Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Busy Time

I blinked and April was almost over.

This time of year always takes me by surprise. You would think I learned by now, but it still is the most busy time of the year. From now to the end of May it will be one thing after another. Happy things, but too much.

The busy started yesterday with a trip up to my daughter's university for the senior art exhibit. You know what's nice? Hearing other students tell you how wonderful your daughter is. It's not just my imagination. She is wonderful!

Here are some pictures of her and her work at the exhibit. Click on an image to make it bigger. Please excuse the glare of the lights on the glass.

Riddle: How many apples grow on a tree?
Riddle: What has a single eye but cannot see?

In front of her display. She had stickers to give away.
She helped to hang work and to set up the reception. I'm glad we got there early, since the reception was incredibly crowded, it would have been hard to appreciate all the wonderful work her class did. So many art students and such a wide variety of styles. This school was a good fit for her, it allows the students to really find their niche in the art world rather than fit into a school mold. Many students already have illustration jobs ahead of them. My daughter? I think she should own her own gallery. She showed us around and really enjoyed talking up the work of her peers.

We are almost there. In three weeks, she graduates. But not before two birthdays, a comic convention, Mother's Day, and a parks event that I promised to help at. Because, you know, what's one more activity when you're busy?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Never Too Old to Homeschool

Yesterday was Siblings Day. This post is dedicated to my sister.

When I decided to homeschool, I knew there would be subjects where I lacked skill. Luckily, I had my big sister to rely on for the holes in my own education.

I remember calling her in tears because I couldn't figure out the algebra problem my oldest needed help with. She talked me down, and in the process I learned a little about algebra. 

My oldest was afraid of bugs when she was younger. At that time, my sister worked at the Natural History Museum in L.A. We took a trip to California, and she introduced my daughter to the museum's bug guy. Thanks to my sister and her entomologist friend, my daughter was picking up grasshoppers by the end of our trip. Large grasshoppers. We all learned a lot about bugs.

When my son showed ability with a camera, I turned to my sister for help. She is the family photographer. She emailed lessons to him with photo assignments. I emailed his photos back to her and she critiqued them for him. In the process, I learned a little about photography.

When we moved into a house, I was excited to start gardening, but I didn't know the first thing about growing plants. My sister gave me the advice and knowledge I needed to begin. I remember the advice that stayed with me the most: Every gardener loses several plants every year. That's how you learn what works in your yard. This gave me the confidence to not give up. Gardening is one of my greatest pleasures to this day. I learned a lot about gardening and composting from her and her husband.

My sister is always ready to share her knowledge and resources. You only need to ask. In the process, I realize she homeschooled me as much as I teach my own kids. Which is nice. You should never be too old to learn new things, and our family and friends are our own rich resource of knowledge.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Let Your Child Surprise You

My youngest always manages to surprise me. Our crocuses came up early because of a warm March. She photographed them. I never know when she does these things. She is a very quiet and intense thirteen year old. Like her older sister, she is very critical of her talents, but she does indeed have a gift with the camera. Here is a sample of what I found on the camera when I cleared some of my photos from it:

All of these are untouched and not cropped, exactly as I pulled them off the camera. I'm equally amazed because I have a hard time getting a clear shot this close up with her camera (my own camera broke a couple of years ago and I borrow hers). She is an incredible photographer.

When we give them the freedom and allow them the opportunity to explore without interfering, our children can really surprise us with their skills. How has your child surprised you?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Keeping Nostalgia in Its Place: The Past

Sometimes I like to show my kids things from my childhood: an old TV show, a picture book, a comic, a movie. It's fun to share these things with my kids; to see them anew through my children's eyes; to remember how they made me feel. 

For me, this is nostalgia. It is reminiscing about the past and sharing those happy memories. We all have those moments when we think about times or events in our past that shaped us into who we are. We remember the friends we had, the places we went, and most notably, our school experience.

Nostalgia about our school experience can be a reason for sending our children to school. Sure, we remember we had difficult moments in school--who didn't?--but those good times stand out. We were happy in school, and so we believe our children will also be happy there.

But is it fair to try to relive our past through our children? They are not us. Schools are not the schools of our youth. Even if we could give them the same classrooms, the same teachers, and the same experiences, it is no guarantee that they would experience it the same way we did. Our childhood is done. 

As an adult, as a parent, I strive for something better for my children. I want them to be who they are meant to be, not who I want them to be. I think the greatest gift I can give them is a chance to explore their world and discover who they are and what they can do. I decided to do it by homeschooling.

And for each of them, that meant homeschooling a little bit differently, based on their needs, not my desires. Because even nostalgia about those early homeschooling days are still moments better left to the past.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Help, You Need Somebody

I'm not good at asking for help. I spent my childhood needing help because of asthma and extreme shyness, so I think I went too far in the opposite direction as an adult. I like to show that I can do things, I can take care of myself, I can be successful on my own.

But it's not always possible, is it.

