Friday, March 8, 2013

True Happiness

It's Friday!!!!

We homeschool only four days a week, which leaves Fridays open for co-op every other week, field trips, and other appointments or fun things.  Today, I'm sort of lying low for a few hours before giving a bridal shower tonight.  My girls and I were over at the church for several hours yesterday and last night setting up, so it's nice to have a little time to breathe.

Giving a bridal shower takes quite a bit of time.  I am realizing why bridesmaids are usually single ladies!  While I am glad to have an opportunity to bless my dear friend in this way, I have spent an inordinate amount of time away from my family this week.  Shopping, planning, decorating, and, finally, the actual party tonight.  While I was able to have 3 of my girls with me last night and all four of my girls will be in attendance this evening, I haven't tucked my boys into bed for 3 nights nor will I tonight.

In years past, school would have been put on the back burner as the children were younger and had to go with me everywhere.  Not to mention, they needed me in order to accomplish most of their school-work.  However, as they are able to stay at home without me and most of their work is independent, I am glad to say we are not far behind in any subjects due to my absence this week.  Also, I tried hard to make sure most of my errands and projects were scheduled for the afternoon when I knew school would be over.

While I like flexibility in our school days, to some degree, and realize that other experiences can teach my children valuable lessons beyond the books, when it comes to MY extra-curricular events, I try to make sure they don't interfere with my children's education.

This week, I received an education, as well....I found that I am truly happiest at home with my children.   I hate coming home at the end of a long day and realizing that I have no idea what they've been up to.  They do well, for the most part, as they know that this is just a season.  They receive my time and attention more days than not, so they are secure in my love for them, though they are often sad to find out that I will be absent for hours and not home to say, "good-night."

Right now,  I have the two youngest playing on the floor beside me, my oldest studying Google-Earth at the desk across the room, 3 kids playing a game at the kitchen table, and one who just left the house to go tend to the animals for a bit, but then she'll return.  All my babies in their nest...with their mother.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Why We Homeschool

The first few months of this school-year, I really was struggling with my ability to homeschool.  I have all seven children "doing" school this year and it's a challenge.  Truth be told, my five year old is still not having school everyday.  As we don't have to report our students here in NY until they are six, I seem to be putting that on the back-burner for now.

As I mentioned in my last post, my two oldest children's science was really a stress factor for me this year.  Trying to figure out this subject took me right back to my high-school days when every day was a struggle for me in math and science.  I was faced, again, with the fact that my brain does not fire when it comes to these two subjects.  I was feeling unintelligent & inferior.  Compound that with trying to juggle all the other children and their subjects along with household chores, and a few outside commitments, I really had to take a good hard look at why we were even homeschooling to begin with.

In our case, it's NOT because we think our kids are getting a superior education.  Ok, I don't think they are.  My husband thinks they're doing just fine.  I know my limitations and those get passed down to my children.  Many people can tell me that my kids are doing much better than their counterparts in public school.  I know for a fact, due to weekly exposure to our city schools, that this is true.  However, comparing my kids to the Rochester City Schools and a few peripheral districts is not a good and true comparison.  I know that there are, indeed, good schools out there where the students seem to be doing work far more difficult than what mine are doing.  I tend to compare myself to these schools and my children to above-average students.  So, my conclusion:  we are not homeschooling for the "superior" education.

We are NOT homeschooling to keep our kids safe.  I think this is a fairly weak reason to homeschool.  Yes, my kids are safer here at home and, as the years pass by, it is evident to many that the schools are a less safe place to be.  However, crime and accidents can occur anywhere.  We do not homeschool to keep our kids in a safety net against physical harm.

We do NOT homeschool because it's fun.  Quite frankly, it's not.  For me, anyway.  Granted, we have made some good memories and we have had fun along the way.  But, it is often grueling.  I often feel like a drill-sargeant getting my kids to stay focused.  There are tears, complaints, and weariness...mine and the kids'.  "What a WONDERFUL way to raise your kids!" is a comment often heard.  Most often made by people who have their kids in school for 8 hours a day.  No matter what styles I have used, I don't believe my children will ever admit to having a love for learning.  I do see that they love to learn new things, but formal school is a bit of a drudgery.  They don't dive into new chapters of their history with excitement and zeal.  They (& I) look at the work as something they need to get done before really having fun.  Homeschooling, in and of itself, is NOT fun.

