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Hi all!

Just thought I would drop in and ask for some advice.

This is a partial vent, partial request. Sorry for the vent!

As a refresher, I am a step-mom to two kiddos -- Julian, who is 8 and Caitlin, who is 13. Caitlin goes to public school. Julian is home-schooled. And I am 39 weeks along with my first child. Still not much progress, but we're hoping any day!

I have recently become a stay-at-home mom after many years of work and education. Our family runs a small farm business, growing chemical-free produce for restaurants and farmers markets.

Up until now, Julian and his sister have been home-schooled by their Grandma, who we call "Gram."

In the past few weeks, we've been slowly transitioning, but it has mainly been on days that Gram has been unavailable due to illness or medical procedures. She spent several days last week having tests and stuff done for some pain she was having, so I was "in charge."

Let me say up front that I am annoyed. Haha! We knew that was coming.

The way it has been working is that Gram leaves me a list of "school" to do with Julian on her days off, and then she spends the entire day calling and checking up on me. And if I take a different direction, or if I miss one of her "assignments" or if I modify anything, she says, "Well, okay," in a disappointed tone of voice. "We'll just have to get back on track next week."

This is her idea of home-schooling: we are on a furious schedule to pump Julian full of knowledge, information, and skills, and if we miss something, we are behind, and we must make it up, and quickly, lest we get in trouble! She is so anxious with his education. It makes me nuts.

Add to that her anxiety that we have to constantly "prove" to Julian the superiority of home-school, lest he suddenly, I guess, starts throwing tantrums to be allowed to go to "regular school."

Mine, and my husband's, feeling is that, really (especially at this age), it's not up to Julian. We have chosen to home-school him, because we believe it is best for our family, and we can always have open communication about it and have discussions about it. I am not afraid of Julian suddenly saying, "I have to go to 'real' school." Even if he does, so what? We have a conversation about it. As far as I'm concerned, there are lots of good reasons for home-schooling, probably a few decent reasons for going to the public school, but, the bottom line is, we will make the decision that works best for our family. I don't feel some need to continually pump him full of propaganda about how great home-school is. My MIL is always looking for things -- like, yesterday, we took Julian with us to lunch with one of DH's former colleagues. Gram just kept saying, in her saccharine-sweet voice, "Aren't you a lucky boy? All those boys at the public school wouldn't get to have such a treat!" Oh my god, she's so condescending.

And then there's our difference of opinion in curriculum.

Gram is set on using a very formal, traditional curriculum -- and following it to a T.

It has lots of religious instruction (which may be fine for some, but not for our family), and relies a lot on the use of worksheets, and busy-work in various subjects.

My husband and I are WAY more open to learning experiences. We live on a farm -- a place so ripe for nature-walking, I can't even believe that Julian is forced to sit inside and read page after page after page of science text, and then "discuss" it with Gram. BORING.

Julian is fascinated with lots of things: blacksmithing, gardening, animals of all kinds, reading, other countries, building models, etc. I can't even count the number of possible learning opportunities there are in those few things. And he is FULL of questions.

He LOVES writing letters to different people -- to friends, family members, to get information from places, but Gram always insists he write a journal entry, and then she picks the topic, and then she gives him a set number of paragraphs or sentences he has to write. He hates it.

He LOVES measuring things and cooking. He LOVES music and art and the library. He is dying to go to the Children's Museum in the nearest city.

I want to transition to this more natural way of learning for him. He is getting to the point with Gram that he dislikes "school." He avoids the "school room" and anything in it, including all these great books we have in there. He won't touch them because he says, "Ugh, those are for school."

Today is one of "my" school days, because Gram has to have a procedure at the doc's office.

I went upstairs early this morning and found this list in the school room:
- three worksheets to do in one of his "word game" books
- two more worksheets to do in another workbook, that has to do with language
- a math lesson, which we probably will go ahead and do
- more worksheets for "language arts"
- a journal assignment, specifically to be about his recent cub scout banquet
- five pages in his new reader (which I started reading yesterday and which is OVERTLY religious)
- cursive / penmanship worksheets
- a poem to memorize
- a list of west-coast states and their capitals to study

Oh my God, not another day of this crap.

