Monthly Archives: September 2010

Not Back To School

It seems that this week that the last of the schools have begun!  And me?

Today I took the kids to a Not Back to School picnic with the co-op that I’m joining this year.   Most of the kids had a great time but dd14 was bored most of the time and ds11 was bored after the boy he was playing catch with had to leave.  It really isn’t interesting when you don’t know anyone and are waiting around for your mother to finish shmoozing.  After eight years of homeschooling in this area, I’ve bumped into a number of moms in various venues over the years so I had a chance to get reaquainted.

We’ve never been part of a co-op before but one thing that is constant about home education is that nothing stays the same!  Kids get older, have different needs, interests, abilities, and what was appropriate in the past needs to adapt.  That’s what home education is about, isn’t it?  Personalizing according to what your children need.

The co-op meets once a week and there’s an option to take as few as one or as many as four classes on that day.  ‘Classes’ sounds formal and academic, but there’s quite a variety of classes – everything from belly dancing, sewing, and baking to more traditional type classes, with close to 40 different options for kids ranging from 2.5 through high school.  The classes are given by other homeschooling parents so while the approach varies from parent to parent, in general they seem to be more hands on and concerned about enjoyable and engaging learning.

I’ve signed all the kids up for last two classes of the day, which will allow us to spend the morning at home and hopefully give ds1 a chance to take a nap before we leave.  My goal in choosing classes was to find something that I didn’t do much of at home or that the kids showed a special interest in.  It took a bit of finessing to figure out the schedule for everyone, but I’m happy with it and mostly confident that all the kids will enjoy it.

Here’s what I’m doing:  in the first time slot, the littles will all take a music class, “a lively, fun class involving rhythm games, singing, dancing and exploring musical instruments”.  While they’re doing that (I’ll be with them), ds8 will be taking a multi-sensory language arts class (this is for beginning readers and he’s definitely beyond that, but I think it will be fun and encouraging for him to see how easy it is for him and the other language arts class at that time is more formal, with a grammar focus – not my thing), dd9 and ds11 are signed up for improv and drama games (though ds told me he doesn’t think he’ll want to participate, so he might end up bringing a book to read if he makes that choice), and dd14 will be doing a class based on the Trisms curriculum, a cross curricular exploration of early history that is heavily research and writing based.   This is a two period class so it’s the only class she’ll be taking; she wants to work more intensively on her writing skills rather than do a ‘fun’ class and this was the option that seemed most suited to her.

Then for the second slot, ds4 will be doing an art class for 4-6 year olds, ds8 will be doing an art class for 7 -9 year olds, and dd9 and ds11 will be doing ‘Mapping the world with Art’, a geography class that integrates history and art.   I wanted to put dd9 and ds11 into a botany class with lots of hands on activities instead of geography, since they already will be participating twice a month in geography club (this will be their third year in geography club, but in the past it was only once a month) and I thought they’d enjoy the science as something interesting and different.  But the botany class was full and the geography one was the only other choice for their age during that time.  I didn’t have to sign them up for anything but I thought they’d enjoy it – it will be different than the geography they do with their club, so I don’t anticipate much overlap.  (I’ll be with ds1 and ds3 in the nursery during this time.)

It’s been five years since my schedule was so full of homeschool activities out of the house.  In the past I found it was very easy to schedule lots of activities but that being out so often left me feeling like I wanted to homeschool – but I wasn’t home enough.  It was at that point that I chose to simplify by saying ‘no’ to a lot of things and I think that was a great choice; it kept our life sane and balanced, and we still had plenty of trips and activities.

While this year will have more regular outside activities than in the past, I’ve been careful not to schedule anything until after lunch (with one exception), to allow us to keep our routine in place.  That way, the activities will be supplementing our home life, not replacing it.

The exception that I referenced is a 30 week history class for everyone in the family ages 8 and up that I’ve literally been waiting three years for, given by an incredibly knowledgeable and entertaining historian.  The class is 2.5 hours long, with 30 minutes at the beginning is actually a viewing period since he brings in period weapons, artifacts, tools, etc to look at and explore, and supposedly he keeps even kids of all ages riveted.  It will mean an hour drive in each direction every Tuesday morning, but I feel it will be worth it.  My only regret is that I couldn’t do this class when dd15 and ds17 were still homeschooling – four years ago I wanted to register when my oldest was in eighth grade, but a friend suggested I wait until the following year so ds could use it as a high school credit.  I took that advice but the opportunity didn’t come around again until now!  I’m hoping my inlaws will watch the littles each week at this time, since I really would like to sit in on the class, too.  Otherwise, I’ll keep them occupied during the class, something I’ve spent many hours doing in the past with my middles when they were little and my bigs were at the class taking stage, but it’s not something I especially find relaxing.  The littles will be much happier with their grandparents, too!

