Meet the Secular Classical Homeschool Duo Podcast Episode 1

“Stacks of books on every surface…”

We know how to reel in our bookish homeschool people. We’ve been haphazard about blogging, and in these pandemic times, we’re worried about your new homeschoolers. Join us weekly to here all the tips and tricks we’ve learned over the years.
Episode 1 of our new podcast is ready for your listening enjoyment. Please sit back and let us school you on the finer and broader points of home education. Courtney Ostaff and Jen Naughton are a part of the old guard of secular homeschooling.
In this episode, you will hear our origin stories into the educational world of Secular, Classical Homeschooling.
Jenn and Courtney are two experienced homeschoolers who practice classical, secular homeschooling. Jenn’s been doing this since 2001, and Courtney has been homeschooling since 2014. Using their experience and expertise, they cheerfully eviscerate popular recommendations and curricula. Join them to hear what they consider the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In this episode we mentioned several books

a planning overview, from high level to daily detail

The first thing that I do is decide what topics I want my children to study. I made a decision a long time ago to do Well-Trained Mind style homeschooling, and I haven’t regretted it.

Since my youngest is 5, this is more or less her kindergarten year. I have less stress about kindergarten years, keeping in mind that the most important thing is to teach her to read. This led me to think about reading curricula, and in August, I decided to use Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I decided to use RightStart Level A for math, and the Core Knowledge Kindergarten History and Geography Unit 1: Let’s Explore Our World as a quick pass at social studies. State law requires that I teach science, too, and I’m fond of Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding. I also wanted to use parts of the Memoria Press (MP) Kindergarten program with the Kindergarten Supplemental Science & Enrichment Set.

Generally, I keep to my work schedule at the Well-Trained Mind Academy, which is five days a week, Monday through Friday. I don’t ask my youngest to do academics on Thursdays because they go to co-op, but my older child does math and some others things on Thursday (that’s a different blog post). My girls take my vacation days, too, which means an extra long mid-winter break that I’ve input into Scholaric as well. That gives me approximately 34 weeks of dedicated academics, or 170 possible days.

Now, this all sounds like a lot, but I use Scholaric to make a daily checklist, which is much less intimidating.

This is where Scholaric shines. 100 EZ Lessons is obviously, 100 lessons. Scholaric is lovely because I can input our vacation days, and then have it automatically lay out the lessons day by day. This way, even though  I know that we’ll finish up in March. (I’ve an idea that I’ll pick up with Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading and Phonics Pathways then.)  Similarly, RightStart has a set number of lessons. I spread the BFSU lessons out over three weeks or so, and I can tell Scholaric to do that for me. The CK social studies is designed to take six weeks, but I’ll let it go longer, too.

Once I’ve input what I want to do in Scholaric, I can then print out daily checklists. This helps me not have to remember what I had planned, because my life is busy and I’m absentminded.  If we don’t get to something, for whatever reason, it’s a simple click to bump that item to the next day and have it ripple down to the planned days in Scholaric. If we do more, then I can bump back too. I can also easily do loop planning this way, even if I take random days off. The printed checklists double as items I can add to a portfolio, especially when the bulk of the work is out loud.

Now, as happened with reading and my youngest this autumn, when the program I’d picked out doesn’t work, then it’s a simple matter to “hide” the row in Scholaric and replace it with something else. When I’ve settled on a curriculum, I rarely spend more than 20 minutes in a given week tweaking and printing.

We’re now using All About Reading, which is also clearly delineated as lesson-based, and therefore easy to input into Scholaric. I dropped the MP Kindergarten program because it’s been a difficult autumn, but I want to try and pick it back up again–I love having the books all prepared and the Q & As ready for me. I want to add in the Saxon K morning meeting work, too.

It’s perfectly normal for children to be on different grade levels in different subjects, especially when children have special education needs, and so this ongoing tweaking that I do in Scholaric helps me customize the education to the child. The daily checklists help me get it done on a daily basis, while the ability schedule lessons out to the future helps me do a bit of long-term planning.

5 Good Books on the “Why?” of Classical Education

Climbing Parnassus by Simmons

This was one of the first books I read about classical education, and I will confess that at first I didn’t quite “get” it. It seemed elitist, and a little oddball and frankly boring. Then, after doing some other reading, I read it again, and then I read it a third time, and only then did I “see.” Like so much of “classic literature,” you really need to have some background knowledge in order to get the full meat of the argument. I’ve chosen some of my favorite, more accessible quotes that I think make some good points about classical education.

