Today is our first day back to school. Actually, we prefer the MEGAMIND pronunciation of “sh-chool” – lol! If you are new to my blog, you might not know that I homeschool both of my teenagers. We use a virtual academy program which is pretty much like an online charter school. The curriculum is all provided by k12.com and we love it! It’s not nearly as flexible as most people think – there are lots of assignments, tests, and online classes to attend. It’s hard work and I sometimes have mixed feelings at the beginning of a new year. No dancing in the aisles for me to “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” like in this classic commercial.
I never planned to be a homeschooling mom, but I totally believe that this is the best path for our family for many different reasons. I know that it’s not for everyone, but I’m glad we’ve been able to make it work. I want to cherish this time because it won’t last forever. I’m lucky to have the opportunity and ability to share this journey with my kids.
I’ve had some reader questions about our homeschooling process and I thought it would be a good idea for me to document this information for my own records as well, so here’s some basic info about us and our homeschooling experience.
STUDENT 1: ALEX
- age 17 (almost 18)
- senior year (12th grade)
- brilliant mind, able to remember everything he reads
- favorite subjects: English and History
- interested in possibly becoming a history professor
- has high-functioning autism
- homeschooled using k12.com since 2005
- previously attended a school for children with autism for 5 years (started at age 4)
- previously attended a public elementary school for 3 years (a good chunk of that time ended up being half-days of being in school combined with half-days of me homeschooling him on my own)
STUDENT 2: RILEY
- age 14 (almost 15)
- freshman year (9th grade)
- very sharp and curious mind, she loves to ask questions
- favorite subjects: History and Science
- interested in studying Horticulture
- has ADD
- homeschooled using k12.com since 2008
- attended 2 different public elementary schools (we moved) from kindergarten-5th grade
- attended several preschools
LEARNING COACH: KATIE
- Mom to student 1 and student 2
- 6th year of homeschooling
- learning all the stuff she missed the first time around
- favorite subjects: History and Art
- interested in studying photography
- graduated from the University of Utah in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in English
- previously attended Utah State University, BYU, and a study abroad to England
- attended public school from kindergarten - high school graduation
- never attended an official preschool – lol!
Our schedule has been a little different every year, and this year will probably be quite a bit more intense for us now that both kids are in the high school program. The workload for grades 9-12 is significantly greater than for kindergarten through 8th grade. I’m a little nervous about that because we will now have 2 high school schedules to juggle. Generally speaking, here’s what our school routine looks like:
STANDARD WEEKDAYS: We start school no later than 9:00 a.m. Monday morning is especially important because all the work for each class is posted. We go through all the schedules to figure out what needs to be prioritized and when all online review sessions will take place and schedule those on our calendar. Most teachers hold an online session at least once a week and students are required to attend the live version, or listen to a recording of the session later on and email in the required information to get credit. This is my least favorite part of the program because we don’t find that these sessions are all that helpful. We would much rather spend the time doing the actual work. All assignments for the week are due by the following Sunday, but we always aim to have them done by Friday. If we can’t finish everything by Friday, then Saturday becomes a school day until we are done. We never do school on Sunday.
The hours of 9-12 are pretty sacred school hours for us because we like to get the bulk of our work done in the morning. I try not to answer the phone during this time, or open up my email. I minimize my own activities during these hours. We do take breaks – we need them, and I think it’s a great benefit of the homeschool program. My kids are old enough to be pretty responsible about monitoring when they need a break. This is when I sneak in some facebook, twitter, & pinterest time.
Alex can do quite a bit of his work independently, but he really needs me in the same room to help him stay motivated and feeling good about things. He rarely has questions for me, but he likes to have me nearby in case he does. He reads all of his material on his own and then we will discuss anything he feels like he wants to delve into more. He has me proofread his writing before turning it in. Science is a topic where he needs the most assistance so he has me review science concepts with him after reading through a chapter.
Riley is less independent about her work. We will be working on that a lot this year and I know she will make great strides. Right now we need to take turns reading all of her learning materials out loud to help her stay on task. She learns best by listening and/or being involved in some sort of project. She is a “tactile” learner which means she learns best when she can do something with her hands. Many times I will let her knit as she listens to a story or play with play-doh while doing vocabulary. We get creative! We have to discuss and review everything. It’s challenging to try and be there for both kids at the same time when they have such different learning styles.
