What homeschool looks like at the moment

For those of you following along at home, J and I homeschool our two kids, M and K. There are so many varieties of homeschooling that I, from time to time, talk about what we do and why. This is partially to inform the curious, partially to give ideas and model behaviors for other parents who may be thinking of homeschooling, and partially for my own thinking.

1. K is nine-and-a-half, and in fourth grade. M is nine, and in third grade. This is … a little bit misleading, and a little bit arbitrary, but one has to pick a standard to measure the kids against, and that’s the standard we picked.

2. In the state of Minnesota, annual testing is required for homeschooled kids. We have the kids take the Peabody Test each fall. (Hence picking a grade for comparison.)

3. J and I decided some time ago that we have similar ideas about a curriculum. Competent human beings, by the time they are released into the world, need certain skills. Those skills are many and varied. It’s our job as parents to try to teach ALL of those skills. But in a more strictly academic sense we teach, or provide access to teachers of, the following:

Math – arithmetic, algebra, geometry, money, measurement, fractions, decimals, estimation, probability
Grammar, spelling, punctuation
Foreign language
Sciences – y’know, all of them
History – world, American, recent, ancient
Performance and public speaking
Literature – mythology, legend, plays, classic works, new fiction, sf/f, comics
Social Navigation

4. We teach school seven days a week, year-round. We miss about 40 days a year for holidays, field trips, birthdays, vacations, and performances. This is much easier than trying to stop and start each week or season.

5. Each day the kids have what I call “the mandatories.” That’s math, composition or grammar, history, and Spanish.

For math we use Singapore Math. Each kid has their own textbook and workbook, and does a small section of problems. This takes anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours, depending on the stubborn resistance of the child in question to DOING said math.

Composition switches off with grammar. For composition the kids each have a notebook, and must write a set number of sentences on a topic of their choosing. This practices handwriting, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and composition. For grammar we use The Logic of English, a title that makes me laaauuuuugh. LoE teaches spelling and grammar rules in a way that tries to enforce, well, logic, on English.

At the moment for history we are reading The American Story. It’s a really nice collection of events in U.S. history, those both well-known and more obscure. The kids have a fairly decent grounding in world history already, and now we’re working on specific times and regions.

The kids take a Spanish class for homeschool kids once a week. Each day at home they do a part of their homework for that class.

6. After the mandatories we have the free reading and video sections of school. Each week J goes to the library and gets a large stack of books on a variety of topics, fiction and non-fiction. The kids have to read for twenty-to-thirty minutes from this selection. We keep a loose eye on which books they pick. Left to their own devices K will pick all mythology, legend, and sociology, while M will pick all science, engineering, and military history. We step in from time to time and make them branch out each week.

After the reading the kids finish up school with a School Video. This includes educational videos J has checked out from the library, non-fiction videos we own, such as The Story of Us, Schoolhouse Rock, or anything by David Attenborough, and a host of choices from NetFlix.

The … standard … of what counts as a school video slipped a few years back when M had the flu and watched a LOT of NetFlix. But it includes Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but excludes Ice Road Truckers. So, y’know.


7. For music both kids are in choir at Unity Unitarian Church. In addition, K plays piano and euphonium. For this she has a half-hour practice of each instrument every morning, and lessons once a week.

In addition, K belongs to a homeschool band. Once a week, over lunch, she goes for a lesson and a practice of her band music. (This term they are doing, among other pieces, music from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.)

8. The kids take swimming lessons at the YMCA to which we belong. M takes lessons from September through March. K has finished the YMCA’s lesson sequence. We enroll her in a term of Shark once a year, to keep her skills up.

Both of the children are far, far better swimmers than I am.

9. Athletics. Yes indeedy.

Both kids take karate at Running Tiger Shaolin Kenpo, one class a week and five minutes of practice every day. Swimming counts as athletics as well.

