Thursday, February 4, 2016

Where has the time gone?

Wow, it's been more than a year since I have even looked at my blog. I can't even say why that is, other than life is a flowy thing. The kids keep changing and I keep changing and sometimes the things that you are focusing on shift. I shifted away from this bog for a while, I think, because for a while I didn't really know what to say, or had nothing to say, or couldn't figure out what to say... Maybe all of the above.

In the time since my last post, our family has morphed. I now have a high schooler and a middle schooler. Somehow, I find myself parenting a soon-to-be 15 year old and a soon-to-be 13 year old. It doesn't seem real. Where did that first grader go? What happened to dress up and play dough? Long, long gone.

Homeschooling has shifted for us as well. We stopped doing most of the co-op classes that we relied on for so long, and have been stream-lining our schooling to fit in what we have to do so we can still have time for all of the extracurricular activities my kids want to do. Suddenly, I am farming most of the schooling out and the rest is algebra and homework. Not exactly riveting.

The stress of making sure that my daughter gets all of her proper high school credits has also been very much on my mind this past year and a half. One of my goals has always been to make sure that my kids are well positioned to do whatever they decide to do with their lives and it is pretty evident at this point that college will have to be part of the plan. College means going through all the hoops, and so I suppose that means high school is where our family has to start hoop-jumping again. We have always been a bit on the unstructured side and so slowly transitioning to a heavier and more traditional work load has been a bit uncomfortable. They are learning how to better manage their time and do things like take notes and tests. The time management issue is a big one. My kids personalities are also changing and so it's harder to pinpoint how we need to go about things.

My first one has always been uber social. Not a shy bone in her body, she needed to be out of the house and having interactions and input most of the time. The last couple of years, this has been changing. She no longer wants to be in groups learning if she can help it. She likes to study with one or two special friends, but would otherwise prefer to be at home now or pursuing her individual interests. I can't express enough how big of a shift this is for our homeschooling. For the past 8 years we have been out and about, doing all kinds of things largely because a day or two at home and she would be driving me crazy. Now... she doesn't always want to go to class. "Can't you just give me some assignments or find an online course?" Whaaaat? That said, the ages of 12 and 13 were pretty impossible. This (mostly) mature, self possessed person is a very welcome change, if a little scary. I can see the adult forming and pretty soon she'll be off orchestrating her own life. The prospect makes me feel joyful and also puts a gripping pain in my heart.

Meanwhile, child number two is entering those dreaded puberty years with a male child twist. While he is mostly still a sweet and compliant kid, sometimes I'd like to strangle him. Mostly he just does the minimum to get me off his back so he can go back to gaming. The only thing that will get him up happily in the morning is a soccer game. Otherwise, it's sullen floppiness and mumbling before noon. It doesn't get easier with each one does it? He's also not as academically inclined, so the increasing workload as he gets older, has been hard on him.

The other reason for outsourcing our lessons is that, frankly, I'm tired. Eight years, and I just no longer want to teach co-op classes, or anything else for that matter. As long as they continue to want to homeschool, I will do my best, but I really would like to pursue some of my own interests for a change. That's not precisely happening yet, but I can see that in a few years my little chickies will be flying the coop, and where and who will I be at that point? I hardly know. For now, I'm mostly a chauffeur and overall manager and planner. If nothing else, the driving gives me some time to think.

We still do a few lessons at home, but I like to call what we are doing now al la carte schooling. I'm not doing a lot of the teaching myself, but I'm also not stuck to one school or set of classes. It's still very nice to have the option to change things if they are not working well for us. We live in an area where it is easy to find resources. The internet opens up an additional range of options of course. Also, I am aware that I am very lucky to not have to work and have the funds to put them in whatever lessons we need.

I am thankful every day for these things, and I am thankful that we have been able to take this homeschool journey. It has made my kids stronger, and it has made my family stronger. However, if anyone says to you that homeschooling is easy, they are lying. It's like saying parenting is easy. Who would ever say that, right? Homeschooling is an extension of parenting and so with it goes all of the worry, and decisions to make, and trying to know when to push and when to back off, and never knowing if you are doing the right thing. It's just an added facet of that. I don't think that will ever change, whatever their ages. What mom ever stops worrying even when their kids are grown?

