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).


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.


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.

1 after

Why We Homeschool Top 10 of 2018

  1. My husband is a homeschool graduate and wants his kids to have a similar experience. HE LOVED IT and feels like he learned well how to learn and think through his homeschool education, more so than many people he went to college with that went to traditional schools. He’s lucky I agreed with him, as I felt like I never really learned how to study until I was in my 4th year of college!
  2. Medical consideration #1: We have one daughter with orthopedic issues that require doctor visits 5 hours away, along with 1-2 surgeries per year (on average; they started when she was 5 and will probably continue until she’s done growing, age 13 at the earliest prediction). The public school system actually ISN’T very friendly or accommodating to missing the amount of school required for all those appointments and procedures! Homeschool allows us to do what is recommended at the earliest possible time, instead of putting off surgeries and procedures until the next school break.
  3. Medical consideration #2: Erik has autism. His brain is unique that while he reads EXCELLENTLY, he has to work hard on COMPREHENSION. I can’t count the number of times I’ve explained to people that just because he can SAY the words doesn’t mean he has any idea what they mean. We can tailor his language arts to reading at his level while the comprehension/report back is also at his level (meaning 5-8 grade level reading, with pre-K to 1st level comprehension work). He also excels in math (except for story problems, which is a reflection on language comprehension more than the math skills themselves). By homeschooling he can continue at his own pace in math skills, and not be limited to grade level.
  4. Medical considerations #3: Kent has autism and ADHD (as detailed in a previous post). He jumps on a trampoline or spins in an office chair (or on the floor, or anywhere really) while listening to lessons. He does jumping jacks between written responses. Even then, the lessons are short, very short. We have breaks FREQUENTLY. Our day with him looks like recess with school thrown in once in a while instead of the opposite.
  5. Sleep schedules. We have a regular bedtime, so don’t think that’s it. But I have EARLY risers and night owls (I’m also a night owl by nature). Homeschooling allows me to work one-on-one with the early risers before the night owls get their brains working. Family subjects don’t start until around 9-10 am. They FINISH the school day for the early ones and start it for the others.
  6. General schedules. The national parks are MUCH more pleasant when most of the world is in school. I’m just being blunt there. Same with museums, zoos, parks… you get the idea. We live 2.5 hours from Old Faithful. There is SO MUCH to learn there, but honestly, we rarely learn anything on our summer trips because we’re a “novelty show” for tourists (“LOOK!!! They have 6 kids! They have TWINS!!!”) and the parks are SO crowded it’s hard to really hear anything at Ranger Talks and such. Also, recreation things like amusement parks, VRBOs (because hotel room for 8 is MUCH less affordable), and virtually everything is cheaper in the “off season”.
  7. I get to choose what my kids are learning. I want my kids to learn that scientific theories are theories. I want them to know all angles of the conversation when it comes to the origins of life, the universe, and really everything, so they can form their own opinions as they grow. I want them to question EVERYTHING (even when it annoys the crap out of me!) and know that there are times authority SHOULD be questioned! I want them to know WORLD history, not just Western Civilizations world history. I want them to learn the history of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe before the Roman conquest, etc., more than just the tracking of western civilization from Mesopotamia (touching a bit on Egypt too) into Europe AFTER the Romans conquered it, and only touching on areas as they were influenced by expansion. And I want them to see that science, history, math, and literature all intertwine. It’s ONLY in formal school settings that those are such delineated subjects!
  8. I get to choose evaluation methods. Traditional tests are NOT good indicators of learning. They just plain aren’t. Neither are worksheets for many kids. Or oral reports for others. As the homeschooling teacher, I get to choose what is best for each of my children individually to evaluate their progression.
  9. Administrivia (and stupidity of it all) in the public sector. I had someone tell me that I SHOULD send our oldest to Kindergarten when we first moved here, halfway through the year. When I explained our reasons not to, the response was (and I quote): “We could REALLY use her test scores to help our school.” Seriously. That was the final ABSOLUTELY NOT, end of discussion, for me. I will NEVER send my kids to that school, with administrators like that working there. Whether or not my child goes to that school should be based on MY child’s needs, not how my child will make your system look!
  10. Because it’s what’s right for our family. We are very religious, and pray LOTS about our wants and needs, and what is right for each of us individually and as a family. And homeschooling is something that we feel we have the blessing of God to continue. I actually do pray about it every year, and about each child individually as I do. If there comes a time that I DON’T feel at peace about homeschooling one or all of my children anymore, I will send them to school. But until then, THIS is really the whole reason we homeschool.

