Cello Practice – Tears and Farts

We are so lucky to have an amazing music program here in Historic Northeast Kansas City. I want to say that first because, in the end, that is the most important part of this little homeschool story.

Em was in the first group of students to begin in January 2014 at Harmony Project. As residents in what is considered an economically depressed area of the city, all of the students who attend music class at Harmony Project are given free music lessons, equipment, and musical training. No matter what the parents earn, or what economic status you are, if you live in the community your child can participate as long as they maintain good grades, are well behaved in class and don’t miss too many classes.

After learning how to read music, participating in the choir, and being introduced to the recorder, Em chose the cello and received a child-sized, gorgeous, shiny new stringed instrument in August 2014.

Did I mention that this was all free of charge? Including the equipment?!

There have been ups and downs – in practice (which happens less than what is needed) and sometimes in interpersonal relations with the other students. In the first months of Harmony Project, Em was the ONLY homeschooled student. Now there is a total of five students who are homeschooled, while the remaining children attend public or charter schools. Before the other homeschoolers joined her, she was teased by the other children.

“You can’t learn at home, you have to go to school. Homeschooled means you aren’t learning anything.”

That lasted until she pulled out the multi-syllable words, led the class in modeling responsible behavior and won the hearts of the teachers. After that, kids didn’t tease her and she made friends.

Practicing has always been difficult, however, more so now that her training continues to accelerate 18 months later. And today, she was in tears, and not for the first time.

Her teacher is intense, but I know she also has kindness in her, as do all of the Harmony Project staff. Em was frustrated over her own lack of progress and worried that her teacher Ms. Ezgi would be disappointed in her. We talked about it, and she tried one of the pieces again, only to end up crying even more. “She’s going to be mad at me!”

“Ms. Ezgi wants for you to do well, Em, just as much as we do. And I know you want to do a good job as well.” I counseled her, “Would it help if I talked to her?”

She shook her head miserably. We tried another piece. As she played, I did what I promised I wouldn’t do, I sent a letter to the director, Ms. Carmen Espinosa, and told her of my plight…


Em was practicing today on her cello and was in tears. I feel very bad even telling you, because she asked me not to say anything to you or Ms. Ezgi.

Over and over we say to her, “The best way to get better is to practice.” She knows, and she is trying, but is very, very discouraged right now.

I know that the arts are demanding, and I will understand if the following request is out of line with the teaching etiquette, but if there is any way that Ms. Ezgi could take Em aside and tell her she recognizes that Em is trying, and improving, it would give Em the “atta girl” she needs to keep trying. But please ask Ms. Ezgi to NOT say anything about me emailing.

If this isn’t appropriate, I understand. I just want Em to stay in the class and learn more about music. She has such a love for it, but she is also a little girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and feels that she is failing Ms. Ezgi and the rest of the class because she cannot seem to learn as quickly.

I will work with her on practicing more. No matter what, please do not say anything to Em about me emailing you. She is determined to fix this on her own. I just wanted you to have a heads up.

A few minutes later, I received a response…

Hi Christine,

I really appreciate you telling me this. It´s hard for me to keep track with so many students…

I will talk to Ezgi and I´m sure she will have some encouraging words for Emily today. And we will all keep your email a secret.

And also… I know Emily is a very sensitive girl, and we know she is practicing hard. And we are proud of her. But please please please tell her that music is supposed to be fun, as frustrating as it might seem at times. The frustration should never overcome the joy of learning music, because if it does, something is not right, and we have to figure out what that is.

Let´s hope she gets more motivated after class today.

And please keep me posted… I appreciate it, because I really care about my students and hate to see them cry!

Thank you!


I felt so relieved! Just a few words of encouragement from her teacher will keep this little girl practicing more than ever.

As I read over the email silently, Em’s bow work across the strings of the cello made a distinct fart sound. We both had a good giggle over that!

This evening as I picked Em up from her class, I asked, as I always do, “How was class?”

“It was GREAT! Mama, you were right, all of that practicing paid off and I got all of the notes right and Ms. Ezgi was happy and she told me I did really, really well!”

