Homeschooling with Mental Illness

Hi, my name is Shannon and I have generalized anxiety with panic disorder, and a hefty side of agoraphobia.  I also homeschool my three kids.

So first, a little bit about anxiety for those that aren’t acquainted with this special kind of hell. Anxiety isn’t stress. It isn’t just “worrying”. The best way I have been able to explain anxiety to people that don’t know what it’s like is you know how when you are walking down the stairs, but you “miss” one, and for a very brief second your heart is in your throat and then your adrenaline spikes? For me, that’s what a panic attack feels like…just it doesn’t fade in 2 seconds once I realize I have my footing. It stays that way.

Another fun thing? I don’t hyperventilate or cry or do what people do in the movies. I sit quietly in the corner, or as out of the way as I am able to, and I try my best to remember to breathe. I try to convince myself that I *will* be okay. I try to hold on to one little thread of something until I can come out the other side of the attack. To people on the outside? It just looks like I am being standoff-ish. Like I am being rude and anti-social.

So how does someone that goes into full fight or flight mode over just the PROSPECT of grocery shopping manage to homeschool her kids? Well, for me, it’s all about knowing my limits and being able to pull from my resources.

Typically, I don’t have any trouble being at home. I still get anxious and the occasional panic attack, but I am MUCH more relaxed in my own home (hey there, agoraphobia!). I am able to lesson plan, teach, and direct without issue.

Of course the biggest criticism homeschoolers face, is “socialization” (FYI you socialize dogs, not kids). For me this looks a little different than a lot of homeschool families. I know that getting out of the house isn’t always possible for me and is almost NEVER an enjoyable experience, so I draw on the resources I have available.

We have a sitter that comes in once a week and takes the kids out to events locally that are hosted by other homeschoolers, which is awesome. They go ice skating, swimming, play board games, and many other activities while I am safe and comfortable at home (usually catching up on chores!).

We also have friends over to visit. They both have friends in public school and they come to visit after school sometimes and on weekends/school vacations. Homeschool friends come over whenever! Luckily, I am able to host things because again, I am home so it’s easier for me. I still can’t host for hours and hours like other parents I have met (and envy!) but they can all play for a few hours and chatter about whatever tweens chatter about together.

The other thing that’s nice about the homeschooling world, is when you find people in your community that “get” what you are working with and do what they can to reach out and help. I have offers from a couple of my friends to pick up my kids and bring them to and from activities.

We are also lucky to have a great local parks and recreation department and I am lucky that I can drop/off pick up so long as I don’t have to go inside, so there are ample opportunities for my kids to hang out with other kids at various classes/activities throughout the year.

In short, we make it work. Am I always confident that I am doing everything I can for my kids? Nope. Not at all, that’s the nature of anxiety (and parenting), but I do what I can to meet my kids’ needs while also not sending myself over the edge. I also acknowledge that I am very privileged to be able to afford extras like parks and rec programs and a sitter, which not all homeschooling parents are.

However, if you are considering homeschooling but have mental illness or other chronic illness that makes the idea of homeschooling more challenging, know there are LOTS of parents out there that make it work. For some it means schooling at night or the weekend when a partner is home. For some it means co-op classes. For others it means hiring a tutor or having a relative/friend come in and help. Homeschooling is all about thinking “outside the box” and that can be applied to ALL aspects of homeschooling!

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We *LOVE* Ivy Kids (preschool subscription box)

When my big kids were little I never really did any preschool type things with them. We hung out, we played, they watched a bit of PBS Kids.  They still learned all the things they needed to learn and were ready to go for kindergarten.

That said, now that I am homeschooling them and the littlest is also here I felt like he needed something “more”. I spend a lot of one on one time with the big kids for school and I felt like I should do the same for the little guy. The problem? I am NOT a crafty person. I don’t have the organization skills or the creativity to come up with stuff on my own, so the idea just fell by the wayside.

Finally, a few months ago, I asked on a Facebook group to see if there were any subscription style boxes available for this age group so that maybe I could utilize that type of service to fulfill this “need”. Several people suggested Kiwi Crate. The big kids at the time had both Tinker and Doodle crates so I knew that while they really enjoyed them, that the quality (especially of the Tinker crate) wasn’t fantastic and that it was just a one and done sort of box. You do it once, the materials are all used up, and that’s it. The end, and I was looking for something a little more involved than that.