Autism and Twins

Autism. That one word can really throw people. It’s a simple word, that means a lot. A person doesn’t “have” autism, they ARE autistic. When you have something, it can be set down or removed (even if it takes a while to get there). When you are something, it is part of you, and admitting to that doesn’t lessen you as a person.


Erik has autism. We’ve known that for just over 3 years now. But I had inklings of something going on before he was 18 months. He was a late crawler. He always had low muscle tone. He didn’t communicate with words, either verbal or ASL/sign language (which I attempted to teach him) until after he was 4 years old. He was a BRILLIANT toddler. When he was 18 months old, if he disappeared, 95% of the time I’d find him sitting by the bookshelf with a book in front of him, saying the letter names one by one out loud as he “read” the book to himself. At 2.5 years old, he was reading out loud simple books. By 4 he was reading out loud words like “catastrophe” and “dictionary”. But he STILL could not communicate verbally. Reading was decoding. It was a fun game to figure out what that code meant. It didn’t seem to communicate anything for him, but he loved it anyway.

Right after he turned 4 we got him evaluated, because I was struggling with the lack of communication and his daily (often 10 times a day) screaming meltdowns. I was at my wit’s end, and had no idea what else to do. I knew autism wasn’t a “death sentence”, but I also had NEVER been around anyone who was autistic, and who was proud of that. Those I knew of, their parents talked like it was a failing they had to work through, or they did everything they could to hide the fact. Looking back, it’s SO SAD! How many hundreds of people (probably more like thousands and tens of thousands) have had to hide who they really are because it’s not “socially acceptable” to be autistic? I’m trying to change that for my son.

Erik has some autistic tendencies, but not many. His main stim is sucking on his fingers. We’ve gotten him “chewelry” to help with that, but he still prefers his fingers. And you know what? So did I as a child. I sucked my thumb for ages. And the process to break that habit was traumatic for me. Unless I absolutely HAVE to remove that stim, I won’t. I do encourage him to use alternatives in places that it will be considered unsanitary to suck fingers, but other than that, this is who he is and I’m okay with that. He sometimes still has meltdowns, but not so much anymore. The main issue still is flying insects. The sound of a mosquito, bee, or even common house fly near his head is enough to drive him insane. We have SEVERAL fly swatters, in every single room of the house, and he’s dealing with them better. But it’s who he is, and if hearing the buzz is enough to push his brain over the edge into meltdown, the least I can do is try to alleviate that by chasing down an errant insect.


It has to have been hard on Kent, watching Erik get so much attention for so long, while we tried to help him in his differences and delays. While Erik got to go to therapy twice a week, Kent had to stay home. And he was JEALOUS! Kent is a people person, and Erik is not. So for Erik to go out and Kent to have to stay home was a huge issue. Kent has ALWAYS had boundless energy. I’ve known for a VERY long time that Kent could be diagnosed with ADHD. People tried to tell me that he was just a “normal” kid, that I was seeing his energy emphasized because Erik was so low-key. Part of me wanted to believe them, but I also knew better.

As they got older, and Erik learned to deal with his differences more, I started noticing Kent’s difficulties. Reading has been a REAL struggle for him. He finally told me about 6 months ago that he could read just fine if the words would just quit turning around in his mind! LIGHTBULB! The child struggles with dyslexia! That helped SO much in understanding him and his difficulties with reading. I have NEVER pushed him to read more than he was comfortable with, but I was concerned that as much as he WANTED to learn to read, it was SO obviously difficult for him. I honestly didn’t change ANYTHING after that interchange and lightbulb moment, but something changed in him. He’s gone from not being able to read much at all to reading ABOVE grade level in 6 months.

Well, it wasn’t just the dyslexia. It wasn’t just the ADHD. I KNEW in my gut that there was something different about the way Kent’s brain worked. It was like Erik’s, but at the same time not. So I talked to our primary care doctor about getting a referral for assessment. Generally, recommendations for those referrals would come from a school teacher recognizing those issues, but I AM the school teacher, and I needed to know better what I am dealing with to be able to help him better. After a few issues with different providers and insurance issues, we finally got him in for evaluation.

