TechTrep Academy: The Good, Bad, and Ugly

I think I posted that this year we’ve been trying something new with our homeschool. We registered through an online state-sponsored charter school called TechTrep Academy. Now that we’re exactly 6 months from the “start date” of school, I feel like I can give a (mostly) thorough assessment of the program, what I like, what I don’t, and why someone might or might not want to register with them.

TechTrep Academy, the Basics

First, the basics about TechTrep. TechTrep Academy is an online charter school that you can join in Idaho, Tennessee, and Utah. I don’t know what grades are covered by the program in Tennessee. In Utah they cover grades K-12 under the name “MyTech High.” In Idaho they cover grades K-8 currently, with no immediate plans of covering high school (grades 9-12). Their website is http://www.techtrepacademy.com/; go there to find any changes and/or specific state requirements. I’m going to talk about Idaho, since that’s where I live.

How It Works

Here’s the premise of the program: in exchange for government (public school) oversight of your homeschool program through specific requirements that vary by state and certain school requirements, TechTrep Academy reimburses approved curriculum, supplies, and technology expenses for each child admitted in their school.

Here, the government oversight looks like weekly learning logs, complete with “Power Learning Goals” that must be submitted and are “graded” by a certified teacher. Students in grades K-3 must do an online reading assessment in the fall and spring (I forget what it’s called; we call it the owl game, because it’s led by an animated owl). Students in grades 3-8 must do end of year ISAT testing at central locations throughout the state (we will be driving 90 minutes to the nearest testing site in April for my 5th grader to do her testing). The ISAT consists of math and language arts, and for grades 5 and 7 (I think) also science. You also agree to complete any further requirements sent down by the state, which this year included a survey sent down from the state to EVERY SINGLE public school child and has absolutely NO bearing or application on the homeschool/online charter school environment, so I’m struggling figuring out how to have my child answer it.

The school requirements are just that each child is required to work in the 4 core subjects (math, language arts, social studies, and science), one “general” elective, and one “technology or entrepreneur-based” elective each week. The school also requires that each student maintains a 80% or higher grade (on a pass-fail basis, so it’s basically “did you do your learning log according to directions?” if so, you pass). If you do NOT maintain the 80% grade and/or aren’t working to remediate it, you may be withdrawn from the program and any and all reimbursements received must be paid back to the school.

In exchange for all that, you get reimbursement of approved expenses. This is split into three different categories. For grades 1-8, each student gets $800 total to be spent in material for the core subjects, $400 total to be spread between the two electives, and an additional $500 that is called “technology/flex” funds that can be used towards computers, tablets, or anything approved the other categories. For Kindergarten, the student gets $400 in core funds (kindergarten core is math, language arts, and science with NO social studies reported on), $200 for ONE elective (instead of the two required in the older grades) and $250 in technology/flex funds. The funds are REIMBURSED funds, meaning that you pay upfront, then submit receipts for reimbursement. The process takes a little bit of work, but it’s not horribly tedious, and the reimbursements don’t take a lot of time to come once they are approved. While approved receipts can be anywhere from May 1 (before the school year starts) to April 30 (at the end of the school year), Core and Elective reimbursements aren’t accepted until after about September 25, and Techology reimbursements aren’t accepted until after around October 25. This allows the school to solidify enrollment numbers to get some of the funds from the state (the state sends 1/9 the total each month throughout the year) before payments are made.

The Good

Overall, TechTrep is a really good program. They work hard to maintain open communication with the parents. They have a curriculum specialist (currently Janet Cox, a homeschooling mother of 10? children, who is amazing) who is available to help you figure out what curriculum you want to get for your family and what to change when what you have isn’t working.

The school WILL NOT tell you what curriculum to use or how to implement teaching your children. They just need you to report that you ARE teaching/your children ARE learning (those two are often NOT simultaneous, as ALL parents know!). If you submit a schedule at the beginning of the year that says you’re going to do everything through Unit Studies, and by November you realize that Unit Studies are NOT working for your family, it’s okay! As long as you continue to cover the subjects required, they don’t care if you change what you’re doing. You don’t even have to officially change your schedule; you just do it! I love that part the best honestly. If you planned on doing a homeschool co-op for your elective all year, and then the co-op doesn’t work, just fill in something else for the elective and you’re good. If your child realizes they HATE ballet, they don’t have to stay in ballet. They can switch to sewing, baking (though food isn’t a reimburseable expense), skiing, whatever works for your family!

TechTrep offers many programs and classes “for purchase” with your funds straight through the school. This takes out the work of having to go the sponsoring program’s website, pay yourself, and set up your own information independently. And while technology/entrepreneurship is a required elective, the school offers Technology classes through their website. This is a mixed blessing. If you register for the classes THROUGH TechTrep, you do basically NOTHING except make sure the class happens. However, it takes the ENTIRE $200 allowed reimbursement expense for that class and often a bit more from your “flex” funds (at least for the LEGO classes). If you need something that’s “open and go”, this is a great option. HOWEVER, be careful about doing it “because it’s easy.” This year my 2nd grade twins wanted to do LEGO WeDo 2.0. We looked at it through the program. They’d EACH be “charged” the $200 class fee PLUS an additional $150 EACH coming from their flex funds to cover the cost of the supplies. When I looked at purchasing the LEGO WeDo 2.0 set straight from LEGO, I found that ONE set of supplies cost $197 plus shipping, INCLUDED everything needed for the class, and had enough material for 2 students. All I do is decide WHICH lesson they’ll be doing. The typing classes are similar; you CAN register for a typing class through TechTrep, but it’ll take the entire $200 allotment for the tech elective, when you can often get EXACTLY the same typing program for $100 or less if you buy it independently. So when looking at the classes/options TechTrep offers FOR PURCHASE, do some research before agreeing to it; you may find that you can do it more economically elsewhere and have more funds for the never-ending supply of pencils and erasers that somehow ALWAYS disappear and can never be found even though they had a brand new pencil yesterday!