Sometimes you have to ask for help. I'm not good at that. My book, for example. So many friends and family wanted me to put out a book of my comic strips, I finally decided to self-publish a collection. I worked really hard at that book. I edited and re-edited. I retouched some of my earlier strips. I even had to rescan the very first strips I made, because I used a low resolution when I was learning how to post them online. And when I finally got it all together and put the book out, I was embarrassed to promote myself, but I was also embarrassed to ask others to promote it. The result of all this was that the comic didn't do as well as it might have, and I burnt myself out to the point where I doubt I will do the complete collection. Most of the strips are still available here, but I'm pretty sure I missed that sweet spot for publishing.

This isn't meant to sound like a pity party. I'm glad I had the experience of publishing and I'm grateful to those of you who bought and enjoyed my book. The main lesson I got from it is that I need to respect my limitations, and I need to ask for help when I can't do it all.

I find that a lot of parents in the homeschooling community are like me. Maybe it's why we homeschool. We want to do it all, and we don't want any help from the outside. But help is necessary when it is the difference between having a rewarding homeschooling career with your children or languishing and burning out and taking your children down with you. Support groups in your community or online help get you through the rough patches by connecting with others who know how you feel. Extended family and tutors can help with subjects you don't feel able to teach your children. Libraries were my way of finding curriculum without paying for materials (just return them on time). If you are tired, find a friend or family member to watch your kids for an hour or two and use that time for yourself, not errands. Asking for help is not weakness. It shows you are committed enough to educating your own that you are willing to look beyond yourself for answers to make homeschooling work for your family.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

You Can Lead a Student to Learning But You Can't Make Her Think

There is a lot to be said for interest-led learning. If you don't have your child's attention, all of the curriculum you throw at her has the effectiveness of throwing darts at a moving target while blindfolded. You might hit it every once in a while, but not with enough consistency to make either of you happy.

My own issue is that I don't fully understand my daughter's current interest, manga and anime. I try, but because there is so much variety in these Japanese art forms, I tend to miss more than I hit.

There was the time I thought she might like some manga guides that taught different topics like physics and  algebra. My reasoning was that I taught my son everything from math to English grammar using dinosaur-themed ideas and workbooks. I will never forget my daughter's words to me: "Just because I like manga doesn't mean I like all manga!" Her discerning tastes about the genre made it hard to hand her material and think she would look at it because it was manga.

Instead, I've tried to take a more active interest in her obsession. I watch anime series with her occasionally. Not as easy as it sounds. We have to watch them in the original Japanese because English dubbing is not always word to word translation. That means we have to read subtitles. Try reading subtitles in the evening after a long day when you already have the title of slowest reader in the house. But viewing it with her has helped me see what she is learning. If I know that, I can discuss it with her, and I can put the educational spin on it and add it to the quarterly report.

I admit I have not yet read any of the mangas, but I have been able to get her to tell me about some of them. She also discusses them with her big sister, which is great, because I can listen in on some of their discussions or get the synopsis later from my older daughter. I also found a magazine for fans of manga and anime that interested her. She's already complained about some of the reviews in it. I'm encouraging her to write her own reviews or write letters to the editor when she feels her favorite titles suffered an unfair review. At the very least, I can tell she is engaged and interested in what she is reading and is critically thinking about it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Finite Career of the Homeschooling Parent

There comes a point in the life of every homeschooling parent when you realize you won't have this job for much longer. It starts when you realize you don't see your friends in the homeschooling community as much as you used to. They are all off facilitating their teens' needs, starting jobs to pay for college, or enjoying their new-found freedom by taking up hobbies or volunteer work. You realize you miss these people who were so integral to your homeschooling life: your support system; your friends.

Today I saw a friend I haven't seen since the monthly Teen Game Night group broke up. Because I was working and she was preparing for an interview, I didn't have a lot of time to catch up, but seeing her brought back all the happy feelings from that time. It wasn't just our teens that needed the social interaction, we parents also craved that time when we could discuss things that non-homeschoolers just can't understand. Issues ranged from parents sending a child to high school after homeschooling, how to get into college without a transcript, to dealing with difficult spouses or exes that are not on board with the whole homeschooling thing. We shared laughs, we comforted each other, we offered suggestions.

And most important, we played together.

Usually we played Bananagrams, but sometimes we brought other games. Nothing too complex that would stop the flow of conversation. Our kids would play board games on one table and we would sit at another, within earshot but not interfering.

At some point, the meetings stopped. The leader started a job, her oldest went to college and her youngest went to school. One parents began taking classes. One family moved. I also started working part-time. Most of our kids outgrew homeschooling. Life happens. The group dissolved.

The friend I saw today thinks we really need to have a reunion. Another group of homeschooling friends does a holiday party every year, and it is a nice way for us all to reconnect. I hope we can work something out. It would be sad to lose touch just because our homeschooling life is ending.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Addressing The Social Needs of Homeschooling Teens

I have been known to say all children should be homeschooled during the middle school years. I mean that. So many adolescent hormones running wild in one place is unnatural. The young teen years are about finding who you are and your place in the world. Your body betrays you. You hyperfocus on yourself, and so you think everyone else is just as focused on you. I think homeschooling would give this age group space to breathe and relax and figure out what they want out of life.

