Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - The Hurry Up and Wait of College Enrollment

If you are in the process of enrolling your first teenager into their freshman year of college, then you have probably either hit, or are just about to, a disturbing lull in the admissions process.  Don't worry, this is very normal.

For months you have been hurried and worried along to meet early deadlines - applying for financial aid clear back in October, submitting "priority" applications no later than December 1st (or some other arbitrary, but premature date), getting in early "discounted" deposits to secure space in classes and the best possible dormitory rooms, being hounded relentlessly by admission counselors and their ilk, rushing insanely about to gather immunization records, high school transcripts, or whatever other small form or document that might possibly have been required. Now with the forms in, decisions made, and deposits paid, but with your student as yet unregistered for fall classes (that you have been assured for months would fill up in an instant), your student's school of choice is very likely to go silent.

The first time you experience this with a child, it can be disconcerting.  Before you go all alpha-mom and storm the admissions building demanding "the next step" (not that I've ever, ahem, done such a thing), know that a late spring silence is a normal part of the college admission process.  In most cases, college freshmen will not be able to register for fall classes until sometime in the summer (despite the fact that they started their enrollment process last fall).  Once schools have secured them, they can seem to forget about them until after their current classes have ended, and they are through the commencement season.

That does not mean there won't still be additional paper-work required, or forms missing.  It just means you're not likely to hear about them for a while.  Relax and enjoy what remains of your teen's senior year. Have them check-in with their school in a month or so.  Professors and advisors will be harder to get ahold of in the summer, but the admissions officials will still be around, and by August it should all be sorted out.

After the fall of freshmen year, registration works almost on auto-pilot, and all the admissions rush and stress of these days become strange and distant memories.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, April 29, 2019

How to Homeschool Your Younger Children When Your Older Teens are Taking All Your Time.

Ten years ago (was it really that long ago?) I was blissfully blogging about how to homeschool with a toddler in the house.

I guess I thought it was difficult, or challenging, maybe.

I had no idea what was ahead, when I'd be trying to homeschool my younger children, consistently, with a high school senior in the house.

High school seniors are a lot like toddlers, really.  They are great fun to have around.  They're full of energy (increasing after 10 o'clock p.m.), independent, full of ideas, and ready to take on the world.  And, they take constant care.  Just like when they were toddlers, all that new found independence combined with a great sense of adventure (and often the need of a nap), can lead to a series of stumbling little missteps, and first tries, and occasionally a disaster or two to clean up behind them.

That kind of care and concern can wreak havoc on a consistent school schedule for said senior's younger siblings.  At least, that's what I was thinking as I was interrupted for the third time while trying to read through one chapter of  Around the World in 80 Days (which, it should be noted, has very short chapters) with my youngest three, to help A(age 18) field emergency calls relating to her summer travel plans, one morning last week.

Older teens can take a lot of time, but younger teens and tweens still need to study consistently to keep from falling behind (even if "behind" is a relative term in an almost unschooling household).   It can be tricky, but it is possible to keep homeschooling with older teens in the house.

  • Be flexible.  Just like back in your toddling toting days, this is probably not the best time to start a rigid curriculum that requires tons of teacher preparation.
  • Have fallbacks on the ready for those days when you "just can't".  A quick internet search will yield a plethora of historical films (think "Hidden Figures" or "Apollo 13") throw in an encyclopedia article, history-type channel interview or two, maybe a call to the grandparents, and you can keep history covered.
  • Apps can also come in handy.  Our app library has a number of language learning programs, games like Stack the States/Countries (geography) and DragonBox (math) added to an almost innumerable selection of word games and logic puzzles that can be downloaded and used as filler on a moments notice.
  • Make use of audio books and lectures (our favorites right now are the "Modern Scholar" series).  You can listen along with your students, and join into their discussions while doing the dishes or folding a quick load laundry, or driving their older sibling across town (with the younger crowd tagging along in the back seat of course).
  • Look to the books.  Children can read independently, or with their siblings. Well read children do better on college entrance exams (at least in our experience).
  • Encourage your older teens to get their driver's licenses as soon as they're ready.  It costs more in car and insurance fees, but the payback in free-time is worth it.  Just be ready to factor practice drives into your busy schedule in the meantime.
  • Outside classes can be great, as long as you can manage to get your younger students to them consistently (keep in mind the first item above - "be flexible").
  • Stick to math courses that lend themselves nicely to independent study, but preferably also give a progress report you, as the parent/teacher, can easily check up on (we really like Kahn Academy for this).  
  • Remind children on a regular basis that homeschooled, even if you're unschooling, does not mean uneducated.  Help them to identify future goals, and make them partners in the planning process.  It might seem like fun to skip out on "homework" whenever Mom is preoccupied, but where will that get them in the end?  
  • Praise your younger children profusely whenever you walk in on them studying something on their own.  It's good for them to know their independent studies have great value and the potential for lifelong worth.
  • Take advantage of every community event (history reenactments, symphonies, plays, you name it) to spark interests.
Life moves fast with high schoolers in the house, and while there are times that I miss the lazy days of being able to follow the entire life cycle of the ladybugs on the trees in our backyard, there is a crazy sort of satisfaction in being able to snatch, grab and fill-in a complete years worth of learning in the hectic, here and there routine we have now.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Books to Movies: The Umbrella Academy

I (along with 45 million other people) binge watched the Netflix original series, The Umbrella Academy, back in February, when it first came out...

