Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wait. You should get paid to do that?!

Like so many churches across the U.S., ours is having budget issues.  Things are looking up as people have stepped up to the plate and increased their pledges.  A definite good thing.  One thing that has come out of it is a hard look at what our church spends its money on including the music program.  I think this sort of evaluation is a good thing -- are we sticking to the mission of the church?  Are we using our money wisely? Of course the music program is being evaluated -- we're one of the biggest budgets for the programs and committees of the church.  It's a significant amount of money -- not the largest budget compared to a few churches (mainly in the Boston area), but large by some standards.  For what he has to work with, my boss has put together one of the top music programs here in the state.

During this process, though, some interesting viewpoints have come to light.  The one that sticks in my craw is the idea that we as musicians should be doing this for free.  This includes my boss, the Minister of Music.  The rationale is usually along the lines that either music is just the "fluff" of the worship service or that we should give our services to the church because it's a church.

I can totally see how some people arrive to that first rationale.  If you aren't into music, you aren't into.  We try to run a varied program.  I joke that our music program is much like the New England weather - if you don't like it, just wait for a few minutes.  I think my boss does a phenomenal job of trying to appeal to as many as he can by keeping the selections varied -- everything from the "golden moldies" to modern.  As a musician, I appreciate the variety as it keeps me on my toes from week-to-week.  Unfortunately, you can't please everyone, though.

The second rationale makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.  We don't expect our other ministers to work for free "for the good of the church" -- why should the professional musicians?  My boss has his masters and has gone through the program that the American Guild of Organists offers that upon completion is pretty much on the level of getting your Ph.D.  It's intense.  Personally, I spent years (and tons of money) on my training to get me to where I am today.  I do what I can to further my own education as time and money allows.

I think this whole idea of musicians doing stuff for free for the good of some cause or for the experience is common well outside of our church.  Some think they're doing us musicians a favor just giving us that experience, so why should they pay us?  Some think "it's just music" -- their kid can play a couple of tunes of the piano so how hard can it be?  Yet, these same people would never expect their accountant to do their taxes for them for free or expect their doctor to give them a free exam or their minister to work at their church for nothing.

I am grateful that I know so many people who do understand that music -- like any other profession -- is..well.. a profession.   I wish everyone did.  Unlike some professions, music can be treated as a hobby and I do admit that music is fun for me.  I like what I do and it sometimes feel like I'm being paid to do my most favorite hobby in the whole world.   But I have bills to pay and education to further.  If the church can no longer sustain a budget that pays me to show up and use my expertise, so be it.  But please don't expect me to come and do it anyways for free because it's for the good of the church.  I may decide to stick around because I love the work and I have the best boss in the world.  If I do stick around, the arrangement will be different, though.  Because at that point, singing at the church will be fully in the hobby category.  Expecting otherwise is unreasonable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks Again

I just went back and re-read my list from last year about what I was thankful for.  I'm still thankful for all of that, but I want to be more specific this year.

My Super Cool Kid:  I'm continually amazed at her creativity and the stuff she comes up with.  I'm also continually overwhelmed by how quickly she absorbs information and is looking for a fresh source of it. Both of these ideas manifest themselves in just about every aspect of her life.

I'm thankful that she's finally settling into "her things".  Music is definitely her biggest thing, which I know is unsurprising given that she's been hearing me sing/play the piano/make some kind of music since she was in the womb.  I love to watch her learn how to play the piano.  I love to watch her learn a new rhythm when we drum.  I am a super-proud mama watching her sing and chime at church.  I love watching her connect musical concepts to other things -- today, was the rhythm of poetry.  In fact, today, she became inspired to set a poem we studied to music.  This is a project she wants to start in earnest with me next week.

I'm thankful that she's taking a more active role in finding new resources for information.  She's starting to tell me what she wants to learn and how she wants to do it.  I still get a say in the process (for now), but I'm thankful that she's giving me lots of direction.  This has subsequently made school much easier because it's something that we both look forward to doing most days.

