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!

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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!


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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).

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The New Order

With work on The Cottage moving along at a sharp clip, and the Homes Tour looming over us in less than two weeks, I have been one distracted homeschooling mama.

But I’ve also made a couple of mistakes that need rectifying. I need to pay better attention and, unfortunately, exercise my homeschool authority a little more by directing her studies in a particular order.

Public School Has Shorter Hours!

I’m going to chalk yesterday up as a homeschool fail. With zero other kids to contend with, the studies should go quickly and Em should be done by noon at the latest. But that was not the case yesterday, the first day of our homeschooling week. Homeschool was a grueling nine hours long, 8.5 hours if you don’t count the break for lunch.

This was partly my fault. I let Em sleep in, which meant she stayed behind while I went to my morning cleaning. And despite my constant reminders to focus, she would not finish until 5:55 p.m. And only then because I told her two hours before that she would not go to her fun extracurricular activity, Peace Quest, if she had not done her schoolwork.

Heck, public school has shorter hours than that!

No More Dessert First

The biggest reason for this incredibly long day was, I believe, the order in which she tackles her studies. First I had her list out her daily studies, every single one. There were ten of them. “Now write a number by each one of them,” I told her. “Write ‘1’ next to your least favorite activity and ’10’ by your absolute favorite.”

She did so, and here is the list in order of least to most favorite:

  1. Cursive practice
  2. History
  3. Science
  4. Language Arts
  5. Math
  6. Spelling List
  7. French
  8. Cello
  9. Creative Writing
  10. Reading

And here it is revealed – yes, Em is truly my daughter. Writing and reading on the top of her favorites list? So, so, SO my child!

The problem here was that she was eating dessert first – reading, writing, doing her French – all of the easier stuff. I’m surprised that cello was 3rd favorite, considering she never wants to practice. However, her dad has recently taken an interest in playing her instrument. A practice session the other day turned into an hour plus of them trading tips back and forth.

I wrote the list out in order and told her, “This is how you are going to tackle your studies from now on. Your least favorite first. Power through them and then you can have your dessert (reading, creative writing).”

ILS Was a Huge Influence

The private (and now defunct) high school I attended in the mid-1980s was a huge influence on my learning (and teaching) style. Students were assigned daily and weekly “contracts” and reported to a “contract manager.”

We learned primarily out of books, which worked well for me, and all assignments and tests were repeated until a 90% or better was achieved.

The idea behind this was that a student could learn at their own pace, and center on something until they had full comprehension.

A recent TED talk by Sal Khan reminded me of this.

With Em, when she takes tests in Time4Learning (social studies, science, language arts, and math), she has to make 90% or better to continue. Typically, if she bombs a test, we look it over together and find the correct answers before we consider the assignment done for the day.

I Have to Do My Homework Too!

We have two creative writing books by Karen Benke that we are currently using. One is called Rip the Page! and the other Write Back Soon!.

Write Back Soon! focuses on letter writing. Once a week she sends out a letter to a friend or family member and the other three days she does an exercise in Rip the Page! This has been going on for a few weeks, and I noticed yesterday that she didn’t say much in her letter to a friend.

“Isn’t the Write Back Soon! book giving you some writing tips?” I asked her.

She looked nervous.

“Have you been using the book?”


So today MY assignment is going through the book and finding discussion points and possible future assignments for her.

That, and catching up on my French lessons, of which I am woefully behind her in.

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Shaking It Up

Best Behavior

Since she was caught dead to rights cheating on her spelling and lying to me about assignments, Em has been on her best behavior. Surrounded by three adults, she has certainly heard about how disappointed we are with her behavior.

The thing is, we all have taken walks down memory lane and realized we did it too. So it would be a hard sell for us to get indignant or self-righteous about it.

My theory that we would avoid this kind of behavior by homeschooling was disproved, but it isn’t the end of the world. I’ve treated it as a learning experience.

Yesterday, I loosened the restrictions on her television watching and allowed her to watch all of the science and nature documentaries she wanted. She had a “pajamas day” while we worked on The Cottage and yard.

Year-Round Schooling?

Recently, Em had progressed through Time4Learning to the stage where she finished with multiplication and was heading into learning basic division. The problem with that was that she had forgotten her multiplication tables! Before our summer break, she had them down pat. Then we broke for summer and after a three-month break, she had forgotten them!

This really brought home to me the reality of what our kids lose over summer breaks in traditional school settings. The nine month on/three month off, educational model is horribly flawed!

I had known this, but it really became clear as we abandoned the math on Time4Learning in exchange for a two week long review of flash cards to get back on track with multiplication.