In looking back at what I had written before, I came across a post that still rings so true to me. In this Valentines day season, it also seems very apropos. I personally need constant reminding that I am not just a homeschool mom, but also just a "mom", so I am going to re-post my entry here.



Sharing the Love - Some Homeschool Perspective

Wow, I just realized that I have been posting my book since November. In a way, I think I'll miss the Katz', but I'm also ready to get back to posting about goings on in our area and homeschooling in general.

I think I'd like to start by letting you in to some of my ruminations of late. There has been a lot of ruminating, and stewing on my part.  It's been a frustrating year so far and I've been feeling very dissatisfied with many things... the way my kids behave, the kinds of work we are doing, the amount of work that is getting done, my inability to get them to help much around the house... and yet I realize that a lot of this is just my own focus and perceptions gone awry. I see other parents do this and see how often it leads to the kids going back to school, and yet here I am doing it too. I should know better.

Our kids are often amazing, thoughtful, unique and wonderful people, and yet all we can see are the faults and deficiencies. It's a matter of being able to acknowledge and celebrate the strengths too.

I think I'll come out of this year seeing it as very transformative. By August, I'll find myself in the custody of two "middle schoolers" and I feel like we are in transition. The kids are growing and changing slowly into adults and I am needing to change my own thinking and viewpoints as a result. 

I probably should take my own advice and "practice an attitude of gratitude". Even if the academic work isn't exactly what I had hoped for this year, it helps to get a reality check. What is most important? What is my most important role here? So many things vie for our attention as homeschoolers and there is never enough time in the day. It's so easy to get lost in the details. I feel like I've fallen prey to loosing the forest for the trees.

Here is an example. My daughter was required to take the ACT (or SAT) in order to get into a program sponsored by Duke University for "gifted" students. She is only a "7th grader", and so taking this test right now is very early. I spent a great deal of time worrying about this. I wanted her to study so she could do well. She didn't want to study it. A great deal of frustration ensued. What I forgot is that she shouldn't have to study for this, not yet. The intent at this point is only to give these kids experience. The test is made for high school kids getting ready to enter college, not middle schoolers. The scores won't matter. She'll take it later and do better. She's taken it, and made some serious mistakes on it (timing, direction reading, etc.), but it doesn't matter, she got the experience she needed, and I shouldn't have spent all that time worrying and pestering her about it. Just the fact that she was selected to have the opportunity to take it this early was an honor.

Foolish to waste so much time and energy worrying and fussing. Worry is a foolish thing, and yet we all do it.

Never mind the academics. My most important job here is still to be THE MOM. What I mean by that is to be PRESENT, ready to listen to the emotional ups and downs, to give a hug when it is needed, to be witness and supportive to what is important to our kids. Now, more than any other time since we have started this homeschool journey, my kids need me to be listening.  A child who doesn't feel emotionally and physically supported doesn't have the will and confidence to go out into the world and reach for their dreams.

I don't think adolescence is a time to back off and away from our kids. Their world is changing as they change and they need their parents to be present and on their side. There will be lessons about self-responsibilty and time management and the like. Those lessons are going to be hard. I may have to back off on the militant schedule mongering, but not on the support.

Even if we did nothing academic this year, it would be a successful year if both my kids were to learn to take personal responsibility for their own schedules and learning. This will probably require some serious falling on their faces, but I truly believe that a student who is present and doing the work for THEMSELVES is a successful student. A student who is present and doing for others (parents, teachers, etc.) is just going through the motions. I've seen too many middle school kids with this attitude. It's makes me very sad. They don't care and don't feel any responsibility for themselves. They don't have choice. How can they learn to make good choices if they never have the opportunity to choose for themselves when they are young? Education is something forced on them and they don't want to have any part of it if they can help it.