Someone else suggested another preschool box, I honestly can’t remember the name now, because it looked decent but when I checked the price I nearly fell over out of my chair! It was incredibly expensive and there was no way that was going to happen.

Finally someone suggested Ivy Kids. I looked over the website and the price was all right. The crafts looked pretty decent etc so I placed an order for a 3 month long subscription to try it out, figuring the first box would be a Christmas present for little dude. It did take a little while to receive the first box, which is to be expected, but it WAS here before Christmas.

When it got here, even though it was supposed to be a gift (and was!), I HAD to open it to see what it was like. I was immediately impressed. The theme of that box was polar bears and on the top was a nice picture of polar bears to color in with my son’s name printed at the top, the personalization was a really, really nice touch. The materials inside the box were very nicely packaged and wrapped in tissue paper.

As I moved things around and unwrapped a bit, I realized they sent EVERYTHING. If there was cutting, they sent scissors. If there was coloring, they sent crayons. That was above and beyond what I was expecting! It also makes it a WONDERFUL gift option because even if you don’t know what supplies a child has, you know they will have the things they need right in the box. All the boxes are also designed around a book, that month’s book was Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett.

I didn’t really look into it a whole lot more after that as I put things back in the box and wrapped it up to go under our tree.

After Christmas, when we first started using the box, I was even more impressed. Everything is organized and packaged together nicely. The instructions for the game/craft/activity are written out clearly and packed with the supplies needed. This is important because the boxes come with SO MANY activities and crafts, it really is meant to be used for the whole month. We have slowly worked our way through things and each activity has been met with excitement and interest from the little guy.

We were able to freeze an “iceberg” and put little polar bears on it for sensory play and at the same time do a little “science” experiment to see what we thought would happen when the ice was in the water (Would it melt? What would happen to the polar bears on top? Would they float? Sink?) which was included in the box. I didn’t have to think of it (I never would have), it was written right there as a suggestion. We have played the dice game SO MANY TIMES. You shake the dice and get a number, then you put a pom pom on the number. There was one with the numbers (1, 2, 3), one with the numbers written out (one, two, three), and one with math problems (1+0, 1+1, 2+1). It was really neat to see how they changed things up so that kids can work on different skills depending on where they are at.

The next box recently arrived and I looked through that one too, even though we aren’t finished with polar bears yet! I am equally pleased with the looks of that box (giraffes!) and am very excited to use it. What really impressed me was that it’s not like they just took the activities from the bear box and somehow made them relate to giraffes, it’s a TOTALLY separate set of activities, games, and crafts.

I am so glad to have found this subscription box. It will provide countless hours of entertainment, enrichment, and education for my preschooler (and for the rest of us too!).

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It’s Been a Clusterf*ck

This year has been a total clusterf*ck.

Science has been an issue for the whole year and any secular homeschooler knows finding a good homeschool science curriculum can be a challenge! We started the year with Elemental Science because that’s what Build Your Library used. It was fine but the kids *HATED* it with the fire of a thousand suns, not that I blame them, it IS pretty damn dry.

Then we found out Build Your Library was changing over science to utilize REAL Science Odyssey and I was super excited because it’s a truly secular science (unlike Elemental that does things like tell you to go ahead and skip teaching the Big Bang if that’s not inline with your beliefs, GAG).

So while we waited for that (changes don’t happen overnight!) we worked on Mystery Science because they had free lessons to try out in certain areas. It was set up well and the kids liked it, but then suddenly they started only offering the first lesson in each area for free, and locked the others so you had to buy a membership. I knew we weren’t planning on using it for the rest of the year, and honestly at 9 and 11 years old, the kids were starting to age out of it anyway so we were left to figure out what to use, again, while we waited for the updated science in grade 6 of BYL.

I decided we would try the science for grade 5 of Oak Meadow. It’s another truly secular science curriculum and I’ve heard good things, so I purchased it and looked it over. We did the first couple of lessons…and just fizzled out. For some reason it doesn’t hold the kids’ attention and *I* am completely incapable of “grasping” the Waldorf method of things. I can’t for the life of my figure out WHY but it just doesn’t click for me. I can go through the motions and the material is good but it doesn’t bring about any passion or excitement for me (or my kids, as it happens).