They have a very active Facebook group online which is NOT exclusive to currently enrolled parents that I would strongly recommend anyone thinking about joining TechTrep join; really almost any question you could possibly have has been answered in that group. They sponsor monthly(ish) activities and field trips around the state and in each region to let the kids get together and have fun. In our area, they’ve visited the planetarium, the art museum, had a Valentine party, gone ice skating, the “Museum of Clean” (that really is a museum in my region!), and more.

They have online resources included with the enrollment including BrainPop, BrainPop Jr., PEG Writing, TANG Math, and more. (I just named the ones I’ve used.) They offer Zoom-hosted Science Classes that help cover the Power Learning Goals that are recorded so your student can either attend “live” or watch the recording if the live time didn’t match your schedule.

Curriculum and supplies reimbursement approval is easy. They have a short (and it really is SHORT) list of “never approved” items for reimbursement, such as furniture, clothing (even uniforms), food/ingredients, and building supplies. They work hard to approve every school supply they can, and Janet is great at being able to tell you which curriculums can use TT money and which cannot (for example, The Good and The Beautiful is a religious curriculum, so cannot be reimbursed). You can use your elective funds to pay for classes like gymnastics, ballet, art, homeschool co-op, WITHOUT needing to have the providers “approved” by the school (THIS IS HUGE!).

I’ve seen parents figure out how to use TechTrep while unschooling. I’ve seen parents use TechTrep using Unit Studies. I’ve seen it work with The Good and the Beautiful. I’ve seen it work for “school at home” people. It really seems to work for everyone who is willing to jump through the hoops required to get the benefits they offer.

The teachers really do read your Learning Logs, and attempt to interact with your students. On the “homepage” where you submit your learning logs, each week the teacher writes a response to what she read in each child’s learning log. It has GOT to be a lot of work, but it’s nice to see them attempting to get to know the children that way. They really understand kids (at least the ones I’ve worked with) and really want to help you do the best you can as a homeschool parent, EVEN IF that means the best choice is withdrawing from the program.

The teachers are great to work with, and really do want to work with you. Family emergencies come up, and they understand that. Our whole family got sick in December, which culminated in the baby spending time in the hospital with pneumonia. Well, obviously I was NOT going to be home teaching school with my baby in the hospital, and emailed the teacher that information. She didn’t question my report, just said, “I’m so sorry! I’ll excuse all of your children from school for this week.” And that was the end of it. I didn’t have to worry about logging in to submit logs that said “We were sick this week”; she did it all for me. And that was hugely helpful.

The Bad (With Some Mixed Bag Things Here Also)

Receipts can be collected starting May 1, 2019 for the 2019-2020 school year but cannot be submitted until the end of September (this year it was September 25th). That means you CAN possibly take advantage of those homeschool convention vendor discounts (I highly recommend the LDSHE homeschool conference, this year in Williamsburg, VA or Logan, UT, for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) but only if you can “float the cost” for a few months until reimbursement comes through.

It’s easy to think “Oh, the school has this covered for me, I don’t have to think” when IF you stopped to compare and think, you’d find that you’d save a lot of money in the grand scheme of things if you buy independently and ask for reimbursement. HOWEVER that means that you have to either have a credit card/credit line you can afford to put purchases on until you can be reimbursed or swallow the extra cost by having the school do the purchase for you. TechTrep HAS come up with a “middle ground” program where they’ll submit a purchase for you through Amazon or Rainbow Resource Company for an added fee, and that is a GREAT option for families that need the help.

This isn’t an issue for people more organized than me, but they’re STICKLERS on the Learning Logs being submitted on time. For example, one week I entirely forgot to submit my children’s learning logs (due at 10 pm) until 9:30. Typing as quickly as I could (and I type 90+ wpm) I got 3/4 of my children’s logs turned in “on time.” But my last child, I hit “submit” at 10:01 pm. Her learning log for the week was docked 20% for being late. The simple answer is “don’t be a slacker and get them in on time” but the reality is that sometimes life happens.

The Learning Logs are honestly somewhat of a pain to fill out. They’re NOT hard to fill out, just a pain. Currently (they’re working on improving this process) you click a box that says “you did school or were excused for illness”. Then you click which Power Learning Goals you covered in Language Arts. Then there’s a text box space to type “exactly” (not exactly, but SOMETHING) what you did to cover those goals in LA that week. Then you do the PLG and description for Math. Then again for Science. Then you type what you did in Social Studies, in your Tech Elective, and in your General Elective (there’s no power learning goals for those). And finally there’s a box at the end that says “Is there anything else you want to tell your teacher?” that you can type in. It’s NOT a hard process, but with 4 kids that I teach in “family school” style, it can get VERY tedious. It honestly took me until about 4 weeks ago to get smart and email my teacher to figure out a better solution: Now I type “see email for family school” in EVERY subject we do family school, in EVERY child’s learning log, and send a separate email that says “(Date) Learning Log Family School Report” so I only have to type all that information ONCE and I don’t have to copy/paste it into each child’s form.