Things aren't this bad for us, thank goodness. The work hasn't been as bad as I often perceive it to be. At the end of the year, I'm sure I'll look back and marvel at all of the emotional, physical and academic growth that occurred.

This Valentines Day give yourself and your kids a hug. Share respect for each other. Be there to listen and hear what they are trying to say to you and listen to your own needs and wants. Find a balance that works for all of you. This is the secret to successful homeschooling at any age.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Holiday Trap (Warning: Not for the Eyes of Kids)

When I was a little kid, I looked forward to every December, not just because my birthday was in that month, but because I adored the lights and the Christmas carols and all of the goodies my mom would make. For much of my childhood we lived overseas, so seeing family wasn't too much of an option, but if people couldn't come, they would send gifts and cards and warm thoughts. Of course, my brother and I enjoyed the presents. Growing up and finding out the truth of things wasn't so bad either. It was the warmth and spirit of the holiday that mattered after all.

When I got married, things got way more complicated. Not only does my husband celebrate Hanukkah instead of Christmas, but he is also three days older than me. Now we have three holidays and two birthdays to celebrate in a two week period.

When we had kids, Santa started to come because I couldn't imagine not sharing the things I grew up with with my kids. Suddenly, not only were there Santa gifts, but also teacher gifts to make and cards to write, and I went off the deep end from insanity to complete and utter dread. I hate the month of December now. I approach it with dread and a sense of frustration I never thought I would have about a season that is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Exhausted, I roll into New Years just thankful it is all over and accomplished for one more year.

If there were something I could go back and tell my younger, newer mom self, it would be to NOT set up the expectations that I set up. The expectation of gifts for two sets of holidays. The expectation that Santa would come and drop off an amazing spread of gifts and stockings full of candy every year. The expectation that there would always be a tree and lights and goodies. I can't fall back upon the religious aspect of Christmas because I don't really buy into any of that anymore. If anything, I identify more with the pagan origins of the holiday. We should just light candles on the Winter Solstice (my birthday), and tell each other how much we love each other. That would mean so much more than a guy in a red suit and a glut of consumerism in my mind.

My older, more thoughtful self doesn't like the smoke and mirrors traditions we set up for our kids and the commercial glut of sugar and stuff that our country dumps on each other every year. My kids are reaching the age where they either know the truth and just don't want to admit it, or will be finding out that I have been lying to them very soon. If I could, I would just stop doing it all. But, now I've got two kids who would be heartbroken if all of of that were to go away. Part of me wishes they would ask me about Santa directly so I could get the big question out of the way and instead of spending weeks hunting and shopping and hiding things alone, we could all share in making it whatever kind of holiday we want. I feel like it would be more real and equitable and enjoyable. I can't force this knowledge on them, however. I just know in my heart that they will ask when they are ready to know.

Meanwhile, I stay stuck in this trap of my own making. What is a mom to do?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Raleigh Little Theatre and Fiddler on the Roof

Ever since we went to our first kid-friendly show when my kids were in preschool, our family has loved the Raleigh Little Theatre. This is a community theatre in the heart of Raleigh, where it seems like there is stuff going on all the time. They have two theaters, the larger theatre (the Cantey V. Sutton) is your typical set-up for the larger productions, which can be anything from Hairspray to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love the Gaddy Goodwin theatre though. It's smaller and more intimate and the shows done in this setting are frequently more like Shakespeare's theatre in the round. The audience sits on three sides of the stage and actors enter and exit from all directions.

Many of the kid-friendly shows are done in this smaller theatre and, even better, the actors come out in the end so the kids can talk to them and ask them questions and get autographs if they so desire. The Gaddy is the teaching theatre, which means it is there to educate both those who come to watch the shows and those that find themselves in the shows.The pricing for the shows is always reasonable.

What makes it extra special is that we can frequently go and see people we know in the productions. There is a strong and usually very good set of classes offered each year for all age ranges. My kids have taken part in a number of these classes over the years and almost always had a great time. 

