Category Archives: Homeschool

Small Victories

David and I decided to homeschool our kids in March 2013 – the end of Max’s first grade year.  You can read the whole sordid tale here but one of the main reasons we made that choice was because of Max. Max was ending his first grade year behind in reading, writing, comprehension and had developed a stutter which was aggravated by stressful situations — like being at school.  Max was also VERY aware that he was behind and that he wasn’t good at school.  Nobody needed to tell him or point it out – he knew.

Our first year homeschooling was challenging – in a good way.  We tried a variety of textbooks, workbooks and learning styles. Some of them worked and some failed. My main focus was to help improve Max’s confidence and to help him gain ground in the areas that he was the weakest, handwriting and reading.  We put aside things like grammar and focused most of our energy in these two areas (along with math and the normal things).

At the beginning of this year I had the kids take the California Standardized Test (yes, homeschoolers test too – it is just not high stakes, not stressful, and kids aren’t sent to after school tutoring or summer school if they do poorly).  Max’s test came back with average to high scores in almost every category.  (He had only one low area and that was grammar.  Easy fix for this English teacher).  I shared the scores with Max, explained to him what they meant, where his weaknesses were and what we needed to work on this year.

We’ve continued our work. Max is learning cursive and where a year ago his handwriting was similar to a Kindergartner or Pre-K student this year his cursive is beautiful and looks like another child wrote it.  His reading has taken off and although he still tells me he can’t read even he is starting to realize that is a lie he can no longer hide behind. The results of all this labor – and love – came about two weeks ago.

IMG_7413Max was sitting on the floor putting his shoes on and he looked up at me and said, “Mama, how do you think I’m doing in school?” I looked down and said, “I think you’re doing great. You’re picking up your grammar quickly, you are a natural at math and your cursive is unbelievable. But that isn’t the important question. How do YOU think you’re doing in school?”  Max paused, looked up at me with those big brown eyes and said, “I think I’m doing GREAT! I’ve got this year nailed!”

And that my friends is the sound of success.

Public School To Home School: 5 Tips To Surviving The First Year

About a year ago David and I made the decision to pull the kids out of public school.  The uncertainty and anxiety we felt over making that decision was palpable and even David took to referring to it as our “grand experiment”.  Now, a year later I can’t imagine educating my children any other way.  The number of homeschool parents who start at public school and then transition is growing but not enough of them are talking about the transition.  As a result, here is a list of the things I wish somebody had told me a year ago.

1.) Public School Detox

As an adult you recognize that your children will need to adjust to the new school format but nobody says that as a parent you will too. It took us from August to December to “detox”.  Early on I had a homeschool Mom tell me, “keep in mind that you aren’t doing school at home but you are homeschooling – those things are different”.   We do not have subjects divided by times or spend hours on worksheets.  Life skills and school skills are taught interchangeably and sometimes math looks like a really long visit to the grocery store where kids are calculating ounces and liters and per pound measurements.  Sometimes social studies is a long discussion in the car regarding the welfare system while donating canned goods to the food bank.  Sometimes English is a book club or reading a series of books together as a family.  It takes a long time to release your grip and sense of security that reside in WORKSHEETS.   When I realized that I wasn’t giving my kids any better education than the public school system because I was requiring WORKSHEETS every day I stopped in my tracks and changed course.  Now our day is so much more engaging and eclectic and rewarding for everybody.

2.) Friendships Take Time

EVERYBODY will make you feel like a freak that you are homeschooling and that your children will be socially retarded because they aren’t surrounded by 16 other 8 year olds telling poop jokes.  This pressure will make you frantically scramble for new friends and in the first couple of months they won’t be found and you will feel like a social leper.  It took us a year but we have all met and made new friends.  Homeschool families that have similar schedules, interests and senses of humor.  And yes, perhaps it took a bit more effort than the hundreds of people who surround us during public school but it did happen.  I wish I had more faith at the beginning of my journey that this would happen without me needing to worry about it (and before I forced myself and my children into a dozen awkward social situations).

