Friday, June 10, 2016

School Doesn't Always Matter...and We Shouldn't Treat it Like It Has To

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at

This month we lost my stepfather, Matt. It was unexpected and tough. I found myself writing an obituary for a man who spent 35 years serving California as a Firefighter. When he decided to retire, he worked at the State Fire Marshall's office as a Deputy Chief.

His title and job were impressive. More importantly, he was someone who made you feel like you were his best friend after being in the room with him for five minutes. His friends and wife jokingly pointed out his adult ADHD as the reason he could never sit still and probably a key to his success as a firefighter and law enforcement officer. He could not stop moving, talking, doing. He lived for the opportunity to grab his badge and gear to  be a part of the action.

When I spent time with Matt's mother in the days preceding and following his passing, she did what all moms do. She comforted those around her.

"Robert was very special to Matt, he talked about him all the time." She told me as she hugged me. "He called him his grandson."

I knew about their relationship. When we went to Grandma's the question is always, "Is Matt there?" Whatever Matt was doing, Robert wanted to do.

 Matt's mom was the counselor at Sacramento High School when hers sons and daughter were students. She told me the story of how he found fire fighting.

"Matt hated school. There were other things he wanted to do. We would not let him get his driver's license because of his GPA. When he graduated high school, I knew he wasn't going to go to college, and I wondered....what are we going to do with him?"

It was at the end of his Senior year that a flier landed on  her desk for the fire academy.

"...and I thought, this is what we are going to do." She smiled as she told the story and explained that after a few weeks they all knew he had found his niche. It was after the academy that she discovered her son really WAS a reader. A voracious reader. Mom and son often swapped books. "When he was in school he didn't read!"

While writing his obituary I referenced his resume. He steadily rose through the ranks of CAL FIRE. At some point he did get his AA in Fire Science, but the AA was the least impressive of his accomplishments and training. In fact, his list of accomplishments was surprising to me. His humble, down to earth nature never hinted at what he was doing on the job.

The number of people he mentored and colleagues who respected him wasn't on his resume, but were apparent on the days preceding his funeral with the number of men and women who sought me out to talk to me about Matt's impact on them.

As the mom of a son who doesn't particular like school or think school matters, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing by not trying harder to ignite his passion for learning and traditional school.

When his standardized scores come in and he is in the  middle of the road (when his IQ says he should be much higher) I have second thoughts about spending my homeschooling time doing interest led learning units on World War II and Donuts. Those scores often make me consider running straight to the local Huntington Learning Center.

I often second guess my decision to let Robert join the Lincoln Youth Shooting League and Nerf Boot Camp instead of forcing him to play little league baseball, take robotics, or attend coding camp. I mean, when your kid is drawing pictures of guns on his testing privacy screen during SBAC, it can cause raised eye brows.

That little kernel of fear in the pit of my stomach begs the question, "What is going to happen to him, what am I going to do with him?" and must be like what Matt's mom felt 35 years ago.

She must have been pretty brave and smart (or desperate?!) not to try and shove him into a college shoe that didn't fit. Something that most parents now, can't imagine doing.

Because college debt, an unhappy (and under employed) millennial is better than an adult child with no college degree, right?

Somehow, liking school and being good at school has become (at times) more important than the particular aptitudes of a child. It has become a measuring stick by which parents are measured and considered a benchmark towards becoming a successful person.

Teachers feel the pressure, too. Somehow if we create the most engaging lesson plans or turn it into a Minecraft project, even the kid who would rather be at home, in his room reading,  will LOVE learning!

Uhhhh....sometimes a kid just doesn't like school. And that needs to be okay. Their dislike of school should not be a commentary on them as a person, their future, their teachers, or their up bringing.

The past few weeks have confirmed for me that really, school doesn't have to matter.  For some kiddos, school is an exercise in patience until they can move on to what REALLY matters to them.

When I think about the people Matt impacted, the communities and people he protected, and the role he played in Robert's life I think about all that we would have sacrificed if Matt's Mom had thrown away the flier and insisted that a degree had to happen "first" or if CAL FIRE had required a degree before he was allowed into the Fire Academy.

As an educator, I am more motivated than ever to help students find and develop their passion instead of forcing them onto one path.

As a mom, I hope I am strong enough to stand by my own kid as he discovers what is important and meaningful to him.

I am more sure that his stubborn personality will allow him to  resist my pressure or society's pressure to LOVE school or get a degree IF there are more interesting and relevant things he wants to do.

Thank you Matt. Love you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Just When I THOUGHT I Had Entered Homeschooling Mom of Fame...

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at

Yesterday was one of those days. He spent all day avoiding work and pushing my buttons. I spent all day trying to balance work and homeschooling. I looked forward to the nice, long quiet ride home. It is the one thing I can count on.