“…the kind of citizens we wish to create and the kind of polity we wish to engender. For education is never neutral. Embedded within any course of study lie assumptions about what people ought to know, and about human nature itself: Are we Man or Machine? Education is, in the end, an auxiliary of philosophy — an embodiment of aims and ideals.

Humanism is “the belief that man is more important than his environment or his possessions; and that his fundamental business is not to understand [physical] nature, though that is one of his problems, nor to earn a livelihood, though that is one of his duties, but so to lead his life as to make the best of human nature and above all of what is characteristic of, peculiar to, and highest in human nature; or, as the Greeks put it, to achieve the arête [or ‘excellence’] of man.”

Matters of ethics, morality, and politics jostle as the vita beata, the good or happy life, is delineated, as it so supremely was during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in Greece, an age that, according to Livingstone, “had to face the questions which — now veiled now visible, now remote now insistent — constitute the eternal human problem: what should men believe about life, how should they live it, in what state of society can the good life be best lived, [and] how can we create such a state?”

Closing of the American Mind by Bloom

This is another book that I stumbled through the first time I read it, and came back to again and again. While I’m not alone in having serious problems with his conclusions, the general line of his argument is difficult to ignore and worth considering. If you think of education as shaping future citizens, then thinking about how society should be is key to determining what education should be.

Allan Bloom died young, of AIDS, and had he lived, would no doubt have been an irascible curmudgeon, but his book made me think, and eventually I concluded that I believe in moral objectivism a la Kant: there is a limit to human behavior, that some actions are simply intolerable, no matter when, where, or how they take place.

There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.

The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance.

Relativism is necessary to openness

The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.

There is no enemy other than the man who is not open to everything.

…when there are no shared goals or vision of the public good, is the social contract any longer possible?

Men must love and be loyal to their families and their peoples in order to preserve them. Only if they think their own things are good can they rest content with them. A father must prefer his child to other children, a citizen his country to others. That is why there are myths—to justify these attachments. And a man needs a place and opinions by which to orient himself.

Consider This by Karen Glass

To be honest, I’ve never been particularly attracted to Charlotte Mason style classical education. It seemed awfully soft around the edges, a sort of slacker-style education. My first encounters with it didn’t do much to change my mind. Sit around and read good books? That’s all?!

As I’ve become a more experienced homeschooler, and stepped a little away from my innate dislike of formal literature and literature analysis, I’ve become more aware of how our perception of current society is shaped by the books we read, even those set in the past. With great power comes great responsibility, and so I’ve become even more selective about choosing books in our homeschool.

Thinking about how literature shapes us, I picked up Consider This at exactly the right time to be receptive to ideas like:

answers to such questions as “what shall we teach and how shall we teach it?” begin with a much more fundamental question: “what is a person?” or perhaps the wider, “what is man?”

Her first two principles assert that “children are born persons” and “they are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.”

… education should create a metanarrative (or worldview) for children which will make sense of the world and create a standard of conduct by which they will desire to live.

A Defence of Classical Education by Livingstone

This was one of the first books about classical education that made innate sense to me. I later realized that most later arguments for classical education (including those in Climbing Parnassus) echoed this book, albeit from points of view that I didn’t necessarily understand at the time I read them.

Livingstone was writing at the height of the switch from classical education to “modern” Romantic education in the US & UK. All the current arguments about conceptual understanding versus procedural knowledge and utility versus background knowledge were derived from these first shots over the bow–only nowadays there’s no one left to coherently argue for the classical side. We must go back to the original debate to find our arguments.

It’s relatively short, and free of charge, and well worth flipping through. If my daughters reaped the benefit of classical education as per my favorite quote, I would be a happy woman:

Lord Morley says somewhere: “An educated man is one who knows when a thing is proved and when it is not. An uneducated man does not know.”

pg. 22

Norms and Nobility by Hicks

While I have serious qualms with many parts of this book, I think that there are some worthy arguments in this densely written book about the purpose and content of classical education. Hicks is a professional educator at private school, and his experience weighs in on his arguments. I am less impressed by the second half of the book wherein he actualizes his ideas. Generally, I finished this book unsatisfied with his supports and conclusions, but intrigued by the thread of the arguments.

The sublime premise of a classical education asserts that right thinking will lead to right, if not righteous, acting. … modern books on education which lay off this difficult premise by treating the mastery of thinking skills and the understanding of basic ideas in our Western (or any other) intellectual tradition as if they were sufficient ends of education. I cannot accept this. Nor am I convinced that an education aimed exclusively at the formation of a rational man will automatically assure mankind’s happiness or goodness.

pg vi

5 Good Books on Knowing Things

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham

Knowing things brings pleasure. You cannot have the distinct enjoyment of listening to a book that riffs on the Odyssey and appreciating the way the author plays on the similarities and differences if you don’t know the Odyssey. Jazz without knowledge is merely random noise. Forcing students to wallow in their ignorance definitely brings confusion at best and hatred at worst because it will inevitably lead to failure.

