.  Then I try to be a bit more intentional moving forward.

menu

Homeschooling is one of those things that I can slave away and need some coffee in the morning and wine at night to get through.  But then again, that has more to do with parenting and less to do with schooling.  Temper tantrums, disobedience, and eye rolling happens in seasons for every kid (and I have three!) and they would happen here or in public/private school.  They just wear on me more when we are home together.

workout

However, every year I also find very tangible benefits to homeschooling.  Some I can put down on paper or a chart.  Some I just can’t.  More often it’s the unquantifiable benefits that far outweigh them all and has us pursuing the same course.

We are getting ready to do assessments with their contact teacher at their charter school tomorrow.  I needed some quantifiable results from an outside source to see if the kids are doing as well as I think they are.  Even though I’m seeing it with my own eyes, I have a hard time believing my 8 year old with ADHD does multiple digit multiplication in his head.  As much as I watch him do it.  He’s a self proclaimed 3rd grader that is supposed to be in 2nd and I’m not sure he has memorized his time tables.

It also feels like all of the sudden the three of them took leaps forward when it comes to writing, grammar, and penmanship. I would pat myself on the back if I knew how I did it.  I had been frustrated for almost an entire calendar year and all of the sudden – Whoosh! As if by magic – it clicked and it’s happening.baking cookies

But if I’m completely honest, my 5 reasons to continue our homeschooling journey are:

1.- My kids aren’t fussing with each other nearly as much as they were last year!  They have awesome moments of playing together or working together and they have more moments of resolving conflict calmly and respectfully.  If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, this is HUGE.  As in, knock on wood, walk away and cross your fingers HUGE.

2.- My kids are taking a step back and making wiser decisions about their friendships outside the home.  They are realizing that even though they can be friendly to everyone, not everyone is a good influence on them.  I don’t think there’s a curriculum that teaches this.  But I’ll take it.

3.- My kids are the most outward-thinking, compassionate beings I have ever seen.  I am frequently getting reports from other parents who thank me about something very kind and helpful my kids did… of which I had no idea.  And would never had known if the parent had not messaged me.  Not something I can take credit for either, except to say that I’m convinced learning and living from a position of rest helps them to be less self-centered.Bible Quiz

4.- My kids are overcoming bullying a lot more effectively.  Yes, homeschoolers get bullied.  Because homeschoolers are socialized.  They are “weird” and often their kindness gets mistaken for weakness.  While it’s never pleasant, we’ve been able to address and recover from every incident and I am thankful for that opportunity.

5.- My kids have not gotten sick in a long time.  I have missed annual appointments because I forget.  Nothing lasts more than a day.  No fevers.  No runny noses. YAY!

caleb science

I’m a firm believer in that if it ain’t broke… don’t fix it.  I’m seeing homeschooling working on all fronts.  So that’s how we plan to continue until changes need to be made.  With my husband returning to medical school there is a possibility that sometime in the future I will have to work full-time so he can attend school or do rotations full-time.  We will cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m praying for a way to continue on this course that has been  specifically charted out by God for us.

signature

Dear New Homeschooling Mom

Pin Photo

Dear new homeschooling Mom,

I’m so excited that you have taken the big leap!  Not because I hate public school or think private school is overrated, but because I know it takes a special kind of bravery to take hold of  your child’s education and put that burden on yourself.  It’s a huge responsibility, and definitely not a step you can take and be a wimp about it.

kidsI pray your husband and you chose this path because you love your children, and you want to redeem your time with them.  Because you envision something different for your children than what the rest of the world does.  I certainly pray it wasn’t under traumatic circumstances like bullying, an abusive teacher, or a learning disability that can’t be worked through.  These are problems you can only run from for so long.  Look instead at all you gain!  Fear is not the best motivator when times get rough.

