Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Why I Keep My Kids "School Ready"

One of the main reasons I give when others ask me why we homeschool is "freedom". I have the freedom to choose our schedule, our curriculum, and honestly, pretty much everything.

Yet, my girls are on a September - June schedule, in the traditional grade for their age, and I make sure we are at least in touch with what their peers are learning.

Wait...what? Why?

One of my reasons is "insurance". I can't predict the future, and I honestly can't say with 100% certainty we'll still be in the same place five years from now. If all things go as I hope, then yes, we'll still be homeschoolers, but can I guarantee that? No. I don't have that power. There are some things that could change our circumstances enough to force us into the system. And IF that happens, I want my girls to be as prepared as they can be to integrate. Yes, it will obviously be a major adjustment, whether they're used to their age/grade norm or not, but it'll help. And I like that they can confidently say "I'm in fourth grade" without a dissertation.

I also like that they have friends from all different schooling backgrounds. They have a large contingent of friends from our co-op, who are obviously homeschooled. But they also have a large group of friends who aren't. Although it's wonderful to have uncrowded visits to museums and libraries when school is in session, I like for them to at least have some time to connect with their school friends. So although we don't line up EVERY day (our start and finish days are slightly off, and we don't plan all our off days to line up), we make an effort to enjoy those long weekends with friends.

Finally, although I've tried to school year round, taking more time off during the year, going to "school lite" in the summer, the fact is that it just doesn't work with our schedule. I love that my girls are having traditional summer experiences with camps, sports, and dance intensives (ok, that part might not be as traditional). I love that we can spend our weekdays at the pool.

Do we still have freedom? Of course! I chose our curriculum, evaluating every single piece, replacing carefully, and I know it's a good fit for our style. I can slow down and speed up as necessary. I structured our week as I love it - four days of "work" and one "swing day" for trips, co-op, or catch up. If we get an opportunity for a trip or a class or an event, we can take it. I can play with ages and grade levels enough to get them into the classes I know are right for them.

Keeping my kids in line with the basic framework of the schools, while not having to be IN them, provides us with just the right balance to let my girls know that we can do our own thing, and still fit right in with our friends.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

I Admit it - I'm A Full Dance Mom Now

I really didn't like calling myself a dance mom, especially when it was said in such a laughing way by my friends who don't have kids who dance. I'd swear that "dance mom" was all a stereotype, and I was basically the same as any mom with kids in an activity.

But it's time to look at the facts. 

This year marks Madison's sixth year as a competition dancer, and Reagan's third. Madison is entering her EIGHTH year of dance class, and Reagan is starting her fifth.

We are at the studio 4-7 days a week, and schedule the rest of our lives around those times.

I factored "can we fit two competition bags into the trunk" and "how many kids can I carpool to dance class" into my car purchase.

The girls will be entering FOURTEEN dances (between the two - not each) into five different competitions this year, participating in three or four conventions, and are dancing in six or seven different styles.

We are spending an obscene amount of money between tuition, private lessons, entry fees, costumes, "gear" and conventions. So much that I'm scouring each invoice thinking, "there has GOT to be a mistake".

I have become the unofficial go to person for new moms at our studio about what they'll need, how to do things, how to navigate competition. I'm the one with the answers. Should they buy a dream duffel? What's the deal with make up? Is this convention worth it?

I make garment bag labels for all the girls on the team.

I really don't think I can deny it any more. I'm not just the mom of a kid who dances.

Because I've been asked questioned so much, I decided that I'm not going to downplay this part of our lives anymore, and I'm going to start writing about it regularly, covering the basics, the best hacks I've figured out so far, and the scary (OMG, it costs WHAT to have two kids in dance?).

Will anyone read it? Maybe, maybe not.

But I've accepted it as part of who I am, and that means I'm ready to share!


Monday, September 16, 2019

September is Exhausting

I am WORN OUT.