There is no doubt that having students memorize lists of dry facts is not enriching. It is also true (though less often appreciated) that trying to teach students skills such as analysis or synthesis in the absence of factual knowledge is impossible.


Making Kids Cleverer by Didau

I have deep reservations about Didau’s book, especially as it regards gifted children (who come from all social classes, albeit less identified in lower-SES groups). However, his central thesis is undeniable, especially if you have reviewed the questions on an intelligence test, as I have. We can make all our children “cleverer” and thus more successful as adults by systematically and purposefully placing factual knowledge in their essentially infinite, long-term, semantic memory to assist in overcoming limited working memory.

Fluid intelligence is our raw reasoning power, and is, as far as we can tell, fixed. Nothing we’ve tried as yet is able to increase it. Crystallised intelligence is the ability to apply what we know to new problems and can certainly be increased by adding to our store of knowledge. This is the central thesis of the book: more knowledge equals more intelligence.

When we compare the IQ of children of similar socio-economic status, most of the variance is explained by genes; but when the IQ scores of children of lower socio-economic status are compared, most of the variation is explained by environmental differences.


The Knowledge Deficit by E. D. Hirsch

In the US, I hear things like, “there will always be gaps” and “the important thing is to learn how to learn” and “children will teach themselves what they need to know.” But the truth is, that kind of laissez-faire attitude only benefits those children whose families can provide a home environment that greatly enriches their background knowledge, and thus their future success. All children can be made more academically successful by systematically and purposefully enriching their knowledge base.

Breadth of knowledge is the single factor within human control that contributes most to academic achievement and general cognitive competence. In contradiction to the theory of social determinism, breadth of knowledge is a far greater factor in achievement than socioeconomic status. The positive correlation between achieved ability and socioeconomic status is only half the correlation between achieved ability and the possession of general information. That is to say, being “smart” is more dependent on possessing general knowledge than on family background per se.

–pg. 106; E.D. Hirsch

How We Learn by Benedict Carey

The overlap on how we learn might not intuitively overlap with the importance of knowing things, but in fact, learning is all about adding to our our storehouse of knowledge. Without a clear knowledge base, all is “as one great blooming, buzzing confusion.” Even children who are “athletic,” “mathy,” or “precocious readers” need to have a knowledge base, often carefully tended by loving adults within a supportive home environment. Those children simply have more knowledge to understand (to discriminate) what is important to their area of expertise and so perform faster, quicker, better.

They’re “naturals.” We make a clear distinction between this kind of ability and expertise of the academic kind. Expertise is a matter of learning–of accumulating knowledge, of studying and careful thinking, of creating. It’s built, not born. The culture itself makes the same distinction between gifted athletes and productive scholars. Yet this distinction is also flawed in a fundamental way.

… the brain … perceives to learn. It takes the differences it has detected between similar-looking notes or letters or figures, and uses those to help decipher new, previously unseen material. … This “discrimination learning” builds on itself, the brain hoarding the benchmarks and signatures it eventually uses to read larger and larger chunks of information.

–pg 183; Carey

The Testing Charade by Koretz

Koretz is an expert on testing. There are some valid criticisms of his book, but he makes some excellent points about knowledge and testing and the results thereof–essentially, despite all we know about the importance of a well-rounded curriculum that supplies a wide knowledge base, our current US and UK education system, with its focus on high-stakes testing, is counterproductive to creating the kind of intellectual environment our students need.

Even in the area of intellectual development, what we really care about most is what he called “criterion behaviors”: the knowledge and skills that students are able to apply once they leave school. We can’t wait until students enter college or the workplace to do that—and wouldn’t be able to do it well even if we did wait—so instead we measure mastery of the school curriculum while kids are still in school. Moreover, even within that far narrower range, there is a great deal of student learning that we simply can’t measure well with standardized instruments.

high-stakes testing creates strong incentives to focus on the tested sample rather than the domain it is intended to represent. If you teach a domain better—say, geometry—scores on a good test of that area will go up. However, if you directly teach the small sample measured by a particular test—for example, memorization of the fact that vertical angles are equal—scores will increase, often dramatically, but mastery of geometry as a whole will not improve much, if at all. It is much as though a campaign tried to win an election by convincing the eight hundred polled people—and only those eight hundred people—to vote for their candidate.