IEP services, while they exist, are just as annoying to get as in the traditional school setting. I have two children with autism. They both receive extensive therapy independently right now, paid for through insurance. We attempted to get them on IEP’s through the school so that some of those services could be offered through the school through video-chat meetings (meaning I would have to do as many drop-off/pick-ups through the week). This is NOT the school’s problem, but the state’s, in that my boys didn’t qualify for services through the school because they need to be at the 8th percentile or below to qualify for speech services, and they tested at the 10th percentile. And the school can’t offer the other service the boys qualify for (occupational therapy) without having a second service in place. The alternative option to get them “qualified” was to have them spend at least 30 minutes a week (I think that was the time they gave) on a specific school app that would evaluate their progress to see if they qualified for services that way, but we opted NOT do to that. My kids doing enough as it is between their regular school and therapy; I was NOT going to add another thing they HAD to do because it *might* (but wouldn’t guarantee) allow them to get video services next year. We were able to get 504 plans in place for them for testing accommodations, but that’s it.

State testing is basically annoying no matter how it’s done, but when you live in a rural area, it’s even worse. The nearest testing site to us is 90 minutes away. They recommend (rightly so) that testing be split into one subject per day. This means that for one week in April we will be commuting 3 hours a day, 3 days that week, for my 5th grade daughter to complete her state testing. I wish there was a way this could be proctored online, like the K-3 reading test is, but I understand that’s not an option. It’s just annoying that it’s not, especially since the practice tests they have access to throughout the year ARE available to be proctored online. Seriously, if I had the funds we’d just get hotel/air BNB for the week and STAY there to avoid the travel, but with 6 kids and only ONE doing the testing, that’s a hard expense to justify when there’s not a ton to do in the area for the other kids anyway.

Internet access is a REQUIREMENT for this program. If you can’t log in to turn in your learning logs, you don’t get credit (see the 1 minute late log report above). If you can get an email to go out, you can tell your teacher the internet is down, but if it’s prolonged, you’re pretty much out of luck.

The Ugly

Okay, I had to add this category, just because. This will NOT apply to everyone, but it does to me. I struggle with SADD. The winter months of Idaho are AWFUL for me. At this moment, we’re in the middle of yet another Winter Storm Warning with projections of 3-8 inches (and luckily this time the projection was WAY off) and we ALREADY have over 3 feet of snow on the ground in the back yard. Basically, in the winter I have little to NO desire to get out of bed and teach my children.

The “UGLY” about being enrolled in an online charter school of ANY sort, not TechTrep in particular, is that it doesn’t really matter HOW mom is feeling; school MUST happen on a regular basis throughout the traditional school year. For me this has meant a LOT of teaching in my bed, with kids bringing me materials. It’s meant a LOT of audiobooks and LEGO “classes”. It’s meant that my kids spend a lot more time on screens than I would prefer, to make sure they have SOMETHING to report on their learning log that week.

For someone else I know, her “ugly” is what has prevented her from joining any online charter school altogether: she LOVES to travel, and travels A LOT while everyone else is in school. Unless you plan to carry all your books and curriculum with you, and have solid access to the internet the entire time, enrolling in a school like this will automatically preclude you from traveling the way you’d like.

Conclusion

So there you go. That’s my synopsis of TechTrep Academy in Idaho. There’s a LOT of information to think about when considering registering for an online charter program. What is important to you depends entirely on YOU. What is important for an “established homeschooler” might be drastically different for someone who is venturing into homeschooling for the first time, whether with a kindergartener or pulling their kids from the area schools. And what is a big deal for me might not be a big deal for you.

So, the big question is, this year was a “trial year” for us. I told my husband I was willing to TRY it for ONE year, and then we’d see. So are we doing it again for the 2019-2020 school year? Our answer is yes, unless something changes drastically in the next 6 months before school starts again. The pros outweigh the cons in most cases, and in the places they don’t there’s enough “okay” about it to make it worth doing.

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Teaching Textbooks vs. CTC Math INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I’ve finally accepted that my children would do better if I’m NOT the one to teach them math. I don’t have patience when they get distracted, which is often (especially when I have other children who also need attention), or when they take FOREVER to answer each question. And since the math curriculum I chose for this year (which has been AMAZING at filling in holes) is mostly one-on-one and interactive/verbal answers with few worksheets, it’s been a hard go for me.

So the question now is: what do I do instead? Math isn’t something that I’m going to let be brushed aside and let them learn it when they learn it. I want them to have basic mastery appropriate for their maturity level (notice I did NOT say “age”), and to be able to move as they’re ready to, or stay on the same concept for a week if that’s what they need. Doing one-on-one, I have the “customization” for that, but, once again, it isn’t working.

The two “main” online/CD programs I’ve heard of are CTC Math and Teaching Textbooks. In order to compare them and try to make my decision, I’ve tried find reviews of each individually as well as posts that compare and contrast them. And since I STILL had questions after doing that, I signed up for a “free trial” of each program. CTC Math’s free trial gives you access to the FIRST lesson in each topic for each grade level across the board. Teaching Textbooks’ free trial requires you to choose what grades you want to review (as many as you want) and gives you access to the first 15 lessons of each grade.

