Monday, September 17, 2012

Sept Update

Little dudes are sick today, and so I'm taking a minute to update.

Ebby is doing great with doing his K12 work. Part of the reason is that it is fairly simple for him. If it were more challenging, he would probably be giving more pushback. Hopefully by the time he gets to things he doesn't know, he'll have a foundation good enough to support the new learning.

Bobo is doing better. He's still on the cusp of reading but not yet fluent. Once he gets there, I'm hoping that I won't have to supervise every one of his lessons.

This is always such a frustrating point - that point when you know that they will be a fluent reader any day, but they're not there yet. Argh!

Jojo is doing really well with the curricula I chose for her this year, and I don't think I've ever said that before. She even likes biology, and that too is a first. We're using one of Glencoe's textbooks. The workbooks that go with them have so many good "thinking" questions that she's learning it without any struggle.

Meme is getting used to doing more work everyday. She's not happy about it, but she is getting used to it. She was asked to take part in the National Math Lab. It's a program where she attends an hour long online class everyday in order to help build up some of the basic math skills. It's just what she needed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Don't Give Up

I think I was more tired yesterday than I have been since we started school. This is about the stage where my enthusiasm wanes and my desire to crawl into bed and read a good book by myself gets overwhelming. I’m not the most consistent homeschool mom, but I’m not the most consistent anything.  I can do most things for about 6 to 8 weeks, and then I want to do something else. It can be another project in the same general area, but I need a break.

To break this trend, I feel that if I can make it through to the end of the first nine weeks without breaking, I can make it through the rest of the year.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I’m taking this day by day.

We didn’t get everything done yesterday that I had planned. Jojo, Meme and Ebby did fine and got all of their work done within a reasonable time frame. I think Ebby was done by 1:00.

Bobo now, he’s a different story. He changed tactics. Rather than the slightly jovial defiance of Monday, yesterday he was outright defiant. “I’m not doing that and you can’t make me!” was repeated quite a few times.

Math was a particularly tough lesson to get through. We started the lesson at 11:00, broke for lunch, and didn’t end the lesson until after 4. Not including the hour lunch, it took 4 hours to get through that one lesson, and the lesson only had about 20 problems and a couple of online quizzes.
We were supposed to do language arts after that, but I was so exhausted from that massive battle of wills, I declared we were done. I admitted fully that he won that battle (not to him though), but I’m still fighting in this war.

This morning my tactic is changing. We're doing the least favorite lessons first so that we can  have something to look forward to at the end of the day.  Also, I need to remember that little dudes get hungry and we should break for snacks often.

I may be an old dog at homeschooling, but we all have things to learn no matter how old or experienced we are.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The First Monday After School Starts Blues

I don’t know if other homeschool parents experience this phenomenon, but I do every year. It’s a specific way the kids behave the first Monday after the week we start homeschooling. I could describe it in detail, but it’s pretty much outright rebellion.

It starts off with “I don’t want to do that subject, but can I do this subject twice instead?” “That subject” is usually math or language arts, while “this subject” is generally art or something like that. 

It’s best to nip it in the bud and say no, but there is always that temptation of letting them continue to draw random lines in their sketch book while you do something else, like printing out their worksheets. Yet, every year I have to learn that the hard way.

By mid afternoon, it’s grown into outright refusal to do anything, or at least do anything correctly.

Ebby’s lessons so far have been ridiculously easy. Not that I mind because it allows the rest of us a couple of weeks to find our groove, and I’m hoping they’ll get a bit more difficult. But yesterday’s lesson was the names of our body parts, and I’m not talking about the spleen.

“Point to your feet.” So he points to his nose.

“Is this my feet?” Normally I would giggle with him, give him a hug and encourage humor, but today is “Monday after the week school starts.” It’s been a long day, and this isn’t the first time Ebby or Bobo have with refused to do something or purposefully done it wrong.

So we enter this staring contest, which I eventually win, and he finishes his lesson within about 2 minutes.

Then, just a few minutes later, we have Bobo’s reading lesson.

“I’m just going to sit here and do nothing. You can’t make me read.”

“Okay. I’m going to forward the laundry, and you sit there . . . and do absolutely nothing. When you’re bored of just sitting there, come and get me.” I haven’t even finished loading the washer when he pipes up that he’s ready to read.

Well, I’m glad it’s Tuesday.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

One Week Down and About 39 More to Go

We had a wonderful first week! I may sound overly positive, but I’ve never used the words “wonderful” and “first week” together before. Usually it’s “good,” “survived,” or “somewhat productive.” But we actually had a wonderful first week.