Broken promises or not, that’s one I don’t feel bad about breaking. It was just what my little girl needed! Harmony Project, and its teachers and support staff are such a gift to our neighborhood. We are very, VERY lucky to have them!

p.s. I’m finally finding an approach that works when Em practices. I don’t know if this will work for other parents, but feel free to try it!

  1. Be Present – We are present during her practice. Either my husband or I sits and listens while she plays.
  2. Give Limited Feedback – I know nothing about music – I can’t read it and I have never played an instrument, but I wing it. “So that last bit right there, it seemed kind of hesitant. Or perhaps off. Do you find it difficult? Perhaps you can focus on that?”
  3. Encourage Practice – As a child, I was told I was smart, over and over. Which resulted in me completely losing it when I was presented with a challenge. Instead, I tell Em, “Practice and practice and practice. With repetition comes improvement.”
  4. Encourage challenge – When Em hits a part that she finds challenging, I often suggest she work on that small part a little more. “Choose what is most challenging to you, and play just that.” This hones her focus on the trouble areas.
  5. Encourage Honest Self-Assessment – Instead of answering Em’s question when she asks, “Did I do it good enough that time?” I ask her, “What do you think? Is it the best you can do right now?” She isn’t playing to please ME. I want her to reach out and stretch her abilities, and feel proud all in her own right.
  6. Mix it up – Have them play outside, in the park, for their friends, after dinner, or in different parts of the house. Music is portable and who knows you might meet along the way.
  7. Have FUN! – I’m taking Carmen’s advice to heart. We giggle when the cello “farts” and we revel in the long finishing sounds at the end of a piece she is currently practicing!
Posted in Community, Homeschool - Music | Leave a comment

Buzz, Buzz, Sez the Bee

Last week I took Em and her friend Emma (the two Em’s!) to see a free showing of Akeelah and the Bee at the Westport Presbyterian Church. They have movie night every 2nd Friday and this was the first time we had gone.

I laughed, I cried, and I tried to spell every one of those words. The girls sat in the pew in front of me. As the final national bee came to its suspenseful conclusion, the girls were clutching each other in excitement, eyes riveted on the screen.

“Pulchritude,” said the judge on the screen and I quickly recited it out loud.

We clapped along with the audience on the screen and grinned happily. Em had tears in her eyes. “I loved that movie!” She said, wiping at the tears.

“Me too!” I told her, a huge grin on my face.

It brought back such happy memories. In the sixth grade I participated in the school-wide spelling bee and nervously lost to the word carfare. I tried spelling it carfair.

The next year I made it to the county level, and the same the year after that. I don’t remember what word I got wrong in the first county bee, but I do remember the second…alcoholism. I stuttered on the ‘h’ and they thought I said it twice and disqualified me.

And then I was off to San Francisco, to private school, and they didn’t participate in the spelling bee.

After watching the movie, and smiling every time I thought of it and my own childhood experiences, I put out a note on our local homeschool group about it, asking how (or if) homeschool groups could participate.

And before long I was paging through the Scripps Spelling Bee website for details on how to get started. It turns out that for $145, our group of homeschoolers can participate in the spelling bee, all the way to the National Bee, if luck is with us.

Em is not a huge fan of spelling, so I don’t have any pie in the sky fantasies about standing next to her winning the National Bee. What I do hope for is this:

  • That together with some other interested moms, we can encourage those spelling-minded kiddos to learn more about a wide world of words
  • That we can help build better reading, writing and spelling skills through the study and practice of words
  • That we can jump into the etymology of words and discover some of the history and trivia behind their meanings.
  • That we will build everyone’s vocabularies and enjoy expanding our knowledge base.

So I’m planning on that for LEARN SCENE classes this fall, and possibly in the spring semester as well. Who knows where this could take us?!

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Kitchen Sink Homeschooling

I sometimes struggle with what to call our approach to homeschooling.

Calling it laid-back homeschooling somehow implies at least some small degree of laziness.

Calling it eclectic homeschooling seems negated by regimented aspects such as flash cards for math and spelling lists downloaded from k12reader.com

Organic homeschooling was a winner for a while…





  1. 1.

    relating to or derived from living matter.

    “organic soils”

But in the end, it just seems to include everything “and the kitchen sink” under the homeschool umbrella.