3.) Dangers of Overbooking

Related to #2 you will fear that you aren’t providing enough interaction and enrichment and so you will commit to EVERYTHING.  Do NOT do this.  I suddenly realized around February that I had booked at least one activity every day of the week and I began to long for days where we could just stay home and do school work. My advice is to designate two or three days and call those “activity days” and that is when music lessons, speech classes, tutoring, Co-op or whatever takes place.  I’m comforted in knowing that even well seasoned home schoolers still struggle with this very thing.

On the flip side, try EVERYTHING.  There are so many great opportunities for lessons and co-ops and clubs and we tried a lot of different things this year.  Some of them worked great like book club and others did not like Lego club. We have loved our co-op experience but there are some homeschool groups I don’t think we will join again.

4.) Goals

I mentally set goals for each of the kids.  Things I wanted to make sure they accomplished before the end of the year. It was nice to think, “well, I wanted to make sure we accomplished these 4 things, and we did”.   I wanted Max to improve his handwriting, his reading skills, learn to tie his shoes, ride a bike and learn his multiplication tables and he did.  He accomplished all of those things.  There was other stuff we accomplished too but to know that the key things were met made me feel like we stayed on track.

5.) Keep Reading and Reaching

There were lots of times this year that I felt like a failure.  I suspect that feeling won’t ever go away, but it was nice to have other moms, homeschool families, books and educators encouraging me along the way. On good days, or  times when we had breakthroughs, I would mark them down and celebrate them so I didn’t let them go unnoticed. Keep looking for those places of encouragement because you will need to go back to that well again and again.  Sometimes the perfect book or article or even FB post was enough to help me face another day.

I can’t believe we only have six weeks left in our school year.  I don’t know exactly when we will stop because I’m not sure when I will feel like we’re done, and perhaps we will continue to do some school things right on through the summer.  After all we’re trying to create life long learners and learning doesn’t stop happening just because it is warm outside.


As expected homeschool is not all rainbows and butterflies.  Surprising, I know.   The kids and I have had our share of run ins over doing their work, fighting with each other and the normal things that would be expected from children.  However, the most unexpected challenge has been the making of new friends – not the kids making new friends, but me.

I miss my moms.

I miss chatting in carpool and catching up with friends at those stupid school fundraisers.  I miss the circle of support that you receive from a friend rolling their eyes with you during curriculum night. The knowing glare when the teacher explains the daily reading log and you’re both thinking, “yeah, that will never happen”.   The communal groan when the sign up sheet gets passed around for  the third classroom party.  The community you feel knowing that you are all just trying to survive – together.

Don’t get me wrong, my friends – my real friends – have been incredibly supportive.  We’ve had play dates and phone calls and I know that they are around me supporting me in my choice, even if it is different from their choice.  That is real friendship – a friend who can still support you while doing something different.  But I miss the community of people who ARE doing the same thing.  I miss the comfort and confirmation from other mothers knowingly nodding their head in agreement and encouragement.

Recently the kids and I attend a homeschool event and as we walked into the room we realized that everybody already knew everyone and as everybody happily chatted and played we were left in the corner.  I tried to make eye contact with several kids and moms but most smiled and looked back to their conversations.  The awkwardness and isolation washed over all of us — Lucy, feeling it the most acutely. As we left having not a single person talk to us Lucy said, “I need a break from meeting new kids.  Can’t we just hang out at home?”

I slinked home feeling defeated and insecure.  Perhaps I was not the best person to teach my kids to make friends. Perhaps I made the wrong decision ripping them from the bosom of their friends at school.  Perhaps they will grow up to be social outcasts.

Wednesday came and the kids and I went to Max’s first speech class.  As we sat in the lobby waiting for the speech therapist another family walked in.  The mom tall with long red hair, a young girl with glasses, about Lucy’s age and their youngest daughter with long beautiful blonde curls.  The speech therapist arrived and the youngest girl and Max walked off to class.  I introduced myself and asked if they were also homeschoolers (it was in the middle of the day so it was a safe assumption). She timidly responded, “yes, this is our first year” – I controlled my enthusiasm as much as I could when I responded, “ours too. How old is your daughter?” She pulled up a chair next to me and said “This is Madison, and she’s ten”

Thank the Lord above!!

