Reflecting on a year of pandemic homeschooling

We’re a month into summer vacation and I’m starting to getting nostalgic for the year behind us and excited for the year ahead. What better time to share some of our highlights from the past year.

What started out as a last minute fix to the problem of “I don’t want my sixth grade to go to school in person in the middle of a pandemic or attend virtually and also the world is hard and there’s no right answer and help!”. But by the end of the year we were telling people that homeschooling was the best thing that ever happened to us. My tween loves the freedom to live by her own schedule and we’re breathing life into subjects like history and science that used to bore her. It didn’t take long to realize that we wanted to keep going, at least for a few more years.

I won’t lie – it’s been a lot of work for me as homeschool teacher/ principal and parent. I have gradually figured out how to plan ahead to make the future easier but not so much that I’m buried under a pile of schedules every day. And more importantly, finding the confidence in myself to tweak lessons and make executive decisions and say YES she is learning and we’re doing great. That’s a day by day situation TBH.

CURRICULUM WINS

The chunk of our curriculum came from a company called Book Shark. We got their history and literature curriculum as well as science and loved both. This company delivered history class the way I’ve always felt it should be – with a focus on the stories that bring history to life. We were sent a mountain of terrific middle school historical fiction as well as half of the Story of the World series (we’ll read the other half next year). The curriculum also comes with detailed week by week lesson plans with everything planned out for you from what pages to read each day, what things to talk about, vocabulary, important dates, and places to locate on the map. I also found activity books on Amazon to accompany the Story of the World books because I have an extra crafty daughter.

Seriously I can’t say enough good things about this history and literature curriculum. We read so many amazing books, many of which neither of us would have ever picked up on our own like The Ghost at the Tokaido Inn, Betsy and the Emperor, The Good Master, The Sherwood Ring, and literally I could do this all day. So many amazing reads. For a couple of book worms, it was a dream come true.

The science curriculum is similarly book-forward with some beautiful science books by companies like Usborne and a science experiment kit. We loved the beautiful books but to be honest, the experiments left something to be desired. As a not terribly science minded person, I found the instructions daunting and unintuitive. My husband had less trouble with them but also less time to help out. This fall we are going to try video lessons from the amazing Science Mom. My friend used her lessons this past year and swore by them all dang year – and the few lessons we’ve watched on YouTube had us convinced we should give her curriculum a try. So while I liked the BookShark curriculum for science, I’m excited to try something new next year.

MORE CHANGES FOR NEXT YEAR

We’re also planning to try a new math curriculum next year. We used Saxon this year because it’s what she had used in school up to now and while she did well overall, it was our hardest subject motivation-wise. She’d make dramatic declarations that her soul was dying because it was so boring. Based on a few reviews and a trial lesson, I decided to give Teaching Textbooks a try this year. It’s actually an app that you can download on your phone or tablet or access on a computer. The lessons are interactive and the system will do the grading for you! (Halleluiah)

The other big change for next year will be our Language Arts curriculum. We began this past year using the BookShark curriculum, including Wordly Wise. We quickly decided it wasn’t quite what we wanted and I bought a writing and language arts workbook by Spectrum. These worked much better but over the course of the year I heard about a few more options that sounded intriguing so even though Spectrum was totally fine, this fall we’re going to try Fix It Grammar, Spelling Power and a writing program called Cover Story that I’m perhaps way too excited about. It has video lessons and a couple of notebooks that walk the student through creating their own magazine by the end of the year. The demo lesson we watched was entirely too fun.

I’ve also picked up a handful of self help type books and an art book called Artistic Pursuits that we’ll attempt to work our way through. I also have big plans for a regular Poetry Tea Time and some dabbling in Latin roots if we have time.

Day book | July 7, 2021

That’s right, I just disappear for months at a time, galavanting around who knows where, and then show up and write a copy and paste tag style entry without so much as a how do you do. #sorrynotsorry

Outside my window it’s cooler than yesterday and threatening to rain. We’ve been doing that rotation of hot and humid meets thunderstorms and doom. So fun.

In my kitchen y’all we broke down and bought an instant pot. After swearing up and down that we didn’t need another gadget and that I had no good reason to buy one, my husband started getting ambitions about speeding up the homemade dog food process (yes that is my life) and then it went on sale for prime day and now I’m googling things like instant pot beef teriyaki.

