My husband and I made the decision to homeschool our 7 year old this upcoming 2020-2021 school year– a difficult choice for us. After researching the different types of homeschooling options, we decided to do a School-at-home curricula for her and sprinkle in some other types of learning.
If you are new to homeschooling like I am, finding a curricula that is right for you is akin to staring at all the delicious flavors of ice cream and trying to decide which one you are going to have every night for the next year.
By narrowing down to a style, it made it a little easier to choose a curricula because certain curricula aligns well with different styles. Since we were looking for a Christian curricula complete with lesson plans and spiral learning we decided to go with Abeka. They are well-respected. Lots of homeschoolers use them. There is an option for video lessons or parent-led lesson plans and the lesson plans are all laid out for you by the day. These were all things that we were looking for in a curriculum. Abeka will serve as “the spine” of our program.
My 7 year old is starting 3rd grade and my 5 year old would be in Preschool this year (we were planning to hold him an extra year). Despite their age gap– they both love doing the history and science lessons together!
Additionally to sprinkle in a bit of variety and because I love history, we will be doing The Story of the World. This curricula is a narrative tale of ancient civilizations and both kids absolutely beg to hear the next chapter. To augment this learning, I have found all kinds of fun kits on Amazon– digging up fossils and gemstones, papyrus and hieroglyphics kits and so far it has been a big hit!
To add a bit more of a STEAM component to our homeschool, we have also ordered some of the Kiwi co. crafts which allows them to build things together. The last few kits had them make a sweeper, a pendulum and a treasure box and map!
Finally, for music, we are simply continuing with my daughter’s weekly piano lesson over zoom and for gym, we are doing a unit on yoga (my favorite). Her community involvement will be through our church– for example, last week she was a lay leader and did fabulously!
For my 5 year old, we are doing some basic Abeka practice books, a unit study on space, dinosaurs and superheroes and he will get all the history and science from my daughter’s lessons!
Getting the books in the mail and all of the kits made me feel a bit like a kid in a candy shop– all of these fun resources for the kids to learn from. They were super-excited too.
We are almost finished with our first month of homeschooling now and I think the coolest thing about the process is that we are all learning together at times. While this year has been one that is challenging, I am hoping that the pieces that stick for me when I look back on our journey is sitting together outside on the patio swing reading history, or doing science experiments in the living room. Those are the memories I am choosing to take forward for this 2020 year.
What do you do in the midst of pandemic?
Well, you create your own fun. So what have we been doing as a family to help keep us all entertained during this unusual time? Let me tell you about our top 5 favorite family options.
While this pandemic has been challenging in so many ways, it has really allowed our family to have some amazing quality time together. While we enjoy the zoo and theater and all of the things we used to do in the summer, we don’t need to go outside ourselves to find fun. Family fun is here with us and we can enjoy just being together with each other.
In our homeschooling, we are working on learning a bit about the water cycle. You might remember the old kids hand-motion that show evaporation, condensation and precipitation. As we are learning away, making references to our new garden and delineating what is needed for vegetables to grow, my kids said, quite astutely, “so we have soil, and sunlight and we will be putting plants in there soon..but how will we water it?”
It sounds like a silly question because we could simply water them with the hose or with a watering can. However, as the kids quite brilliantly pointed out, we have quite a long distance from the hose to the garden and it turns out carrying watering cans back and forth with water is actually pretty heavy, tedious and time consuming. So we had to do a bit of leg work to get the garden functioning well.
Last year, when we had a contractor come out and tell us where a good spot for a garden is he also mentioned that we could probably put another line into our sprinkler system that would reach this area. We have a sprinkler system that covers our property but it doesn’t stretch as far out as the raised beds. So we had the sprinkler system people come and lay another line out to the garden. Additionally, they put a copper water spout so that we can keep a watering can right next to the garden and water the plants as needed without the trek back and forth.
There is something really amazing about how much planning it takes to create something so very simple. One of the few silver linings of this pandemic is that we would not have had the time to invest in this adventure otherwise. It is truly amazing to see the intentionality with which we are able to lay the groundwork for a successful garden. So far, it is working brilliantly — now for getting the plants in there so we can have a truly functioning garden! Stay tuned.
This past weekend was super-busy for this crazy zoo house! My brother and his wife are expecting a baby in a few weeks and we are all so excited about the addition of a new little one to our family. They live quite a distance from us back out on the east coast.
