Sunday, April 17, 2016

Too Cool for School

We're nearing the end of our second year of homeschooling.  The kids take their end-of-year standardized tests next week.  I'm deep in planning for our next academic year.  We're waiting to hear what middle school Ella is accepted to so that she and Kevin and I can decide if she'll return to school or continue homeschooling.  We're planning for summer: school year-round? Go to summer camps?  Spend all summer in Woodstock?

It's important to dress the part when reading the Gettysburg Address

We are really enjoying homeschooling.  All four of us.  I'm not saying each day is a barrel of laughs and the kids are on track to have their PhDs by the time they're fifteen.  We definitely have our hard days.  It's not easy to be both mom and teacher.  They are very different roles and it's taken me a long time to even realize that, let alone figure out how best to balance and separate the two.  However, I think it's a good sign that the kids really love learning and even when given free time are almost always doing something totally educational.  If you ask them, they'll tell you that they love homeschooling and never want to go back to traditional school.

Our weekly Kanban board

Another mom recently told me that the third year of homeschooling is the best.  I think she may be right.  Last year I was a total stress-case.  I had no idea what I was doing and was so worried that I was going to mess up my kids.  I thought for sure that some subject would totally fall through the cracks and would be the reason my kids didn't get into college.  Do I stick to what the public schools are doing at these grade levels or follow my kids' interests?  Do we take fewer classes outside the home and focus more on book work or vice versa?  The learning curve was steep.  This year, I feel much more confident.  I'm much more tapped into our local homeschool community, much more knowledgeable about the curricula and resources available to us, and feel a lot more balanced in our schedule of work-at-home vs. classes outside the home.  Again, this year hasn't been perfect, and especially at this time in the year we're feeling pretty stressed about getting things done by the end of May (our goal to wrap up 3rd and 5th grades).  I can already tell that next year will be even easier, whether it's just Holden or both kids at home.

The end of their Immigration class at New York Historical Society
Doing a research report on Harlem, in Harlem
We're all very happy to see a big turn in the weather.  There's no doubt we're officially in spring and no sign of snow again for many months.  The kids have started soccer (Ella is back on her undefeated team from the fall) and baseball.  They start their capture-the-flag/sword-fighting class in Central Park next week.  And we spent most of yesterday in the park picnicking, reading, and climbing trees.

We even had fun right in our building.  Our neighbors who wrote the book Wine for Dummies hosted another wine tasting party.  This time they pulled 20 bottles of California red wines out of the their cellar, one as old as 1978!

And we found out that we also have a film maker in the building.  Cris makes short films and needed a 10-year-old girl's voice for a voice over.  Ella had a great time reading script for him right in our own living room.

After this week of testing for the kids, we're heading up to Woodstock for an entire week of painting, gardening and unpacking.  Our enormous storage unit is en route to us as I write this.  Opening it all up after three and a half years will be like Christmas in April!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Volunteer Night

The kids and I had a great evening on Tuesday at a Volunteer Fair.

The kids are assembling hygiene kits for the homeless

My fellow homeschool mom and friend, Tanya, organized an amazing evening for local homeschoolers to come together to learn about volunteering opportunities in our community.


She had speakers talk to us about their experiences volunteering and representatives from different organizations come and set up tables to give us information on how we can help.  I was able to get a member of the Central Park Conservancy to come.  You may remember that we volunteered as a family last year in the park one Sunday, spreading mulch.

Decorating duffle bags for foster kids

Homeschoolers are in a unique position to be able to lend a hand any time of day, not just around school or work hours, which makes us appealing to many organizations.  We also tend to have more time to commit since schooling takes up a lot less of our time than if they were in brick and mortar schools.

We all left inspired and better informed about how and where we can help.  I'm looking forward to incorporating regular service hours to our schedule next school year.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Cabin DIY

I'm pretty proud of Team Skaggs.

Ella cleaning up leaves in the backyard
 We raced up to Woodstock late on Friday night, after mythology class at The Met.  I was so excited that I could barely get anything done on Friday.  I had a pile of stuff next to the door to load into the van after class, mostly cleaning supplies.  This was my first time going to our new cabin since we have officially owned it.

Panoramic view taken from our back deck
There is no furniture in the house except for the two beds that we bought from the previous owner.  And no dishes or cooking utensils.  So I pulled out our camping gear and we camped indoors.

The kids were so helpful, raking leaves and cleaning up the garden, while Kevin and I started on the inside.  We're in a bit of a time crunch because all of our storage from California is arriving at the end of the month.  The front part of the house was an old fishing cottage built in the 1930s.  The rear part of the house, including the master bedroom, sunroom, and dining room were added on about ten years ago and are much cleaner and newer feeling.  The original living room had a terrible floor that not only leans downhill pretty dramatically, but also has the original 85 year-old wood plank flooring that was once painted yellow.  We knew that before all of our furniture arrived that we wanted to sand down the floor and repaint it.  Something we have never done before and that I found completely intimidating.

Before picture of the living room
Until...we went to our local hardware store in town and had a nice chat with the clerk there.  He basically gave us a 10-minute lesson on what we needed to do, rented us an orbital sander, sold us face masks and plastic sheeting for the doors, and gave us some much needed confidence.


Then we were on a roll.  Next to the living room is a small room that was once an enclosed porch but that the previous owners insulated and turned into an office.  They had it painted a dark red and turned the floors green.  It was hideous.  The living room floor went so well that we continued onto the office.

Before picture of office

While Kevin and I were getting rid of the yucky pink walls in the kitchen, we put the kids to work priming and painting the floor.  It turns out painting a floor is an excellent job for a kid - no worries about spills or drips.  You really can't mess it up.

We chose a high gloss, dark brown color.  We knew we couldn't make it look any worse than it already did, so I felt pretty confident that whatever we did to it could only improve it.  Plus, I figured the dark color might hide a lot of the imperfections, including the slope.

Here's an after of the first coat of the office floor.  We also primed the walls to cover the red.  Next week we'll put white paint over the primer and add a second coat to the floor.

After a typical spring day on Saturday with scattered showers and sunshine, we woke up to several inches of snow on Sunday morning!  We didn't hear a thing all night.  It was a quiet storm.

I took this photo while still laying in bed on Sunday.  I could have stayed there all day.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Civics 101

Real world learning.  That's what homeschooling is all about.


When I heard on Monday that the former First Lady, Senator of New York, Secretary of State and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was going to be a few short blocks away from us on Wednesday, I cleared our schedule.

And the fact that her rally was at a world famous, historical theater, The Apollo, was icing on the cake.


We arrived early and although we were already near the front of the line, we were ushered up to the very front of the theater.  I'm assuming it was because I brought two of the only children in attendance.


It was an exciting day for all of us.  I have always been a very big fan of Mrs. Clinton, ever since her work as First Lady on the Children's Health Insurance Program and universal healthcare.  But more than that, it was so thrilling to be caught up in the excitement of a presidential campaign, one that might elect the very first female President of the United States.


It was a very positive atmosphere - lots of music, chanting, clapping.  Her messages were all of unity and progress.  There were no sucker punches.  No fights broke out.

My friend Alina joined us
The kids and I talked about the political process, the Presidential election, campaigns and rallies.  We discussed why it's important to be vocal for candidates whom you support.  And we discussed why Kevin and I want to see Hillary win.

I'm guessing that it was an experience the kids won't soon forget.