With the exception of Thursday, which in itself was a lesson learned, we accomplished everything we set out to accomplish each day. The first two days we the boys did half of their lessons, Meme did nearly a whole day of school, and we figured out what Jojo can and can’t do in the morning. She can’t read in bed, because she simply falls asleep, but she’s not yet awake enough to do math.

Wednesday and Friday we did even more. The boys completed a full day’s worth of lessons, and Meme started stepping up and getting more done.

Jojo is still finding her own pace. She hasn’t been feeling well for months and months, with non-specific symptoms. The doctors haven’t managed to find anything, although she’s had a great many tests run on her. She’s starting to feel better, but neither her appetite nor her energy level has returned to normal. She’s a hard worker, but during the last few months, she gets overwhelmed easily.

It was a big accomplishment for her that she stayed awake during school hours all week, eat something at each mealtime, and actually get some schoolwork done. It’s a start, and I’m confident that she’ll return back to her normal, energetic self.

Jojo is technically my only homeschooler. By using K12, the other three are technically public school students. Only technically though. Believe me when I say that I have more interaction in their day to day studies while on K12 than I did when they were “homeschoolers.” Especially with the younger grades, K12 is very parent involved.

Other people have said this about me, but I don’t see how some families with multiple young children can do it. Mine are spaced perfectly apart for using K12. Meme is pretty much self-directed.  The only thing I do is look over her progress and push her back on the path with the subjects she tries to avoid. With Bobo and Ebby, it’s all ME.

Bobo is not reading fluently enough to understand the directions, and Ebby doesn’t read. We’re working out a good system. Most of Ebby’s classes take a few minutes for him to do.  We alternate between a Bobo class and an Ebby class. Bobo will generally do his off-line worksheets while Ebby does his on-line classes.

Then in the late afternoon, when Ebby is done, I have Jojo read to him or sit with him, while Bobo and I get 45 minutes to an hour by ourselves to do language arts.  My hope is that by the time Ebby’s work is actually challenging to him, Bobo will be reading well enough to do some things without my direct help.

My biggest worry right now is that my enthusiasm and dedication will fail.  It’s not a worry ungrounded in reality. Most years start off great, and then I get frustrated at the stubbornness of the children to do their schoolwork, the time it takes and everything else.  Once I’m frustrated, it’s only a matter of time before I start slowing down and letting things slide.

I’m determined not to have this happen this year. Part of that plan is being realistic in what we can do during the day.  I need to remember that homeschooling my children is my job. It’s okay if I can’t clean house, do laundry or cook during school hours. And if something has to slide, those things should be first.

For class planning: Meme and the boys have their classes planned and laid out for them – that’s the benefit of using the system.

Jojo, however, we’re still working on this year’s “class schedule.” She gets the flexibility that a system like K12 or Connections Academy won’t have, but we have to do all the planning.

We sat down yesterday to look through the curricula I have for high school, and of course I’m like a kid in a candy store. “You should do this class.” “Oh and this class is really important.”

She just sits back quietly; after all she knows me well. After I’ve filled a page with a long list of classes I want her to work on, I turn to her and say, “I’ve gone overboard again, haven’t I?”

“Yes, Mom,” she replies in her patient tone, “you have.” We sat the project aside so that I can clear my head, and we’re working on it this weekend.

Literature she has in the bag. She is one of the most well read kids that I know for her age. Only Algernon had read more books by this time, and Algernon is a prodigy with literature and reading.

I have the writing program that I used. It’s old, but it’s good. She started it about a month ago, and it’s working really well. So we’ll stick with that.

For math, we have a good solid plan for. Our plan: do it everyday. It may not seem like much, but it should do the trick.

Now here’s where I get overly enthusiastic.

Social studies. She really should have civics; as an adult I see the importance of it. Then world geography is important. We are more global now than we have ever been, so it is more important for emerging adults to know about the world and cultures. And economics. Seriously, how many of us would have benefited greatly if we had gone into adulthood knowing a bit more about personal economics. Then I found this great curriculum that teaches basic life skills. It’s actually called Discovering Life Skills. It teaches all those little things that most of us had to learn the hard way.

You see why it is wonderful that Jojo is so patient with me. I get like this every year. She let it run its course, and that’s about when we put things away.