M takes a non-performing trampoline class at Circus Juventas. Between karate, swimming, and trampoline, he’s in three classes that teach full-body coordination and awareness. We make sure that he gets exercise every day in addition to these classes. Either homeschool playgroup, or time on our backyard trampoline, or running around the block, or something. Exercised children are calm children. Just like puppies.

K takes karate, as I said, and swim lessons, as I said. She also takes classes at Anda Flamenco once a week. (The Anda Flamenco website makes noise on page load! Caution!) And then there’s circus.

To re-cap, K is heavily involved in Circus Juventas. She’s taking twelve classes this term:

Aerial Techniques
Low Casting II
Contortion I-II
Prep Team
Juggling I
Vault Mini-Trampoline II
Unicycle II
Low Wire I
Clowning I
Trampoline (non-performing)
Triple Trapeze

It covers fourteen and a half hours, over six days a week. K basically has “Athletics” totally covered.

10. Performance

This is covered by things already listed. Miles is in choir. Karla is in choir, band, flamenco, and circus. Neither child worries much about getting up in front of people and doing stuff, as long as they feel adequately prepared. I feel, and J agrees with me, that this is an essential life skill.

11. Social Navigation

This is pretty varied. It includes talking about sex, dating, sexual harassment or abuse. It includes talk of drugs, alcohol, and social situations involving same. It covers talking about friendship, meeting people, and negotiation. It covers etiquette and manners. It covers ethics and morals.

It also covers some pretty basic, yet horribly subtle, skills. How much eye contact is the right amount? What is the right amount to face the person one is speaking to? When does the other person want you to stop talking?

Tricky, tricky things.

12. Other Items

There’s so much to homeschooling that the things I’ve already listed don’t cover.

News: Each morning we read the BBC website headlines to the kids, and watch some BBC News video clips. We talk about the news items and try to explain current events and world politics.

Read Aloud: Every morning, and those evenings which aren’t too late, we read part of a book aloud to the kids. The books vary; science fiction and fantasy, older classics of children’s literature, books featuring girls, boys, and families — all sorts of things. We read books that are slightly beyond where the children are comfortable reading in terms of language or themes. We read books that cover a wide range of times and places and sorts of problems. We try to expose the kids to the sheer variety of human experience as revealed by narrative.

The future is easier is you have a map. Fiction is a guide to possibility.

Chores: Both the kids have chores. Not in exchange for money, but merely because the common good of all people requires that everyone take care of the commons. One takes out the garbage not because one has filled it, but because the garbage needs taking out.

Some chores are assigned because one child does do more of the messing-up. But cleaning one’s own things is not an assigned chore, it’s merely part of life. Cleaning one’s room or playroom are not chores, they are expectations. Picking up the dog bowls each day, now, that’s an assigned chore. It needs doing, and the dogs just don’t seem to help out, you know?

Community service / charity: The kids must perform community service or give money to charity. For now they choose to go with J on her monthly visits to the local nursing home. One morning a month they go and talk to the residents there.

This is also part of J’s community service; we hold the same standards for ourselves as we do for the kids. As a family we sponsor the education of a girl about K’s age living in Guatemala. I donate money regularly to Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International. As the kids get older they will make choices about how they will continue to contribute to the world.

Voting: We go as a family to the polls each year. Because it matters to not only vote, but to be seen by one’s children to care and participate.

Projects and field trips: Oh, we go to museums, and model rocketry launches, and Renaissance Festival, and concerts, and zoos, and vacations. We do stuff.

When we do these other things, we don’t make a Huge Educational Production out of it. Just going and having the experience is learning enough.


It’s a lot of stuff. Is it more work than conventional school? Less? I think that depends on what a family considers to be difficult. I listen to friends and coworkers discuss their wrangles with school institutions and I think I’ve got it easy. But then I spend three straight hours dealing with decimal-related tears, or cursive-script-rage, and I think that this is perhaps a bit difficult.

There’s no question that this is a lot of driving around and taking kids to various things. But is is any more or less than any family with active kids? I can’t say. I do know that we would find K’s circus goals and commitments very difficult if she were also in school six hours a day.