So, why are we homeschooling?  My firm conclusion is this:  we homeschool for the spiritual growth and protection of our children.

Sending my kids into a public or Christian school will expose them to a world they are not yet ready for.  Some of my kids would do better than others as some of mine will do right no matter what while others are followers.  But, do I seriously want my kids to have their spiritual hearts that are still growing and planting roots to be bombarded by the wickedness of this world for 40 hours a week?

[I include Christian school because I went to one.  While the teachers did their best, things still happen when 10-20 foolish, immature, "Christian" young people get together.  I saw, heard, and learned things before I probably should have.  "But you turned out ok."  I want better than OK for my kids.  And, you don't really know me.]

"But," you say, "they will be exposed to it sooner or later.  Better to get them prepared now before they really fall on their faces."  Really?  I see the other kids.  I see their hairstyles and clothing reflect the world's values and not Christ's.  I hear the disrespect they have for their parents and siblings.  I see the desire to be accepted by their peers at school (and understandably so) rather than by a God they cannot see.

My kids are, indeed, exposed to the world and it's ways.  We go to a city school every week and teach their counterparts about God and play with them.  My kids hear and see some things, but realize that this is the way the world is and they see it as evidence that these kids need God.  They are not immersed in it where it becomes "normal" and a part of their own lives.

I do not make my kids look away when they see an immodestly dressed person or cover their ears when they hear rock music.  They have come to realize what is right and wrong - because they are immersed in the teachings of God at home - and they've learned how to deal with these things the right way.  We don't run away from situations, though we are cautious what we expose ourselves to - my husband and myself included.  Our kids DO have many opportunities to minister to and reach the lost.

We homeschool to get our kids ready for this world as soldiers of Christ.  We prepare their minds and work-ethic to be able to hold a job and support a family.  Dumb homeschoolers are not a good testimony.  However, we are not sacrificing 40-hours a week to allow them to learn the world's ways.  That's like trying to teach someone to swim while holding them down under the water.  They may fight and struggle and eventually succeed, but they will become a better swimmer when the obstacles are made clear and slowly introduced once they master the basics.  It takes hours of practice to be an Olympian.   I will not sacrifice those hours of Godly training to an institution that will just hold my kids under.

Will homeschooling our children ensure that they'll never turn their back on God or get themselves in situations that go against His word?  I would be a fool to think so.  We are just trying to give them the best training.  Just as the swimmer trains, in the end, it is up to him to go for the gold or to leave it all for another hobby or occupation.  However, the coach prepares him for what the swimmer needs in the hopes that they will be a champion.  That is what my husband and I are doing.

The ONLY reason we homeschool is to give our kids the best possible opportunity to succeed as godly men and women who please the Lord in this world.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting Help in our Homeschool

The weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders and the reason for that is, at this very moment, sitting at my kitchen table.  My biggest stress factor of the year is gone and my family is happier.  I highly recommend this cure for stress.

What is it?

A science tutor.

My two oldest are doing Physical Science this year.  This is the second year for one of them and this year wasn't proving to be much easier despite the change of curriculum.  My brain backfires when it comes to the higher sciences and maths.  By higher I mean sixth grade and beyond.  As soon as you begin mixing letters and numbers, my brain freezes.  When I see the Periodic Table of Elements, I go into a coma.

In addition to planning, preparing for, and teaching lessons for five other children, I was trying to find time to teach myself 9th grade science just so I could make a bit of sense while helping my kids.  I even employed the internet to help clarify our lessons, all to no avail.

Enter, our dear friend Katie.  She loves to teach.  She got through 9th grade science (more recently than I, I might add).  She's single.  She and my kids have known and loved each other for years.  She is creative and loves to do experiments.