I have had lots of ideas over the past few days, thanks to things Julian has expressed interest in. And I've decided to chuck Gram's list for the day. She will just have to "get back on track" when she's here.

Here's my list for "school" today:
- 4-H Extension Office visit: identify three or four projects from the handbook, look them up online and/or in the dictionary, and spend some time looking at manuals and talking to the extension agent at the office.

- We will read aloud together James and the Giant Peach or The Yearling as long as we want. We’ll look up any confusing words and make a list of them.

- Peace Corps Calendar: using the globe or a world map and the calendar, we will identify interesting-sounding holidays during the month of March. We will choose two to look up and read about. (He has been fascinated with the world holidays on my Peace Corps calendar, asking me every day about them).

- Blacksmithing phone call: we will make a call together to reach one of the guys at the local Blacksmithing group. Before the call, Julian will make a list of questions he would like answered from a real blacksmith. We will try to identify a good time to go for a visit.

- Letter to Lucas: Write a letter to (J's best friend) Lucas, inviting him to a Blacksmith outing, along with Lucas' sister and brother (I've already talked to their mom about this). Have J. ask Lucas what he has been up to, and tell him what J's been up to. Use descriptive words to help Lucas picture what you’ve been doing.

- Question board: we will create and decorate a board where we can write down any questions we come up with during the days. These questions can be looked up online or in reference books or at the library.

- We will identify hours and locations of the various library branches in our county, and set up a schedule for library visits. We will get Julian and me library cards.

- We will take a nature walk out on the farm, taking along binoculars, magnifying glass, tape measure, and notebook.

- He can play with his magnetized phrases on his magnet board, putting together silly sentences (he loves this playing with words).

- We'll fit in our math lesson somewhere in there. And he'll probably help me come up with a recipe for dinner tomorrow.

I don't know how else to do this. I feel very strongly that J. needs this kind of learning. It's more fun for both of us, and I think it will give him plenty of "real school" activities, so that should convey to Gram that I'm not just letting him play video games and calling it "school." I've never done such a thing, but I get the feeling she thinks I'm a slacker or that I don't know what's important.

My goal in home-schooling is to provide great learning opportunities that the kids can't get at the public school. It's not just my goal to isolate him from every possible "bad influence" or indoctrinate him in some religious study -- that's never been his dad's goal, either.

Anyway. I would like to suggest to Gram that on her days, she can do her kind of school; on my days, I can do my kind of school, and I'll keep records to add to hers so there's no question of his attendance or amount of work getting done.

I don't know how it might play out over time. But I just can't keep following her lists and forcing J. to do busy work all the time, not when he has so many other things he wants to learn about.

Sigh. Any thoughts? Advice?

Thanks,
Clabber
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It sounds great!! You knew this was going to come to a bit of a showdown between you and Gram, so this isn't a big surprise. I agree with you, there's so many ways a child can learn, why make them hate learning by doing "school at home"?

Good luck with it, I think Gram is going to be a bit of a problem. Once the baby comes along, she'll chill out a bit, but she'll probably expect to really push you out of the picture because you'll be busy with the baby. OR she'll want to take over with the baby for you - which is probably a better idea. Allow her to have a grand time with the baby while you educate your stepson and it might get a bit easier for you both.
Kahtleen
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It sounds like you need to have a serious talk about a number of issues.

If grandma is in charge of homeschooling, then she may have some legitimate concerns about how things are handled when she isn't around. If she is in charge... It isn't going to do the child any good if he is getting mixed messages about what is important and uneven instruction. Classical curriculums, as you describe, generally have a set number of lessons that are expected to be done in a set order. If they aren't followed, then the results may be not what would be hoped. Not that you might not be right in the big pictures, but in the smaller picture it is difficult to go through a cirriculum if you don't, well, go through it. Things that are skipped or not done generally do have to be caught up on. It might be useful, if you and she are going to continue use of the cirriculum, to map out how many days it takes to go through it. Many of them take a little bit less time than a traditional school year, and traditional school years are peppered with vacations anyway, and so there are usually quite a few float days that can be had. It might be useful to both of you to budget those float days to days that you are in charge, so you are not getting "behind" because your days are not part of the primary schedule. Your days could "supplement" or "enrich" the cirriculum, rather that weakening it.