CTC Math (https://www.ctcmath.com/)

CTC Math is online ONLY, meaning if the internet is down, you’re not doing math. It’s originally an Australian company that has expanded to the United States, hence all the instruction videos have an Australian accent. You can purchase an individual or a family subscription, and they offer a significant discount for homeschoolers, which is very nice. Under the family account you can register up to 10 students, which is convenient given that the owner/founder/teacher of CTC Math has 10 children of his own. You can pay “per month” or “annually” at a discount, which is nice. Each registered student has FULL access to ALL years of instruction (Kindergarten through Calculus), allowing you to customize as fits your students, and allowing them to move on when they’re ready whether it takes 2 years or 2 months to complete one “year” of curriculum. This is a HUGE “plus” in my books. You can even “mix and match”, assigning lessons from different grade levels if, for example, your child struggles with geometry concepts but excels in the traditional number problems.

This is a “mastery method” system, so there is NO “set order” to go through each year. In a lot of ways this can be seen as a “downside”, especially as someone who wants someone else to do the work of telling me “have them do A, then B, then C.” But the lack of “set order” also is what gives the flexibility to see where students are currently able to perform and help them move on at their individual levels. If they know it, they move on. There’s no “review” every lesson to make sure they “really” know it. So that one is a mixed bag in my mind.

Each “year” is divided into several different topics, and each topic has diagnostic tests attached that allow you to do a “pre-test” for current mastery before starting, and a “post test” when they’re done. The diagnostic tests also look like they’d be amazing for helping to assess current levels BEFORE deciding what lessons to assign. Also you have the choice of assigning “Weekly Revision Tasks” which are comprehensive reviews of everything that is covered (I’m not clear on whether it’s covered up to that point in time, or covered during that school grade, I’m going off of what I can find in the “free trial”). It appears that the “Weekly Revision Tasks” are a NEW thing for the website (considering there’s currently a red “NEW” next to it in the drop-down box), and this is one thing I REALLY like. This option actually resolves the issue of “mastery” in my mind, because this way I’ll be able to assess if they STILL know the information a week or two after they’ve “mastered” it and moved on.

The lessons in CTC Math are straight lectures, with no interaction. They can be paused, fast forwarded, rewound, and replayed as often as you like. Each video appears to be somewhere between 2 and 7 minutes long (I didn’t see ANY longer than about 4 minutes in my click-through of grades 3-5). After completing the video, the students click over to the “assignment” page where they have a worksheet to complete. For the younger grades, it looks like it’s all online, but for the older grades you can view or print a PDF of the worksheet. It is HIGHLY recommended that students work out the problems on the worksheet or in a math journal, with paper and pencil, the “old fashioned” way. I REALLY like that for the higher-level skills like 3 digit multiplication, long division, and even multi-digit addition and subtraction. I appreciate that there is an emphasis placed on traditional paper and pencil even with the online program. Once all the answers are figured out, the student enters them into the form online, and they are graded IMMEDIATELY. Any problem answered “wrong” is highlighted, and you have the option to “try again” however many times you want to (from the looks of it). If you really can’t figure it out, you can click “view solution” and there’s a detailed explanation sheet showing how each problem on the “worksheet” is calculated. The score is saved and available for view on both the student reports and through the parent portal pages. The student is NOT allowed to move past the lesson until they’ve reached the “minimum required” mastery, as set by the parent/teacher (and defaults to 80% but can be easily changed).

For me, the pros are that you have access to all the K-12 curriculum for each student enrolled, and you can work “multiple grades” at the same time based on mastery, all for a single subscription price (I’m considering this for my family, with 4 elementary age students right now, along with a preschooler and toddler), and that the students DO NOT move on until mastery is achieved. The main con pointed out by my 10yo daughter is that the instruction videos are NOT interactive and honestly are slightly “dry” (in my opinion, though the Australian accent does add a level of interest) in delivering the information.

Teaching Textbooks (http://teachingtextbooks.com/Default.htm)

Teaching Textbooks is an American-based company that offers both online and CD-based curriculum. The 3.0 version is online only, and you buy a one year subscription for each student for each grade level you want to use. They do have a “large family discount plan” option that may (or may not, depending on grade level) be cheaper for you, that is structured for families with 4-8 students enrolled. Whether that would be a cheaper option for your circumstances would need to be calculated, since Math 3-5 is cheaper than higher levels. The 2.0 version is on CD, and they are indefinitely reusable, and can be resold. The difference in price between 2.0 and 3.0 is significant, reflecting the difference in the two mediums. The ONLY difference between 2.0 and 3.0 is supposed to be the online vs. CD aspect. They start at “Math 3” and move all the way through “Pre-calculus” (currently, I think they’re still working on expanding into calculus, since I seem to remember when I chatted with a rep at a homeschool conference in the vendor hall a few years ago that they only had up through Geometry at that point). Also, many reviewers have stated that “Math 3” is more in line with what they would consider 2nd grade work and so on from there staying “behind level” for a while, so that is something to consider in purchasing (and they have placement tests to help you choose what level you need).

This is a “spiral method” curriculum, in that there IS a set order of lessons. The student logs in (or puts in the CD) and does the lessons IN ORDER, starting at #1 and moving through the entire grade’s lessons. There are reviews and tests periodically, as well as the lesson spiral. This makes it REALLY easy for parents, in that you can say “go do your math” and they just need to go do the next lesson or test in the line. Scores are saved and viewable by parents at any time, in either the CD or the online version, but it’s been said that the online version is much easier to access the scores.