We are only a few weeks into the new school year, and between settling back into homeschooling, and figuring out all the chauffeuring I need to do, and making sure that I know the schedule, who needs to be where, with what, when, and then actually making it happen is running me ragged. Plus, these people seem to want to eat EVERY DAY, and when you homeschool, that means you are making three meals a day happen. And even though they are perfectly capable of making breakfast and lunch, you have to make sure that there is FOOD for that. There is so much to physically DO, and so many places to BE.

And there are checks to be written and forms to be filled out and appointments to schedule. And lesson plans to make and work to be checked. There is so much MENTAL energy exerted that my brain is just tired.

And, just to reiterate, we homeschool! I'm not even DEALING with back to school nights and supply lists and teacher communication.

I remember when I was teaching, there were days when I would be driving home at 5:00, and I'd really have to make sure I was alert for the commute home. As in, this is what truckers do when they have an overnight shift, and now this is what I have to do. And since, Adam pointed out, I'm basically teaching AND momming, I really shouldn't be surprised that the September adjustment is wiping me out and leaving me collapsed on the couch once everyone is FINALLY home from all their evening activities.

And it's only getting worse as the girls get older. Madison's dance team is made up of 9-11 year old girls, and we're at the studio until 8 or 8:30 three nights a week. And Reagan is there until 7:45 the fourth night. I don't want to know that the teen years bring.

But I've been a mom long enough, and a teacher longer, and I know that we will all adjust. We'll have weeks where I feel like supermom because I got it all figured out, and weeks where I feel like we just squeaked by, and weeks where I had some fails. And that those weeks are ALL normal, and around October, it'll feel like we've been doing this since the beginning of time.

And what I need to do is...

Plan as much as I can to make things easier.

Set alarms and reminders on my phone.

Rest my brain and body when I can.

Forgive myself. 

And most importantly, don't forget that all these new beginnings are as wonderful as they are tiring!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Who Am I Trying to Impress?

Every once in a while, I need to laugh at myself, because my motivation comes from the strangest places.

Last week, we had a babysitter for the first time in a long time.

Sidenote: I miss my regular weekly sitter SO MUCH. So very, very, much. Why do these girls need to grow up and get real jobs? 

Anyway, we hadn't had a sitter in a while, because over the summer the bulk of our social calendar ends up being family friendly events, and now that the girls are older, they're much more a part of everything. And now that we needed one, all I could picture was the mess in the girls' bathroom that I hadn't bothered to clean, and the boxes in the living room waiting to be dropped off at consignment, and the homeschool materials that have totally exploded in the dining room. Plus, we'd just been plain BUSY since it was the end of the summer/start of the school year, and I was behind on my regular housekeeping. And suddenly, I was seeing our home through someone else's eyes.

So I cleaned. I cleaned HARD. I cleaned like I was preparing to have both sides of the family over for a full holiday stay. I tidied the LINEN closet, because what if the sitter needed an extra towel? I tidied the basement, because that's where we store extra snacks and drinks, and the sitter would inevitably need to go there. I tidied the hallway, because someone might ask her if our house is cluttered, and she'd tell them, and then they'd judge me. And since we OBVIOUSLY can't eat at a cluttered table, she'd know that our family dinners had become much more casual.

And, in case you are wondering, I did all this for a fifteen year old girl who is totally sweet and unpretentious and probably wouldn't care if a house has some clutter. I remember I had her help Madison clean her room, and all Madison could tell me was that the sitter said that her room was WAY worse.

 But yet, I don't feel the same ambition to do all this for my family, who lives here and who I love.

It's like when I make sure my car is looking spotless and smelling great...for the eight and ten year olds that I carpool home from dance.

So clearly, I care deeply about trying to impress teens and tweens who get a quick view of our lives. So, if my family were smart, they'd let me know that I have an acquaintance stopping by. The whole home will be spotless in no time!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Refresher Course

We started school again today.

Fourth and second grade, which means that I'm starting my FIFTH year of "officially" homeschooling. I have to admit, I never thought that I'd be a homeschooling parent, and now, I really can't imagine doing it any other way.