I have observed two philosophies of homeschooling. One is the classical approach with lots of memorization and lots of desk work. The other is sometimes called "unschooling", where there is no formal schooling but the child learns everything from experience. Unschooling can be very appealing because it appears easier and kids generally do well with hands-on experience. On the other hand, I have yet to find anyone whose daily lives will provide them a mastery of multiplication tables or a working knowledge of world history. Curiously, I have seen advocates of both approaches point to the pioneers as their models. The pioneer children often worked with their parents on the homestead, and their lives with rich with hands-on experience. Those who went to school did long hours of memorization, often being asked to memorize lengthy speeches and recite them, and do repetitive writing and math exercises. I am not really sure you can have a full education without both.
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Hi Clabber,

I am a mom of a lifelong homelearner who is in her final year before University.

You have my sympathy! I do not envy you one bit the family dynamic you describe. First, let me say if I had had to homeschool in the way "Gram" expects I would have just given up and walked away from homeschooling altogether. For me the joy in homeschooling is building on and encouraging the child's love of learning, not repeating the spirit-killing busy work that turned me off school as child.

Unfortunately this is going to be a bit of a drive by post but I think that you and I have similar perspectives on homeschooling and I really want to offer what I consider a 3rd alternative from the 2 polar extremes that Paul described.

I practice something that I call Child-led learning. I consider it distinct from unschooling partially because all the folks that I know in the Greater Toronto Area who label themselves as unschoolers are very committed to the extreme that Paul describes. They reject many overtly academic pursuits and from my perspective give up the parental role with regards to education. What you describe in terms of your ideal day is very much on that spectrum, ie using the child's interests and passions as a jumping off point for pursuing academic growth.

From an article I was asked to write for a homeschooing magazine when the viking maiden's achievement
http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=27195126
was big news in the Canadian homeschooling community.

"My core values(as an educator) turned out to be; first and foremost a fundamental respect for the learner and the learning process, second the importance of always fostering a student's ownership of the process and third always encouraging an exploratory, joyful and curious approach to learning. "

I have yet to see a pre-packaged curriculum that fits with these core values.

Most kids I've known who have been homeschooled in Gram's fashion, choose to go mainstream school as soon as the choice is available, because they see it as having the down-sides of the school experience with not nearly enough upside.

Child-led education requires courage, hard work and trust in your relationship with your child. It requires an ability to adapt. Most importantly it requires confidence in your abilities as an educator and your vision of education. To me the rewards have been more than worth it.

I'm sure that you will have to work out what actually works for your family but I really wanted you to know that despite the grim picture that is being painted of the potential for academic achievement with a looser approach many have found success with it. 3 of the 4 Colfax kids attended Harvard. The viking maiden is an AP Scholar and a National Biology scholar with distinction. Her SAT scores and in particular her SAT Math subject test and AP calculus scores would suggest that somehow we managed to cover multiplication more than sufficiently.

whoopica
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Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.

I think this is going to end up becoming a discussion / confrontation with Gram about how I'd like things to go around here, and I think it goes WAY beyond homeschool.

The thing is, both of our "ways" are currently acceptable, but of course, I think mine is "better" and she thinks hers is.

Above and beyond our issues with homeschooling are issues of boundaries that I think I need to talk about with my husband and see if we can't try to limit her involvement in our family a bit.

I am noticing again how deeply interlaced her life is with ours and it is really getting to me...maybe with the baby coming, it's making me feel much more threatened than usual.

