Tag Archives: presentations

My, How Times Have Changed!

20 Oct

By Renée Gotcher

“When I was a kid, I had to walk five miles to school… uphill… in the snow!”

We’ve all heard that one before — Grandpa’s way of saying, “Stop complaining! You’ve got it pretty good, kid!” And even though he didn’t actually walk five miles uphill, in the snow, to get to school everyday, we know he’s right: Things are better (or at least easier) for us now than they were back then. And soon, we find ourselves telling our kids the same thing.

As a NextGen Homeschooler, I find myself feeling like Grandpa when it comes to the modern conveniences of homeschooling. For example, when my daughters complain about missing the weekly cooperative classes our local homeschool group used to offer last year, my typical response goes something like this: “Yes, co-ops are fun and I can see why you miss them, but when I was homeschooled, we had to drive more than an hour away from home just to be around other homeschooling families, let alone try to do classes together. I was just happy to have a field trip every now and then!”

My girls love playing team sports like volleyball at PE Plus.

Another common whimper: “I wish PE Plus was more than once a week!” To that, I reply: “At least you have a homeschool PE class, and there are homeschool sports teams you can join. When I was homeschooled, I was just happy to get a park day every once in a while and be outside with other kids besides my six sisters and baby brother!”

You get the picture. Times have certainly changed since I was a homeschooled high school student, mourning the loss of team sports, cheerleading, student council, the school newspaper, and five days a week with my peers — away from home, away from my six sisters and baby brother. Those two years of homeschool were an adjustment for me in more ways than one. We didn’t have weekly cooperative classes, homeschool PE, or other local programs to enrich our homeschooling experience with some of the extras I was missing. It took every ounce of obedience still left in my teenage know-it-all brain to go with the flow of homeschooling and leave all that behind.

So when I decided to homeschool my own children 21 years later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the wealth of opportunities available to homeschoolers today. Curriculum is now so widespread and diverse, you can fill up a whole convention center hall with booths and tables selling it. Local supplemental programs offer homeschoolers everything from weekly PE, team sports, art, music (bands, orchestras, and choirs), drama, dance, debate, science labs, presentations, competitions, cooperative electives, and even cooperative curriculum (ie. Classical Conversations). On top of all the local offerings, you hop onto the Internet and the list grows exponentially. You name it, you can have it — in spades!

In other words, many of the challenges (and children’s complaints) that my parents faced a generation ago as pioneering homeschoolers have long since been addressed. Today’s homeschooling parents have “got it pretty good” compared to their predecessors. From the local support groups, legal defense organizations and state independent umbrella schools that provide a great foundation, to the in-person and online programs that can supplement or even completely cover your homeschool curriculum, homeschooling success has never been easier to achieve.

My 5th grader Audrey plans for our homeschool group's monthly Presentation Day weeks in advance.

At first, I was thrilled to pour through the lists of local resources. All of my fears about pulling my social, physically active girls out of a school they enjoyed started to fade. I felt confident that no matter what the girls were “missing,” I could easily replace with an excellent homeschool alternative. Problem solved!

It didn’t take long for that excitement to become an overwhelming sense of confusion. The more I asked other moms what they used, the more offerings I discovered. The list went on and on, and I found myself paralyzed by options. How many hours of outside education was I willing to commit to on a regular basis? How much driving across the Denver metro-area sprawl would I have time for? How much additional parental involvement would be required? And how would I keep up with the structured daily schedule of the curriculum I had chosen?

Before you know it, your schedule could easily be filled with more activities, programs, and cooperative classes than when your kids were actually in school seven hours a day. At that point, what are you really accomplishing? And what kind of message are you sending your children about the purpose of homeschooling?