Well, Lucy and Madison hit it off right away with a whole list of things in common and as the mother and I chatted so did we.  As we walked back to the car Lucy turned and said “I made a new friend.”  Friendship is always easy with the right person.



The First Week Of Homeschool

We finished our first week of homeschool.  The anticipation and excitement has faded and now all that is left is the realization that we will be doing this every day. I thought I would share my top four revelations of the week.

1.) Stress

I never realized how much stress is added to my house during the school year until it was gone.  Lucy and I had developed a nasty habit of fighting every single morning of school.  It was a constant stream of me nagging her to get dressed, brush her teeth, brush her hair, get her clothes on, eat her breakfast, don’t forget her lunch, etc, etc.  Most mornings we were left with the bitterness of anger in both of our mouths as we started our days.  That is gone. Vanished. No more. And it is a welcome respite. In addition, was this intense pressure at night to hurry up and do homework, take showers, pack lunches and get in bed because school starts in the morning.  Although this didn’t always spill out onto the kids it ate away at me, this constant cloud of “they have to get enough sleep, did you sign everything? Pack everything?” The kids still need to wake up and get dressed and we start school at around 9:00 but since we are the ones in charge there is no bell to answer.  If we happen to start at 8:45 (which we did on Monday) then fine and if we start at 9:30 (like we did on Thursday) well that is okay too.

2.) Easier Than It Looks

This first week was pretty easy and with a little planning was not hard.  Most days we finished our school work by 1:00-2:00.  The kids had an agenda and worked pretty quickly through what they needed to get done.  Don’t get me wrong, we had arguments. Max had to write lines this week and Lucy got sent to her room on two separate occasions, but overall it wasn’t difficult to get them through handwriting, math and science without even blinking.  Unlike regular school we have so many more creative options.  Max woke up Tuesday not feeling well and so elected to watch a 1 hour documentary on the Mars rover (thank you AppleTV and Netflix) and built his own version of the rover out of Lego. Once he had perked up we went on to do math and his other more structured lessons.  Without the confines of a school the kids really take the lead in their own education.  Once we started our unit on outer space they came up with their own lesson ideas and activities.  Next thing I knew we were building alien landscapes, Lucy was creating a powerpoint presentation on the planets and we were searching for directions on how to make Mars sand.


3.) The Problems Are Obvious

As a parent you have suspicions regarding your child’s educational strengths and weaknesses, but unless you are in the classroom there is no real way of knowing. In a week I’ve learned more about my kid’s strengths and weaknesses than I have the last three years combined. The struggling that I knew Max was experiencing is actually far more challenging than I suspected.  However, his strengths in math and science were impressive and I was glad to see he has an area of confidence from which we can build.  To see how much he is still struggling in writing, reading and comprehension really reinforced the importance of our decision to keep him home.   Lucy is working at lightening speed and although I knew she was bright even I was not prepared for the speed in which she can quickly work through a lesson.  I had this idea that certain subjects I would be able to teach them together, but fundamentally I don’t think that is going to work.  Although Lucy is academically strong she has developed HORRIBLE study habits and we will definitely be working on fixing those this school year.

4.) The Reward

I love being a teacher and have found it to be an incredibly rewarding career.  It never occurred to me that I might find teaching my own children even more rewarding.  As a teacher you live for those “light bulb moments” – the moment a student looks at you and says “I get it!”  I can live off of those moments for days, sucking every last drip of professional contentment out of them.  I never expected that if I combined that moment with the love I have for my own children that that moment could actually be made better. The highlight of my week was overhearing Lucy from the kitchen yelling, “MAX! DID YOU KNOW THAT IT IS 365 DEGREES ON NEPTUNE? I’D HAVE TO TAKE ALL MY CLOTHES OFF AND SHAVE ALL MY HAIR JUST TO STAY COOL!” or hearing my kids discuss which letters they like to write while finishing their handwriting practice.  Wow, that’s pretty awesome.