Wednesday will remain our day for activities with our local homeschool support group.  Two of these are geography club for ds8, dd9, and ds11 – one meeting is going to be more information based, the second meeting will be a trip related to the learning they did.  Two years ago in geography club they learned about the world, then last year they did the US, and this year they’ll be doing our state.  The kids really enjoy doing this with a long term home educating mom who enjoys it and makes it lots of fun for the kids.  They have friends in the group, too, so that also adds to the enjoyment.  Since these are close by, it doesn’t mean much of my time, only 10 minutes to drop off and then another 10 when it’s pick up time.  I’ll probably be accompanying them on trips, though, when it works for our schedule.

Then another Weds. is our monthly homeschool gathering, and the final Weds. will be a Lamed Tes melachos (39 categories of work) class for ds4, with projects relating to three of the melachos at each meeting.  All of these will be in the afternoons, so again, they won’t supplant our regular schedule.  I do usually do my monthly shopping on Wednesday, and I’ll have to decide how to handle that if I need to be in this area mid day on those days – with Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays spoken for, it doesn’t leave me a lot of options!

Dd14 has had a number of steady babysitting job requests in the last couple of weeks for the coming year but has only accepted two jobs – one for 5 hours every Tuesday afternoon (so she’ll babysit very soon after we return from our history class), and one for the mornings from 7:15- 8:30.  She likes this because she finds it breaks up the flow of her day to babysit for a couple of hours midday, and she likes to go to sleep early and get up early so late night jobs are hard for her.  She’ll be home in time for breakfast, and it will allow her to continue with her regular schedule undisturbed.  I think she’ll also be tutoring some younger homeschooled girls in Judaics on Monday mornings, but she’s waiting to finalize that.  She also practices piano for 1 – 1.5 hours a day (the other three kids don’t practice more than 30 minutes daily), so her schedule is comfortably full right now, and she’s feeling very good about how it’s come together.

I was considering registering dd14 for a college class but made the decision to include the co-op classes for everyone instead.  I told her I’ll consider it again for the spring semester, but I don’t like squeezing a schedule too tight and neither does she, so we’ll see how we’re feeling about things at that point.  I reminded her that she can go together in the coming year to college classes with dd15, which I think that will be the best option.

So these are some of the plans I’ve been busy organizing recently, in addition to sending off ds17 to yeshiva and dd15 to Israel.  (I always do my planning for the coming year before the year begins, and then only have to make minor adjustments during the year.)  I’ve also been thinking about how to approach different areas of Jewish learning with various children, as well as making plans for ds3 and ds4, who are both ready and desirous of having something ‘big’ (ie official) to do.  I don’t have it all decided on – the biggest remaining question is about ds11, who was learning daily with ds17 and would like more learning time than just with my dh.  All of this has taken a lot of time and brain space, and it’s definitely been expensive, with the fees for all of these classes coming due right now, the same time as the expenses to get the older two kids taken care of.  It helps to remind myself how lucky I am to be able to afford these opportunities.

We’re gradually easing out of our summer schedule towards our ‘school’ year schedule.  With Rosh Hashana just a week away, I don’t anticipate doing very much outside of getting ready for the holidays.  We’ll start a bit of official stuff in the coming week, along with beginning new read alouds with the middles at that time.  The real focus will on Rosh Hashana (started baking yesterday), with plans to start academic type work in earnest at the beginning of October.  That’s one wonderful thing about homeschooling – you can do what works for you, regardless of what everyone else is doing!

I always enjoy seeing everything coming together,  and I’m looking forward to another wonderful year of learning with our family!


Dd’s departure to overseas program

Well, dd15 is now in Israel.

