Archive for October 2012


October 28, 2012

When we originally decided to homeschool, we did so for completely secular reasons.  Until this year I just referred to our “school” as Cobb Family Homeschool.  It took a lot of creativity to come up with that name.  (insert eye roll.)

But the Catholic faith has always had a presence in our homeschool to some degree, especially since my husband became Catholic at Easter 2009.  I’ve included Biblical and Church history as part of history lessons.  We’ve had “religion” class in some form every year.  There are also just the aspects of the liturgical year, with Holy Days of Obligation and the decorations and regulations for each season.

This summer, though, I felt compelled to start looking at our little homeschool as a Catholic school.  If our home is a domestic church and the kids go to school at home, then they are attending a church school.  I started idly thinking about a saint to formally name our school after.  I could steal the name of our local parish school, but that didn’t feel quite right.  In fact, I couldn’t think of a saint that did feel right, and I certainly didn’t have time to research every saint to find one that did.

The week before school started, as I sat in Mass, I realized that the perfect name for our Catholic school was right in front of me.  Next to the altar there are statues of Mary holding a broom, Joseph holding his carpentry tools, and the child Jesus (between 6 and 10 years old) standing between them.    Every Sunday at the end of Mass we say a prayer for vocations.  The version we are currently using begins:  “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, model for every human family…”

So, I “officially” changed the name of our school to Holy Family Homeschool Academy.  In my spare time (ha!ha!ha!) I put together this school seal.

I listed HFHA on my oldest daughter’s homemade transcript when we abruptly enrolled her in our local parish school.  And I’m sure if you asked her, she would tell you that she no longer attends HFHA.  But one reason I chose the Holy Family as our patrons is because I see school as more than academics.  Everything in our lives should be about conforming to Christ, and I think we all have many lessons to learn from Mary and Joseph about being parents and spouses, as well as faithful, obedient children of God.


More School Questions

October 14, 2012

Since we enrolled our oldest daughter in the local parish school, I am sure that there are many people wondering What about homeschooling?  Have we lost faith in it?  Have we given up because it was a failed experiment?  Do we still think it is the best form of education, or have we become bitter ex-homeschoolers?

First of all, we are still planning to homeschool Piper and the younger children through at least 4th grade.  It’s also possible that Bailey will be brought back home for school at some point.  And I am not bitter that it is not the best option for Bailey right now.

I think in general that homeschooling is the best form of education for many of the original reasons we began homeschooling:  personalized education, strong family bonds, and an emphasis on learning life skills rather than just getting grades.  Plus one of the things that I still love about homeschooling is the way it makes you see everything in life as a learning experience.  Education doesn’t only take place in a school building or from text books.  You see the whole world as being ripe with possibilities.

I also think that homeschooling was best for Bailey for a time, at least through second grade.  I think she would have had a hard time living by the schedule and rules of a traditional school.  It was hard enough getting her up before eight o’clock for something she really loved to do, like teeball, without an emotional meltdown.  For a long time her ability to concentrate for more than 15 minutes at a time was low while her energy levels were extremely high.  I must admit that I still have some concerns how she will emotionally handle the strictures and structures of school.  It will either be great for her at this point or it will be a disaster.

Academically Bailey seems to be well-prepared.  The biggest issue she will probably face on that front is the same one she faced at home:  taking the time to read the directions and follow them correctly.  This caused a major power struggle within the context of our parent-child relationship.  Now at school she will have to accept that the rules for multiplying two two-digit numbers aren’t something that I invented to torture her personally.

My only regret about homeschooling so far is that the circumstances of our life prevented us from fully taking advantage of the possibilities homeschooling can offer.  For instance, early on I imagined lots of play-dates and field trips with other homeschooling families.  Unfortunately, most homeschooling activities occurred during the day when my husband needed our only vehicle for work.  Then having so many children so close together added to the level of difficulty of getting out and about; sometimes I really needed a second set of hands to keep track of everyone and couldn’t do it.

I think these circumstances that kept us more isolated than a lot of other homeschooling families were especially hard on Bailey, who really loves to always be doing things and meeting new people.  While we have tried to keep the older kids involved in activities through the parks district and they have neighborhood kids with whom to play, it just wasn’t enough for Bailey.  She needs more exterior stimulation and is easily bored.

But doesn’t this just feed into anti-homeschooling fears about socialization?  While Bailey may not have received as much time to socialize as she may have liked or needed at times, I do think that her time at home well-prepared her to handle social situations.  When kids around her started talking about inappropriate subjects, I was there to witness it.  Because I knew it was going on I was able to coach her on strategies for handling future situations like that (whereas the parents of the other kids were completely shocked to learn what their kids were discussing).

