Homeschool Review Part II

Warning! This is a crazy long post.  Feel free to just leave now and have a good weekend.

Our homeschool umbrella group (through our church) has been an established organization for over 15 years.  I think there are around 60 families (about half go to other churches in the area) and with that large size, social opportunities and support are plentiful.  It plays a huge part in the decision for us to homeschool, actually.  It’s always nice to see a good number of “normal” people you know homeschool their kids and they do, in fact, turn out to be normal too.  I can only wish for that in our own family!!

Now, notice I said normal but not “in the box.”  Privately Mike and I talk about “the box” a lot and because I stay-at-home with the one in our family who lives MORE often on top of the box rather than in it, I can easily get frustrated with his learning style differences.  I tend to forget how he’s wired.

Mike reassures me each time and reminds me that we don’t want him to be in the box.  We feel that public school would expect him to spend 6 hours a day in there and he would be miserable.  Not saying that school is out of the question for the future, but for right now, homeschooling is the best thing for him.

We’ve been homeschooling for two years – one on our own for pre-K and one under the Umbrella for kindergarten.  I had my semi-annual review the other day from a seasoned homeschooler representing our Umbrella group (Umbrella means they cover your legal documentation requirements and provide ongoing support).

Every state is different, but in Maryland you must be reviewed at the conclusion of each semester by either a county school system official or by the Umbrella.  Maryland dictates what needs to be checked: a year’s worth of regular, thorough instruction in the studies usually taught in the public schools to children of the same age.  The 8 subjects that need to be covered are: social studies, math, language arts, science, health, PE, music and art.  The local school system is not allowed to impose additional requirements. (Incidentally, high school guidelines are different.)

Before the review, I had a couple of records to fill out to be turned in.  I needed to give Max a grade for each subject.  Of course, in kindergarten this is totally hard to do for any teacher but I gave him all Outstandings based on his effort.  I know the areas that he needs to work harder next year (respect for other people’s space, ahem) but in my preparation for the review, I saw the pages and pages he did all year and I want him to be proud of his Outstanding work.

He is reading on his own, too, which I now know is developmental but takes a great deal of effort all the same.  Yay Max!  You can even read out loud without being too distracted!

Max is reading


My reviewer came over and we sat at the kitchen table and after some chit-chat, we got started.  She asked me how she could specifically pray for me and we started the time in prayer.  Then we went down the list and talked about each of the 8 subjects I covered.  I showed her my planning book and Max’s workbooks.  We discussed handwriting at length and she encouraged me to relax about it yet keep going in 1st Grade with a structured program. (I quit the Handwriting Without Tears book mid-year because we were both tearfully short-tempered every lesson).  She’s been there, she said, and it does get easier.  I needed to hear that.

I’m pumped about next year (which starts in approximately 3 weeks).

I realize that this may be the longest post I’ve ever written, but I wanted to answer Ann’s question about why I like Shiller Math for Max.  We completed Book 1 (they say it’s for ages 4-5 but puh-leeze! Montessori methods are known to brag) and a bit in Book 2 (ages 5-6) . In 1st Grade we will continue in Book 2 and move right into Book 3 (ages 6-7).

It’s a Montessori (learn by doing) style.  I like the jump-around-to-different-things about it.  I like the song CD.  I like all the toys – the measuring cup, play money, dominoes, place value cubes, etc.  I even like how the workbook tells you exactly what to say.

It doesn’t require a lot of written work, which makes it less stressful.  There are no pages with a list 10 or 20 math problems but instead there might be 4 or 5 problems then a few pages later another set.  The randomness (though not random at all since the concepts are building on one another) works.  Max remembers what he learns.  He knows basic addition and how to write the equation but he doesn’t have to write it a lot.  He can do math in his head pretty well.  And on paper he and can add some big numbers. But don’t ask him to do 10 of them in a row!

The negative thing about Shiller is that there is so much stuff.  I have everything in a big box and keep it in my kitchen to trip over all day.  But it did feel like we were playing and Max was always engaged, not distracted by the stuff.  I only took out what was needed, though.

The Kit I costs a fortune new ($400) so I bought my stuff used from a friend.  It was a pain in the butt to erase her child’s answers (sometimes I’d just tape a blank index card over entire sections) but I’m not sure I would’ve purchased it if it wasn’t for a fraction of the retail cost.  Luckily, my friend switched to something else in the middle so from here on out it’s blank pages for us.

Okay, if you’re still awake, thanks for reading all of this.  Our homeschooling adventure continues…

Do you homeschool?  How would you describe your child in relation to The Box?