I’m sketching out the lesson plans for the next couple of weeks and as of now I could not be happier with our decision.  I know that challenging times still lay ahead for us but I feel confident that we can manage them since we control our own educational destiny.

And So We Begin

As most mother’s prepare for the first day of school so do we – only this year the first day of school rests squarely on my shoulders. I find myself swinging between giddy excitement and absolute terror. After spending several months reading books on homeschooling and attending workshops I have come to the startling realization that homeschool is a lot like having a baby – people can tell you what it is like but until you’ve done it you have no idea.  The kids and I have been busy preparing the school room and although I wish I could tell you I bought all new furniture — I didn’t.  My biggest investment was a $40 book sling that I bought for Harper off of Craig’s List. Most of my time, energy and money has been poured into organization and buying books. I’ve bought LOTS OF BOOKS.



As public school families discuss teacher and room assignments homeschool families talk about curriculum selection. The one advantage I have as an experienced teacher is the knowledge that all textbooks and curriculum seem fantastic during the planning stage before school starts, but can quickly turn to crap midway through a semester. At the end of the day each teacher picks books and curriculum that plays to their strengths.  There are no “right” choices or some “perfect” curriculum that will magically teach any child.  Sometimes, as a teacher, you are simply making the least worst decision.  I thought I would share some of my curriculum choices.

Saxon Math:  I wanted a very detailed, structured and specific math curriculum because it is my weakest link as a person. Saxon Math has come highly recommended and I like the fact that it has a two steps forward, one step back approach to math.  There is a lot of repetition and building on skills.

The Story of the World:  My mother-in-law purchased this set of history books and I went ahead and bought the workbooks to go along with them.  These books teach history chronologically and with a classical bent.  This most definitely plays to my educational background and I agree that history should be taught chronologically – it gets too confusing when bouncing around.

Language Arts:  This is where I’m free-styling.  With two degrees in English I feel pretty confident that I can teach my own children reading and writing.  I didn’t buy a curriculum. I will use some Spalding with Max to help him progress with his reading and comprehension but overall I’m going to focus on a lot of reading books, a lot of oral and written book reports, and story starters.

Music: Lucy is taking violin lessons through the Music Institute of North Texas.  Max will start playing recorder at home this year and we have some field trips planned to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Art: I have purchased two used art textbooks that we will be using in conjunction with the free lesson plans that the Dallas Museum of Art provides.

Handwriting: I’m also using a daily handwriting practice book for both of them.  I have lefties.  They need more practice.

Unit Studies: We are working our science into our unit studies which will include Outer Space, The Human Body and Dinosaurs – for the first semester.

Lucy is also taking dance classes and Max will join Boy Scouts this year.  It will be a full year.

As a teacher there is joy in the planning stage of the school year.  Pencils are sharpened. Bulletin boards are tidy. Lesson plans are neatly written out. The vision of the school year is pure and pristine.  However, the reality of the school year crashes in and we do our best to dodge and weave – accommodating and modifying our plans along the way until the school year ends in a place we never could have foreseen. I know this truth and that is what frightens me.

The Reading Ranch

In January when I realized Max was falling behind in school and still couldn’t read the most basic of words I started making phone calls.  I talked with everybody ranging from Max’s teacher to an academic diagnostician (yeah, I didn’t know they existed either).  I called literacy clinics and psychologists and It was during one of these conversations that I was referred to “The Reading Ranch”.

“The Reading Ranch” is tucked up in a small building next to a home security office.  Max and I walked in and found a very small waiting room with a brown leather loveseat on one wall and two chairs on the other.  The walls were decorated with the appropriate western signs and art. After all, it is the Reading RANCH. Max and I barely had time to relax on the tiny couch when Ms. Kim burst into the room.  Her blond hair towered over her small frame, she wore jeans with a western belt buckle and the southern accent to go along with it.  She gently guided Max into a tiny classroom that was just big enough for him and Ms. Kim.  Thirty minutes later Max emerged with a Popsicle and a smile. Ms. Kim invited me into a private room and gave me her assessment. With grand gestures, and a sweet twang in her voice she explained, “WELL, he’s VERY smart.  He just needs some extra time with his basic phonemes.  Don’t know about dyslexia but I would like to meet with him privately for the first couple of months so we can get him caught up with school.”  Max and I established a date and time and left the Ranch.