I’m currently reading several things! I’m prereading Mara, Daughter of the Nile for homeschool next year, the tween and I are reading Black Beauty together, I’m slowly reading Brave Learner on my Kindle (highly recommend, don’t take my slow ass pace as a criticism), listening to The Duke and I on audible, and I just started Pride and Premeditation for my bedtime read and I can already tell I’m going to love it.

I’m currently watching a lot of old sitcoms for the most part. Brooklyn 99 and Big Bang Theory with the kids. Frasier and Top Gear with the hubs. We also just started Loki, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and the new season of Making It.

I’m currently listening to the clattering of breakfast dishes as the kids make themselves bagels. Momma’s drinking coffee and waking up.

I’m currently thinking about whether or not I want to go to the library today and how much I’d love a donut. Like every other morning.

I’m currently planning for our upcoming family vacation, the upcoming school year, and my tween’s birthday this month.

I don’t want to forget to tell you about our fourth of July! I literally forgot to make plans because quarantine has ruined me. So like two days before, I picked up rudimentary cookout foods and a festive looking grocery store cake, a random box of fireworks from Target and a couple pool noodle looking squirt gun things. The squirt guns were a big hit, the fireworks were way more impressive (read: dangerous) than I expected and both my kids said at one point that night that it was the best fourth of July ever. Like sometimes just showing up is all they need? It warmed my mommy heart basically.

I blinked.

I blinked and a month went by. I can’t believe it’s already a week and a half into March. Like everyone else living this quarantine life, time has seemed largely irrelevant for the last year – it’s either crawling by minute by minute or flying by months at a time. Usually both at the same time. It’s a lot like the infant years of parenting tbh.

We are starting to see signs of Spring where I live and also signs of change. People are starting to get vaccinated and while my family is likely a long way off from getting on that waiting list, it’s hard not to think about the future like it might contain more options than the past year has allowed us. Easter is less than a month away, as well as my baby’s fifteenth birthday.

This picture is from like 2 months ago because he’s a teenager now so he’s always off playing video games with friends instead of posing for pictures for his poor mother

That is the most absurd sentence I’ve ever written, but according to him and math it’s true! Spring break is imminent and we’ve got bold plans to try and get outdoors during our week off and find a few more new to us state parks.

behold, a chocolate dog fossil

In the meantime we are trying to keep up the good work. We’re knee deep in World War I history in homeschool and making chocolate fossils and stuff for science, learning coding and painting and stuff in the high schooler’s world, and typing furiously about computer stuff in my husband’s corner.

Hurray for the return of outdoor reading weather!

With the weather being perky and cooperative, I’m reading outside and leaving the house without sweaters like a psycho. We’re continuing to reorganize little corners of the house and we finally figured out that our dog is in fact allergic to almost all food so we’ve started cooking him homemade dog food because he’s the neediest creature that’s ever existed.

On his way to his weekly spa appointment

Basically everything here is the same as usual but slightly different and we’re all very much looking forward to the official return of Spring and all the possibilities it might come with.

What have you been up to?

7 Things Saving My Life Right Now.

Apparently February 1st is the halfway point through winter and a typical time for the winter doldrums to hit. Anne @ Modern Mrs. Darcy has an annual tradition to combat this winter sadness, by sharing a list of things big and small that are “saving her life right now” – taking a moment to focus on the GOOD even when it can be hard, especially when it can be hard. And like the good little blogger that I am, I’m joining in. You know I love a good list. Here’s mine:

  1. Last month I completed a month on the KETO diet and although dieting is the pits, I have to be honest, I reaped some real benefits. I’m not even talking about pounds lost. I mean that by cutting down on my carb intake, I had less cravings, was able to eat a lot less calories each day without being starving, and I have had ZERO sugar crashes since I started. I am planning to try adding back in things like sweet potatoes, beans, and healthy grains this month – but I’m continuing to kick added sugars and basic bitch bread and pasta to the curb for the time being. VIPS for making KETO work for me include unsweetened almond milk, almond flour, and this amazing no bake cheesecake recipe.
  2. We finally cleared room for my new car to park in the garage and now that winter is here I am reaping the rewards like a reward reaping rock star. I do not miss brushing my car off or scraping frost off the windshield every morning, or the bitter bitter cold that was my car first thing in the morning. Other things contributing the winter being less of a hellish wonderland: Having a teen and tween who do most of the snow removal now; and that awesome homeschool life that means no more early morning commute anyway.
  3. Having the hubby working from home each day means that nine times out of ten, he’s making me eggs and bacon for lunch, there’s always a pot of coffee on, and sometimes he even cooks dinner. Basically, I’m a spoiled rotten pretty pretty princess. But seriously, it’s been much easier sticking to a diet when lunch is an issue I don’t have to worry about.
  4. The library has been closed to the public for most of the pandemic but their curbside pickup program has been easy and life saving. The kids and I have been checking out piles of books for homeschool or bedtime reading and roughly once a week I make an appointment online to go pick up new books and drop off old ones. Added bonus is that late fees are a thing of the past because sometimes I’m a really slow reader and sometimes the library gives me five books to read at once. I’m not proud.
  5. One of the cons of this pandemic life is grocery shopping. A lot of people are rocking that curbside pickup life but I typically prefer to go in and nit pick about exactly which head of cabbage I want, etc. But if the store is too busy, I can’t bring myself to pull into the lot and lately this scenario has been more frequent as people begin to tire of social distancing (or I’m imagining things and extrapolating where there is no data to support it). I recently had the bad assed idea to start shopping at night after dinner, hoping the stores would be less crowded in the hour or two before closing and you guys I was right! I not so secretly love having the store to myself and it’s kind of nice getting out of the house after a long day of schooling.
  6. The close quarters of staying at home so much can make for cranky family members but for the most part my kiddos have been rock stars. I’m especially thankful that they are at an age where they still like hanging out with us (I hope) and they are getting old enough to watch better tv shows with us. We’ve been introducing them to some favorite comedies like Brooklyn 99, Big Bang Theory and the IT Crowd and it’s awesome revisiting old favorite shows and them finally understanding why we keep yelling “Bazinga!” or “Noice!” or “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”
  7. Lastly, I am so thankful that I’ve found such a great friend group. Obviously I’d love to see them more in person and to be honest, I kind of loathe online social interactions but I count myself grateful that I’ve made such good friendships here that I allow group chats to exist where sometimes I log in to 181 unread messages and keeping up with these friendships virtually has definitely been valuable to my sanity. We’re each others cheerleaders and therapists and partners in crime and there’s no one else I’d endure hour long group zoom chats with just to talk about books, boobs, and Bridgerton.

What would be on your list right now? Tell me yours in the comments section!

What We Read and Learned in January.

Can you believe it will be February tomorrow! I thought I’d take a moment to share what we’ve been doing in homeschool this month. For those who aren’t familiar, my sixth grader and I started our first year of homeschooling this year – we started because of the pandemic, but we’re enjoying it so much we plan to continue at least throughout the rest of middle school. Anyway, here’s what we’ve been reading, learning, and loving this month.

Homeschool Reads We Finished

Story of the World Vol. 3 by Susan Wise Bauer | We started reading this at the beginning of the school year and finished a couple weeks ago. It felt like a monumental milestone in our first year of homeschooling. Despite a few possible historical inaccuracies, I have found this to be the most engaging history text I’ve ever read and I really feel like it’s turned history as a subject around for my 6th grader.

Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabin | We both loved this story of Betsy and her friendship with Napoleon, the exiled former emperor of France. My sixth grader had a LOT to say about the book. Here’s her review:

“This book was very good. There were some good plot twists, a good plot, it was fun to read, it had an enjoyable adventurous detail in it. It’s a book I got hooked onto, it had good descriptive words, it was great. I enjoyed it a whole lot. The only thing is the ending was kind of sad. They tried to heal it with the prologue, since there wasn’t much they could do when there was history to line up with the story line. I just think it’s kind of sad how it happened.

