Doubting Days

On days like today, I want to stop homeschooling and pretend I never started. I want someone else to take the responsibility of teaching my children and I want them to be accountable to someone else. I want someone else to not accept their bad penmanship and make them write it over again. I want someone else to mark their math questions and sigh that it’s the same mistake over and over again. I want someone else to get their stares and groans and moans and I want someone else to watch them sulk back to their chairs to fix their mistakes.

I know tomorrow will be different. I know tomorrow God will fill me with his grace and presence that I’m sure is there today but I’m too irritable to see it. Maybe tomorrow I will sleep in a little and be thankful to not be getting the boys up and off to school. Maybe we’ll start the day with pancakes and hot chocolate and read a funny story together. Maybe we’ll enjoy a nice hot lunch while watching The Price is Right and I’ll be thankful that they’re with me at home and we can laugh and talk. Maybe the learning that hasn’t been going well will suddently click and we can move on. Maybe the sun will be shining and we can go for a walk outside and hear birds chirping and lawnmowers humming and talk about the upcoming election and what to plant in our garden.

Tomorrow will be different but for the rest of today I would just like to eat a big piece of chocolate cake!

If you are having doubting days, please share and perhaps we can encourage each other!

Spring break ideas

Whether you’re homeschooling and need a break or your kids are in school and you’re not sure what do with them, spring break is a fun opportunity to mix things up.

When my kids were younger I made up a daycamp for the week and we made sure to ‘pack’ lunches and go swimming a few times and end the week with a field trip to the zoo. We haven’t done that in a while but I’m still thinking I’ll mix things up next week.

Here are some ideas:

1. If your kids can’t take the entire week off school, make your own personalized worksheets. This is really easy for sentence structure, grammar, and spelling. Rather than forcing them to learn a word list that has no meaning for them, draw on their favourite things for ideas. For my son today, I made him up a capitalization and comma worksheet where all the sentences were silly things about his favourite TV show. If your child needs penmanship practice, learn calligraphy together. A pack of pens at Michael’s will only set you back a few dollars. If they need reading practice, write a story for them and have them illustrate it. If they’re learning their letters, give them 26 sheets of paper and have them draw a big capital letter on it and turn it into something else by drawing on and around it.

2. Negotiate screen time with your kids ahead of time and push it towards the end of the day. I hate starting our day with pulling the kids away from the TV. I find it works well to give them that time before dinner.

3. Check out your local community. Try out a locally owned store that you’ve never been to. Tell them you’ve never been and they’ll likely give you lots of info.

4. Read a story together that you can finish before school starts up again. We love the Flat Stanley books, My Father’s Dragon, or a short Roald Dahl story (like The Twits!) for spring break. Read aloud regardless of whether or not your kids are reading on their own.

5. Go for a walk or play outside, every day, no matter what the weather. Then come home and bake together, or make hot chocolate or lemonade. Reading is perfect before or after a walk.

6. If you’re planning on doing a summer garden, plan it out and buy your seeds now.

7. Check out what the astronauts are doing in the International Space Station.

8. Go to the library and get books from a section you’ve never gone to before. Look at kids cooking books and easy craft books for lots of ideas. If you’re worried about math, there are tons of great math stories at the library that teach skills without feeling ‘educational’. Get out comic books or other light reading. Get some magazines for yourself.

9. Have the kids make lunch one day, including menus and prices. My kids LOVED doing this! They set up a little table and took my order and gave me a bill. Now my oldest likes doing a ‘mystery box’ challenge like on MasterChef.

10. Have your kids set up a pretend store or garage sale and price their things (assure them that they’ll get them back!). It’s a great way to learn to make change.

11. Don’t use the week as time to ‘catch up on school work’. Give them a change of pace no matter what their marks are like. Then they’ll go back to school with a more positive outlook. We are taking a break from our usual curriculum and doing reading and writing that is more of their choosing.

12. Cut construction paper or coloured card stock into strips (about a centimetre or 1/2 inch wide) and weave little baskets for Easter. I cut strips the length of the paper in two different colours and it makes a cute little basket that can be filled with chocolates or candy.

13. Spring cleaning! Open up the windows and doors, clean the outside of your windows, and get the yard ready for spring. If you’re snowed in, do your spring cleaning inside by going through closets and toy bins and clearing out old stuff. Show your kids the things they loved or made when they were younger.

14. Have your kids show you their favourite YouTube videos. Find some of your own to share with them. If you haven’t seen it, watch The Story of Stuff. Check out funny commercials to get everyone laughing.

With my youngest going away with his Dad for a few days, my oldest and I have decided to get out DVDs from the library of our favourite shows. We’ll be sure to make meals that they don’t like as much and go shopping for them for Easter.