"Why do they take that word out?" I looked down at the control panel. "B***h Move Out The Way" by Ludacrus was playing.

Robert complained, knowing that I would think it ridiculous that he cared about it and wanted to hear the word in the song and DARED to bring it up.

My feathers already ruffled by a tough day, I almost snapped. I breathed deep. He was not going to push another button.

"Well, lets talk about word choice. Does it make the song different? Does it really matter?" I challenged him, turning on my teacher voice and using my secret power to turn anything into a lesson. I expected an eye roll, but he persevered.

"Well, yeah it is kind of dumb. They replace it with glass breaking. That is stupid. It is more powerful sounding with the "b" word. Other stations play it with the b word."

I made a mental note to listen more carefully to the radio and explained the term radio edit. Hmmm...he wanted to say the word, I could tell.

"Do you know what the word bitch means?" I said looking straight ahead.

I could see him break out into a surprised grin and hear the giggle.  I explained the definition.

"So technically, Molly is a .... BITCH" he finished loudly. Smiling. I could tell that finding a way to use the word and not get into trouble was exciting for him. OH NO. He was not winning this one.

"Yes so think about what that means when somebody calls another person that....what are they really saying? Why don't radio stations want to play it?"

No response. At that point I think he realized his teacher mom had just manipulated the entire conversation about the b word into a teachable moment and it got quiet.

My chest puffed up with pride and I thought about the awesome blog post I could write all about how I managed to turn my kid's NOT so innocent question into a teachable moment. Trumpets played. The "Queen of homeschooling" banner fell from the sky.

"So what does the "F" word mean then?"

Radio Silence.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ending the Year Strong (Without Killing Your Kid or Burning Out)

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at Links will take you to her Google Docs Assignment sheet. Others are linked to a private Facebook Page for PACT parents.

The end of the year creeps up on me. It is that awkward time when I am kind of tired and "done", but if I don't plan something engaging it will drag on and on. If I try to worksheet it, Robert rebels. If I try to do something super creative and time intensive, I burn out and nothing gets done. I also want to get rid of and return my curriculum in May so that I don't have to worry about it in June.

To keep us both  motivated and engaged, I try to pick something with a goal. Something to work towards. here is what I have come up with for the rest of this year.

What dog should we get? My friend's dog is pregnant. I want one of her puppies, but my Mastiff loving husband wants another Mastiff. Robert agrees with me (or did agree with me- he has since changed his mind). So, for Language Arts Robert had to create a persuasive presentation answering the question, "What should we get? Another English Mastiff or a St. Bernard?" This involved identifying who his audience is, researching, and creating a Google Slideshow. He learned to do this in Mrs Chapman's workshop this year!

I also had him write a compare and contrast paragraph about the two breeds. Next week, I am going to teach him how to screen cast using screencastomatic so that he can publish his entire presentation online with a voice over. I fully expect this to turn into creating screencasts of Minecraft and a dedicated You Tube Channel. I plan on quitting my job when he starts making enough off of the channel to pay the mortgage.

This picture was in the Sac Bee! 
Community Service:
I recently moved to Oak Park and have identified a few different groups that are working to improve our community. I drag Robert with me. We attended a community dinner at McClatchy park as a community show of force the shooting at a little league game. Two weeks ago we helped Oak Park Sol with a community beautification project and last weekend he went along with me on a street audit walk. The purpose of Social Studies and history should be to create active, engaged citizens. So instead of reading about it, we go out and do it. Every time, it has resulted in conversations about social and political issues that never would come up if we were studying from a text book.

I may have him create another Google Presentation to show off at the Open House Exhibition. This provides an "audience" for his work and a goal for both of us!

Math is a hard subject for me. We never found "just the right" curriculum. We use an online math program called Adapted Mind. It has instructional videos and follows a curriculum path that aligns with my educational goals for Robert. I log on weekly to see what he is having problems with. I go to Math Mammoth and print out worksheets for the trouble areas and post videos from Learn Zillion on his lesson plan for us to watch together.

Science: Thank goodness for the Biology workshop at PACT and Susie Clark! Robert attends that once a week. We finish the assignment at home. Then, I go to Brain Pop and look for videos that are related to what he is learning. I assign him one video and quiz a week. Then, I will have him do any additional activities or readings that look like fun.

Reading: We just finished Dr. Doolittle. I was having him take a quiz at the end of each chapter (I
Hey, reading can happen anywhere! 
found free online) until he surprised me by finishing the book a week early. So, I have returned to the handy dandy Journey's curriculum. We skipped ahead a few units to the story about Working Dogs. I knew he would buy into it and I found videos on You Tube about working dogs. (More social studies) We did the corresponding workbook pages. Next week, if we need another writing activity he will write about the importance of working dogs and maybe interview a few friends of mine who train or use working dogs. My plan for May is to let him read what he likes. Yep. That is it. 

