The Big Decision– School or Homeschool ?

Montessori classroom at home

A few months ago, the dilemma my mommy-brain centered around was whether or not to send my oldest (almost 5) to school or homeschool. Since he has an October birthday, he barely misses the cut-off for Kindergarten, but we knew he was ready for something.

I looked into quite a few options. We actually have a wonderful Christian/Montessori preschool just down the road from us. Even though it was expensive, we went to the Open House. We applied. We got put on the waiting list for a few months. Then we got in! We attended a trial day. We applied for financial aid. We got it.

And yet, we couldn’t pull the trigger!

It really came down to a few factors, and, growing up in a family that did a combination of both homeschool and private school, I’ve come up with what I think are the 3 biggest factors in this tough decision. The first and biggest factor is the individual child and what they need. The second factor is cost-to-benefit, and the third seems to be how the mom/potential teacher feels about it.

When it came to G’s personality, we realized that he was NOT yearning for tons of social interaction, all day, every day. In fact, after just an hour or two at a play group or get together he is CRAVING alone time to play, imagine, read and work on things. Sometimes he even closes his bedroom door and says, “Momma, I need some alone space right now”, and proceeds to play by himself for over an hour. To put him in school all day would be exhausting and stressful for his personality. On top of it, we realized that Gregory’s personality and mine work really well together when it comes to learning new things. He is a very focused kid, and I really enjoy that he can concentrate without bouncing off the walls like most kids I know.

The second factor was cost-to-benefit. Even with financial aid, the cost was going to be prohibitive for us as a family. At a few hundred dollars a month, we knew that it would basically suck up the majority of any income I was making from home– money that we were using to grow our savings account. I contemplated working a little bit more to pay for it, which is when we had a real nuts-bolts conversation about our goals as a family. My husband pointed out that we had worked really hard over the past few years (selling our CA house, moving across the country, etc.) to put ourselves in a position where I didn’t have to work. We placed ourselves in a wonderful city, FULL of opportunities to expand our children’s horizons with activities and museum memberships. Why disregard all of those blessings searching after what we “thought” we should need?

The third factor was how I felt about it. Funny enough, this was the dramatic part of the solution! It should’ve been all child-centered, but a lot of it was revolving around my strong feelings on the subject. On the days where I wasn’t waffling back and forth, I was absolutely un-done by the thought of G being in school 5 half days a week. For many of you who know our story, I had to wait a LONG time to get pregnant with G, and because it was something I had wanted for so long, the pregnancy/post-partum craziness felt like a beautiful (albeit, sleepless!) dream. Even on the hard days, I never once wished for my old life before kids. I can’t remember a time where I whined about it, because I was just so grateful to finally be a mom! It made me realize that all the years of heartache, wanting to be pregnant, were actually just preparing my heart to be steadfast and positive, despite the trials of those first few months.

Ever since, I have cherished my two boys’ every moment. Every new experience, every new discovery, every new milestone. I can’t imagine not being a part of these moments– at least not right now.

As a result, the one trial day (literally, just 3 hours) was one of the hardest days of my life. I walked him to his classroom as he carried his little pencil box and backpack, and nearly broke down right then and there. When the teacher greeted him (ever so sweetly) and walked him into class, I watched from behind the corner, and it was all I could do not to take him home with me. I tried to go grocery shopping and run a few errands, but I just kept crying. I called my mom, which helped, but the long and short of it all is that I parked my car and sat outside the school in the pouring rain for most of the time, just counting down the minutes until I could go back in and get him.

I tried not to let any of this show. I tried to be excited for G, wait and hear what he had to say about his “day” before making any hard and fast decisions about whether to officially enroll.

And you know the first thing he said when he got into the car with me?

“Mom. There were lots of fun things. The kids were really nice. But I couldn’t have any fun. I was just missing you the whole time.”

Heart-Breaker, right?

After that day, I just knew, deep down, that we weren’t ready to be away from each other just yet, even for just a few hours a day. Every year is a new decision and nothing is forever, but the time just wasn’t right yet. Long before we received our financial aid package in the mail, I already knew we were going to decline. After making the decision, I felt so sure, so unwavering. I wondered why I had ever doubted myself in the first place! I mean, I’m a teacher, for heavens sake! I make money teaching homeschool kids from home! I teach piano lessons to his age group! Why did I ever feel unqualified?