We break for lunch around noon. We all eat together and often have leftovers or something simple like sandwiches, or pizzas made on flour tortillas. We each bring something to read or do to the lunch table. Riley and I often look through cookbooks or magazines. I check my email and read some blogs on my iPad. Alex always brings a book to the table and he gets so involved with what he is reading, that he spends about an hour after lunch finishing his book.
Riley and I usually go back to work while Alex is reading in his room. Sometimes he even takes a little nap. Depending on how much work we got done in the morning, Riley and I usually put in another hour or two. Alex also comes back to his work when he is finished reading. It is very rare that we all work past 3 p.m. and then it’s time to call my Mom for a chatting break. Riley and I each talk to her on the phone.
Then it’s time for me to get my work done. That’s when I do blog posts, articles & layouts for The Daily Digi, and all my other projects. It’s not enough time though, so I often end breaking for dinner, clean up, spend a little time with hubby, and then I’m up working until late at night. It’s not a great schedule for me and I’m hoping to be better about managing my own time this year.
I think it’s pretty obvious that I can’t really maintain that schedule every single day (especially when I do the Digi Show). I’m also sort of lame in the math department. I do fine with basic life math stuff, but I’m lost when it comes to Algebra, Geometry, and such, so we hire some tutors to help out. We’ve had a special tutor in our life since 2004. She used to work at the autism school and she has a lot of experience with kids with special needs. She is very important to us and she is like family now. She comes to our house 2x a week for 3 hours at a time. She works with both Alex and Riley on their math assignments and also spends some time with them playing games and having fun.
Last year we added another tutor to our life. I got so overwhelmed trying to keep up with it all and found that Riley wasn’t really enjoying science very much. I have a friend who once taught physics in the public school so I asked her if she would be willing to become a tutor to my daughter. Riley goes to her house 2x a week for 90 minutes at a time and just loves it! Now science is one of her favorite subjects!
During tutor times I spend the majority of the time working. I do try to at least get out of the house for an hour or two each week though to run errands and clear my mind a bit. When it works out with the Digi Show schedule, I try to record the podcast when a tutor is with my kids. When it doesn’t work out that way, they get free time while I record the show and then we work later into the afternoon.
WHAT ABOUT HOMEWORK?
The funny thing is with homeschool is that it’s ALL homework. We are able to get most of the work done in about 5 hours per day (sometimes it takes me longer than that if I need to work with each kid independently, but they each usually spend about 5 hours a day). During Alex’s sophomore year though, he had so much to do that we couldn’t get everything done in that time frame. That year we ended up putting in a full day almost every Saturday. Some semesters are more difficult than others. Some weeks are harder than others. Generally speaking, it takes us less time than a public school system would because we aren’t interrupted by changing classes, assemblies, etc. It’s also easier to get through the material with such individualized instruction. When the workload is heavier, we go later into the day and/or work on a Saturday.
When my kids were in the younger grades, we set monthly goals for them to achieve and they would get small rewards for completing them. In the high school program, we need to stay on top of the weekly schedule and it’s important to them to stay motivated. We don’t do allowances in our family and we don’t pay them for basic chores because we consider that part of their family responsibility. Instead, we give them “points” for working hard in school or doing some extra jobs around the house. The point system has always worked well for both of them, but especially for Alex. He earned points at the autism school and he prefers them to money. When the kids were little, points were redeemed for special prizes, treats, or experiences. Now that they are older, points equal money. One point equals 1 dollar. They track their points and eventually redeem them for special purchases that they want to make. Alex loves this method because he knows that he can earn all the video games he wants to purchase by working hard and saving points. Riley often saves up her points for going shopping on our trips. She usually has a ton of points and babysitting cash on hand. Alex likes to spend his on games and I think both of them manage the whole system really well.
Another way we reward ourselves is by having an end of year completion bonus. For each class they finish, I let them pick out a reward related to that class. So at the end of the year when science class is over, they get to each pick out something like a new science book, or a trip to the planetarium. I enjoy these bonuses just as much as they do and it gives us a feeling of completion.
Not all rewards are monetary based. We really focus on working hard during the week so we can have a free day on Saturday. Time off is a great reward! When we get our work done, we do fun things together like watch a show, play a board game, work on a puzzle or Lego set, or go outside and swing on our new swing set. We take walks together as much as possible (weather permitting). We make time for doing fun things like going to the fair, or a movie. I need these things just as much as the kids do. It helps keep us all happy.
Do you have any questions for me? I’ll be posting a bit more about our schedule and workspaces throughout the week so let me know if there is something you are wondering about.
*title word art for this post by Jodie McNalley from retired OScraps school kit