As I read from What’s Happening to My Body for Girls, Emily listened intently, while coloring in her new coloring journal from Aldi’s. As the text described the different parts of human ovaries, she colored in the words “Believe in Yourself” in a rainbow of colorful choices.

Her spelling list aced for the week, she puzzled over a math problem from Life of Fred Honey and we reviewed how 2 to the power of 4 worked. She wrote the answers down in the same notebook as the spelling words, her numbers sprawling over the page.

As I read from the Time Life for Kids reader Freedom Quilts, she added more details to a drawing of her new character Bumblebee and described her in detail, along with her alter ego.

We watched two TED talks – one about how the Litterati app is enacting social change while cleaning garbage up and about how there are only two hospices in the country for dealing with pediatric end of life. That one made us both cry.

The next day, we went on a long walk and picked up and filled to grocery bags full of trash and disposed of it in a public trash can. I find myself deeply invested in helping Em learned social awareness – championing the rights of the disenfranchised, improving our immediate environment by picking up litter, and generally promoting good citizenship.

And one of the best home runs came today, Friday, March 10th when I suggested she take all of the words she had missed on her first run at the spelling test this week and turn them into a story. Here is the result of that effort…

That’s a little difficult to read, so let me reproduce it, just as she has written it. I have put the spelling words in bold.

The Advenchers of the Sheriff

Vollum: 1

by Emily Shuck

onece there was a sheriff “Next week i will win the rodeo” said the sheriff the next day he packed up the wagon and took it to the train after a while the conducter said “sorry folks this is the end of the line!” “what?!! Said the sheriff “sorry but the railroad is geting worked on” said the conducter so the sheriffdeveloped a plan, on the train the sheriff had seen alot of wild horses out his window “hope yall got saddles!” said the sheriff smileing “why do we need saddles?” asked the other pasingers “you see them carbon life forces?” said the sheriff “we could ride em!” say the other passengers “yeah but do any of yall know the coordinates to the rodeo?” asked the sheriff. “I do! it’s to the south!” said a random person “grat!” said the sheriff after awhile thay came across a clearing in the trees and it was geting dark so thay decided to stay the night there. “i’ll cut down some trees for the fire yall can put the pit in one of the quadrants” a while passed and it was really dark the fire crackled and poped the sheriff looked up “wow an aurora” he said sleepilly the next morning “we shuld tack the charcoal!” said the sheriff. The End.

She has told me this is only part of the story.

If I had known how well she would have done, or how much it interested her, I would have done this a LONG time ago!

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History With Gramps

Years ago I picked up a stack of Time for Kids books on a variety of historical subjects. They have sat on my homeschool shelf and been mainly ignored.

I pulled them out the other day, some 20, perhaps more, and took them downstairs. “Dad, I’m going to put these on your bedside table and I’m going to ask Em to read them out loud to you as part of her homeschool each day.”

He nodded and I took a few moments to show Em. They started on The Berlin Airlift yesterday and today she read several pages of it. The books aren’t long, perhaps 10 pages in all. As she read, I tidied up and dusted, moving through the rooms listening.

Later, as we drove to LEARN co-op I brought it up.

“The story of the Berlin Airlift is fascinating. I didn’t know any of that history. But it makes me remember when the Berlin Wall came down in the late 80s. I can see why the wall was built, and why the German people wanted it to come down and the sides to be reunified again.”

Em nodded and then said, “Gramps corrects my words when I mispronounce them.”

“I noticed that. I guess that’s where I get that habit.”

“I don’t like it.”

“He’s trying to help you, Sweetheart.”

“We are taking care of him, though.”

“Relationships go both ways. Gramps is having nearly all of his needs cared for by us. I help him get dressed. I bathe him, cook and clean up after him. But we all want our place in the family. Even you want to feel helpful, right? You help check his glucose levels, fetch and carry things. He needs to feel useful too, like he is contributing. And Gramps knows stuff. When you read to him, he can tell you stories that will add to what you are reading and learning.”

She sighed. “But he’s annoying, Mama.”

“He’s annoying because you aren’t used to him. Be patient, be kind, and be firm. It is up to you to define your own relationship with him, but this is an opportunity for us all. Be open to that.”