Five Good Books on Teaching Math

The Liberal Arts Tradition by Jain and Clark

The first book on this list might not obviously be about teaching math, but in fact the authors teach advanced math at a small, private, Christian classical school in Florida. They have some of the best writing I’ve ever seen about the importance of mathematics in classical education.

Today the desire among math educators to cultivate “number sense” reflects this ancient desire to have deep reasoning in arithmetic.

–Clark and Jain

Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown and Henry L. Roediger III

Another book that isn’t obviously about mathematics, yet contains wonderful information about to structure your child’s math education. Make It Stick is a fantastic book just to learn how to learn better, but the idea of interleaved and varied practice is especially foreign to most US math curricula.

In math education, massing is embedded in the textbook: each chapter is dedicated to a particular kind of problem, which you study in class and then practice by working, say, twenty examples for homework before you move on. … When you have learned under conditions of massed or blocked repetition, you have had no practice on that critical sorting process. … For our learning to have practical value, we must be adept at discerning “What kind of problem is this?” so we can select and apply an appropriate solution.

Several studies have demonstrated the improved powers of discrimination to be gained through interleaved and varied practice.

pg 53; Brown, Roediger III, and McDaniel

The Math Gene by Keith Devlin

In the US, we tend to think that either children are “mathy” or they’re not, and there’s not really much to be done about it. We’re shameless about saying, “I’m not really good at math” in a way we would never say, “I’m not good at reading.” Devlin wrote an entire book to argue against the idea that some people are just intuitively mathy, and it’s a good book.

Whatever it is that causes the interest, it is that interest in mathematics that constitutes the main difference between those who can do mathematics and those who claim to find it impossible.


A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart

This is actually an extended essay, but it’s quite powerful. Lockhart argues that the joy of mathematics should be given to all.

The saddest part of all this “reform” are the attempts to “make math interesting” and “relevant to kids’ lives.” You don’t need to make math interesting–it’s already more interesting than we can handle! And the glory of it is its complete irrelevance to our lives. That’s why it’s so fun!

pg. 8; Lockhart

The Number Sense by Stanislas Dehaene

Dehaene is a neuroscientist writing in his second language, and so this is a fairly dense piece of work, albeit written for the general public. However, if you can stick with it, he explains some of the most frustrating and key parts of teaching math. For example, his analogy for the times tables is amazing.

What would happen if you had to memorize an address book that looked like this:

Charlie David lives on George Avenue

Charlie George lives on Albert Zoe Avenue

George Ernie lives on Albert Bruno Avenue.

And a second one for professional addresses like this:

Charlie David works on Albert Bruno Avenue

Charlie George works on Bruno Albert Avenue

George Ernie works on Charlie Ernie Avenue

Learning these twisted lists would certainly be a nightmare. Yet they are nothing but addition and multiplication tables in disguise. … The six above addresses are thus equivalent to the additions 3 + 4 = 7, 3 + 7 = 10, and 7 + 5 = 12, and to the multiplications 3 x 4 = 12, 3 x 7 = 21, and 7 x 5 = 35.


A Day in the Life 2019

What does a Friday look like at our house?

My mother was up earliest, at 5:45 am. She puttered a bit, saw my husband off to work, and then watched some Australian soap opera on Netflix before taking the children while I worked.

G had scheduled a sleepover on Friday night with a friend, so she woke up early to pack and get all her work done before we left the house. Early for G is before seven. She typically gets herself up, dressed, fed, and chills out by herself for an hour or two in the early morning quiet after her father leaves for work while her sister is still asleep.

Apparently she started with her pre-algebra first, since it was the toughest. 95% on that exam! She lucked out of assignments in her online classes, so she zoomed through her vocab quiz, Latin review, history video and written summary, literature read-aloud (she reads to my mother), and science reading and Q&A pretty much independently, all before 1pm. My mom checks that the day’s work is completed and grades things like math tests. I make daily schedules and do regular quality assurance checks.

E didn’t sleep well Thursday night, so she didn’t wake up until about 8:30. I took her downstairs and let her watch toy decorating videos on YouTube while I made breakfast for both of us. Then I enjoyed some quiet time with a book while E and I snuggled and my mother kept an eye on G.

E scooted over to my mom’s side of the house while I taught from 11 am to 1 pm. After rounding the children up, and making sure that G had her overnight bag, we drove the half-hour to the pediatrician’s office. I try to schedule out of the house things on Friday afternoons after my last class of the day because I know I’m fried by then! Mom enjoys those quiet afternoons home alone.