Every week, for two hours, Katie sits at the kitchen table and reviews the previous week's assignments. The kids have to read a certain amount of pages, write down the main ideas, and answer the questions.  She explains and reviews for about an hour.  This is done conversationally and via games.  There's a lot of laughing along with a lot of learning going on.  She rewards the kids with candy or fun activities.  For another hour or so, they do experiments.  Today, in talking about calories, they will be making ice cream.  Trust me...I've never been THAT fun.

The kids have had at least 2 quizzes in the last 5 weeks.  My son received his first 100% of the year.  In the first session, Katie figured out exactly how each of my kids learn and has put that knowledge to use to benefit them.

My kids don't complain about science any more.  I don't have heart palpitations nor do I have such an overwhelming feeling of failure.  My responsibility now consists only of asking the kids if they've done their assignments and paying Katie every few weeks.  *sigh of great relief*

Are you struggling in a certain subject?  Seek out someone who has time and knowledge and a willingness to share both with you and your students.  It may cost a few dollars, but the success of your children and your relief will be invaluable.

Let me know what areas you get help in or if you're struggling to find help.  I would love to pray for you and your family!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Homeschool Helper App

I know I promised to let you know what I've been using for planning our homeschool this year as the Well-Planned Day software was a complete flop.

Maybe I should put that in all caps & bold....COMPLETE FLOP.

I'm not bitter.  Really, I'm not.  I'm over it.  Way over it. that you've been holding your breath for 4 months, I will tell you.  (If you've been holding your breath for 4 months, you have bigger problems than finding the perfect planner)

The answer is.... HOMESCHOOL HELPER for iPad.

First, I must say that my iPad has revolutionized my life.  Homeschooling, chore lists, weight-loss, Bible-reading, etc. - so much is on my iPad and I love it!

I had read a review of Homeschool Helper from SamsNoggin and I knew it would be one of the very first apps I would put on my iPad.  I am able to plan a month's worth of school in less time that I've ever been able to do it.  As I have a few children combined in their classes, the "copy lesson" feature is absolutely invaluable.  I type in all the lessons & dates for one student, then copy it to another's calendar.  Bam!  It's that easy.  

While I am able to grade and figure averages on this app, I have not yet taken the time to do so.

Every day, my kids click on their name, the "notebook" icon and up pops their calendar.  They click on the date and they see their assignments for the day.  They can check off each assignment as they finish. They have come to depend on Homeschool Helper to tell them what to do every day.  This is a huge blessing for me.

You can also enter field trips and extra projects.  I think I may utilize that more this year.  While we don't make use of more than half of what it can do, I feel it was one of the best app-purchases I have ever made - iPhone & iPad combined.

Which makes me only "complaint" is that it does not yet sync with my iPhone.  That would be a nice feature.

If you go to the Homeschool Helper site (which has been linked to several times in this post), you can watch video tutorials teaching you how to use this app.  As I believe it's pretty easy to figure out, I've never watched them.  However, there are some moms who are visual learners who may find these videos quite helpful!  In fact, the whole site does a great job in describing this app - much better than I.  In fact, maybe you should just head over there and ignore the rest of this post.

Still here?  I'll finish up...

How much for the planner that has changed my life?  A whopping $4.99!!!!  Seriously, you don't have $5.00 to spend on a planner?  It's not a subscription - it's a one-time payment.  You can't get a paper planner for that price!!!!

SO...if you have an iPad, throw the pen away, save your money on software that doesn't work or is overly-complicated.  Splurge a bit, spend five-bucks and get the Homeschool Helper.

There.  I told you.  You may resume breathing.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Negative Review of the My Well Planned Day Software

I have searched and searched for a negative blog review on the My Well Planned Day software that was released this past summer. While there are plenty of complaints to be found in forums and social media pages, there has not been one official negative review written....until now.

Back in May when I first heard about My Well Planned Day's software, I was excited. I could not wait to try it out. One of my favorite planners was coming out in digital form!

I purchased the Beta-version at a reduced price (the full version was going to be about $25 more beginning in August). Knowing it was in Beta, I was able to deal with a lot of the glitches as I assumed they would continue to get better. The potential of this program was fantastic and I waited for each of the promised updates to come to pass.