I love seeing pictures of your new homeschool area!  I’m sure you were stoked to get those cute little desks from IKEA. I love the alphabet and math facts on the wall.  I frequently see all your efforts and questions to create a learning environment.  But can I interject?  Your homeschool area is… your home!  The rigidity of sitting in a desk 8 hours a day is one of the biggest downfalls of the school system.  Don’t be disappointed if that school desk collects a lot of dust while all the kid’s work is on the kitchen counter, the sofa, or his bed.  That’s a good thing!  Comfort is a perk of being home.

petsI also see all your questions about curriculum.  I have a few suggestions on that, but the shocking truth is: It’s not necessary.  There are hundreds of way to homeschool for free.  Between online sites like mathgames.com (completely free), a library card, and a child’s interest you would be surprised how much learning can take place.  I don’t want to discourage you from picking a curriculum, I just don’t want you to put all your hopes and dreams on it.  It will be great – for a season.  Then it will get difficult, and then you’ll love it again.  These rhythms of learning are normal.  So instead of beating your head into the wall when it fails, just set it aside; borrow a book on the subject, read it together, and try again later.  I promise you it will still be ok.tri

Please stop asking for permission to do what is right for your child.  If the question is, “Is it ok if we…?” The answer is, “You’re the mom.  You know best.”  Every child is different and what is good for Billy may not be good for Susy – and these two might be siblings!  Grab a cup of coffee, a good book (I recommend the Bible) and relax!  No matter how a schooling day goes, the household enjoys it more if YOU are enjoying it too.

The only thing I ask of you is that you take this amazing opportunity and become friends with your kids.  You can’t demand good character out of a hollow relationship.  They will be with you now for a long time, so prepare yourself to have little shadows in the ebbs of your life.  They will watch how you treat others, how you care for the home, and how you love your spouse (and vice versa!).  It’s waist deep in this lifestyle where children can really learn to be honest – the way mommy is honest – and patient, and kind… While they can re-learn math or reading at any point in their lives, growing up with integrity is kind of a one-shot deal!  They’ll Anakinonly be children once, and in the blink of an eye they’ll be off to college… And you’ll miss them terribly.

I am just now on week two of the school year.  We live in a one-bedroom apartment that is like a Little House in the Big Woods type of experience – only we are surrounded by a concrete forest in the middle of the city.  We eat, learn, play games, laugh, discipline, pray and cry in the same area.  And yet, it’s working!  Witnessing the growth is such a reward.  If it is working for me in these crazy circumstances I’ve been in, I’m sure it will work for you too.

true story

bri and me

One Week of Idita-Reading

featured

Confession: My oldest son loves to read.  In fact, when he gets into a book we’re all normally annoyed by how he binge reads – and neglects everything and everyone else.  My daughter likes to read too…

… But when it comes to my youngest, asking him to sit down and read a book is like asking him to volunteer for wisdom tooth extraction.

Caleb at Iditarod Start

Here’s Caleb, freezing cold but happy to see the Iditarod Ceremonial Start in Anchorage!

Sit the youngest in front of the pediatrician and  he can read 4th grade level texts at age 7.  He knows a lot of “encyclopedic information” from books about animals and human anatomy.  But there’s something about sitting down with a book for a few minutes, specially a fiction book or a chapter book, that he was just not having it.

Enter IDEA, stage right! (Interior Distance Education of Alaska)

Anakin's Artwork

Original Artwork by Anakin Hass, done entirely by freehand 3/4/17

They are our homeschooling charter school.  I’m always very thankful of their educational support.  They have always stood behind me as a homeschooling parent – an experience I’ve heard is unique to charter schools in Alaska.

Our schools every year participate in the Iditaread, a race against mushers actively competing in IditarodThis race to Nome is a big deal for us Alaskans, as these Mushers access towns that are off the road system completely – only reachable by dog mushing or plane.

http://iditarod.com/photo/

Mats Pettersson lead dog jumps and is ready to continue to run after Mats checked in at the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod on Sunday afternoon March 12, 2017.Photo by Jeff Schultz/SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

In the Iditaread, kids read on average a page per musher’s miles.  They log their miles and try to make it from Fairbanks (only this year) to Nome (979 miles) before their selected musher does.  Many homeschooling families do this challenge outside of the official Iditaread because it’s very fun for readers. (That’s the key… It’s a marathon of reading, usually all pages are done in two to three weeks!). 

http://iditarod.com/photo/

Jason Mackey runs on the Yukon River with many snowmachine tracks running alongside on the trail nearng the Kaltag checkpoint during the 2017 Iditarod on Sunday afternoon March 12, 2017.Photo by Jeff Schultz/SchultzPhoto.com (C) 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Obviously, this was daunting for my 7 year old.  But I have a couple of liberties recommended to me by the teachers and staff at IDEA:

  • Pick rookie mushers for emergent readers!  Caleb is racing against Roger Lee in his first Iditarod, all the way from England! It gives them a chance to learn about new mushers.  If your kid is a good speedster reader, he can tackle the more challenging mushers.  My son always races against Dallas Seavey – and that’s hard to beat! He’s won multiple times and finished last year in record time.
  • I get to “vet check” the books the way veterinarians check the dogs to make sure they’re healthy.  In that sense, I can offer Caleb 2 miles per page if the book is more 2nd-3rd grade level, as well as make sure with my oldest who has read the entire I Am Number Four series that the content isn’t entirely inappropriate for a 10 year old.
  • Keep track with maps and colors and progress book marks – provided entirely by IDEA, Caleb now has a visual so he doesn’t feel discouraged.  He can trace his finger along his map and see how far he’s come!

iditaread1

We started with a kick off party at the school where each kid did a cut out of their lead dog.  Then the staff can move their dogs along as the kids reach the check points along the way.  This captivated all three of my kids!

Then we added a twist: Mom and Dad are doing the Iditaread too!  We’re racing mushers as well (and falling tragically behind, but it’s the effort and attitude that counts!).  We’re leading by example.  The rules for us are a little different though:

  • I can’t count pages I read during Paul’s work hours, because that’s not fair!  So the pages I read have to be between 12-1pm (his lunch break) or after 5pm in the evening.
  • Pages of books we read aloud to the kids in the evening or during lunch count for the parent who reads and the children who sit still and actively listen.  Woo-hoo for the Read Aloud Revival led by Sarah McKenzie!

iditaread2

We’ve spent a lot of evenings just reading after dinner until bed time. The TV is collecting dust, and I kind of like it that way! However, we decided to take the weekend off, and our mushers didn’t, so now we’re pretty far behind them.  But there has to be a balance to everything – a big learning point when you have 1 confirmed and one awaiting diagnosis for ADHD.  So there is still school work, math, writing, chores, family board games, outings and church.

And for the record, Caleb read 300 pages this week.  Motivated himself to make it 400 pages starting tomorrow.  He’ll make it to Nome with his “lead dog Max” in no time!

caleb and max

How do you motivate children to love reading when they seem to prefer doing ANYTHING else?

The Auditory Learner

I thought I was so smart when I made my daughter flash cards to memorize her multiplication tables.  Then my feelings were completely hurt when she wasn’t learning anything from holding them in her hands for 30 minutes at a time.

multiplication

Duh!

My daughter is an Auditory learner.  In part due to vision problems she had from Kindergarten through 2nd grade, which required vision therapy and kept her from successfully being able to read and write.  Vision therapy helped strengthen the nerves around her eyes and now she reads and writes just fine.

That doesn’t mean that she’s a visual learner though.  It just means she can read and write.

Her memory is directly linked to what she hears – specially what she hears in her own voice.  And this can be such a tough type of kid to teach because most public school curriculum is visual, and a lot of the homeschooling curriculum is kinesthetic (which works too, but only in some things).  So what do I use?

I get audio books for the books she’s supposed to read that are a bit too thick.  Our Library has the Overdrive app which allows us to borrow audio books directly to our phone!  Audible is a good source too.  And a good old fashioned trip to the Library for some CDs to play in the van work great too.  When we had long days in the van, driving everywhere, we listened to stories narrated by Jim Weiss.  Celtic Tales.  A Tale of Two Cities.  The Three Musketeers.  My kids know a lot of the classics from listening to this on the go.

It also means that we do better having conversations about history and science than making her write it or fill out worksheets.  Specially if I want her to remember key points.

Auditory math feels like watching paint dry.  I’m glad I use manipulatives for this, and she’s actually able to keep up visually for the most part.  But when it came to memorizing her time tables, which is just plain boring memorization, she couldn’t do it on her own.

For this, I sat down and talked her through the time tables.  I started with 2s and 3s, and then I would give her an answer and ask her what time table gave her that number (example: 18 = 2×9 and 3×6).  We sit together for thirty minutes and go back and forth on them, and if she’s confused, I ask her to say the correct fact four times back to back.  Now she’s learned up to her 5s.

Key issue for memorization: You have to sound confident.  Your brain has to hear you say it like you know it.  You can’t memorize questions or doubts.  If you sound like you don’t really know, what your brain will remember is that feeling of “I don’t really know”.

Bible verses? Read them out loud often.  Lines to recite for a play? Record yourself saying them and play it back!

brielle-headphones

At this point someone would ask me: How do I know I have an auditory learner?