I reached out to my sister-in-law about the possibility of doing a baby shower for her (since I have some knowledge of zoom and had a plan of what that could look like) and she agreed. It has to be hard at this time when some in-person celebrations that would normally be so joyous and exciting are just off the table for so many. So this past weekend was the weekend and we did it– a small Zoom Baby Shower. Now I can cross that off of my life list–LOL!
Turns out, I am uniquely and strangely qualified for doing this kind of party. In my current work, I do a lot of facilitating of virtual conversations, and my first job ever (back when I was a teenager) I worked at a resort and led all kinds of games.
Let me just take a minute to tell you about this crazy job that I had. Picture it– a beautifully appointed resort situated in the gorgeous Pocono Mountains that was hugely popular back in 1970. Fast forward 25 years– that is when I worked at the resort. To say it was outdated, was a bit of an understatement. It was the cheesy kind of resort that had tri-colored carpets and heart shaped beds with mirrors on the ceiling. Back then, it was my job to help seat people in the morning and tell them about all the activities I would be running for the day. I ran billiards tournaments, board games adapted to big groups, trivia, pool parties and then in the evening, I changed into an evening gown and was the emcee for the band and ran games and lip-synch contests during their breaks. I had a whole lip synch routine worked out to the soundtrack of Fame. And, even better, I was paid waaaay over the $5 minimum wage at the time…to the tune of $8 an hour– which was big bucks for a teenager back then.
So, for this virtual party– I did bring all of my conversational and emcee knowledge to the table! All in all, it was pretty successful and so I thought I would share with you what I did in case anyone is looking to do a virtual baby shower in the midst of this pandemic for anyone they love!
There were a couple of things I was looking for to make sure that it could be successful.
With those guidelines in mind, I set out to create a template. The template was set around the four iMovie videos that I created. The first video was a Movie Trailer that is super-easy and quick to create in iMovie (called Fairytale). It requires a bunch of pictures of the couple (which I mostly got from their wedding pictures and pictures on Facebook and Instagram. The second video, was a pregnancy video. The mom-to-be is a fantastic photographer and did a great job of taking pictures of her growing belly during the pregnancy. For the third video, I requested 10 (but received 20) baby photos of each of them and created a quick baby photo video. It is always so hard to choose from those sweet little baby photos– and in my experience everyone loves looking at babies! Finally, the last video took the most time. I asked people to provide me with a 10 second video of some Advice– it could be parenting advice from your own experience, or something that you thought was important when you were growing up.
Then, I did some research into games. I ordered a bunch of cute pre-prepared games on Etsy and went through them carefully to see which ones could be done in a group format rather than individually. The key was to make certain that the games were engaging for a group and not just the individual. I also just wanted to make certain that I could pull up the game on the screen and anyone who forgot to print it out would still be able to play.
We decided on a Disney game that matched parent to child, a Who Knows Mommy Best? game that asked the mom-to-be lots of questions, a Baby Traits game– which traits did Mom want the baby to have from each partner and finally an Emoji Pictionary.
Format of the Shower
These are some unprecedented times and it breaks my heart that it is difficult for families to get together. I hope that this outline for how I pulled this baby shower together helps someone who was struggling with how to make it happen for someone else. While it wasn’t a typical shower, I think everyone had fun and it allowed people from all over the country in different time zones to be able to participate and share love and good wishes for the mamma-to-be. Good luck with your planning!
What virtual events have you tried to pull off during this unusual time?
During the course of this pandemic, my husband had to go to the doctor’s office. The person in front of him in line was dismissed for having COVID-like symptoms, so out of abundance of caution, we decided to do a little “in home” quarantine since so many of us are high-risk. He felt fine but right at the end of his quarantine, he reported a sore throat– one of the tell-tale signs of the virus. Not knowing what exactly that meant, he remained quarantined until it subsided. So all in all, he was quarantined for quite a while.
When you live in a household with so many people, everyone is usually pretty busy. But there he was stuck in the basement with his mask for a good long time, with nothing to do but work and television. So, he decided to help with the gardening dream!
Last year, we had to have our retaining wall redone and so we had some leftover materials that were removed. They were lovely rocks and at that time we had decided it would be a great opportunity to do something with them. We decided collectively that a garden would be the perfect fit for our rocks. So my Dad and husband did quite a bit of research to build some raised beds for growing some vegetables.
We asked the consultant where the best location for a vegetable garden would be. He suggested that there was one location on our property that would be perfect because it received the most sunlight and was unobstructed by the shade of trees. So, the location was set.
My husband did (of course) need some useful tools to do this big project. First he needed a jackhammer to get the excess concrete off of the stones he was going to use. Then, he needed a trailer (a small one) for the back of our car to carry the stones from the garage to the garden site.