The doctor that we met first was VERY respectful, gave Kent the respect he deserves as a child who knows how his own brain works, gave ME the respect as a parent/teacher to be able to articulate what my concerns were, and was very helpful in the intake appointment. As I knew all along, by the end of that first 90 minute appointment, the doctor diagnosed him with ADHD. He said there was absolutely NO point in subjecting Kent to the formal ADHD testing after his observation and the answers I gave to questions he asked. At the same time he recommended that Kent come back for autism specific testing as well as IQ and academic level testing, which I agreed to.

A colleague of the doctor did the testing, and she was SO good for Kent. She was respectful and he enjoyed the time he spent with her in the testing, so much so that he was disappointed when he was told we weren’t returning again. He spent two days with her, about 2.5 hours each day. She did an IQ test (WISC-V for those wondering), academic level testing (WRAT-4, which is how I know his reading is above level), the ADOS-2 test (a “gold standard” in autism testing, I’m told), the ABAS-3 test (ability to function in daily life activities, in relation to peers), and I filled out the ASRS DSM-5 questionnaire for things not easily testable in the office situation (like his refusal to eat 98% of food offered to him).

And then we got to wait. We had two weeks between the last testing day and when we returned for the results. All I can say about that time is that I’m SO GLAD we had a vacation already scheduled. It kept my mind off of wondering what the results would be, a little bit at least. Part of me was nervous they could come back and say it was all in MY head, that besides the ADHD he was an absolute normal child and I just needed to stop looking for issues since his twin had them. The other part of me was nervous that his differences would be diagnosed to be something much more complex than I could handle. And neither of those are good feelings!

When we went back for the results, Kent immediately asked to play with the LEGOs (he already had it in his head in the first 5 minutes it was going to be a very boring hour, and for him it was except for those LEGOs), and ignored us completey. The doctor beat around the bush for the first 10 minutes telling me about how his IQ is above those of his age range but that his academics don’t reflect him being as “ahead” as they would expect given his IQ and the fact that we homeschool. As he was trying to discuss nuances of what they found in the other testing, he finally just came out and said “I am diagnosing him with autism. He would probably be considered Aspergers on the scale.”

THANK YOU! It was SO much easier to process the information given after that point, because I wasn’t concerned anymore about being crazy or not being able to handle the diagnosis. In the end, he was diagnosed with autism and “ADHD, other: clinically significant ADHD symptoms in context of ASD” (which basically means that yes, he’s ADHD but that medication likely will NOT be a good fit for him). The rest of the information given was actually very informative, and I plan to use some of it in our homeschool. But to be honest, I had ALREADY figured out on my own those were things that Kent needed, and I already have the new curriculum that presents things “that way” on the shelves, and have had it there since BEFORE the initial intake interview. It was just really nice to have my gut feelings confirmed, and it will actually be beneficial (I feel) for him in the future to have the diagnosis on his record NOW.

This may seem like I’m downplaying the effects of these diagnoses to some people. Yes, having autistic twins can be difficult some days. But honestly, KNOWING why some days are difficult makes it so much easier to find the solution for that day, and help them through their hard times.


My twins don’t have autism; they are autistic. It’s not something they can set down and take a break from. They deal with their differences every single day of their lives. Some days they’re REALLY good at masking. In fact, most people who meet us have NO idea that they are autistic. Kent is the most social, happy-go-lucky child you’ll ever meet… until he’s done, in which case he’s DONE. Erik loves to be around people and show off his academic skills… until he doesn’t want to, and all he wants to do is go hide in a dark place (usually on his bed under a blanket, since we taught him that coping mechanism when we lived in a tiny apartment that didn’t have anywhere else private he could go).

Being diagnosed autistic isn’t a sad thing! It’s a description of how your brain works differently than what we consider “neurotypical”, which allows the autistic individual (as they get old enough to understand) and their parents to support them in their differences. CELEBRATE THEM!

What We’re Doing this Year: TechTrep Academy

We’ve homeschooled our kids from the very beginning. It’s been an adventure figuring out what works and doesn’t work for us. One thing I was VERY adamant about from the very beginning was that I did NOT want to be involved in a homeschool charter or parent partnership program through the public schools. The way those systems generally work (details vary by district, state, and entity) is that in return for a certain level of oversight and/or testing the program provides you with curriculum and materials to use in your homeschool. These programs are good for those who DON’T have money for curriculum and don’t have any idea what they’re doing or how to get started, or who are just more comfortable with “getting the box” and doing school that way. But I did NOT feel they were a good fit for our family, and refused to look into them AT ALL.