I'm thankful for her friends.  While all of us home schooling parents know that lack of socialization for our kids is a myth, it's still nice knowing that she has a great (and expansive) group of friends.  I've watched her blossom over the last year into a bit of a social engineer.  She has turned into the kid that tries to include everyone.  She quickly figures out someone's strengths and plays to that so they feel comfortable.  I'm amazed that she can do this at six when many adults fail at this miserably.

My Patient Husband:  Between home schooling, teaching voice/music classes, and performances, I pull a 50 - 60 hour weeks most weeks.  I am thankful that he's supportive (and helpful) on the home school front and understanding on the work front.  I am also thankful that even though he's busy between his job and whatever projects he's into, he still manages to pick up quite a bit of the slack.

My Growing Studio:  This year, I'm the busiest that I've ever been.  My voice student had a huge influx of new students over the summer and has been steadily growing since.  I'm thankful to see my business grow even though economic times aren't the best.

I'm also thankful for my students.  They continually challenge me.  The old saying says that you learn when you start to teach.  This is absolutely true.  I'm a better singer than I was before I started teaching.  I have a huge bag of tricks and ways to teach my students various concepts.  All the time spent at the piano with my students has bettered my keyboard skills to the point that I'm less uncomfortable playing in front of an audience.  But what I'm most thankful for is that I really like all of my students.  I don't have any crazies.  Whether they admit or not, I think they all want to be there for their lesson and are enjoying the process.

My Friends:  I have the coolest friends.  You know who you are.  Some of you I see all the time.  Some of you I wish I could see more often but schedules or distance makes that a challenge.   Some of you I see on Facebook and that's it.  I am thankful that I'm connected to you however I am and I am thankful for the laughs and conversation and the support and stability.

As I sit down to my Tofurkey dinner, I look forward to giving thanks for the huge bounty good stuff in my life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

And so it begins...again...

I'm now just a few labels and an archive binder short of having everything together to start school.  Our first "real" year of school.  I say this because The Peanut would be entering 1st grade this year.  Kindergarten isn't mandatory in Massachusetts so whatever we did last year was just gravy.  We had a lot of gravy.

Getting ready this year was particularly stressful.  Starting a bunch of new curricula for various subjects takes some time to figure out and plan for.  Science is basically being put together from scratch with just a solid outline and some starter suggestions for reading and activities given by the book.  This is how I like it.  Lots of flexibility.  That flexibility comes at a cost, though.  I can't just open a book and have all the thinking and planning done for me.  I have to find time to do it in amongst summer plans, work, running a camp, etc.

The Peanut has been watching me from the other side of our makeshift music studio classroom for the past few months.  She works on her latest masterpiece while I read, organize, and plan.  She reviews the books I'm looking at from afar to see if I've picked the ones with the prettiest covers and most interesting sounding titles.  Occasionally, she creeps over and looks over my shoulder.  She told me the other day that she's excited to start school again and can't wait to see all the new stuff.  I feel better about the pressure-cooker I put myself in this past month to make it happen knowing that she's happy to get started.

Unlike previous years, my schedule is full.  Other years, I've been busy, but not quite like this.  I am frequently concerned that I bit off too much.  Between school, teaching, and managing things for Pakachoag, I've got my hands full.  It's a tricky balancing act that I hope I can pull off because I love everything that I'm doing right now and I don't want to give any of it up.  I hope I'm not kidding myself into thinking I can have it all, but that is my sincerest hope.

We shall see in just two weeks.  We're off to my parents house next week, which I hope is a better visit than last summer's fiasco.  When we return, school starts.  My new teaching schedule starts.  Several other responsibilities that have been on hiatus because of the summer resume.  I'm looking forward to the Fall - crazy schedule and all.  I miss my one-on-one time with The Peanut.  This summer, between camps and whatever project she threw herself into plus my nutty schedule, we haven't had nearly as much time together like we do during the school year.  I miss singing with Senior Choir every week.  I miss the stability of having most of my students show up in a given week since the summer is all about remembering to write down who's on vacation this week and last minute cancellations due to spontaneous planning.  I'm excited to see the Shrewsbury program for Pakachoag grow.