I would find out later that Ms. Kim is no ordinary reading tutor.  She has extensive experience in education and is in the process of completing her PhD dissertation in phonics. She believes in small classrooms with two students and one teacher.  All of her students receive a lot of individual attention.

Every Tuesday Max would leave school early and we would make our weekly pilgrimage to the Reading Ranch.  I would sit quietly in the waiting room while Max spent an hour, alone, with Ms. Kim.  She would emerge and reassure me that Max was doing great and making progress.  Max, being a boy, would say nothing.


And then last week as I was tucking Max into bed he asked if he could read a book to me.  I complied and handed him the National Geographic book on sharks that he had picked out.  He opened the book and with ease and speed he read straight through the book stopping only to point out interesting facts.  I tried not to cry.  He read it AND he understood it.

This woman, married to a bull rider and sportin’ cowboy boots has in less than 20 sessions  turned my son into a reader.  This woman has moved mountains.  How do you thank somebody who sees your child not as a number but as a person? How do you show gratitude to somebody who every week told your child “he can” when he thought he couldn’t?

Max will continue at the Reading Ranch, at least for the foreseeable future.  He has now moved on to advanced phonics and handwriting.  However, it is his confidence and belief in himself that has made it all worthwhile.

Homeschool Decision Part 4: Time

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series regarding my decision to home school my three children.  Here are the links to the introduction, part 1 , part 2 and part 3

I confess that my decision to home school is not a simple matter of numbers and research. I understand that there are intangible concerns that can’t be researched and reconciled away.  These concerns start with, “aren’t you worried that your kids will drive you crazy?” and the simple answer to that question is “yes, yes I do.” I worry about implementing discipline in the classroom.  I worry that Lucy and Max won’t create an octagon of sibling rivalry where they act out every sinister impulse they have ever had towards each other.   However, I feel comforted that these obstacles will be overcome with a little bit of effort.

1.) Time.  The nice thing about not having 18 students, but only having 2, is that I can complete my school day in about 4-5 hours versus the 7-8 the school requires. This means the kids and I will be in the same room together for a short period of time.  This gives us more time for activities outside of the house like music lessons, gymnastics classes, bike rides, field trips, etc.

2.) Experience.  I’ve spoken with several home school families and I’ve read several books and they all say the same thing, which is that the first 3-4 months are an adjustment but the kids actually become calmer and more obedient.  This occurs because your kids are getting the constant reinforcement FROM YOU regarding what kind of behavior you expect from them.  Since children are naturally programmed to want to please their parents they pretty quickly fall into line. The other reason is that they don’t have the constant stimuli and distractions of 17 other 9 year old children.  The best book I read regarding these issues was “So You’re Thinking About Home School” by Lisa Whelchel (and yes, it is that Lisa from “Facts of Life”).  The book is a collection of essays written from different families who made the decision.  If you are thinking of home school, I would definitely start by finding and talking to other families who have made this choice already.

3.) I Actually Like My Kids.  One of the benefits of being an older mom is the greater awareness of the fleeting nature of time. I only have seven years left with Lucy.  SEVEN YEARS.  I have fifteen with Harper.  I have already lived 15 years almost three times over.  That is nothing and the idea that I will be spending more of that time with my kids instead of them being some place else is appealing to me.  The truth is I will be an old grandma and I probably won’t even be around for great grandchildren and so I need to suck all the fun and joy out of my own children’s childhoods.  I won’t have a second chance to do this.

In the end this is a very personal decision (like any other parenting choice).  Right now I feel that this is the best place for my kids.  Will I feel the same way in two years or three years or five years? I have no idea.  For those who want to learn more I’m providing you a list of links to some of the resources I have utilized to make this decision.

The Texas Home School Coalition – this is the Christian lobbying organization for home school families in Texas.