So what happened? It’s a long story. First, last summer, at the LDSHE West conference, there was a vendor table for MyTech High (an online charter school available for those in the state of Utah). I smiled as I went up to get my stamp (because if you got every vendor to stamp your “passport” you got entered into a drawing to attend the next year’s conference FREE) because I KNEW MyTech was ONLY in Utah and I was in Idaho. Much to my chagrin the marketer told me that he COULD still help me, since MyTech was expanding into Idaho under the entity name TechTrep Academy. And so I listened to his spiel, and told him I’d share with people up my way who might be interested but I was not. And honestly, I can’t remember a single thing he tried to tell me because I was SO against the idea of it at all!

Fast forward to March, this year. I attended another homeschool conference, this one MUCH closer to me, in SE Idaho. And there was a table for TechTrep Academy there. Because it appeared that EVERYONE was actively avoiding this vendor (and I KNOW how hard it is to be a vendor at these type of events) I went over and let her give me the spiel again. Except this time I really listened. And it sounded MUCH too good to be true honestly, and made me extremely skeptical. $1700 reimburseable curriculum allowance PER STUDENT in grades 1-8, and $850 for kindergarten. Simple weekly reporting online, no daily check-in for attendance, and the end of year state testing is required. I asked about special education services and IEPs, since I have two children diagnosed with autism and if they would be required to do the testing, I’d want accommodations for them. And honestly her response almost made me throw away everything she’d given me as soon as I left. “We don’t think children need to be labeled that way. You’re already doing IEPs for them as a homeschool mom, why would you need anything else?” Even when I specifically stated I would want that in place FOR TESTING ACCOMMODATIONS she gave the impression that it was HIGHLY discouraged to use them, but that there is a SPED department for the program to make sure those testing accommodations are in place should we NEED to disclose them.

Now that might sound great for most parents, but I am not most parents. I personally feel like diagnoses such as autism and ADHD are just as relevant to life experience as having a diagnosis of anisomelia (leg length discrepancy) or diabetes. They don’t make you more or less of a person, but they DO describe your experience in life, generally one that is somewhat different from the “normal” world. And to have those differences minimized, in a way that could negatively affect my children’s educational experience should I choose to go through the program or refer anyone else to it, is a BIG deal for me! So that interaction ALONE made me decide I was NOT going to consider their program AT ALL and that I’d just continue to do what I’d been doing and make it work.

Except I couldn’t get it out of my head. I honestly felt like I had something pricking me with a pin the entire drive home (over an hour, plus time to stop and nurse the 2 week old baby), telling me to look into the school. I DID NOT WANT TO!!! I tried to ignore it, I really did! And I managed to ignore it for an entire 8 hours, until I could NOT get back to sleep after another nursing session. I finally decided to look and see what I could find online about this program. Sadly what was available was very much lacking, especially from independent sources.

The website was relatively clear: $200 for each “core” course, consisting of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. $200 each for two elective courses, one of which was required to be a technology or entrepreneurship class (hence the name TechTrep). And $500 for technology (such as computers or tablets) and additional flex funds. All the money was available as reimbursement at certain periods throughout the year, when receipts were submitted properly and the items were approved (because it’s offered through the public school system NO religious material OF ANY SORT is allowed to be reimbursed, which is rather obvious to me). They offer a bunch of those Tech/Trep classes directly through the program too, so you didn’t have to work hard to get them if you didn’t want to.

Aside from that, there was information on their Facebook group (which I joined while at the table BEFORE the vendor made the SPED comments), which includes many parents looking into the program as well as ones who did it the pilot year last year (the year that I blew off the vendor at the previous homeschool conference). And there was literally NOTHING else. I checked YouTube. I searched Google. NOTHING came up that wasn’t directly from the school or sponsored by the school (which the Facebook group is). I honestly couldn’t decide if that was a good sign or a bad sign, given how new the program was and how busy homeschoolers can be.

After letting this whole concept smash my head for an entire week, doing all the research I could, and praying A LOT, I decided that I would actually be willing to do the weekly reports and have my children do the state testing in exchange for the funds. But I still couldn’t decide what to do. At that point I finally involved my husband in the process. We have an agreement that since I am the one implementing the homeschool I have final say in what happens as long as the children are learning (this took a bit of coordination for us to get to this point). So I presented everything to my husband. I told him my concerns (the way the SPED services were talked about in a negative light, the testing and weekly reporting requirements, and doing their school calendar) and the benefits of the program from my viewpoint, and gave him the website and Facebook group information for him to look at.