The lessons in Teaching Textbooks are VERY interactive presentations. The student is asked a question and the video pauses for the student to answer via typing the answer or clicking their response, and the video “adjusts” based on the correctness of the answer. I appreciate this part of their materials, since immediate interactive feedback is very useful in trying to master concepts like those in math. The lessons are much more fun and engaging than the CTC math lessons. Once the “presentation” is complete, students do a “worksheet” to practice what they’ve learned. The “worksheet” is on the computer, or the material MAY be printed (but this isn’t necessarily encouraged OR discouraged, just given as an option). If you choose to do the written worksheets, the answers still need to be transferred to the computer for scoring. If a problem is incorrect, they do have the chance to “try again” (at least once, I haven’t discovered if you can do it multiple times). You also have access to the full answers explained once the assignment is complete. It does NOT, however, appear that the student must meet any level of mastery before being allowed to continue to the next lesson. There are periodic quizzes, and parents are encouraged to review the results before the students move on, but there is nothing that “requires” this.

For me, the pros are the interactive nature of the lesson, giving immediate feedback on understanding, and the “fun” nature of the videos. The cons are the price (purchasing a single year a time for each student, or a family pass, but still only one grade per annual subscription, or CDs that cost a LOT more than the subscription but allow unlimited use) and the fact that it appears that the student CAN move on without achieving mastery unless the parent goes in and has them redo assignments (ie: it’s not built in to the software to stop them if they’re not achieving mastery of the material).

Summary

So there you go, based on what I have access to in my “free trial” versions of both Teaching Textbooks and CTC Math, as well as reviews I’ve read/watched for each program and both together. Please let me know if I have any details wrong, because I DO want to know! I hope this has been helpful to you!

Also, as a disclaimer, neither CTC Math or Teaching Textbooks even know I’m putting out this review. It’s entirely unbiased as I can be, given that I’m looking for MY specific circumstances, and I only have access to what everyone else does: the information on their websites, free trials that are clearly highlighted on their websites, and reviews I found by web searches.

Birth Year Temperature Blankets

I saw the newest “temperature blanket” ideas on Ravelry and YouTube, and finally saw one that inspired me to want to do one. But I know me, and if I do a blanket that needs to take the whole year, it won’t get done. So I decided I could use historic data, and do “birth year” temperature blankets for my kids.

I spent HOURS planning the blankets, copying the data from wunderground.com into my spreadsheet. And then I figured out the amount of supplies each would need… 24+ skeins of 355 yd yarn EACH (not all the yarn of each skein would be used). And that’s expensive. So I went back to the drawing board.

After LOTS of different formats and feedback and suggestions from my good friend and my husband, I found something I REALLY like! This will not take so much yarn, end up to be a reasonable size (likely somewhere around 30″ x 60″), and still look amazing! AND I’ve NEVER seen a temperature blanket pattern like this online anywhere.

I “needed” to see how the colors would come together, so I spent a long time using “fill cell” in the spreadsheet to see what it would look like.

Here’s the idea: every 2 rows equal 1 week in the year, and I’m doing 53 weeks to go from birthday to birthday. Each day will consist of 22 stitches, in this order: 4 in “low”, 4 in “average”, 6 in “high”, 4 in “average”, and 4 in “low” to finish the day. Each week will have 7 days total, so the overnight “lows” (assuming they’re overnight, which isn’t always the case here!) will “mesh” together.

I plan on doing this using the moss (seed) stitch, so it will be interesting to see how the colors play together with the stitches. For that to work, each “low” and “average” block will have 2 chains and 2 single crochet stitches, and each “high” will have 3 chains and 3 single crochet stitches. You COULD do it in any stitch you want; single crochet would be simplest. If I were doing it in single crochet it would be straightforward 4, 4, 6, 4, 4 for each day.

This piece will have A LOT of color changes; it will be much like an intarsia piece, and I’ll likely need to have bobbins of each color to keep it organized. That’s something I don’t have much experience with, so it will be interesting to see how difficult it is for me to pull off.

When the body is done, I plan to do a 3 color moss-stitch border to “finish it off”, in green and two other colors incorporated in the blanket.

I chose to use the 7 basic rainbow colors to simplify things. I’ll be going to the store tomorrow to buy them, and I’ll get Red Heart, Mainstays, or Caron Simply Soft. It depends on which has the colors I think look best. I’ll only be buying one skein of each to start; those 3 are “no dye lot” yarns, so I won’t have to worry about matching dye lot if/when I run out of one color and I won’t have to worry about having lots extra by overestimating amounts to begin with.

The year I’m doing (my twins’ birth year from the week they were born to the week of their first birthday: 53 weeks) had an overall high of 104 F and an overall low of 19 F in the city we lived in at the time. I used those numbers to figure out what range I needed for each color, and this is what I came up with:

Violet:     19-31 F
Indigo:    32-44 F
Blue:        45-57 F
Green:     58-70 F
Yellow:    71-83 F
Orange:   84-96 F
Red:          97-104 F

The range isn’t as “large” for the Red, but by the time I got there I didn’t want to go back and figure out where to change it to even it out, so it is what it is. 🙂

The “average” temperature for the YEAR (taking the average of the averages) came out to 64, and the median came out to 65, which is why I chose green for the border. The other two colors I’ll ask my boys what they would prefer. The IDEAL is for me to complete TWO of these blankets before their birthday, so they each get one, and that they’ll choose different colors for their borders so we can tell whose is whose.