Whatever you’re doing, have a great spring break!

Computer Programming

I’m taking a beginner course in computer programming so that I understand it well enough to help my son take the same course in the future. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the course (Programming for Everybody through Coursera), especially how each assignment is a mini-project in problem solving. I also like how it’s either right or wrong – no grey area here! I’ve found that programming has a lot in common with homeschooling:

1. If you want to write a good computer program, you first need to define what you want to do. Although this definition will not be seen in the actual program, if you don’t know where you’re headed then you don’t know where to start and you’re likely to write a bunch of lines of code that don’t get you anywhere. In homeschooling, we have overall goals for our children and then each year we set goals for each of them (with their help). Then we make weekly goals that help them get to their year-end goals. As Stephen Covey talks about in his 7 Habits books, “Begin with the end in mind”. If you write a computer program without a defined goal, you often end up with a page of messy code that makes no sense when you look at it the next day. Try to run it and it will be full of errors that you can’t fix because you don’t remember what it was that you were trying to achieve. So you have to start over. Starting over is easy with programming but not so fun with homeschooling; it’s better to set some goals.

2. When writing a longer program, it works best to check it at the end of each stage because the program will only tell you about one error at a time. If you finish the program without checking it, you may get an error that only occurs because another error occurred earlier that you are missing. In homeschooling, this translates to checking our child’s progress against our goals on a regular basis. I always have to adjust our year-end goals! We either get too much done, or, wait, that has never happened, we often go off into an area of interest and then I adjust our goals to fit what we are currently doing. Or we get stuck in advancing in writing or math and have to pause to develop skills before moving on. This is one of my favourite things about homeschooling; we don’t have to push forward, we can stall wherever needed to master skills.

3. In the programming language Python, you can place a hashtag before a line of programming to remove it from the program without deleting it. It’s very helpful in telling others what you were trying to achieve, it’s also a good way to remind yourself what was happening before taking a break. I also think of it as a check or pause for the program (not in the program – they don’t stop time) that enables me to make sure I’m on track. I think of it in homeschooling like taking a day off to do something fun or not doing math lessons for a week while we play games. A pause is a welcome distraction and a fun break from the daily and weekly routines. Too many #s in the code and it gets hard to see what’s actually happening, just like how too many breaks from routine destroy the routine and become the norm.

4. In programming we can write a ‘function’ and then call that function when we need it. Like in parenting and homeschooling, we have days where we are either distracted or ill and need to call on some old favourites to get us through the day. In our house, that was a few videos when the kids were little, or board games, or colouring pages, or a bag of my old toys. Whatever would help us still have a good day without just lying around in front of the TV. We can’t call a function for everything, and we have to write it first, but when we do need them they are really handy to have around.

If you have found other things that relate to homeschooling, I would love to hear them!

A Homeschooling Poem

We get up in the morning

And have a bowl of eats

Sometimes we like to sleep in

And eat a bowl of treats


Homeschooling is for us

Because we like to chat

About the planes in World War II

Or Yasser Arafat


You see, when you are here all day

You learn a thing or two

About how we are all connected

The past, the now, and you


We wouldn’t be right here right now

Without those who came before

We owe our lives to those who fought

In both of the world wars


Today our homeschool day begins

With pancakes and a verse

To those who fought to give us freedom

To you we owe our birth

Our Canadian Flag

maple leaf

This Sunday, February 15th, marks the 50th anniversary of our Canadian flag. As we approach the 150th anniversary of confederation, it seems crazy that our flag has only been around for 50 of those years. This week in our homeschooling, I had my kids research the Canadian flag online and they did a short video with their stuffed animals in a debate over which flag design to choose. They learned that there was strong opposition to Canada adopting a flag of its own. They learned that Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister at the time, fought against the opposition to push the flag through. They also learned that Pearson’s first choice for a flag was not the final choice; a good lesson in diplomacy.

Beaver Pearson

I couldn’t resist telling them about the greatness of Lester B. Pearson and how he won the Nobel Peace Prize but that’s just me. I can’t imagine being Canadian without our flag or our national anthem, which didn’t become official until the 1980s. Learning about how recently our flag was adopted was interesting to the kids, and made them realize how “young” we are as a country. We have an old Usborne puzzle of the flags of various countries and I think we’ll pull it out this weekend.

I am reminded of one of my favourite games as a child – the Match II flag memory game that helped me learn the flags of many different countries.


I think we’ll do a bit of a unit study on flags of different countries over the next few weeks – I’ll let the kids pick the country they want to do and then research why they have the flag they do. They can learn why certain symbols and colours were chosen and how much a national flag helps national unity and pride.