In my wildest dreams (or nightmares) I could not have imagined this scenario happening to me and my family. That said, my dad presence in our lives, while annoying and stressful at times, is a reality. I’m determined to make the best of it.

Posted in Bonding, Homeschool - History | Leave a comment

A Life Well-Lived

Last night we fixed steaks, shrimp and sauteed mushrooms for dinner and enjoyed a movie and family time.

Because that’s how we celebrate Valentine’s Day around here apparently!

I had wanted to see The Arrival since before it hit the theaters, but life got in the way. And for the inexpensive price of $1.63, we got it from Redbox, popped it into the DVD player and sat back.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I will not give away any spoilers. Suffice it to say that it dwells on not just aliens, but the very real reality of death.

This morning I woke Em early. The home health nurse was on her way and Em needed a bath. Later, after the nurse was gone and we had both eaten breakfast I set her the task of reviewing her spelling words while I vacuumed upstairs.

We ended up doing her spelling list there in her bedroom and afterwards we got in a cuddle we hadn’t had time for earlier. Em has finally stopped asking to sleep in our bed, but she does love cuddling with me first thing in the morning or right before bedtime.

As we lay there I found myself thinking of the movie. I told Em, “If I am very lucky, you will live a long, long time after I die. And I hope that you do. I hope that you have a long life, full of love and happiness and children and even grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

Em said, “Well, if I don’t, then I hope I die soon after you.” She paused, “I want to believe that there is a pit stop, where we go after we die, but before we go into another body and another life. If there is, will you wait for me there? So I can see you again?”

“You got it, kiddo. I’ll wait there, just for you.”

“I hope I am there when you die, Mama, so you aren’t alone.”

“Me too, baby. I can’t think of anything I would want more.”

She started to cry.

“Death is scary, isn’t it?” I asked her.


“Well, it gets a little easier the older you get. It was super-scary when I was a kid. Now it isn’t quite as scary. We all die some day. That is a reality for each and every one of us.”

She snuggled closer.

“The important thing, the MOST important thing is to live your life WELL. Be kind, love others, make them laugh and smile and feel amazing. Learn lots of cool stuff. Enjoy your life.” We snuggled close, “Life is too short. Choose well.”

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Caretaking as Part of Our Eclectic Curriculum

Long time, no post!

Four days after my last post I was getting that fateful call – “Your dad is in a hospital in Panama and he is in bad shape.”

Two days later, on December 21st, I was flying out of the country for the first time. Eleven days after that, Dad and I flew home to the States.

It’s been a month now and a schedule of sorts is beginning to fall into place.

Each time I’ve tried to adhere to a more rigid curriculum in homeschooling, it has exploded in my face. Perhaps it was merely the groundwork being laid for what was to come.

Eclectic homeschooling has never been more necessary and useful than it is now.

As I see it, becoming my dad’s caretaker has benefited our family in a number of ways. Not only does it help him, but it has encouraged me to make a few changes in Em’s daily schedule that benefits all of us. She is now involved in:

  • Coaching/encouraging/directing him to do his daily physical therapy exercises
  • Helping monitor his blood glucose levels (we have all learned to do this, even my needle-phobic husband)
  • Clean up after meals (she is responsible for loading the dishwasher)
  • Helping wash laundry (good living skills)
  • Reading aloud to him (language arts!)
  • Engaging him by watching science and nature documentaries together

Today, when a physical therapist from the home health agency was incorporating some new exercises into his daily regimen, we discussed muscle groups and looked them up in the Anatomy Coloring Book.

anatomy coloring book

The speech therapist has been by to work with him on his cognitive skills and suggested he would benefit from flash cards, so I pulled out some of the flash cards we have been working on. Despite having some delays and mistakes due to hitting his head twice, he was faster than her in the flash card competition.I held up the individual flash cards (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) and read off each problem out loud since he can’t see well. At times they were neck and neck, but eventually, he pulled ahead. However, I can see that changing quickly in the weeks to come.

Involving her in his care teaches her valuable life skills as well. It teaches her empathy, patience, and persistence.