He had to start by digging out some of the earth and laying the foundation with the rocks and could only go up so high with the rocks. He removed a layer of the sod and my Dad repurposed that sod filling in patches in our grass that had died or needed some replenishing. Digging down into the clay soil turned out to be more backbreaking work than anticipated.
This did offer some opportunities for our children to socially distance and dig in the dirt and find a variety of little critters– earthworms, frogs, bugs– all kinds of delightful creatures. They were quite helpful and excited about the idea of building something!
But my husband did the physical parts of the job. He moved the stones from the garage and set them out in the grass, like a flat version of Stonehenge so that he could see all of their sizes and try to fit them together like a little puzzle. One of the hardest parts, according to him was finding the right fit of the stones so that it laid flat.
One of the primary concerns they faced was the fact that we have gophers all over our property. They are so cute and absolutely the worst– they can tunnel underground and we thought between the gophers, deer and turkeys that see regularly, our garden simply would not have a chance. After some thorough research they jointly decided to put a some ground cloth at the bottom of the garden along with some chicken wire to keep our unwanted critters. (I will point out that they were told this was not necessary but decided to do it anyway).
All in all, he built two stone raised beds that look fantastic, the stones match our house and I am, once again, impressed with the creativity this pandemic has inspired. Stay tuned to find out what happens next with the garden!
We made the decision to homeschool our 7 year old this year. It was a tough choice as right now it feels like there is no perfect option– but this one is the right one for us, in this time, right now. We started homeschooling last week and it really went pretty smoothly– but rewind for a minute back to the last few months as we were making this decision.
Have you ever gone car shopping and felt overwhelmed with the choices? You know, you usually some kind of criteria to begin with–
“I want a van…” or
“I want a small economical car…”
Usually you have some idea what you are looking for. Well, in the midst of pandemic when I decided to homeschool my 7 year old– I can honestly say I had no idea what I was looking for. So what does one do? Research. Research. Research.
The first thing I did was call one of my dearest friends who knows all about homeschooling because she homeschooled her three children for years. Actually this past year was the first year she put them into public school– and then pandemic hit and she was homeschooling again. Needless to say– she is back at the homeschooling game. She gave me some great advice right away.
“Research your state and what is required — first and foremost and see if they have an organization that helps you out. Then, decide what style of homeschooling you thing aligns with your values.”
Hmmmm. That was not the answer I was expecting. I was hoping there was a really clear answer…like “use one of these 5 well-researched choices and you will be good to go.” Nope. This was going to require more thinking and research on my part.
So I went to our state statutes and read up on homeschooling and found out that there is one organization in MN that accredits homeschools. Hmmm– did I want to be accredited? Is it necessary? I really didn’t know. So I called them (HBEAA) and they were fantastic. They gave me all kinds of information about different resources and an overview of how homeschooling works in MN. What amazing support. I also learned that while I didn’t need to accredit, I could and they would handle doing transcripts, contacting my district and that would exempt my homeschooler from state tests.
Then I started the online search. So it turns out there are around seven different really different styles of homeschooling (as I could find.) I will list them below– with the caveat that these are not exhaustive explanations of the styles. These are short, sweet and to-the-point explanations as I understood them– I am hoping it might help the parent looking to get the lay of the land in homeschooling (as I was!)
Classical: a model that takes a classical approach borrowing from Greece and Rome and Socratic method.
Charlotte Mason: Christian- based short periods of study paired with nature walks and outdoor education which is often (though not always) used for elementary students.
Montessori: Based on the Italian educator, Maria Montessori, this style uses indirect instruction and lots of manipulative.
Unschooling: Based on John Holt’s model, this type of homeschooling is free-form and individualized for the child. Systematic teaching the basics coupled with the ability to question everything about traditional schooling.
School-at-Home: This type of homeschooling is basically similar to what kids get in the school system– you are just implementing it at home.
Unit Study: In this style, kids are able to explore thematically related learning throughout the subject areas and really focus on an interest or passion.
Eclectic Education: This is a hybrid homeschooling model that allows for flexibility in style and shifting back and forth among the different options.
Many curricula that you can find are tied to one of these styles of homeschooling. And, it seems to me that each style has its benefits and drawbacks. So I started thinking about what my child needs for her to be successful in education, what I felt was really important to me and what my needs were in educating my child. I did what I often do when making a decision– I made a list. I know, I know…not super exciting but very helpful to my decision making process.