And here’s where we see the difference between my husband and me. 🙂 Two hours later (remember, it took me a full week of research!) my husband came back to me. He basically said, “It looks like what you told me. Do you think you can do it?” I told him I wouldn’t have even told him about it if I didn’t think I could handle it. His response was, “Well, I think it sounds like it could be a good thing for us right now. We can always try it for one year, and if we don’t like it just NOT enroll again next year, right?”

So that’s where we’re at. We registered Sariah, 5th grade, Kent and Erik, 2nd grade, and Samantha, kindergarten, in TechTrep Academy for the 2018-2019 school year. As it gets closer to starting, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being nervous about the entire thing, but I am also excited. Joining TechTrep has allowed me to get curriculum I’ve purposely NOT looked at while at homeschool conventions because I KNEW it was out of our price range. It has allowed me to look at what I REALLY wanted my homeschool to look like without having a “but we can’t afford that” outlook on things. And it’s been really nice the more I talk to the “front” ladies at TechTrep how accommodating and helpful they are. (I’ve since forgiven the first lady for her unknowingly insensitive comments.)

One of my favorite things about TechTrep is that they DO NOT tell you what curriculum to use, nor do they have specific worksheets or assignments for your children to do every week to verify that you’re actually teaching them. The weekly logs consist of blanks where you put what you covered each week for each subject, and they are entirely open-ended. They encourage you to snap pictures of written work or do video-clip responses to show learning, but it’s not required. This year there are “power learning goals” that each student has to cover sometime in the year, but in looking over them, they’re VERY basic stuff we’d be covering anyway so it’s not going to be a big deal to me.

As for the curriculum choices, especially for a new homeschooler, that can be VERY overwhelming to say “you can use anything”. They actually have a curriculum specialist, an AWESOME homeschool mom who just joined the team for this year after enrolling in the program last year for some of her kids. She has probably tried everything over the years with 10 children (she’s got a newborn also), and she’s really knowledgeable about what might work for different situations. She’s totally willing to sit down and help you choose what will work best for your situation, and that is awesome!

Here’s the most surprising thing I discovered about TechTrep. While they are NOT allowed to reimburse religious curriculum, they could not care less if you choose to use it. If you love My Father’s World, USE IT! If you love The Good and the Beautiful, USE IT! They can’t reimburse your expenses on those religious materials (anything that includes scripture or regular reference to God in the work), but if the curriculum teaches the intended core material and you’re willing to pay out-of-pocket for it, it’s entirely your choice to use it. The money available for reimbursement can be spent on printing, binding, art supplies for core learning response sheets, science experiments, math manipulatives, books (books, books, and more books), maps, materials for kinesthetic learning such as play dough, basically ANYTHING you can imagine as long as it’s not food, clothing, furniture, or religious in nature. And if you’re not sure if something “counts” for reimbursement, they will tell you straight up if you send them an email, BEFORE you spend your money on it, HOPING it will be reimburseable. They make it so easy!

Because the school year hasn’t started yet (first calendar day is August 20, with the first official weekly report not due until September 10th!) I can’t give an accounting for how much I like the program in practice yet. I plan to give reports about every quarter (or maybe halfway through) on how I feel about the program once I’m really into it. But I wanted to write this and get it out there in case anyone else has stumbled upon the idea of TechTrep Academy, and, like me, wants an “outside” view of it, instead of just what the school offers in their own sites.

If you have any questions, PLEASE ask them! I want to help others the way I wish I could have had others to ask, without needing to be on Facebook to do it.

Homeschooling, Weaving, and Life

Thanks for joining me! So what do homeschooling, weaving, and life (especially large family life) have in common? NOTHING ever goes as planned, and if it does absolutely, it’s an amazing thing.