I think a lot of it had to do with falling prey to peer pressure. I “looked around” (a dangerous pastime) and realized that making the decision to homeschool was going against the grain, and that others would probably view it skeptically. As a result, I started to view myself skeptically, wondering if I was really up the challenge, despite the fact that I work with empowering homeschool moms every single day of my online job! This whole process has been a great learning experience for me to realize that I don’t need to call into question my own parenting instincts, just because many others are doing something different. Moms have their gut instinct for a reason.

Once we made the decision to keep G home, I went into full-on research mode (for those of you who know me, this is, by my nature, an intense thing!). I studied the Montessori method all summer, reading countless books and articles. I didn’t just want to know what the basic Montessori tools and activities were, I wanted to know the why behind it all, so that I could improvise without losing the heart of it. Even though I was already very familiar with the Montessori method, having taught piano in half a dozen Montessori schools, I learned so much through all this research.

I also researched everything there is to do in Dallas, and came up with quite a list for ways in which to interact with others and get out of the house a few times a week! So far, we’ve been to the monthly children’s art day at the museum, the library down the street, and the YMCA’s Play and Learn class that meets weekly (we had to drive a little bit further away to get a time that worked for us). The Play and Learn was especially helpful, since they spend 90 minutes with us doing hands on arts and crafts, story time, P.E. time, and even have 5 or 6 stations set up for individual hands-on learning (and it’s all FREE!). And the best part is that I didn’t have to clean up after any of the art projects! WIN!!

Gregory and AJ at DMA
In addition, since we are not busy driving back and forth from school every day, we have the time (and money!) to put Gregory in a few organized activities this semester! As of right now, he is on a soccer team and has weekly swim and ballet lessons. He will also be taking daily piano lessons from me in small increments. This may sound like a LOT, but since we’re not waiting in carpool lines twice a day, it’s actually quite the “right” amount of busy.

In a future post, I will go over where we bought all of our materials and which books ended up being the most helpful in getting started, but for now, a few weeks into our school year, I am so happy that we made this choice. I am loving doing preschool/Kindergarden at home with both boys, and I am looking forward to a great year!
Gregory Montessori math sticks

How I Keep My Kids Busy

Keep Kids Busy

One of my goals in our new home here in Dallas was to create a lot of independent play spaces for the kids. Although I am going to be a 99.9% stay at home mom, I actually have an online teaching job for St. Raphael’s Orthodox Homeschool Group, where I will be logging in for 4 hours a week to teach. The beauty of this job is that I can fluff our savings account, without having to commute, get a babysitter, or take time away from evenings with Jesse. Thankfully, the teaching time falls during AJ’s nap, but Gregory only naps a few times a week now, so I knew we’d need a way for him to have fun while I’m working.

By total accident, the floor plan of our new townhouse works perfectly for independent/still supervised play. Our kitchen has a nook area, which I have turned into my office, and right off the kitchen is a HUGE sunroom that we have been blessed to turn into a playroom for the boys.

 

Play structure in sunroom signature

 

This is a play structure I found for $40 on Craigslist, right around the corner from us. After one scary fall, we also decided to get thick foam squares to place around the climbing wall (they’re pricey, but eventually we will cover under the structure as well). This Step2 structure is perfect for my almost-4 year old and 2.5 year old. It has a play space underneath for a “hideout”, two places to climb, and, of course, the “fort” above. Gregory loves to take his toys up there and play for nearly an hour. I think he likes feeling like he has a special place where just he can go (AJ is still figuring out the whole “climbing” thing, so he mostly hangs out below).

Sunroom boys play structure

In our sunroom, I also built a “sandbox” for the boys using a Rubbermaid container that I used to store under our bed. Now that we have a floor bed, I obviously don’t have a use for it (and it’s also broken in a few ways). But that doesn’t stop it from being a great indoor sandbox!

Sunroom sandbox signature

 

AJ sandbox signature

 

I can’t even tell you how many hours the boys have already spent playing with this. Since it’s right outside the kitchen window, I can see them without having to hear the noise or have the sand in the house. Yes, it gets a little messy– I’ve had to sweep the sand back in a few times. But for all the hours of independent play, it’s totally worth it!

Inside, next to my desk, I’ve also created an art/drawing/homeschool station for Gregory.

Art station signature

 

I used Ikea’s Bygel rail with Fintorp buckets for a perfect under $10 option for the lower area. His coloring books are in a wire basket I previously used for mail.

And then there’s the chalkboard coloring table I made him, using the $5 Lack table from Ikea.