I have no idea what will happen with this year.  I can only guarantee one thing:  this year will certainly be different.  And, for now, I'm ok with that.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I am a hopeless planner.  I envy some of our homeschooling friends who seem to take it one-day-at-a-time.  Maybe it's because of my own personal schedule and needing to make sure we fit school in during its designated time, but I need to have a game plan.  And that game plan needs to be long term since I don't have tons of time during the academic year to research new options and implement something.

I got lucky this year -- or maybe I'm getting better at understanding what makes The Peanut tick -- because what I picked for school this past year worked for the most part.  There were a few things that we did that I felt could have been better, but that was more from my perspective -- The Peanut was happy doing what I picked.  So with that said, here's the rundown for this upcoming year.

Language Arts
Here's one area where I thought what we did worked, but probably could have been better.  We're changing over to the Michael Clay Thompson Series which encompasses grammar, writing, poetry, and word origins. I think this series will be a hit as the grammar and writing portions are handled more in a story book format with lots of free form writing exercises plus a book that starts teaching sentence diagramming.

Along with that, we'll continue our Poem of the Week tradition that we started last year.  She really enjoys doing it and ends up with a fun keepsake at the end of the school year.  We'll also continue using Spectrum Spelling and Zaner Bloser Handwriting.  Oh. And reading.  Lots of reading. (This is something that requires no planning on my part if I want it that way.  The Peanut is a little bookworm.  This year, I do have a few books that I'd like to make sure end up on her reading list, but if they don't happen, I don't care.)

We will continue with CSMP Math.  While she doesn't love every second of it, I think overall, it's a program that clicks with her.   It's well-paced and challenging, uses story books, and utilizes some really cool manipulatives to visually represent what's going on.  Unless something dramatic changes, I suspect we'll use this program to its conclusion.

I do supplement this with other activities weekly.  CSMP is a very intense program, so we have a weekly "math fun day".  Some weeks, we just play a board game.  Other weeks, I have a fun activity or a math story book to read and discuss.  During this time, my goal is to show her the fun side of math and/or the relevance of it.

I completely scored the jackpot when I selected Story of the World as our curriculum.  It allows you to go as deep or shallow as your child needs to go -- so you can just cover the basics or you can spend time on a chapter, reading related books, doing hands-on activities, looking at art, etc, etc.  The Activity Book that comes with the text is a fantastic resource and The Peanut likes to go deep on whatever she's studying.  I could not do this program without the excellent library and interlibrary loan system our state has, though -- or I'd be broke buying stuff from Amazon!

This is the one subject that I felt lacked last year.  Originally, I had wanted to follow the Classical Education model for sciences -- starting in grade school, rotate through Chemistry, Physics, Life Sciences, and Earth/Space Science doing one a year.  In theory, starting with Chem or Physics is better because the other two sciences build on them.  We did Chemistry using a blend of two different publishers.  She loved what we did, but I was always tweaking it to fit her interest level and I was never completely satisfied with how it came together.  For the long term, it doesn't matter.  She knows what an atom is (and that what it's made up of), she's been exposed to the Periodic Chart of Elements and knows where to find some of the elements, and she understands what a chemical reaction is.  We did some nifty experiments along the way.

So I'm back to writing my own lessons again.  I purchased the first two books in the Building Foundations for Scientific Learning series.  (I got them used - I love a good bargain!)  It doesn't follow one branch exclusively instead offering four tracks with lessons that build on each other across those tracks.  There is no set order, instead there are a few different ways to approach the progression.  It gives me a framework with objectives plus a list of additional resources -- so I can spend a few days on a concept or a few weeks depending on The Peanut's level of interest.  So, like with The Story of the World, I have a ton of flexibility.  I've been doing lots of pre-reading and lesson planning based on this series.  I think she's going to dig science next year.

