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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

County Fair Results

I love the *idea* of the county fair. As a mom, I don’t love the execution of it. Maybe I’m a spoil-sport. Maybe I’m stuffy. I don’t know. I just don’t really enjoy it. We live in a TINY county, so if my kids enter anything, there’s a VERY good chance they’ll get at least one “blue” ribbon. But since EVERY entry gets a ribbon of some sort, I don’t even think that’s a big deal. They do though, and that’s why I do it.

I’ll do 4-H first. I was a “bad mom” and DIDN’T take pictures of the Cloverbud ribbons. They’re strictly participation. No judging at all. They’re green and pretty. And that’s it. Sariah participated in three 4-H clubs. Here’s her projects:

 

In Leatherworking, she got the 2nd place Champion Ribbon (the red rosette) for her dragon purse (and they didn’t award ribbons for the rounders). In Art, she entered her entire sketchbook, featuring the phoenix. And for hiking the leader had each child put together a scrapbook of the photos they took on their hikes.

Ribbon identification for Open Class: White = C Award (participation ribbon), Red = B Award (better than C, but not top quality), Blue = A Award (top quality, eligible for competing for the purple “Champion” and lavender “Reserve Champion” Rosettes).

And now, our Open Class entries. First up, the LEGO creations.

Left, we have the original “sunken ship” creation, by Sariah, age 10yo. Center is the mishmash Pirate Ship, Dragon, and Rocket/Space Ship (from instructions on the LEGO site) by Kent, one of the twins, age 7. Right is the DUPLO “Playing house with the twins” by Erik, the other twin.

Next, we have the watercolors:

Top left is called “Bookshelf and Toys” by Erik. Top Right is “Blackie the Midnight Horse” by Samantha, age 5. Bottom left is “The Dragon” by Sariah. Bottom right (this one I was most impressed with, because of his drawing ability before painting) is called “The Dragon Car” by Kent.

I want to add a sidenote here to state a disappointment in our county fair display and organization. The watercolors were NOT all in the same section, even though they were supposed to be. One was found in the middle of photographs, another was in the oil paintings, and the last two were where they belonged with the watercolors. When we dropped everything off, they were ALL placed with the watercolors, so I have no idea how that separation happened. It was odd, but okay. My REAL disappointment came in the fiber arts (knit, crochet, embroidery, quilting, and weaving). The displays were set in tables about 20 feet long by 3 feet wide (with a “wall” behind the 3 feet section). There were two full lengths of table for the art. When you went around the corner, you got to the fiber art. There was one FULL length of table covered by quilts, pinned to the wall hanging and displayed on the tables. NONE of them overlapped more than about 8 inches. When you turned the other side of the aisle, there was ANOTHER 15 feet of quilts, displayed similarly, with nothing overlapping more than 8″. Then there was the embroidery, very prettily displayed, not overlapping. Then the weaving. They folded my blanket to 8″ wide pushed it against the framed embroidery/needlepoint on one side and the knitting on the other side, and stacked my daughter’s entry ON TOP of the blanket so you could barely see it AT ALL. Then there was the knitting on the end, prettily displayed and easy to see. And my daughter and I had the ONLY weaving entries, there was NO competition and it was visually obvious they didn’t really care about them at all, based on how they were displayed compared to all the other fiber arts.

Here’s the photo of the weavings:

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So yes, I won the “Grand Champion” for the category. But considering I was also the ONLY entry for the category (children are in a different category than adult entries) it doesn’t mean much to me.

I’m now contemplating the idea of entering the state fair (which in our state is divided between the east and the west state fairs) to see how my weaving compares to others. It’s hard to “judge” a project with absolutely NOTHING to compare it to!

How to Weave (the VERY Simplified Version)

1) Decide what your’e going to weave. This is NOT simple! Good luck. For this example (with the photos) I chose a baby blanket I found in a Handwoven magazine. I decided to do it “as written” EXCEPT I decided to do enough for two blankets instead of just one. And that requires lots of calculating, to make sure you’re going to have enough yarn in the right colors to make it all work. (See, homeschool is EVERYWHERE in life!) The draft I chose is “Sweet Honey in a Waffle” Baby Blanket, available for purchase here:  https://www.interweave.com/store/sweet-honey-in-a-waffle-baby-blanket (NOT an affiliate link) This is an 8 shaft, 40″ wide draft, so requires a large floor loom. The loom I planned to use for this is a 60″ Didier Schwartz countermarch loom, built in the 1970’s. And no, looms of this size don’t come inexpensively.