After the inevitable tears at the pediatrician’s office, I rewarded the girls with lunch out at our favorite fast-casual restaurant. While they debated on dessert, I finished up some paperwork for the 4-H club I lead. Afterward, I dropped G at her friend’s house, and picked up takeout for dinner (because, again, Friday!)

By the time we got home, my husband was home from work. We had family dinner, and then my husband and I worked on E with her phonics and math. Afterward, we had a quiet family night in. Those are my favorite evenings.

Homeschool Day in the Life 2019

A few weeks ago I posted a Day in the Life from the way back when all my kids were homeschooling. Today I’m posting something more current. If you are in the trenches juggling children, know that eventually, you’ll be down to one kid- an older kid who is mostly self-sufficient. It’s completely different.
On the one hand, we have time to do most anything. On the other, I have to reign myself in so that I don’t overload the poor kid. Just because I have more time doesn’t mean he needs to “do something” every second of the day.

We’ve tweaked our schedule and our materials and are now in a pretty good routine even while fighting some nasty colds.
We’re studying math, lit,
Comp/ grammar, daily. Science, geography, American history, and ancient history are on a rotation.

Today is Thursday and our day looks like this:
8 am: I serve up some cold brew, and the teen boy takes the dog outside.

8:15: They’re back inside, and he heads upstairs for some computer time while I check emails and figure out the day.

9:00- I head up to shower and remind him to eat breakfast.

9:20- we meet in the office to discuss his literature assignment. He’s reading Treasure Island, and we’re using the Lit Guide written by Memoria Press. We go over the student pages together, and he fills in the questions that I have highlighted. Then we go through the flashcards that I’ve made for this unit.

10:15- Math/Saxon 87 lesson 7. (We started this school year finishing up Saxon 76). I copied all the worksheets and facts practice sheets over the Summer, and so now I need to click open the binder to pull out the correct pages. Today we’re doing practice page B (simple equations), then we do the mental math, and problem-solving section. I then teach lesson 7, and we do the practice problems A-G together. Then he does the problem set alone, asking for help when needed. I’m nearby reading a book.

Noon he’s done with math, and we cook/eat lunch.

12:30 we take about a 2-mile bike ride through our neighborhood.

12:50 we get back and grab the dog for a walk to the park.

1:15 we are back in the office for writing, we do a lesson on outlining from Writing With Style.

1:45, at this point, we begin our rotating subjects depending on the day. Today is geography. We’re studying in Western Europe. First, we do flashcards. He has about ten capitals and countries memorized so far. We add a few more into the pile and read the lesson in Geography 3 from Memoria Press. We fill in the student pages together.

2:15 I hand him his handwriting notebook and remind him to read the next chapter of Treasure Island, the next American history chapter and to do 15 minutes of dragon box.

After that, he’s done for the day.
If we have errands or if I have to work midday, then all of the school gets pushed back accordingly, so some days we aren’t finished until 5 pm, but he would have had time to waste time midday if he did not want to work without my help.

I’m feeling more relaxed, not every book needs to be in its original form.

This is a very different experience for both of us. He’s used to be the youngest, not the “only”. I’m used to doing two or three levels of math at once. I have to say though this is turning into one of my favorite years of homeschooling ever.

Homeschool Day in the Life

This post is an old one from back in 2006. My kids were 1,7,10,12,15. I think I typed this up for one of those WTM threads when I was Jen in IL. It makes me tired just reading it. If you know us, you’ll be able to figure out which kid is which number. I did some editing for clarity but left it pretty much as is.