I had struggled with the decision to break for summer or homeschool straight through. Part of it, to be perfectly honest, was a fear that I was being too pushy, or academically strict. Was I wanting her to homeschool all year so that she could pull ahead of her peers? I had once calculated that if we stuck to achieving a “year” of homeschooling every nine months, without any summer break, Em could end up graduating high school at the age of 14 or 15.

So I guess you could say that one part of me was interested in year-round schooling because I had heard that there was less “data loss” and another part of me was interested in having a high school grad at the tender age of 14 or 15.

The more I thought of that idea, the more I worried I was rushing things too much. But having the reality of data loss after a three-month break smack me in the face, I knew one thing – I was definitely changing to year-round schooling!

How About Four Days Per Week?

So I’m toying with the idea of doing homeschool four days out of the week since we will be doing year-round schooling. I thought of doing it on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday schedule, but then realized it might make more sense to tackle it in a different manner.

Why not customize it by the week? Some weeks can be busier than others – I still run my cleaning biz and we have random play dates and other things filling our schedule.

I haven’t said anything to Em yet – merely mentioned that I was considering a four day a week schedule. So far this week, we have completed two of the days, and I may just take off tomorrow, homeschool on Thursday, and then on Friday.

Is it cheating if I admit that she is going on an all-day play date on Friday? She will still have to do homeschool with her friend, but I won’t be overseeing it. That would put us at four days this week. I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes.

Something is Sinking In

As we drove home today, the temps outside spiking to over 90 degrees, Em looked up at the sky and sighed. “It figures. Thin, wispy clouds.”

“What about them?” I asked.

“They hold the heat in. Now big, fat clouds…”

“Cumulus clouds?” I asked.

“Very good, Mama! Yes, cumulus clouds. They cool things off.”

“What do they call those thin clouds…are they cirrus clouds?”

“I dunno, I think of them as nasty, evil flat clouds.”

What could I say? I had to laugh.

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Truth and Consequences

I’ll admit it – I’ve been suspicious for a while now. And today, my suspicions were confirmed.

It started off with me running to Lowe’s. Before I left I told Em, “When you get up, do your morning chores and then start working on homeschool.” I knew I would be back in short order.

At 9:30 I returned and Em said, “I’ve finished my handwriting practice, my creative writing homework, and I’ve finished my French lesson.”

In record time. After all, she couldn’t have been working on school work for more than an hour at most. Something didn’t feel right. I let it go for the moment and we started to work on her other assignments.

And then she let it slip. “I saw it was 9:05 and I got to work right away on homeschool, Mama.” She said offhand as she finished an exercise in Time4Learning.

Twenty-five minutes to finish a full handwriting lesson, a creative writing exercise, AND French? No way.

“So what letter did you practice for cursive today?”

Deer in the headlights look. Long pause. “I, um, don’t remember.”

“Well let’s take a look, shall we?”

I knew from her anxious, scared look that I wasn’t going to like what I saw. And when I looked over the work, I realized she had been up to no good for some time. We started the fall semester on Lesson #12 in the book, at three days a week for practice and a couple of days in there off for holidays or illness, she still should have finished at least ten lessons, putting her at Lesson #22. Instead, the last lesson she had even partly done was Lesson #18. And she had not followed the directions at all, there were short abbreviated lists of words on the pages.

The same situation was true in the case of the creative writing. She had done the bare minimum in most of it, and none of it at all in several instances.

The jig was up, and one special little someone looked rather nervous.

“So, why did you not do your work and lie about it?” I asked.

“I wanted to get done faster so that I could be on my computer and play Minecraft and watch YouTube videos.” She answered.

“I’ve always heard that you should let the punishment fit the crime. Taking that into account, what do you think your punishment should be?”

She hung her head. “No computer privileges.”

I nodded, “And how long was this going on?”

“At least a week.”

“And longer with you only doing partial work on the handwriting, from what I can tell.”


“Okay, so no computer until next Monday. That is one week. And that also means no YouTube videos or cartoons.”

[sad sigh] “Okay.”

“And this handwriting needs to be caught up. So we are going to start again with Exercise #12 and have you do two exercises a day to get you back up to speed. And this time, you are going to do it right, according to the instructions.”

So yeah, it hasn’t been a great day. It turns out she was also cheating on her spelling tests after the first week. She reviews the words first, writing them and pressing hard into the paper so that there is an impression left on the following page. Then she takes the test, writing the letters into the impressions.

Sneaky girl!

Dee caught her doing it and said nothing, just redirected her to a page in the middle of her notebook. The remaining words on the list took a dive in accuracy after that.

So we have some issues to address. A part of me wonders if I’m doing too much all at once. Do I need to back down on some of this? Or do I just need to be more hands on, less trusting and more attentive? Or a little of all of the above?

This is not an easy situation.

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Diving Deep


First Week – SUCCESS!!!!