I drive the extra distance to this resource because I believe it is the best in the area. Several towns nearer to us have theatre programs aimed at young kids, but I've yet to be convinced that any of them have the same level of experienced teachers and resources that RLT does. In fact, RLT will be celebrating 25 years of teaching at the Gaddy next Saturday. RLT, itself, has been around since 1936.

Theatre isn't for everyone, but I do believe it has a lot to offer kids of a wide range of talents and interests. Here is a short list of benefits:

1. Public speaking. Everyone should learn how to stand up in front of others and get a point across. It's a very valuable and essential skill in life whether you are going into business, want to be a teacher, or want to be an advocate for any sort of idea. 
2. Personal confidence. I can tell you that I was the most shy and inhibited of teenagers, but when I found that I could get up in front of people and speak, it helped me to find my own personal voice. It helped me to overcome my personal fears and grow as a person. I found that I really did have something to say.
3. Imagination. Acting can be almost an outgrowth of imaginary play. In fact, many of the games the younger kids do in classes have to do with make-believe and pretending they are in various situations.
4. Learning compassion. Having compassion for others stems in large part from trying to understand others and putting yourself in their shoes. Acting can help to stretch those muscles. Not only do you become more in tune with your own body and expressions, but you spend time thinking about where others are coming from. What motivates the character? How would you feel if your were in their place? 
5. Working as a team. Some kids are just not sports oriented and so finding a team situation may be a bit more difficult. If you are in a play, either on stage or backstage, you are part of a team. As part of a team, you have to consider the needs and feelings of others, and of course, you have to do your job, because everyone else is counting on you.
6. Other life skills. Many kids start out acting and find they love back stage work better. All kinds of skills can be incorporated here. Carpentry in set design, painting, researching and sewing costumes, make up, choreography and dance, musical accompaniment and training, the technical aspects of lighting and sound, and management in the form of stage managers, directors, and prop masters. 

My daughter will be in her first serious production here this week. She auditioned for and got in to the Teens on Stage production of Fiddler on the Roof. She has a small role, but I want to let people know about this, not just because the show is going to be FABULOUS, but because if you have a teen interested in theatre, this is the best summer camp I can think of. Once accepted into the program, teens from 13-17 are at the theatre for a series of classes and rehearsals for a solid month, all day, five days a week. To be fair, auditions are quite intimidating and the competition can be tough. But for someone really interested, what better way to learn about theatre than to do an actual production? Even better, they have access to top notch choreographers, musical directors, costume designers, and a truly fabulous director, who is not only tough and no-nonsense, but also kind and fair and really, really good at what she does. 

If you are in town and would like a show to take the kids to, I highly recommend coming to see these teens this weekend or the next. I can vouch for the tremendous talent of these kids. If nothing else, a show like this can be very inspiring and a good time.

Here is what Carolina Parent had to say about it and the anniversary bash:

Raleigh Little Theatre Presents Fiddler on the Roof, a Performance by Teens
You can also catch another student performance when Raleigh Little Theatre’s Teens On Stage/Teens Backstage presents the classic musical, Fiddler On The Roof July 25-Aug. 3 in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. This is the 30th production in the history of the Teens on Stage/Teens Backstage Program, a five-week conservatory and training program that involves teens in all aspects of production. This summer is also the 25th anniversary of the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. RLT will celebrate with a birthday party, “Happy Birthday Gaddy-Goodwin,” on Saturday, Aug. 9, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The event will include entertainment for adults and children, including storytelling, a visit from the Scrap Exchange, and excerpts of past performances in the space. Reserve at this link for more detailed information. Tickets for all events can be purchased by calling the Raleigh Little Theatre box office at 919-821-3111, Monday through Friday, noon-5 p.m., or by visiting the theatre’s website at above right of Raleigh Little Theatre's Teens On Stage/Teens Backstage presentation of Fiddler on the Roof courtesy of Curtis Brown) - See more at:

Friday, June 20, 2014

A little science fun

We have been enjoying a random assortment of outstanding science resources this summer.