But, since we follow the "traditional" calendar (and I'll get into the "why" we do that another time - needless to say, I have many homeschooling friends who don't do it this way), that means that the first couple of weeks are time for us to get back in the groove of things. During the summer our days are filled, but filled with golf and tennis and swim team. The evenings are filled with dance, there are trips to be taken, camps to attend, and friends to spend long days with. Returning to the "grind", so to speak, is an adjustment.

I've noticed that kids also need "refresher courses" when it comes to almost everything. You think your kids know how to be safe in a parking lot, or how to clean their room, or what's involved in packing a backpack, or what's required in a school day, only to discover, usually unpleasantly, that they DON'T.  And you shake your head wondering where you went so wrong, and how these kids are ever going to survive this world.

But like any kids, mine love all the "new" that comes with a new school year. They love picking out their pencils and pens and other supplies, setting up their supply caddies and binders, and flipping through brand new books and workbooks.

And every year, I adjust - slightly - based on the new things I've learned about them since we set up the new stuff last year. And I need to take a little while to give myself a refresher course. How to organize things, what I need to have ready, how far in advance I need to request library materials, and how much prep time things actually take.

I've learned that both girls like to have an official, daily, "to do" list. They want to see what their day looks like, and they want to see what their week looks like. Last year I used a spiral journal, with a page every day. It gave me plenty of room to write, in big, neat letters for Reagan, and slightly smaller cursive letters for Madison, exactly what we were doing that day.

I've learned that, of the five weekdays, I need a minimum of two days where we don't have to be anywhere until the evening, two days that we can do EITHER a morning or an afternoon activity, and only one day we can truly be "out" of the house. This year, we're taking a weekly art class on Tuesday mornings, and our co-op is every Wednesday, alternating between field trips and class days. This meant that I had to turn down a few opportunities, because, I have learned over the past few years, you absolutely can't do everything.

I've learned that Madison works best when she gets up, starts early, and can get the bulk of her work done before lunch. After lunch, she slows WAY down, and if she doesn't start until mid-morning, her chances of finishing are slim. But Reagan needs some time to settle herself in the morning, and she isn't really ready until around 10:00.

When you homeschool, you aren't just learning about math and reading and spelling. You learn a LOT about each other, and every year you get a new refresher course on just who your kids are!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Have a COLORFUL Day!

We always spend our last week of summer doing some day trips. This year, we kicked it off with a trip to the Crayola Experience in Easton, PA.



I was provided with tickets by Crayola for the purposes of this review. Our experience is, as always, unique to us! This post also contains affiliate links.

The Crayola Experience has been on our list for a while now. Crayola is one of the few products where I'm a true brand snob. I love you Target, but Target crayons and markers don't cut it for me. When I was teaching, our school purchased everything in bulk, so I shopped u the back to school sales to make sure that we only had the good stuff in my classroom (and I wasn't alone in this). I'd heard from some Pennsylvania friends that this was a great day trip for all Crayola lovers, but for some reason, we just never made it happen until this summer.

We got to Easton right when the experience opened at 10:00. I will say, it's not hard to spot once you get close!



When we got our tickets, we were each given a bag to hold all of our artwork, with two tokens to redeem and a voucher for a Scribble Scrubbie (the newest attraction). The employee who helped us gave us a map and gave us some advice for where to start based on the crowds.

We opted to start at the top - this is the floor that we heard would develop long lines because it was the smallest.









This floor was all about melting down crayons and using them again. We recently used our own Crayon Melter for the first time, so the girls were primed and ready for this. Their favorite activity on this floor was making their own shaped crayon. Both chose to make a ring, and they liked getting to put their choice of crayon in and watch the process. The other two activities were making spin art with two melted crayons and drawing with melted crayons.


The only complaint the girls had about this floor was that the colors were too limited. Both are very particular about their favorite colors, and neither was totally satisfied with the options. Later in the day we discovered another flaw - these creations don't keep well. The melted crayon flakes off very easily, and although it leaves a shadow of what you created, the girls were both disappointed that their artwork didn't last (and I didn't love finding chips of wax on the floor of my car later). Next time, we'll know that and can temper our expectations - this floor is about the act of creating, not trying to preserve the final product.