  • Does your child make songs out of everything?
  • Do you hear your child talk to herself during play?
  • Can she pick up a rhythm or hum a melody she just heard?
  • Does your child have a prosecuting attorney-like ability to quote you on something you said?  Maybe even weeks ago? When you weren’t even talking to her?
  • Does your child pick up on words or phrases she hears others say?
  • Does your child like it when you read out loud?

Then these are hints that she might be an auditory learner.  They’re very musical.

I just learned to use her strength in her favor instead of beating the dead horse over concepts that she just wouldn’t memorize fresh off the text book.

I also have a kinesthetic learner (movement/wiggly butt) and a visual learner.  It spreads me out in my homeschooling day!  Between learning styles AND difference in grade levels, every child is almost always working individually on all subjects.

What would you say is your learning style?  Can you remember things you read?  Do you learn songs very quickly?  Or do you prefer to be hands-on to understand how things work? Share below!

Help! I Don’t Know What Kind of Homeschooler I am!

Confession: Even within the homeschooling community, there can be different “factions” – and some butting heads as a result.

You’d think just the fact that we homeschool would set us apart from what appears to be EVERYONE else, but oh no – from here it’s just a whole new world of soccer-mom style Hunger Games, unless you know how to get along with every one.

Beyond Bible-thumpers (or not), vaccine-haters (or not), special-needers (or not), we also have different schools of thought as to what “homeschooling should look like”.  These go deeper than personal parenting styles or opinion – it’s practically our philosophy for learning!


Don’t let it scare you too much – I will help you understand where these different moms are coming from, using myself as an example of how I fail at these miserably.

1.      The “unschooler”: It’s easy to think of an “unschooler” as a mom who refuses to do school work with her kids.  The end result is this mental image of a kid watching TV all day while mom sips a glass of wine, while other homeschooling moms are like, “Aren’t you going to have little Johnny LEARN SOMETHING!!”  The reality is, unschooling is super successful but super difficult to do.  It’s passing on a textbook in exchange of real-life application of that subject, like when I have my kids prepare a recipe to work on fractions and chemistry INSTEAD of doing them on Khan Academy.  You literally have to make an opportunity out of EVERYTHING and constantly inspire research, trial and error, and curiosity.  As hard as I try, I’m not above throwing a workbook at my kid and having him do a few pages so I can peruse Facebook for fifteen minutes (a.k.a. take a nap).

2.      The Charlotte Mason Schooler: Charlotte Mason was a brilliant educator of her time and I think every homeschooling mom should read a few of her books.  She always held the premise that children could surpass any educational expectation if properly nourished.  She advocated for reading, and read alouds.  Not Dr. Seuss, no, but The Odyssey or Hamlet – she did not believe in “age appropriate” reading, but rather that language development and imagination could have any child comprehend literary classics.  She was also big on imagination, public speaking, and nature.  I have decided I want to be Charlotte Mason when I grow up!  However with three children in different stages I am not as involved as this requires.


3.      The Public School Equivalent Schooler: These are the moms that do public school curriculum at home.  They basically work through workbooks, text books, and pre-set boxed materials from page 1 until it ends.  They feel they have to prove their homeschooling worth by having their children meet or surpass their peers in public school.  I started off this way because I didn’t know any better, and now I continue this way because my OCD does NOT allow me to reach the end of the year and leave a textbook unfinished.  That drives me nuts!

4.      The Pinteresty Schooler: You know the moms who have a craft or a science project for everything? Uuuuugh… I can’t even…

5.      The Unit Study Schooler:  These moms simply their lives by working on one subject at a time – and employing all other learning materials around that subject.  For example, as we are participating in the Idita-READ and learning about the Iditarod, we may read books on the subject, paint Alaska inspired art, trim the dog’s nails, calculate average speed for mushers, and write opinion pieces for our favorite musher.  Thus, for the whole week, we’re doing everything around this theme as long as it captures the kid’s attention; math, writing, reading, science, and history.  This is where I’ve been leaning more lately, mainly because I haven’t planned a lesson in weeks and I’m just running with it.

All this to say, no homeschooling mom is perfect!  We’re all crazy over our kids – there’s no competition!  So the best way to approach these fierce moms as they do homeschooling life (and it seems odd to you) is to appreciate that there is in fact a method to their madness.  It’s a beautiful thing to be able to pick and choose how we’re going to homeschool based on what is best for each kid and for this season, with the flexibility to adjust as we move along.