… but I had no idea it was based on a graphic novel by Gerard Way (the former lead singer of "My Chemical Romance" - or so I'm told)…

… until A(age18)'s Film and Literature class voted to read and view them both for their final project this week (it could be my imagination, but I think college might be getting easier as time goes by).  Naturally, I had to download the graphic novel to "read" today (you can borrow for free with a 30 day, Comixology Unlimited trial through Amazon) .  It's about as strange, and intriguingly disturbing as the series.

Netflix did an excellent job fleshing out the story and keeping the quirky, 1960s, British television series tone.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have enjoyed the graphic novel nearly as much if I hadn't seen the series first, but them I'm not gigantic fan of the genre in general.

Both the Netflix series and the graphic novel are probably too dark and violent for my youngest two (ages 12 and 14), but as soon as my oldest makes it through his university finals, next week, we absolutely have to binge it together.  I'm pretty sure he's going to love it.  Though I have to say I was surprised at how much A is enjoying it (she has to wait until tomorrow to finish the series with her class, and it's been  a real act of discipline not to watch ahead).

In the meantime, I've got to check out whatever else we might be able to glean from the Comixology Unlimited menu.  I have to say browsing through their offerings today left me feeling like a stranger in a strange land, but I'm sure my teens will find a title or two they'd like to peruse before our trial period runs out.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Shakespeare for Marvel Lovers

Drawing by E (age 14)

Looking ahead into the summer, I noticed the Montana Shakespeare in the Parks troupe has "Henry IV, Part I" coming up.  I like to prep for a mini-lesson ahead of their plays.  We usually end up reading a paraphrase or cheat notes version of whatever play is coming up, and then watching a couple of movie adaptations, together, before opening night.

In preparation, I skim through the Amazon and Netflix listings, before checking YouTube and the local library.  This year I hit pay dirt, almost immediately, on Amazon with the British television series, "The Hollow Crown".  It  covers all the Henry plays and stars none other than Tom Hiddleston (a family favorite thanks to the Marvel movies, right now).

The younger girls (ages 12 and 14) caught a glimpse of my screen as I was previewing it (you never know with Shakespeare) and immediately asked, "Is that Loki playing Shakespeare? Can we watch, too?"

Here I thought Henry IV was going to be a hard one to interest them in.  Though I do have to say, this newer version (I think it was filmed sometime around 2013), does make my old Branagh favorite from the '80s look a little dated, and corny even. "Wait, is that Gilderoy Lockhart playing Henry V?"

Now I can't wait until they make it to the second season of "The Hollow Crown" to spot Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III!

It almost makes up for Robert Downy Jr's less than riveting Rivers from the 90's.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - A Homeschool Graduation, Part 1: The Private Ceremony

We celebrated the first of A(age 18)'s three graduations, yesterday.  Sadly, all I have to show for it, other than a left-over cupcake, a signed and notarized diploma, and a lingering smile, are a few blurry and backlit photographs.

I'm terrible about taking pictures when I'm enjoying a moment, and I was enjoying myself yesterday.

These type of private, at home, fast and simple ceremonies are by far my favorite way to celebrate a homeschool graduation.  If we could get our friends and extended family to recognize them as official, we might never want for more.  It's hard to get a stern world to take you seriously when you're busy having fun.

I would like to keep some kind of record of the day, as it went off so well.  I doubt we'll ever reproduce it exactly, but there were some nice features I'd hate to forget.

A had a class at the college in the morning.  I dropped her off (her driving test is coming up shortly) and then ran to the store to buy some special cupcakes (cream cheese filled, and decorated for spring) chips and fruit, and then to Subway Sandwiches (grad's choice) to put in an order.  Food in hand, I headed home to rally the rest of the gang and to "decorate".

The set-up was simple, a party table cloth with a card from Grandma and our grad gift (tickets to a Celtic Woman concert) in the middle.  D (age 16) was charged with locating a good version of "Pomp and Circumstance" to play upon the grads arrival, and the rest of the girls each given an item to hand the graduate upon her entrance into the house (one had the robe, one the mortar board, and one the unsigned diploma in its case).