I’m profoundly glad that we homeschool. I think it lets us challenge our kids while also making allowances for their strengths and weaknesses. I think that they would be different if they were in school. M has certain behavioral and learning quirks which would make institutional education hard for everyone. K likes to slide to the lowest educational expectations unless her teacher, parent, or coach nags at her to do better. As homeschoolers, we can compensate for or counter these tendencies.

I like my kids. I like that they are confident, polite, outgoing, and reasonably empathetic. I like that they have goals they want to pursue, interests that fill them with passion and purpose. I like that they each have academic interests and fields of study they prefer. I am glad to be homeschooling them not only because I think it’s good for them, but because I get to see how awesome they are, every day.

My kids tell me, weekly, that they are going to take over the world.

I don’t think I would mind.



First week of circus

We’re halfway through the first week of the circus term. It’s going reasonably well.

K is in twelve classes. Fourteen-and-a-half hours of class over six days a week. We’ve clearly hit that point where, if we weren’t homeschooling, we’d have trouble supporting this level of engagement. Especially considering that K also takes flamenco dance, swimming, karate, and Spanish classes, and is in a choir and a band.

We talked to her about it. About how, if this is The Thing She Wants To Do, we will support it. We will pay for it, and get her to classes, and work with her at home, and make time for the performance schedule, and help her try out for roles. But, that, this does mean there are four days a week in which K will get up, get ready, practice instruments, do school, do chores, go to circus, and go to bed. Nothing else, no play time, no time with friends outside of circus. K agreed to this. She seems to want it.

Now that we are three days in, she is really tired. It’s a lot of late nights of hard work at the end of the day. It’s also hard to have to move constantly from one mandatory thing, like chores, to the next, without a break. I know that I dislike that sort of tempo. I like breaks and down time.

I don’t know how K will feel about it. I don’t know if she will feel that the accolades, the hard-earned skills, the camaraderie, and the applause will be worth the tiring schedule and the days of being nagged by us to get the next thing done.

I think K herself doesn’t know, yet. Some things you just have to try for yourself.


Brief pop music round-up

1. In a personal stand to keep the “D” away from my “O” and “C”, I am on a personal campaign to adjust the volume settings on the tv, my mp3 player and my laptop in increments other than solely those divisible by two or five. Thirteen is a perfectly acceptable volume number. So’s eleven. Nothing wrong with eleven.

It is right and meet that the volume should go to eleven.


2. When the bass drops in, finally, in Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex, I always think to myself “Earth. Shattering. Kaboom.” Therefore, I want a vid to this song of planets exploding and explosions in space and enormous spaceships crashing and exploding.

3. Speaking of music, All We Are We Are, by P!nk, seems to me to be a song about … Occupy Wall Street, the 99%, and the upcoming election?

Even if she didn’t intend it that way, that’s how my brain is parsing it.

4. I like the new Ke$ha single, Die Young. I just like Ke$ha. As this interview in the Guardian from 2009 points out, the woman is terrifically smart, knows her principles, has a steady and loving family, and is going to take the pop world for all it can give her.

This seems like a perfectly sane approach to pop stardom.


Podcast rec: Shakespeare’s Restless World

I’ve now finished listening to the podcast of BBC Radio 4’s Shakespeare’s Restless World. It’s twenty episodes, each 15-20 minutes long, and it’s a sweeping delight.

The gist of the podcast is an exploration of the world surrounding Shakespeare and his audience. Each episode gives the social, political, and emotional context of a specific theme of scene in Shakespeare’s work. Pirates, for instance. What did “pirates” mean to the Groundlings? Or, beheadings — what did audiences think of when they saw heads paraded about onstage? Or, what does “Moor” mean?

I love this. I love the blend of fiction and reality, of history and literature. The production values of the podcast are high (it’s BBC Radio 4, after all) and it’s an easy listen.

If you have any interest in Shakespeare or British history, I highly recommend this.