When she's here (which is nearly every day through the week), she talks AT us non-stop about what we should be doing, how we should be doing things, how SHE does things, how her daughter does things with HER kids -- everything from schooling, to parenting, to food, to work, to ... everything. When she goes home -- blessed moment in my day!! -- she immediately gets on the phone and starts calling my husband or me. She likes to "remind" us about things (did we put the dates on the calendar for my step-daughter's dance competition? Did we remember to call the doctor about step-son? Have we called the kids' mother to tell her whatever?). As soon as she gets home, she gets on the Yahoo messenger and starts badgering my husband about the same things. And if we aren't immediately responsive to her, she gets paranoid and huffy. I have quit using Yahoo messenger because I was tired of her constant messaging. I often don't answer the phone when she calls; I will wait to check the message, or I will call her back when I have a better opportunity. She has a key to our house, and rarely calls before coming over. She continually makes comments about our food choices and lifestyle. I don't know what to do. And, this is a petty issue that makes me feel bad, but the truth is, she is a little hard of hearing, and it makes her talk VERY loudly in the house. I am kind of sensitive in this way; I like things to be peaceful and a little more calm. She is hustling and bustling around, yelling out whatever comes into her mind, and if she is in a different room, she does not hesitate to SCREAM at whomever she is trying to talk with (if she knows the kids are upstairs, she will just HOLLER at them). Can't stand it.

And I think my husband is so accustomed to it that, as much as it upsets him, he thinks there is no other way.

What, oh what oh what can I do?

I want her to butt out. If I had my choice, she'd live a lot farther away, and we'd be in charge of our own family -- we'd make our homeschooling decisions, along with the kids' mom, and she'd just be grandma. But that's not realistic at the moment.

On top of it, my husband has asked Gram to work for us this summer in our farm business. And I know what will end up happening -- she will be here every day (again), in our house, in our fields, constantly talking at me and telling me what to do.

Is it too much to want to be alone with my family and make our own decisions and not be judged and watched by her all the time? I think this may be my bigger issue -- homeschooling is just one part of it.

Sigh. Thanks for your advice. Sorry for the drama. Wish it was easier and wish it didn't all make me feel like a rotten, selfish person.

Clabber
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...wish it didn't all make me feel like a rotten, selfish person

Are the others in your family feeling the same? Are there others outside your family who have observed her behavior? (This second group is important to ensure your immediate family has not just talked together so much that you all have the same feelings.)

I want her to butt out. If I had my choice, she'd live a lot farther away, and we'd be in charge of our own family -- we'd make our homeschooling decisions, along with the kids' mom, and she'd just be grandma. But that's not realistic at the moment.

Why isn't it realistic? A blunt, non-emotional discussion will change things. You and your husband should write down and practice what you plan to say, how you think she will respond, and what your counters will be. Remain unemotional and factual regardless of how dramatic she becomes. Trying it out on a friend who is familiar with the situation wouldn't hurt either. This is 2009 in the US--your mother-in-law (or mother) only has as much say as you allow.

It took a major emotional/legal issue for me to recognize how controling my parents were. My parents still refuse to acknowledge that, aside from "one minor mistake" (their interpretation), they are less-than-perfect parents/Christians/community members/etc, and they still try to make me out as spoiled, selfish, and unforgiving. Truth is, my father is the ultimate in spoiled and selfish.

Because of our ages and the circumstances involved, it is unlikely there will ever be any reconcilliation with my parents. It sounds as though you all are young enough that there is time for a restructuring of your relationships to be worked out if you start now.

Something else to note. If your husband agrees with you but can't bring himself to initiate the conversation with his mother, there is nothing wrong with you doing it. As long as he is willing to back you up on what you say (which is why the practice and writing it down are important) it will be fine.

Start planning your discussion today. Life is too short to put up with that kind of stuff.
Kathleen
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On top of it, my husband has asked Gram to work for us this summer in our farm business. And I know what will end up happening -- she will be here every day (again), in our house, in our fields, constantly talking at me and telling me what to do.

I think this may be your husband's way of helping. He's trying to redirect her. I doubt that will work.

Try this, write her a letter. No accusations, tell her you appreciate how much she has don for the family, etc. You love her dearly, but you are a new wife, and trying to fit into a family where there is already filling the family role of wife is very, very difficult. You want to forge a relationship with the kids as their step-mother, but you cannot because she is already doing all the work. Remind her of how much you appreciate all that she has done, but tell her you need her to take a step back and just be "Gram" for a while, and not "Mom", too. You know she's going to be very busy with your husband and the farm, so maybe the two at the same time will help.
HTH,
Kathleen
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I have observed two philosophies of homeschooling. One is the classical approach with lots of memorization and lots of desk work. The other is sometimes called "unschooling", where there is no formal schooling but the child learns everything from experience.