We settled on:
·         Finding a science curriculum that she can work with. She hates science, and I think it’s only because it’s never been presented to her in the right way.
·         Limit social studies to one at a time. She may be able to do multiple ones this year, but not all at once.
·         Start some sort of test prep. Her eligibility to get TOPS (Louisiana’s general scholarship) is based solely on her ACT scores. The better she does, the more she gets.
·         Pick a foreign language and find a systematic curriculum to use. I think we’re about settled on German.
I have my homework for this weekend laid out. By Monday, I’m hoping we have a solid plan of action and that I still have the enthusiasm to push through until it’s not as exhausting.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Errands? NO!

Errands are not feasible on school days! The morning started out very nice. We all woke up early. Since I had been putting off going to the grocery since last week, Meme informed me that we were out of cat food as of this morning.  That leads to the question of going now, this afternoon or sending my husband to do it.
My husband is a great shopper, but the last time I sent him to the store for milk, he came back with 6 half gallons of ice cream. So, I thought, “Let’s just get it out the way.” 

We made a quick stop at the thrift store near the shopping place. We were in and out in under 45 minutes, which for us is super speedy. Then there was Walmart. It was still fairly early when we started, so I was hopeful of getting home before lunch and diving in to lessons.

I guess local schools are starting within the next week, because it was jammed with people buying school supplies. Between the crowds, wrangling Ebby who wanted to look at and touch everything, and the lack of open cashiers, it was after 1pm when we finally got home.

Meme, thankfully and brightly, stayed home to get some schoolwork done – she had a wry grin on her face as we left. but Jojo and I were exhausted by the time we got home, the van unloaded and groceries put away. By the time we got lunch and a load of laundry started, it was almost 3:00.  I managed to work on phonics with Bobo, but that was it.

I did however find all I needed for school supplies. I admit, the trip would have been much faster if I had avoided those aisles, but I did that last year. By the time I got back to purchase my things, the shops were out of everything that was on sale. With homeschooling 4 children, we try to get everything on sale!
So, no more running errands during the school day for us.  I remember sometime last year when waking up at 6 am on a Saturday to do grocery shopping seemed like a good idea. And I did it for several months. Now I remember why it was so appealing even to me, who is not a morning person. You just have to do things when the need to get done.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

New Starts - Here's to the 2012-13 School Year

It’s been a while since I’ve written. I took the summer off – well, sort of. We did school work all summer long, but at a more relaxed pace.

But it’s the beginning of a new year, and I’m starting it with enthusiasm, good intentions and a hope that we will get more done this year than last. 
August is like Mondays. I love Mondays! Each Monday it’s like you are given a clean slate for accomplishing things. It doesn’t matter how much or little was done last week, it’s Monday and it all starts at 0 again.

A new school year is like that. New resolutions. New ideas. New homeschool friends. And new books.

Update on the kids:

Jojo is still doing traditional homeschooling, or at least traditional “relaxed” homeschooling, which isn’t traditional, I guess. Are you confused? She isn’t under any outside obligations or authority at least.

She decides some things. Other things, like what books she reads, she has some say-so, but the book has to meet with my approval. I tried the let her pick her own books, but she refused to read anything but fluff, and not even good fluff.  Right now she’s reading the Sherlock Holmes compendium.

A few weeks ago, she and I both came to the conclusion that she needs some outside help. I’ve looked into the local community college, and she can actually take courses despite being only 16. Math seemed like a good start for her. I’m really good at math, but the explanations I come up with just don’t seem to sink in with her. Having someone other than Mom teach her is a good thing.

Speaking of which, it’s the second year that our homeschool group’s co-op is up and running. I’m excited about it. For years and years I tried (half-heartedly, I admit) to get a weekly cooperative learning group together. It’s a bunch of families where different parents teach different things to kids that aren’t theirs. I think it’s really important for kids to have someone else teaching them every now and then.
Last year, I taught drama the first semester and hands-on history the second. I’m switching gears here by hoping to teach yoga this semester. Then I won’t have any excuse not to do yoga at least once a week.

Now for Meme. I can’t remember if I said anything, but our plan from the get-go last year was to have her stay in eighth grade for 2 years. She was a bit behind on a few subjects, and pushing her to do more work than she is capable of would be more than frustrating. It could damage her desire to learn.

She worked all summer, mostly on Study Island. Study Island is a 3rd party service that K12 uses to help kids fill in the gaps for different subject areas by teaching them mini-lessons and having them practice with games. I love it. It allows the student to sort through different grade levels to find the bits and pieces that may be missing from their learning and practice them.