I have always believed that children can and should benefit from the presence of grandparents in their daily lives. Dad’s needs are pretty high right now, but that is forcing me to be quite organized and have well-planned days. Slowly I’m adding back in the homeschool basics, and opening ourselves to learning opportunities like the one with the physical therapist today.

I am determined not to let Em’s homeschooling be sacrificed or subsumed by my new role as Dad’s caretaker. As always, we continue to strive towards a decent balance.

Posted in Challenges, Unschooling | Leave a comment

Do We Have Mastery?

Talking About Mastery

I watched a TED talk by Sal Khan a couple of months ago and I have been referring back to it, time and again, ever since. You can watch it here.

Much of the homeschooling we do on a daily basis involves frank discussions. I don’t beat around the bush, I don’t hold back much, and I’m far too busy to delve into the business of figuring out how to trick my child into learning.

Instead, I’ve explained to her that her life will be spent learning new things. That this learning doesn’t magically stop when she leaves this house, or after college, and that she shouldn’t want it to.

Yes, there are boring parts of it, but overall, our job is to open ourselves to the adventure of learning, not fight it, and we should try to get the most out of each and every experience that we possibly can.

So I broached this concept of mastery, multiple times, over the past couple of months. When she came to me complaining about the cursive practice she had left to do, I asked, “Have you mastered the letter?” She looked at me and said, “I don’t know. Have I? What do you think?”

She tried to show me what she had written and I just stared back at her. “Yes, you do know. YOU know perfectly well if you have done it to mastery or not. You don’t need me to tell you, you can see it for yourself. So I ask you again, have you mastered the letter?”

She looked down at the page and it clicked. And I do mean clicked. It wasn’t about making me happy. She walked away, sat down, and began filling the page. And after about ten or fifteen minutes of quiet, where only the light sound of her pencil on the page could be heard, she returned, a proud, confident smile on her face.

“Look Mama, I’ve achieved mastery.” The page was filled with more examples than I had ever seen and she was proud of her work. We have had to revisit this concept a couple more times, but now, as she nears the end of her cursive book (just four more letters to learn!) her writing has improved. More importantly, her pride in her work has improved.

Science in the ‘Hood

Today, as we were listening to Story of the World on CD (thank you Lara Hampton, we are really enjoying the CDs) in the art room, I ran across Em’s science experiment. Another friend had brought us Disgusting Science a couple of months ago (thank you Dorri Partain!) and Em pulled it out and reviewed the instructions on one of the experiments.

Pretty soon she had prepared the solution and I had helped her grind up a multivitamin while she took samples to add to the solution. The first few days we had remembered to check on the samples, but they had been forgotten for a week, possibly two. You can see the video here.

Homeschooling These Days

When I realized Time4Learning was not working for us, I was pretty bummed. But it is easier to work with Emily, than it is to try and force her to do what she doesn’t want to do.

We had some frank discussions about homeschooling and settled on an eclectic curriculum that included a core set of studies. I explained the need for each, and we renamed them “The Basics.” They are as follows:

  • Grade-appropriate spelling lists – one list per week
  • Creative Writing through Rip the Page and Leap Write In and Write Back Soon
  • Daily reading
  • Social studies using Story of the World on CD. Once we make it through all four books on CD I might try and locate Don’t Know Much About History on CD as well since Em seems to really enjoy listening while we work on art projects.
  • Cursive – almost done learning the letters and then it will just be some basic practice
  • Math – flash cards – addition through division – I’ll keep doing these with her until she has full mastery. Then we will look at Khan Academy and Life of Fred math.
  • Art – eclectic and interest-driven
  • Science – also rather eclectic and interest-driven – this doesn’t happen every day
  • French – using the DuoLingo app
  • Typing practice – she has learned the keyboard, now she just needs to increase her speed
  • Living Skills – cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing, money and more
  • Music – This is all Harmony Project, but I hope to branch out to include friends who know music. What I would give for jam sessions in my house! If you love making music, just head my way.

And finally, FINALLY, we seem to have a good system in place. One in which we can complete work in 2-3 hours at most, stick to a decent schedule of learning four days per week, and Em seems to be flourishing.

