Thursday, March 7, 2013

Homeschool Woes

I don't know where to start this.

The Elf is ten. He's in fifth grade. I think. Ugh. That makes me sound like a totally negligent parent. We don't put a lot of stock in grades, we work at his level and at his pace. Which may well be the problem.

This is going to be a total ramble. I applaud you if you make it through this mess.

We don't use a curriculum. We can't afford one. Not even really parts of one. So I've been muddling through since kindergarten with him. We tried to unschool, but that didn't work for us. Not totally, anyway. He taught himself to read, mostly. But he doesn't have.. interests. I'd try to "strew" books from the library. He might have glanced at some of them but if he could classify it as "school" it was met with scorn. So I turned to ambleside and classical learning (minus all the religion). But it's literature intensive. And while he can read it - he isn't absorbing much of anything. At least not that we can tell.

So I've cobbled together this and that over the years. I don't think it's working. If something cataclysmic happened and he had to attend school tomorrow, it would be bad. And that's just speaking academically. B tells me that I focus on the negative. I do. I know that. But let me run down this list for you, just because. The Elf doesn't know the days of the week in order (he's getting better), the months of the year (or how many there are), our phone numbers, the continents (and sometimes the difference between a continent, country, and city), the alphabet in order. And on and on. No amount of memorization practice has improved things. It's not the end of the world, I know. But it might give you some insight into my turmoil. He's a great calculator (despite not knowing his times tables, either) but has no idea *why* he's doing what he's doing. Told, step by step, what to do - no problem. Asked to find the percent of a number and I'm met with grunts, groans, and half-started words.

Science is laughable. We tried using Botany in a Day and various websites. That worked for a little while, but neither of us is terribly sure how to identify anything we find (it doesn't help that none of the resources are specific to the American Southeast - and it was winter). I've gotten a book from the local forestry people about native trees. So I have that to try out. We've tried using Herbal Roots Zine but can't find many of the plants locally and can't afford to buy all the supplies and things (or the zine itself anymore). But "real" science? Not a clue.

Getting random books from the library isn't helping because I don't know where to start or what to do. He's not interested in anything remotely scientific. He doesn't care how or why things work. And science curriculum options are so out of our budget that it isn't even funny any more. We have a bunch of books full of experiments. We've done some of them, but he'll admit that he doesn't know why we did or why they work - which makes it a failure as a learning tool.

We use The Story of the World for history. I've bought the books and activity books (which is about as far as we go financially). I supplement with things from the internet and books from the library. So I think I've got history at least mostly covered. It's the only thing I'm remotely okay with (it helps that I'm a history person). But he's never written a report, researched anything. I'm lost on how to teach him those things. When I was young we used an actual card catalog at the library and had to write everything ourselves. With the internet - Google, Wikipedia - is it even worth trying to teach it anymore? Of course it is, but do you see my despair?

I've spent most of my time consoling myself with the fact that we're teaching the practical, actually useful things. But what if he wants to go to college? Take the SATs? It would be a nightmare. There are gaps big enough to get lost in.

I'm overwhelmed by the extent of human knowledge. I don't know where to start. Curling up into a ball in a dark corner and weeping sounds good except that I know it won't actually accomplish anything. Top all of this with the fact that I need to start officially teaching the Imp in two years (and wanted to try and include the Beast with him since they're only about 1.5 years apart in age) and it's a miracle that I haven't gone completely nuts yet.

So is this a rant? A cry for help? Brain vomit? Probably. All of the above. Sigh. If you do comment, please be kind. This was very hard for me to write, to admit to the world. I'm feeling insanely vulnerable.


  1. It's really okay Melissa. I sent you an email and a big hug.

  2. sending you big hugs. I'm afraid I have no advice or major thoughts about it, as Rebe is in formal education and we 'after-school' at home picking up and running with her interests. I suppose my only thoughts would be that if he is just not academic (and that is totally ok) that he is doing some kind of meaningful work with his life. So if he is not studying then (and at 10 I think it is reasonable) that he works at home, be it helping with cooking, the chores, the garden etc. But I think you prety much do this already. big hugs to you mamam, it will be ok x x

  3. Thank you, I have made it to the end and feel like saying thank you, I have some similar problems especially in the interest sector.

    1. I have more to say... My iPads gone funky on me- I often don't have the sort of energy it takes to be constantly introducing subjects and work and pushing... I often think if I develop an interest it rubs off on my children and they learn the ropes. I wish you all the best, and that everything is really going well deep underneath

  4. I read it all the way through without problem. I have things I want to say, but little time at the moment. I'm going to send you an email, though not for a few days because we're on the verge of having guests for the weekend.

    Will you believe me if I say it'll be okay? Truly, it will. You ARE customizing his education and doing it with love, which is far and above ahead of where he'd be in the school system.

    More to follow...

  5. Big hugs (from a total stranger). My kids are homeschooled as well and they are 8 and almost 6. I hear you about the gaps and how he doesn't remember facts. My daughter is the same. My kids also don't have interests per say if you are looking for something traditionally "schooly".


    Have you ever heard about right and left brain learners? What you are describing about the gaps and not remembering things could right brained traits. I'm just throwing it out there since it might help you. Then again I could be totally off base. But if you are interested in looking it up go here: or
    homeschoolingcreatively yahoo group or

    Hang in there. It will come. Remember that if it's important to him he will eventually learn it. I keep having to remind myself that as well.

    1. Love that my name ended in the middle of the post. Oh well. Please excuse. Between talking with my kids and a cat butting my arm...