So after all that, we decided to go back to Build Your Library and I picked the Darwin and Evolution Unit Study.  This is a great unit study and has some awesome history AND science in it. I was very impressed with the material and the kids were engaged and interested, so that was a plus. We did several weeks of that and then, for some reason (I can’t remember why?) we fizzled out for a bit.

By the time we were ready to get back into it, Emily from Build Your Library had completed the updated 6th grade! It was time to start using RSO Astronomy 2. I was SUPER excited because stars and space are awesome, duh. We got the RSO course and did 3 or 4 weeks of it. The material is fantastic. It’s colorful and engaging and the experiments are neat….but it is *WAY* over the head of my 4th grader (which makes sense since it’s targeted for grades 6-10) and while my 6th grader could and did do it, it became obvious to me that he would get a LOT more out of it in a year or two. There are some pretty advanced, truly high school, concepts brought up.

So then I sat there for a few weeks. Trying to decide if I should get the Earth and Space level one from RSO for my 4th grader and keep trucking along in Astronomy 2 with my oldest or just change things up *COMPLETELY*.

In the end, I decided to take advantage of the Pandia Press Black Friday sale that’s 35% off and picked Physics Level One for them to complete together this year. It’s aimed at grades 3-6, so it should be the “right” sweet spot for both of them, hopefully. We have done the first week (thanks to their try before you buy page!). So far, it seems like it should work. I am hopeful that this is the “magic” thing we will use for this year and it will get us solid science lessons.

And that’s just part one of the clusterf*ck. And it’s not even December yet!

We are having issues with math too, which has become a sticking point for both my big kids. They seem burnt out on Math Mammoth but it’s just SO MUCH better than the other programs out there, IMO. We tried IXL (middle was crying within 5 minutes). We tried Khan, and while the content is great, I am not smart enough to figure out how to assign lessons plus we need printed out worksheets anyway for documentation in the state we homeschool in. Then we did Prodigy for a bit. They really enjoyed it and I could assign lessons easily enough, but the oldest has pretty much aged out of it and again, there’s nothing to print out. I also felt like that without setting the number of problems way higher than suggested, that there wasn’t enough practice on the concepts that they needed help with. We have also gotten Math-U-See and have been using that for a week now, just having the kids do the end of lesson tests until we figure out where they each need to be in the books, since it doesn’t even SORT OF follow the same method/pattern as Math Mammoth. MUS has made math not a fight anymore *BUT* we also haven’t gotten to the material they don’t know yet…so I am trying to decide if we are going to keep going until we figure out where we need to be OR if we are just gonna go back to doing Math Mammoth and only having them do 1-2 pages of math each day. Or maybe setting a timer for 30-45 minutes and having them just do whatever they can do in that time.

On top of ALL OF THAT we have also been having trouble with routine due to the full day art program they are in. They like the full day art program well enough but being that it’s on Wednesday it sort of throws a monkey wrench into our routine/schedule. The last day they are in that is December 20th and we aren’t doing the spring semester so I am betting that makes a huge difference in our rhythm. Even just last week (Thanksgiving week) we had no art and no anything else and things went SO SMOOTHLY. We were done with school before lunch each day. It was amazing and how things used to be.

So here’s to continuing on, to adjusting things, and to being able to change things up due to the flexibility of homeschooling so you can find what works best for your kid(s). It’s awfully nice to be able to change things around as needed! I am hoping for a much smoother time for the rest of this year thanks to the changes.Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 5.01.09 PM

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Build Your Library: Several Years Later

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Several years ago I posted Build Your Library: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It is one of my most viewed blog posts, so I thought maybe it would be a good idea to give an updated review as we have moved into the older elementary/early middle grades!

When I first started I loved the concept of BYL. It worked very well for my little kids but I kept thinking, “I just don’t know how it’s going to be enough for big kids?”. Turns out, it does a wonderful job of keeping up with bigger kids and the more I see of each grade (like the Grade 10 book list!), the more excited I get. There are some amazing titles in the middle and high school grades!