I’m more comfortable with her math skills than I’ve ever been. She doesn’t like math, but, other than myself, I don’t know many people who do. For a long while, she stubbornly refused to learn even basic math concepts, like the multiplication tables. It was not for lack of assignments. At one point (during a fit of frustration on my part), she was doing 10 pages, front and back, of math facts. She still did not retain them.

Our goal this year is to finish the eighth grade, obviously, and be prepared for high school. I’m hoping the high school K12 issues will be worked out. It’s a good program, but it can go very wrong if they let it.

Meme took the leap test at the end of this year, and we will practice that sucker all year long. Last year, in language arts and history, she did awesome. Not so well in math and science.  At least the test pointed out specific areas that she’s weak in so that we can build up those skills.

Bobo is doing fine. Like with Meme, we went in to the second grade with the intent of taking two years to finish it – at least two years at the longest.  He wasn’t behind per se. His birthday falls in September, which would in general make him the youngest kid of his class. So instead of being immature for his grade level, we started kindergarten work when he was 5 about to turn 6 rather than 4 about to turn 5.So he never did first grade.

Again with all the state rigmarole, he was placed in second grade instead of first. If it had been this year, it would have been fixed. But being K12’s first year in Louisiana, it wasn’t allowed. Last year, we took our time, going in to each lesson with the idea that we wouldn’t come out until it was learned. In language arts, that hasn’t been hard. He still isn’t reading fluently, but most boys that I know from my years of homeschooling didn’t read fluently until they were eight. 

He is, however, reading well enough that he can read what I’m googling for. Internet shopping for his birthday gifts can now only take place at night. When you think you’re going to surprise them . . .
Here’s to a new school year!! May it be full of diligence, industriousness, good learning and good friends!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Assessing LAVCA's High School - at least for the first half of the year

Good gogely-mogely! It’s been 8 months since I’ve posted. Obviously, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with my year with K12.  Can I sum up all that’s happened? Probably not even a little. But I can try. Let’s start with age rather than date.

I pulled Jojo out of K12 in November.  Her first homeroom teacher wouldn’t place her in 9thgrade, stating that unless she was in public school before and I had the records to show that she was in 8th grade the previous year, she had to be placed using her age.  Found out later that that wasn’t exactly true.  The teacher could have moved her back to 9th, and it wasn’t really that difficult, just a bit of paperwork. I suspect that she (the teacher) didn’t want the extra paperwork and didn’t care whether or not my child failed.

With all of our children, except the oldest and now the youngest, we’ve delayed schooling by a year. So she had never done 9th grade work. For some subjects that wouldn’t matter, but in English and math it usually does. All of this I explained to her homeroom teacher.  Her advice, muddle through it.

Jojo is my industrious child. If I give her a basic list of things to do, she’ll do them all and do them correctly.  She’s not a slacker by any means; she’s hardworking and perseverant (at least for a 15 year old).

Monday through Friday from 7am to about 5 pm she was in her OLS (on-line school) working. She would take a few minutes break for lunch, but not everyday.  She would often grab a sandwich and eat it while working. 

Let me go back and state what I didn’t know before school started.  K12’s K to 8 system is totally different than the high school’s system. For 8th graders and below, when the parent logs in to their own profile, we can see all that our child has done that day and all that they are supposed to do. We see which live on-line classes they have and when they have them. We see their grades, their progress and what they need to step up in.

And it’s easy. One click gives you the overview of that child. One more click and you zoom in on a specific subject, or even a specific lesson. For Meme’s work, I could track it daily, fuss at her when she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to and make her go back over lessons that she didn’t quite get.

High school is a totally different beast. I can’t really see anything my child is doing. It’s actually part of a different system and nothing similar to the K to 8 system. More different than, say, yahoo mail is to g-mail. You see the general similarities – yes those are the subjects and I think those are the lessons. Everything looks different. And the parent can not see what the child is doing.

Technically you have access to their profile, but the system warns you as you try to reach it that if you change anything, it’s also changed on the student’s profile. So if I looked over a future lesson, it would mark that lesson as having been read. I did this a few time and got severely fussed at by Jojo, who accidentally skipped lessons because they were marked as read. I could see the scores for some of the classes (not all), but not the tests themselves unless I wanted to mess things up on her end.

After a few mess-ups on my part – I was just trying to see how she was doing – I left her alone with her schoolwork. Of course I asked her everyday how things were going, and she usually said fine or groused a little about not liking one subject or the other.