“The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child” by Linda Dobson – I loved this book and it was a great guide to what to expect that first year and how to prepare for it.

Penelope Trunk Blog –  Penelope Trunk is a career blogger, but she also home schools her two boys.  She also has Aspergers.  I like Penelope because she is very steeped in current research and like me, does little without first consulting the experts.  Be warned, this is not some warm fuzzy religious high moral home school blog.

SAIL – the Collin County Home School Co-op

PEACH – Plano Christian Home School Co-op

And of course, I must acknowledge the great support I have received both from David’s family and my own.  This is a controversial decision. For many people it is difficult to understand why I would do something that seems so drastic.  Hopefully this series of blog posts makes my thinking a bit easier to understand. If you still don’t agree – well, that is okay. We can totally still be friends.

Homeschool Decision Part 3: Socialization

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a series regarding my decision to home school my three children.  Here are the links to the introduction, part 1 and part 2

School is more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.  School is where we learn about standing up for ourselves.  It is frequently the first time we are exposed to people of different faith, values and culture.  It is also the place where we learn to challenge ourselves to succeed in an uncomfortable situation.  School is also where we learn about deadlines, timelines, and doing work because we HAVE to do it, not because we WANT to.   In other words, am I worried about my kids growing up to be socially awkward, insecure and incapable of functioning in society?

It is true that many people choose to home school out of a desire to raise their children in a societal bubble.  This is NOT what I want to do.  So then the question becomes how do you recreate this at home?  And are all home school kids really awkward and nuts?

The Numbers

In 2011, Dr. Richard G. Medlin, a professor and researcher of psychology at the University of North Carolina,  published a study in the Peabody Journal of Education regarding the socialization of home school students.  In this study he interviewed and surveyed adults who had been home schooled as children.  The conclusion of his study can be summed up with this quote:

“Home-schooled children are acquiring the rules of behavior and systems of beliefs and attitudes they need. They have good self-esteem and are likely to display fewer behavior problems than do other children. They may be more socially mature and have better leadership skills than other children as well. And they appear to be functioning effectively as members of adult society”

This isn’t the only study that has come to this conclusion but it is the most recent and is the only study that includes the survey of adults.  Statistical research is all well and good but how do you guarantee this is going to happen?  Like all things with home school it comes down to the parent.

Clubs & Organizations

My children will continue to participate in the extra curricular activities that they have already been involved.  Their best friends will remain their friends with play dates and other activities that they already do together outside of school.  In addition to this my kids will be taking music lessons and we will be joining a home school co-op.

The home school co-op we will be joining is a non-religious group of 400+ families.  This co-op organizes field trips,  as well as science clubs, debate clubs, boy scout troops, girl scout troops, 4H clubs, and other activities. In addition the co-op format allows me to teach the children of other families in exchange for them to teach my children a possible subject that I don’t know as well.

The Law

And then Tim Tebow happened.  For those who don’t follow football, Tim Tebow was the winning quarterback from Florida State University.  He was home schooled.  He was heavily recruited and scouted by college football programs due to his participation in a public school football team.  Recently in Texas the “Tim Tebow Law” was passed.  This law says that public school systems are required to allow home school students to participate in all University Interscholastic League activities.  This includes things like speech clubs, athletic teams, band, orchestra, choir, debate, etc.

In addition to this, it has been proven that home school children usually mature faster because they spend more time in mixed age group settings.  In other words, they don’t spend 7 hours a day only around other 8 year old children telling fart jokes.  Then there is the obvious, no longer will I need to explain to my children why we don’t allow them to watch R rated movies in first grade, or deal with bullying.  And don’t you dare tell me that bullying is just “part of childhood” that forces us to be “stronger”.  No, it is a part of childhood that creates detrimental self talk that we all live with for the rest of our life.

Okay, so the academics are solid and there are plenty of resources to support my children socially but I know what you are thinking.  Are you crazy? Do you really want to spend that much time with your children? And how do you even start thinking about educating your own kids?  Well, I will talk about all of that in the next and last blog post on this subject.  If you have questions please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will answer them as honestly as I can.