6 am: I’m up with the baby (I should call him toddler now) drinking tea and reading my oldest’s Biology lesson for the day. It doesn’t look that hard. It calls for him to dissect the bluegill. I can send the oldest three boys over to the pond to catch one at lunchtime.
6:30 am: I put the baby back in the pack n play, switch the laundry, let the cat outside and wonder who was cooking late last night. Dirty dishes first thing in the morning is so annoying.
7 am: I’m hearing movement upstairs, so I start breakfast. 10 comes down and wants to play Mario. Sure. The game noise wakes up 7. They play a game while I cook up a batch of muffins. I run up to shower while they are in the oven.
8 am: Everyone’s up now except 15. I read a book that has you block out every hour of the day and write what each person should be doing during that time. I think it will help with who is watching the baby while I do school with the other kids. It needs tweaking as the times are all off. Nothing takes as long as you think it will. I’m hoping the oldest two will cooperate trying it again today.
8:30 am: Baby threw up all over me, and now I have to change my clothes. He still isn’t talking, but he screams a lot. 7 watches him while I run upstairs to change and try to get 15 out of bed. I get sidetracked sending husband out the door.
8:46- Give 12 his math lesson, 7 has the baby watching Barney, 10 is reading his lit book and 15 is in the bathroom. We’re not too far off track.
9:30- doorbell. The neighbor who stayed home from school wants to play. I send him away because we are doing this block thing. It will work. I tell him to come back at noon, or 3. 10 and 12 are now annoyed with me. 15 is finally out of the bathroom, and I ask him to start his work. I’m letting him choose what he wants to do except when he is on baby duty.
9:40- we should be on a break, but I tell the kids if we go to the next block we’ll be able to catch up and be done sooner. No one likes these blocks but me. I start math with 10. 12 has the baby, and 7 watches a nature video that I’m calling science enrichment, but is really just something to keep her out of the way and quiet.
9:55- 12 tells me that baby has thrown up, and luckily, the dog licked it up. Luckily? That’s up for interpretation. I make a note to call the gastro doc, this is getting to be a bit much. I’ve already eliminated most foods from my diet.
10:00- I do math with 7. We’re using Saxon 2, and she loves the counting bears. 12 is reading, and 10 has the baby. 15 is playing loud music, which means he isn’t reading his Psych book. I go upstairs, and he is reading. Crisis averted.
10:30- My homeschooling friend is here with her 3 girls. I’m teaching all of them Latin. Her twins are 8, and her other daughter is 12. I park them in the dining room with my 10 and 12. None of the kids did their workbook from last time, so I have them start there. 7 keeps dancing through with her army of Polly Pockets. I tell her she can sit with us or go play in the yard. I nurse the baby while we do Latin chants.
11:15- We decide to take all the kids to McDonald’s for lunch and to use the nearly empty play place. Except for a few toddlers, we are alone there. I grab a large soda and am thankful I haven’t had to give that up. Afterward, I drop the oldest three off at the pond. 7 goes home with a friend to play with the girls. I’ll do a reading lesson at night with her.
1:00pm- Baby is napping, and the boys bring the fish in the kitchen. 15 shows me the Biology lesson, and we both agree that he has dissected it according to the directions. I send him off to write it up in his lab book and remind him to read his American History.
1:30- 10 and 12 will not work together. I keep trying to combine them, but they fight nonstop. I make more tea and send 12 downstairs to switch the laundry while I work with 10. We do all his workbook stuff, and then they switch places, and I work with 12.
3:00- the Neighbor kid is at the door right on time. 15 and 12 go outside. I do Math with 10 while nursing the baby again. He cannot get a long division. Understands dividing as a concept but gets lost in the algorithm.
4:00- I call the homeschool day done and check my email, start dinner, and deal with some insurance calls.
5:00- Dinner. Husband isn’t home yet, there is construction on the tollway, and it sometimes takes him 2 hours to get home now. We eat and then I go get 7 from a playdate. We do some phonics and then take turns reading aloud.
6:30- Reheat dinner plate for the husband and talk to him while he eats. Watch him do yard work until LOST comes on. We all watch that, and then I start sending all the kids up for showers at 9.
9:30- get 7 tucked in with audiobook playing. Remind 12 to clean up and feed his ferrets. I can’t even go in his room anymore cause they freak me out.
10- Remind 15 that he needs to mail his tests into the school the next day and to finish them up. Go to bed with book and nurse 1 to sleep.

A Day In the Life

This is an old entry, from when I had a demanding toddler.

7:30 Will the baby go back to sleep? She’s quiet..

7:54 No.

8:06 Morning ablutions with a fussy toddler on my hip. Meanwhile, elder DD has gone into the living room to watch YouTube.

8:10 Checking email while snagging breakfast. One important student email I need to respond to is flagged for later. I grab 2 breakfast burritos out of the freezer and jam them in the microwave. Husband can drive through McD’s tomorrow because I’m almost out of this batch of breakfast burritos—mental note to make another batch this weekend. With the toddler still on my hip, I grab a soda off the back porch. It’s too warm to keep storing my soda on the back porch—mental note to bring it in. Sometime when the toddler isn’t screaming at me to come back inside. Her separation anxiety is fierce. Meanwhile, the older is still watching YouTube. I think about saying something, but don’t. The microwave beeps, and the toddler demands my breakfast.

8:15 trying to persuade the older child to eat breakfast is always a losing battle. Her gastroesophageal reflux tends to make her queasy in the morning. Nevertheless, I make her two pieces of cinnamon toast, and get her a glass of water for her Prilosec.