Chalkboard table signature

 

Since those scribbles aren’t mine, you can obviously tell that this has been a fun place for Gregory to play lately 🙂

What ways do you keep your kids entertained while you work? I’d love to hear suggestions so that our school year together goes smoothly!

Can A Toddler Learn to Read?

slider-educational-dvds

First of all, I’d like to shout loud and clear that I was NOT paid for the following review. What you are about to hear is my unbiased praise. Also, another disclaimer: I do NOT approve of allowing TV to be the only one to educate my kids. If you don’t believe me, check out some of my Montessori homeschooling posts. Also, we do NOT push reading or the alphabet in our house. We belong to a classical/Montessori approach to education that includes a lot of free play and discovery.

But TV is bound to happen for 20 minutes here or there, let’s all be honest.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for childrens’ DVDs that are educational AND tolerable. I have a rule that if the show makes me want to throw and break things, usually because of annoying music, it’s out. I don’t care how much my kids love it.

For instance, my 3 year old received a set of Leapfrog DVDs for Christmas. While I loved the fact that my kid instantly learned how to count and then count by 2s, the little gopher character has a voice that would make your skin crawl. But the tunes aren’t that bad (for a kids’ show). So it stays, but it comes out less often.

And then, a friend of mine posted a Groupon deal for these Preschool Prep videos. When they arrived, I popped out the first one: “Meet the Letters; and put it in.

I felt tricked and dismayed. There weren’t any words, just letters popping up on the screen, saying their names over and over again in various ways. Then there was some half-hearted animation that followed.

No music. No characters. No flashy colors. Just the letter “A”, saying his name over and over again, then turning into an airplane shooting up into the sky.

My husband walked by as we were watching it together, and he said, “Whoever made this was on crack.”

I thought for sure that Gregory would be bored, since nothing was getting in his face and trying to make him pay attention.

But he didn’t get bored. He LOVED it. He wanted to watch the entire alphabet on repeat for an hour! And I realized that the lack of music and character voices made it easy to go about a few chores without feeling like the TV was taking over our lives.

Fast forward two weeks. At Chipotle, unprompted, Gregory started sounded out the letters on our bag. In fact, he hasn’t stopped pointing and saying letters wherever we go.

And then my just-turned-2-year old came up and recited his ABC-s for me. Perfectly, with enunciation.

What the what?

Just a few days ago, we started using the 3 “Meet the Sight Words” DVDs that came with the set. This morning, as my husband and I drank our coffee, we saw our toddler recognizing and shouting out words such as, “OF” and “YOUR” and “PLAY”, before the word was said on the DVD. He was even acting out the different words as he watched them.

So, needless to say, we’re SOLD. This stuff is low-key, because that’s how kids learn. They don’t want to be entertained with flashy lights and music, they want to be involved. So much is going on in their brain, that all the normal kid-animation stuff would be overload.

TV happens, right? So why shouldn’t it do some good in the process?

Preschool At Home: Week 2

Preschool at Home Week 2 Cover

Well, whaddya know, we got another week of homeschooling under our belts! This week, I had some help from a friend who was cleaning out her apartment. She had a bin full of projects she made during her Early Education Courses, and she offered them to me. It’s going to take me weeks to use it all!

Exhibit A: The Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens and hung them up to dry. We sang the song, then they took turns hanging up felt mittens and socks with small clothespins, practicing dexterity.

Preschool At Home Week 2 mittens

 

Preschool At Home Week 2 Gregory hanging mittens

 

Exhibit B: The Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly. We had the most fun with this book! It came with little animals that the kids were able to stuff into her mouth at the right time in the story. There was even a CD so that we could sing along with the song.

Preschool At Home Week 2 Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly

 

Exhibit C: Last but not least, I put together a Montessori Imitation Exercise I’ve wanted to try for a while. Our 5 year old can write his own name and spells several sight words, but Gregory’s not quite there. Instead of allowing him to get discouraged trying to compete with a kid 2 years older, I made him this Imitation Exercise using sugar and an old Melissa and Doug box I had lying around. The whole idea is that they can practice imitation and dexterity without having to also hold a pencil and know what letter it is.

Preschool At Home Week 2 Montessori writing in sugar

 

He LOVED it. And he was good at it. I drew a bunch of designs on index cards, and he was at this for 30 minutes by himself at his little table, drawing and then flipping to another card.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was sugar, not sand. Poor kiddo, he missed out 😉

Preschool At Home Week 2 Montessori writing