Knowing Jojo, I was fairly certain that even without me looking over her shoulder, she would do what she needed to do. She does not shirk work. She may grouse about it, but she does do it.

For those three months, I thought all was fine. I knew that there were some administrative problems. Her homeroom teacher, after a month of never returning phone calls or e-mails, took maternity leave. Tenth grade then got an interim homeroom teacher. Then, a couple of weeks later, they switched to another homeroom teacher. 3 different homeroom teachers in 3 months.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal until you remember that the homeroom teacher is the liaison between you, your student and the school.  Again, just like in a normal school, your experience can be wonderful or horrid depending on the teacher you get.  Your teacher can do what is best for your child, even if it creates more paperwork. Or they can lie and tell you that there is nothing they can do because they don’t care.

Jojo got the latter.  I knew about this problem, but I kept hoping that as the year progressed, it would smooth out. I am a very patient and understanding woman.

Another huge difference between the K to 8 system and the high school system is that the K to 8 has their curricula pre-laid all out at the beginning of the year. It’s a generic standard curricula (don’t get me wrong, I love their curricula), that will provide lots of extra work for the child who needs it or give the option to skip ahead to the test for those who don’t. So in its generic-ness, it can be adapted for each child. But the lessons themselves are all laid out from the beginning of the year. The teachers are there to help, but they don’t determine the lessons.

K12’s high school is the opposite - all teacher driven. You child’s teachers each give assignments, grade non-multiple choice tests, and direct the flow of the school year for your child. 

From the beginning of the year, I knew that some courses were having problems being loaded. What I didn’t know was that, although her biology course didn’t load until the second month of school, her biology teacher was holding them responsible to “catch-up” to where they should be.  Some of her other teachers were doing this as well. I even overheard a teacher during a live lecture telling the kids that if they were not at 50% by the end of the first semester, they would not get a passing grade.

It didn’t matter that the child was working everyday on her lessons or that the children didn’t have certain courses for the first one to three months, the teachers were adamant that the students be at the half-way mark by January.

Mid November, Jojo came to me distraught, and I had no clue why.

“Mom, I’m failing all of my classes.”  How could that be? She was working 10 hours a day and weekends too. She had been telling me about her classes everyday.

“But you have the highest grades in both English and history. You’re at least not failing those.”

“I am if I can’t get to 50% by the end of first semester. It doesn’t matter what my grades are, I’ll still fail.”

“Okay. What about the other courses?” I knew that biology, math and Spanish were difficult for her, but she was doing all of her assignments. If she wasn’t passing, then surely the teacher would let me know.


“I’m doing okay in biology and Spanish, but I don’t get the math at all.  I’ve asked the teacher several times for help, and they don’t ever answer back.”

I sat down and had her show me around her OLS. She was telling the truth. Despite all of the difficulties, they still need to be at 50% by the end of the first semester.

“Several of your courses didn’t load right away. They’re not holding you responsible for that?” They were. Especially her biology teacher, who was the same homeroom teacher who never answered back, whose course didn’t load for a good month and a half and took maternity leave almost immediately.

Her father and I took several days to think about it, asked her many more clarifying questions and then pulled her out.

My assessment:

LAVCA K12 should not have tried to do high school their first year here. Although they were only dong 9th and 10th grades, they did not have the administrative or faculty support system in place to get that much done successfully. Why?

  1. They are based out of New Orleans, which is still half desolate. They had a difficult time finding teachers.
  2. They still don’t have a principal. It’s April, and they still don’t have a principal.
  3. The OLS (on-line school) had many, many problems for the first few weeks. There were days when we couldn’t access our classes. For K to 8, that’s not such a big deal. They have quite a few courses that aren’t solely on-line. But ALL of high school’s stuff is on-line. A day without the OLS is a day without the ability to get any schoolwork done.
  4. They did not have teachers for all of the subjects before school started. They were still getting their faculty together weeks into school.

That’s all I can remember off the top of my head, but I do remember there being more reasons that they should have stuck with K to 8 the first year.

Next school year, they’re going to offer 11th grade as well. My suggestion, wait another 2 or 3 years before trying LAVCA’s high school.  By then things should be settled, all of the kinks worked out and the support system in place.

Also, demand that they give your child what your child needs. Be that testing, moving to another grade or simply helping with assignments. If your homeroom teacher won’t do it, go over their head. Don’t be shy about demanding the help your child needs.