Because Bailey has spent so much time witnessing her father and I interact with business people, she is already confident about ordering her own food in restaurants and asking salespeople for help in stores.  Her teacher and principal were surprised at her poise and confidence during her first shadow day.  She had no qualms about raising her hand to answer questions or joining in class discussions.  This could partly be her personality, but after almost ten years of life at home (no daycare or school), she obviously has not ended up being an anti-social idiot as naysayers of homeschooling would expect.

I still think that homeschooling is probably the best form of education in general, and I still think that that it should be seriously investigated as a legitimate educational option by the larger population.  However, I have become more humble in my understanding that homeschooling isn’t the only good educational option.  Sometimes there are good schools out there with good teachers, and there are sometimes kids who would thrive better (academically and emotionally) in a “traditional” school setting rather than an alternate school (such as Montessori) or homeschooling.  And sometimes sending the kids to school is best for the family as a whole.

7 Quick Takes (v. 75)

October 12, 2012

1.  Bailey (9) has been in school for five days now.  Even though she acts like school is no big deal, I think she is really enjoying it.  I don’t think that she is enjoying the schoolwork, but I think she is enjoying the busy-ness of school.  She has no time to be bored, and she comes home physically and mentally exhausted.  I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot of blog posts in the future that address our abrupt transition from homeschooling her.

2.  I’ve been getting a lot better about avoiding political discussions on Facebook, which was especially difficult after last night’s vice presidential debate.  I just don’t have the time or energy to deal with that stress.  I think I’ve also learned a little humilty; I don’t need to educate everyone about everything.  And sometimes quiet evangelization is better than loud evangelization.

3.  I recently discovered Relevant Radio.  Now I put it on in the car whenever I am out and about.  I love the discussions of the faith and how there are prayer breaks.  I find it much more relaxing than listening to secular music, especially most modern secular music.  Yes, I’m getting old and crotchety like that.

4.  A few weeks ago I was taught how to make rosaries.  I bought a beginner’s kit that includes all of the materials to make 50 rosaries.  I have my kit hidden in my closet, so the kids won’t get into it or pester me to help (especially since it is full of choking hazards for the little ones).  But sometimes when I take up a load of laundry to put away I take few minutes to string together a decade.

I think what I like best about it is the feeling that I will be contributing something positive to the world outside of my house.  So much of my life revolves around my family and my home.  While I know that’s the way it should be, the fact is that you don’t find out just how well you did as a parent until your kids are grown.  And housework is never-ending; there are always laundry and dishes to be washed.  It’s like living inside an infinity symbol.  But each rosary I make has a beginning and an end and will leave my house and go out into the world relatively quickly.

5.  Sometimes I am just in awe of social media.  For instance, it allows people to wait with baited breath when a “friend” announces the start of labor for pictures of the newborn baby.  You can suffer and triumph along with all of the people all over the world who have shaped your life in some way:  childhood classmates,  current friends, and even celebrities.

And in the past two weeks I’ve learned of the deaths of two different people within hours of their passing.  Each was the parent of a former classmate and member of my parish back in Kentucky; while I knew neither very well, I remember their faces as threads of my childhood memories.  Despite all of the things that seem so wrong with our era, it also has some very amazing and positive things, too.

6.  I recently discovered the author Kate Morton.  I saw her book The House at Riverton recommended for fans of Downton Abbey.  I’m now on my third books of hers.  The books usually flip around to different time periods from the early 1900’s to the 2000’s and follow the story of a family and a secret about that family.  It’s kind of like a mystery to be solved, and there’s always a twist or two.  I would rate them PG-13 due to adult themes (fornication, adultery, murder), but there is nothing nasty in the books at all (at least the ones that I’ve read so far).   My mother-in-law has become a fan, too, so I pass on each book to her as soon as I’m finished.  I really can’t recommend the stories enough.

7.  Well, I need to go finish my grocery list.  With the added expense of private school (and all of the little hidden costs of school), I’m trying to reign in our food budget by getting back in the habit of cooking dinner at home every night.  This requires a lot more planning.  But since Bailey started going to school I can tell a big increase in my “free time” and energy levels.  For the first time since Cassidy was born 10 weeks ago, I don’t feel quite so over-whelmed.  I think that we made the right decision for Bailey, for me, and for our entire family at this time in our lives.