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1) Wind the warp threads. This blanket is made from 8/2 cotton yarn from the WEBS company. It required 960 warp threads; half were “Turquoise Green”, the other half the variegated “Baby Pastel”. I wound them in 10 sets to make it easier to keep them straight. My toddler was amazingly a great help with the vertical warping mill. (Admission: the yarn on the warping mill in the photo was a different project; I couldn’t pull a decent still shot from the video of my toddler helping and I ONLY had video of that project on the warping mill.)

2) Thread the reed. I threaded this reed with 2 threads per dent. And the close-up photo shows where I missed a dent and had to rethread about 50 threads to fix it.

3) Thread the heddles. Every single thread needs to go through a separate heddle in the correct order and position to make the pattern on the loom.

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4) Tie up the treadles. On jack looms this isn’t as big of a deal but on this large countermarch loom, it’s quite an adventure to get it done. It’s always nice when I have a willing helper, especially since I’m not exactly small and I have to be INSIDE the loom to do the tie-up properly.

5) Tie the warp to the warp beam rod, wind it on, and tie the other end onto the cloth beam. This is an adventure keeping the threads straight, especially since it’s 40” wide and I wound 4 yards of yarn for this project (enough for two baby blankets).

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6) Weave a header (yellow in this project), check for errors, and start weaving! This project used two shuttles, switching every two passes of the shuttle to make the honeycomb/basket weave effect.

7) Measure as you go, to make sure your project is the size you want it. I was aiming for (mostly) square. Since the warp is 40” wide on the loom, I measured a ribbon 40” long to act as my guide. The wood “stick” on the top is called a weaving temple. It helps hold the fabric stretched to the proper width, which helps avoid warp breakage and keeps it more uniform in width as you weave (very helpful with over a yard of fabric length for the project).

8) When you’re at the “end” cut your project off the loom! I only wove off half the warp before cutting off the first blanket. I’ll retie the warp to the warp beam to weave the second blanket later. (I was in a rush to get it off to be able to submit in the county fair.)

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9) Do the finishing work! This includes fixing any mistakes, wet finishing, hemming, and pressing. For this project, after fixing the mistakes I hand-hemmed the blanket, then did the wet finishing. In the photos, before (on the left) and after (on the right) wet finishing and pressing. There is a HUGE difference between the two, and it’s one of the most important steps for a fully finished woven cloth.

And that’s it. That’s the process of weaving. Except it’s really NOT as straightforward as that sounds. Because nothing is. In the duration of this project, I finished weaving off a different set of baby blankets on the other loom (you can kind of see it in the photos on the left side sometimes); had a baby; wound, threaded, warped, wove, and finished a set of towels for a contest/service project; and went on vacation twice. I started winding the warp while we were visiting family for the New Year’s celebration, and cut the first blanket off (remember, there’s still a second to tie back on and weave) just in time for the county fair the first week in August.

Weaving is awesome, amazing, and time consuming, especially with 6 children. And it’s worth every minute when I finally get to the finished product. This blanket will be my now 6mo baby’s blanket for the next while, until it gets too cold. I’ve got another set of blankets planned that will be thicker and better for our frigid snowy winters. That is, if I get them woven off in time.

4-H and the County Fair

4-H. The savior and sometimes bane of a homeschool family’s existence. It helps with the dreaded “But what about socialization?” question that gets batted around. It helps my kids make friends and learn to interact and deal with others that aren’t their siblings. And really, it’s generally a LOT of fun… for the kids. But for mom? Not so much. Keeping the calendar straight is difficult for me. Making sure their projects are done on time, they’re attending the meetings, scheduling around 4-H events, getting their demonstrations ready with them (my kids are NOT natural spellers, and can misspell the same word three different ways in a single paragraph), and everything is stressful for me. And then there’s the dreaded record book. I get it, I really do. Keeping a running record of things, tracking your progress, completing records, it’s all important. BUT… These are kids we’re talking about. Which means mom (and sometimes dad) takes the brunt of making sure things are happening with the book.

This was our second year in 4-H. My kids are 10, 7, 7, 5, 3, and 6 months now. The 5 year old has a January birthday, which means she missed the cutoff to join Cloverbuds this year by a couple weeks. But we still had the twins in Cloverbuds, and the 10yo was originally told TWO clubs, that’s it. She ended up in three. But it could have been worse?