Here’s my homeschool story: When we were dating, my then boyfriend now husband said “I really want my kids to be homeschooled.” I ended up marrying him, and agreed on that informal condition. Except I had NO idea what that meant really for me! I knew I wanted to homeschool. I studied elementary education for long enough to know that I absolutely HATED the politics of the education system here in the US. I was also either always behind or always ahead, and usually bored, in my years growing up in the public education system. But I really didn’t know HOW to homeschool. My husband thought he did. He’s a homeschool graduate, having been homeschooled for all but 1st grade. We learned VERY quickly that there’s NOT a one-size-fits-all in homeschool. I do things differently than his mother (big surprise) and he was convinced her way was the only right way. It caused chaos in our home for a few years while I tried to do it her way and miserably failed, while when I did it my way we did relatively well but it caused stress in our marriage because I “wasn’t doing it the right way.” We’ve now worked through that stress (and yes, I do it my way, and now he sees that it’s working), but it’s pretty much been the course of life. NOTHING went according to my idealized view when our first child was born.

So what was that view? I thought I’d do school at home. You know, buy a nice boxed curriculum set, sit down at the table every day, work through assignments and worksheets, and be done. Everything neat and tidy! There’s even satellite school programs that you can register for (that cost a LOAD of money) that they send you all the materials, your child does the work, you mail it all back, and they do all the review, grading, and mail you accredited completion certificates at the end of the year. Yeah, that’s what I thought I’d do. Not a big surprise for most homeschoolers, that didn’t work AT ALL. Every day was spent with my oldest spending HOURS at the table, crying, because she hated doing her math worksheets and just wanted to read.

I couldn’t handle the stress, so I went searching. Caveat: the things I mention here work for MANY families, including traditional “school at home”. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it for you! I learned about and tried Robinson Curriculum with her. That didn’t work for us. I learned about the Thomas Jefferson Education Leadership model of education. It was WAY too “unschool” for my husband, and really for me too. I had a hard time implementing all the “parts” and it really was a failure for us. Charlotte Mason didn’t speak to me AT ALL (as much as I love books, reading, copywork, and memorization for everything isn’t my style). The Waldorf method just confused me. Montessori school method was too messy and involved for our living situation (1200 sq ft apartment with 5 kids by the time I discovered that one). I discovered I always have been and probably always will be an eclectic homeschooler. And that’s just fine!

I view eclectic homeschooling much the same as weaving. You choose the warp, the foundation of your homeschool cloth. What’s most important? What are your priorities in homeschooling? What does THAT part look like? For me, I finally realized that what I wanted was a one room schoolhouse approach to education, where everyone could learn together. I also really wanted to have character development an integral part of our school. Yes, the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are also part of that foundation, but HOW those are achieved is more in the design of what threads go up and down than in the threads themselves.

After you choose the warp, then you need to decide your draft/threading order. That determines what threads move up and down together. And the nice thing is that it doesn’t have to stay the same the whole time. You can change it up mid-warp without ANY issues! I feel like this is the curriculum choices in homeschool. For me, that means the one room schoolhouse approach for conducive subjects (science, literature with family read-alouds for the books, social studies, and character development), with math and reading/spelling on individual levels.

Then there’s the weft. I think, especially having a big family, that is the individuals involved. Changing up the color of the weft (which child I’m working with, or if I’m working with them all at the same time) changes how the cloth looks and interacts. If they are having a tired, off day, it reminds me of the threads breaking (which does happen). And that’s part of life too!

And the last detail is the weaver. In this analogy, that’s me, the homeschool teacher. I have the foundation set up, I’ve chosen the curriculum (draft/pattern), and I’ve got the weft to work with. What order everything fits together, how quickly the cloth is formed, and how it all goes is VERY much dependent on me. If I do nothing, no matter how beautiful the warp, weft, and draft work together, I’ll never get any cloth. And if I try to push too hard and do too much I make stupid mistakes, requiring “unteaching” and redoing things that were done poorly in my push to get results.

So now the large family introduction. My husband and I have been married for 11 years (as of August 2018). We have 6 kids. Our oldest is 10. Then came the twins, who are now 7. Remember the “nothing going as planned”? Who actually EVER plans on spontaneous twins? After them, we got a surprise baby girl who was born before the twins turned 2. She’s now 5. Then two more boys, now ages 3 and 6 months. We also have a 2 year old lab/collie/shepherd mix puppy who is as hyper as that mix sounds. My husband is the director of our local library system (homeschoolers, YES, it’s almost as amazing as it sounds to have a librarian spouse). I stay home with the kids, doing school, household management, and medical management. I’ll leave the medical management for another post. Lets just say NOTHING here is as simple as it seems it should be. And I’m a jack of all trades when it comes to crafting, but I absolutely LOVE weaving! It’s complicated and simple, monotonous and exciting all at once. And isn’t that the way life should be?