When we studied South America last year as part of the Tapestry of Grace Year Three curriculum, they drew the flags of all of the countries there and they loved it. It really made the sense of independence come alive and helped them understand why so many have fought so long and hard for it.

A New Year of Homeschooling

Next week marks a return for me to homeschooling both of my kids. My 16 year old went to high school for grade ten and the first part of grade eleven but we pulled him out before Christmas break because it was becoming a toxic environment for him. This is the first time in eleven years of homeschooling that I have felt nervous. I don’t know if it’s residual anxiety from the process of pulling him out of school or anxiety over the sibling rivalry that I have mostly avoided with one gone all day.

My boys learn in completely different ways. One is a book learner that read early, the other is a hands-on learner that hates to read. Both hate practicing, repetition, and review, but maybe that’s common to everyone (we all just have to learn that we need to do it I guess). The oldest loves history and Shakespeare and is critical of 99% of things he comes across. The youngest is good at math and science but has willed himself to hate anything that seems “educational”. Somehow we had a great homeschool experience and it was an adjustment to only have one at home, but now we’re having to flip back. I’m not sure I’m ready!

I’m also in full-on high school mode, with the youngest turning 15 in March. Time to plan and move into high school credits and documentation and doing what needs to be done for post-secondary. We are lucky to have a great facilitator who will be back in the spring for a visit, this time with both kids. But a month ago I was preparing myself for having both kids gone all day and now it’s a complete turnover to be planning to have them both at home. I’m so grateful! But I’m so scared!

In the end I know all that matters is that we follow God’s plan for us. If it takes the boys four years to finish high school instead of three, that’s fine. If they have to upgrade, that’s fine too. As long as they follow their hearts and continue to learn, then I’ve done okay.

I wish all of you a fantastic homeschooling year!

First Impressions

By choosing to homeschool, I choose to be in a minority. Others may spend the majority of their time with other homeschoolers and forget that they’re in a minority, but that’s just a mirage unless they happen to live in some utopian homeschooling village. When our kids were young, almost all of our social time was with other homeschoolers. I didn’t have the motivation or energy to seek out friendships with schooled kids unless they lived close by. As our kids got older and attended programs with both homeschooled and schooled children, our friendships changed as well. Now our kids have primarily schooled friends because there are not very many homeschool kids around that are in high school.

Regardless of who our friends are, our schooling choice puts us in a minority and we are highly visible when we take our kids out during the day, whether it is to the zoo, the mall, or the grocery store. I feel I have a responsibility to other homeschoolers to give the public a positive view of homeschooling. We may be the only homeschooling family that someone else meets in their entire lifetime and therefore they will base their entire opinion of homeschooling on us. Do we want them to think positively about homeschoolers or negatively?

Whether we like it or not, a big part of first impressions is appearance. How are we dressed? How are our kids dressed? Do they look happy and well cared for? Or do they look miserable and dirty? Of course we have bad days. On bad days where we’re going to the doctor and the pharmacy, I don’t tell anyone that we’re homeschoolers! We just do our thing quietly as we would if I’d kept a sick child home from school. We all have days where the kids are grumpy or we’re tired or not feeling well. Those are exceptions and we all have them whether we homeschool or not. But a large number of homeschoolers in the city where I live wear pajamas out of the house and don’t shower and don’t wear clean, proper fitting clothes. Clothes here are very cheap and kids don’t need very many outfits. There are second-hand stores, clothing swaps (very popular amongst homeschoolers!), and discount stores like H&M or Joe Fresh. It is also inexpensive to cut our child’s hair and almost free to wash it. We either buy clippers and cut our boy’s hair or go to a cheap place to have someone else do it. There is no excuse for allowing our kids to go out in public with ill-fitting, dirty clothing and dirty hair in their face.

I’ve had a lot of homeschoolers tell me that their child doesn’t like clothing tags or seams, or that they like their hair scraggly. Having long hair is fine but having unkempt hair is not. Would I trust a doctor or lawyer that has scraggly hair and dirty clothes? No way! I know many families of kids that go to private school whose kids don’t like clothing tags either but they have to wear the uniform anyway. My son had very sensitive skin so we searched a lot to find clothes that didn’t irritate him. We didn’t send him out in inside-out pajamas. No one should be able to tell that we’re a homeschooling family just because of how we are dressed. It is important for our children to understand first impressions and be confident in their appearance and how they speak to people they meet. It is one of our responsibilities as parents to teach our children how to dress, speak, and behave in public. I’ve heard of some homeschoolers that believe we should not take our children out during the day and I do not share that opinion. Our children are actively involved in their community, with their family, and in programs that keep them busy at various times during the week with a variety of people.