Play Hooky: My husband had a business trip to San Jose last week, So Robert and I played Hooky and went with him. One of the draws of homeschooling is the freedom to do this...but life always gets in the way and we rarely do. This time we did! I knew we would be going to the Tech Museum (science DONE!) but I also knew we would be hitting up Psycho Donuts! So I wrapped English and Social Studies into our donut visit by creating a unit that asked the question, "Is Psycho Donuts Offensive and Should People Go There?"

Make Chili and Become Someone Else!  Last year we were spectators at the Living History day. This year, I hope to participate! Choosing a person or character from history and learning about them is great, but  knowing that they will get to become another person and speak to an audience is very motivating! We still have not picked a person to research, but I am considering doing it with him. I will be entering my famous chili into the competition. I dare you to do the same! I am pretty lucky to have a staff support my crazy ideas. I am sure that a Chili Cook Off was NOT part of the original vision!

Keeping Up the Easy Stuff: I have established a routine that includes handwriting, studying root words, silent reading and grammar. They are easy for me to prep (worksheets) and help keep the momentum going. I intend on doing them up until the very last day.

How are you staying sane these last few weeks?

Friday, November 20, 2015

16th Street vs Marie's Donuts

Robert is an 8 year old PACT student. Last week, mom wrote about using donuts as a jumping off point for a student interest led unit. This week, it is Robert's turn.

Today’s focus is on donuts. I'm studying donuts because I want to open up a donut shop. To learn about donuts,  I went to a whole lot of  donut shops. When I went to the donut shops I got one specific  donut, the maple bar. 

My  favorite donut is the  maple bar .I got a maple bar from two different places to  try  to see which one is better so I can make the best maple bar.  I did this  with 16th Street and Marie's donuts. 16th street donuts looks like a big donut and had a large amount of ......of .....;of FROSTING. I couldn't see under the frosting. Marie’s  had less frosting and was smaller. On, Marie’s I could see through the frosting and see the donut.The donut from 16th street donuts was 66 grams heavier than Marie’s. 

When I tasted 16th street it was more eggy  and yummier than Marie’s which had flavor in it ,but not as good as 16 street donuts. 16 street had way more maple taste.

I tink 16th street’s was best. I learned that you should add more egg and maple stuff to it. I will put LOTS OF FROSTING!!! and topping on donuts in my shop because more people will come and eat them. It would make my shop the most popular because of the best maple bar. Some day come to my shop called  No Nuts donuts  for a maple bar. 

You can find Robert's data here. Robert carefully took measurements of each donut and took a blind taste test. He also explored the attributes of yeast. His next step is to create his own perfect maple donut.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Experience in Student Interest Led Learning or Why I Let the Kid Eat Donuts EVERY Day this Week

Marie's Doughnuts in East Sac
I try to honor the entrepenuer in my kiddo.  Last week he announced he wants to own a donut shop.

I was desperate. We have somehow gotten into the battle of him not wanting to do his work and me threatening to end his life if he doesn't get it done. NOT why I started homeschooling. "Fine, you want donuts, I will give you donuts."

We started the week of work on Saturday at Donut Madness. I was eager to start this magical journey....he refused to get off of his ipad to engage. Entered Dad's lecture on how lucky he is that Mom is willing to take tons of time to create  a whole week of lessons around something he wanted to do. I sat in the car upset and secretly plotted to drop him off at the local elementary school on Monday.

Reason won out and I left my week of Donut Exploration  intact. The plan?

Throughout the week learn about donuts and the donut business from several sources PLUS introduce him to lots of academic and business vocabulary. This is in addition to his enrichment workshops at PACT , daily spelling, math flashcards, grammar work, and his daily online math class.

We are going to

  • read Can Money Be Made in the Doughnut Business
  • watch The History of Doughnuts
  • read The History of Doughnuts and answer the accompanying questions
  • use this chart to organize our sensory details about the doughnuts that we taste.
  • use Journeys Writer's Notebook to explore the parts of descriptive paragraphs and practice writing our own. 
  • read recipes of doughnuts
  • make grocery lists
  • bake doughnuts
  • research different doughnuts shops, read Yelp reviews, and navigate to a doughnut shop every day.
  • visit a different doughnut shop every day and make observations about taste, price, recipes, flavors, ect. After each visit, we record Robert's first reactions and analysis.
Yes, I said every day. Don't worry! He doesn't eat every doughnut that we buy. We purchase 1-2 (or four) and he takes a few bites. This is after a very nutritious breakfast of protein. I have to admit, I have taken a bite or two or three....but it always makes me sick. Robert has informed me that  it is because," You eat too many vegetables."

So far we have discussed overhead, why some older shops may have lower overhead than new shops, what a franchise is, types of doughnuts, sensory details, how Oak Park (where we live) became separated from the rest of Sacramento due to Highway 50 being built and the impact of that on the community, the relationship between doughnuts and war, and why some stores either do not allow people to use credit cards, charge people to use them or have minimum purchases.