We set a firm “no computers or television before 5 p.m.” rule in place and it has been well received. She plays in her room or reads after finishing her homeschool basics.

Doubling Up

On Monday of this week, however, Em had an issue.

“Mama, everyone I know is getting two weeks off for Christmas. But you said we are only getting ONE.”

“If you want to double up on your basics, we could get them all done this week.”

She thought about it for a few minutes and said, “Yes, I want to do that.”

So we have doubled up on many, but not all things. Flash cards, for example, are still just one pack a day. And she is planning on handling the last of her cursive lessons next week instead of this one. She pulled off learning 32 new spelling words this week (Week 15 & Week 16 of the 4th grade spelling lists) and she has plowed through Social Studies. 

And I have to say, I love this age. She is soaking in knowledge, learning something new each day, and she is so open to the experience. I am feeling as if we have finally achieved an equilibrium of sorts – one in which Emily is the principal architect of her learning adventures. I am merely the support staff.

It is as it should be!

Posted in Homeschool - General | Comments Off on Do We Have Mastery?

Talk to Me


If I have learned anything from the past five years of homeschooling, it is this:

There is no set way to homeschool, no perfect curriculum, no exact fit. Change happens, and it sometimes happens on a daily basis.

This morning I rousted the sleeping beauty out of her bed at 9:30. “I think it is time to start your day.”

By the time she actually DID get up and finish her morning routine it was after 10 a.m. and well on its way to 11 a.m.

Her morning tasks consist of:

  • Get dressed
  • Brush hair
  • Eat breakfast
  • Brush teeth
  • Feed/water/collect eggs from chickens

Lesson #1 of the day – Em likes to sleep in.


Talk to Me

“We need to get to homeschooling.” I reminded her for the third time.

“Ohhhkay,” Em answered, sounding rather resigned.

i stopped and sat down and sighed. I honestly do not know how teachers handle it. How do you push/pull/cajole or threaten children into learning? How do you intrigue them, hold their focus, engage them?

These are the moments when I think that I suck ass at teaching.

“Look, we backed off of several areas of homeschooling. You said you didn’t like Time4Learning, so we stopped. You said you wanted to watch documentaries, so we are. I’m trying everything I can think of, but you still seem unwilling to do homeschool. What is up with that?”

She scuffed her foot on the floor.

“Talk to me kiddo.”

“The documentaries are boring. I try to watch them, but they make me want to go to sleep.” She finally said.

“I’m not sure what to do about that. I mean, perhaps we could watch something else?”



Brain Games

Emily perked up. “What about Brain Games? I love Brain Games!”

I asked her some questions and we looked it up on Netflix. Brain Games consists of around 35 episodes, which at four episodes a week will cover just over nine weeks of science class.

Done. It is now on the homeschool schedule.

Exploring the sewers

Exploring the sewers

Take Those Moments

The other day, we stopped in the middle of a spelling test to investigate what a large truck was doing on our street. It turned out to be a contractor working for the city, inspecting the sewer pipes for any damage, breaks or leaks. We spent half an hour asking questions and watching the little robot explore the sewers and broadcast back video of what it found. img_0466

In the middle of it, Em turned to me and said, “Mama, is this science?”

I nodded, “It sure is!”



Eclectic Wars With Traditional

Every time I tell myself, “Em needs to learn more of the basics,” and throw us into a more rigid schedule where I’m touching each of the core subjects each day, we both find ourselves bored and frustrated.

And then I think of Occam’s Razor, or the more widespread laymen’s formulation, “the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”

Em thrives when she is allowed to learn what interests her. And I thrive when I’m not having to drag her along unwillingly. She is more than willing to study spelling, write letters and exercises in her creative writing book, and study basic math concepts (right now we review a mix of the flash cards (subtract, add, multiply, divide) daily and she likes Schoolhouse Rock’s Multiplication Rock.

Science, through documentaries like Brain Games and other nature documentaries interests her greatly. And she appears to be enjoying her French lessons with DuoLingo. Since her dad started working with her on the cello, she has been practicing more (although there is room for improvement), and she has requested that we “do art” at least twice per week.

This just leaves social studies. Perhaps if I try historical fiction like the American Girls collection, she will find it more interesting. I’m going to buy a set for her for Christmas and see if it catches her fancy.