Once I finish this “pattern” for the boys, if I don’t hate it, I’ll go on to do the same thing for the other kids, and possibly my husband and myself. Each different year will take tweaking. For example, we moved from North Carolina (where she was an infant in the summer) to Idaho in the winter during my daughter’s first year. The high that year was 96 in our city in North Carolina, and the low was -28 in our town in Idaho. THAT will be a fun one to figure out the range for! But Idaho itself is also pretty drastic. My baby who will be one very soon already has a range from a high of 95 to a low of -18, and I’m still waiting for the year to finish to get the rest of the data for his!

Hopefully I’ll remember to come post how it’s progressing, but I’ve enjoyed the process of planning (even if I got discouraged in the middle) and the prospect of the concept is exciting for me. So if nothing comes out of this except it being on the internet where someday someone might find it and make it, that’s enough for me.

Dyeing Adventures

I have a good friend who has given me several hand-dyed warps over the past couple years.  I have woven some of my favorite projects using those warps, and have been interested in learning how to dye myself.  As interesting as it sounds, dyeing is NOT an activity that is very child-friendly, especially the fiber-reactive chemical dyes that work better on cotton.  My friend invited me to come on Labor Day and dye with her, to learn the process, on condition the children didn’t come.  Overall that wasn’t a big issue, except that I had never left my baby (almost 7 months old now) for more than 15 minutes prior to Monday.  It was a HUGE decision on my part, whether or not to go since he couldn’t be there.  In the end, my mother babysat the baby, the other children stayed home with their dad, and I’m VERY glad I went!!!

To start, you have to measure off how much yarn you want to dye, and prepare the fibers.  She recommended I hand-wind a 3 ounce ball of slub yarn.  This is Queen Anne’s Lace from Henry’s Attic, that I inherited when I purchased my first floor loom and hadn’t found a good purpose for yet.

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In addition to the hand-wound ball, I wound 400 threads of 8/2 cotton at about 8 yards for a weaving warp, two machine-wound center-pull balls of 8/2 cotton, about 3 ounces each, and two more machine-wound center-pull balls of the Queen Anne’s Lace.

The next step is to scour the yarn, which is accomplished by putting a bit of plain blue Dawn dish soap into a pot of water and boil the yarn for 5 minutes before letting it cool.  This was the very first time I’d ever scoured yarn myself, and used FAR too much Dawn, but even with the rinsing I ended up doing to try to get a lot of the soap out after, it was a good learning experience.

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My actual first big mistake was with my weaving warp.  I used 8/4 cotton warp in magenta as my counting tie, cross holder, and choke ties.  And in the scouring that bled and slightly stained my warp.  I was a little nervous what affect that would have on the entire dyeing process, but decided I’d just make sure to include a “pink” into my dye choices and hope for the best.

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I didn’t take any pictures during the dyeing process (not my home, supplies, or area of expertise, and really I was trying to soak everything in), but it was still fun.  I personally did NOT mix any of the dyes.  My friend did that and I didn’t pay close attention to the quantities since my goal was to see the process more than the particulars.  I chose a green/turquoise/purple colorway, and it was SO MUCH FUN to go through the process of making sure the yarn was rinsed (she had the most awesome solar dryer that made the process so much easier), applying the color (make sure to wear gloves!!!), and experimenting with the balls and the “extra” dye to see what we could come up with for them.

The next step was to wait 24 hours.  Seriously.  I think the waiting has to be one of the hardest parts!!!  Fortunately for me, I still had to go collect the baby, do our weekly shopping, and go home (3.5 hour drive) to help take the time that afternoon/evening, and Tuesday was a school day so that helped my morning hours.  I ended up not even being able to start rinsing until late in the afternoon, so about 27 hours after we finished applying the color.  The instructions were “rinse twice, then boil.”  Here is where I admit to rinsing a LOT more than twice, because there was so much dye coming off into the wash basin.

I ended up putting the yarn on the stove before putting on dinner, and it was comedic to see my children come to check the stove to see what was for dinner, only to see that pot of yarn.  (They KNOW I bought that pot specifically for yarn dyeing, since chemical dyes do NOT mix with food preparation equipment AT ALL, so that made it more funny.)  When my husband got home, the above picture is what he saw on the stove.  It makes me smile!

This morning I got up early and rinsed the yarn until it ran clear (it did still take a while), then did my best to get rid of the excess liquid.  This is when I was REALLY wishing I had access to my friend’s solar dryer for the spinner!

After doing my best to spin it without a spinner, I decided that it would likely take days for the balls to dry as they were, and recognize the likelihood they’d start to go musty by then, I looked for a different solution.  I’m not a spinner (yet at least) so I don’t have a niddy noddy, but I do have a warping mill.  I decided to wind the balls onto the mill so I could loosely chain them and hang them out to dry.

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The added advantage of being able to wind them on the reel was that I got to see how the dye worked through the entire ball at different rates and amounts.  It was really fun to see it come out!

After winding everything (while children read their reading lessons to me, recited spelling words, and did work for their tech classes), I went and hung it on the line to get the added benefit of the evening sun to finish drying.

And here’s the final results:

The weaving warp, which will likely turn into dishtowels.  Originally I intended them for my mother, but I may end up keeping them!