Other Stuff:
This past year was our final year for gymnastics.  While The Peanut didn't hate it, I don't really think it was her "thing" either.  We started swim lessons this past spring and will continue those in the Fall.  Our health club and a local recreation department both have a bunch of other classes and activities for kids so I'm sure we'll try some of those out as well.  The Peanut is a pretty active kid, so I'm not worried about her being a slug on the couch.  I do want to make it easy for her to get some exercise when the weather turns cold and nasty, though.

The Peanut will also continue her piano lessons and spending time with Miss Susan, my friend who just happens to be an amazing art teacher.  She'll also be starting with our church's chimer choir in the Fall.  She has friends doing it so not only will she be learning something new, she'll be hanging with her friends while doing it.  She enjoys both art and music and if I had to pick something as her "thing", I'd say it would be somewhere in this realm.

The Peanut has a better social life than I ever did.  Granted, I make an effort to make sure that she does have kids to play with on a regular basis, but it really isn't all that hard.  We've fallen in with a great group of home school kids -- we've both made several amazing friends here.  I really think this is her  tribe -- several of the kids are also only-children so they get each other on a level that kids with siblings don't.   We will continue to meet with them at least once a week for play time, science (human body in the Fall), book group, nature walks, and whatever else strikes our fancy along the way.

In addition to that, Wombat and I restarted our game and potluck Saturdays which brings in a variety of kids from all her social circles.  This only happens once every month or so, but it's a great day for her as well as all the adults who come over.  She also has her church friends, plus several of our friends from college have kids her age...  In other words, she has no lack of social opportunities.  Some weeks, I have to schedule a day to just chill out at home because she's so busy!

We have an exciting year planned next year.  I'm thankful for the summer to give us a breather before diving into it -- I also need the time to finish my planning!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Voice Teacher: The General Practioner

Nobody told me when I started teaching voice that there's a lot more to it than just teaching someone how to sing.  I am at times a personal trainer.  Other times, a psychologist.  A cheerleader.  And often times, someone to talk to.  For some of my lessons, the actual voice instruction is a secondary thing.

Since the voice is part of one's body, what's happening with the body and mind completely affect your singing.  A clarinet player has the option in the middle of the concert to disassemble their instrument, clean it out, change the reed, etc, if it's not working up to snuff.  A singer can't do that.  Allergies making you croaky?  Sing through it.  Drink too much last night?  Shame on you -- sing through it!  Out of shape and can't control your breath?  Start working out -- and in the meantime, we'll have to figure out how you can learn to sing through it (without hurting yourself)!  Having a bad day?  Sorry to hear that - sing through it!  Oh, and, ladies, your voice teacher can tell when you're starting your period.  Sometimes before you know it.

I often marvel at the conversations that come up during a voice lesson.  Many of my students vent about their terrible day -- it's the only way they can get themselves focused to actually sing something.  Some of my students dig up some deep, long-forgotten pain that explains why they can't let go and just sing.  Others tell me of problems in their relationships, work environments, or other areas of their lives.   I have also come to the conclusion that some of the best singers I work with (either in the studio or side-by-side on stage) are the most insecure people I have ever met.  In the studio, this means picking up on that insecurity (if it's not overtly obvious) and teaching them to fluff their egos a little before tackling their next song. On stage, it's learning how to give an encouraging word without sounding like you're fake or talking down to your colleague.

With all this said, my students (most of them anyways) are not nut jobs in need of therapy.  I actually do have a few that just show up and sing and work on their mechanics with me.  The flip side to not putting some of that inner emotion/pain/angst out there is that often times, the students who don't want to share much get the least out of their lesson.  Their separation of their emotion from their music can actually hinder them as they are only doing 50% of what goes into making a song good.  Which would you rather listen to: a pretty song that's sung with no guts or a song that puts it all out there even if it's not technically spot-on?  (If you get both the guts and the perfect technic, then you've got yourself a first class singer).