He can also now navigate from our house to Broadway Doughnuts without the use of GPS. Not sure I should be bragging about that.

So, yeah. Lots of talking and videoing and eating. The verdict is still out on if this experience will reduce the complaining or result in something long term. For now, he is still planning on making and selling doughnuts. He has suggested selling them out front with lemonade. But this definately feels more like what I intended to do from the beginning. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Need a Writing Tutor at Home? Check This Out

Usually when I hear about formulaic writing programs the  hair on the back of my neck bristles and I get a little uppity about the whole thing. So when I looked at the Write Bright website this summer I wasn't sure about it.

I also have a 3rd grader that I was struggling with academic writing. How could I get him to read a passage or two and then use what he read when writing a response?

Developing my own writing lessons every week, designing the scaffolding, and the process was a heavy load in addition to planning and designing everything else...oh yeah, and being a mom and wife....oh and school administrator!

I gave Write Bright a go this year and so far so good! What I have discovered is:

a. The "Source Writing"  lessons are invaluable. It teaches students how to  read a passage and include the passage in their response. This is a skill that needs to be practiced and taught. It does not come naturally for everyone!

b. It breaks down and demystifies the writing process for students. It even talks about reading the prompt and identifying what the prompt is asking the student to write.

c. It plans, finds the resources, and scaffolds for me. Why is this valuable? When I was watching Robert write I began to notice several trends in his writing that I can focus on later. For example, he often repeats things. Since I wasn't busy trying to come up with the lessons, I could actually observe his writing and think about revision lessons for later.

d. It uses a predicable pattern and uses academic language. While watching the videos together we are both learning that language and developing a way to talk about writing. Again, since I am not reinventing the wheel, I can focus with him on refining ideas and word choice.

e. After writing the first two essays, Robert did not necessarily need the step by step instructions. So he could write and then fast forward.

f. Working on word choice, author's voice, audience, purpose, ect is still something I will need to fit in. However, now I will have time to observe and figure out the best way to do that!

My next moves? After he is done with 3-4 responses, we will go back and revise his favorite one. At this time I will do mini lessons with him to improve his voice and craft.

Eventually, I will create my own prompts for our assignments in literature, history, and science that he can address using the skills he learns from Writing Bright.

Quick Entry Into the Writing Program: I encourage you check out the website's resources, but if you are looking to get started ASAP.....

a. Log into See your adviser for the password!
b. Click on "Explanatory" on the top menu bar. Then, look for your student's grade on the left hand side. Preview the videos under the student's grade level. Gauge what grade level would be appropriate for your student! Your adviser can also help with this.

c.  Choose "tools" from the menu bar at the top of the screen.

d. Select your student's grade level. IF it gives you a choice choose "SOURCE" writing. You will only need to print this once!
Kinder: print the entire kinder packet
First Grade: Print only page 2
Second Grade: Print page 3 and 4
Third Grade: Print pages 3-5
Fourth-sixth grade: Print pages 3-7

d. Click on "Explanatory" in the top menu  bar. Look for the appropriate grade level on the left hand side and select the "Source" writing option. (this is not available for kinder!)

e. Select the first lesson available. Print the necessary source documents and the prompt. I DO NOT print out all of the source materials at once. That way if we want to skip a topic or move to a different grade level I did not waste paper.

f. Then click on the "video" link on the left hand side under your student's grade to find the accompanying video.

g. Sit with your student during the first few times to make sure that they are on the right track!

Please let me know how it goes! Your feedback will determine if we keep this in following years!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

You Rock...Welcome Back.

Today is Saturday. My husband has taken the kiddo away for the day so that I can get organized for the weeks ahead. On Monday we officially start our third year of homeschooling.

In some ways my student is more excited than me. He knows the joy of working at his own pace, taking interest led workshops at PACT, meeting up with buddies for Lego Club, and (on some days!) throwing up our hands and opting for a day of play instead of work.

While I look forward to the days that include fun hands on projects, relaxed mornings at home, and family time uninterrupted by homework, I groan when I think about the planning, grading, and my plans getting screwed up when a project takes longer or shorter than expected.

I know there will be those days when finishing assignments is like pulling teeth or I would rather be diving into a project at work then thinking about how I am going to get him to write with more expression.

So if you are in the same place I am, don't worry. There is a reason.Teaching is hard. And on top of that, we have chosen to do something out of the box, unusual.

We have chosen to do what most people would not attempt. To provide a differentiated education for our children. We are not relying on someone else to chart their education.  Many of us have chosen what is best for our children over extra money and extra time.

It is that time of year when I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. Act with confidence. Don't look back.

We are in this together. My kid, my husband, Ms. Judy, and our PACT community.