Yesterday was a somewhat grueling day.  I’d been pretty sick the day before – I’m not going to waste time on details but I was feeling really, really horrible.  The thought even flitted through my mind not to go with the rest of the family to the airport – I was physically in a lot of pain and didn’t know how I’d manage sitting for hours in a car (the airport is in NY) when even lying down was difficult.  But there are times that you go beyond your physical capacity, and I think having children regularly pushes you beyond these capacities!  :)  It honestly wasn’t an easy day for me but it was very important for me to be present.

We left about 9:30 in the morning, but after stopping at a friend’s house so dd could say goodbye, and then to pick up some school supplies, it wasn’t until 10:30 that we were on the highway.  Dh and I switched off driving, which gave both of us a chance to rest and helped distract me from how terrible I felt.  We drove to pick up ds17 from yeshiva and got there at the end of the afternoon break, which was great timing.

As we drove up, one of the kids exclaimed in excitement, “This is the picture from the website!”  It felt more amazing to them since they had seen pictures online and now were able to be there in person.  We went into the office to wait for ds and everybody gave him a big hug when he came in, which is typical for our family; if someone is gone for even a day they get big hugs when they come back!   The secretary was lovely and told us how nice our family was and offered the kids peppermints, which they were happy to accept.  Ds took the boys and dh to his dorm to show them around; I would have loved to have seen his room and if it was during the learning session I would have felt comfortable to go in but during breaks you have guys walking in and out of showers, stuff like that, so not a place for females.

It was so perfect that his yeshiva is only 15 minutes from the airport, so after our short visit at his campus we turned back around and got dd15 to the airport at the designated check-in time.  After checking in, we went to a different terminal for the planned reception.  It was a long trek from one terminal to another and kind of challenging for me so what usually would have been a normal walk felt like a marathon.

We finally got to the other terminal and it was so nice that they had arranged for real food and vegetable platters to be served in addition to some cookies.  Dh had packed for our trip and  the food that was brought wasn’t quite what I would have chosen, and I was concerned that hunger was going to become a real issue by the afternoon.  This allayed that concern.

The speaker for the reception started right on time, which was a pleasant surprise, and the entire thing was quite short.  It was scheduled for 1 1/2 hours, but after 30 minutes they announced that the organizer was leading the group back to the terminal.  When they made this announcement, my dh had taken the younger half of the family to the bathroom and I didn’t see any reason to rush everyone when: a) I could find my way back to the original terminal just fine, someone leading the group there in the first place would have been more helpful!; b) I had no interest in being with a large group of people in a small area where there would be no room to sit and nothing to do.  I wanted a little time and space with dd before she left and it seemed the room we were in was a much better place for that.  And it was.

I hoped we’d have time to be together a little, but between dh going to mincha, dd davening mincha (praying afternoon service), various kids going to the bathroom and needing to be taken to the water fountain, it wasn’t exactly focused family bonding time since someone was doing something the entire time!   To have proactively pulled everyone together would have required a lot of effort and energy that I generally can command but had to accept at this time that as much as I wanted to do it, I couldn’t.

Before the group left the area, I checked with both representatives separately, told them that we weren’t accompanying them right then but would meet the group for boarding, and asked when we should be there for boarding.  6:30 pm they both said.  That confirmed what the schedule which had been emailed several times had said, so we left the reception terminal 40 minutes before boarding time to give ourselves plenty of time to get there.  I like to be places on time and don’t like cutting things short, and particularly for dd’s sake, wanted to get there earlier than the scheduled time so she wouldn’t feel anxious about not being with everyone.

However, this wasn’t helpful since dd ended up feeling like we were late even though we got there early!  The representatives apparently made the decision to board the group an hour early after getting the group back to the terminal.  I can understand why.  What do you do with a large group of people when there’s nothing for them to do, and not more than 10 seats in the entire area, than expedite your schedule?  I didn’t mind the change in plans.  What I minded was that it bothered dd, who started thinking we did something wrong and were very late on schedule, and started feeling very pressured.

The airline representative didn’t make it any better – have you noticed the people lowest on the totem pole often inflate their own importance by acting like they have more power than they do?    I know this and having traveled internationally a number of times, I also am quite familiar with flight protocols, boarding times, etc.  When the rep told us with disdain that dd should have boarded an hour earlier with her group, I knew this was more about power than about anything else.  But dd didn’t.  Grrrr.  I almost wanted to smack this woman because dd started crying at this point.  As a parent you want to do what you can to make things easier for your child, and it’s frustrating when your efforts seem to backfire.  Dd isn’t emotionally overreactive as a rule, but this was an understandable exception.