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The hand-wound ball of Queen Anne’s Lace.  This is honestly my absolute favorite of the entire set, but I have NO idea what to do with it to do it justice.  This will take some thought and sitting to get “just the right project” for it.

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The machine-wound balls, 8/2 on the left and Queen Anne’s Lace on the right. These came out amazing, and when I wound them on the warping reel, I realized I have enough to make a narrow warp.  I’m considering using these as warp with the machine-wound balls of Queen Anne’s Lace as weft for washcloths to use around the house.  I believe cleaning should be pretty!

And my conclusions:

Dyeing with fiber-reactive (chemical) dyes is definitely not something that is extremely child-friendly, so I’ll have to figure out how to do it either at night and/or outside while my children are otherwise occupied, and there will be STRICT rules in place when I’m working with the dyes.

And that tells you the other conclusion, that I will DEFINITELY be dyeing my own yarn now!  The entire experience was a big learning curve but so much fun.  I’m excited at the prospect of being able to choose my own colors (within reason, there’s always the surprise of not knowing EXACTLY how the yarn will take the color, and there’s always so many variables it’s difficult to get EXACTLY what was envisioned), and the concept of being about to dye warps AND weft myself to compliment each other is exciting to me.

Now to tell my husband I want to buy dye materials…

Week 2 Report

Before the school day started…

1 before

Week report:

Sariah completed Level 1 of All About Spelling today.  It really was WAY too easy for her, but some of the rules she actually had never heard defined (to be honest, I hadn’t either), and they make for easier spelling in a lot of ways.  She’s also on Lesson 20 of RightStart Level C, after only 10 days of doing anything.  We’ve gotten to the part that stumps her: multi-digit addition.  Today she surprised herself and was surprised at how easy it was to actually do the addition with the help of the abacus.  I’m hoping that will boost her confidence in her abilities enough to get her past the mental block that has made moving forward in math difficult for her.

Erik is halfway through AAS Level 1, and I’m glad they “split up”, for his confidence levels. He KNOWS how to do it, but he doesn’t have the sitting capacity Sariah does.  In math, the twins are “right on track” at lesson 10.  Unfortunately Kent complains EVERY SINGLE DAY about starting math, which is rather a put-down for wanting to do anything, but Erik’s been a trooper and put up with it.  As for Kent’s reading, he’s either overly excited to get started (enough to drive everyone crazy while I’m trying to work with others) or he’s absolutely against doing anything.  The motivation flip-flop is exhausting for me to deal with.  But he’s doing well when he does it, at least.

Samantha is doing well overall.  I’m keeping her “on track” with math also, because I started her at Level A (1st grade) while she’s in kindergarten, but she’s ready for it.  I really could be moving faster through it with her, but there’s not a big rush to do that, so I’m not.  Her reading could also be moving faster, but with 4 different kids to be teaching along with two “before school” age kids, I have to limit how much I do with each kid during school time to have time to spend with the younger ones also outside of school time.

Family School is going reasonably well.  The kids are enjoying Road Trip USA much more this week (now that we’re looking at the states individually), and they’re not even complaining too badly about the response assignments for them (usually).  Science this week we built Galilean telescopes from kits from ToysRUs closeout that were a dismal failure (we could NOT get them to focus AT ALL), but they enjoyed the activity.

I’m still requiring them to do handwriting every day, but I haven’t started any writing assignments yet… maybe next week?  I have “The Big Life Journal” all printed and ready for them to start, when we’re ready.

We’ll start their tech classes next week.  Samantha’s writing tablet for her 3D animation class through TechTrep Academy arrived yesterday, so she’ll start that Tuesday maybe?  That class all I have to do is help her log in and turn in the assignments online, so that won’t be adding much to my plate.  I’ve ordered the LEGO WeDo 2.0 kit for Kent and Erik’s tech class, and I’m just waiting for that to come.  I officially have a tracking number, but it’s not working so I’ve emailed them for more information.  Unfortunately I forgot that LEGO is a European company and I emailed after business hours for them, so I likely won’t hear anything until late Sunday night or Monday morning.  It’s a bummer, but hopefully we’ll get the stuff soon.  When we do, I will be their teacher, so there’s another “class” for me to teach on top of what I’m already doing.  And Sariah is already working on her tech class, a photography class through Udemy.  I think she’s enjoying it.  I’ll be checking her “work” at the end of next week to see if she’s “getting” the point of the first lesson (lighting and focus).

So there it is.  The second week of school is done.  Every day at the end of the day I look around at the chaos and sigh, then remember that the kids are actually LOVING school (mostly) this year, they ask for us to start, they complain when I say “no, we’re not doing an extra lesson today,” and that’s all a HUGE win in my book!

And after… this is actually a pretty “clean” day by way of chaos at the end of our homeschool days.

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Week 1 Report

Week one is done, week two is planned, and I have to say I’m impressed with my kids and relieved that (so far) the curriculum I chose seems to be working really well!

Sariah has complained several times that she’s bored, because I started her in lower levels than her age would indicate to fill in learning gaps I know are there. She finished 12 1/2 math lessons, 11 “steps” (weeks) of spelling, and 25 pages in her handwriting book this week. I didn’t spend a ton of extra time with her either. The longest part of the math (and also why she didn’t finish the second half of lesson 13) is the math games they have you play instead of worksheet reviews. But I’ve already seen improvement in her recall speed when it comes to answering math facts, which is HUGE!