8:20 While DD’s toast cooks, I try to eat my breakfast and respond to email, but the toddler sits on my lap and eats all the sausage out of my burritos. DD is still watching YouTube.

8:25 The toast has been retrieved from the toaster and offered to the eldest child. Her Prilosec has been taken, anyway. I settle back in at my desk with the toddler, trying to finish answering my email.

8:37 where did the time go? The toddler is wandering around the living room, wreaking havoc. Eldest child is still watching YouTube. I tell her that we will do school in 10 minutes, and open up the tab for Facebook.

9:01 it’s a good thing eldest daughter wasn’t paying attention, because I wasn’t either. The toddler has curled up on my lap, on the Boppy, and is nursing peacefully. I decide not to disturb her.

9:07 So much for peaceful nursing.

9:15 having overcome all the vociferous objections to actually doing academic work, I wrangled the child to the dining room table. Once she is actually seated, she works quickly. We do math, poem memorization, composition, grammar, handwriting, history, and I decide to do Latin in the car, listening to the CD and repeating it.

10:20 I pick up the science book, and start reading it to her, but then realize that we don’t have enough time to finish it because we all have to get dressed and tidied before the sitter gets here. I finish the paragraph.

10:25 The girls’ room is a mess. No time to clean. Must find decent outfits for both. Of course younger child needs her diaper changed right now!

10:30 Strenuously objecting to the diaper change, younger daughter has run away half naked while I’m still not dressed for work. At least elder daughter is dressed, although she’s hungry, finally.

10:35 Younger daughter caught and dressed, bean burrito plucked out of the freezer and microwaving for elder daughter, I venture into my clean laundry pile. I need to buy some un-stained tops.

10:40 finally, we are all dressed. I grab a cucumber out of the refrigerator and quickly slice some up. Cucumber in a little glass bowl, tomato slices in a bowl, chopped cold chicken in a bowl, bean burrito cut up on a plate, and apple sauce poured into a bowl equals lunch for older daughter. Extra handful of Cheerios, a pouch with some applesauce, and some diced cucumber for younger daughter means lunch is pretty much done. I grab a protein bar and another soda, and frantically put away toys in the living room while I wait for the babysitter.

10:47 of course sitter is running late. I pay almost 25% of my take-home salary in babysitting fees, and I am lucky to get her.

10:50 I have deposited my screaming toddler in the arms of the college age babysitter, and harden my heart as I walk away. She will be fine. It is only two hours. I try not to think about her screaming as I walk downstairs.

10:52 I load my whiteboard, and prep for class. I transfer all of my attention to my students. They’re my sole concern for the next two hours. Compartmentalization is a skill, and I can exercise it.

12:52 Hopefully I have been entertaining enough, engaging enough, and had enough relevant expertise to keep up with these fiercely bright and curious students today. My noon section was particularly on the ball, and I just needed a light hand to steer the conversation. They created their own lightbulb moment. I love teaching.

12:53 Back to motherhood. All is silent upstairs.

12:55 I quietly write a check for the sitter. She transfers the sleeping toddler into my arms, and of course she wakes up. Her face is tear stained, and she grabs me, holding me tight. I settle down at my desk to nurse her, but she wiggles and twists and turns while she nurses. (Years later, I realize that this is a sign of her vicious GERD). Meanwhile, eldest had settled on the sofa with a book, but since her sister is awake, she decides to go back to Minecraft.

1:11 The toddler wants to go outside, but I need to check the discussion forums in my classes. She wanders over to the window and bangs on it, while I load up Blackboard.

1:46 Only 45 minutes before we need to load up in the car. Of course the toddler needs a fresh outfit. This one is smeared with the beans from her sister’s lunch.

2:06 I decide to load them up a bit early. It takes a half an hour to get anywhere anyway, and this way we will have enough time to run through McDonald’s for an afternoon snack. Elder daughter grabs her Kindle to read in the car.

2:33 The toddler is screaming loudly, when we drive through McDonald’s. Of course. I order an extra small french fry, in hopes that she’s just cranky because she’s hungry.

2:40 Having devoured the french fries, the toddler has fallen asleep. Unfortunately, I have to wake her up in 15 minutes to walk her sister in to therapy.

2:55 Everybody out of the car. I snuggle the cranky sleepy toddler in the mei tai so I can have my hands free while we walk in.

3:00 Big sister dropped off, we wait in the waiting room. I wonder how often they clean the toys, and make polite conversation with the clearly harassed mother of two. Hers look 3.5 and 2, if I had to guess. She’s got fabulous hair.