Everyone got teary eyed when dd hugged them goodbye, except me since I went with her up until the security line.  Officially only passengers are supposed to go in this line, but until they checked her boarding pass I wanted to be with her.  Before we got in line I introduced myself to a family who had a daughter going to the same program who had gotten to the terminal within the listed time for the scheduled reception but after the early departure of the group.  So I told the mother to send her daughter over to mine after they said their goodbyes so they could board together.

While we were in line, I explained all that was left in the boarding process was to walk through the security line that was directly in front of us, then to make an immediate left (I was able to clearly p0int this out since it was only about 15 yards away) and walk to the gate labeled 6.  But she was already feeling nervous and uncertain about not having gone through with the group, and I’m glad she was able to go through it with someone else, because being with someone else really does drastically lower anxiety in a situation like this.  I hugged her goodbye and thankfully didn’t start crying even though I’d been warning my family that I’d be crying buckets so to come prepared with lots of tissues for me.  :)  (Afterward dh told me that when I accompanied dd a little further past the point where everyone else waited, he said to the kids, “Hey, it’s no fair, we’re going to miss seeing Mommy get all emotional!”)  I say thankfully because there was enough emotion for dd without me adding more, not because I’m advocating denying one’s emotions!

As soon as they entered the security line the other mother called the representative in charge and told her where our girls were at, and the rep said she’d be watching for them on the other side.  I wish I could have told dd this so she would have known that people were looking out for her since I think she would have felt reassured – there was only a walk of a couple of minutes from where I could see her go to where someone else would be waiting.   I  waited there for a while until dd got through security (it took a half hour since the other girl was delayed – her mother was guessing it was her bangles she couldn’t remove), after which they immediately turned a corner so I couldn’t see her anymore.

I was a little disappointed not to be able to see any of the other parents, who I anticipated being able to chat with after the boarding.  Some I had met several months ago in NYC for the day long screening and it would have been nice to have touched base again.   Another set of parents I saw in the airport briefly who used to live in my area but moved to AL – they have a son going to the boys’ program so I had no idea they were going and it would have been nice to catch up with them.  And the lovely long term email pal who is the one who turned me on to this program – thanks, E! – I would have loved to have talked once the girls had boarded and all of us parents were feeling more relaxed.  But everything works out as it’s meant to be.

We finally left and drove ds17 back to yeshiva, arriving in time for his evening learning session – he only missed the afternoon session. He and dd are very close and it was important to have him there with the rest of us to see her off, but I was glad we were able to minimize the interruptions to his schedule. A couple of people made comments that implied how difficult it would be to take everyone for such a long day of driving (particularly for the littles), but to us it wasn’t even a consideration to leave anyone behind.  It’s just how our family does things.

After dropping ds off, we then headed back home, arriving at 12:30 am.  Thankfully everyone transferred to their beds pretty smoothly and I woke up knowing that dd was already in Israel!  Isn’t incredible that we live in times when major travel can be completed so quickly and easily?!

Dd15 called dh at work to tell him the cell phone and special card for Israel calls we bought weren’t compatible and since she was borrowing a phone, literally didn’t talk for more than a minute.  So that was the extent of the call.  Very disappointing since all day long everyone was waiting for her call with every ring of the phone!  Fortunately she emailed me later in the day to say that she wrote a post on her blog that we could read – I don’t generally read her blog since it’s a vehicle for communicating with her friends and I feel it would be a violation of her privacy.  (For her year in Israel we’ll be reading regularly.)  I read her post out loud to the kids during dinner, since that was when I saw her message come through.  (I almost started crying the first two times I started trying to read it out loud, though.)

She sounds really happy and really tired.  Really, really tired.  Seriously, all of these kids must be going on fumes because it sounded like most of them didn’t sleep during the flight and probably didn’t sleep much the night before they left, either!  Hopefully we’ll get to talk to her tomorrow, but for now I’m just happy to know that she’s arrived safely and things are going well so far.  Dd is a great girl with a wonderful energy and attitude toward people and life, and I’m optimistic that this year will be an incredible experience for her.

As far as how I feel about having the oldest two gone, that’s another topic…..