I read this for homeschool, and when I heard about ‘Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’ dying on Saint Helena during history, it didn’t hurt as much, but when you connect with the characters, and then one of the biggest characters in the story, he/she dies, it betrays you in a way. It REALLY hurts. I kind of wish that he hadn’t died, even though I know that’s betraying the historical ending they put in, and they had to include it. I did enjoy it, I just didn’t LOVE that historical detail. I had grown kinda attached to Boney. He was a fun character, one I’d gotten attached to, a fun character is hard to lose. He was really nice, had a good humor, and then history knocked on the door and pretty much killed Boney…”

Only the Name Remains by Alex W. Bealer | I’ll be honest, this book was a flop for both of us. As important as the topic is, for such a small book it really felt like a chore to get through it. My daughter wrote, “The book was rather sad. I also have to say, though I WAS reading it, I don’t exactly love non-fiction books. Especially not when they’re sadI hadn’t known before now that Tennessee was a Cherokee name. It surprised me right at the end ...”

Books We’re Still Reading

INDEPENDENT READER Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman | E is about halfway done with this one. I personally loved it. I felt like it really transported me to the Alps and the world of mountain climbing which prior to reading this story I had less than zero interest in.

READ ALOUD Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff | We’ve been reading this story set during the Irish Potato Famine and it’s really sweeping us away. It’s heartbreaking but so engaging. We’re really rooting for Nory and her family and wondering what will happen next.

EXTRA CREDIT Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornelissen | Determined to make up for Only the Name, I picked up a copy of this book at the recommendation of a fellow homeschooling mom and it is much better. Like most of our homeschool readers, this is a historical fiction story that still manages to teach about the Trail of Tears and do it justice but keeps our attention. We’re about halfway through and things are just starting to get intense. It’s a short read but we’re reading in between regular lessons, so it’s slow going.


Other Fun Stuff We’ve Learned About

  • E found a new favorite workout channel on YouTube. She’s been watching Up to the BEat Fit most days for health class this week. Other things I’ve counted as gym class: shoveling snow, mopping while dancing (genius, I know), and playing outside in the snow for an hour. I’m a really fun mom.
  • To demonstrate how far a character fell off a mountain in Banner in the Sky, we measured out the length with yarn and saw how far the yarn could extend through the house. We also did a worksheet last week to calculate exactly how big the new Chinese army was during the Taiping rebellion.
  • We demonstrated water pressure by poking holes into a soda can and pouring water through it to see which hole would pour further. We also baked a cake and used a stencil from the Story of the World activity book to create the Taiping coin emblem on it.

Add in lots of journaling, science and math, workbooks, and music lessons on the flute and guitar and you’ve pretty much got a good idea of what the last month has looked like here in the land of homeschool. What have you been up to this month?

The unsung heroes of 2020

I am feeling nostalgic as this year draws to a close and thought I’d dorkily list some of the very un- serious things that have gotten my family through this year and served as the backdrop to our year, if you will. Things like…

Animal Crossing which I bought on a petulant whim after all our plans were cancelled this Spring and has since gone on to become a favorite game for my eleven year old and I, along with all the other tweens and moms I know it sometimes seems. This summer especially involved a lot of long hours visiting friends islands and working on our little island.

Bob’s Burgers which we started watching for the first time this year and have already caught up with the current season, making it much harder to binge. It’s not the only show we fell for hard this year. We also binged Community, The Great, Space Force, most of King of the Hill, and almost the entire Marvel cinematic universe.

Adult coloring books have become a completely unironic hobby of mine this year. My daughter and I both spend many afternoons and evenings coloring together and have developed strong opinions on markers and paper quality.

Eatstreet has gotten so much of our business this year it’s crazy. We’re using Amazon slot, too, but that’s not necessarily new so much as increased. Before 2020 we almost never ordered delivery apart from the local pizza and Chinese places but this year we’ve made ample use of these new fangled services that let us enjoy more of our favorite restaurants without leaving the house.

Loungewear has become far more important this year. Yes standards have fallen pretty low when it comes to what constitutes outdoor wear, but I don’t hate the freedom of deciding that comfort is king this year. Mad love to the new favorite pieces from Duluth Trading Co. and Torrid that have become every day staples.

Our Mr. Coffee pot that went from the appliance we pulled out on weekends to our daily workhorse. I don’t hate meeting up with my hubby for coffee refills on the kitchen in between his work meetings and my homeschool lessons. We’ve developed a lot of cute rituals that just look like drinking coffee on the front porch or shopping for groceries but have become a stand in for date nights and I couldn’t imagine the year without them.


What new or novel things have you been enjoying this year? What new hobbies and habits will you keep in the next?