Wish me luck!


Posted in Homeschool - General | Comments Off on Talk to Me

Meanderings and Miscellany

Sometimes, seeing a picture, or reading one of my homeschool friends’ posts reminds me that I need to step back and re-assess, yet again, how I am doing things.

But first, a funny story…

Ode to Phred

My friend Bethany, a homeschool mom posted a great picture of her kids showing off their latest craft/science project on how tendons and joints work.

This immediately reminded me of Phred, the Pheasant (less) Phoot.

In any case, this brought to mind some fun times during my previous marriage, where I was stepmom to three kids, two boys and one girl. The oldest, Bill, came home from school one day with a pheasant foot in hand. “This girl in school had it,” he said by way of explanation, “her family went hunting last weekend and she brought this foot in to show everyone.”


Sort of creepy, sort of cool.

The girl had painted the pheasant(less) foot talons a garish red and Bill could make the foot open and close by pulling on the tendons sticking out.

Fascinating, although exceedingly high on my ‘creepy’ scale.

After a week or so the tendons atrophied and he could no longer manipulate it so easily, but Bill had plenty of fun with that foot. One evening I found it on my pillow…and screamed bloody murder.

Another time I went out to get some water and brushed past something hanging in the hallway. On the way back I screamed again…it was that damned pheasant foot hanging from the light. It became a game of “who can make Christine/mom scream loudest” and I was starting to lose my voice.

I sat down and wrote the following poem:

Ode to Phred
“The Pheasant(less) Phoot”

I am Phred
A pheasant(less) phoot
A phoot among
Phoots am I.

Once I was more
Phully phormed
With a body and a
Phinely pheathered head.

But Alas!
No more!
I am but Phred
The pheasant(less) phoot

Talons polished in red
Boast of terribly phine deeds
By my tendons are old
Their phreedom slowly spent

My existence is plain
Here only to serve
The young ones who phind
Me amusing to observe.

The dog wants to sniph me
The cats want a bite
And the woman always screams
When she phinds me in the night.

I am Phred!

I am Pheasant(less)!

Phred the Pheasant(less) Phoot!

The Daily Grind

The last few weeks have been rather demanding and stressful. There is the Homes Tour that our house is on, our Cottage renovation, general life and work, and of course, homeschooling. Add to that my attempt to keep our costs low by planning, shopping and cooking all of our meals instead of eating out, and I need more hours in a day than the Earth currently provides.

That and patience. I need more of that too.

Couple it with a rather demanding schedule that does NOT seem to be reducing on its own, and this mama is not a happy camper.

I have been trying to find a way to have Em learn the basics without me standing there teaching her every minute of it. And she seems to be equally determined to drag me through it since she is required to endure it.

Some of our days have been…lengthy. And each morning (and throughout the day) I spend time (or in my view, waste time) child wrangling. Redirecting her to get back to learning, over and over and over.

I don’t want to spend my days nagging my child endlessly. But I also don’t want to neglect her education.

A recent TED talk, however, made me realize that while education is important, so are relationships. (Thanks to my eldest for sending that link my way.) So how do I balance the two?

It seems that I waver between providing Em a “proper” education and one that is more eclectic in nature.

Reading the Writing on the Wall

Sometimes it feels as if our attempts to homeschool are a series of failures and re-assessment. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing more harm than good.

I think it is important to ask those questions.

I talked with my eldest recently about it, as well as a brief discussion with my husband as he was heading out the door. Dave had a short week last week – on Monday and Tuesday he was at home sick. On Tuesday he felt well enough to supervise Em with homeschool, so he handled at least half of it, and I followed up with the rest. His one comment this morning was, “It seems like it was twice, even more than twice, the work she was doing back in January.”

And he was right. The studies and amount of work to do seem to drag on without end. No wonder the kiddo wakes up every morning with a different excuse.

“I don’t feel well.”

“Perhaps today could be our day off?”

“I want to help you with baking Mom!”

“Could I just read extra today?”

Dee asked, “Do you think it is time to enroll her in public school?”