Just as an FYI, there are a LOT more than 2 approaches to homeschooling. Those are basically the two ends of the spectrum, and there is a whole host of other methods in between. The vast majority utilize some method in between.
Kathleen
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"My core values(as an educator) turned out to be; first and foremost a fundamental respect for the learner and the learning process, second the importance of always fostering a student's ownership of the process and third always encouraging an exploratory, joyful and curious approach to learning. "

I have yet to see a pre-packaged curriculum that fits with these core values.


It depends upon whether you are talking about utilizing the whole curriculum or just the parts that are pertinent to your life. I consider us to be using an "Eclectic" approach. We use several curriculum for different things. We use Rosetta Stone for Spanish (12yo daughter) and Mandarin Chinese (10yo daughter). We use SOS for Language Arts and Science. We tried it for math, but I found the explanations of the concepts to be very confusing. I love math, and if I'm getting confused by their explanation of a concept I already know and know well, there's a problem. The good part about it was that it was very detailed on the terminology of math, but the terminology is not the most important part of math. I'd rather have my child need to learn some of the terminology of math later and get the concepts down right the first time through, than to know the terminology, but have no clue on the concepts. So, we are back to Singapore Math. We handle the History curriculum completely ourselves. Both Homer and I are big history buffs, so making a curriculum has not be difficult.

We use SOS as more of a supplement than as the base curriculum. We live in an area that until a few short years ago was all farms. It is now becoming more suburban, but our little area is still very rural. We plant a big garden every year that is a large part of our food supply (my wallet is hurting from it being off-season!), and Homer is a beekeeper. We have several critters, etc. The girls are required to help with all of it.

Both girls have learned how to can food with a hot water bath. I think we'll work on pressure canning this year. Both have learned how to work with the bees, and the garden. They literally grew up working the garden. I had Bunny planting when she could barely walk. The advantage was that when she fell, she fell into fresh tilled earth. The disadvantage was that when she fell, she fell into fresh tilled earth <g>.

I had not thought we were doing all that much until I talked with some of the parents on the girls' soccer teams. I was talking about their test on Ancient Greece, and the parents were stunned that I had been that detailed on their test. They learned their fractions by cooking and baking (making cookies is a great way to learn multiplication of fractions). They are learning geometry and basic physics by working on their robots. All of these are supplemented by the Singapore Math, but I try to make sure they understand there is a reason to learn the things I teach them, so that when there is something I need to teach them that I do not have a "real life example", they understand that it is necessary even though I may not have an example at hand.
Kathleen
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"Just as an FYI, there are a LOT more than 2 approaches to homeschooling. Those are basically the two ends of the spectrum, and there is a whole host of other methods in between."

You are right, I wasn't trying to suggest that one must choose one or the other, but it appears that my intent wasn't entirely clear. We use a curriculum as an outline, but we adjust it as required for the child. We like the "security" that the curriculum, in making sure we get to everything (diagraming sentences is probably a good exercise, but I wouldn't have thought of it myself), but we diverge where we see it isn't working.
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"Wish it was easier and wish it didn't all make me feel like a rotten, selfish person."

There is nothing selfish about wanting a healthy, functional environment for your family.
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"All of these are supplemented by the Singapore Math, but I try to make sure they understand there is a reason to learn the things I teach them, so that when there is something I need to teach them that I do not have a "real life example", they understand that it is necessary even though I may not have an example at hand."

My son's willingness to do math (still working on love of math) increased tremendously when I ask him to help me balance the checkbook one evening. He understood that, without math, we wouldn't be able to tell how our spending and our available means correlate. We talked about the costs of overdraft fees, and he was amazed that some people we know routinely generate those due to an unwillingness to confront simple math. That got through.
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My son's willingness to do math (still working on love of math) increased tremendously when I ask him to help me balance the checkbook one evening. He understood that, without math, we wouldn't be able to tell how our spending and our available means correlate. We talked about the costs of overdraft fees, and he was amazed that some people we know routinely generate those due to an unwillingness to confront simple math. That got through.

My girls always loved math - until we tried SOS. Their explanations of math concepts confused me - and I really love math, and I'm very good at it. Singapore Math has very clear explanations of the concepts.
Kathleen
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