I found myself longing for the “simple” days of my own homeschooling experience, when my mom would give me lectures at the local fast food restaurant using the back of paper napkins as her white board, while my youngest siblings unleashed their energy on the outdoor playground. Although at the time I was missing some of the more fun, social aspects of school, I really absorbed a lot during those two years at home under a very loose and simple educational approach. And most of what I learned would have never been a part of any traditional high school curriculum, though it’s the stuff I draw from most in my life today.

It was wisdom. And in my mom’s simple homeschool, gaining Godly wisdom was front and center. I had to remind myself that the reason my husband and I chose to homeschool in the first place was not to replicate or improve upon the traditional school experience — and fill our days with “better” versions of the same activities — but to replace it with a learning environment that would cultivate a desire for Godly wisdom in our children. It’s my turn to “pass it on,” to give my own children the best of what I’d received from my mom during those “no-frills” early years of homeschooling.

This year, a switch in curriculum was my first step to get my homeschool back on track. At the same time, I wholeheartedly appreciate the fact that there are vast resources available for homeschooling families to take advantage of. In fact, the ever-increasing menu of homeschool support programs should be a great comfort to those parents who are still unsure about homeschooling, are concerned about teaching upper-level courses or certain subjects, or have limited time or resources to provide a complete curriculum on their own.

My 3rd grader Claire's speaking skills have significantly improved thanks to our homeschool group's Presentation Day.

I have just learned that I need to carefully pick and choose those things which best complement what I want to accomplish, rather than take away from it. For us, that’s things like weekly PE, monthly presentation days, fine arts like ballet and piano lessons, and several field trips each month. After all, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing!

Another mom in my local homeschool group brought up this very issue with me today over coffee. She’d decided to try a new charter school for her 12-year-old daughter that offers middle/high school homeschoolers a chance to plug in for classes like science labs, advanced math, and even AP courses, a couple of days a week. It’s only October, and already she is doubting how long she will continue. For starters, once you’re used to being 100-percent in charge of your homeschool program, it’s hard to give away one or two days a week of your agenda so your kids can be part of someone else’s agenda. Especially when decisions like curriculum and scheduling are out of your hands. Then there’s driving across town, reworking the rest of your schedule to fit the program’s schedule, the reintroduction of homework, and you can imagine where the conversation went from there.

At the end of our discussion, we came to the conclusion that the absolute best part about homeschooling is that you never have to be stuck with something that isn’t working for you. Whether it’s curriculum, scheduling, supplemental programs, extracurricular activities, or even the fact that you’re homeschooling at all, you can always change your mind! You’re in charge, and the ability to wake up tomorrow and say, “I’m doing something different today” is priceless.

Hopefully, that part of homeschooling will never change!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

Our First Week: Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

19 Sep

By Renée Gotcher (with Audrey & Claire Gotcher contributing)

The Sunday before our first “scheduled” day of the new school year, our family spent about eight hours driving back home from Telluride, Colorado — pulling into our driveway as the sun was setting at about 7:30 p.m. After being gone for almost 10 days on a family road trip, staying up late and waking up early, cooking on the campfire and eating in restaurants, and sleeping on air mattresses and couches (in tents and rental condos), we were anything but ready for a structured school day.

So I decided to spend our first week reacclimating to the daily routine — and save my new Heart of Wisdom lesson plans for next week. I kept the agenda loose each day: focusing on one or two key lessons and hands-on applications, having the girls do some review work from last year’s workbooks when I wasn’t working with them directly, and making sure we got to all of our new weekly extracurricular activities (like AWANA and P.E. Plus) on time and with minimal stress.

I also started a new women’s bible study at my church that takes place every Tuesday morning for the next nine weeks, and the girls will accompany me most of the time. Audrey and Claire are helping with the preschool class that Elise is participating in, and we’ll be starting our school agenda after lunch on those days. On top of the schoolwork I had planned and the new weekly extras, we also had to prepare for the monthly elementary presentation day with our local homeschool group, which, of course, happened to be this week as well.