And I don’t want to. Here is why:

  • Time with other kids equates “fun” in Em’s mind.
  • There is a strong possibility that she will be popular (she certainly is now) and well liked, but there is also a tendency towards a mob of same-age kids to isolate and bully each other. I don’t want that for her. I want her to have a strong sense of self and not have to be subjected to that crap.
  • I absolutely will not support putting a child in school and then having homework sent home. If she is in school for hours and hours, she does not need to come home and have even more of her day taken up with homework. The evenings should be for family interaction, not a punishing pile of homework.

What Is Important Here?

After talking with Dee, Dave and watching the TED talk I asked myself, “What is important here?”

That Emily…

  • Has good relationships with me, her dad, extended family and friends.
  • Is allowed to learn at her own pace, discovering her interests and strengths along the way
  • Learns the basics without them being crammed down her throat. I want her to understand how fun learning can be!
  • Knows how to problem-solve, discover answers for herself, and be able to function independently and successfully in the outside world.
  • Has future success in whatever life choices she makes – college, career, and personal life.

A Talk With Em

After I had spoken with Dave and Dee, I said to Em, “We need to restructure homeschooling again, because it isn’t working well for either of us.” And then I asked, “Tell me what you think of Time4Learning.”

She said, “I like Language Arts, but I hate everything else.”

Yep, time for a different approach to homeschooling. I know that not everything in life can be positive and fun, but even I was falling asleep during the Social Studies and Science modules!

The Plan?

You know how plans can be. They start out with the best of intentions. Some work, others fail miserably. However, here is what I’ve come up with. We will experiment with these and come up with the best fit as time goes by.

I am hoping that I can still focus on some of my own projects in the mornings. This would allow Em to wake up naturally and then go about completing her morning activities and homeschool work she can do on her own (French, reading, typing, cursive)

We are still homeschooling four days per week, and year-round. I’ve told Em that, during the weekdays, she is not to be on the computer watching YouTube videos, or playing Minecraft before 5 p.m. The exception to this will be her typing instruction practice.

As for the rest of the study categories…

Social Studies

One of the things that popped into my brain is that, with the age of reason fully upon us, perhaps I can go straight to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. That, and I remembered Dee’s studies of women’s history. It is high on my list of priorities to give her a solid understanding of the powerful roles women have had through history. To that end, we will watch historical documentaries from all eras, and read from 33 Things Every Girl Should Know About Women’s History.

I’m also going to look into the Don’t Know Much About History series by Kenneth Davis. There are quite a few offshoots to his main book, and I’ve ordered them used, so we will dip into them when they arrive.

Language Arts

How does one improve in this category? By reading and writing, rinse and repeat. I cannot emphasize just how very important this particular section of study is to me. As a writer and an avid reader, I’m sure you can imagine it is pretty high on the list of priorities.


We will continue with our weekly spelling lists, daily reading, cursive writing 3x per week, creative writing 3x per week, a letter to a friend or family member once per week, and add in daily typing practice with the new typing program arriving on Wednesday.


Other than the science of cooking, I’m putting this on hold. She learns a lot through our gardening efforts and more. In February I will probably enroll her in LEARN Math and Science.


Sal Khan of Khan Academy recently gave a TED talk on the importance of learning a math concept to mastery. And when we hit the spot in Time4Learning where Em was supposed to transition from multiplication to simple division, I quickly realized how weak her multiplication skills were.

I am getting flash cards that cover all four areas: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. We will mix them up and start her working on them. When she has them down, without any hiccups, then we will move on to something more advanced. I’m also returning to the Life of Fred books. Em liked them, a lot, and so it is Life of Fred for the win!


Em asked for more art experiences. To that end, all I can say is, the Art Room is ready and waiting for us to get busy creating art and messes!

I’ve asked Dave to head up supervising her cello practice. He has an ear for music and has really helped spark her willingness to practice more.

Living Skills

So far, Em can fry herself an egg, operate the microwave, and cook ramen noodles. I would like for her to branch out. So from now on, she will be helping me prepare dinner on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And it isn’t just living skills, really. It is also math (fractions) and science (baking, chemical changes).

Posted in Bonding, Challenges, Homeschool - General | Comments Off on Meanderings and Miscellany