Part of what I end up teaching is balance.  You can't break down into a pull of mush halfway through a song if you're performing it on stage.  (In fact, I'd rather not see that during a lesson either).  But you need to put some meaning and emotion into what you're singing if it's going to go somewhere.  I truly enjoy the challenges my teaching gives me.  My own teacher encouraged me to just get out there and start teaching telling me that I would learn more as a performer doing that than she could ever teach me.  She was absolutely right.  I just wish she told me that the voice-training part was only a small part of of the job.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I Homeschool

Last night, my friend and I had a Girl's Night Out.  She's a music educator in a public school so we always have an entertaining time talking about the pros and cons of teaching music in a school versus teaching private lessons.  (We usually manage to confirm for each other that we've made the right choice for ourselves).  She also has an infant who just turned one so she's enjoying the daily "what's new" with my baby phase.  As educators, we both love this time -- watching the lightbulb go off for a kid is pretty darn cool.  When it's your own kid, it's over-the-moon.  I miss those days with The Peanut.  She certainly has the lightbulb go off regularly, but it's not quite a constant thing that it was when she was an infant-turning-into-a-toddler.

All this makes today extra exciting.  We attended Touch Tomorrow at WPI, a festival all about NASA, space, and robotics.  It took over a good bit of the campus with hands-on displays, scientists and engineers who worked on various robotics teams including the Mars Rover, astronauts, simulations, student displays, mini experiments, etc, etc, etc.  The Peanut loves this stuff.  We did a unit on robotics and several space-related units during our first year of homeschooling (when I was winging science).  This got her going and now this stuff is high on her list of favorite topics, so today was set up as a win before we even left the house this morning.

As we wandered around campus, I watched her turn on her "sponge mode", just taking it all in.  As we walked through the campus quad, we saw models of the Mars Rover, did a few hands-on experiments (some of which we've done together, but these were cooler because they were directed by college students, not mom), and looked at a bunch of simulations.  The lightbulbs started flashing, though, when we got to the campus center.  On the second floor were several robots that were built for competition. She was so excited to find the room they were in only to be disappointed because they didn't look like robots. Despite having studied the Mars Rover (and looking at models of it mere moments ago on the quad), it didn't occur to her that robots come in all different forms and sizes.  Her disappointment soon turned to fascination, though, as we went and talked to a woman on one of the teams who explained what their particular robot did.  First lightbulb.

Back downstairs, we then saw a Lego robotics team with several of their creations.  Second lightbulb.  (Did I mention that The Peanut LOVES Legos?)  This sparked a conversation about going home and building robots of our own and what we would need to do so.  Third lightbulb.  Wombat and I had planned all along to at least expose her to programming concepts at some point and we had discussed using Lego Mindstorms to do it.  We did not expect to do it this year.  This has changed.  Wombat now has two projects to work on with The Peanut this year -- teach her how to play chess (also by her request) and now, build Lego robots.  He wanted to find at least one way to become more regularly involved in her schooling.  Now he has two.  The day had several more lightbulbs, but none quite as vibrant as those first few over the robots.  This will also work well with our little homeschool group as there are a couple of other kids around her age who share similar interests.

I have many reasons why I homeschool.  If I had to pick only one reason to do it, though, I would pick those lightbulbs.  To be a part of her discoveries is magical and I wouldn't miss them for the world.

On a side note, as I sit and write this, I can hear the conversation between Wombat and the Peanut as he's getting her ready for the bed.  It's all about how the camera on one of the robots we saw today sees and recognizes things.  She's firing questions at him fast and furiously.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Family Values

It's been quite the month for family values, hasn't it?  North Carolina decided it knew best who should get married and who shouldn't.  President Obama stood up for his beliefs about gay marriage (and now has been "outted" in Newsweek).  And then there was Time Magazine displaying a mother and son nursing on it's cover - an act that should be a beautiful and private and instead made to look unnatural and freakish.  The article itself brings the concept of attached parenting front and center.