I was a complete stress basket at the beginning of the first week. I was worried that I was taking too big of a bite – our curriculum included Time4Learning lessons (4 math activities, 2 language arts, 1 science, and two social studies each day), weekly spelling lists, creative writing, daily reading (minimum of 30 minutes), cursive handwriting practice, French lessons, and cello practice.

Thanks to my reduced schedule (less cleaning clients and I am also eliminating teaching community education classes), I have had more time during the day to focus on homeschooling. But last Monday started with back to back cleanings, Dave full time at work, and Danielle full time at school. I was on my own!

We survived. More importantly, we thrived.


Second Week – Off to a Great Start

Em aced her spelling list first try. She had one hiccup, a missing “i” in the word associative. However, she recognized it immediately. I covered the word with my hand and said, “Spell it right, without looking at it, and I’ll call it good.” She did, and wow, zow, what an achievement! I have to credit my husband Dave with this, he took her from a whiny, complaining, feet dragging on the ground, “take two weeks to get a weekly spelling list right” kind of girl this past winter to “we got THREE weekly lists done this week!”

It seems that we have struck a happy middle ground – where I feel we are covering a lot of subjects and doing it well, and Em is challenged but not intimidated by the work.


The key is reviewing – out loud, in writing, and then we test. He also helped her in ways I couldn’t. I was always good at spelling, so I never needed to know rules or tricks. So I had no way of passing them on to her. But Dave, having had his own share of frustration and difficulty over spelling as a kid, remembered them well. He helped her break words down and be able to retain the spelling rules.


Those Control Issues

This morning I let Em sleep in. She ambled downstairs at 8:30, so it wasn’t too late. Today is filled with two objectives – homeschool (including Harmony Project) and cleaning the house in preparation for a party on Friday.

I took a few minutes to go talk with our contractor at The Cottage and returned to see the kiddo still in her pjs and rolling around on the couch with the dogs.

I tend to be a “we work, then we have fun” kind of person. And so five minutes after saying to her, “It’s about time to get to homeschooling,” I started to get antsy. She was still happily petting dogs, singing a song, and generally taking her time.

I resisted the urge to bark out an order urging her to hurry up and get on task. Instead, I said, “So, it is 9:10, when would you like to begin homeschooling today?” (I’m growing as a person, I hope others will recognize this and pat me on the head, because it is HARD to pull back and NOT try to control everything)

In any case, she thought for a moment and said, “How about we start at 9:30?” Which was perfect and completely acceptable in my book. Of course, after that, we realized she needed a bath, so a 10 a.m. start time was agreed upon. “I’ll take a quick bath, Mama,” she reassured me.

We started hs’ing at around 10:15. I expect we will be done by mid-afternoon.


A New ‘Tude

I’m not sure if it was that whole line of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or what, but ever since Em returned from her two weeks in California, she has been an absolute dream. Not that she isn’t a wonderful, sweet child all the time, because she really is, but there is this extra level of it that I find particularly surprising and rewarding. No whining over chores or school work, no wailing or gnashing of teeth over spelling words, and a willingness to stop what she is doing and help out.

It’s been lovely.

Posted in Homeschool - General | Comments Off on Diving Deep

First Day of Fourth Grade Coming Soon!

I had originally planned on starting the homeschool year this past Monday. However, Em’s trip to California interfered with that. She was still in San Francisco on Monday and having a great time with her grandparents and the rest of her extended California family.

So I’ve rescheduled it for Monday, which now looks to be exceedingly busy since I’ve got two cleanings on that day. No worries, we will take a little time today to review what needs to be done.

Wednesday I signed up for Time4Learning and Thursday we spent some time getting used to it so that Em feels comfortable signing in and working with it on Monday.

We also need to work in one other activity – yoga. I recently bought an “introductory unlimited classes in a month” package for $30 from Boulevard Yoga. I’ve been to two of the classes, Beginner Yoga on Monday and Yin/Yang on Wednesday. I plan on going tonight if I can manage it. Last night, as I was returning from a yoga class, Dave and Em were returning from working on our rental house in Belton.

Em immediately perked up at the idea of yoga classes. “I want to go too, Mama!”

So it fills the Physical Education component and is something we can do together. This is a high priority in my book!

I’m not sure which classes will work the best for us, so I’m possibly going to purchase a 30-day new student promo pass for her as well and bring her along. Together we will figure out a good schedule for both of us.

Here is her proposed schedule. I will be re-learning French right alongside her. And Em’s big sister, Dee, is taking French I this semester at UMKC. Between us, we should do okay at linguistics.


  • Time4Learning
  • Spelling List for week (until 100% accuracy is obtained)
  • Cursive practice
  • Cello practice
  • Rip The Page! Journaling
  • Reading for minimum of 1/2 hour
  • Practice French w/Duo Lingo app on Kindle
  • Play dates every other week the McLoughlin family?