I did implement one new change for this school year: Adding personal bible devotions time to the morning routine. Last year we started out with prayer and a family bible study/discussion time before launching into our daily lesson plan, but because our bible work will be more integrated with other subjects this year due to our curriculum, I thought it would be nice for the girls to have personal devotion time to start their day instead. Right now we’re using Bible Study Planet’s Keys for Kids Daily Study as a starting point for devotion time.

Daily morning devotions is something that I am also working on changing about my day: The women’s bible study I’m doing (Beth Moore’s study of David) is broken up into five daily lessons each week, so I have even more motivation (and accountability) to stay on track with my personal devotion time as well.

I could tell you that I think my mission was accomplished: We got everywhere we needed to be — prepared and only somewhat sleepy (the early bed/wake-up time proved to be a hard transition). But rather than give you my take on how we got back into the swing of things, I decided to let my fifth grader Audrey and third grader Claire share, in their own words, what they thought of our first week back to school.

Here’s what they had to say…

Audrey Gotcher, fifth grade

“I like the new devotions that we are doing in the morning. I also like the P.E. Plus class that we are going to now, because the coach is really nice and I get to see my friends and play team sports with them.

Audrey presents her postcard collection to our homeschool group’s elementary students.

I really like the place where we are having our presentation days now, because it’s bigger and it’s not at a ranch building (like last year) — it’s at one of the family’s homes. It’s more cozy and there are areas to play and relax with my friends. This week I did a presentation on my postcard collection.

I am trying to finish a few of my workbooks from last year too. I really enjoy doing language arts, because it’s teaching me how to write better and choose my words better than I used to. I like doing essays. This week I did an essay about our summer, and I focused on our camping trips. I really like writing and telling people about what I did or what I know about the subject.

I liked going to AWANA because I am in a new book this year that is harder than last year’s book. The verses are really long, but it’s fun to challenge myself. I also get to see a lot of my friends at AWANA and play with them during game time.

The only thing I didn’t like about this week was waking up early. It’s kind of hard for me because I like to stay up reading my books in my own bedroom at night and I like to sleep in. I will try reading my books earlier in the day so I can go to sleep earlier next week.”

Claire Gotcher, third grade

“This week went well. I had fun doing devotions every morning and reading verses by myself. I also liked finishing up some pages in my workbooks from last year, because it is helping me get ready for the new year. I can’t wait until my new math book gets here, because I finished last year’s book and I really like math! I liked going back to AWANA this week, because we get to memorize verses and say them to our leaders.

Claire presents photos from her summer vacation to our homeschool group’s elementary students.

I liked our homeschool group’s presentation day because it was really, really fun, and I did better than last year. I feel like it’s easier to give a presentation than I thought it was. I used to be scared, but now I know that I don’t have to be afraid because no one is going to make fun of me. I did my presentation on my summer vacation, and I talked about my camping trip with my grandparents & cousins, other camping trips I took with my family, the summer camp I did with my friends the Phillips, and how I got to see my Auntie Carol (and her two little dogs, Beatrice and Samson) and our good friends from Durango, like my best friend Kate.

I liked doing P.E. Plus for the first time because our coach is really nice. He also told us a verse before we left. It was: “And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has no where to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) Coach said Jesus said he provided a home for all the animals but he didn’t have a home, he would just go where God led him and stay with people who invited him to stay, or sleep in caves like his cousin John the Baptist. I didn’t know this verse before.

I like that we don’t have to wake up really early like we did before when we had to drive to school. But even though I like sleeping in, I know I am supposed to start getting up earlier. I will try to wake up earlier next week.”

I’m sure Elise, my energetic four-year-old, probably has a lot to say about this week too. She did work on color and shape identification pages, a couple of cutting projects, and lots of free-form drawing and coloring — and tagged along for all of the week’s activities. But she was too busy dressing up her dolls in make-shift outfits (using a new pack of hair ties and scraps of fabric from my husband Kenny’s office) on Friday afternoon to be interviewed. Maybe next week!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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