Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reflections On Our First Year of Homeschooling (with a major relocation & a toddler underfoot)

A park we walked through during our first days in TX.

What is this?  A non-food post?  It sure has been a while since that has happened.  But, I wanted to reflect back on our first year.  Maybe I'm doing this more for myself to be able to look back and (hopefully) see how far we have come after years gone by.  But, maybe also, it will offer encouragement for other first year homeschoolers, homeschoolers who make a BIG move in the midst of the school year and homeschoolers with a toddler under foot (a toddler who has had tummy issues from day one and NEVER seems to sleep...ever!).  Or maybe like myself, a homeschooler experiencing ALL. OF. THE. ABOVE.  Ya might wanna go tinkle or grab a cup of coffee... or a snack even.  This is gonna be long.

We started our homeschooling journey last August with a University model school, where my daughter went to a private school for 3 days (the 3rd being an optional enrichment program they offered) and we homeschooled (co-taught) for 2 days.  My son was just two weeks away from turning 1 and my daughter would be turning 6 a month after that.  While my heart greatly desired to exclusively homeschool, it just wasn't in the cards at that very moment.  (Long story).  I trusted God and I was thrilled to at least be able to partially homeschool my daughter.   I loved the community feel of the school and her teacher was so nice and patient.  They basically told me what curriculum I needed to buy and they provided the lesson plans for our home days.  I initially liked this aspect because it took the burden to research curriculum choices off of my shoulders.  However, I quickly realized that it was not exactly the homeschool experience I envisioned.  Every parent thinks their kid is smart and bright and I'm no exception.  But, my daughter really was pretty far ahead most of her classmates.  She was already reading very well (going into Kindergarten).  The reading for school was not as challenging as it could have been and both Math and Phonics started out pretty boring for her.  Had we been doing our own thing, I could have progressed her as needed.  But, since it was a school setting, she had to go according to their schedule.  And I had very little room for creativity in teaching her.  Looking back now, I can say that it kind of felt like 2 days worth of homework that had to be completed and sent back in.  But, overall, my daughter was happy & enjoying it and I loved having her home more & being so involved with her education, so I was truly thankful for that.

Well, she had not even been in school for a month, when my husband told me about a recruiter from a company contacting him.  He had always wanted to work for the company so, naturally, I was very supportive of him submitting his resume etc.  Not too long after, he told me they wanted to fly him to Texas for an interview.  I looked at him in shock and said "what do you mean Texas?"  As far as I knew, this particular company was in Florida, local to us.  He explained that there was more than one location and that they wanted him for a job exclusive to the TX offices.  I was quiet for a moment and then said "well, if it's God's will, then things will work out the way they are supposed to".  Hubby called me after the interview, sounding excited and told me how, when he walked in, all of his nerves melted away and how well he felt the interview had gone really well.  At this point, I still was not wrapping my head around everything.  I was in a "let's wait and see" mode.  1 week later, it was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late September, I had just picked Miss M up from class and loaded the kids into the car...it had been exactly 1 month since school started, and Mr. A called.  When I answered, he said "Well, pack your bags!".  That began our whirlwind of a relocation.  They wanted him to start in October but, they were willing to wait until the first week of November.  That gave us only 1 month to get everything in order, find a place to live, celebrate Miss M's 6th birthday, say our goodbye's to family & friends, etc.  Also, during that month of preparing to move, I researched homeschooling in TX and university model schools etc. and we decided for the rest of the year, it would be best for me to just do it on our own under the covering of the school she was at in FL.  (Private School Covering).  Which basically meant that I would send her work back at the end of each quarter and they would do record keeping there.  This might possibly be the most exciting part of the move for me personally, a chance to exclusively homeschool.  I was SO very excited and thankful for this opportunity. That last month in FL was truly a whirlwind.  We did not have time to mentally or emotionally process everything.  We blinked our eyes and then, we woke up in Texas.

Aside from the first week, things did not get off to a wonderful start though.  We lived in a hotel for the first week while waiting for the movers to get here with our cars and all of our stuff.   It kind of felt like we were on vacation.  We explored, went to the zoo and a few other places.  The next week was a blur of unpacking boxes and trying to make the home as livable and functional as possible.  By the end of that week Hubby had started feeling homesick, and questioning if he had made the right decision.  Especially with Thanksgiving just on the horizon. We actually had some friends only 20 minutes away who had just moved to TX 5 months earlier and I knew they also did not have any local family.  So I invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner.  I spent the third week unpacking, settling in, getting the kitchen fully functioning for Thanksgiving and trying to do some school work with Miss M.  Thankfully, some toys had been located and the DVD player was up and running so I was able to keep Mr. L mostly distracted amidst all of the chaos.   And thankfully he was not walking or climbing yet so, he did not get into too much.  He was still nursing quite a bit though so that made everything take much longer than I had planned on.  Hubby was getting sadder and more depressed by the minute which was effecting everyone's moods.  I was trying to reassure Him that God had a reason for bringing us here when He did (weather it made sense or not) and that God's plans are always the best plans.  During Thanksgiving week, I did school with Miss M for 3 days, much of it being related to fall and Thanksgiving, in addition to preparing some food in advanced, grocery shopping and getting all the supplies necessary to make and serve a successful Thanksgiving day Turkey.  Since I still had access to the lesson plans to use as my guide, I remember feeling that I HAD to get Miss M caught up since she had not done anything for 3 weeks.  Why I was attempting this on Thanksgiving week is beyond me.  I was not considering that as homeschoolers, we have more flexibility.  But, I started out being a slave to the lesson plans...lesson plans made by someone else nonetheless.  While things did not go exactly as planned and we ate much later than intended, we still had a very enjoyable & memorable Thanksgiving with our friends.  But, you could see that Hubby was really down despite our company.