I consider myself an attached parent for the most part, but I suspect that some of the more hard-core APers out there probably think I'm a wanna-be.  We did/do many of the things that AP espouses.  We co-slept and we never did anything like sleep/feeding scheduling.  (I should say that I didn't schedule the feedings -- The Peanut scheduled herself to nurse every two hours like clock-work for the better part of the first 12 - 13 months of her life).  Speaking of nursing, we did that until she was almost two.  I did end up weaning her around 22 months when she decided that I made the Best Teething Toy Ever.  The Peanut also spent the better part of her first couple of years in a sling on my hip when she wasn't running around getting into stuff.  The Peanut learned to sign along the way so we actually had a great communication system going before she learned to talk.

Do I think our way of child-rearing is the Only Way or the Best Way?  Of course not.  AP was not something we actually planned to do.  Truth be told, I'm not sure we had a real plan in mind when we set out other than to trust our guts and listen to what The Peanut told us she needed.  We fell into AP.  We co-slept because of the nursing schedule.  We put her in the sling because she wanted to be held.  A lot.  We taught her to sign because  it was clear that she wanted to communicate.  So AP worked for us.  Does everything about AP work for us?  Not at all -- like everything else we do with The Peanut, we have a blended approach.  (This will probably get me kicked out of the AP Club for admitting that, but there it is).  I do firmly believe that the AP philosophy has tons of good points and makes a lot of sense, but I also get that for whatever reason, it just isn't for everyone.

Time Magazine's cover just makes me sad.  First, it takes nursing which I think is something beautiful and makes it gross and sexualized.  A friend of mine wondered what the mother and the magazine were thinking when they set that shot up.  What's going to happen to that kid in a few years?  What will he say when he sees that picture several years from now?  What will the class bully say?  Second, it casts AP in a not-so-flattering light.  AP already has its "hippy-dippy" baggage and with good reason given some of the more hardcore APers out there who scream their message every chance they get.  This picture only fuels the flames around extended nursing and by extension other AP ideas.

How we love one another and how we love and raise our children are our own business.  Not the government's.  Not Time Magazine's.  It frustrates me that we as a society haven't figured this out yet and may never.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Singer as an Athlete

Our family joined a gym in late February.  The Peanut needed swim lessons and there are two decent family-oriented gyms in the area with indoor pools.  The one we joined gets consistent rave reviews about their children's programming so while the other gym got better reviews for the adult classes, we went with the one with the better swim instructor.  Of course scheduling is always a challenge around here, so the nanny needs to take The Peanut to her swim lesson on Monday when I'm teaching.  This means we had to go whole-hog and buy the family membership so the nanny could have her name on the account too.  Not one to let stuff go to waste, I've been availing myself of the membership as well.  I work out with a personal trainer when I can afford it.  I take classes.  I do the machines.  I'm even getting brave enough to venture into the weight room all by myself without my personal trainer in tow.  I even have an app that helps me track what I'm doing for weights (in addition to the SparkPeople app which I've used off and on for awhile).  I'm slowly turning into a gym rat.

The results have been positive so far.  I've dropped a pants size.  I fit into my skinny jeans which are really the only pair of jeans I own right now that fit me nicely.  My clothes are getting big on me.  I have muscle lines on my arms.  So what they say is true - you will lose weight if you exercise.  But what I've been most fascinated by in this process is how my chosen profession helps me at the gym.  Sadly, it doesn't help me bench press an extra 10 pounds, but what it does do for me is almost just as good.