Not that it's easy to be the one home with the teenager. Homeschooled teens seem to be rare birds that don't often flock together. Some are beginning to do things out in the world. They start businesses or find mentors in the community. Some focus on studies and plan for college.

I've gone through this twice already. As children reach their teens, they begin to disappear from the homeschooling group. My oldest managed to hold on to her closest friends until high school, then they both went to school.  She had other friends in our groups, but none as close. Then she got a job at the library and was just as busy. 

My son lost one friend to a cross country move, another to the ballet, and his best friend to studies and volunteer work.

It was with our son that I realized how essential computers were. He was more adept with the computer and better able to keep in touch with his best friend through online games they played together. He also craved the social interaction more than his big sister. Gaming and online social networks filled a need.

As the homeschooling parent, you do your best to fill their social needs. After all, everybody asks about socialization. But there comes a point where you can't keep arranging playdates for them. All you can do is give them opportunities to meet friends, whether those opportunities are in groups, classes or online. 

Now I am dealing with my third teenager, and it is no easier the third time around. Her biggest loss was her sister leaving for college. She deals with that by Skyping and chatting with her sister online. She also has social anxiety, so it's hard to get her to go to events unless she knows exactly how it will go. She had a couple of bad experiences with activities in the past where she's gotten embarrassed by teachers. I am learning to help her as I go and hoping I'm up to the challenge. All this while I'm dealing with my own perimenopausal hormonal imbalance. Look at that, I didn't avoid the clash of the hormones after all.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Love What You Do and Enjoy the Challenge

This week, on top of my regular working hours as a library clerk, I also ran a balloon sculpture workshop and storytelling for my homeschooling group. My oldest used to run storytelling, but going to college made this difficult, and her younger siblings had no interest in leading. This was also winter break in our school district, so it has been busier in the children's library as parents look for activities to fill their kids' days and as some of the children come in to work on projects and papers.

Needless to say, it has been a busy week, and the week isn't over yet.

But here's the thing: there is busy, and there is busy. Everything I do I choose to do, so even though I came home exhausted the past couple of nights, ready to soak my feet, I don't regret how I spend my time, especially when I can be with the kids.

Children are honest. They tell you when they aren't interested in what you are doing. It's more of a challenge to pull them into an activity and then keep them focused on it. I don't always succeed, but I appreciate that challenge because it helps me to grow. My storytelling workshops started as simply teaching and playing games to help children learn how to tell stories. Now that I do it every month, I found it necessary to expand it. Last month I taught them debate. This month I had them make up "how-to" instructions for a favorite hobby or to explain how to cook something. I recognize the need to adapt and change based on my audience.

Balloon sculpting is also only as fun as your most challenged student. This group was older than past groups, so I was able to do much more with them. As I went along, I talked about proportions and twisting and the fear of popping. By the end, everyone went home with at least four balloon animals and sculptures. I considered that a successful night and I was really glad I brought my son along to inflate extra balloons.

Enjoyment should not be a bonus to what we do. It's an important part of a fulfilling work life. I encourage my kids to enjoy what they do. That doesn't simply mean look for jobs that you think you would like. Every job, every career, has aspects that are tedious or difficult or not fun and that includes the unpaid careers of parenting and homeschooling. But we have the ability to decide if we will consider those mundane parts the deal-breaker or the challenge we will overcome.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What I Know and What I Thought I Knew

I try to always practice what I post, especially when it comes to learning. I truly believe that learning is not restricted to the halls of academia, that it is a lifelong process. I also believe that we always must be willing to learn new things, even if that contradicts what we thought we knew. Keeping an open mind allows us to grow and change across our entire life.

Adapting your thinking to new information can be difficult. Everyone has at least one subject that they think they are an expert on. But admitting you were wrong about something teaches our children that we all make mistakes and we can move forward from those mistakes. For example, I've been a backyard bird watcher for at least 15 years. I thought I was at least well versed in identifying my frequent visitors. Imagine my surprise when I realized that some of the birds I identified as downy woodpeckers were actually hairy woodpeckers. In all my years watching, I had never seen both at the feeders at once, so I assumed they were the same bird. Seeing them together, it was so obvious. The hairy woodpecker is bigger, about the size of the red-bellied woodpecker. Its beak is longer. The downy is smaller, closer to sparrow size, with a shorter beak. I felt embarrassed to misidentify such a common bird, but I was also excited to realize there was another species of woodpecker at my feeders. Ever since I realized it, I've pointed out the differences to my family any time I see one or the other. I am not one to let embarrassment get in the way of showing off the beautiful birds in my yard.
Downy woodpecker and her fledgling from June 2015. It's still hard to tell without seeing the beak, but the black barring on the white tailfeathers is more common with downy woodpeckers.

Learning should always take precedence over pride. Let your children see you are not afraid of making mistakes. Recognizing and understanding our mistakes is one of the best ways to remember our lessons.

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