If you’re just tuning in, I’m finally winding down a series of posts covering our first year in homeschooling. It’s been such a wild and crazy year, and putting it to words only affirms my belief that this is absolutely the right thing for us. In the last week, I’ve talked about why we homeschool, the method we use, and the lessons I’ve learned. Now, in wrapping up, I’ll share with you a few of my most memorable moments, and the few little tricks that have helped us handle changing course several times without breaking the bank.
First and foremost, the fun stuff- the homeschool year in review. I’m borrowing a fun technique from fellow homeschool mom, Katie, who blogs over at http://www.katieleipprandt.com. I just love her quick-witted snippets as compared to my prolix stream-of-consciousness. She is super fun and inspiring- I highly recommend you check her out. Now, for the review:
Favorite breakfast: Banana smoothies. I like mine with cocoa powder, flaxseed meal, and coconut milk; the kids like theirs with strawberries and almond milk. (I sneak in a bunch of kale, and nobody’s ever any the wiser.)
Favorite lunch: Spinach salad with dried cranberries, pecans, red onion, and mozzarella in a red wine vinaigrette dressing. Yep. The kids will actually eat that. Turns out dried fruit, nuts, and cheese can turn anything into a hit in this house. (And I can keep it in my salad spinner for a few days at a time.)
Favorite snack: Apples, peeled and sliced, tossed in cinnamon (so you can’t see them turn brown), or chips and salsa. These are so cheap and easy, and my monsters have all but forgotten prepackaged snacks.
Favorite part of the day: Reading on the couch. This could be a chapter from our novel-of-the-moment, or just a picture book. I’m a bit dramatic (shocking, I know), and the kiddos love to hear the voices and do some of the characterization themselves.
Least favorite part of the day: Whatever we’re doing first– I am not a huge fan of begging, and I’m not too proud to admit that I often resort to begging to get us started. That’s the downside of homeschool. Technically, we could just stay in our pajamas and never do anything, and the temptation to do just that is always there.
Best Field Trip: Fernbank Museum, where we toured the natural history of Georgia exhibit and created fables that featured local animals and early American culture. They also have a great indoor playground, and are fantastic about allowing in packed lunches. One of my better moments in planning, for sure.
Worst Field Trip: The time I took the kids to see Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer before Christmas, without actually validating that they know who Santa or Rudolph were. Not one of my finer moments. Imagine a 90-minute puppet show, featuring whiny munchkins who don’t understand why that deer is crying or why the old man (Santa) is yelling at all the kids (elves).
Worst mom moment: That time I said we could make French macarons for our family history project, but wound up hijacking the project and doing it myself so it would “turn out right.” I’m pretty sure everyone wound up crying in the living room, and I can assure you the macarons were less than memorable. Oy.
Proudest mom moment: Seeing Miss Co read Elephant and Piggie books to the boys in the mornings, and watching my boys jump up and down asking her to read another, and another. The beginning of a beautiful friendship.
And finally, the little tricks that have helped make things easier:
Best investment: Building a children’s book library using eBay. I bought three separate lots of books, all from retired teachers, for less than $100 each, and all containing more than 50 books. Among our happy collection are 25+ Gail Gibbons science books, the complete Eric Carle collection, the Little House on the Prairie books, Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, The Story of Ruby Bridges, Abe Lincoln Remembered, Corduroy, and The Secret Garden. It’s expansive and the books are timeless. (Little tip: only buy when you can see the full collection in pictures, so you can avoid duplicates or a bunch of My Little Pony books.)
Biggest bang for our buck: Cyber Monday memberships to local attractions. Holy Moses I wish I knew about Cyber Monday deals before. (If you don’t know, Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving, and is apparently the Black Friday of internet sales. Genius.)
This year, I saved more than 50% on memberships to The High Museum of Art, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, The Center for Puppetry Arts, and Zoo Atlanta. All of those but the High offer free parking, and all have rotating exhibits or opportunities for us to see a variety of things, all year long, multiple days of the week. There’s always something to do for young families, and I save even more by avoiding the gift shop and packing a lunch for us. I try to throw in at least one field trip for everything we study, and these are all close enough for us to enjoy at least once a month, if not more.
Best FREE resource: Our local library. If you couldn’t tell before, we’re Atlanta people. And the Atlanta/Fulton public library system is absolutely unbeatable. We can request virtually any book to be transferred to our local library, so with some strategic lesson planning, I can access all the obscure, random books I want for free. The story time/preschool music program that takes place every week is ideal for my troop to hang with other littles and jam, and I consistently see other moms who do a lot of what I do.
It’s also a bonus that they offer classes (like knitting and oil painting) for free, and that Cora and I can attend those together for enrichment. I’ll also add that I am much more likely to read and stay up to date on my own interests if I’m exposed to adults doing the same on a regular basis.
Favorite tech tool: YouTube. I spent entirely too much money on programs like Reading Eggs and Splash Math. Those are great, but they are expensive. YouTube on the other hand, has opened so many doors to interests we didn’t even know we had. I am so surprised at how much we’ve used it for our homeschool. Some of our favorite channels are SciShow Kids, StoryCorps, How It’s Made, and National Geographic Kids. We also goof off on YouTube, searching for topics that interest us, and have found things like the entire collection of Jacques Cousteau’s Undersea World, and The Messiah, performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. All amazing and all easy to watch in our PJ’s at home.
There’s a lot more to come. This year, we’ll try out some of the programming offered by our local parks and recreation department (insert Leslie Knope reference here), and we’ll venture into some gardening and food preservation courses offered near us. We are finding that there is so much out there for us to explore, if we follow our interests and don’t impose some presumed limitations on ourselves. It’s amazing how often we limit ourselves because “we’re not supposed to do” something. No more, friends. The whole concept of unschooling has opened my mind to un-everything else. Our first year of homeschooling started out very much inside-the-box, but has completely turned into something that evolves organically with our family. What an exciting lesson for us. I’m hoping that I can open my mind to do more of that- evolve organically- to meet the needs of my children, but also to meet my own needs. No more martyr-mommy. No more chained-to-the-house or tied-down-to-a-schedule. We’re going to let go of the tethers and see where we land. It could be the beginning of an amazing adventure. Maybe you can do the same.