I've discovered I'm good at three things:  flexibility (which has nothing to do with singing; I just do a lot of yoga); breathing; and anything abdominal.  When I do work out with my trainer, I think she puts me on the treadmill or elliptical and cranks it up to shut me up.  I've sorely disappointed her several times by still being able to crab at her about whatever form of torture she has on tap for me for the day.   The abdominals are kind of weird.  Going into this, I was having lower back pain because I felt like my core was weak.  I know that my core is not just my abdominals, but they do play a huge part in it.  From the get go, it has taken a lot to challenge me in this department (which is completely not the case for any other muscle group).  Now that I've been at this for a couple of months, I am actively looking for stuff that makes me feel the burn.  I've found a few specific exercises and classes that do challenge me and I make them the priority.  I suspect next time I meet with the trainer, if I mention it, she'll come up with some new form of torture to add to my repertoire.

I do look forward to continuing this journey.  The results happened quicker than I expected them to.  And here's where the athlete helps the singer -- the more fit I am, the better I feel as singer.  My lines are longer.  The breath control is the best it's been in years.  The concert I did this past Sunday didn't wear me out.  For years, I've told my students to go do something active -- even just go for a walk.  Aside from yoga, I didn't consistently take my own advice.  I'm happy to report that this has changed over the last few months - this singer needs a few more track suits because the gym rat is here to stay.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Brain's School Year Review

The school year isn't quite over yet, but we're coming down the homestretch.  We'll be taking a break for July and August -- The Peanut has 4 weeks of summer camp lined up and (if we get enough sign-ups), I'll be running four weeks of summer camps for the music school I'm involved with.  Between camps, vacations, and just the need for some downtime, we cannot (nor we probably ever will be) one of those year-round schooling kind of families.

As I look ahead to next school year -- which I've been doing now for several months -- it's helpful to reflect on what worked and didn't work.

Scheduling.  This year, I got rid of the notion of "school vacation weeks".  Last year, I found it really challenging to get us back on track if we took more than a long weekend off.  Our school weeks have ranged from 2 days to a full 5 days - most are 4 or 5 day weeks.  Occasionally we even did school on the weekend.  I found that this gave me more flexibility than trying to stick to a more standard routine, but it wasn't without its issues.

The issue actually lies in the balance of my work life and my teacher life.  Currently, I work on the afternoons of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  We have a nanny that watches The Peanut when I'm working.  Tuesday mornings, we meet with the home school group for a couple of hours.  Thursday afternoon is gymnastics.  We will occasionally meet with the home school on Thursday and/or Friday mornings as well.  While I can rely on the nanny to handle some things for school, I don't want her to do the entire lesson plan for a day.  While I have done this in the past with our previous nanny, I feel that it's different now -- Wombat and I are the ones who are responsible for educating The Peanut, not the nanny.  Further, the previous nanny was an early childhood education major who brought a lot to the table in this area, so I felt she really rounded out, if not augmented what we were doing.  The current nanny has different strengths and still augments what we do, but in a very different way.  My point is this: we have a limited time each week for The Peanut and I to sit down and get our work done so if something comes up, I need to do a bit of juggling across the coming weeks to make sure that I'm comfortable that we're doing enough.

In reality, I'm sure that I'm being overly anal about the whole thing as I suspect that we have gotten more done this year than most grade schoolers - and the added bonus is that we're having fun while we're doing it (most of the time, at least).  I also know that she's experienced stuff this year that a lot of kids don't, so that's a win as well.  I will probably continue to be anal about this one aspect, though, because it is my nature.  I'm OK with this because I've learned to let it go on many other fronts.

Academics.  Here's where I've learned a great deal.  Overall, I think the academic plan I decided to try this year was successful.  I can't say The Peanut loved every second of it, but overall, she got into much of what we were doing and has learned a ton.  (Despite this, if you ask her what she learned for school today, her answer will be "I don't know".)

     Language Arts - The big hit here was "Poem of the Week".  Every week we pick a new poem, read it, study it for rhyming, alliteration, etc.  She gets to illustrate a copy and put it in a binder.  We also pick out words for vocabulary and spelling.  I will continue this next year which will fit nicely with the language arts curriculum we'll be using as it also has a large poetry component to it.