8 thoughts on “Homeschool Review Part II

  1. Thanks, Anna. I sent out an email around here asking if anyone has or is using it…but no one around here is apparently or they are all on vacation:(((
    I appreciate the info. I downloaded Shiller’s diagnostic test from their website yesterday to see how my little guy does with it. Starting over is so hard…there’s so much out there and I know what I’m doing this time and don’t want to do it wrong again :((
    $400 is pretty steep…and not really doable for our budget right now (which is pretty much non-existant), but I may try to find it used or go with Critical Thinking math…who knows, I still have about 2 months to get it purchased and get started!! We always start school the week of Labor Day that way we can play after all the other kids go back to school for a week or two!!

  2. Anna: I really want to encourage you about handwriting. Oh my goodness … Max’s challenges bring back Danl’s. It would literally take us an hour to do fifteen minutes worth of work. I was beside myself!

    Then … one day, I went to the Christian school where my sister taught to teach a stamping craft to the kids. But … I arrived a little early and got to witness handwriting in a first grade school setting. Turns out, it was no different than what happened at my kitchen table. There were meltdowns of epic proportions. Ahhhh…

    I wouldn’t spend too much time every day on handwriting. Just a little. What I did was have Danl write a cookbook. He wrote out the recipes, we baked the recipes and delivered them to our “cookie route” consisting of about six family members and friends, and then I compiled all of the recipes he wrote out, turning them into a book, which included pictures of Danl cooking. I made a copy for each of the people on our cookie route who just ate it up. (Pun intended!) Needless to say, the pay off was just precious and very rewarding. Danl was so proud of himself and somewhere along in the process, he quit dreading handwriting.

    My best child raising advice also applies to homeschooling road blocks: “This too shall pass.” I promise…


  3. Ha! What a great question!

    Where are we in relation to the box: I’ve got one who is in the box…it just happens to the box three grade levels above the box she’s “supposed” to be in, one who isn’t even sure what country the box is in yet, one who engineered the box (then made it out of Legos), and one who is too busy playing the drums to realize there is a box!

  4. Well, I was able to read this in the middle of the night 🙂

    Anyway, I am always saying how we want our kids to think outside the box, but then I find myself just wishing my oldest would use things for their intended purpose (like keep the shampoo for washing hair, not for making playdough). I really don’t think there is any stopping him, but I often wonder how I could nurture that without any waste or dangerous consequences 🙂

    We did our first year of homeschooling. It went well and it was Kindergarten, after all. I have two to school this fall. Here’s hoping I can accommodate their learning styles.

  5. You know, even though I’m sure the review is a little… unnerving, and I’m sure many think it is ridiculous – I really think it is a huge blessing to have someone to talk through your year with who has seen lots of kids and knows what is “normal” and can reassure you about things you are struggling with and encourage you to stay on track. I would love that – since this is the 3rd year in a row I have done it, I can now say that I have the tendency to freak out at the end of the year about where she is and the job I have done as a teacher.

    And I hear ya about the box!
    Punkin is not as “out of the box” as Max (maybe), but it was definitely one of the major, if not the THE major reason, we decided to homeschool. Even though K is only half day here, I wasn’t sure how she would do “in the box” for even that long. And although I definitely don’t want her confined to the box, I am very grateful to be able to say that at the end of her 2nd grade year, she at least now understands the box and can be in it comfortably for a little while. I like that I can take her places and not have the drive to pick her up be so terrifying wondering what shenanigans she has gotten herself into! 🙂 But she is definitely still energetic and unique! And I pray that keeping her home will ground her so that the world will not beat out the uniqueness God gave her.

  6. I don’t homeschool, but am inspired by those that do. I think it’s wonderful you and Mike are working s hard to meet Max’s learning styles and not staying in The Box.

    Love the pics of him reading through all Mini’s attempts to distract him!

  7. Ahh. The Box. My school memories are filled with the square box, and trying to squeeze this round peg in.

    We used to have “SSR” Sustained Silent Reading (We called it “Sit down, Shut up & Read”)

    I was bored out of my skull as I had to sit quietly while the teacher explained something 3 or 4 or 5 times, dealing with discipline issues in other kids, and more.

    I was dying to get up and walk around. My relatively short attention span and gift of learning made school l-o-n-g, b-o-r-i-n-g and awful.

    This was further complicated when they decided that I needed to join the 2nd graders for math and english – so I had to become friends with 1st graders *and* 2nd graders. Some who didn’t “get” to go to the other class resented me. Some in the upper grade resented the “advanced” younger kids.

    With four boys – of course we home school! I could not ask my boys to endure experiences like mine. My #2 boy can’t seem to eat a meal without jogging around the table at least once. He’s all boy! But he’s SMART, reads well and does math well. He’s sensitive, a deep thinker, and cuddly. He’s also strong, physical and ACTIVE! He would not fit the box at all!

    I’m sure that if I was a student today, that I’d be medicated to make me fit in. (standard disclaimer – some people REALLY benefit from meds – I don’t think I would have) but right now, homeschool best fits our family needs.

    It’s not easy, nor is it convenient, but it fits!

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