I have really enjoyed how flexible the schedule is. We only do four day weeks due to other scheduled activities we have going on and it is SO easy to fit a full week of curriculum into four days *or* just keep doing it one day at a time, whichever works best for your situation or even changing it week by week as needed.

Right now, for example, we double up reader on one day, history on another, and then spread out the activities as needed (like documentaries, biography pages, etc).

Also, in Grade 6 (what we are doing now) one of the literature books is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. That same title is also used in the Evolution unit study so I ended up deciding that we would do that for science AND reader all at the same time, which is just another excellent example of how flexible the curriculum is.

I am always thrilled with the discussions that arise as a result of reading the books with my kids. I do try to read what they are reading on their own as well, for the readers, just so I know what to talk about with them. Once in awhile I also like to ask them questions about those books, mostly so I have something to give to the state to show “progress” as required by our homeschool laws. It’s something that’s easy enough to google “questions for *insert book here*” and find lots of good questions that other people have come up with.

The only place I have had trouble with Build Your Library is in science. The middle grades use Elemental Science, which overall isn’t *bad* it’s just not completely secular (so I would never teach biology with it). It’s a little bit dry too, but not horribly so. ALL that said, Emily (author of Build Your Library) is currently working on switching out Elemental Science for the completely secular REAL Science Odyssey  and it appears that she is going to be adding in a few living books as well, which is amazing.

The only things I have really felt the need to add in while using this curriculum is math (which is a given) and I do like to add little bits of comprehension for the readers. I have also added in Bravewriter mostly because my kids are EXTREMELY reluctant writers and this is a new approach I haven’t taken before with them.  I don’t think comprehension or a writing program are “required” but I think adding them in works better for my family.

So the long and short of it is, 3.5 years later I am still very happy with Build Your Library! Even though we just started week three of Grade 6 I have already purchased and had printed out (my preference, easy to use in PDF form on the computer too) Grade 7 and I look forward to the learning that is ahead of us!






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Using Texts You Don’t Agree With

Today I saw Build Your Library’s video about what she is doing this year with her kids and it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write about.  What happens when the text you are using says something you don’t agree with, don’t want to teach your kids, or is just plain wrong??

When I first started homeschooling I had no concept of how to deal with that. For me, it was easier to just toss out the writing and try to find something else. The trouble is, sometimes there ISN’T something else, or at least something else accessible.

My first experience with this was working with Story of the World. The first books presents many things as FACT that are *not* fact. When I first started I didn’t know how to deal with it so I ended up ignoring the parts I didn’t like and then being really annoyed that THIS was the book I was using because I was omitting so much of it, why bother buying if you aren’t going to use it?!

As time has gone on I have gotten more and more used to reading what is written and explaining why it is either wrong or why I don’t agree with it. In my experience this is a MUCH better way of teaching things like science and history (the two that are most often affected in a homeschooling world where for a long time it was mostly religious homeschoolers).

As an example, in Grade 6 of BYL the first book is The Slave Dancer. There is language used in that book that was appropriate of the time but is now highly offensive (the n-word). I approached this issue by saying the word, one time, and then explaining why it wasn’t okay and that I wouldn’t be saying it again for the duration of the book. I found videos and articles online to show them, even more so, why this was such a brutal word. This was all very new to them as we are a family where swearing etc isn’t a big deal. They are just words. So my sitting there and telling them why THIS word wasn’t okay and why I never wanted to hear it from their mouths ever made an impression.

For another example the history book that comes first in Grade 6 discusses Uncle Tom’s Cabin and describes it as a fantastic book full of excitement. It described the book as being very eye-opening for the North before the Civil War.  While it might have been eye-opening for the North I had heard over the years that it wasn’t a great book in both writing and in content. Being that I haven’t actually read the book I did some googling and checking on Goodreads to see what the criticisms were against the book. Sure enough, I found reviews explaining how the book, while helpful in riling up the North, was full of caricatures of slaves/black people and how it reinforced negative stereotypes. So I brought that to the kids to show them.

Really, in life, it’s an important skill to be able to see something you don’t agree with and explain WHY you don’t agree with it. I think itwill be useful to the kids to have seen me doing just that when a text says one thing but it’s not accurate.