#2 At The Age of Reason

October 8, 2012

On Saturday my second daughter, Piper, turned seven-years-old.    In the past year her legs have become long and her body has thinned out.  There is not much trace of the baby she once was anymore.  Her reading skills have begun to take off, and she constantly amazes me with the way she discovers the patterns of mathematics on her own.

Her love of art has continued to grow.  She loves looking through books about different artists, and  I’m glad that we were able to take her to the Art Institute this summer.  She has even picked out a few paintings as her favorites.

Surprise! by Henri Rousseau

And Piper’s talent for drawing continues to surprise us.  We noticed that she was picking up techniques from various children shows just by watching their resident artist draw pictures.  We offered to enroll her in a really nice art program in a nearby village, but she would rather learn at her own pace according to her own interest.

So, we’ve been trying to subtly help her by having family give her “How to Draw” books as presents and encouraging my dad (from whom she inherited her talent) to draw for her during visits.  I’ve even been able to teach her a few tricks I learned in my high school art class.

I think Piper has impressed me the most with the way she is able to handle her little sisters.  Yes, sometimes they get on her nerves, but she has a real knack for getting them to cooperate.  When Katie was stubbornly refusing to go upstairs for bedtime, Piper suggested that they “race” up the steps with a wink to me.  And if Sabrina has a bonk, Piper is likely to scoop her up to calm her or do something funny to distract her from the situation.  She’s also been teaching them both United States geography.

Piper continues to be the most intentionally funny kid in the house.  From her vocal impersonations to crazy facial expressions to witty quips, she often has us all in stitches.  My husband says that she’s like a little Lucille Ball.  Of course, sometimes her sarcasm can be rather biting and she does not suffer fools gladly, but nobody’s perfect.

Normally, I would have had her birthday post up on her birthday.  But we spent most of her special day at the zoo as Piper requested.  It was good to see her so happy and excited and having a great birthday.  She said that she even enjoyed this birthday more than her big party at Chuck E. Cheese last year.  I’m thankful that the Lord blessed me with my wonderful “monkey girl”.

School Questions

October 7, 2012

Since we have enrolled Bailey in a real brick and mortar school, I’ve had a few people ask what we are going to do about the younger kids.  Will we be sending them to school, too?

Piper is actually in first grade this year and would be eligible for school.  In fact I could also send Katie, because Bailey’s school has a preschool program.  I could ship all three of the older girls off each morning and just have Sabrina and Cassidy to deal with every day.  But we didn’t even consider that for a second.

For one thing, while there is a significant tuition discount for sending multiple children, we are still adjusting to the cost of sending one child.  It is going to require some sacrifice on our part since we are far from being wealthy.

Secondly, I think Piper’s temperament is probably more suited for homeschooling.  Piper likes to live in her pajamas.  She usually doesn’t care about doing classes and activities.  While she is perfectly social when we have play dates, she’s also extremely content finding things to do by herself or with her little sisters.  Plus, she will probably be starting second grade math after Christmas, so I think at this point putting her in school would be a major academic setback for her.

However, in fairness,we did decide to give each child the option of going to school one they reach fifth grade.  Financially, this would keep us from having more than two kids in our parish school at time, keeping it more affordable.

Plus, it would give the younger kids more time to work at their own pace during the early years of schooling when the developmental timetable for children is more likely to be varied.  If I have one that is a late reader, they can have more time to develop those skills without the pressure of keeping up with 20 other kids.  (Studies show that reading levels between early readers and late readers tend to even out around 5th grade anyway.)

Or in Piper’s case, if she continues to stay ahead in math, she won’t be held back by other kids who aren’t ready for certain concepts yet.  This could lead her to decide that she might not want to give up the individualized instruction of homeschooling after fourth grade.

Of course I’m sure that some people wonder why, given our finances, we chose to send Bailey to our local parish school.  Why didn’t we send her to the local public elementary more or less for free?  For one thing, I have fond memories of my years of Catholic schooling, not that it was perfect, and I know some of the advantages of private school.  Private schools do tend to have a better academic and disciplinary records than public schools.  Plus, just going by testing, our local elementary is the worst in our academically average district.

Our parish school is small, with Bailey’s class being the largest at about 32 kids, but it has a lot to offer from teaching the basics of multiple instruments in music class to smart board technology in every classroom.  There are the school traditions that bond the students into a community.  And since the school is attached to the parish where we attend Mass, we as a family are further bonded to a larger community of people.  This is a lot different than what my husband experienced in public schools.