Sadly, the honeymoon is over. Not only for me, but for many users, as evidenced by Facebook and various forums.

At the beginning, communication was fantastic. E-mails, webinars, updates on the MWPD site about recent and upcoming updates were plentiful. However, since August, those things have dwindled to almost nothing.

While I first looked forward to each update, I began to dread them. Each new update seemed to bring about five new glitches. Every time a spokesperson would reveal what would be included in the next update, I would set myself up for disappointment as many of those things would not (nor have they, yet) come to pass. It now seems that most of the updates have been reduced to fixing each new glitch that pops up.

Where do I begin with the list of annoyances? There are several.

1. While the notorious IT is making updates, they may want to consider updating their main website. Back in August, it was announced that the program was no longer in Beta. Nor were the "updated" versions being dubbed "1.0, 2.0", etc., but, rather, that is was fully launched and would be continually updated throughout the year as so many computer programs and apps are. So, the software went from Beta to full-release with little change. To this day, almost 2 months later, the website has the software labeled as Beta. It announces the full-release to take place in August. Not only is the version outdated, but so are the "recent" updates. The last one listed is dated July though several have occurred since then.

2. At first, if I had a problem, it would be fixed almost immediately. However, I've had an issue with not being able to delete certain things for almost 6 weeks. I mentioned to them twice. While they've definitely tried fixing it, they have obviously given up on it. Clue #1,578 that they have way too many problems to fix.

3. This was a small issue to me earlier, but, small things are magnified when added to with other things. It takes a tremendous amount of time to set the program up. Curriculum and books are required to be added in before you can lesson plan. With seven children and the fact that the program has to "think" about each item added, it is extremely time-consuming. I have seen many people mention this, but, like me, they were patient as we hoped it would pay off in the end. I am guessing that this may be one of the reasons people are so very frustrated at the lack of progress in this software. So much time invested with little return, at this point.

4. I have kept up with updates, news, and problems with the software on the. MWPD Facebook page. If I had a problem, that was the first place I would go to see if anyone else was having the same issue. When the problems seemed to mount, so did some of the negativity on the site. The solution the MWPD staff had for that was to announce that any technical problems brought up on the site would be deleted as they felt all of those things needed to be e-mailed directly to their IT department. While I understand that the FB moderator is not able to answer all the tech questions, this didn't seem an appropriate way to handle such things. I've seen this method of handling things on FB before, and it's usually a major defensive move on the part of a business who is embarrassed by their failure in an area.

I must say, I liked how it was coming along. Many of the problems others were dealing with never affected me. My biggest disappointment is the fact that it is so very time consuming and many of the nicer features seem to be forgotten. Understandably so, with the amount of time they require to fix what should already be working. However, it just seems to be becoming more bother than I have time for.

In general, however, I am more disappointed with how the whole project seems to have gotten out of control and I have begun to pity those in charge. If one has paid attention to the various things said throughout the past few months, one would realize that the head of MWPD has simply bitten off way more than she can chew. Mrs. K publishes a major homeschool magazine, does interviews for an on-line homeschool convention, home schools her own children, moved to another house in August, and is now trying to develop what could be the most complete homeschool planning software ever. There are just too many balls being juggled and this one keeps being dropped. Either someone else is going to have to take over this project completely or, I fear, it will be given up.

I hope, for many of us, this planner will meet all the hopes and dreams of its developers and users. With time, it may very well do that. However, I think any one trying to rely on it this year may be severely discouraged. Maybe if we all backed off with our expectations, MWPD could really concentrate on making this thing great without having to put out so many fires. Then, when it's right, they'll forego the 2nd year subscription fee to all those who bought it this summer.

In the meantime, I'll post tomorrow about the new planner I've begun using.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pack Lunches for Home

I haven't posted here in a while and now that I am, I'm going to send you on over to another blog.  I don't normally do this, but I just have to pass this helpful hint along.

Jenna is new to teaching her children, but not new to homeschooling.  She was home-schooled from K-12 grades and is very aware of how much time it takes out of the homeschool day to prepare, eat, and clean-up from lunch.  With a need and desire to make things simple in her growing family, she has found it easier to pack the lunches for her children (& for herself).  This post on her blog gives some great ideas for lunches that are healthy and kid-friendly.