In all, parts of me wishes I could go back to that original Story of the World series and approach it from the same viewpoint.  Though I suppose I will be able to in a few more years when the youngest joins us for homeschooling lessons!

Our Books

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And so Begins the 2017-2018 Year

Yesterday we started up the 2017-2018 school year. I wasn’t planning on doing so because my middle kid was supposed to be at sleep away camp, however on Friday we got a call that she was sick and needed to come home. And home she came. Due to the nature of her illness (not serious, just annoying) she won’t be able to go back.  Rather than wait until next week I figured we might as well start up this week!

We are *very* much in the finding our groove portion of the year. We didn’t do a whole lot school-wise over the summer so adjusting may prove to be a little bit of a challenge this year!

On our agenda for this year:

Math Mammoth Big kid is doing grade 6 and grade 4 for middle kid. We are also supplementing math with Khan Academy just to change things up and offer a different perspective.

For language arts we are using the books from JacKris Publishing both Growing with Grammar  and Winning with Writing.  We have Brave Writer too and I like the idea of it but I just don’t know that my mind is capable of wrapping around it! Maybe someday, but as of right now it’s on the back burner.

The bulk of our curriculum, as for the last few years, is Build Your Library. This year is grade 6 which is the second part of US history, starting with the Civil War. It seems all too timely to be REALLY studying this time period. As of right now I am reading history and the literature selection to them aloud. They are doing dictation and and reading the reader to themselves.

The first literature selection is The Slave Dancer. So far it has been a decent book BUT it does have language that makes me extremely uncomfortable (n-word). I know it is language that was used in the time period but it makes my skin crawl to read it aloud. We are three chapters in and so far it has been said twice. I read it the first time, explained as best as I could to the kids WHY it was such a horrible word, and then I only used “n-word” after that point. It brought up a good discussion and I have since been doing more research into how to get them to grasp what it really means. Google is my friend. All that said, it’s worth being more prepared for than I was!

The reader for the first few weeks is Amos Fortune, Free Man. They seem to be enjoying it though I haven’t read it with them as of yet, I hope to soon so we can discuss any content that needs discussing.

Science was a stumbling block for me this year. BYL suggests Elemental Science. It is marketed as “secular” but really it’s neutral, at best. The topic for the year, though, is earth science so I was HOPING it wouldn’t be too obnoxious to alter as needed. So far it looks like the only thing I really need to work with is The Big Bang Theory. The program offers it up as optional. It also defines things incorrectly stating that the BBT is a “theory” and not a “fact” which in reality, of course, a scientific theory is just a way of explaining observable facts.  I had to carefully keep track of definitions and explain to the kids not only what the difference is by WHY it is omitted in so many homeschool books.

The set of Elemental Science is actually pretty user friendly, which I like so I am going to try to make due with it. Our experiment this week (one per week) was calculating the speed of light with a chocolate bar and a microwave, which of course was a hit…because chocolate.

In all, it’s been a good first few days back and hopefully we can find our rhythm pretty soon!

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How Things are Going so Far

We have been back in the swing of things for three weeks now and so far things are going well! We have a “routine” of some sort figured out. Start with math, then reader, spelling, writing, history (or science, we alternate days)…CNN Student News. Then I read aloud over lunch time.

This has left our late mornings/afternoons free for things like hanging out with friends, running errands, or just playing at home. The kids have friends over on Monday, Tuesday is for errands, Wednesday is CSA pick up/Early Intervention for the toddler/band for Big Kid), Thursday is open gym, and Friday is the day the sitter takes them to homeschool activities.

We have been having good luck fitting things into a four day week. It is awesome for me because I am not trying to get the kids to get their work done before the sitter gets here on Friday *and* the kids like it because they only have school for four days a week! We are still completing the same amount work per week, it’s just condensed.

The weeks keep going by awfully quickly so I consider that a pretty good thing. It means the days are busy and exciting. Everyone knows boring days D.R.A.G. by…

So that’s us for now! Off I go to read more of next week’s reader for the kids so I can make a question for them from each section. I keep it simple but it lets me remind them to pay attention to the reading and make sure they are getting the more subtle details of the stories. Completed so far: Sees Behind Trees (reader) and Children of the Longhouse.  We have also started Around the World in 100 Years, which I am quite fond of so far.

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