I left to pick up the graduate, leaving the children to keep their older brother out of the food if he made it home from his class before we did (which he did)  Everyone, except the poor Man of the House who ended up with a last minute lunch meeting, was there when we arrived.

The girls were lined up to meet A at the door, and D started the music as soon as the door open.  A was given her robe, her cap, and her diploma.  We all yelled, "She's graduated!!!" and then proceeded to lunch.  I had anticipated that A would not care for the mortar board (she's always been persnickety about hats) and had a "grad" tiara and sash ready for her to change into.

She wore those after lunch when we joined the Man of the House at his work, where there happens to be a notary public, for the signing and notarizing of the diploma.  Our parade in and out of the building caused quite a bit of mirth, as did our entrance into the college (our next stop) with a copy of the notarized diploma, and A's completed high school transcript.

I spent a little bit of time with the registrar, making sure we had dotted all our i's and crossed every t ahead of her next graduation (to receive her associate's), and that she would be good to go to register for classes and receive financial aid through the Montana university system (I don't know if the state universities in every state are as nicely interconnected as ours are in Montana, but I hope so, it's very convenient for students).

Leaving wide grins behind on the faces in the admissions office (and a few full belly laughs ringing in the air), we returned to our cars to go our separate ways.  T (age 21) headed back to his classes, G (age 19) had to get to work, and the rest of us were ready for a quiet afternoon at home.  I thought about trying to snap a few shots of A around town in her tiara and sash, but it was pouring down rain, and unseasonably chilly, so we called it a day instead. A very good day, if you ask me.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Allowing Teens (and Tweens) Room to Fail

I remember the ironic grin on the face of my high school choir director, as he assured me the particularly disastrous choir tryout I'd just had would be a "character building experience".  It was a hard blow, made even harder when my best friend not only got into the choir, but made the tour choir that got to travel around Canada, singing, over spring break.

Her disappointment came in turn when she talked me into accompanying her to an open audition for a play being put on by the local college students.  On a whim, I tried out for a part too - and got the lead.

Through those, and many other similar experiences, we managed not only to remain friends, but learned how to sincerely celebrate a friend's success (even when their gain was our loss), and take pride in our own accomplishments without gloating or becoming boastful, knowing we wouldn't always be the successful one.  It wasn't easy.  It was often painful.  But, it was most definitely character building.  And the lessons we learned through those successes and failures carried over into our academic pursuits, where there were tests, papers and programs to apply to, clear through our university years.

So, while I was sad for C (age 12) when she tried out for a part in a community play this summer, and got "stage hand" (it could have been worse, some were turned away with no part at all) while her older sisters received active speaking parts, I didn't try to soften the blow.  Plays need stage hands, and not everyone can be the star of the show.

Even so, it was a hard blow.

She hadn't minded being a part of the background chorus during a summer junior musical adaptation of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast".

It's okay to play "random villager #3" (C is the tall one below)...

...or a singing and dancing butter knife...

...when your sister has landed the exact same roles in the second cast...

But, it's quite another thing to be a stage hand in a show in which your sisters are playing prominently.

Even so, after a few initial tears of frustration, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work moving chairs and handing out props, and in the end, working into a small non-speaking part, and generally enjoying herself as part of the group.

By the time Christmas rolled around, she was ready to give it another shot.  This time she got a small solo part in a local musical adaptation of "A Christmas Carol".  E was in the chorus.

She didn't gloat or lord it over her sister.  And E for her part, was happy for C to get a turn to be in the spotlight.

C has another audition tonight.  It's one she'll be facing alone, as none of her siblings are trying out, this time.  She's practiced her lines, prepared a song, and steeled her nerves for a possible failure.  And, while I would love for her to succeed, I'm sure it will be a character building experience, either way.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - A Graduation Countdown

I've been keeping an eye out for simple little ways to build excitement towards A(age 18)'s high school graduation.  I'd like it to feel special, not just like the end of another school year.  And, I'd like it to stand out from the two graduations we've had in the past, to be at least slightly individualized for her - something that's not always easy after the years spent functioning as a group.

Last week, it occurred to me to start a countdown to A's graduation.  We don't usually know when we're ending up a school year, or for that matter, where a school year ends and summer fun begins.  It all looks pretty similar for us.  But, since A's senior year has consisted mainly of dual-enrollment classes, classes which have an actual "last day", we have something we can count down to.

Of course, nothing with homeschooling is ever completely straightforward.  I think I've already mentioned a couple of times, that A is planning three separate graduations - a private home/notarizing the diploma ceremony (first so she'll be officially finished with high school before her junior college graduation), then her graduation from the junior college (earning an associate's degree), and finally the homeschooling graduation where she'll walk with the other local homeschool seniors.