Erik is doing his math with Kent and likely could move faster, but I’m not pushing them yet. I probably could, but I’d like to get Sariah closer to her target level before I worry about them “being behind.” He started his spelling lessons with Sariah, but she’s left him in the dust. This requires another separate lesson for me to teach, but it’s appropriate for their individual learning needs.

I started Kent and Samantha working together with their reading lessons, but that may change quickly. Kent wants to move more quickly than Samantha (attention level is the primary issue), so they’ll probably split off soon also.

Samantha does her math alone, and while I absolutely know she could move faster, I’m not doing it. We spend 10-15 minutes a day on math, and that’s it. And honestly, the sole reason is that I just don’t have time to try to keep her attention longer with all the other lessons to teach.

So here’s the full run-down:

  1. Road Trip USA: family school style curriculum for geography and history; daily
  2. Astronomy: family school style for science (this will be one semester, then we’ll do geology the second semester); one day a week
  3. Literature: family school style, focusing on elements of literature through family read-aloud; one day a week
  4. Math: RightStart Math level A for Samantha, B for Erik and Kent, currently C for Sariah; daily
  5. Reading: All About Reading level 1 for Kent and Samantha, independent reading with reading response pages for Sariah and Erik; daily
  6. Spelling: All About Spelling level 1 for Sariah and Erik (Sariah will likely finish level 1 this week and move to level 2 next Monday), Kent and Samantha will start level 1 when they finish AAR level 1; daily
  7. Handwriting: Zaner-Blouser handwriting books; daily
  8. Technology classes: Sariah is doing a Udemy photography course, Erik and Kent will start LEGO WeDo 2.0 probably after Labor Day, and Samantha will be doing 3D animation as a Tech Trep direct class, and that will start whenever they send us the supplies and information to start; Wednesdays and/or Fridays
  9. Co-op: I registered everyone for co-op classes Monday afternoons. Sariah will be doing “Kindness Ninjas,” “Games, Games, and More Games,” and “Clay Crafted Christmas Gifts.” Kent and Erik will be doing Zoology, “Play,” and “Games, Games, and More Games.” Samantha will also be doing Zoology and “Play,” but I’m hoping to get her and Ryan (if they’ll let him in as he’s technically too young) into “Fun With Books.” Ryan actually is also registered for one class also, which I will be helping with, called “Joy.” I’m excited, as it’s modeled after the book “Teaching Children Joy” which is excellent. Co-op starts September 10th.

And here’s what the schedules look like:

It may seem like overkill to have it written out like that for every kid, but my kids do much better when they know exactly what is expected for each day, and for the entire week.

Here’s to another excellent homeschooling week ahead!

11th Hour Changes

We started school Monday. I’d been telling the kids all summer we’d start school Monday.  I had all the curriculum (except for our technology class materials, from TechTrep Academy) ready.  I had our homeschool group plan ready.  And then Sunday afternoon I finally admitted to that nagging feeling that was eating away at my gut, that our homeschool group wasn’t really going to be the best fit for us this year. I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS!!!  Did I ever mention I’m not good with sudden, unexpected changes?

Then the question became “well, what do we do instead?”  I knew it wasn’t reasonable for us to drop “Plan A” without having a “Plan B”, and I didn’t have one. Not doing homeschool group at all is not an option for us (I go crazy, they go crazy, it’s not fun).  In the back of my mind I remembered that there’s a homeschool co-op in the same area as our last homeschool group.  I’d met some of the moms last spring at that fateful conference where I learned about Tech Trep.  And I’d more recently met one of the moms at a binding party.  (Yes, I’m a homeschool nerd and I own a spiral binding whole punch machine.  We had a binding party for people to use it and spiral bind their material and books that were falling apart.  Those are GREAT get-togethers!)

For once in my life, I actually remembered the name of a group when I wanted information about it!  It was amazing!  I Googled the group name, found the details, and saw that registration for fall semester was opening Monday morning at 8 for paid co-op members.  This was Sunday night at 11:00.  I talked to my husband, and he agreed that my concerns with continuing with “Plan A” were valid, and that I should look for something else.  I showed him the co-op website, and he agreed immediately that it sounded like it would be a good thing for us to try for our family.  So I immediately sent in the membership application, and hoped.

Monday morning, 8:45, I saw the email that my application had been accepted.  That meant that I could attempt to register for classes with the co-op.  I got on it right away, and was disappointed that the VERY FIRST CLASS, the one that first got me excited for the co-op, was already full.  I did find an alternate class that will work and got all 4 of my school age kids registered for co-op classes for 3 hours every Monday.  AND, in addition, this co-op has a teacher running a preschool class!  So my 3yo will be in that class also, which will be a HUGE benefit for him.

Breaking the news to the kids did NOT go over well.  They loved the old homeschool group and being with people there.  The main issue with that group was that each of my 5 kids in classes in that group met a different hour.  We started at 9:15 for the 3yo, then 10 for the 5yo and one of the twins, an hour break at 11, 12 for the other twin, and 1 for the oldest.  That was FIVE HOURS of trying to keep children entertained not at home.  If we lived closer it might have continued to work, but the distance was prohibitive for the benefit I was getting.  And so it goes…  The children are starting to get used to the idea now, and it is what it is.  We’ll meet the group this coming Monday for a back to school picnic and facilities tour, and hopefully they’ll be more okay with the idea.  Only time will tell.