  6. Oh my, I feel the need to send you the biggest hugs I possibly can. Our chicken pox fiascokept me away from blogs so I missed this post but oh my heart goes out to you. I am some what in the same frame of mind as you. I mena my C is only in kindergarten so not too much to worry about yet but the idea of everythign involved in the grades and...and...oh my head spins just thinking about it all. BUT that said - I do believe it WILL be okay. You are doing something amazing for your children, something they couldn't get anywhere else. I have faith it will all work out. I'm sorry, I'm not much help and don't have any answers but I needed to send my love to you!! XOXO

  7. I couldn't read this and not comment. ((hugs)) It sounds like you're doing the best you can, homeschooling is so hard on a limited budget. I'm there too. But just the fact that you care enough to have the feelings that you do, that is what's going to pull you both through. It will all work out.

  8. Writing you an email now:)
    xo xo

  9. Have you gotten a hold of Rebecca Rupp's book "Home Learning Year by Year"?

    That was my homeschooling bible. I used it to craft my own curriculum, and felt comfortable that we were covering everything we needed to stay within the general learning of other kids.

    I also loved finding my own sources for the subject matter. It meant that I would be passionate about the material, and I could find stuff tailored to each of my kids. It also meant that I could mine as many free resources as possible from the library and online. (and garage sales!!)

    That said, I did follow a more 'homeschool' approach than an 'unschool' one, and we worked with workbooks and daily tasks like journaling and so forth. (and the kids love reading back on them now) :)

    As you know, my brood did go back to public school. With Rupp's help, they all move seamlessly back into the system - and straight into the honors classes.

  10. Why not just send your kid to school if you are having such a hard time financially and academically? You could volunteer in his classroom if you were worried about him being in public school.

    1. This comment hit my spam folder and I honestly had to pause before actually approving it. Not because I think it's spam, but because it seemed.. harsh. Hard. Cold.

      My son is not in public school because we, as a family, do not believe it's a good fit for him. I will leave out my opinions about the school he would be zoned for in particular because it doesn't matter. Volunteering in a class would be problematic at best, as I have two younger children to care for as well.

      Not being able to afford a packaged curriculum doesn't make me financially destitute. Many, many homeschoolers can't afford the $200-$1000 packages that are marketed. And that's for each individual grade - often for each subject, even (obviously not so much for the more expensive packages).

      This post was a call for help, yes. Public school is an option, I suppose. But it's not one that we consider viable. I'm very thankful to all of the people who offered me support and encouragement. Sometimes that's just what people need - to know they aren't alone.

  11. Just a big (((hugs)))! I've been home-edding for a decade now and I've felt like this on more than a few occasions - you will get through it! x

  12. Hi again,
    I couldn't get the Reply button to work, but this is a follow-up to my first post...

    I didn't mean to be "harsh", just curious as to why public school isn't an option? Religious reasons? Violence in this particular school? Your child is a special-needs? Geographically too far from a school??

    I'm not much of a coddler and maybe I shouldn't even post since I am not a regular visitor - in fact this was my first visit...I was genuinely puzzled as to why you would continue in a situation that didn't seem to be working for you.

    So, thanks for not spamming me and my seeming straightforward manner 8-).

    1. The school my son would be zoned for is down the street from us (well, for the rest of this year, anyway). So it's not a distance thing. There is a fair amount of worry about violence in our neighborhood, and therefore the school as well.

      See, this may spark a lot of.. something. It's like sex, religion, and politics. Not necessarily "safe" to speak of around people we don't know. For various reasons we feel that public school would.. deaden something in him. He's very creative and often has his head in the clouds. He's extremely smart - that probably didn't come through in my original post. He is really smart. But he's stubborn. There are gaps in his education, but that's likely me and not him. School teachers are told what to cover and given supplies and things. I'm starting from scratch and my direction isn't always the best.

      My issues aren't that he can't do the work. It's that I'm unsure how to motivate him, how to make it interesting. Where to start, what the next logical step is.

      When I was in school I found classes dull. I could make the best grades with little effort, but it was boring. My drive for knowledge wasn't being met with a positive reaction. I don't want the same thing to happen to my kids, you know? I want to foster their natural inclination to learn.

      Let's see. Say you want to make chocolate chip cookies. You pick a recipe and give it a go. They turn out cakey. You sigh but jump back in and pick another recipe. This time they're flat and too crispy. You start to get frustrated. Now, someone out there loves cakey cookies. And someone else surely loves the thin and crispy ones. But they aren't working for you. Do you give up and buy the ones full of junk at the store? Or do you ask for help/rant/whatever so that you can jump back in and try again?

      If I truly felt that homeschooling wasn't going to work, I'd find a schooling situation that would work. My kids are my main concern in life and I would do anything for them. But I'm not ready to go to the store to buy the junky cookies, you know? (:

      After my post I received a lot of advice, some swift kicks in the butt, some encouragement. All of it added together helped boost my confidence and add to my homeschooling "toolbox." Now I'm beginning to feel like we're on the right track again.

      And now I'll add that all of this is pre-coffee. Tone is hard to convey in text and even more so before both eyes are open. (:

  13. I hear you loud and clear I'm a hsing mom of four here and I have bouts of confidence attacks brought on by the fact that there is a public school right in my back yard.

    I've tried to keep my own confidence in check by having a list of realistic goals and ways to easily/cheaply achieve them with my kids.

    Ie: learn to read, do age appropriate math, (bake) a few science projects here/there. My list often looks like this: go to library, read more books, plant some seeds, write a letter to a friend, watch Khan academy, work in a basic math book.

    My daughter's curriculum is her girl guide book. The boys use the scout badges as their curriculum. I know we have gaps as well, but so does school. Kids are at quite a transitional time - some schools don't teach cursive. Some only use calculators etc...

    I know I can hs the younger grades, but my eldest (15) is doing his high school credits online by e-learning so he has a HS diploma but can skip the icky HS social stuff.