First is the Cosmos series just aired on Fox by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you haven't seen this series, I HIGHLY recommend you do. You will never be the same again.

We are currently viewing it from pre-recorded episodes, but it is my hope that it will soon be available by purchase or download.

If you don't already know, Neil is an astrophysicist of very high stature. He admired the late Carl Sagan, who had done a series of shows by the same name. This series is Neil's effort to update that wonderful series with current science. The show gives you a glimpse of the history and scope of our knowledge of the earth and the universe.

Along those lines, someone pointed me to this little gem of a website:

You have got to check this out. Have the kids play with it.

It's fabulous, and puts me in mind of this fabulous little video we watched a while ago - Powers of Ten:

It's better though, because you can play with it and find out all kinds of things you may not have already known.

Also, we continue to enjoy the programing at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. Most Thursday's you can find some kind of programming at the Science Cafe'. Sometimes it is speakers sharing their work and knowledge on a particular topic. The first Thursday of each month is Science Trivia night. The kids and I met several other homeschool friends there this month and parents and kids all had a blast. I must say that seating can be a problem, but if you get there early, the food is good. The kids formed a team and did pretty well next too some really knowledgable science geek type adults! During the school year, there are also Teen Science Cafe nights (first Fridays), where they try to select speakers and topics of interest to a younger audience. Of course, none of this includes all of the great classes and opportunities the museum offers, or the special exhibits. Right now they have a special Rainforest Exhibit that we plan to check out soon. The list goes on.
There are opportunities for girls interested in science, for teens to volunteer their time and more.

Finally, I have to confess that I am officially addicted to an iPad app called QuizUp. Pick a topic and pit yourself against other players all over the world. It's free and available on iPads, iPhones and Androids. I have no idea how they are making any money because I haven't seen any advertising. Being the science geek that I am, I've been rocking the Aquatic Animals category and have played people from every continent and a few random islands besides! This can be a great motivator to practice trivia knowledge, though I think we all tend to stick to the topics we feel we can do well at. My daughter is the top player in the state for the Percy Jackson category and also pretty much owns the Lord of the Rings, and my son is rocking the 2014 World Cup. I tried General Literature and found out that I'm pretty bad, but I learned a few things anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Little Writing Monsters

The title of this blog post could easily be my daughter, who has been obsessively writing stories, or at least the beginnings of stories, for a good year now, often to the detriment to other things she should be doing... but I digress.

The fact is, I am actually referring to a fun little writing exercise I did today with my son.

 I've been having my son go through this book: Just Write: Creativity and Craft in Writing, Book 1, as a way to get a little writing practice in over the summer. I found it on my shelf and decided it would do the trick. Since he is actually mostly beyond the material thought-wise (one would hope so, it's 1st grade book and he is supposed to be in 5th grade), I am just skimming through it quickly with him, hitting the highlights. In a chapter about descriptions, I came upon this fun little activity:

...use this sheet to list some details about a monster that you create. Then give this list to someone so they can draw a picture of what your monster looks like. Be sure to have enough details so your partner has a clear picture in his or her mind of what your monster looks like.

I told my son if he wrote down some descriptions I would try to draw a monster. If I got the monster all wrong it would be because he didn't describe it well enough!

Here is what he wrote:

Here is what I came up with:

It wasn't exactly what he had envisioned, but he liked it anyway.

My daughter decided she wanted to do it too, so I made up a monster of my own and she produced this very adorable drawing.

 It's not exactly what I specified, but she said she couldn't do a dog snout. I love how she named it and gave it some character too.

I think I'll call that little exercise a success!

Since we are talking about writing here, I should mention that our friend, Casey, who will be providing us with some writing classes next year, has started a blog with some wonderful writing ideas. It's worth checking out.

I can personally attest that her suggestion of, Unjournaling by Cheryl Miller Thurston, is a great resource for writing prompts. I may also check out the rest of the books in the Just Write Series. Some of this stuff is pretty fun!