Take a look.  Try it out.  Happy homeschooling!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Who's Making the Decisions?

It never ceases to sadden me when I hear of women who are in total control of their family's homeschool. It doesn't matter the reason - single mom, widowed, or that's what they and/or their husbands have decided - all of these women have a difficult task in front of them.

I would dare say it almost angers me when married couples don't share in the responsibility.  I'm not talking about both parents teaching the subjects or grading papers.  I'm just talking about TALKING to one another, bouncing ideas back and forth, encouraging one another when there's a bump in the education road, & both being involved in the curriculum choices.  I've spoken with several dads who have no idea what curriculum their child is using for various subjects.  For some dads, the only involvement they have is telling their wives to spend as little money as possible and give the kids a good education.  *I will address this in another post in the near-future*

Marriage and parenthood takes two involved people.  That is God's design.  We are to work together in the raising of our children.  Couples often balance one another in many aspects of life, including academically.  For instance, I'm strong in the areas of English and Social Studies while my husband's strengths are in the subjects of Science and Math.  When we go to conventions, we seek out the curriculum choices in our areas of expertise, consult with one another, and then decide.  Normally, the one who is stronger in that subject-area makes the final decision.

If a mom decides that she wants to make all of the decisions for her children's homeschool, she is missing out on some very valuable insight from her husband.  If a dad decides that homeschooling is his wife's department, he is putting a very heavy burden on her shoulders.

Last week, I was planning on attending our local homeschool convention with our older two girls.  My husband had strongly suggested that, because they've been so diligent in getting their school-work done throughout the years, they should choose their own curriculum (with a bit of guidance from us).  While I never would have thought of that on my own, I totally agreed that it was a great idea.  However, in the weeks leading up to the convention, I had very little time to sit down and plan our day or talk to the girls about the various decisions they would face.  Hence, Thursday night found me at the computer trying to figure out what I was doing the next day.  I was checking out the vendors that would be in the shopping hall, trying to figure out parking in the city with my mammoth van, and getting stressed about paying $72 just to walk in the door.

In the midst of my hysteria, I realized that I had spoken to my husband a total of about 30 minutes in the last two days.  Because this is one of his busy seasons and I had been so busy running here and there with appointments and activities with the children, we had not had a chance to sit down and really discuss our goals for next year.  I realized how much I depend on my husband's ideas and feedback when I was suddenly without it.  I went to bed that night praying to God for direction while my best earthly counsellor was in a deep sleep beside me.

Early on Friday morning (the day we were going to the convention), I walked in the rain to the barn where my husband's office is located.  I knew he would be enjoying his morning coffee and having his quiet time.  He was happy to see me which, I'm happy to say, is normal for him when I make an early-morning visit.  I asked him what he was doing that day, knowing that the rain would limit any farming activities.  He wasn't sure and was eager to accept my invitation to the convention.  Immediately, I felt as if a weight was lifted.  No longer would I have to worry about parking and walking miles in the rain.  No longer would I have to text him back & forth like mad while deciding between two curricula.  No longer would I have to worry about how much money to spend.  My husband was, again, more than willing to take an active part in OUR children's education.  After that decision was made, I was able to tell him what I was thinking concerning next year's homeschool & we had that much-needed conversation in the quiet hours of the morning.

When I left the barn to head back to the house for a little bit more sleep, few of my questions regarding next year had actually been answered.  We still had to pay the $72/family rate for the convention.  I still had no idea what curriculum I would be purchasing.  But, my heart was at peace because my husband would be by my side and we would be making decisions...together.

As I think of it, the people who will benefit the most from our team-work are our children.  After all, we homeschool so that they will learn how to be godly husbands, wives, citizens, and servants of Christ.  Knowing that their parents are on the same page, supporting one another for their benefit is one of the greatest life-lessons we can teach them.

Parents, begin working together if you aren't already doing so.  If you are, don't give in to the false assumption that one of you is unnecessary.  You depend on one another just as your children depend on you - both of you - for their education.