3:30 Big sister is finished, time to load everybody back into the car, so I can go home and make dinner. I belatedly remember Latin, but I can’t figure out how to pause the CD in the car, and they speak so fast, I’m not sure it’s useful.

4:00 Time for dinner. Too hot for the planned Salisbury steak, I decide to make spaghetti Carbonara. It’s not much lighter, but it’s quick. Plus, I have ham that needs to be eaten, and as expensive as that was, it’d be a shame to waste it.

4:07 Thank goodness DH arrived home. He takes cranky hungry toddler, while I chop ham, and eldest daughter complains about being bored.

4:27 Spaghetti is boiling, so I quickly write up the recipe as a possible submission to the faculty blog.

4:53 Dinner is on the table and so is the toddler. I call eldest daughter away from the computer, asking her to tell my mom that dinner is ready. She’d arrived home from work while I was cooking, but I’ve not yet talked to her today.

5:01 Why does eldest child not want to eat this?! She gobbled it down last week!

5:03 My mother asks me if there’s egg in the sauce. Of course there is. “Why are you letting her eat it?” Bad Mommy. I had forgotten that the allergist recommended the toddler avoid egg. sigh

5:45 Everyone has drifted away from the table, but I’m not clearing it. I need to check my email, and frankly, I’m tired. Dear Husband has gone outside with the girls, so I take a moment to call a potential Birth To Three client, review a specialty developmental assessment with my mother, balance the bank account, and return parent email.

6:37 I venture on the back porch, where Dear Husband and I have a tense discussion about the need to replace our 15-year-old car. The girls are filthy, and are going to need baths.

7:09 I vegetate on Facebook while Dear Husband runs a bath for the girls.

7:29 I commence operation Scrub The Children. This is a complex, multi-part operation with up to four different players, which can easily take an hour.

8:34 I decide I need a shower.

9:06 Time to nag eldest child to brush her teeth.

9:16 I try to quickly return a parent email, only to realize I’ve lost an important file. It takes me a good 25 minutes to find it, while Dear Husband wrangles the children into pajamas.

9:45 I attempt to nurse the toddler to sleep, but she’s discovered that Daddy is awake in the next room, reading science to her sister, and she wants no part of a boring, dark room with Mommy. Three tries are required before she finally falls asleep.

10:46 Dear Husband finally slips into bed with me, but we’re both so fried, we putter on electronic devices instead of talking.

11:30 I shut off my Kindle, as Allan Bloom is no longer making sense.

The Work Smart Academic Planner Review

One of the most common reactions I get to homeschooling is that of parents saying that their child won’t work for them. Usually, those kids aren’t doing great in school either, and it all may be an executive skills deficit.

The Work-Smart Academic Planner is the gold standard of teaching the skills that students (grades 6-12) need to master, and it’s their planner for an entire school year. I’m going to use it alongside my eighth-grader as a sort of ongoing study skills seminar.

Parents/ Teachers can access their user guide to determine how they can present the material to the student. After reading through the planner and teacher materials, it looks easy to implement.

Section 1 includes an Executive Skills questionnaire/checklist/ tip sheets that are useful for both teacher and student. I’m going to copy the questionnaire and answer it for myself, and then we can both look through the strategies and keep each other on task. This section is going to take a while to dig into as it includes these common problems and then the approach you’ll need to draw from to improve:

  • Response Inhibition
  • Working Memory
  • Emotional Control
  • Task Initiation
  • Sustained Attention
  • Planning
  • Flexibility
  • Organization

Section 2 is Goal Setting. Again- great checklists and lots of suggestions that aren’t the same ideas you may have encountered in the past. See also the authors’ Coaching Students with Executive Skills Deficits, which provides additional resources and guidance for professionals working with this population, plus the authoritative Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition. Also from Dawson and Guare: Smart but Scattered parenting guides and a self-help guide for adults.

Section 3 is possibly my favorite. Strategies For Success includes:

  • Studying for Tests
  • Five Paragraph Essay Template
  • Long Term Project planning Form (!)
  • Reading Comprehension Strategies
  • How to write a Summary
  • Managing Distractions
  • and more

That’s all before you get to the actual planner that they can use daily for the entire school year. It’s a slim book despite all that it contains. There are Daily/Weekly and Monthly Planner pages that all include the same terminology that you are familiar with after you’ve completed the first half of the book.

I’ll check back in and let you all know how it went for us in a few weeks. I decided to push the review out now before we get too far into the school year. Trust me, I’ve paid for an ADHD counselor, and this $15 may be the best money you spend this school year.