Everything else had its ups and downs.  I know she's not a fan of the handwriting practice, but she does see the improvement as we do it.  Spelling is spelling.  She actually really enjoyed the grammar text I picked for the year, though, I did have to do a lot of modifications/acceleration to keep her interested as it was very repetitious.  We also did tons of writing.  I used a writing workbook for exercises but also frequently branched out and did other stuff like poetry.  We also write letters almost every week -- something that she really seems to enjoy doing.  (I think it helps that when she writes to my mom, my mom takes the time to write a short letter back to her).

One major win is that The Peanut is starting to ask to learn certain things.  A very recent example comes out of spelling where she has a hard time remembering using 'ck' versus 'k' or 'c'.  She specifically asked me if we could do a unit on that, so I stepped away from our Spectrum spelling book, and made her a week's worth of activities.

     Math - Originally we were going to stick with the curriculum that we used last school year - mainly because it was in my comfort zone.  Within a week or two of starting school, I decided to scrap it and went with CSMP Math - the best decision of the year.  We still have our challenging days where The Peanut decides that she's all done thinking about this stuff, but there are so many components in this program that she enjoys that even if she didn't like a concept the first time around, when it shows up again embedded in a Detective Story, a story book, or a String Game (Venn Diagrams), she's all over it without a word of complaint.  We'll be sticking with CSMP for the long haul, I suspect.

    Science - This has turned into a mixed bag.  I bought two different curricula and merged them together as I liked what each had to offer.  I did not want to write my own science curricula mainly because I did it the previous year and I was a little burnt out from it.  Overall, science was good and The Peanut got a lot out of it, but I've learned over this year, that this is one area that needs more customization than I could easily do with the packaged solutions.  I didn't love it and I didn't hate it -- I just always feel like it could be a little better.  I've already begun writing my own science curriculum for next year using a series of books (Building Foundations for Scientific Learning) as a guide.  I'm writing things up a little differently so I (hopefully) don't get burnt out this time around.  My experience with planning the history lessons has really helped me get better organized for writing up science.

     History - We are working our way the The Story of the World Series.  We're not even halfway through the first book, and that's OK.  I wish more curricula was created like this as it presents a basic lesson and then a whole pile of activities and additional resources that you can use (or not) as you choose.  I use a ton of their resources and will often times spend several weeks on one chapter in the text book.  It allows us to go deep and I'm finding that's what The Peanut really thrives on.  I see us using this series for the long haul.

    Arts - The Peanut started piano lessons this year with a great teacher and seems to be really enjoying it.  Her perfectionism gets in her way and it's been a constant dialogue between her and I about how it's OK to make mistakes.  (The perfectionist in me gets where her head is at).  Instead of classes at WAM this year, she meets with her teacher from WAM for art lessons as our schedules and finances allow.  It helps that I'm friends with her teacher, but I think The Peanut really enjoys the one-on-one attention and has shown some real talent in this area.  Again, the perfectionism gets in her way on occasion, but her teacher is really good about not letting her take herself too seriously.

    Friends - If I had a buck for every time someone asks me about whether The Peanut has a social life or not, I could be like one of those famous movie stars who think homeschooling their kids involves hiring several expensive tutors to do all the work.  (Oh the bon-bons I could eat while someone else runs The Peanut through her math facts...)

The Peanut has a better social life than I ever did.  She has a wide variety of friends and at least 4 or 5 very close friends who she can truly relate to on one level or another.  In our home school group, there are two other only-children who are incredibly intelligent and creative -- kindred spirits for her.  Likewise, church is a rich social place for her where she has many friends of varying ages.  While it is a little more work for me to make sure that she sees her friends regularly, I think it's better quality time together than trying to cram in that time over recess or lunch period.  All the things they say about homeschooler friendships being meaningful and strong (and perhaps sometimes better than what you get when you get thrown into a room full of your age-mates) is absolutely true - at least for The Peanut.

Overall, a very successful year.  She and I have both learned a lot and have had a bunch of fun along the way.  Looking ahead to next year, I see where some tweaks can be made to make it even better for both of us... but that's fodder for another post.