We are a Catholic family, so it makes sense that we would consider Catholic school.  Of course, as I know from personal experience, not all Catholic schools actually teach the faith well.  Many are not much more than private schools that were founded by Catholics, and some actually teach heresy.  In fact, a few years ago our parish school had a bit of a reputation for not having very much more than a nominal Catholic identity.

But that was before the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia took over operations.  They are a traditional, habited order that has a reputation for teaching orthodoxy in the schools they run.  One of the things that impressed my husband the most during our meeting with the principal was when she said, “If we aren’t preparing them for heaven, then we’re not doing our job.”  You’re certainly not going to see that idea in a public school setting.

One Year at a Time

October 4, 2012

Recently a woman with whom I went to high school was worrying over where to send her one and only child  to kindergarten.  As her Facebook friends debated the merits of Montessori over traditional school, I had a rare perceptive moment when I realized what was at the heart of the discussion.

In so many words, I told her not to feel like her child’s entire academic success depends on the decision she makes today.  I told her that what works for her child and her family this year might not work next year or ten years from now, but that was okay.  Kids grow and change.  Families grow and change.  And shit happens.

I can attribute this understanding of life to my years of homeschooling.  It is not uncommon for homeschoolers to say that they are making the decision to homeschool “one year at a time”, even if they don’t really mean it.  At the heart of homeschooling is the willingness to reassess yearly, monthly, weekly, or even daily what is and isn’t working for each child and make adjustments accordingly.  For most homeschooling parents this may mean adjusting curriculum and daily schedules to balance the needs of each individual child with the needs of the family.  For others, this may mean making the decision at some point to outsource part or all of their child’s education.

A year ago I probably would have told you that there was no situation of which I could conceive that would seriously make me consider sending one of my kids to a regular school, public or private.  However, yesterday I officially enrolled my oldest daughter at the local parish elementary school.

We started talking about sending to Bailey to school around mid-summer.  I just started to feel that with her temperament she might benefit from more structure than I was able to give her at home.  Plus, she is an extreme extrovert, and I worried that her needs were no longer being met by continuing to homeschool her.

I was approaching the end of my pregnancy, though.  I didn’t have the time or energy to really look into the local schools, and I knew that having a kid in school would completely turn our way of life upside down.  It’s something we started to discuss for the next school year when she would start 5th grade.  I thought that would give us plenty of time to assess the options in our area.

Then Cassidy was born on August 1st.  We started our homeschooling semester on the 20th with Bailey in 4th grade and Piper in 1st grade. Plus I still had Katie (4) and Sabrina (2) with whom to contend.  As the weeks passed, I started feeling more and more over-whelmed.  I was also having some post-partum health issues, and my doctors started talking about me having at least one minor surgery to deal with that.  But the last time I went in for what was supposed to be that same minor surgery all hell broke loose, and it took me months to recover.

Last Wednesday my husband could see how I seemed to be drowning and said we should consider getting Bailey into school immediately even though the year had already started.  That same day during one of my rare nap times I had already been thinking the exact same thing.  We both knew that this was not an ideal situation for her, starting at a new school with no previous experience of school and two months behind everyone.  But we felt it was something we needed to do.  Bailey surprised us by being really ecstatic about the idea.

On Thursday I called and left a message for the principal (a Nashville Dominican) of our local parish school.  She called me back on Friday and was able to meet with us on Sunday afternoon.  On Tuesday Bailey spent the day shadowing at the school; they paired her up with a classmate that she knew somewhat from teeball and gymanistics.  And yesterday I turned in the paperwork and a registration deposit while Bailey shadowed for a second day.

Bailey really enjoyed her shadow days, but at the same time they were very over-whelming.  There are so many procedures to how school works.  She wasn’t used to having to ask to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water.  If she did her schoolwork at home without dawdling she could be finished with all of it within two hours; now her school days are six and a half hours long.

Bailey is not the only one who has been over-whelmed with everything.  There have been so many issues to think of from transportation to uniforms to lunch menus.  Instead of sleeping in until nine, Bailey and I have to be up at seven to get her to school at eight.  It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone in the family, having to work with someone’s else schedule for our lives.

We are very optimistic that this is the best decision for our family at this time, though.  Not being responsible for walking Bailey through two hours of schoolwork each day will take a lot of pressure off of me and give me a chance to rebuild my strength and stamina.  Being at school will give Bailey opportunities for new experiences, and it will give the whole family the opportunity to make more ties within our parish community.

At the end of the year, though, we will have to assess how well things went for Bailey and the entire family and determine whether to keep her in school or bring her back home.  Just as we always have done, we will take it one year at a time…