September 24 2012

1. The fall Circus Juventas term begins today. We received the kids’ class confirmation on Saturday afternoon. 🙂

K is taking twelve classes, covering fourteen hours over six days a week. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday are the big days. We will be able to mostly drop K off and pick her up hours later. However, this first week, I am going to go watch most of her classes. Partially to see her and who her teachers are and who is in her classes, and partially to connect with the other parents and see who is available for things like, oh, say, rideshare.

2. I am watching the first season of the tv series Homeland on dvd. I am fascinated by it. There’s a wonderful tension being demonstrated, between the flaws of the people responsible for the protection of the United States and the fact that these flaws do not make them either right or wrong.

It just makes them flawed.

The acting is riveting. I tend to zone out, a bit, while watching tv shows and movies. Product of watching things in snippets on my breaks at work while doing ninety-seven things online. But this show, this show grabs my attention and keeps it.

3. Yuletide sign-ups are soooooooooon. \o/ I am looking forward to this.


Resident Evil, et al.

I saw the most recent Resident Evil movie this week.

Tl;dr — I enjoyed it a great deal, though not as much as I have enjoyed some of the other movies. It’s worth seeing if you are a fan of the franchise or if you want to see some fantastic fight choreography blend of practical effects, wire-work, and digital effects.




There are two things that I love deeply about the RE franchise. I love the fight choreography. I love Alice’s relationships with the other characters.

The fight choreography is a matter of taste. I like a variety of different sorts. While NOT liking action-comedies, I rent Jackie Chan movies and then fast-forward to each fight scene. I love Ong Bak and its sequels. I also love most fantasy-based fight sequences, such as the troll-fight in Fellowship of the Ring.

The RE fights are not comedic, but they share a quality of found-object-weaponry with Chan’s work that I appreciate. The fights look organic, they have flow. The fight against the enormous monster in RE 4 is one of my favorites. This latest film has some great sequences, blending traditional stunt fighting with wirework and digital effects.

Digression: I was watching a scene in the current film in which Alice is almost-naked. (Honestly, nudity would have been far less eye-catching to me than wondering whether her napkin was going to slip off.) She is a prisoner, she is being tortured. And, on the third repetition of a torture bit, I found myself thinking, “Wow, Milla Jovovich looks amazing.” She does. She looks fit, of course, because she is in a number of professions — acting, singing, modeling — that require her to maintain her body at certain industry-prescribed standards. But she also looks real. She looks older than she did in The Fifth Element. Because she is older, of course. But Jovovich has decided to look that way, when she could hide it. She looks tremendously strong, and wiry, and amazing, but not false. I admire that in her.

I admire Jovovich’s acting in all of these films, honestly. She’s a tremendous physical actor. Not just the stunt work, but all the small moments. She is fantastic at carrying the emotion of a scene in her face when the dialog isn’t up to the task. (Which … happens.) And her body language towards and with the other characters is great.

Alice’s relationships with other people are, for me, the core of the films. After the events of the first film Alice is on a quest. And like many ring-bearers, knights, and Doctors, she does better when she has other people around her to keep her human. I can see her measuring each new person that comes into her life, assessing how much work they will be, what they can do for her, how much they will cost her. I find Alice to be most relate-able when she struggles with that calculus. When the smart survivor play is to walk away, but the ethical play is to stay.

Alice stays. She won’t walk away.

And this, this is the amazing thing that pulses at the heart of the franchise. Because Alice shouldn’t care. She really, really shouldn’t. She should be no more than the limits of her programming and endlessly copied, reconstituted personality. But she’s not. She transcends.

There’s a vid I love madly, by sisabet, about Alice’s refusal to be the victim she was created to be. It’s made from the first three films, and is set to the profane and NSFW song Get Low.” Watch on headphones or not at work, hmm?

Here’s a link to the vid.

And here’s the vid:


There’s the Alice I love.


The birthday in question

Today is M’s ninth birthday.

At age nine his life goals are going into space, taking over the world, and perfecting his comedy shtick.

He is a fantastic kid, and I love him tremendously.