After Thanksgiving, I tried getting the kids back into a routine with meals, school, Mr. L's nap etc.  Miss M was suddenly having some attitude issues while we were trying to do school, Hubby was still getting increasingly more depressed and Mr. L was getting crabbier by the day.  I was being an over-reactive parent.  Things were not going quite as I imagined.  Then we were hit by a crazy ice storm.  We woke up to what looked like snow.  It was really exciting for the first day and it looked so pretty.  Of course Miss M just LOVED it!  She went "sledding" down the hill on a plastic lid over and over.  But for the hubs & I, the excitement wore off pretty fast.  Because hubby had to drive to work in icy conditions and our SUV could not handle driving on the ice at all (our cul-de-sac was literally like an ice skating ring with 3 inches of ice) so the kids and I were mostly housebound for over a week. We were still not fully settled in and now, we had Christmas just weeks away.  Before the move ever happened, we already had plans (and flight tickets) to spend Christmas with Hubby's family in upstate NY but, in order to transfer our tickets to fly out of TX it would have cost a fortune.  Long story short, we decided to go back to FL for Christmas on a budget airline.  AKA...No frills and nickle & dime you for anything extra airline.  Even though I knew we were not going to be here, I still wanted to put up some Christmas decorations and wrap the kids gifts etc.  So with all of this going on I was still running the house, homeschooling, nursing all the time and now, packing luggage for a 3 week trip back to FL.  And at this point, Hubby was not sleeping very well at all due to his depression/homesickness.  We were having more behavior issues with Miss M and we realized she had developed some sort of tic.  It kept looking like she was glaring at us but, after a while and much frustration, we realized she was completely unaware that she was doing it and had no control over it.  So we tried to ignore it and prayed that it would resolve itself.  Hubs was beating himself up, thinking it was this fault and feeling guilty for moving his family here.  I was trying to remain optimistic, encouraging and understanding.  But, I was starting to feel frustrated (and exhausted) at the same time.  I wanted to shake him and tell him to snap out of it and get over it.  But, I knew deep down that it wasn't that simple and I knew that I just needed to be a shoulder to cry on for that time.  And all the while, I somehow managed to join a local homeschool group, attend our first field trip with them get Miss M completely "caught-up" according to the lesson plans from the school in FL.  But, that clearly came at a cost.  I was a stressed, frazzled mess.  It clearly affected Miss M & Mr. L.  Instead of spending that housebound week enjoying more of the ice-snow with Miss M, I was too worried about getting caught-up and getting everything else done and getting ready for our trip back to FL.  And honestly, Mr. L is a complete blur during that time.  I was SO focused on everything else that I have very little memory of what he was doing that month, what milestones he hit that month, etc.  If I could go back and do things over during that time, I would.  Live and learn right?

Texas Ice Storm 2013

Frozen!

Sweet Little Snow Bunnies


It was hard to make snow angles in the ICE.

Even the lake started to freeze.



It was nice and a little surreal to be back in FL for 3 weeks only 6 weeks after moving.  But, rather than making Hub's depression better, it seemed to make it worse because with each day that passed he knew it was another day closer to leaving FL again and this time, for a much longer time.  He still was not sleeping very well and dealing with anxiety.  But, we still had an enjoyable Christmas and New Years.  Shortly after coming home to TX (a little more than a week later) my in-laws came from NY to visit.  Since they wanted to do a late Christmas with us here, we never opened our gifts before going back to FL and we waited for them.  I decided to go all out and prepare an entire Christmas dinner.  Things were much smoother this time since I was able to time things better and Nana & Papa were able to help with the kids.  It was a wonderful visit and a wonderful 2nd Christmas.

Their visit marked the end of a very, very long whirlwind and we finally started to settle into a comfortable routine.  Mikaela started making friends with some other kids on our street (one family who also homeschools) and I enrolled her into an art & music class at a local place that caters to homeschooling families.  We also enrolled her into a dance class and got her involved with a local Awana group.  Hubs eventually started to get back into running and started going to a Bible study hosted by one of his co-workers.  He made friends and started going out on occasion.  Gradually, and slowly, his depression improved.  We were still hopping for one church to another, trying to find our new church family.  Miss M's tic eventually went away and shortly before Easter, we finally found our new Church family.  Things were finally settled & school was overall going well. 

I used those provided lesson plans for a while but, gradually, I started changing things up and progressing Miss M where I saw the need, then eventually, I would only occasionally refer to them, to see how we lined up and then finally, I just stopped using them all together as I gained more confidence in what I was doing.  It was not long before I changed some of curriculum.  I added Latin and an official Science curriculum, switched to a new Bible curriculum and eventually a new plan for reading instead of the basic A-Z readers the school had provided.

Mr. L Keeping busy while toys were still packed.
 Miss M finished her Phonics curriculum about 6 weeks early so we jumped right into the next level and and she finished her math curriculum about a month early so we jumped right into the new math curriculum (which we are LOVING & I will share all about in another post).  In the end, after all of that chaos had settled down, I think our first year of homeschooling went really well and we created some great memories amidst the chaos. 

As a last note, I have been very drawn to the Charlotte Mason methods of teaching and the more I would read, them more I would continue to tweak things just a bit.  But, now that all of my ducks are in a row, I will be fully implementing Charlotte Mason methods in our upcoming school year.  I am REALLY excited about our upcoming 2014/15 school year and can't wait to share about it in my next post so stay tuned.

 This pin-board shows most of what we used for the 2013/14 school year.  My 2014/15 pin-board will look pretty different.  A few of the same things but, mostly different.

Some fun things we did throughout out the 2013/2014 school year....