The third floor is where Reagan probably could have lived. She loved the massive climbing structure and spent almost all her time there. Madison isn't as adventurous when it comes to things like this, and thankfully, the entire structure is surrounded by creating space. When we were there, the theme was all about "secret agents", and Madison painstakingly created a secret decoder and spy bag, using crayons, markers and watercolors.




There are some additional activities that we didn't participate in, for an additional fee. You can make a wax hand (or hands), and pan for gems. However, we did do the photo booth that put your picture into a page to color! This area is where the toddler climbing structure and light panel were located, as well as a water exhibit where you steered a boat down a canal (very appropriate for this part of PA!)



This floor was also home to some interactive games, but the girls were less interested in this. Both love their screen time at home, but they really spent almost no time playing these games at the factory. It's worth noting that these were the least crowded areas the entire time we were there.




The second floor is where you go to spend your tokens and redeem your voucher for the Scribble Scrubbie. The two places to spend your tokens are making your own crayon label, and choosing a package of Model Magic. There were eight colors of crayons to choose from for labeling, and each had a short line.





The Model Magic packages were in vending machines. The tables intended for coloring the Scribble Scrubbies and working with Model Magic got extremely crowded, and we ended up taking refuge in the Color Alive room until some space opened up for us to sit (this one was a good balance of technology and creation, and my girls really enjoyed taking the dragons and fairies they colored into the world!)






The Scribble Scrubbie area is the newest - and my girls absolutely loved it. Little animals that you can color, wash clean, and re-color were a big hit. Right now you get to choose between a rhino and a puppy, and my husband and I each let the girls have ours so they could get one of each. 

 

AND this floor also housed the show about how crayons are made! You got to watch the wax being stirred and poured and then how the completed crayons go through the machines to be labeled and boxed.




Overall, we were astounded at just HOW MUCH there was to do and make and create. This is a full day trip that was just packed with quality.


Key Tips:

  •  Go early to beat the crowd. We arrived right at opening, and were advised to start at the top floor because the lines could get long up there. Within an hour, the crowd was enormous and we were glad to have some of those long line activities finished. Obviously summertime and weekends are the most crowded. 
  • Food is available on site in the Crayola Cafe, but there are plenty of options within walking distance in downtown Easton, some of which will even offer a small discount with your ticket stub or re-entry stamp.
  • Parking is available on the street (metered - two hour time limit) or in a garage. The garage we used was $3/hour. There is a $2/hr garage as well, but we chose convenience over price in this case. The one we used was directly next to the building.
  • Plan to stay at least a few hours. We arrived at 10:00 and didn't leave until close to 4:00. 
  • It gets LOUD. If you have highly sensitive kids, be aware. My husband had a few optimistic hopes of being able to sit on a few calls while the girls explored, but there was really no way to do that. It's just a big open space and that space filled with sound quickly! 
  • It is easy to miss exhibits - and you don't want to do that! There were a few rooms we didn't find until our second pass through. Take the map you're given and check off what you've seen and that way you'll know if you're missing anything. And if you can't find something you're looking for, ask an employee!
  • Unless your kids are far more amazing than mine at limits, plan to purchase a few extra tokens (they're 50 cents each). My girls each "needed" another few colors of Model Magic to make their creations, and they both wanted a few colors of crayons to label. I didn't mind these little extras, and ended up giving them another $3 worth of tokens each. You can purchase tokens on the second floor.
  • The gift shop is open to the public and has a good balance of souvenir style products (stuffed animals, t-shirts, etc) and art supplies, but the prices are consistent with most gift shops we've seen, and that adds up VERY quickly. If you have kids who love to shop, it's a good idea to set a budget before you turn them loose to explore. 
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING TICKETS AT A DISCOUNT - 15.25 instead of 21.99, CLICK HERE!

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