Knowing my daughter and her learning style, she needs consistency and to cover each subject a bit each day. She needs a strong curricula in writing and a spiral curricula in math. I was looking for something that ensures that that I cover everything that is needed for her grade level (since I am new to doing this) and I needed a curricula that had lesson plans that were pre-set as I am working and don’t have the time to make elaborate lesson plans. It was also important to me that the homeschooling curricula I chose was tied to a Christian base.
So, in looking at our needs and my choices– the school-at-home model met my needs for ensuring that I cover everything that she needs to learn, having ready-made lesson plans and touching each subject once a day. But, I really like the classical approach in some ways too, and the unit study as well. Unschooling seems exciting to me too.
So in short, I decided (for my rising third grader) to use a spine of a curricula that falls in the school-at-home category and to augment that as I can with elements from the other styles. In that way, I make sure to cover everything, and if I run out of time, the other pieces are just icing on the cake. For my little 5 year old (who I am not officially homeschooling) we are going to do mostly unit study. I believe I can get him to write, draw or practice anything as long as there is a dinosaur or superhero on the page. I think we will roll with that!
Thank goodness there are so many YouTube videos and blogs from homeschooling parents who know what they are doing. That makes me feel better. As I embark on this adventure, I feel gratitude for the learning from those who have gone before me, making the road a bit easier to navigate and providing their advice and learnings. I can tell in this adventure, my daughter and I will be teaching each other and there is something really beautiful about that.
For those of you that are homeschoolers–what style worked for your family? How did you make that decision? Was it clear to you– or something that you grappled with?
Last week we started homeschooling. That is right. I am now officially an accredited homeschool. I filed all the paperwork, created my educational philosophy and methods, chose my curricula (which arrived a while ago) and figured out a plan for implementing the curricula and started. So, that is that. I am a homeschool. It still feels quite surreal.
Week one went pretty well. I was amazed at how excited my 7 year old was to start. Prior to this pandemic, she attended a private school (which we loved), but because we have so many high risk people in our household and because I like certainty in a year that hasn’t allowed for much, we decided homeschooling was our personal best option. On the first day, without my prompting, my 7 year old arrived at her desk fully in her uniform ready to start the day. We took official school first day pictures and dove right into the curricula.
You might ask– why start now? Well, I am working full-time and so, I need to make sure that I am not short changing anything or anyone. So we started early knowing that some days just wouldn’t work and that will be okay. We will have extra time if we start early and make sure we get all the work done (for us both).
I am reflecting on how lucky we are to be in a multi-generational living situation. With the support of two retired school teachers (my parents) in our midst who love kids, I feel really blessed to be able to choose this option. I know that finding an option that works for people is a struggle because it just feels like no option is ideal right now. But I am filled with gratitude that my kids are young enough that they are amenable to change and excited about it. They love to be with us and they have each other to play with right now– when play dates are non-existent for us and virtual meetups are all that we have!
Judging by last week, I think this homeschooling is totally do-able. (I am half cheering myself on and half convincing myself as I say that.) I feel blessed to have a child who loves being taught, loves to read and wants to be with me whenever we have time.
As you know, I am easing into gardening. Slowly but surely. I decided an inside garden might be the most effective kind of garden to have. After doing some research, I bought an aerogarden. The concept is that the garden grows in water and no soil and you add some miracle grow nutrients to the water. I like the idea of no pesticides on my herbs and knowing exactly where my greens are coming from. On top of that, we are in the middle of pandemic– I like the idea of being the only one touching my herbs. I realize I sound a little crazy when I say that– but it is true for me.
At first, my husband chuckled a bit saying “that little tiny garden…it should give you enough for a sandwich.” And, at first, I kind of agreed with him. But, it has been 54 days since my aerogarden has been growing and I think I have harvested herbs at least 12 times. Sometimes, I have so much that I can’t use it all! It is absolutely amazing! I have basil on pizza, sandwiches; rosemary on all the fish I cook and dill on a myriad of dishes. I even tried to go outside my regular cooking routine to make some thai basil curry chicken (which was fun and delicious I might add). It has been so successful in fact, that I may get another one. The plants supposedly last between 4 and 6 months and I love having fresh herbs on hand. For the next one, I might grow flowers or cherry tomatoes. Only time shall tell.