These graduations take place over the period of three or four weeks.  I decided to go with the college graduation, since it comes in the middle, and marks the end of official school work for the year, as well as the end of one more phase of schooling.  Without saying anything, I erased the logic currently drawn out on our kitchen chalkboard, and replaced it with a large number "5".

It's funny how something as simple as watching me erase the five, this weekend, to change it to a four, really did add a celebratory air of excitement to the house.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Negotiating Down College Tuiton

I know these "how to pay for college" posts aren't technically homeschool issues.  Public and private school parents have to deal with college expenses too.  But, moving children from homeschooling on into college and careers can be one of the first big bumps back into mainstream society, and it can be intimidating.

It doesn't have to be though, if we help each other out by sharing lessons learned along the way.  To that end, I have another tidbit to pass along.

Paying for college is a lot more like buying a new car than you might expect. There is some wiggle room for negotiations on the final price.

I've already mentioned that the "sticker price" is not the actual price you're going to have to pay for the tuition at most private colleges and universities.  Many of them have entrance scholarships that will cut the tuition pretty much in half, sent out with their acceptance letters. Even then, the final bottom line, with tuition, room and board, books, and fees can be pretty steep.

I'd read that it was possible to negotiate with schools for further deductions, but we didn't try it ourselves. We took the award letters we received at face value, and made our decisions based on what we were offered verses what we felt like we could actually pay for as a family, and what the degrees would be worth to our students (in tangible and intangible ways).

So, when A (age 18) contacted the three private universities she had applied to, to ask them to withdraw her applications for admissions (she decided on a local state university instead, where she can take her time and roll her dual-enrollment credits into pursuing a double major for a total cost of about what it was going to take for a single year at any of her private university choices) we were surprised when two of them, instead of accepting her decision, emailed back to ask if more grant money might make a difference.

Both schools began by asking what A's deciding factors were.  She was honest, and told them that finances were the biggest issue (she had only applied to schools she actually wanted to attend, so had no real objection to the schools other than price).

One school came back immediately with an offer of an additional one to two thousand dollars in grant money.  The other asked how much it would take to a difference.  A was honest with both schools, and told them exactly what she would need, explaining to them that her ultimate goal was to avoid student loans.  The first school wished her well, and bowed out.  The admissions counselor from the second school however, told her that he was going to speak to his boss, and she should watch for a new award letter.

The award letter has yet to arrive (though we have received an email saying it's on its way), but barring an offer we just can't turn down, A is pretty happy with her current decision, and will most likely not change her mind.  Still, it's been an interesting process.

We didn't try to negotiate, or ask for additional grant money, but apparently if another thousand or two will make a real difference in your students ability to attend the college of their dreams, it might not hurt to ask.

It's great to be a homeschooler.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Homeschooling the Teen Years - Pig Shaped Cakes and American Fast Food in Asia

One of the older kids has a trip, planned for this summer, to teach English in Asia (with a legitimate organization and traveling with a very trusted, and travel-seasoned, family member).  I'll hopefully have a lot to post on that later in the summer, but for now we've been having fun checking out what the Internet has to tell us about the differences between the countries of Asia and our own, so we can all feel like we're in on the trip.

Somewhere along the way, we happened onto McDonald's Chinese website.

T (age 21) has worked for the fast food chain through college, and as a business major he is always interested to see how American companies function abroad.  We actually spent a fair amount of time reading news reports about a food handling scandal that caused trouble for a number of American fast food chains in China a few years ago.

All that is irrelevant though, because this post is really about the absolutely adorable, custard cream cheese pig cakes we found on the website.  It is so unfair we cannot get anything at all this cute from our local fast food chains!

From what we could gather, using Google translate, the pig cake and the little orange cake (which seem to be filled with a orange flavored chocolate mousse) were a temporary, seasonal, menu item marking the Chinese New Year for the Year of the Pig (2019).  We watched a quick "for kids" educational presentation about the Chinese New Year from Panda Express...

... and then decided that we needed some pig cakes of our own.

I'd love to say we managed to recreate some kind of pig shaped cheesecake even remotely similar to the McCafe version, but honestly we just crumbled up some cake and frosting, cake-pop style...

... and rolled into balls...

...to shape our little pigs.

We tried piping on chocolate frosting eyes, but in the end decided on mini M&M's instead.

Our cakes didn't end up looking much like the originals (or really even pigs - we probably should have used a strawberry cake).  I'm sure they taste nothing like the "McCakes" either, but we had a lot of fun putting them together while watching every YouTube video we could find about American fast food chains in Asia (there are a surprising number).

Later, we'll get more seriously into our cultural studies (we've actually been watching a number of BBCish travel documentaries, too).  Or, we might just wait for a report back from our own traveler.  But, starting off with something familiar and yet different, gave us an interesting jumping off point, and helped highlight some differences between cultures in a way that wasn't overwhelming.

It's great to be a homeschooler.