  • Time4Learning
  • Spelling List for week (until 100% accuracy is obtained)
  • Harmony Project
  • Rip the Page! Journaling
  • Reading for minimum of 1/2 hour
  • Practice French w/Duo Lingo app on Kindle
  • Play dates every other week with Blevins family?


  • Time4Learning
  • Spelling List for week (until 100% accuracy is obtained)
  • Cursive practice
  • Cello practice
  • Rip the Page! Journaling
  • Reading for minimum of 1/2 hour
  • Practice French w/Duo Lingo app on Kindle
  • Play dates every other week w/Gunn family?


  • Time4Learning
  • Spelling List for week (until 100% accuracy is obtained)
  • Harmony Project
  • Rip the Page! Journaling
  • Reading for minimum of 1/2 hour
  • Practice French w/Duo Lingo app on Kindle


  • Time4Learning
  • Spelling List for week (until 100% accuracy is obtained)
  • Cursive practice
  • Cello practice
  • Rip the Page! Journaling
  • Reading for minimum of 1/2 hour
  • Practice French w/Duo Lingo app on Kindle
  • Swope Park Friday recess every so often


  • Harmony Project
  • Social activities/sleepovers

It might seem like a lot, but homeschooling moves rather quickly. An hour, sometimes two, and she is typically all done. We will be doubling up on math for a while. When I set her up with Time4Learning it asked for me to enter her grade level for Math and English. I set the bar at 3rd grade level for Math, and 4th grade for English, but I hope to see her at grade level soon.

So when it comes to Time4Learning work each day, she will need to complete the following:

  • Language Arts – 2 activities per day
  • LA Extension – 1 activity per day
  • Math – 4 activities per day
  • Science – 1 activity per day
  • Social Studies – 2 activities per day

This took us a couple of hours on Thursday to complete all of the activities. So the proposed schedule will probably need to be changed around somewhat. We will re-assess after a week or so.

Posted in Homeschool - General | Comments Off on First Day of Fourth Grade Coming Soon!

Drawing the Line

I hated to do it, but…


Let me preface this by saying that, overall, both of my girls are amazing and wonderful. I’ve seen some kids who were a handful of rotten, and my girls aren’t. They have good hearts and try hard.

That said, my little one has now driven me to issue edicts. And I HATE to issue edicts.

Each morning, the hour gets later and later. She eats breakfast around noon, slouches about with hair unbrushed, chores not done, teeth unbrushed, and obsessively sits in front of her computer. For the first five years of her life, she had no idea how to operate a remote, and no interest in learning how. For the first eight years of her life, computers were these boring things she wanted nothing to do with.

It seems that Em has been making up for lost time in the past year, and it has gone from bad to worse.

Even in the heat of the summer, faced with soaring temps in her bedroom (we have a handful of window units, but none of them are in her room), she spends hour after hour in front of the computer, watching videos on YouTube and Netflix and playing Minecraft.

This has continued, to the exclusion of anything else, and become a real issue. Especially because she isn’t even doing the basics (listed below). This morning, I found I had had enough.

It was 10:30 and I had already had to argue with her over taking a bath. What kid besides mine hates baths? It’s insane! She hadn’t even eaten breakfast, and of course she hadn’t checked on the chickens.

I promptly issued the following edict:

Every morning, seven days a week, before you can get on the computer, TV, or any other electronic device you must complete the following:

• Take bath (if bath day)
• Brush hair
• Get dressed
• Eat breakfast
• Brush teeth
• Take care of chickens

If you do not do this, and get on a computer etc, before you are finished, the computer and all electronic devices will be seized and held for ransom for a period of at least ONE day for first offense, and increasing with each further offense. This includes usage of cell phone for Pokemon Go et cetera.

In addition, during the school year, on a school night (Sunday through Friday nights) you are to turn off your computer by 9pm and brush your teeth. Failure to do so will result in the same punishment listed above.

You are old enough to remember, to read a clock, and to be held accountable for your actions.

I’ve sent it in email form to her sister, her dad, and Em herself. I’m also printing it and posting it at eye level on the wall of her bedroom.

In just 2 1/2 months, Em will be ten. By her age I was waking up to an alarm in order to get my mother up and ready for work on time. I made sure she had coffee and often had to wake her up several times before she had it together enough (she was working a job late at night to make ends meet). And I was responsible for feeding myself, packing my own lunch, and riding my bicycle to school every day.

Em can do this, and I need to put my foot down and say “Enough is enough!”

It’s all about boundaries…

Posted in Challenges, Parenting Techniques | Comments Off on Drawing the Line