We went on vacation the week before judging. Not the smartest idea in the world, but it was a family reunion and family is more important than 4-H. We got back Sunday night at 8 pm. At 9:30 pm, we finally had everything unpacked and put away enough to pull out the record book. I KNEW my daughter still had to finish her “My 4-H story” for the year (or really, start AND finish it). But I didn’t realize how much she HADN’T done that I thought she had. She tried, she really did, to work on it. But she was exhausted. She went to bed around 11 pm after we BOTH dozed off, her with pencil in hand trying to do her goal reports, demonstration reports, and such. She didn’t even get to her “My 4-H story.” We got up at 5:45 am to go at it again, and barely finished “good enough” by 7:45 am. Judging started at 8 am in the next town over.

Judging. It’s apparently always hit or miss on how long it takes. And we’ve apparently missed two years in a row. Last year people told me it wasn’t a big deal if we didn’t get there right at the start, that we could show up any time in the allotted block. We got in around 9 (judging is 8-12) and waited in line until close to 11! People swore up and down that the people who got in before 8:30 were gone before 9:00. So this year I did my darndest to get there as close to 8 as possible. We got in at 8:10. It STILL took over 2 hours!!! We didn’t get done until around 10:30. I was not happy, but oh well. My daughter, on the other hand, really enjoyed showing off her project to her club friends and the judge, so there’s that.

Then there’s the general county fair portion of it all. I’ve really worked hard the past few years to make sure my kids get to enter things in the Open Class portion of the fair. That doesn’t have the age limits and time requirements that 4-H entails. This year they all decided they wanted to enter LEGO creations and watercolor paintings. And of course those decisions were made Monday, AFTER 4-H judging, and the Open Class submission slot was Tuesday from 12-7 pm. So we did our best. Because no matter how good my intentions to get them to do it all year, and choose the best when it comes to fair time, it hasn’t happened yet. LEGO isn’t that big of a deal for me; they just made things and went with it (and of course they had to REMAKE them when we got to the fairgrounds because they’re LEGO and they fall apart when bumped). The 5yo decided she did NOT want to enter a LEGO creation, but wanted to enter a weaving she’d been working on using a tiny 3-D printed loom I had hanging around after doing a Maker Faire booth this spring. So she finished the weaving (really nothing fancy, but I think she did well for a 5yo) and ignored the LEGO fights over who got to use what bricks. We really do need more!

The watercolors were interesting. Some of my kids really dedicated themselves to putting out a good picture, while others didn’t seem to care at all. One child didn’t even finish painting what he’d sketched, so I think it looks odd, but it was his creation and his choice. We found a shipping box from Prime day (yes, I ordered WAY too much on Prime day) and glued their creations to cardboard “mats” to help in the display. I don’t have frames sitting around enough to frame 5 kids’ work whenever they want, especially the correct size for the watercolor paper I had on hand. Cardboard worked well enough.

Loading everyone up to go take everything to the fairgrounds is always an adventure. The 3yo and baby fell asleep on the way, and rather than wake them up I parked RIGHT in front of the open garage door opening to the fair building, rolled down the windows, and had kids take turns sitting with the sleepers while I tried to get EVERYTHING registered. That was absolute chaos. The 10yo wanted to write her own tags, but needed my help to figure out how to do it correctly. One twin couldn’t come up with “names” for his entries (each entry needs a description in case the tags fall off, and the tags identify who it belongs to) but didn’t want me to come up with them for him. And the other two were so excited they were really impatient and that didn’t help much. Overall we had 8 individual tags to write for the kids, plus one for me.

Yes, I entered something in the fair. I worked my backside off to finish a baby blanket I’ve been weaving on my big loom, so I could enter it into the fair. It’s an amazing “honeycomb” looking basket weave double weave that I LOVE how it turned out. I didn’t think I’d be able to get it done in time, but I managed to barely finish it Monday, in time to get it hemmed, wet finished, and pressed to enter. I also added something new with my entry this year, that we’ll see how it goes. I included pictures of the entire process, winding the warp, threading the reed, threading the heddles, beaming the warp, the actual weaving, cutting it off the loom, and doing the finishing work. I also included a small length of the yarn used, because I’ve found most people don’t really understand just how fine of yarn I work with (and I do NOT work with “fine” yarn at all, compared to most floor loom weavers!).

When we went to put the weaving stuff on the tables (my daughter’s and mine), they hadn’t even made a tag for the weaving category (which IS included in the fair book, so it is an official category). There wasn’t a single other weaving entry yet (about 4 pm), so it was confusing for the volunteer helping us to figure out where to put them. I don’t like the idea of winning by default, but it may turn into that.

Before we left, the kids were able to go look at the 4-H displays again, which had been judged that morning, and my 10yo was excited to see that her leatherwork purse (that she did all the tooling on and my husband helped design and put together) had won reserve champion for her category. It’s always fun to see how excited they get at the ribbons! I just need to figure out what to do with them now.

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?