I have also had a number of cooking mishaps with my herbs. Last week I had so much basil, I didn’t know what to do with it. So, I decided I would make pesto. I was so excited…fresh pesto. I followed the directions carefully and the pesto was fresh and delicious. Then my husband mentioned something about making pesto and how you have to “be careful” with the garlic and oil …something about botulism. I thought he was teasing me. But a quick “google” showed me that in fact, he was not. Turns out you do have to be extraordinarily careful with your pesto. Live and learn. One website actually said with regard to pesto…”just don’t make it.” There were other things like “a novice cook could easily kill someone.” With that, I threw my pesto away. I have no desire to feed my family poison pesto and have a trip to the ER right now…in a pandemic. So sadly, all of my perfect poison pesto had to be thrown away for the greater good. Sad.
With that, I decided I would try something exciting with the mint. So, I found an amazing recipe for watermelon mint popsicles on the internet. I used our vitamix and blended a lovely concoction and froze my popsicles. While I really did quite enjoy my creation, my kids were not impressed.
“Could we just have a plain cherry or grape popsicle instead?” said my 7 year old.
“Something, tastes funny in this one…is it mint?” my 5 year old declared.
“It really is a grown up taste,” my husband said.
So needless to say, neither my pesto nor my watermelon mint popsicles were exactly a success. But that doesn’t mean I will stop trying. I am going to find some awesome recipes to use my abundance of herbs.
I suppose as we are trying all of these new things this year– some are going to be quite successful and others will be… well …poison pesto. But I guess it isn’t the outcome all the time, but the journey. I feel like I have learned a lot about cooking and gardening (even in my little indoor, fool-proof aerogarden). It is just another vivid reminder to enjoy the journey.
Pandemic. There are so many stressful pieces of pandemic. Since so many of my household members are in the high-risk category, we are really limiting our interactions with people and trying to find ways to entertain ourselves. One positive is that I am doing things I might not otherwise would have tried. It is not just me, it is also my husband and parents are who stepping outside our comfort zones and trying new hobbies.
As you know, I am gardening a bit- which is new territory for me. My Dad is writing a play. My husband is building the garden. My mom is constructing an outdoor herb garden and readying plants for the gardens. I am writing children’s books, creating a YouTube channel, podcast and blogging. The point is, we are all trying new things because we are stuck and home and any extra time that we might have spent exploring the zoo or visiting the lake, we are putting into our newfound hobbies. So that is the context in which this post is written.
So this happened. My husband, let me start again, my accountant-trained husband decided he needed to cut down a tree. Yup, a tree. A big one. One might ask, what qualifications does he have to do such things? The answer is none. He has no qualifications for such things. But I’ll tell you what he does have. He has an outfit. A bright orange, very official looking outfit, tutorials on YouTube and understanding of math and physics.
Was I nervous. Yes. Did I think he was crazy? Yes. Did he show me a drawing of why math says it should work. Yes. Did that help. No.
At the end of the day, we all stood and watched in awe as he fastidiously followed the YouTube video and and put the huge tree down exactly where he said it should go. I have to say, I am impressed. I think he is discovering a new part of himself that loves the outdoors. Between cutting down this tree and building our two new garden beds of stone, I feel like after 10 years of marriage, I am learning another side of my husband.
It is interesting to notice that in the midst of this strange time, we are uprooting all different kinds of practices that we once and and sowing seeds in new ways. I am curious to see what growth will come from all of this creativity.
I am wondering if the flowers were as beautiful last year. This year, I seem to have focused more on them. Maybe because my family is trying hard to stay put and life seems a bit simpler. Maybe I have had more time to be able to walk about the grounds when usually I am worried about transporting my kids in different directions. Whatever the reason, I am grateful that in the midst of all that is going on in 2020 that I have been blessed with an opportunity to slow down in so many ways, to appreciate my surroundings and to have more time with my children. Yes, it gets crazy when I am trying to work, homeschool and be a mom, but I appreciate that I have had a better work/life balance without my commute. And, with a small baby at home, it is wonderful to be able to nurse her rather than pumping. I never would have been able to be home with her this long if it weren’t for the uniqueness of this year. I know this year has been hard, and I want to make sure not to minimize the tragedy around us. But for me, I have been blessed with a chance to be deep in thought, to reassess my priorities and to reimagine how I work, what I do and to respond to that. For that I am grateful.
I mentioned how beautiful the grounds of our house are. Throughout the spring and summer it feels like there is a continuous show of beauty in different plant blooming. First we have the gorgeous flowering ornamental crab apple trees that appear gloriously every other year. They are followed by the lilac bushes, and the tree in front of our house. I have no idea what that tree is…but it is phenomenal when it is in bloom. There are a myriad of other plants and flowers that show up. Some of them I recognize like peonies, hostas and bleeding hearts and others I have absolutely no idea what they are called. Here are some pictures from a few weeks ago that show some of the natural splendor around us.